Hurricane Smith (1992)

Country: Australia / United States
Director: Colin Budds
Starring: Carl Weathers, Jürgen Prochnow, Cassandra Delaney, Tony Bonner, David Argue, John Ewart
Music: Brian May

When Hurricane Smith was released in the early 1990s, I didn’t realise it was an Australian film – so I didn’t bother with it – figuring I would catch it at some stage on video. I never did. The poster certainly doesn’t give anything away, and the casting of Carl Weathers as the hero, and Jürgen Prochnow as the villain, suggest it is an international action thriller. And I guess it is, but if you were to compare it to the other ass-kicking action blockbusters of the time, such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard (and even the Beverly Hills Cop films – as Prochnow starred in the second), then this film comes up short. It doesn’t have the budget to compete with Hollywood action extravaganzas.

However, if you were to look at Hurricane Smith as a late entry in the Ozploitation cycle, then there’s a lot of fun to be had over its meager 85 minute running time.

Billy ‘Hurricane’ Smith (Carl Weathers) is given a warm Aussie welcome by Shanks (David Argue).

Carl Weathers, plays Billy ‘Hurricane’ Smith, a Texan whose mother has just died. To settle affairs, he needs to find his sister Sally Mae, who he has not seen in years. Her last known whereabouts, was in Surfers Paradise, on the Gold Coast, in Northern Australia.

With only a few postcards to go by, Billy flies to Australia, and begins tracking his sister down. His first port of call is a fancy high-priced brothel, where he meets Julie (Cassandra Delaney – for those curious, Delaney was the naked, car hood ornament in the Ozploitation thriller, Fair Game).
Julie explains she used to share a flat with Sally Mae, but it was said she went back to the US.

‘Hurricane’ and Shanks, chased by Dowd’s minions in speedboats.

Billy knows this is not true and investigates further. This puts him into contact with two shady organised crime figures. The first is Howard Fenton, played by Tony Bonner. The second is Charlie Dowd, played by Jürgen Prochnow. Both are keen for Billy to return to the US, and express this desire, by having Billy beaten up, and then tossed from a moving car. Of course, Billy is not the type to turn tail – especially without knowing his sisters whereabouts.

The film is fairly professionally put together, but I suspect hastily filmed. Throughout the movie, there is barely one close up. Nearly everything is filmed in a medium shot – which is fine for the action sequences. But for the more dramatic scenes, it would be nice to be able to see the actors faces, and know what the characters are feeling. Secondly, I have seen a few production stills, which feature sequences not in the film. Of course, the shots could have been staged simply for publicity – but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the film was chopped and changed around as it was being made.

Shanks blasts away at Dowd’s minions – albeit with his eyes closed

Two local character actors, David Argue and John Ewart almost steal the movie from their international co-stars. Argue plays Shanks, a small time pimp, and loyal friend to Julie. He starts off against Billy, but as the film goes on, he comes around to the side of good and virtue. He also has a good line (well, it would have been good in 1990). In a moment of danger, as bullets rain down on his position, he says ‘he is too young for this shit’… obviously riffing off the popular ‘too old for this shit’ line in the Lethal Weapon films.

John Ewart plays Griffo, a crotchety old publican, who hates ‘septics’. For those who don’t know, us Aussies call Americans ‘septic tanks’, which is rhyming slang with ‘Yanks’. Ewart chews up every scene he is in, with his ‘ocker’ than ‘ocker’ performance. He’s great fun to watch.

The villainous Charlie Dowd (Jürgen Prochnow) holds a gun on Julie (Cassandra Delaney) – the tart with a heart

I am pretty sure, Hurricane Smith, was not a hit. But it is not a stinker. It is just a lower-tier, 80’s action film. It has a likeable cast, and enough mayhem to satisfy most action junkies. It’s strange that appears to have almost disappeared off the face of the earth.

Hurricane Smith (1992)

Oasis of Fear (1971)

Country: Italy
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Ray Lovelock. Ornella Muti, Irene Papas, Michel Bardinet, Jacques Stany, Umberto Raho, Antonio Mellino
Music: Bruno Lauzi, Claudio Fabi
AKA: Dirty Pictures, An Ideal Place to Kill
Original Title: Un posto ideale per uccidere

On multiple occasions I have extolled the virtues of the movie Flash Gordon, starring Sam J. Jones as Flash.. As such, I also am a fan of the actors in the movie – not so much Sam, himself, but Timothy Dalton, Peter Wyngarde, Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed, and Ornella Muti.

Oasis of Fear features a very young Ornella Muti, which makes it compulsory viewing for an old degenerate such as myself. But before those who have an interest in seeing Miss Muti cavort around topless, I have to let you know, a body-double was used for this movie.

