Wednesday, December 31, 2008

John Cale Before And After The Velvets

Here are two clips involving John Cale, first a beautiful orchestral version of "Paris 1919" performed live in Amsterdam.

Second, a true rarity. This is Cale appearing on the game show "I've Got A Secret" in 1963 long before Andy Warhol or Lou Reed entered his life. The secret here is that he was part of a rare full length 18 hour performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". After the panel does their guessing he then plays one run through of the piece on piano. Never mind that there's some snickering in the audience. Can you imagine any major network TV show today so much as mentioning Erik Satie much less letting somebody perform his music?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Texas - Black Eyed Boy

This is a video from Texas, a Scottish group that was big in the 90's. I know the song is ersatz Motown. It still sounds good though.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clarke Boland Big Band

This is a clip by a big band best known in Europe in the Sixties, the Clarke-Boland Big Band even though they had a lot of famous American musicians in their ranks, including the co-leader drummer Kenny Clarke. This piece is called "Sax No End" and it showcases the incredible sax section this band had, each member introduced individually in the clip.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bill Le Sage

This is something interesting I found yesterday from a 1960's British TV show called Jazz 625. The group is a jazz with classical influences band called Bill Le Sage's New Directions In Jazz. Le Sage, who plays piano and vibes here, was a well-travelled musician on the British scene who doesn't seem to have ever recorded as a leader which is a shame. This group sounds pretty close to some of the Third Stream experiments John Lewis and Gunther Schuller were doing in America and I would have loved to have heard an album in this vein.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Captain

This just plain compelled me to post it, the one and only Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby". (By the way this is the more commercial sounding version of the band.)

Procol Harum - Pandora's Box

A video by Procol Harum but not one of the early songs. This is "Pandora's Box" from 1975, their last hit before disbanding the first time. BY this time I think Gary Brooker may have been the only original member left in the band.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scott Walker

I'm finally getting around to posting something by Scott Walker. This is his first solo TV appearance singing Jacques Brel's "Mathilde" on a show hosted by Dusty Springfield. The quality of the clip isn't great but it's the best version I could find.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Portishead - Humming

There are a lot of Portishead videos on YouTube but a lot of the official ones are disabled, including the video for their masterpiece, "Glory Box". Here instead is a characteristically creepy one for "Humming".

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Steeleye

Here is another Steeleye Span clip, this from a 1988 reunion concert. The song is one of my favorites, "Thomas The Rhymer". As for Maddy Pryor's looks in this, I can just say "Wow!".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa Claus, the Dutch way

For the season here is a version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". The singer is a Dutch woman named Joke Bruijs but the atraction for me here is the harmonica player, Hermine Duerloo who also puts in time in the madcap Willem Breuker Kollektief.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Elis Regina - Aguas de Marco

This is something I stumbled across yesterday, Antonio Carlos Jobim's song "Aguas de Marco" aka "Waters Of March" sung by a Brazilian singer I'd heard of but never really listened to before, Elis Regina. It was always a great song but she puts a lilt and coolness to it that adds extra magic.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Calling You - Holly Cole

This is a magnificent song that gets far too little attention, "Calling You" from the movie Bagdad Cafe. The performance is by Canadian singer Holly Cole.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Second Birth Same As The First

When I saw that DJ Spooky's Rebirth Of A Nation was coming to DVD I was anxious to see. DJ Spooky, real name Paul D. Miller, is known for reworking all sorts of sonic concepts including speeches and and avant garde jazz and this was his reworking of D.W. Griffith's infamous film, Birth Of A Nation, supposedly in a way that emphasized the film's underlying racism and tied it in to the present. Now I've seen the disc and my first thought was "That was it?".

The only real modifications are an interesting score performed by the Kronos Quartet occasional computer graphics to emphasize certain characters and scenes and editing about a hour out of the film that tightens the story. Other than that there is narration that calls attention to the film being a distortion of history that canonizes the Ku Klux Klan and portrays black people as either loyal childlike servants or lustful brutes out to defile white women. The thing is that any modern person with a brain in his head could see all that without having someone draw pointedtly draw attention to the facts.

I saw Birth Of A Nation in a unversity film class back in the Seventies and there the entire class took note of the film craft but laughed at the now-absurd portrayal of the Klan as heroes. It was obvious then and it's obvious today. Of course that was an era when the Civil Rights struggles were still fresh in people's minds and movies like Blazing Saddles really lampooned racism.

What really annoyed me about the DVD presentation was that it came off like this propaganda had always been taken seriously without any dissenting viewpoint ever arising since 1915. In reality black society denounced the film almost as soon as it came out. One particular section with a white Southern family in a cabin besieged by black soldiers actually reminded me of a film that came out a mere five years after Birth, Within Our Gates by early black filmmarker Oscar Micheaux. I don't know if it was meant as a response to Birth but it did have a similar scene that was far more based in reality with jealous Southern whites terrorizing and burning out a successful black family. It even included the grim image of a lynched black man. No, it certainly wasn't as well known as Birth but it shows that alternatives to Birth's idyllic white South have always been out there.

The Tee Set

I mentioned 1970's short lived "Dutch Invasion" a few weeks ago. Here is one of the other bands that was a part of it, The Tee Set, doing their biggest (in relative terms) American hit, "My Belle Amie".

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beth Gibbons - Funny Time Of Year

I was clued into this gem by my favorite film writer, Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog magazine on his blog. This is Beth Gibbons from one of my favorite bands, Portishead, and her solo Rustin Man project performing the song "Funny Time Of Year". I never even knew this band had played live. This sounds like Sylvia Plath singing with Pink Floyd.


As I've said before an amazing amount of old and obscure TV shows are being released on DVD. One of the recently surprising to me is a cop show called Brenner.

This wasn't even a regular series. It was a CBS summer replacement show that premiered in 1959 and was repeated in subsequent years until new episodes appeared in 1964, all as summer series. The hook of the show was that it was about father and son policemen in New YOrk Coty, Roy and Ernie BRenner, played by Edward Binns and James Broderick. It was unsusal for its day in that at least the five episodes I've seen so far weren't the usual crime stories, butg dealt more with the personal lives and attitudes of policemen than any other show of the time that I know of. There were episodes about a cop ashamed of a hoodlum father, a police captain with a thieveing son, a DA pressuring a cop to lie and so on. It did as well with these stories as you could in a half hour time frame and had a nice low-key New York flavor but the show's most distinctive feature may have been its theme song, a haunting atonal duet of kettle drums and bassoon.

