Out NOW! Pax Victoria by Liz Davinci

Pax Victoria is a concept album about a fictive character named Victoria whose mundane Californian life was interrupted by an all-consuming love affair that led her into the world of underground crime and having to choose between right and wrong.

The songs describe Victoria’s struggles as she faces realities she doesn’t want to believe possible and finds a strength she never knew she had.

Credits

Released January 23, 2021

All tracks composed by Liz Davinci except “10:23”, “The Club” and “Deserted”, which were composed by Underhatchet. All tracks recorded at Liz Davinci’s house. All tracks mixed and produced by Liz Davinci and Underhatchet except for “Oh God”, which was mixed and co-produced by Simon Bartz and “10:”3”, which was mixed by Liz Davinci and Simon Bartz.

Thank you to Underhatchet, K.A. Laity, James Shaffer, Mark McConville and Paul D. Brazill for providing beautiful and inspiring texts for the five album trailers. Thank you Underhatchet , K.A. Laity and James Shaffer for your additional contributions to the mini-chapters (which can be read here and comprise the whole story of Victoria: www.lizdavinci.com/blog).

Patricia Highsmith at 100 by K A Laity

One hundred years ago the Cottingley Fairies were brought to the public’s attention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote in the accompanying essay, ‘The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life.’ More a harmless whimsy than a grift, nonetheless people did feel a bit cheated as the scrutiny of the images led to growing skepticism. But they are remembered fondly, as an image of a sweeter time when anything was possible.

One hundred years ago today Patricia Highsmith was born to a mother at best ambivalent and a father who was already heading out the door of their Texas home. Her surname came from her step father, who had a hard row to hoe with the suspicious young girl. She was shipped off to her grandmother’s while her parents tried to set up life in New York City, eventually bringing Pat with them and giving her a sort of home base for much of her adult life, though she was always proud of being Texan.

Highsmith is difficult, not just in the way that women who forge their own paths are inevitably labeled difficult. She was always chafing against everything, unable to settle in, unable to feel comfortable—always pretending to be human. As her favourite alter ego says, ‘If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful, or thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those things with every gesture.’

She was racist, pugnacious, anti-Semitic often despite having many Jewish women as her lovers (while the Shenkar and Wilson biographies are more authoritative, Marijane Meaker’s account of their love affair is a wild ride well worth taking). She loved snails, and yes smuggled them between Britain and France in her bra—the very thought of which gives me the vapours. But one of the few beautiful love scenes she ever wrote was in her serial killer novel Deep Water, where the killer watches his snails Hortense and Edgar make love, ‘How they did adore each other, and how perfect they were together!’ I can’t help thinking that Vic, who can’t dance, can’t love in the usual sort of human way is amazed and awed by the simple love of the snails and his creator is, too.

The Cottingley Fairies were adorable and sweet, something people longed to see. Highsmith is everything opposite to that, and yet just as arresting and memorable one hundred years later because she captured something no one wants to see, but knows lurks in the mind or heart of people who kill. She found her killers likable, but feared and hated people who made noise.

She drove most people away from her, finally withdrawing to a house like a bunker in the Swiss Alps. Up to the end she complained about paying taxes, but cheered herself by thinking, ‘it is good then to remember that artists have existed and persisted, like the snail and the coelacanth and other unchanging forms of organic life, since long before governments were dreamed of.’

If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend Edith’s Diary as particularly apropos in this moment. It’s a great demonstration of how one can be parted from reality step by step. A lot of that about.

I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys by K A Laity

I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys

K. A. Laity

‘Another year, eh?’ Norman said as he set the pints down on the table in the usual corner.

‘They seem to go so faster every time around,’ Stanley agreed.

‘What surprises await us in the coming year, I wonder?’

Stanley grimaced. ‘None. That’s my hope. No bloody surprises and everything getting back to normal.’

‘There’s no normal to get back to,’ Lennie muttered from the bar. He was polishing the glasses as if to get ready for a big night that wasn’t going to happen. Strictly speaking they weren’t even open but the two regulars had begged admittance when Norman saw the bartender pull up and unlock the door. After they each gifted him with a tenner he said it was no business of his if they should want to drink from the pints he pulled ‘just to test the pressure of the taps’ as it were.