The film starts with a young couple, Richard Butler (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid Sherman (Ornella Muti) holidaying in London. As London is more liberated than where they come from, they go to a sex-shop to buy two dozen porn magazines, which they intend to sell, to cover the expenses of their holiday. They also buy some 45rpm recordings of people having sex.

If I may interrupt the synopsis at this stage – and maybe it’s because I live in an age where pornography is so rampant, and easy to access, especially on the internet, I find nothing remotely erotic about listening to another couple have sex. I am sure those who have lived in share-houses will agree with me. Who would buy a record of sex sounds? Maybe those crazy ’70s Italians?

Anyway, these kids have bought this porn which they intend to sell from town to town as they trek through Europe. They sell it all – and indulge in wild hedonistic holiday hi-jinx. That is, until they run out of money. To refill their coffers, they decide to take a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach with a Polaroid camera.

They try pass some of their homemade porn to a cop and get busted. For there crime they are forced to leave Italy. But before they can leave, they are robbed by gypsies. Richard and Ingrid try to leave, but have no money for fares. It gets worse, as they run out of petrol. They plan to rectify this by stealing petrol from the nearest villa. They are caught in the act, by the lady of the house, Barbara Slater (Irene Papas).

From here, the story does a u-turn from a swift moving Euro crime thriller to a quasi Gothic chiller with a hint of Giallo thrown in. Ultimately, the film is entertaining, but somewhat of a dog’s breakfast – not really sure what it wanted to be. But, if you a fan of Umberto Lenzi, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here – and the performances from the cast, especially Papas, are quite good.

Oasis of Fear (1971)

OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

George Lazenby: Astor Theatre, Melbourne Australia (13th October 2012)

On Saturday night, the Astor Theatre, in Melbourne had a rare screening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth James Bond film. As it is one of the few Bond movies that I had never seen on the big screen (I still haven’t seen Diamonds Are Forever), I had to go along. The sealer was that George Lazenby, himself was going to be introducing the film, followed by a Q & A.

The Astor is (and has always been) an amazing venue. It’s a old, art deco single screen movie palace. I remember when I first moved to Melbourne (all those years ago – before movies were available on sell-through), the Astor was the only place you could see many cult and classic films. The venue was crowded – I am guessing around 500 people (maybe more) – without being packed.

George was generous with his time, talking for over an hour, about everything from Bond, to his time working in Hong Kong, and much more – sharing many anecdotes about the mischief he got up to. My one complaint about the evening, and it must be said that George handled himself very professionally, is that somebody decided to bring their terrible two year old kid along. The kid kept jumping up and down on the seat and yelling out. George joked about it, but on a couple of occasions, his train of thought was interrupted.

At one point, as George was interrupted, the crowd actually turned on the family, yelling at them to take the kid outside. But the parents didn’t, steadfastly refusing to leave the auditorium. The kid kept interrupting. As a parent, I love my son more than anything, and yes, I would love for him to experience any ‘once in a lifetime’ event, but really the child was too young to appreciate where he was or who George was. Ultimately it was a rather selfish act on their behalf, and only George’s professionalism stopped it from ruining the night for the five hundred odd patrons who attended the event.

For a person of my age, it’s funny looking back at On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I am too young to have seen it on it’s original release at the movies, and by the time I saw it on television many years later, I was very confused by the negative reaction by the adults around me. I watched the film and wondered what all the fuss was about. Sure, George Lazenby was no Roger Moore – the incumbent Bond at the time – but the film was still highly entertaining. In fact, it was better than that – it was bloody good with some amazing scenes – but still the film seemed to have this stigma attached to it – especially for the older generation who grew up with Sean Connery as their James Bond. As an example of this, recently I watched a repeat of Parkinson, the UK talk show hosted by – who else – Michael Parkinson, and one of his guests was comedian Eddie Izzard. During their conversation, the topic of ‘Bond’ came up and Izzard was asked his favorite film. He said On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Parkinson, who is quite a bit older, was visibly shocked at Izzard’s response and screwed up his nose. It seems that as time has gone by, the younger generation who grew up with a multitude of different Bonds are a lot more willing to embrace On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and see it as simply a part in the Bond series, rather than George Lazenby’s failed attempt to replace Sean Connery in the hearts and minds on Bond fans all around the world.

One of the big differences between On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and some of the preceding Bond films is that it is almost gadget free. Goldfinger had a tricked up Aston Martin, Thunderball had every underwater device imaginable, and You Only Live Twice had an aggressive gyrocopter called ‘Little Nellie’, but this film has ‘radioactive lint’. Q’s grand moment comes early in the film where he presents his new tracking device for ‘double O’ agents, which lines the agent’s pockets. I am sure gadget lovers were disappointed. It’s hardly the kind of exciting espionage gadget we are used to from the highly inventive Quartermaster. Later in the film, Bond uses an elaborate safe cracking and photocopying device. As I mentioned earlier, the first version of this film that I saw was on television, and the version shown happened to be an extended version. Apparently, the original theatrical version didn’t have the safe cracking sequence – so it could be argued that ‘lint’ is all that this film has to offer. These days though, on video, DVD and Blu-ray the film is the extended version, so we get the extra gadget. But however you look at the film, it is still very light on for gadgets.