The few episodes I saw had some familiar faces but mostly familiar character actors like Robert Webber, George Matthews, Michael Conrad and JOhn Karlen later best known as Willie Loomis in the Dark Shadows series. There were two "Before They Were Stars" type appearances though, Gene Hackman appearing uncredited as a uniformed patrolman and Grandpa Munster himself, Al Lewis, as a hood.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Culture clashing

This is what you got in the 60's when that strange music called rock and roll was infiltrating the scene and television had little idea what to make of it. Here is the Vanilla Fudge doing their biggest hit, "You Keep Me Hanging On", on a TV show hosted by Ray Anthony, a big band trumpeter whose own biggest hit had been a version of the "Dragnet" theme back in the 50's. Anthony is game in his introduction but he sounds like he has no idea what to make of this band. The slow motion go-go dancers also make a nice production touch.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Godlike Genius of Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan is probably the seminal figure in post-World War II British comedy. He took the Irish penchant for absurdity (See also: James Joyce, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Beckett) and used it to create head-spinning, brilliant insane comedy. His most famous and enduring project was the radio program, The Goon Show and he was an inspiration to the Monty Python crew and generations of comic writers and performers. He also did a lot of TV work, none of which to my knowledge has made it to DVD yet. Here is a bit of lunacy from his show, Q5.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lennie Tristano

Lennie Tristano is a somewhat neglected figure in the jazz world, known as much for the musicians who played with him, like Lee Konitz, as for his own abilities. Here is a rare clip of Tristano playing solo piano in Copenhagen in 1965. The song is "Tangerine".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Old Fashioned Way

I have a long time interest in comic books, both for the art and, at its best, the storytelling. Even so I haven't followed the DC and Marvel lines for a long time, in part I just don't have the time, money or space to read and collect the stuff anymore, in part because I'm just turned off by the cheap cynicism and convoluted storytelling that has consumed both companies. Still I just have enough interest left to pay attention to it all and occasionally wonder if I'm missing anything. I finally ran across one story that appealed to me, DC's Justice.

Justice is a maxiseries by Jim Kreuger, Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite featuring the Justice League Of America. It's a story blessedly free of all the recent twists and turns of DC continuity that is simply about all the classic Justice League members, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, et al., dealing with the combined menace of a bunch of their old enemies who suddenly present themselves as the saviours of humanity. The tone is serious but not overly grim with personalities well sketched and characters acting recognizably. Ross' and Braithwaite's art is epic and powerful giving a weight to this cast, especially the villains, that they rarely had in the formative 60's and 70's.

Of course I just read the first of three volumes, so now I want to find the other two, which is more than I've been able to say about any super-hero comic in years. This was not enough to make me a comic book junkie again but it reminded me what I ever got out of the stuff.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gayle McCormick and Smith

After Janis Joplin broke big in the early 70's a number of bluesy, hard-singing female vocalists appeared on the scene, either solo or fronting bands. There was Genya Ravan witrh Ten Wheel Drive, Lydia Pense with Cold Blood and in particular there was Gayle McCormick with a band called simply Smith. This is Smith performing "Baby It's You" and little more commentary is needed. The only other thing I want to say is that I'd like to go back in time and slap the jackass who prevented this woman from becoming a major star.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Original Little Green Bag

When I first saw "Reservoir Dogs" like everyone else I was blown away by the credit sequence with the robbers in the black suits walking along in slow motion, not the least because I knew the song playing underneath, "Little Green Bag" by The Groge Baker Selection.

The George Baker Selection was one of three Dutch bands, along with the Shocking Blue and the Tee Set, that was promoted in America as a supposed "Dutch Invasion". They all had minor hits over here, the Shocking Blue's "Venus" being the biggest but nobody really remembers them outside of the people who heard them at the time, including I suppose Quentin Tarantino. Here is the original video for "Little Green Bag" which coincedentally features a lot of walking. Judging by the group's other videos this was a novelty song for them because everything else I looked at is the cheesiest sort of oompah laden European pop.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mister Five By Five

One of my all time favorite singers, the imperious Buddha of the Blues, Jimmy Rushing, seen here in his youthful glory with the Count Basie band.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lounge-ing Away

Ah, the Lounge Lizards. They began a mock-Jazz group doing "ironic" covers of old 50's cool jazz tunes but eventually morphed into their very hip original identity. I'm not sure how old this clip is or where it's from but all the usual front guys are here, John Lurie, Curtis Fowlkes and Roy Nathanson. The highlight here though is some sick guitar by Marc Ribot. The tune is "Big Heart".

Friday, November 14, 2008


Here's a song I've always liked though I'm a little embarassed to admit I remember when it first came out in 1962. It's a Japanese pop song, "Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto which I believe was the first foreign language song to reach Number One on the American charts. I've always loved the arrangement of this with the trombones and strings. It sounds like the closing theme for some Western as the hero slowly walks out of town. Coincidentally there is a lot of walking in this clip which comes from a Japanese TV show, "Shall We Meet At Seven".

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Manic Street Preachers - Suicide Is Painless

I'm not intimately familiar with the Manic Street Preachers but I've heard enough of their music to think they have followed a weird career trajectory. The early songs I've heard by them sounded like punky Clash knockoffs. Then somewhere along the way while their lyrics continued to have Marxist-Leftist sentiments, their music changed to soaring widescreen pop which is fine with me because songs like "A Design For Life" and "If You Tolerate This..." are brilliantly catchy works, a lot better than what a comparable band like U2 usually puts out.

All that said this video is for a cover of "Suicide Is Painless", a wonderfully sarcastic song from one of the great anti-war films of all time, M*A*S*H. The instrumental TV version leaves out how jarring this piece is but the Manics bring that feeling back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maddy Pryor and Steeleye Span

I've always had a soft spot for British female folk revival singers like Sandy Denny, June Tabor and especially Steeleye Span's Maddy Pryor. Besides being a great singer Pryor has always had this sauciness to her that really gets to her. That is shown in this promo video of the band performing one of their biggest commercial hits, "All Around My Hat". British folk purists used to hate this record because of its glam rock underpinnings. It was produced by Mike Batt who also did music for a kids' TV show at the time called The Wombles and some of those songs used the same electric boogie rhythm that appears here. Maybe it is a little too bright and shiny. It's still a cool tune.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Jimmy Giuffre 3

I hadn't planned on posting two videos in one night but I found this and couldn't wait. This is cool as cool gets, the late Jimmy Giuffre and his trio with Jim Hall on guitar and a bassist I can't identify. (Ralph Pena maybe?) They are doing one of Giuffre's signature pieces, the folk-based "The Train And The River". I think this clip comes from the famous "The Sound Of Jazz" special.