Not that they were keeping a watch on the pub that day. It was just that Norman lived across the street and happened to be gazing out the window at the time. He did do a lot of that lately. What they hell else was there to do? No sport to speak of. And every time he turned on the telly another advert for Mrs Bloody Brown’s Bloody Boys.

It took a monumental effort not to kick in the screen whenever he saw that face.

So it was good to be sipping a pint of stout with Stanley—of course he called Stanley at once, wouldn’t be the same without him—and imaging it was just another slow night at the local. ‘Did you really come in just to clean glasses, Lennie?’

‘Very funny. Glad to see you’re still the bleeding raconteur.’ Lennie sniffed. ‘No, Harry wanted to meet up and show me his new Christmas present from the babe.’ Ingrid was Harry’s surprisingly young Brazilian wife. Pub regulars would taunt him about what she saw in him, but it was obvious: three pubs and a nice detached house with a river view.

‘Bet it’s a gold watch,’ Stanley said, nodding sagely.

‘Nah, it’s one of them Apple watches,’ Norman suggested, having been harangued weekly by his nieces since September for that particular technicolour glory.

A key in the door signaled the owner’s arrival. ‘Aw Lennie, did you have to let Stan and Ollie in, too?’

‘Evening, Harry!’ Norman said, raising his pint.

‘What the hell is that?’ Stanley said, pointing behind the portly pub owner.

Harry laughed. ‘That my friends is a genuine Capuchin monkey all the way from Brazil. Ingrid got it from one her mates who got it off a ship.’

‘Don’t they throw their feces around a bit?’ Stanley made a face as the creature on its leash trotted behind Harry to the bar.

‘Nah, you’re thinking chimps. They do that at the zoo.’ Harry whistled and the monkey hopped up on the bar with ease and looked around curiously. ‘This one’s quite tame. Used to be a sailor’s pet. Very clean.’

‘What do they eat?’ Norman asked.

‘Mostly fruits and vegetables. Likes to get his five a day!’ Harry chucked the monkey under the chin and it chittered at him and showed its teeth. ‘Look he’s smiling.’

‘Are you sure?’ Lennie looked a bit worried. ‘I saw a nature programme what said that baring your teeth like that was a way to show aggression.’

‘Get stuffed, Lennie.’ Harry said it without rancor and poured a neat whisky for himself.

‘Bet it would like crisps,’ Norman said. ‘All those new flavours they have.’

‘I still prefer my cheese and onions,’ Stanley said.

‘There’s the prawn and pickle ones nobody ever wants. They always end up in the bottom crushed with the Hula Hoops.’ Lennie grabbed one of the garish bags from the bin under the bar.

‘I dunno. Probably not healthy for a monkey.’ Harry sipped his drink as he watched the monkey take the bag Lennie opened for him and sniff at it.

‘Not healthy for anyone,’ Norman said with a chuckle.

The monkey grabbed a crisp in its tiny almost-human hand and crammed it in its mouth. Its head jerked. He’d obviously never had anything like that before. The men all laughed. The monkey stuffed the rest of the crisps in its mouth and chewed in a frenzy.

‘I think he likes ‘em,’ Lennie said.

‘He could be in an advert. Can’t stop eating them!’ Stanley laughed again.

The monkey wanted more. He hopped over to the bin and fished out another packet. Salt and vinegar this time, but when he ripped open the package and tasted it, he immediately spit it out and tossed the package to the floor. He grabbed another packet, ripped it open: nope. And another.

‘Hey now,’ Harry said, gently tugging the leash. ‘Let’s not make a mess.’ He cooed at the little beast. The monkey screamed and ignored the pulling. It was desperate to find the right crisps. It grabbed the bin, tipped the contents onto the floor and began to paw through them.

Harry bent down to retrieve his pet but the monkey shrieked and bit him. ‘The fucker!’ His hand bled freely. Lennie grabbed a broom. ‘Don’t hurt him!’

‘I just want to keep him off me,’ the bartender said, backing away.