Among On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s many strengths is the score by John Barry. It is undoubtedly his best score (although Thunderball is pretty hard to beat), and provides pounding excitement for the action scenes and the passion for the romantic scenes. The title tune is unusual as it is an instrumental, but this is countered by the song, ‘We Have All The Time In The World’, performed by Louis Armstrong at a pivotal point in the film.

A frequent supposition among Bond fans is, if On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Sean Connery it, it would have been one of the greatest films of all time. I like the basis of the argument – that being that Connery was the best Bond, and that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service contained the best Bond story. Combined, they would have been a sure fire winner. But in reality, had Connery made himself available to do On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I doubt we would have got the film that we did. Connery had a very set style, which involved quite a bit of humour and his films featured quite a few gadgets. With Connery in the lead, undoubtedly the formula would have continued and we would have ended up with a very different Bond film, and in my mind at least, I do not feel it would have been as strong.

In all in all, it was an enjoyable evening, and it was great to finally see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on the big screen after all these years.

OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

Liner Notes: Eurospy


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am looking at Eurospy films.

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It probably says a lot about EuroSpy films that their soundtracks are a lot easier to find than many of the movies. That, no doubt, has a lot to do with the quality of composers coming out of Europe at the time, such as Ennio Morricone, Mario Nasimbene, Piero Umiliani, Michel Legrand, Sandro Brognolini, Riz Ortolani, Manuel Parada and many, many more.

With Eurospy soundtracks there are many varying styles, and it is hard (and pretty unfair) to lump them all together. The first style attempts to stay as close to the John Barry, James Bond sound as possible. These are the least interesting to me as soundtracks, because quite frankly, if I want John Barry, I will listen to the real thing. One of the better examples, is Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s score for Operation Kid Brother. Some of the film’s musical cues, mimic the Barry sound quite successfully.

The second style, operates under the premise that James Bond is an old ‘suit’ and not with the times. And the music reflects this – possibly owing more to The Beatles, than John Barry. In the films, you’ll often see a Beat group – called something like ‘The Spyders’, ‘The Planets’ or ‘The Fireballs’ – playing in a nightclub that the hero visits in the course of his investigation. If the film happens to be directed by Jess Franco, there’s also a good chance that there will be a scantily clad woman dancing in a cage too.

Since I have so foolishly mentioned Franco, if you can find the soundtracks to his Red Lip films – Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster – by Jerry Van Rooyen, give them a listen. Truly amazing wild and swinging stuff. Also, the music by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – to the Franco / Miranda trilogy (okay, only The Devil Comes From Akasava counts as a Eurospy – the other two being Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy) is also well worth listening to.

Below, are my thoughts on a few of the more easy to locate Eurospy soundtracks.

Agente Speciale LK
Bruno Nicolai

Agente Speciale LK, or Lucky The Inscrutable as I call it, is a strange little film that was directed by Jess Franco, and released in 1967. Just mentioning Franco either conjures up fear or perverse delight. But generally, Franco’s films, despite what you may think of their content, usually had pretty good soundtracks.This one is composed by Bruno Nicolai.

The film itself is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. It stars Ray Danton as ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large ‘L’ on his chest. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is light hearted and pop oriented – albeit sixties Italian pop, rather than cool spy jazz. It includes some sixties choral singing – Light ‘Bub-adubba-das’ lilt over the top during action sequences – and deep ‘Bum, Bums’ resonate in the title song. The style is more like Hugo Montenegro (Matt Helm phase) than Nicolai’s sometimes partner, Ennio Morricone.

I must admit when I saw the film, I didn’t think the music was that bad at all (hence, why I bought the album), but as a listening experience on it’s own without visuals, I was fairly disappointed. It is quite cheesy in places. But it does take the smorgasbord approach. Unlike some soundtracks which keep repeating the same theme over and over again, here each track is very different. If you don’t like one, you may like the next.

The standout track for me, is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The CD is almost worth it, for this track alone (only it is too short). Who is Edda Dell’Orso I hear you ask? Thanks to her collaborations with Ennio Morricone, on the soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, she is often referred to as ‘The Voice Of Italian Cinema’. You might not know her name, but anyone who has listened to The Good, the Bad & The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West soundtracks, will recognise her voice.

As each track is so different it is hard to classify or compare this album to something else. On the whole, I find it a bit abrasive. It isn’t smooth ‘lounge music’. If you are a fan of Eurospy soundtracks (and you’ve got spare cash to throw away) if you see it, buy it. It’s worth a listen, and I am sure one of the tracks will grab your attention, but I wouldn’t spend hours searching the net for a seller.