Again...The Norwegian Way

One of my all time favorite songs, Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as done by a Norwegian duo, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. I have not heard the song sound this haunting since the original version.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun

I hadn't intended to start posting homemade videos but this one was irresistible. It's for "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun", a song by a Chicago soul-rock group of the 70's called Rotary Connection. The song itself is extraordinary and the visuals capture a era of black pride and optimism that hasn't been matched since...until the last five days.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Don't Marry Her" - The Beautiful South

The Beautiful South was a British group of the late 80's and early 90's that specialized in songs that sounded like cute innocuous pop until you really listened to the lyrics. This song really epitomizes that concept. The first time I heard it I did a double take when the chorus came up and thought "Hold it. What did she just say?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Word From Fela

Fela Kuti doing "Black President". For some odd reason it just seemed appropriate.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hard Sell The Muppet Way

I was watching a disc of episodes from The Muppet Show and that led me to wonder what I could find online on their early days when they did a five minute TV show here in the Washington, DC area, "Sam And Friends". Amazingly I did discover a full episode of the show on YouTube but I couldn't figure out how to link to it. Instead I'm putting up a collection of mini-commercials Jim Henson made with a tadpole-like Kermit the Frog selling a local coffee brand. This extreme slapstick is typical for what the Muppets did in their infancy though obviously it wouldn't fly on today's TV especially in a commercial. You have to admit though. The "Buy this or I'll blow you up" approach is still refreshingly direct.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jack & Rory show what their politics are

This is a very appropos video clip for right now, Jack Bruce and Rory Gallagher doing the old Cream song "Politician". I don't think Bruce and Gallagher ever recorded together but they sound great together here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Great Black Music - Ancient To The Future

I'm just finishing the book A Power Stronger Than Itself - The AACM and American Experimental Music, a fascinating history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Chicago-born collective that has produced and inspired a huge chunk of the best modern Jazz and Jazz-derived music of the last thirty years. One compaint about this music is how supposedly inaccessible it is. Yeah right.

In contrast to that idea here's a clip of the AACM's most legendary product, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, giving up the funk at an unidentified live bass with Malachi Favors playing electric (!) bass, Roscoe Mitchell getting down on baritone sax and Lester Bowie energetically pounding a bass drum! Their music can be complex but it's not that much work to get into it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spike Jones Does His Bit

I have a list of musicians I want to post things by and my latest pick was Spike Jones. I couldn't find a decent looking clip of any of Spike's best known songs but I found something I'd never seen before, a clip from some World War II-era feature of Spike and his boys doing a bit of operetta lampooning Mussolini and Hitler who was often derisively called "Schiklegruber", supposedly his real name. It's not the full band but it is fun.

One More Week

I usually don't pay much attention to politics but it's almost impossible to not be thinking about next week's election. As a 54-year-old black man I can scarcely believe what may be about to happen, especially since it looks to be so doggone lopsided. I'm old enough to remember the Civil Rights era and all the news stories about the fight for integration, the Southern police attacking voting rights workers with clubs and guns, the workers like Viola Luzzo and Medgar Evers who ended up dead and now I may be on the verge of seeing a black man elected president? As Michelle Obama quoted some of the older people working for her husband's campaign "I never thought I'd see the day...".

Of course nothing is settled yet and people still have to actually vote but there's one little karmic fact I haven't seen anybody mention yet. January 20th, 2009 will be both Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Day. I don't think even Dr. King dreamed of that.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Something More Refined

I saw a performance of Olivier Messiaen's marathon piano piece "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus" last night so I'm in the mood for something a bit highbrow than the music I've been posting. Here is a performance of an Elliott Carter chamber piece, "Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux II", by Pedro Carneiro and members of the Portuguese Chamber Orchestra.

arrest And...TRIAL

A lot of obscure old television shows are showing up on DVD now and one of the more interesting I've come across is Arrest and Trial. This was a 1963-64 90 minute show on ABC that had a format where the first half followed police detectives investigating a crime and the second half followed the subsequent trial, the same format that Law And Order would use more successfully twenty five years later but Arrest And Trial turns out to be a much different beast than that later show.

The initial sign something is different is that the second half follows the defense attorney played by, of all people, the ex-Rifleman, Chuck Connors. This isn't really a crime show in the tradition of Naked City or Dragnet. It's more one of the human drama type of shows exemplefied by Route 66 or The Defenders. In the three episodes I saw there was no question of who did what and two of them did not have any kind of big climatic courtroom scene. The plots were about troubled people and the police and lawyers found themselves trying to more acting as social workers trying to help troubled families.

Two shows were about rebellious kids, one of them the illegitimate son of a respected judge. The third involved a middle aged machinist who couldn't accept that he could no longer do his job. The acting standard was high with people like Barry Sullivan, Everett Sloane and Michael Parks as guest stars. Of course you also saw some famous faces in bit parts. Harvey Korman turned up as a psychology professor and Martin Sheen played a juvie henchman. It was also cute to see James MacArthur playing a teenage cop-killer five years before Jack Lord started telling him "Book 'em, Danno" on Hawaii Five-O".

Overall the show had a more optimistic view of the world than current police shows. It had neglected kids making up with their families by show's end. On the Law and Order shows, a neglected kid is more likely to turn out an actual murderer and be dragged off to jail by the police at the end while bragging to his or her shocked parents about they did. Arrest and Trial didn't seem to be a bad show but it had the misfortune to be on Sunday nights opposite Ed Sullivan on CBS and Bonanza on NBC so naturally it only lasted one season. I would like to see some more episodes and see if the trends started on these three continued.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where Do You Go...?

Gale Garnett is a singer and actress best known for "We'll Sing In The Sunshine", a wistufl little proto-hippie ballad from the Sixties. This clip, for another song, "Where Do You Go To Go Away" is something else againin a big way, a weepy ballad done in a production style somewhere between Busby Berkeley and the Fifties "Bachelor Pad" sensibility promoted by the likes of Playboy Magazine at the time. Like the equally bizarre Joi Lansing clip I posted a few days ago, it's a Scopitone, an early form of music video from the Sixties and there's an entire site,, that tells the entire story of these things and shows a lot of other examples of these things. Don't let anybody tell you the early Sixties couldn't get very weird.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Real Folk Blues

Might as well finish up old business. Here is the closing theme of Cowboy Bebop, "The Real Folk Blues". I love how the title is the only English phrase in the lyrics and really has little bearing on the rest of the words.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mr. Davis and Friends

I'm going to try to post a video once a day for a while to see if that can get me into the habit of doing regular posts. At least it will put some of my varied musical tastes out there. Here is the great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams doing their thing on "'Round Midnight" in 1967. I've seen a more dramatic version where Miles practically sucks all the air out of thr building on his solo before Shorter explodes with his, but this one is good too. Wayne is on fire and Tony Williams is just remarkable.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Road To Cairo

I probably won't post videos every day but now that I know how to embed, I can put up a few of the good ones I've found. Here is Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and the Trinity from 1968 doing David Ackles' "The Road To Cairo".

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy Happy! Joi Joi!

That Seatbelts video went up so easily that I thought I'd go for broke and put up something really strange. The star of this video is Joi Lansing, a popular TV and film actress of the 50's and 60's who always seemed to show up in shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Love That Bob! whenever a blonde bombshell type was needed, for obvious reasons. Sadly she passed away in 1972 at the age of 43 and is largely forgotten today, but here she is singing a song called "Web Of Love" in ersatz jungle surroundings. I was going to post another video of her doing the Dean Martin movie theme, "The Silencers" but one look at the "Web" and I couldn't pass this one by.

