In a 2011 interview with Pitchfork, Alex Zhang Hungtai, the man behind experimental/lo-fi/pastiche music project Dirty Beaches, said, “The way I approach my music projects is a lot like film in conception and delivery. The sound is akin to the look and soul of the film.” With a point-of-view like that, what a great artist to kick off BDCwire’s new feature, Cultural Sommelier, your guide to flavorful pop culture pairings.
In that same interview, he said that his 2011 debut album, “Badlands,” was mainly inspired by the films of David Lynch (specifically “Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart,” and “Lost Highway”) because he “wanted to create an abstract narrative about someone that’s been possessed by the road.” Another fairly obvious inspiration is Terrence Malick’s film “Badlands,” an additional quintessential work about the mysterious lure of the road. To steer clear of those apparent muses, I’d like to recommend a pairing of that album with Kenneth Anger’s 1963 classic experimental short film, “Scorpio Rising.” Coincidentally, they have nearly equal running times (don’t get used to that happening).
“Badlands” is built upon an unsettling union of menace and romance; the same can be said about “Scorpio Rising.” Kenneth Anger, a pioneer of the gay underground film scene, sets the film to a soundtrack of pop hits from the era, such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Blue Velvet” (ahem), and “Devil in Disguise.” In doing so, he creates a subversive and homoerotic dialogue between the images of the biker gang and the swooning romance of the music.
While Anger’s use of music was revolutionary and paved the way for the future of music videos, it was also somewhat cheeky, a means of deconstructing male iconography. When “Scorpio Rising” is set to the murky nostalgia and reverb of “Badlands,” however, the menace lurking beneath the film’s surface is unearthed. Together, they create an interesting commentary on the chaos of youth and the darkness lying within Americana.
The Climax: The Big Race and “Sweet 17”
The wild and frenetic final two minutes of “Scorpio Rising” are originally set to “Wipeout” by Surfaris, but set them to Dirty Beaches’ rollicking “Sweet 17,” and the violent end of the film becomes a different beast entirely.