Dick Smart 2.007
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Orchestra conducted by Roberto Pregadio.
Released by Hexacord.

Dick Smart is a pretty wild Eurospy production directed by Franco Prosperi. It features Richard Wyler as swinging sixties dilettante, womaniser, and part-time spy, Dick Smart. Smart is hired by the CIA, for a fee of one million dollars, after five atomic scientists go missing from around the world.

Nascimbene’s score is very good, and the hook will get stuck in your head for days, even weeks perhaps. You will find yourself humming the theme after you’ve finished listening to the album. As the film is primarily set in and around Rio, the soundtrack features a lot of Latin beats, like Sambas and Bossa Novas. Each track gives away it’s musical style in it’s title ‘Samba For Dick’, ‘Bossa For Dick’ etc… There are no vocals until the end track. The male vocal is quite flat – it almost seems spoken. But the instrumentals are quite good, although slightly repetitive, but it is a soundtrack, so you’d expect that a few musical motif’s are repeated.

If the album has a weakness, it is that sometimes the instrumentals tend toward ‘elevator music’ with weird sixties electronic sound effects over the top. At the end of the CD, there are some musical cues and control room dialogue from Nascimbene. It is an interesting curio – but doesn’t add much. But still it isn’t a bad album. If you’re a fan of Eurospy Soundtracks, buy this one. I wasn’t disappointed.

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Released by Avanz Records

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, even if you haven’t seen the film, as a stand alone listening experience, is great. It is better than the Dick Smart soundtrack, but is similar in so many ways. Once again, the film is set in Rio, so the soundtrack has a Latin American feel to it. Although there is a lot more variety on the Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die soundtrack. The closing title song, although not listed on the album, is performed by Lydia Macdonald (I think. Please correct me if you know otherwise). Macdonald, while hardly a household name these days, was a very busy girl in the 1960’s especially singing title songs to Eurospy films. She can be found singing ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’ on the soundtrack to Requiem For A Secret Agent; ‘Nothing To Fear’ from MMM Missione Morte Molo 83, and the title track to From The Orient With Fury.

As with the Dick Smart, Kiss The Girls also has a few weird sci-fi electronic soundscapes. No doubt, if I had seen the film I’d know what these are. Most likely they are from scenes in the film, where the chief villain is test firing his latest hi-tech weapon. These call be a little bit grating. They aren’t really ‘lounge’ tunes, and as such aren’t really easy listening. But on the whole, this is a pretty good soundtrack album. It’s a bit harder to track down than Dick Smart, but once again, if you are a fan of this type of soundtrack, this is worth hunting down.

Liner Notes: Eurospy

Liner Notes: Kevin Pyrtle


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Kevin Pyrtle, from Wtf-Film.com., who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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When first approached to grace Permission to Kill with my hallowed opinion on film scores I thought, “Easy peasy. How hard can writing about your five favorite soundtracks possibly be?” Plenty hard, it seems. After a few weeks of due diligence I’ve come to the conclusion that with regard to films and their music I have just too damned many categories of “favorite” to make any sense of, especially within the confines of an article like this. All that said, I’ve given it my best shot, and present for you five favorites (in no certain order) from the more obscure recesses of my personal taste. I dig them one and all, and really, you should too.

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Mikis Theodorakis – The Day the Fish Came Out

Director Michael Cacoyannis’ grim 1967 parody of small-town Greece, tourism, and the nuclear age, forgotten almost as quickly as it arrived in domestic cinemas, was and remains one of the strangest films ever conceived. Promoted (dumbly) as a sort of follow-up to the same director’s Oscar-winning Zorba the Greek, The Day the Fish Came Out instead challenged audience expectations from its wild opening titles (by the great Maurice Binder, of Bond fame) to its final apocalyptic dance of death. Esteemed composer Mikis Theodorakis’ (Z) amplified the culture clash at the picture’s heart with a score that’s appropriately iconoclastic, flanking jaunty traditional Greek melodies with aggressively modern guitar and synth riffs and improvisational jazz diversions that remind a bit of Fred Katz. It’s alternately beautiful, jarring, and numbing stuff, and it’s impossible to imagine Cocoyannis’ film without it – a sure sign of a job well done.

Shunsuke Kikuchi – Genocide: War of the Insects

Despite his relative obscurity in comparison to the likes of Ifukube, Sato, Takemitsu and so on, the contributions of prolific film and television composer Shunsuke Kikuchi’s to the flavor of the Japanese pop cinema of the 60s are impossible to ignore. Though typified by his fondness for muted laser brass and percussive synths (as evidenced by his work on Goke Body Snatcher From Hell, the Gamera series and others) Kikuchi, like so many of his overworked contemporaries, was actually possessed of quite a wide range of musical sensibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in his score for Shochiku’s ridiculously nihilist Genocide: War of the Insects, for which the typically bombastic composer crafted an atypically melodious score. Kikuchi’s usual mix of synths and muted brass is here, but sparingly applied, and a lush, melancholy love theme is allowed to develop among the strings and woodwinds between the typical horror stings. There’s an ethereal dreaminess (and not necessarily good dreams!) to the low-boil atmospheric passages, and even a hint of Herrmann to be heard in the insectine violins. The composer has rarely been more evocative.

