Friday, May 17, 2013
Space-Age Bachelor Pad Cagean Strategies, Dept.
Ferrante & Teicher, Soundproof
To generate The Sound of Tomorrow Today!, Ferrante and Teicher prepared or "gimmicked" two Steinway grand pianos, per the liner notes, for this album of standards and originals. To sound, at time like analog synths, actually, or tuned percussion. Or, at least in parts of "Mississippi Boogie," like Les Paul cascading muted notes.
Plus, the liner notes offer paragraphs of Eisenhower-era techno porn:
The recording was made through seventeen channels, utliziing four Telefunken U-47, four Altec 21-C, four Altec 21-D, and five specially designed microphones. These channels were multed through four 6-channel mixers for simultaneous monaural and stereophonic recording, feeding modifed 30" Ampex 301 machines, adapted for 14" reels, with our own specially designed record and playback amplifiers.
And my personal favorite:
This record was processed from 30" original tapes according to Westminster's new and revolutionary "Panorthophonic" (registration pending) technique on continuously variable-pitch Scully lathes equipped with Western Electric feedback cutters.
I want that level of detail on everything I buy. Accept the product of no other lathe, consumer! Because if it ain't Scully™, it ain't shit, ahrite?
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Our Miss Brooks, Dept.
So, I finished Barry Paris' biography of Louise Brooks, my dinner companion for the last three months, on and off. And it's difficult to know what to say about Louise Brooks.
In some ways, she reminds me of Al Jolson--not someone with whom she's regularly compared, I would think--in that it seems that the effect of each in person is irreproducible in any medium. I mean, yes, we see Pandora's Box or The Jazz Singer or read Lulu in Hollywood or hear "Toot Toot Tootsie" and understand some, maybe much, of his or her appeal. But the number of times I read in this book about the spell that Brooksie, as she was sometimes known, could, and regularly did, cast on those around her, either through her beauty, her sexuality, her intelligence, her manner, convince me that watching her in the dumbshow that is silent film only captures the glint and not the essence of this woman.
Otherwise, it'd be extremely hard to understand or explain how this woman, beset from her teen years through middle age by a tremendous thirst for alcohol, unable and unwilling to do anything she didn't want to do even at ruinous cost to herself, possessed of a violent and mercurial temper, could have been the toast of two continents, not once but twice.
Louise Brooks summed up her rejection by Hollywood with the sentence "I like to fuck and drink too much." But that can only be part of the story, for, reading this book, one is alternately amazed and horrified at the opportunities she squandered out of whim, ill-temper, apathy or just plain orneriness. Thanks to her bad attitude, which one might charitably describe as "fierce independence," she left or was asked to leave plum positions in one of the premier modern dance troupes in the United States, George White's Scandals revue, the Ziegfeld Follies, Hollywood and radio.
After years of destitution, charity and occasional prostitution, unable to hold a job thanks to the aforementioned "bad attitude," she moved to Rochester, N.Y., at the age of 49 and lived there in increasingly eremitical solitude until her death at 78. During this period, she learned to write and became celebrated as an astute and incisive film historian and essayist. Further, her film work was rediscovered during this self-imposed exile, and the cult of Louise Brooks grew to its full flower even as its object grew increasingly less able and willing to leave the confines of her apartment. The girl who had Charlestoned through Manhattan, London and Berlin; who, at 18, had had a summer-long affair with Chaplin; who inspired comic strips' Dixie Dugan; and who had been a favored guest at Hearst's San Simeon mansion cloistered herself in a sparsely furnished apartment (save for the hundreds of books she meticulously annotated) and drank herself through middle age into a final enforced abstemiousness and slow deterioration at the hands of emphysema and arthritis.
She was, by all accounts, an extremely difficult person. Some anecdotes, even those set in her salad days, give the impression of someone who's just a little deranged. Yet. When she was not, she was apparently the most desirable, impressive and charming woman in North America. She knew everyone, at least before her fall from Hollywood's graces, and everyone seemed to want to know her. In fact, I would substitute Six Degrees of Louise Brooks as the gold standard, at least for the entertainment world before 1960.