Furious he could not find the right packet of crisps, the monkey screamed his anger and hopped back on the bar, throwing pint glasses left and right so they smashed on the floor and the back wall. Stanley and Norman gaped, still holding tightly to their pint glasses for safety.

‘Get him!’ Harry cried as the monkey leaped onto the till.

‘The hell I will!’ Lennie shouted back, brandishing the broom.

There was a sort of gleam in the monkey’s eye when he spotted the billy club, or so Norman would claim later. The truncheon was protection against the rare outbreak of violence in the pub and was claimed to have belonged to the original owner, said to have been a retired officer.

Whatever the origin of the club, it was a dangerous thing in the small monkey’s hands, smashing glasses and bottles and eventually Lennie who was knocked out cold behind the bar and cut up quite badly by the broken glass.

Harry hollered and gave chase but the monkey ran into the gents then swung out the window, club still clutched in one tiny paw, shrieking its love for crisps down the icy street.

‘Guess we ought to be going,’ Norman said, downing the last of his pint and standing up.

‘Yes, on your fucking way,’ Harry growled, looking down at the bloody mess behind the bar as he wrapped a towel around his bleeding hand.

‘Happy new year, Harry,’ Stanley said, slinging their empty glasses onto the bar.

‘Piss off, Stanley.’

‘Well, that was better than Mrs Brown’s Boys,’ Norman said, chuckling.

‘Shall we grab some cans and see the new year in on telly? What is this coming one? Year of the monkey?’

Norman tipped his head back and laughed until he cried. ‘Aye. Think it is. Think it is.’

Christmas Split Single by Chris Whitehead and K A Laity

The Linear Obsessional Christmas Single is the 7th in the series of download singles (2 sides, single length, no music). A split single featuring Northern English sound artist/ musician Chris Whitehead and author, scholar, critic, editor, and arcane artist K.A.Laity

On one side you will hear an electromagnetic recording of Christmas Tree lights cycling through their flashing sequences. The other side is a field recording made on a cold day in Berne, NY featuring “Instructions for Christians” in the original Old English. Download includes two front covers and one back cover designed by David “smallhaus” Little featuring photographs by the artists., and 9 colour location photographs by K.A.Laity

Happy Christmas!

Credits

Released December 21, 2020

Side A – Electro-magnetic recording by Chris Whitehead December 2020
Side B – Field recording by K.A.Laity, December 2020

Cover designs by David Little

ACID ZOO EP – Bomb Sniffing Dogs by K A Laity

Artwork by Jason Vaughan

From the press release:

Through the bars of ACID ZOO you will hear 3 tracks – THE ICKE AGE, BLACK POOL & THE NATIONAL + – and 4 remixes by Leyland Kirby (The Caretaker), Richard Fearless, Lille Cykel (Posh Isolation) and Christoph de Babalon.

Tragically fractured like the screen of a dropped phone, THE NATIONAL + is a 7-minute symphony of absurdity and raw imagination set outside WILKO and inside TESCO’S CHAINSAW MASSACRE. 

Around the day in eighty worlds, we have caught the wrong train to a new neurotic terrain.

Come back to bed. We won’t make love. Love will make us.

Review:

From the wilds of Salford, land of bards, poets, and other non-conformists springs this EP that offers a collage of words, music and sounds that you might imagine muttered by a character from a lost Ballard novel who has gone in search of Blake’s Jerusalem only to find themselves shoved into lockdown in the midst of the spreading virus. We’ve all been discombobulated by the quarantine life but this EP speaks to fractures that were already there. Late stage capitalism blows (meet me at the meat queue) and people who find solace in paranoid fantasies of lizard overlords (is this Cafe Latte/the work of the Illuminati?) have only themselves to blame but they poison the world for the rest of us, too.

Neither waving/Nor drowning/Nor swimming/Into the world of the future.

Liam Power is the main songwriter and Austin Collings also has a hand in all the songs, co-writing ‘The Icke Age’ with Nick Power AKA BEAT LES, and ‘The National’ with Eleni Poulou & Sophie Sleigh-Johnson. ‘Black Pool’ is all Collings own and offers up a tone of reminiscence without sentimentality. In contrast to the opening track with its scathing observations of the follies of those who seek easier answers producing idiot winds, ‘Black Pool’ creates a collage of memory that captures that sense of dislocation childhood leaves behind: Everything was forever/Until it was no more.