Stelvio Cipriani – Nightmare City

We all have our guilty pleasures, and Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City is one of the guiltiest of mine, that disc I drag out of the cabinet whenever friends just aren’t sure what they’re in the mood for. By the end, they’re always in the mood for Nightmare City. A frequently laughable and always entertaining mix of awkward enviro-political speechifying and bread and butter exploitation, with lots of blood and exposed flesh to keep attentions piqued, Nightmare City isn’t exactly A-class material, and the unfortunate task of composing for it fell upon the accomplished and prolific Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood). Some of the cues here are quite effective, and the opening theme signals doom-and-gloom with the best of them. The rest, however, aren’t so much. A few diversions into contemporary lounge and cringeworthy dance stylings aside, Cipriani’s score is dominated by an infectious nasal synthesizer motif that’s repeated to the point of hysterics. It’s an indelible bit of love-it or hate-it scoring, and perfect for tormenting friends and enemies alike.

Masao Yagi – Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds

In 1977 Toei Company spent more money than they ever had before on producing a bizarre Jaws-influenced disaster picture about one impossibly hip geologist’s hunt for a living plesiosaurus in the lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. Punctuated by graphic human violence, giant monster fights, volcanic eruptions and even an impromptu country music show courtesy of Moroguchi Akira, Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds is a weird picture for a lot of reasons. Not the least of these is jazz pianist Masao Yagi’s out-there score, a rare instance of daikaiju eiga disco-funk and one of the downright baddest things ever composed for the genre. I admit to being biased, however, as Yagi’s score is also one of the few I’ve ever heard that offers the bass clarinet (an instrument near and dear to me) any kind of star placement in the instrumentation. In the lower, moodier patches the bass clarinetist frequently carries the theme, and during one memorable monster encounter is even offered a couple of front-and-center improv spots. I spent hours of my youth figuring these parts out from a gruddy VHS pre-record, and if for that experience alone Yagi’s work will always be tops with me.

Various – The Man Who Saved the World / Turkish Star Wars

Firstly, if you’re one of those who’ve yet to see Turkish Star Wars just do it already – it commands! In all the land of illegitimate Turkish cinema perhaps none is greater than this, and that goes for its wildly illegitimate soundtrack as well. Featuring no original scoring to speak of, Turkish Star Wars instead offers what may be the ultimate film geek mix-tape. Snippets from Queen’s score for Flash Gordon are present and accounted for, as well a cue or two from John Barry’s The Black Hole and Peter Shickele’s Silent Running. Planet of the Apes? Check. And how about a hoppy disco redux of the theme to Battlestar Gallactica? Yup, that’s here too. There are even themes from well beyond the realm of science fiction, including cues from the likes of Miklos Rosza’s Ben-Hur and Ennio Morricone’s Moses. Star Wars itself remains conspicuously absent, but John Williams doesn’t escape entirely unscathed – various themes from his Raiders of the Lost Ark are repeated early and often. Sacrilege never sounded so good.

Kevin Pyrtle is a film and video critic, Harryhausen apologist, and chief cook and bottle washer for Wtf-Film.com. He lives inside your television set, at least when he’s not kicking about in the MOSS. hideaway.

Liner Notes: Kevin Pyrtle

Ghost Money

Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Melbourne-based crime writer Andrew Nette and asked him a series of tough questions about his debut novel, Ghost Money. Ghost Money is set in Cambodia, in the late 1990s, and Andrew’s answers shine a light on a world that is very different to my own (and possibly, even a little bit scary).

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David: For those unfamiliar with the term, what is Ghost Money?

Andrew: Ghost Money (or sometimes known as Hell Money) is essentially fake paper money that in some cultures, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, people will burn when somebody dies as an offering to usher them into the underworld, ensuring that the person has money on the other side.

In many places in Asia you will see shops that not only sell ghost money, but they also have paper maché cars, paper maché flats, paper maché Cartier watch sets – a full range of thing that you need to be burnt as an offering to make sure you are comfortable in the afterlife.

That’s amazing…

The shops are quite incredible. There’s paper Mercedes Benz, plane tickets… at home I have a wad of Hell thousand dollar notes, a Hell passport, and a first class plane ticket to Hell [laughs].

That’s Excellent [laughs]. How does ghost money relate to the main protagonist in the story, Max Quinlan?