Let's Jam!

A few years ago while watching Adult Swim I stumbled onto the anime Cowboy Bebop and was immediately blown away by its music which covered big band jazz, blues, rock and whatever else seemed handy. I eventually found out that the score was the work of a composer named Yoko Kanno who is well known for doing the soundtracks for anime and video games. It turns out there are even four CDs available covering all the Cowboy Bebop music and I've somehow managed to buy the two that contained the show's opening and closing themes, "Tank" and "The Real Folk Blues" without having to take out a mortgage.

So I'm looking around on YouTube the other day and guess what I find? Clips of Kanno and her band, Seatbelts, playing the Cowboy Bebop tunes in live concert. I also found clips of this music played by an American high school band and a South American rock group which suggests this is far more well known than I realized. Anyway now that I know how to post videos, here is Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts with "Tank".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Three Caballeros

Watching the cartoon The Three Caballeros reminds me of how underrated some Disney cartoons are though it's weird to think of a billion dollar company that set the standard for animated cartoons in North America as being underrated in any way.

This cartoon was the second of two features Disney's animators made in the 1940's inspired by Latin American culture and the first part of it is conventional stuff featuring Donald Duck. Then after Joe Carioca, the Brazilian parrot featured in the previous Saludos Amigos and a Mexican rooster named Pancho show up, things get really insane with surreal trips to a Mexican fiesta and a Brazilian beach done in wild and imaginative style that goes way beyond the then established Disney house style with bits that recall Busby Berkeley and Salvador Dali.

This stuff goes way beyond what is normally thought of as a Disney cartoon and it proves how creative Disney's animators could be when given the chance. We never think of them this way because the company has practically hidden this part of their past from the general public. Generations of us grew up watching the craziness of the MGM and Warner Bros studio product endlessly on TV while Disney kept their cartoon shorts locked in their vaults on when cable came along, in carefully edited form presumably to protect the "kiddies" from lord knows what.

The result is most of us completely overlook stuff like Caballeros or the innovative work like "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" and "Jack And Old Mac" which I discovered on the Disney Rarities DVD set, post-war cartoons in the stylized, semi-abstract manner of the concurrent UPA work. It's a shame this has become so forgotten.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Movie roundup

I've seen a bunch of movies lately. Innocence was a French film about a mysterious girls' school that had a David Lynch-like air of sinister weirdness about it but really emerged as a beautiful, optimistic story about childhood. The Wrong Road was an odd little B movie about two young people who chase down money they stole while pursued by a kindly insurance agent who pleads with them to go straight. The weird part is that the "kindly insurance agent" is played by perennial bad guy Lionel Atwill! I kept expecting him to steal the money himself by the end.

The most interesting in many ways has been Sinners In Paradise. This was a late James Whale film, one of the ones they always talk about when they mention his dismal later directing career. There wasn't much of his style in this picture about a group of disparate people stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash. The only Whale touch about it was Dwight Frye showing up for a second at the beginning.

The most intriguing part was that one of the writers on the movie was Lester Cole, one of the later Hollywood Ten. You could definitely see some Leftist sentiments in this film, at least leftist for 1938. One character was the thoughtless owner of a factory trying to get away form workers who were striking for a (oh, the horror!) 40 hour work week. She ends up changing her attitude and falling for the plane's steward. That was really only a subplot though. There was also a scene where two characters start burning thousands of dollars because money is no use to them on the island and the two real villains are a pair of violent munitions salesmen. It's amazing that stuff like this was once considered so inflammatory that it eventually cost Cole his career.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Our Future Leaders

Today I was reminded why I stay away from message boards.

Now that I've seen "The Dark Knight" I wanted to go onto a couple of geek movie websites to see what other people thought of it. The first I went to was Ain't It Cool News. Big mistake. I wandered onto a thread where AICN head, Harry Knowles, was raving about some people complaining about the supposed portrayal of mentally disabled people in the upcoming Tropic Thunder. Wow. Except for a few reasoned individuals pointing out that the movie wasn't getting cut and that complaining about a portrayal of some group is not the same as censorship, it was all insane vicious screeds about the evils of liberals and political correctness that reeked of a bunch of spoiled punks who didn't know a damn thing about history or other people outside of their little stoner-movie geek world, parroting poison they had picked up from the likes of Rush Limbaugh. That's not counting the long tangent where they were calling Knowles a hypocrite because he had temporarily pulled a review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars at its studio's request.

Reading stuff like this I have to struggle to remember that these yahoos are actually a very small part of the population and that there are plenty of decent people in this world who don't scream bloody murder every time someone tells them that a bogus boogeyman is out there trying to take away some of their toys.

Eventually I got away from that madness and looked up a near 300-page Dark Knight thread at Comic Book Resources that started way back when with the posters being underwhelmed at the first announcement that Heath Ledger was going to play the Joker. What I read skimming through this thread was generally more civilized even from the people who found fault with the movie's tone or some of the plot devices, generally more civilized...except for the bright sparks who started calling Maggie Gyllenhall "ugly".

The internet...where common sense goes to die.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Shining Knights

Disappointment? I don't think so.

The Dark Knight lived up to all its hype. Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker is everything it's billed to be but the genius of the film is that it is far more than the normal superhero "popcorn" movie. It's like someone took an old Warner Brothers crime film and added superheroes and supervillains to it. You've got good DAs and cops and evil crime bosses with two costumed loonies added to take things to another level. The movie carries on the themes of Gotham's hope and redemption from Batman Begins but it adds so much through the character of Harvey Dent who is really the most tragic figure in the movie, an honest crime-fighting DA who succumbs to madness and becomes as evil as the people he's fighting.

The Joker comes off as a real "Super Villain", someone far beyond the normal crooks who just want to get rich. He seems to see himself as a freak whose mission in life is to spread anarchy and destroy all hope and dreams of normality. This is so much beyond the scope of the comics where all the villains, even Harvey "Two-Face" Dent", were glorified gang bosses out to mainly rob and maybe try to kill Batman if the opportunity presented itself. Joker even gets to indulge in a bit of psychological testing that comes off like a far less sadistic version of something from the "Saw" movies.

The pacing of the film is great with no dead or campy spots and you can't say enough about the acting. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman all carry on as well as they did the first time. Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman are terrific. Maggie Gyllenhall more than makes up for the dead zone of Katie Holmes from the first movie and Heath Ledger makes the most charismatic psychopath I've seen since James Cagney in White Heat. It's sadly ironic that the Joker is still alive at the end of the film but Heath Ledger isn't around anymore. If they decide to use the Joker in any future films the poor guy who plays him will have some big shoes to fill.

Then again where would a third film go? Most of the gimmicky villains from the comics would seem to have little place in this Batman's world. Catwoman would be the logical choice for a foe but I don't know if you could build a film around just her. Anyway how the hell do you follow an act like this anyway?