So, I recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in the worlds of modern dance, revue, spectacle and silent film in the first third of the 20th century as well as for those interested in the ways that a human life can unwind and develop in adversity, both external and self-imposed. Louise Brooks was, more often than not inadvertently, at the center of several fascinating periods and scenes in pre-war cultural life, and the author takes frequent breaks in the book's first two-thirds to describe these, be they whores in Weimar Berlin or the early films of W.C. Fields. But through it all, it's Brooksie and her charisma, her bangs, her legs, her brains, her moods and her look--that Look that launched a thousand thousand pale imitations--that piques one's interest even as one peeks through one's fingers at the multiple train wrecks and triumphs of her life.
Friday, April 26, 2013
He Stopped Loving Her Today, Dept.
The greatest country singer of all time has gone to the Big Opry in the Sky.
George Jones, the Ol' Possum, is dead at 81. He skated close enough to that line plenty of times by accident and misbehavior. His manager reportedly got him on coke to counteract his heavy drinking, so you know he was not a man of moderation.
But any song he sang, he transformed by the care he gave each note as it swooped or cracked depending on whether he sang about love or loss.
George and Tammy Wynette were only married for six years, but I'm sure they felt like 60 sometimes. He recorded one of his best-known songs five years after their divorce; whether it spoke in any way about his feelings for his ex, who can say? But it's regularly voted the best country song ever, and it stands as a model for the genre: his inimitable voice slowly unfolding for us a tale of heartbreak with a lyrical twist that adds kick and even a little mordant humor: "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
I could've posted one of his early numbers, such as "White Lightning" or "Who Shot Sam?" or "The Race Is On." Or one of his later hits such as "The Grand Tour" or "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" or "A Good Year for the Roses." Any or all would've been great.
So, the King has left the building. The circuit from Jimmie Rodgers the Singing Brakeman to Hank Williams to George Jones is now closed. Shut down the genre or call it something else. But the last country singer has gone to his final rest.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
A Long Way to Go for Pussy, Dept.
Above, you see "Baby" Rose Marie performing her number in International House (1933).
Yes, that Rose Marie. Thirty years before she played Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, she was a child star on the radio. By the time she made this appearance at the age of 10, she'd already been in show biz for seven years.
This film is quite excellent for a number of reasons.
- W.C. Fields is as anarchic and acerbic as one could imagine as the bibulous professor who lands in Wuhu, China ("Woo-hoo!") in his auto-gyro and asks if he's in Kansas City, Missouri, or Kansas City, Kansas.
- Peggy Hopkins Joyce, best known IRL as a multihusband homewrecker, golddigger and sexpot immortalized by Cole Porter in a number of songs, stars as herself and is featured in an involved setup at the film's end in which she keeps claiming to be uncomfortably sitting on something in Fields' car that ends up being a cat just so Fields can say, "You were sitting on a pussy."
- Sterling Holloway, best known to modern audiences as the original voice of Winnie the Pooh, does an eccentric dance routine in a musical number about a Chinese teacup (white girl in yellowface) and a coffee "mug" (Holloway) that rips off Busby Berkeley's penchant for crotch shots of scantily clad dancers.
- Cab Calloway performs "Reefer Man," itself worth the price of admission: [bass player furiously plucks at his instrument; Cab speaks] "What's the matter with this cat here?!" "He's high!" "What do you mean, he's high?!" "Full'a weed!" "Full of weed?!" "Yeah!" "Who is this cat anyway?!" "The reefer man!" "The reefer man?!" "Yeah!" "Well, look at that dog, he looks like he's losing his mind!"
- Burns and Allen are Burns and Allen. One of the more surreal double acts in American entertainment.
- Franklin Pangborn plays the wilting, glowering pansy for which he is best known.
- Peggy Hopkins Joyce's pussy aside, there's plenty of pre-Code humor here.
- Rudy Vallee sings a love song to his megaphone.
- Bela Lugosi, in a rare comedy role, plays a Russian who's murderously jealous of anyone paying attention to Hopkins Joyce.