Ghost money sent to someone living is a threat. It’s a way of saying you’re for the afterlife if you keep on doing what you’re doing. Or you’re already dead. There are instances of gangsters sending each other ghost money to warn each other off. It’s a way of saying you’re marked for death.

In Quinlan, you have created a western/Anglo Saxon character, but placed him in an Asian body. What do you think that duality brings to the story?

Melbourne based author, Andrew Nette
I didn’t want the lead character to be fully Asian, because I wasn’t confident of my ability to portray him accurately. Which is why I made him Australian – a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo Australian in the body of someone who looks Vietnamese.

In terms of the book, in Cambodia, for various historical reasons, the Vietnamese are extremely unpopular in large parts of the country. This is essentially due to the incorporation of significant parts of Southern Cambodia into what is now South Vietnam.

Also it was the Vietnamese who, invaded is one word; liberated is another, Cambodia in late 1978 / 79 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. They’ve got to get points for that. But then, they stayed in Cambodia for far too long. They did try and turn Cambodia into a satellite state of Vietnam.

But it is very complicated. There are people who will tell you that the Vietnamese just wanted to create a buffer zone around their borders with Cambodia, because the Khmer Rouge were carrying out incursions into Vietnam and killing villagers and bombarding towns. However, the Khmer Rouge fell so quickly, they thought they’d take the whole country over.

I have talked to Vietnamese, who were soldiers back then, stating that when they got to Phnom Penh, the extent of the damage the Khmer Rouge had done, they thought ‘what the Hell have we got ourselves into!’

So, while the Cambodians had the view that the Vietnamese were essentially acting as imperial overlords, the view in Hanoi was that being in Cambodia was an enormous economic bleed on them, and also got them into a particularly nasty war with China in 1979.

But back to the story, I wanted to make Quinlan half Vietnamese as it ups the tension in the story. The Vietnamese are not liked, and one of the things Quinlan has to deal with, is not only being a stranger in Cambodia, he has to deal with being a Yuon, which marks him out as being further of an interloper.

Quinlan does not drink, make wisecracks, and doesn’t appear to be too much in a scrap either. Was that a deliberate attempt to break away from traditional Private Eye/Detective stereotypes?

Yes [Laughs]. Yes, I think it was. You’re always looking for some way to distinguish your character. If being a Vietnamese/Australian was not enough, I wanted to make him a teetotaler, I also wanted to make him a bloody humourless bastard [laughs].

One of the key elements in the story, is how Quinlan refuses to quit, despite being in over his head, and in an environment he is unfamiliar with. What makes him so dogged, and gives him this drive to see things through?

Ghost Money
One one level – and this will always be a complicated thing for me to say as an Anglo – Asia and how Asians are received in Australia has changed an enormous amount in the last twenty years. I can remember how Asian people were treated at the school I went to. I can remember to some degree, the invisibility and racism they suffered in the ’80s.

That’s very different now. I lived in Asia for six and a half years, in ’90s, I left in 1992 and I remember coming back in late 1996, and all of a sudden, and this maybe says more about me, but I noticed Asians were everywhere. There were more Asian students, and whole parts of the city had accommodated that change. Essentially, they were far more visible. But then, of course, we had Hanson, and then there was a whole outcry about that, and the Asian community had to get vocal in response.

The point is, Quinlan grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s, when being Asian was difficult, and you had to take a lot of shit. Then he joined the police force, in the mid ’80s, where he would have been one of a minority. So he has had to deal with a lot of racism, and he has had to push really hard to get where he got – which, he subsequently lost when he quit – but it has just turned him into a really determined bastard, who will not back down in the face of anything.

On top of that, I think he sees this missing person case – without giving away much of the plot – as a chance to redeem himself. It’s an atonement for an incident involving his Thai police partner in Bangkok, which forms the backstory to Ghost Money.

Cambodia is almost a character in the novel. It is obviously a place you have a lot of affection for. What is your connection to the country?

I first visited Cambodia in 1992, with my partner, we were living in Laos at the time. It’s hard now to recall just what a strange place I found it. Phnom Penh was full of U.N. Peacekeepers; half the city seemed to be armed. It was an incredibly dark place, the power was continually going out. There was this amazing old French Colonial architecture, but at the same time, the whole place seemed to be falling to bits. The men looked like they slept in their clothes most of the time. It was a broken city. It was a broken country. The Khmer Rouge had broken it in the ’70s, then the Vietnamese had invaded, overthrown the Khmer Rouge, and then because of Cold War politics, the Americans and the West had placed an embargo on Cambodia, until, I think it was 1989, when they signed the U.N. Peace Accord.

So, it was a intensely strange and bizarre broken place for a twenty-six year old from Melbourne. It was incredibly beautiful. The sun sets were amazing. The forest was incredible. It was a mysterious place but it was very dangerous.