This was my first time at a multiplex in years and seeing an ongoing reel of TV promos and ads even before the trailers started reminded why I never go to mainstream theatres anymore. Still damned if I didn't see two movie trailers that might lure me back in upcoming months, Watchmen and the next James Bond film, Quantum Of Solace. They both looked far better than I expected. I didn't think Watchmen could be successfully adapted into a film (Of course I haven't read it since it was first published 20 years ago) and this version of James Bond seems to be without any of the camp and smugness that turned me off the series long ago. Looks like I need to check out Casino Royale now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beginning Late

And so, three years after the rest of the world I finally see Batman Begins, and it turns out I'm extremely impressed. This movie builds the entire Batman mythology over from the beginning and it's easily the most serious, complete and fulfilling version of Batman ever put on screen. I regret that I ended it seeing it on a small TV screen because this is made for a movie screen. It takes bits and pieces from the entire 60 year history of the character and puts them together in an organic fashion. All of the acting is great, especially Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and Christian Bale with Katie Holmes the only glaring weak link.

The really exciting part is that it is all just a set up for the second part, The Dark Knight, which is getting insane praise. That setting kicked up 100 degrees with a version of the Joker that everyone is raving about has to be special and I will definitely see that in a theatre as soon as I can.

Watching that movie inspired me to finally read The Batman Chronicles, Volume 1, the first year's worth of Batman stories reprinted in chronological order. It's really interesting to see how the mythos developed. In the very beginning there is no Gotham City. Batman's home is nameless although New York is mentioned in one story. His car is originally red, there is no Alfred or Bat-Signal, Catwoman is originally just a jewel thief called the Cat, and the stories written by Gardner Fox are bizarre even for comics, with vampires who turn into werewolves and a ray that erases a man's face. His origin is not even brought up until his seventh story.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Baron Vincent

Beneath all the Grand Guignol mannerisms Vincent Price was one hell of an actor. The Baron Of Arizona is an excellent reminder of that.

It was one of Samuel Fuller's first films, the true story of a swindler who tried to claim the entire territory of Arizona through a mythical Spanish land grant supposedly made to his wife's family. It was made in 1950 long before Price's days with William Castle and Roger Corman and he is terrific in the part with his cultured voice and regal bearing, coming off an expert con man, suave, menacing, sincere and quick witted all when he needs to be. He's so good that the picture doesn't suffer when his scheme inevitably falls apart and he is redeemed by the love of his wife. The expression on his face in the final scene when he leaves prison and sees his wife waiting for him is incredibly moving. This film, along with the much later Witchfinder General, shows that when he stayed away from camp, Price could really move you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blame It On John Lennon

One night in 1970 John Lennon arranged for a film called "El Topo" to be shown at a New York theatre. That showing was such a sensation that "El Topo" ran at that theatre for a solid year at midnight and became the start of the Midnight Movie genre.

Watching the movie thirty eight years later for the first time makes you wonder just what drugs those 70's hipsters were smoking. The movie's allegorical plot about a spiritual journey with various types of mysticism cited isn't that hard to follow. It's just that the picture plays out so ridiculously with endless treks through deserts, naked kids, circus acrobatics, dead rabbits and a million other bizarre things going on in such an over the top way it's nearly impossible to take the movie seriously.

It also doesn't help that most of the movie's weirder aspects have been seen in the intervening years in subgenres that either didn't exist or weren't accessible to American audiences back in 1970. Legless and armless fighters? Chinese martial arts movies. Incongruous objects buried in deserts? Spaghetti westerns. Take away the sense of surprise from this movie and you're left with a sense of being stuck in a loud and noisy looney bin.

I saw one of Alejandro Jodorowsky's later films, Sante Sangre, several years ago. It was out there too but genuinely moving. I realize the man has talent. El Topo, though, is wackjobbery that just leaves me cold.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

We Are Jazzmen

Last night I saw Zodiac which proved to be another 2007 film far superior to No Country For Old Men but my newer revelation is We Are Jazzmen, a 1983 Soviet Russian film about some intrepid 20's musicians who try to become Russia's first jazz band. This was a fun little movie with nice performing and dancing sequences that had a nice sense of humor and proved once again that there seemed to have been a much richer stream of Russian movies coming out in the Soviet era than what we were led to believe even in the Glasnost era when all the Russians would bring over here would be the occasional romantic comedy.

There were a couple of bits that stood out for different reasons. In one scene a Cuban female jazz singer does an elaborately staged Bessie Smith style blues song, but she sings in English and if you listen, her lyrics are a gobbledygook of old blues lyrics that make no sense which sort of shows the way that American jazz and blues always gets turned into something else when it is picked up by other cultures that add their own flavor to the original.

The other bit was a jaw-dropping line from one character, a saxophone player who is resistant to the idea of improvising when he plays. After getting yelled at by his bandmates for playing the same phrase over and over, he says this about improvisation: "It must have come from the Germans. The Germans invent something and we, the Russian people, always pay for it."

At first I thought that was some kind of reference to the two world wars but then I remembered that Karl Marx, the inventor of communism, was German! I don't know if Gorbachev had ascended to power at the time this movie was made but even so, hearing a line like that in a Soviet Russian film is mind-blowing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Oldies Keep On Coming...

One of the amazing things to me about the variety of stuff available on DVD is the proliferation of old TV shows coming out, not just well known or cult items but an amazing variety of ancient work from the 50's and early 60's. I mean Shotgun Slade? Arrest and Trial? My Little Margie? I'm amazed anybody remembers these shows much less buys them. The other day I saw an announcement of a complete series set of Lee Marvin's old cop show, M Squad. That hasn't been on TV in decades and there is enough interest to warrant a complete box set of the thing. Amazing!

I've watched a couple of examples of these shows of varying quality lately. The first was a disc of two episodes of David Janssen's first series, Richard Diamond, Private Eye. The main thing I remembered about this was Mary Tyler Moore playing his faceless secretary, Sam. Unfortunately it turns out she was just in the third season of the show. These two episodes were from the first year and were dull, generic crime dramas with a lot of padding. The most interesting part was the inclusion of an old Maxwell House coffee commercial in each episode.

The other example was more intriguing. I bought one of Mill Creek's cheapo 50 genre movie boxes, Dark Crimes, just to see what it was like. This one was mostly old obscure B movies as I expected with a few cult ringers thrown in like The Naked Kiss, D.O.A. and The Strange Loves Of Martha Ivers, but the surprise was that this set also includes four episodes of the legendary live anthology series, Westinghouse Studio One. The only one I've watched so far, "The Man Who Had Influence" was a good story with shaky acting and presentation. This had its commercials included as well, old Westinghouse spots featuring Betty Furness! It was a cool bit of TV history if nothing else.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Polish Jokes

Once upon a time all you would ever see of the movies from Eastern European countries would be art films from a few select directors. In the case of Poland that would mean we'd see the work of people like Andrezj Wadja and Roman Polanski but nothing of the kind of films the Polish people themselves watched. Thankfully with the way the world is today all those formerly mysterious countries are now putting their old films out on DVD for the world to watch. And so we get to see something like Heat, a 1964 comedy that could have stepped right off an American burlesque stage.