- Radio comedy team Stoopnagle and Budd appear in their only feature film. Okay, that's pretty obscure, but meaningful to OTR fans.
In sum, it's brilliant. They don't--and can't--make 'em like this any more. And the director, Edward Sutherland, was Louise Brooks' first husband. So, really, I can't sell it any harder than I already have.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Venus and Mars Are Alright Tonight, Dept.
Having finished season one of Veronica Mars, I can offer you, Gentle Reader, some thoughts on this well-loved "cult" show. There may be spoilers ahead, but, hey, the show aired nine years ago. Don't make me tell you about Rosebud and Luke's father and the chick in The Crying Game.
- VM is like Buffy. A girl in a California high school who solves problems even as she's...different from the other kids. Both have gangs of sorts who help them solve these problems. Both come from single-parent homes. Both are virgins or near-virgins when we meet them. Both have issues with intimacy. Both have a father figure to advise them.
- VM is not at all like Buffy. Veronica is all intellect and no physicality. Where Buffy solves her crimes by staking a vamp or two, Veronica gets all Nancy Drew at Raymond Chandler's on their asses. Where Buffy's Scooby Gang has several women playing key roles, Willow foremost among them, Veronica has no close female friends in season one. As the cover above shows, all of the other principals in the show are males. Three of the above have some sexual interest in/tension with Veronica.
- VM is a user. She manipulates or deceives every other character on the show every episode. It become a running joke for her and Wallace (black dude above), as she always asks him to get someone's file out of their high school's admin offices. She bugs, follows, hacks, taps people without a warrant or a second thought. She does so with noble intent, but of course--she's trying to solve the foundational mystery of season one: who killed her best friend? But in doing so, she reveals herself as utterly unintimidated by conventional notions of ethics and propriety, lying, withholding, misleading without remorse or hesitation.
- VM has some sex issues. Having lost her maidenhood under the influence of a roofie that wiped her memory of the event (quest #2), she swaps spit with abandon, but nobody gets Baby to third base.
- VM is fiercely loyal to those whom she favors with loyalty, but woe betide you if you're on the wrong side of the fence. Any and everyone whom she has to give up, drop a dime on, cut loose or otherwise fuck over in the name of her friends, father and dog, she will and does.
- VM has Mommy issues. She spends most of the first season looking for the mother (quest #3) who abandoned her and her father after his career as sheriff went to shit when he appeared to have bungled the investigation of VM's friend's death. But, then, well, see #5 above.
The mystery of the death of Lilly Kane is solved by the season finale, so I don't know where season two goes. But I would recommend season one to anyone who loves mysteries; spunky, manipulative girl detectives; indie rock soundtracks; and snappy patter. And the relationship between VM and her P.I. father (played by Enrico Colantoni, whom I knew from Just Shoot Me!) is lovely.
Friday, March 29, 2013
R-O-C-K in the KJV, Dept.
For years, some long time ago, I used to listen to Jesus Christ Superstar every Easter. Just as I'd watched Wizard of Oz every Thanksgiving as a child on the one day the networks would air it.
The nuns of the benighted order that endured us for seven hours a day in parochial school thought that this album was a bad thing. Not that they had heard it, of course. It was about Our Lord but drowned in womenish men screaming and rock-and-roll guitars, not the nice folk ones that accompanied "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" or "Dominique"--that pinnacle of the nunolatry that plagued American popular culture through the '40 and '50s. And JCS was written by Protestants. (If Catholics had written it, it would've been Miriam Genetrix ("who knew that you'd live back out in the sticks.")
But I had loved the hit title track and finally received it after convincing my father that spending that much money on a double album was not the craziest idea I could ever have, or he could ever indulge.
The advantage, in retrospect, of not having very many albums as a child--and those who couldn't afford store-bought would have to lean against the cathedral radio and etch the vibrations with a pin into the hot shellac that our parents made us hold for them--is that one knows the things inside and out. Very few albums of the last 10-15 years that I've heard could I say I know even half as well. But JCS is one of those albums for me.