‘The National’ is a textured soundscape that bottles the strangeness of 2020 and all its betrayals and lies and death and horrors while keeping a sense of humour about it all: the bold will define the new normal/like a load of paracetamol, falling from a drone. It spins and reels between images and ideas and voices, Collings alternating with Poulou: The revelations of the conversations I have daily/ are so different/nobody does small talk anymore. While the title invokes both the French anthem and the self-harming isolationism ripping through COVID-infested Britain, it’s really an international piece that works to evoke the strangeness we all recognise even living in our isolated spheres.

The remixes are great, highlighting passages and bringing them to new prominence in the mix as well as taking different paces and rhythms. Kirby’s remix in particular has a truly chilling effect with its lugubrious pace and manic laughter.

Or maybe I’ve just been in lockdown too long…

Buy the EP at Bandcamp and find the band’s social media links and other recordings there.

THE CLOWN BY K A LAITY

THE CLOWN
K. A. Laity

It was the clown.

The party had been lively enough before her arrival. Shrieking children seemed to entertain themselves for a while. She promised fun on her website—that balloon-littered vomit of coarse Pantone tones with too many gurning GIFsa and autoplay videos. That should have been a warning flag. It had been almost impossible to find the contact info. But they persisted: she was local.

Nothing in her arrival suggested more than the usual horrors of face paint, oversized shoes and a larger-than-life ‘personality’ as promised.

But the children were weeping now and several demanded to go home. Unmitigated disaster.

Not everyone could tell jokes, eh? But most would avoid actually blowing up a hamster.

They would never look at a balloon without shuddering now.


Noirvember Review: John Bowie’s Transference by KA Laity

Noirvember can be a little too much of a look-back-bore at times (at times!) so it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re living in something of a heyday of new noir (neo-noir too, but let’s not nitpick about genre borders just now: life is hard enough at the moment). Maybe we don’t want to think too much about why that is and how much the current landscape blows, so let’s just enjoy what there is to be savoured now.

Mother-Manchester swallowed the train with a blanket of grey. Rain and the smog of industry, breweries and relentless traffic were all around. With no gradual build-up of population, houses and industrial units to the city, it just happened; it was there. Everywhere. Its presence hit me out of the blue like a brick in the face thrown from its many factory walls. I’d been there before, travelled that line, entered it many times. Each time I still got the same awakening, eyes opening; a realisation to the endless brick. And the dank soup of it all.

John Bowie is best known for Bristol Noir, a terrific site where, in full disclosure, some of my writing has appeared (and I received a review copy of this book in hopes of an honest review). There’s a reason for that: a shared love of noir’s dark crystalline beauty. Transference distills that rich vein of noir and blends it with a pure Manchester poison. Too much can brutalise as his protagonist John Black knows. Like so many noir characters, he reluctantly heads back to the city that slapped him down for a final reckoning with the scars and bars he couldn’t put behind him.

As soon as I entered Manchester. As the smoke of the factories stung at my nose. He was in that band once. Now, he’s in another.

Three women look over his shoulder as he navigates the return to his haunted past. My favourite was his agent: ‘an ex-burlesque dancer, stage name M. Pampelmousse’ but there’s also a cop named Cherry, and emphasising the deep roots of the past, a therapist (there’s all kinds of juice in the book’s title). This is noir: their motivations may not be as clear as John believes, but he desperately needs to have faith in someone.

Fittingly for a book that knows where the border between Salford and Manchester lies, it’s suffused with the pulse of the music and familiar lyrics pop up in the prose and the chapter titles, running the gamut from Dice Man to Some Velvet Morning. This is a book for some whisky and a turntable. You can hear the crackle of needle on every page.

Transference by John Bowie is available from Red Dog Press.