The film's Netflix description is misleading because it gives the impression that the movie is just a comedy team strolling through a town and doing bits. It is in a sense but it does have a plot that actually tweaks the nose of the local Soviet-style bureaucracy. The two lead comics play a songwriting team that the town leaders pick to replace them while they go on holiday. This means the two gents go out in rented top hats and morning coats and see what people's problems are. They encounter, among others, a mechanic more interested in a rare foreign guitar than his girlfriend, a lecherous foreign ambassador and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who wants to drown herself for the good of her country.

This is played out as pure burlesque comedy right in with the absurdist lineage of Monty Python, The Goon Show, Olsen and Johnson and The Three Stooges. With the storyline involving the ambassador, this movie would fit right into a triple bill besides The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup and Wheeler and Woolsey's Diplomaniacs. There's even a chorus line of sexy showgirls decked out as nurses. This movie shows how universal slapstick comedy can be and comes as a huge surprise considering the grim nature of the few well-known older Polish films out there.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Big "Huh!?"

I've never had the undying love for the Coen Brothers that a lot of film buffs seem to have. I've found some of their films enjoyable and original, like Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, but on a lot of others, they have been in full film school geek mode and gotten away with warmed-over pastiches and loud, condescending humor inspired by old movies with no relationship to how people sound or act in the real world. Those elements make Miller's Crossing and O Brother, Where Art Thou? really tiresome for me. Then last night I finally watched the much-applauded No Country For Old Men and my reaction at the end was "What the hell was that?".

This movie played out like it was missing a reel or two. They made a thriller but didn't bother to give it an ending. I get the concept that the movie was supposed to be told from the viewpoint of a sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, on the periphery of a grim chase over stolen drug money that leaves a long trail of bloody carnage. The thing is the film isn't only told from his viewpoint. A lot of attention is paid to the drifter who finds the money and the psychopathic hitman who is following him, so much so that you want to know what happens to them. The affected nonsense the Coens pull in the last half hour with a shootout that takes place offscreen and the hitman calmly walking away from a car accident with nothing more serious than a broken arm is furiously unsatisfying.

All the great directors who did similar films, Welles, Ford, Hitchcock, Peckinpah, knew it was important to tell a complete story. Even David Lynch knows enough to bring his characters to a resolution. This treatment was childishly perverse, like the Coens were saying "We'll teach you to care about plot."

There are a lot of worthwhile films that have used a thriller plot as a mere backdrop to telling another story. I saw a good example of that last week in Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player. The difference is that those films had a story to tell. The closest thing to a story here was Tommy Lee Jones doing monologues about the way things used to be.

The most amazing thing to me after finally seeing this movie is all the acclaim it received. The acting is great and Javier Bardem deserved his Oscar but I'm stunned that this artistic con job actually beat out the far superior There Will Be Blood for Best Picture.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Talent Close To Us

It's fun to read music magazines and listen to radio stations like WFMU that explore all the hidden nooks and crannies of the musical universe but sometimes I get frustrated that those sources never acknowledge the fact that there are and always have been a lot of talented musicians working in more mainstream genres who never get the recognition their talents deserve.
I thought about this morning while listening to a CD by Susannah McCorkle, a New York jazz/cabaret singer who was very talented and adept at mining songs for both their lyrical meaning and melodic beauty. The CD I listened to included an obscure Harold Arlen song called "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today" which is creepily ironic since Ms. McCorkle, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by jumping out her 16th floor apartment window seven years after recording that song.
Maybe she would have profited from the later jazz vocalist craze, maybe not but today only the diehard jazz vocal fans seem to remember her. It isn't only Turkish psychedelic musicians and Ethiopian pop stars who deserve rediscovery.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I just watched the Criterion Edition of French Cancan, the first film Jean Renoir made in France after being practically run out of the country for Rules Of The Game 12 years earlier. I watched the brief bits of commentary and picked up on how this film was Renoir's tribute to show business and wish to entertain the French public. What surprised me though was that the film also seems to be Renoir's version of the classic old Hollywood musical, 42nd Street.

It follows the same plot with a down and out producer trying to put on a show and showing special attention to an innocent little dancer who eventually becomes the show's star. It also has the same subplot about the show's leading lady being jealous of the newcomer and Jean Renoir, playing the producer, give a rousing speech to the heroine near the end similar to Warner Baxter's famous "You're coming back a star" rant in 42nd Street. However this is a French film so the entire situation is a lot more adult than anything Hollywood would dare even back in the Pre-Code days.
The "leading lady" is actually a dancer/courtesan who seems to be modeled after the famous Lola Montes. There's also more than professional jealousy around since everyone is sleeping with eveyone else. The leading lady sleeps with Gabin and the show's backers. The little ingenue eventually becomes Gabin's mistress. In fact she deliberately loses her virginity with her boyfriend so Gabin won't think she's an innocent! At the end the young girl is the hit of the newly opened Moulin Rouge with no steady lover in sight and she loves it. All this is done with that wonderful Gallic whimsy Renoir was expert at in his frothier pictures. I have no idea if Renoit ever actually saw 42nd Street but it's certainly possible he saw it.

Anyway the film is as much a fun love letter to French theatre as the earlier one was to Broadway.


This is the kind of movie that seems slightly forced 40 years after the fact. It's a perfectly good thriller about three men who get together to pull off a one time bank robbery. The twist is that one of the men (played by Harry Belafonte) is black and another one (Robert Ryan) is a bigot.

That is certainly a workable angle and for the most part the movie works fine as a downbeat noir film with fine acting from Belafonte, Ryan, Ed Begley, Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame and an excellent score from the Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis. The racial angle is played too blatantly but the movie ends in an apocalyptic climax that seems really abrupt. For the ending to feel real Belafonte's character would have to be as prejudiced as Ryan's is and there is really no evidence of that in the movie outside of one speech he gives to his estranged wife. Without it when the mushroom clouds appear at the end all you can say is "Huh?".

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Blockbuster Blues

This is the time of year when I almost never go to a movie theatre any more. This is, of course, the !!SUMMER MOVIE SEASON!! when some would be blockbuster comes out every week beating you over the head with noise and special effects until you're unconscious.

Once upon a time I used to go to these things and liked them. That was back in the days of the early Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones movies. Then those were rare enough to be special events and they were actually fun. After "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" though I began to check out. That was when I realized they were all the same, action sequences and dumb jokes that led you around by the nose and dictated how and when you should react. That was also before it all got to be an every week of the summer phenomenon with every weekend bringing some new two-and-a-half-hour long picture derived from a TV show, cartoon, comic book or old movie, not to mention sequels.