I then went back many times, subsequently, to work there as a journalist over the next three or four years. I did a five month stint in 1996 covering the Khmer Rouge defection. I did a few more trips, and then we left Asia. We didn’t go back until 2008.

Many, many things had changed. It was now on the tourist trail. You could stay at your carbon neutral hotel, go out for tapas and mojitos or a dance party on a barge moored on the Masak River, listening to a DJ from the Ministry of Sound. But at the same time, people were being evicted from their land, journalists were still being killed, and lots of the country was still desperately poor. A lot had changed, but a lot hadn’t changed.

I am still trying to figure out Cambodia. And the book is also about somebody trying to figure out Cambodia.

You name check Jim Morrison, call in the choppers and have a trip down river at the climax of the story. Was that a deliberate attempt to place a piece of Pop Culture, already intrinsically associated with South East Asia – namely Apocalypse Now (and through a twisted osmosis, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) – into the novel?

…or was it much more organic, and the romanticised ghosts of war are hard to ignore in a place like Cambodia?

I think on one level, certain pop culture signifiers are so hard wired to the Vietnam war, and the subsequent wars in Cambodia and Laos, it’s hard to ignore them to some degree. They are a part of it now. I remember in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is known now, back in the early ’90s, one of the bars we used to go to was called ‘Heart of Darkness’. It used to have a helicopter rotor blade always going in the main bar, and they used to play The Doors all the time. Ditto in Cambodia, when I was working there as a journalist, there was a bar called ‘The Heart’. It was the bar all the journalists and ex-patriots, and a bizarre Greek-chorus of Cambodians would congregate in till five in the morning, most nights. In itself, I guess it was a bit of a cliché.

… I suppose, in its way, to some people, Pop Culture had become reality.

Absolutely. Why did foreigners go to Cambodia in the ’90s? Some were sent there as peacekeepers, they liked it and they stayed for various reasons. Some went because they were NGO workers. There was also an incredible group of hustlers, sharks, bizarre Christian fundamentalists – who saw the territory as ripe pickings for conversion. Then there was a whole cohort of, and I must admit I was on the fringe of, young people who had heard about Cambodia and what had happened with the Khmer Rouge – were conscious of Cambodia’s roll in the Vietnam war – who wanted to see for themselves what was going on.

Their life experiences in Cambodia are, sort of, a continuation of that pop culture signifier, and also building upon it. It is actually fused with what was going on.

… It’s not about the film, or the book, anymore?

Not at all. Young journalists, particularly young American journalists, would turn up in Pnohm Pehn, get a press card, because they were easy to get, and before you know it, they were on the front line reporting the war with the Khmer Rouge, trying to sell a story.

Some of those people were my friends, trying to become journalists. I did that myself, a bit too. Some of them were bizarre freaks, who wanted to experience what it was like to be on the front line of a, albeit dysfunctional, war. They wanted the feeling that they were recreating the life of some of those famous war correspondents in Vietnam and Cambodia in the ’60s. The journalists of that war, were as much heroes as anybody else.

One of the journalists who went missing in Cambodia, was Sean Flynn. Errol Flynn’s son, who made a couple of crap films, and was a painter, a photographer, then as a journalist got captured by the Khmer Rouge – and by all accounts was executed, and his remains never found.

I thought they found him last year..?

When I was there in 2008, there was still a buzz about this. Hollywood wanted to make a film about Sean Flynn. Matt Dillon was wanting to play the role, but they felt he was too old. I think soon after I left, some one had mounted this expedition to try and find Flynn’s remains and there were all these international news stories claiming they had found them, but they really hadn’t.

He was just one of the many journalists, including many Khmer and Asian journalists, who were killed reporting the conflict, and their remains never found.

The point being, that Flynn, a larger than life figure, is a great example of how reality and pop culture have merged.

Will we meet Max Quinlan again? Is there a sequel in the works?

I have a Quinlan story coming up in an online journal called Noir Nation, that should be out in the next week or so. It features Max trying to find a Vietnamese woman caught up in the illegal sex industry in Melbourne. I have an idea for another novel featuring him in Cambodia, a year after the events in Ghost Money. I would also like to take him to Vietnam; take him to East Timor. There’s a lot of places I’d like to take him.

Thank you very much for your time, Andrew.

* * * * *

Andrew Nette is a writer with a fascination for crime fiction and film, obscure pulp novels and Asia. His first book, Ghost Money, a gritty crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties was published in 2012 by Snubnose Press.

He is one of the founders of Crime Factory Publications a small press specialising in crime fiction, and helps edit it’s on-line magazine Crime Factory. He is also one of the editors of Crime Factory Publication’s second book, Hard Labour, an anthology of short Australian crime fiction, due for release in October 2012.

His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line anthologies.