Art Noir: Female Human Animal (2018) by K A Laity

Female Human Animal (2018)

Dir. Josh Appignanesi

Starring: Chloe Aridjis

Here is another film that dwells at the intersection of art and noir: Female Human Animal isn’t a heist though, nor is it a con. Instead it’s a film that brings together many unexpected strands for a story that doesn’t neatly fit any genre. Nevertheless the noir ambience is pervasive and used to great effect with the surrealist nature of the narrative. There is a great overlap between noir and surrealism historically.

What’s also unusual about the film is that the star plays a version of herself immersed in events that were really happening: Aridjis was co-curating the Leonora Carrington exhibit at the Tate Liverpool and writing her novel Sea Monsters (2019). There was a terrific conference connected with the exhibit, which is how I learned about the film; Catriona McAra has written an insightful chapter on the film and Aridjis’ works for Leonora Carrington: Living Legacies (2020). Carrington ‘haunts’ the film in documentary footage spliced into the main narrative, offering advice or hauling up short her protégée with incisive critique. It’s glorious to see so much of her art all together: El Mundo Mágico de los Mayas looks particularly gorgeous and I had no idea some of the tapestries were so huge. The arresting And Then We Met the Daughter of the Minotaur is a focal point both visually and psychologically. If you’re unfamiliar with the artist, this film will whet your appetite.

Filmed on VHS it has the grainy, gritty feel of 70s crime films. From the start, the Chloe character (to distinguish her from the real person) seems on edge, uncomfortable, almost cornered. Like many people at a turning point in their lives, she cannot enjoy the good things before her and instead longs for escape with a vagueness that invites trouble. Soon a mystery man appears, but it is she who must pursue him as he proves elusive. So much noir hinges on a folie à deux, yet this film manages to both exploit the audience expectations and turn them on their heads. It’s as much a meditation on creativity and the boundaries you need to create as it is a psychological stalking. A fascinating mash up of noir sensibilities in the art world: I recommend it for those who want something beyond the old standards.

See the trailer here. It’s available through Amazon Prime in the US and BFI in the UK. Here’s an interview with Aridjis and Appignanesi. Here’s another review.

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973) by K A Laity

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973)

I read the novel so long ago (back in my L. A. days so looooong ago) I could only remember the basics of the story. There were probably more of them in the original script by the legend Leigh Brackett, but Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking always left room for improvisation and Elliott Gould—unlikely to be most director’s ideal choice to play Phillip Marlowe—works well here.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this film that likewise memory proves unreliable. So much has changed in the mean time, too. I’ve been soaking in noir and neo-noir for so long now it’s altered my view on the genre, mostly to be much more accommodating. I dug out my vintage paperback to read later and sat down on a sunny Saturday afternoon to visit 1973 Los Angeles with Elliot Gould and co and Vilmos Zsigmond’s singular cinematography.

The ginger cat is the one thing everybody remembers. I should write a book about ginger cats in noir. You can’t cheat a cat. Chandler loved cats. The scene feels genuine to any cat lover: having fallen asleep in his clothes, Marlowe is awakened by the moggy landing on his belly. Ouch. He has no choice but to drag himself out at 3am in his 1948 Lincoln convertible to the 24 hour food store. The car is a nice touch, signaling Marlowe a throwback to another time, Chandler’s idea of the P.I. as a kind of knight with a code.

Then there’s the candle dippers next door. The topless women would feel more gratuitous if they didn’t have a totally believable and completely natural hippy languor. Asking Marlowe to pick up boxes of brownie mix and doing elaborate yoga poses on the balcony at night. The iconic High Tower provides an unforgettable location for Marlowe’s home, outdone only by the Malibu Colony. Apparently the Ward’s house was the one Altman was living in at the time.

Nina van Pallandt embodies the concerned wife with just enough difference from the mostly Californian cast to make her thinking seem mysterious but believable. Sterling Hayden is a legend and manages to uphold that without chewing scenery which would be easy to do in the role of the writer who can no longer write, who is drunk and angry with the world, not necessarily in that order. Allegedly inspired by Chandler’s own struggles as his wife was dying. Ward’s death is changed from the novel and pays off much better, especially in how it affects Marlowe, who develops a fondness for the difficult man. The drinking scene with Hayden and Gould was largely improvised and has an authentic feel.