I certainly have nothing against the source materials. I avidly read comic books from the 60's into the 80's and I know more about Iron Man, Spider Man and The X-Men than most people. I just have no desire to see them in live action which is invariably not as impressive as the old crazily scripted and drawn original work was. I did see the first X-Men movie and I had no desire to go back for more.

Right now there's really not even anything in the "art" theatres that strikes my fancy. I probably won't venture into a theatre again until the "Oscar bait" movies start coming out in the Fall. There are still DVDs though and I'll be writing about some recent viewings in the next few days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A special voice

I've just added some videos on the side of Carmel McCourt, a British singer who came along in the mid-80's at a time when all the Bright Young Things in Britain were declaring "rock" passe and embracing more sophisticated jazz and soul. Carmel fit right in with that. Her basic band was a trio of her voice, bass and drums and she sang a blend of gospel, soul and jazz that really got to you. Her first album, The Drum Is Everything, was released in America but nobody paid any attention here. She had her big commercial success in Europe espcially in France.

She is still around today and there are other more recent videos on YouTube that show her experimenting more with electronic effects and pure rhythm but these are all from the Eighties. "Bad Day" especially kills me every time I hear it.

Will Elder. R. I. P.

I was sad to hear of the death of the great artist Will Elder the other day. I discovered the original Mad comic book through reading the early paperback collections like Inside Mad and The Mad Reader and Elder's brilliant funny parodies of comic strips and TV shows were the essence of that type of humor to me. I knew Wally Wood, John Severin and Jack Davis from their work on other comics and humor magazines but those paperbacks were the only place I ever saw Elder's craziness up to that point. I wouldn't find out about his later work with Harvey Kurtzman like Goodman Beaver and Little Annie Fanny until much later.

It's sobering because it brings to mind how many of the great classic comics creators are left, Davis, Severin, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee among others and now there's news that Gene Colan, the great artist of Iron Man, Tomb Of Dracula, Howard the Duck and other books, is in ill health. Even when they are essentially retired, it hurts to see the legends go.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Library Of Alexandria

The Library Of Alexandria (seen in an artists' representation on the right) was one of the wonders of the ancient world, a repository of just about all the writings in science, philosophy, history and arts done to that point. A fire destroyed the library and much of the collected knowledge of the world was lost forever.

Today things are very different. Thanks to technology and cyberspace nothing seems to be lost forever, especially anything that can be stored on CD or DVD. A lot of old films may be gone without a trace for the time being but at the same time it seems that weekly some rare or forgotten film or TV show suddenly shows up on the market. From Stan Laurel silents and rare cartoons to 1948 TV shows and legendarily obscure independent films from the 60's somebody somewhere puts it out. The same goes for music.

As a result even chain stores like Blockbuster or Barnes and Noble can be looked on as modern libraries of Alexandria. The humblest of them still hold thousands of different titles and if you look around, there's always something more on the shelves besides last summer's blockbuster movies or the latest disc from some American Idol zombie. That's not to mention what you might find in a place like Netflix or in any of the independent stores that are still around.

From now on that is what I'll be concentrating on in this blog, all the cool pieces of sonic and visual art out there that the mainstream misses out on, at least the ones that strike my fancy. I've been doing this all along but in a really lackadaisical way. From now on I will endeavor to regularly write about the work I come across. Hopefully I can keep this going a while. Whoever reads this maybe I can tell you something you didn't know before, and once I master YouTube, show you a few things as well.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fear and Romance The Hard Way

I'm slowly trying to make this blog more focused and professional looking and I hope to starting adding things like videos soon, but for now I want to get my thoughts on two recent movies out of the way. I recently found the local Blockbuster so I can get in the habit of seeing more recent films again. Both of the first two films I rented featured John Turturro in some regard but not at his best.


This was supposed to be the big American crossover success for Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn who had previously made a really good thriller in his home country called "Pusher". Needless to say things didn't work out that way and watching Fear X I understand why.

John Turturro stars in this movie as a mall security guard obsessed with finding the mysterious person who shot and killed his wife in a parking lot. There was such an ominous, hallucinatory atmosphere throughout this picture that I was afraid they were going to end it with the predictable twist of Turturro himself turning out to be the killer. Thankfully they didn't go that route but the plot that did unfold was an underwhelming X-Files / Twin Peaks hybrid involving vigilante cops. It all turned out to be much more vague and unsatisfying than it needed to be with low-lit sinister tableaux that seemed to be imitations of much better and more original works. Watching Turturro creep around dark red hotel corridors flashed me back to "Barton Fink". I kept expecting John Goodman to run down the hall carrying a shotgun and screaming "I'll show you the life of the mind!".

When Turturro was playing the part of a blocked writer in "Barton Fink" it turns out he actually did begin working on a screenplay. That screenplay became the second film I saw:


Turturro both wrote and directed this tongue-in-cheek musical about a steelworker with a wife and three grown daughters who is having a torrid affair with another woman. You could actually believe the Barton Fink character wrote this. It's pretentious, obvious and silly, a movie that takes its cues from ironic works by the likes of Godard, Truffaut, Fassbinder and Dennis Potter but doesn't do anything that hasn't been many times before. Just like in Potter's "Pennies From Heaven" the characters express themselves by singing along to pop songs, this time including "Piece Of My Heart", "A Man Without Love" and "Delilah" but there's no surprise to it especially when there are so many familiar faces in the cast.

Turturro seems to have gotten all of his New York area acting buddies like James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Steve Buscemi into this but not given them anything new to do. Buscemi plays a typical Steve Buscemi role. Christopher Walken plays a typical Christopher Walken role, including dancing, and Gandolfini even does his entire role in his Tony Soprano voice. It's a cute idea to cast Mandy Moore, Mary Louise Parker and Aida Turturro as Gandolfini's punk rocker daughters (even though two of them are close to his age) but they have nothing to do except stand around the edges and complain. Kate Winslet's foul mouthed Molly Bloom take as the other woman would have been more memorable in a better movie.

The cast may be attractive but this is really a massive piece of self indulgence that was probably a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nostalgia Is Overrated

I should stay away from the Ain't It Cool News website but I still look at it regularly. I read something there today that shows it's not meant for me. There was a comment by one of the regular writers on a Talkback that This Week's Summer Blockbuster, "Speed Racer" was a wonderful trip back to your childhood and that anyone who didn't like it was just being a "Too Cool For The Room" hater.

