BOOK REVIEW: The Hitcher by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2018)

The Hitcher by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Published by Arrow Books 100 pgs. 2018

Don’t pick up hitchhikers…EVER.

Late in 2017, when this book by film critic and writer, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, was announced by Arrow, most of the film (mostly uptight) nerds around the “internet” were posting their disappointment. Why? Because it was a “book” and not a Bluray of THE HITCHER. I, myself, was all giddy with anticipation since it was a new book by one of my favorite film writers of all time!

I personally have only seen THE HITCHER from 1986 once and that was in the VHS days. I do own the DVD of it and it is more than likely it will not see a BluRay release unless HBO puts it out as they hold the rights to it (and I am sure there is more to it than that). So in cases like these, I look to people like Alex to throw down some knowledge to make me understand why a film like this is important to see.

20180602_090105

In her personal style, the “book” is assembled much like the last I read of hers, the one on Able Ferrara’s 1981 film, Ms. 45. It opens with pre-production on the film and references to older films, in this case, ones that deal with hitchhiking as a plot device. The middle section is her breakdown and observations on themes of THE HITCHER, going deep on the character’s motivations. The 3rd part deals with the film’s completion, the theatrical/critical response, the sequel and remake and other notes. The book also has stills and posters from the film, blown up to fill the page. I have read many articles on the film over the years and the writer of this book brings out tidbits I never heard before.

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has put together a very well researched book. It doesn’t talk down to you like some film books. She drops the paragraphs easy to read but giving you plenty to consider about this film. It’s also kept clean with no footnotes (the references are in the back pages for further perusal) and Arrow did a nice concise layout. It’s a small book, yes, but books like these are important and I’m glad Arrow gave it a shot. Alex’s writing is a force to be reckoned with and I look forward to the next tome with her name on it!

Advertisements

3 recent books on Punk Rock & Hardcore Music…

Book looks…Have been off from watching film for a bit to catch up on some essential reading. All three of the following I already have extreme knowledge of but time makes memories fade, so you kind of have to get reacquainted with the subject matter. Reading Roger’s book “My Riot” was a bit of a revelation. I never spoke to him way back then. I saw Agnostic Front play a few times. Never knew enough about the people in the band to form solid opinions on them. There were a ton of “rumors” of course… After reading My Riot, many of my ideas about him were pretty much unfounded. He had a rougher life than I but strangely in a weird way we both had similar paths heading into the NYHC scene. (I didn’t know he grew up much of his young life in the same area of NJ as I did. Talking about taking the PATH train into NYC, brought back a lot of memories) It is a solid autobiography that is eye opening to say the least. Actually, there is an event he describes in the book that I showed up to mere moments after it happened. I wasn’t happy about that night… AY YI YI!

Straight Edge: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History is the 3rd oral history by Tony Rettman. I had no idea this book was being made as I have really spoken to him since the NYHC hardcore book came out a couple of years ago. I am so close to the subject matter, I was really interested to see how it was put together. Previous attempts at books on Straight Edge were so lackluster but Tony knows how to do this documentary style well.
It covers the history and concepts of Straight Edge bands from the humble beginnings in Washington DC to the worldwide movement it has become today. I knew/know so many of the players here, I was looking forward to what they had to say. Wasn’t “surprised” by too much and there really was a lot of new info on some bands I only corresponded with back them (mostly the California bands). I detected very little BS here as much of what was said I remember as true. Again, there are many situations discussed that I was there for so…. There are also many photos culled from private collections that were never published and so many flyers from shows that even I haven’t seen. It’s a great book that belongs on your music history shelf for sure.

My Damage by Keith Morris is an in depth autobiography from the former singer of Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Another book I didn’t know existed until a few months ago and I was very happy to get a copy in my hands. Other than a few facts, I knew very little about the front man of two of my favorite bands of all time. he talks in detail about his upbringing, entry into the LA punk music scene and how his first two bands came to be. His telling of things is a very interesting point of view and I learned quite a bit of how “it went”. He doesn’t hold back and has regrets on some of things he has done in his life. I read this book and wonder how he is still walking among the living.

If you have any interests in old punk and hardcore music, all 3 of these books are high recommends from me. Now, let me get back to some movies….

20180327_212033

My Riot https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072F5DLXH

STRAIGHT EDGE: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History https://www.bazillionpoints.com/product/straight-edge-a-clear-eyed-hardcore-punk-history-by-tony-rettman/#

My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DWWCBEK

My Thoughts on Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore by Freddy Alva (2017)

It’s really strange when you literally lived through an entire period of a music scene and still missed so much. I have know Freddy Alva since 1988 or so (meeting him where else but at CBGB’s). Since he pretty much grew up in NYC, he was very close to the goings on of the ever growing graffiti culture that the city bred like weeds in a lawn. I do remember him showing me these “black books” of his, small books where graffiti writers would do a piece in them and it became a collection of unique pieces of art. While I was always interested in it, I never paid too much attention at the time. Maybe because where we all hung out, graffiti of all types was everywhere. It was “normal”. It was on every wall, street, cars, trucks, etc… and of course the subways which I was fortunate enough to see before the big clean up in the late 1980’s. Freddy was more into it than I at the time and lucky for us, he put together a tome that collects the art and people associated with the New York City Hardcore scene were we apart of and the graffiti that came with it.

The book covers the years of 1980-1995 and all the people involved. It’s told through interviews and remembrances, graffiti crews that were around and of course the images of the work. It is interesting to hear some of the people I knew back then, talk about graffiti and the influence if had on their lives. Back then, we really only talked music, so so much of this was new to me. The most important thing here is the art. If you have a huge collection of street art, graffiti and graffiti history books like I do, rest assured, Urban Styles has images that have not been published elsewhere. Strangely enough, I was at like every show during this time period and was handed flyers on the regular. This book has flyer art that I have never seen before. I was actually taken aback at points reading this book because of that fact. It just goes to show that Freddy was very thorough while researching and putting this thing together.

Graffiti has a long history and what Urban Styles covers is just a small part of it. If this book didn’t exist, sadly this crucial part of the whole picture would be lost to time. From what I understand, the book is close to sold out. I really hope the publishers decide to reprint it. Anyone who is a fan of this style of art really needs to add this to your book collection, one of the best books on the subject. Period.

https://www.amazon.com/Urban-Styles-Graffiti-York-Hardcore/dp/099134474X

Urban Styles Facebook Group

https://www.facebook.com/Urban-Styles-Graffiti-In-New-York-Hardcore-1644635112469700

Interview with Freddy Alva on Urban Styles

http://www.soundrenaissance.net/freddy-alva-urban-styles/

91aKzJ11oSL

A look at Cultographies: Ms. 45 by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2017)

I “met” Alexandra through her writing a couple of year back when I read one of her previous books, Rape Revenge Films: A Critical Study. To me, just that title alone is a home run but when I was about half way through I knew I was reading words from my “new” favorite film writer. While the book has that scholarly air about it, Alexandra shows she is a down to earth film fan first and writes so that dumb shulbs like me can understand. I found out about a couple of films she wrote about in a positive fashion and picked them up.

I later learned from her at the time, that she was working on two future books, both single film specific. One was about Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and the next, the one I was most interested in, Abel Ferrara’s 1981 Classic Ms. 45. Little that I knew it was going to be a bit for it to be released. The countdown began at that moment…

20170303_055613

^ Contents page…

Last week, the book arrived in my mailbox and I fast tracked it to the top of the pile. I was first surprised at the small size of the book and then realized it was perfect. Sized like a classic paperback you would find on the racks of seedy magazine shops (like Seven Star News in the city of Linden, New Jersey where I grew up), the subject material fits it like a glove. In a historical fashion, Alexandra breaks down the making/creation of the film, from it’s beginnings to the finished product hitting the screens.

She is a researcher who likes details and doesn’t skimp on them. While Alexandra doesn’t have a direct interview with any of the particulars, there are many referenced quotes from all who were involved with the proceedings. There is a big focus on Zoe Lund, from the acting in Ms. 45, her writings & collaborations with Abel on other productions, such as Bad Lieutenant (1992). Small details do not get unnoticed, it seems for one big scene in the film, Ferrara hired for day work, people hanging out in the Revolutionary Communist Party Bookstore on 18th Street/NYC, as his studios were upstairs. Weird, I was at that place a few times in the 80’s, who knew such greatness was up above! There is also words written about the recent “uncut” DVD release by Drafthouse Films. While I knew there were many versions of Ms. 45, I wasn’t aware that it was never released in full until 2013. Crazy.

Overall, as with much of her previous work, Alexandra writes for the “common folk” when it comes to film critique. I would say about 15% of the book would be considered psycho babble but the rest is hardcore film criticism and looking into the film’s production, the screenings and reactions afterward. Ms. 45, when you look at it at face value, is not an easy film to fully understand and everybody comes away from it differently. Even though I have seen the film a few times over the years, this book illuminated somethings I missed (again, I’m a dumb shulb, don’t sue me…). If you are like me and enjoy reading about movies, Cultographies: Ms. 45 is a sure pick-up.

20170303_055647

Find the book and Alexandra on the Web here:

https://www.amazon.com/Ms-45-Cultographies-Alexandra-Heller-Nicholas/dp/0231179855

http://www.thebluelenses.com/

https://twitter.com/suspirialex