You can find out more about Andrew at http://www.pulpcurry.com/

Ghost Money

Liner Notes: Carol Borden


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Carol Borden, who draws out the best in comics at the, Cultural Gutter. She shares her five favourite soundtracks below.

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If I were to base this on composers I love, it would probably be very different. But then, if you asked me on another day, it would be different. Top 5 or 10 or even 20 lists and I are not good friends.

In The Mood For Love (2001) by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi

I sigh to this soundtrack late at night. Director Wong Kar-Wai and composer/violinist Michael Galasso’s In The Mood For Love soundtrack represents how well music can work with a movie and how good a soundtrack thoughtfully combining original composition and music by other composers and artists can work with a film. Zhao Xuan’s “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” provides crackly radio nostalgia. Nat King Cole’s covers of Bebel Gilberto classics provide romantic polish to a glossy, stylish film. But what I like best about the soundtrack is the strings. Composers and bands often use saccharine sweet string arrangements, but the real power of a violin is its ability to evoke a rough, raw, yearning ache, and Michael Galasso does that so well in his original compositions and in his arrangement of “Yumeji’s Theme,” from Shigeru Umebayashi’s soundtrack for Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji.

Night On Earth (1992) by Tom Waits

Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch are amazing together. I probably like Jarmusch’s Down By Law better as a film, and love all the Waits songs used in that soundtrack. But Waits’ Night On Earth soundtrack fits perfectly with the film, all thumping bass, crooked horns, sad piano, acidic electric guitar and old country accordion. Waits provides different arrangements of a theme to mark the same night experienced by cab drivers in 5 different cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. And there are variations on two songs he and Kathleen Brennan wrote for the film, “Back In The Good Old World” and “On The Other Side Of The World.” Good for listening to while driving on dark, snowy winter nights.

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974) by David Shire

For the record, there is no other version of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. There is only the one directed by Joseph Sargeant, starring Walter Matthau and scored by David Shire. Shire was a prolific composer of 1960s and 1970s soundtracks, but this is my favorite of his. It’s a perfect synecdoche of 1970s film soundtracks. Again, I like the variations on a theme—particularly the expanded arrangement of the opening them for the end credits. I love the squonking brass echoing street noise and the sounds of the subway, and the complex percussion scoring. Frankly, one of the best inspirations musicians have ever had is the train. I imagine that this is exactly how badass Fun City sounded like in the 1970s.

Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Hajime Kaburagi

Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter is almost more a musical than a yakuza movie. The set design is highly stylized and the color is saturated. And the film opens with protagonist Tetsuya Watari singing, “Tokyo Drifter/ Tokyo Nagaremono.” Watching the movie, it’s easy to think that’s the only song in the soundtrack as it is arranged, reprised, answered and whistled through the film and into your mind. But Chieko Matsubara sings jazzy, operatic elegies in club scenes, including a variation, “Chechez Le Vagabond” and “Furi Furi” by “group sounds” band, The Spiders. Suzuki’s movies are all notable for their jazzy soundtracks, but what makes me choose Tokyo Drifter over, say, Branded To Kill is the way one song infuses an entire film, as if the whole film is just an elaboration of it. Even Chieko Matsubara’s last song, interrupted by the final showdown, bleeds easily into “Tokyo Drifter’s” final reprise. The song itself has become iconic and you can find many interpretations online, from shamisen arrangements to Japanese Academic Punks w/Tokyo Big Beat Junky’s ska version.

Yojimbo (1961) by Masaru Sato

Yojimbo might be the most satirical and catchy as hell soundtrack I’ve ever heard. With his mix of modern and traditional instrumentation, Sato punctuates scenes, underscores the humor in Yojimbo and amplifies mood, whether in a nameless samurai’s decision to follow one path over another, hired swords working up the courage to fight or a young mother’s heartfelt, though foolishly-timed, thanks. The “Burlesque” dance number, in particular, is one of my favorite pieces in the movie for the way it presents a straightforward scene—prostitutes dancing as an enticement for the wandering ronin—and just undercuts the seriousness and slyness of the madame’s scheme. If the theme from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three captures the subway, Yojimbo’s theme really captures rambling along dirt roads. I imagine that Sato just recorded the natural soundtrack that followed Toshiro Mifune around during the whole Yojimbo shoot.

(If I were to choose one soundtrack to represent the best in soundtracks, it would be Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, which somehow feels like a chorus out of ancient Greek drama, commenting on the film. Also, “The Ecstasy of Gold” graveyard sequence makes my hair stand on end).

Carol Borden is one of the team at Cultural Gutter, a website that ‘takes trash seriously.’ The site is updated Thursday afternoon with a new article about an artistic pursuit generally considered to be beneath consideration. Carol Borden draws out the best in comics, James Schellenberg probes science-fiction, Chris Szego dallies with romance and Alex MacFadyen stares deeply into the screen.

Liner Notes: Carol Borden