That bothered me. If somebody else loves this movie, fine. I didn't care about the cartoon Speed Racer and I could care less about this movie but I really get depressed by the constant gushing by adults in their 20's and 30's who think reliving your childhood is the greatest thing imaginable. They never think that some people have no desire to go back to their childhoods. I was miserable as a kid. I was picked on in school and didn't think my parents cared about me. Why the hell should I want to go back to that? There were cartoon shows I liked then and that I still like now but I like them because they are genuinely funny not because they send me on some Proustian nostalgia kick . I was never too much into drooling over Summer Movies and I especially avoid the ones that are rehashes of thirty year old kiddie entertainment.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pool Hustlers and Life

Okay, over the next few weeks I'm going to start commenting on my favorite movies as I watch them again and refresh my memories of them. Unfortunately I probably won't get around to Celine And Julie Go Boating any time soon because it's not on DVD. Other than that I'll start with my all-time favorite:


It's been said before but when Paul Newman won his only Best Actor Oscar for playing Fast Eddie Felson in The Color Of Money, he won for the right role but the wrong movie. His Fast Eddie in The Hustler is the center of an incredible film, a fable about ambition, greed, life, death and love told in the story of a pool hustler whose overarching ambition is to be called the greatest pool player of all time.
This movie is most famous for its pool scenes but it has so much more especially in the scenes between Fast Eddie and his sad, alcoholic girlfriend played by Piper Laurie. A beautiful, tragic love story emerges as they go from being two sordid losers screwing and drinking like hermits in their apartment, become more of a normal young couple in love after Eddie breaks his thumbs and temporarily cannot play pool and spiral back down to disaster after the slimy Bert Gordon, played brilliantly by George C. Scott, becomes Eddie's manager.
The blowaway ending of the film is not the final pool game where Eddie finally beats Minnesota Fats. It's the beautiful sequence immediately after when he confronts Bert, realizing that the tragedy that destroyed his girlfriend killed him inside and that he has sacrified his humanity to become the "winner" he always wanted to be. It's a perfect example of "Be careful what you wish for."
Watching the film again I noticed the homosexual subtext for the first time, that Bert, in essence pimps out Eddie, especially in setting up a match for him with an effeminate billiards player at the Kentucky Derby played by Murray Hamilton. Eddie looks so disheveled and disgusted at the end of that scene you wonder if they were doing something else besides playing billiards.
There's also the amazing subtlety in the first marathon pool sequence where little is said but characters are delineated and the story told all through posture and looks. Watching the faces of Bert, Eddie, Fats and Eddie's manager, Charlie, tells you all you need to know. I also picked up on how uniformly great the acting is in this movie. Newman, Scott, Laurie, Jackie Gleason and Myron McCormick in his few scenes as Charlie are all outstanding. I feel drained every time I finish watching this movie. It's like watching a man descend into Hell.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Clearing The Decks...

I'm going to try to take this thing more seriously and do essays on my favorite movies in the next few weeks but first I want to catch up on a couple of recent views.


This was one of the last films of Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura. The Imamura films I've seen before like "Pigs And Battleships" and "The Pornographers" had a black comic, earthy view of the world that was pretty out there. "Warm Water" was still strange but had a more whimsical tone. It was essentially one of those "Local Hero" type films where an uptight businessman visits some remote village and learns to how to really live from the locals, including the inevitable beautiful girl that he falls in love with. Being Japanese it had its own wacko twists, the biggest being the heroine literally spurting like a geyser when she has sex.


I should have known better. Making the hero of a generic action movie a lesbian does not make it a better movie. This was typical cheap stuff about a Secret Service agent saving the Vice-President from mercenaries while shipwrecked on a remote island. The only twist was Mariel Hemingway played the Secret Service agent and she had the usual sexual tension going with a pretty reporter. The strange thing is Hemingway has played a straight version of this part in two previous direct to cable movies. She's also played bisexual or gay characters in several movies before this, not just "Personal Best". Anyway it was by the numbers cheapness that at least moved fast and didn't last too long. You still noticed all the low budget signs though, like "mercenaries" and "revolutionaries" who all had the same New Zealand accent and two people talking in a room standing for all of official Washington's concern about this crisis.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thinking Pink

I recently went through the third disc of the Pink Panther Cartoon DVD collection and I was a touch flummoxed by what I saw. The cartoons all looked beautiful from a drawing standpoint but the cartoons themselves varied wildly in quality. Some were funny and some were just odd with a lot of random visual gags that had no flow or internal logic.
After a little Internet digging, I discovered I was watching the last few theatrical cartoons in the series from 1969 and a bunch of the early made-for-TV ones which started up two years later. These were all produced by Friz Freling's company, De Patie-Freling, so it was no surprise that a lot of old Warner Brothers hands like Art Davis, Hawley Pratt and even Robert McKimson, directed these but honestly, the humor sometimes felt like the crappy Warners cartoons of the Sixties. There were oddities like the Panther being a stowaway on board a cruise ship and running away from an attacking deck chair or his taking a pet fish for a walk (!). I'm still interested to see how the series was in its celebrated early days so I put the first disc in the series into my Netflix queue. Friz himself even directed some of those. Hopefully they'll be more coherent.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pure Pleasure

I finally admit it. One of the most enjoyable things in the world to me is browsing in an honest-to-God record store, one that is full of CDs of every genre both new and old. I didn't realize how good I had it when there was a Tower Records only four blocks from where I worked and I could stop in any time I wanted just to roam around. Now Tower has been gone for a year and a half and I really miss the place.
Fortunately there is still one full to the gills store in town, Melody Records. It isn't close to me and I don't get there very often but I finally got back up there Saturday and I was in heaven, rows and rows of wonderful rare and cool stuff in jazz, folk, classical, electronic and rock among other categories. I had planned to buy only two or three discs so naturally I walked out with four: "The Time Has Come" by Anne Briggs, "Sunshine Of My Soul" by Jaki Byard, "Boss" byMagik Markers and a twofer of The Impressions' "This Is My Country" and "The Young Mod's Forgotten Story". And all the stuff still there for future visits: Max Roach, Pentangle, Cecil Taylor, Carla Bozulich, The Move, The Electric Flag, Kevin Ayers, Philip Glass. That just scratches the surface. I don't care how geeky it makes me look. I love spending hours in a store like that.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reopening The Crypt

Well, I have something of a legitimate reason for stopping for so long. I moved again. I moved out of the isolated, depressing situation I was living in and into a better and more close in neighborhood in Bethesda, and my landlord is an old acquaintance to boot. There are drawbacks to this place mainly that I have a lot less storage room and had to get rid of all my albums and a bunch of CDs, DVDs and books to boot. I still have a lot of stuff though I have no clue as to exactly what. I found some software, Music Collector, that will let me properly catalog all my CDs and that has become a slow, ongoing project.

Culturally I'm still relying heavily on Netflix. I can't get WGN from here so no more "Corner Gas" but the DVD sets are supposed to be getting an American release soon. I did stumble across a disc of another amazing Canadian series, "Robson Arms", that features a couple of the "Corner Gas" actors. Hopefully I'll get around to talking about the few other DVDs I've seen that I think are worth discussing, Hallelujah, The Fugitive and The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection.