Psych-rock double bill: Experience (1967) & The Undertaker (1994)

Only two titles but a quartet of firsts for Tapes For My VCR – first music videos featured, one of which is also the first documentary; first short films and first double bill.  Contain your excitement, please, and read on …

Experience (1967)

This is Peter Neal’s half-hour swinging London documentary/performance mashup, all about The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  There are dated-in-a-good-way interview segments in which Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell pose the questions to camera and Jimi riffs good-naturedly on the answers, and dated-in-a-bad-way narration from Alexis Korner.  Live footage of Purple Haze and Wild Thing from the Albert Hall mixes with early ‘pop promo’ type clips (Foxy Lady, for instance is set to footage of a lady wandering about swinging London, being foxy).  There is some backstage stuff and famously, the wonderful live-to-camera acoustic take of Hear My Train a Coming.  It ends with a lame, tacked-on-after-the-credits ‘video’ for Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), cut to affected footage from the film.  It doesn’t look too recent so may have been the promo for the 1970 single – it doesn’t belong on the original film, though, which serves as both an entertaining relic and possibly the single most significant piece of film on the band (as distinct from Hendrix himself) outside of D.A. Pennebaker’s Jimi Plays Monterey.

The Undertaker (1994)

A hot ’90s chick (Vanessa Marcil) walks into a random building in search of a telephone on account of it’s 1993 and mobiles are not yet mandatory.  She’s told she can use the phone as long as she’s quick, as there’s a rehearsal on.  During the ensuing call she argues with her boyfriend (“Victor”, Prince pseudonym fans!), gets upset and takes an overdose of pills.  She then wanders into said rehearsal to witness Prince fronting a power trio of the old school in an empty venue (Paisley Park, naturally).  They launch into a half-hour plus of psychedelic heavy blues funk rock jamming and ohdearlord it’s good.  From here in, the ‘overdosing girl’ is a framing device and an excuse to use some instantly dated video effects, as we’re kinda sorta supposed to be watching through her eyes.  One track cuts while she has a quick vomit break – then it’s back to psych-rock heaven.

Brand new tracks (“6 LIVE DIRECT 2 DAT TRACKS” as it says on the box, as well as the studio track Dolphin which would resurface on the following year’s The Gold Experience) sit alongside off-the-cuff renditions of live favourite Bambi and the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman.  The epic title track is the two note bass riff from Sly Stone’s Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey stretched out to ten minutes of muted anti-guns-and-crack lyrics and massive, face-melting guitar solos.  Make no mistake, this whole film is about Prince the Guitar Hero; effects-drenched funk rock thick with the heaviest electric blues, his playing is nothing short of fantastic.  The super-tight rhythm section of bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland doesn’t disappoint either.

Directed by Parris Patton, The Undertaker (alongside live video The Sacrifice of Victor) was released on VHS and possibly Laserdisc with very little fanfare in 1994 as part of a flurry of contractual obligation business between Prince and Warner Bros – this was during the “slave”/Artist Formerly Known As Prince period.  Indeed, The Undertaker was itself a cause of dissent between Prince and Warners, as he had wanted an audio version released as a giveaway with the magazine Guitar Player but the label was having none of it.  Since that initial video release, it has never appeared on any other format.  Which is a pity as The Undertaker, whether taken as a short film (it clocks in at 40 minutes) or a video album, is one of Prince’s most interesting and downright rocking releases.

Tapes For My VCR - Prince and Jimi Hendrix

Experience: sell-through 90s reissue, £2 online;  The Undertaker: bought new on original release.

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Kill Or Be Killed (1976)

Some karate people are training in karate for a karate tournament run by a karate dwarf and a Nazi.  Only some of them qualify, so Chico, the karate dwarf, goes in search of the best karate people in the world although he finds himself in competition with the Nazi’s Japanese nemesis who is recruiting his own karate team of karate people for the karate tournament.  Cue lots of karate.

One reason I wanted to check this movie out is that the original UK VHS release bears the following legend: “The greatest Hollywood Martial Arts movie!” whereas the film is actually an independent production from South Africa.  That’s some quality barefaced lying right there.  In fact, as these things go, the movie’s okay.  There’s a campy title sequence with the credits projected onto the leading man’s ripped torso (the word “karate” appears a lot).  The tournament setting owes everything to Enter The Dragon although it lacks the Bruce Lee flick’s quality, style and iconography.  The music isn’t a patch on Lalo Schifrin’s … Dragon score either; lame and cheesy, it even does that “dodgy oriental music” thing every time the Japanese nemesis appears.   Tangential point of interest: Kill Or Be Killed may have been an influence on 1984’s The Karate Kid.  Said nemesis is called Miyagi and one scene has a fly being caught with chopsticks mid-flight, predating the famous Karate Kid sequence by nearly a decade. 

There are some attempts at humour here, most falling flat and almost all featuring the aforementioned Chico (Daniel DuPlessis), who – in context – turns out to be a surprisingly rounded character.  The rest of the humour is delivered via the main couple, James Ryan and Charlotte Michelle, a handsome pair who seem to fall into gales of hysterical laughter wherever possible.  He proposes: they laugh like matching drains.  They invent a new kind of sail-car while staging a daring desert escape: they laugh like drunk pirates. He shows up to rescue her from a dungeon: they laugh heartily for a bit before he gets on with breaking her out while she continues to piss herself hollow.  Come to think of it, I may have missed some kind of troubling mental health subtext on first viewing.

There are, of course, lots of spirited, if perhaps slightly clunky, karate sequences.  Everybody, it seems, knows karate in South Africa with bar fights and building site brawls invariably turning into stiffly choreographed kickfests.  Ryan adopts a weird “wind whistle” vocal effect for his fights throughout, which is slightly baffling, and he is the king of back-flips (elaborate Hong Kong-style wire-work here having been substituted with some trampolines).  Also, there’s a reversed-film sequence to give the effect of him effortlessly jumping backwards up a hill which is quite endearing.  Strangely, action packed as it is, Kill Or Be Killed isn’t particularly violent.  It’s all relatively bloodless, the body count not memorably high.  The whole point of the tournament is that it’s supposed to be to the death – hence the title and its USA alternative, Karate Killer – but this is forgotten during the fights themselves and when it looks like the stakes have been raised to “deadly” by the later rounds, everybody seems surprised.

Seemingly a semi-amateur production largely from the luminaries of the South African karate scene of the day (although IMDb tells me this was director Ivan Hall’s fourteenth feature), production values are surprisingly okay.  Performances are a tad am-dram and the script is rudimentary but, all-in, Kill Or Be Killed makes for a diverting ninety minutes. 

Tapes For My Walkman - Kill or Be Killed

Original UK big box ex-rental, about £8 online.