Henry Gibson, best known at the time as a gentle poet on Laugh-In, is super creepy and menacing in a really unsettling way as the dry-out doctor trying to extort money from Wade.

Jim Bouton, better known for baseball and even more so for his tell-all memoir Ball Four about that career, makes his film debut as the pal asking Marlowe for a lift to Mexico with some suspicious injuries including a clawed face.

What feels most 70s about this movie is the cops. Well, not that they’ve changed much in L.A. according to my friends who still live there. That gritty, don’t care about anything attitude and the clothes—those awful seventies clothes that modern films never quite get right—they provide a good target for Marlowe’s dogged resistance. The ink interrogation scene is another improvised scene.

I had to look it up, but yeah, there’s a portrait of Leonard Cohen in the Ward’s house because Altman was a fan. Speaking of fans, I love the gatekeeper at the Colony and his impressions of the stars.

A cool thing: except for ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ that opens and closes the film, all the other music is variations of the theme tune by Johnny Mercer and John Williams—even the dirge played in the scenes in Mexico. It’s a great thematic device that gives the picture aural coherence.

The changed ending is often credited to Altman, but it was part of Brackett’s original script which was shopped around for some years before finally coming together with this unexpected group of talents. It works. The final scene is almost an inverse of The Third Man’s iconic ending, with a harmonica in place of the jaunty zither.

Well worth a revisit if it’s been a while for you, too. If you’ve not seen it, a treat awaits. Bonus: here’s a great interview with Gould by Kim Morgan.

K A LAITY IS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE.

Supernatural Noir: Miracles for Sale by K A Laity

Supernatural Noir: Miracles for Sale

What a delight! Thanks to Ray Garton and Paul D. Brazill for leading me to Tod Browning’s last film, Miracles for Sale. It’s a fun romp with magicians, psychics, trickery, grifters, and plenty of style. Currently airing on TCM, it’s also available in various versions online in the usual places.

I admit to giving short shrift to Robert Young because I first knew him as Marcus Welby M.D., a show my grandparents liked. What could be less cool than the gently ironic know-it-all elderly doctor? Yet he brings a witty humour to Miracles, which gives it charm. Most of the time the laughs walk a fine line along with the noir ambience and the spookiness. It’s a strange mix. Young’s Mike Morgan is a former stage magician who now makes elaborate tricks for other magicians. The opening war scene is a bit off-putting (including yellow face) but it turns out to be an overly-wrought saw-the-woman-in-half trick that Morgan is staging for a client. His house is a delight of tricks and surprises.

Morgan also devotes his time to exposing spiritual charlatans, admitting that there might be ghosts and whatnot, but he doesn’t want people exploiting the vulnerable with tricks. That kicks off the real plot when a gal in trouble (Florence Rice) runs into his shop to ask for help but can’t tell him the whole story. The plot is the least interesting part of the film and comes from Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat.

The fun is all the characters. Ray mentioned how little this seems like a Browning film. The one aspect that does is the characterisation, especially the brilliant cast of character actors. Frank Craven is a hoot as Morgan’s dad. He often ends up the victim of his son’s elaborate tricks-in-progress but he gets plenty of good lines. Henry Hull is cadaverous fellow magician Duvallo. The bickering La Claire couple (Lee Bowman and Astrid Allwyn) demonstrate that magic is just part of their acting on stage. The always delightful William Demerest plays a grumpy detective (the whole investigative team is a bit wacky).

Frederick Worlock is the mysterious Dr. Caesar Sabatt, accompanied by Gloria ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ Holden as the equally mysterious Madame Rapport. Browning has the camera rest on her singular face and as it lingers a sense of the uncanny arises. Though she only has a few scenes, that otherworldliness serves well when it comes time for the séance.

There’s a locked room mystery that isn’t much of a mystery—after all, by the time the first body shows up we’ve seen all manner of trickery explained. But the staging of the murders within pentagrams, the noir-shadowed streets of the city, and the suggestion that real unexplained mysteries from the beyond may be at work combine to give the film an enjoyable stylishness that’s definitely worth a try.

Good fun!