And if rock opera ain't your thing, there's always Fred Astaire, from Easter Parade, with "Happy Easter," then Judy Garland from the same with the tital track.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Hymen the Mood for Love..., Dept.
Ladies, did you get your cherry popped by some inappropriate cad before you met Mr. Right?
Well, worry no longer about that embarrassing lack of resistance at your honeymoon hubby's inaugural thrust! Now, "Newly Developed Technology enables the amazing ability to become a virgin again!"
Some fascinating and possibly toxic combination of petrochemicals and food dye will allow you to semi-recreate the rupturing of your hymen for whichever slope-browed, slack-jawed knuckledragger you've decided has the earning potential to support you for the rest of his life.
For only $29.95 you can maintain the first in what will be an amazing series of fictions in your married life! Yes, you are a virgin. No, your husband is not keeping two mistresses. No, your husband is not short, fat and repulsive. Yes, your two children are his issue.
Remember: "only $29.95 and you can restore your Virginity and have your first night back anytime!"
Maintain the patriarchal, chauvinistic mindfuck that is your benighted country's model for human relations now!
Free delivery! Operators are standing back to snicker behind their hands at your pathetic attempts to fool the nouveau riche pig farmer you've managed to snag!
Saturday, January 12, 2013
You Sexy Motherswiffer, Dept.
So, Swiffer. I did a bit of research as to where its name comes from. And there's talk about what a genius brand name it is. It evokes "swift" and "sweep" and other zippy cleaning words. Which may be true.
My theory: The word "swive," which is archaic English, meaning "to fuck." Derived from the Old English "swīfan," which means "to sweep" as well as "to wend" and "to move."
I think a clever if naughty adman (or -woman) with maybe a bit of background in Anglo-Saxon came up with a swell product name that has a logical derivation as well as a sexual connotation graduate students in Old English can snigger at.
Who says Beowulf doesn't have applications to modern times?
Sunday, December 30, 2012
How the West Was Dumb, Dept.
Saw this today after an endless stream of godawful trailers. Wow, different target demo from The Hobbit, I tell you whut. One that the studio believes loves horror, crap comedies and Big Guns.
And...it was good. For the first half of the film, Christoph Waltz pulls focus by dint of his onscreen charisma, talent and characterization. Jamie Foxx is very good as the slave-turned-bounty-hunter. Leo DiCaprio also very good as the genteel/brutal Mississippi slaveowner. Samuel L. Jackson great as an éminence grise of a house slave. And there are a bajillion recognizable (and less so) cameos, from Russ Tamblyn and Franco Nero to Don Johnson and Bruce Dern.
What keeps it from greatness? The soundtrack was...odd. Spaghetti western score meets hip-hop and the world's least adroit Jim Croce song placement. Like, I know QT has a thing for '70s pop, but "I Got a Name" was a complete and utter failure in its slot. He might as well have used "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." Ugh.
There was also a strange emphasis on slightly fey characters for the worst of the villains that might be characterized as homophobic or at least a throwback to the late '50s-late '70s when the villains were gay because, YOU know, those nancies are psycho!
But, really, the thing that turned me off most was one of Tarantino's calling cards: gratuitous violence. Now, in a film about slavery, it would be odd and out of place to have smiling slaves and gentle overseers. And Tarantino does not stint at showing those things besides busting one's back in the southern sun that made slavery a brutal, dehumanizing institution. For the first two-thirds of the film, there had been some non-slavery violence, but really nothing out of the norm for the period and genre. And the film had been trotting along as a pretty good Western, actually. With comic relief and period color and interesting characters.
Then, in the last half hour or so, the gorefest commenced, and the bodies piled up alarmingly quickly, all dispatched in vivid closeups and at disconcerting angles. Not cartoon violence, like The Bride's decimation of the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Volume 1, but rather graphic, realistic violence at close range. (By contrast to which, there is no sex at all in this film. A very occasional reference to some aspect of sex, two very non-erotic scenes of nudity and that's it. Which makes me wonder about the auteur a bit.) Because, as enjoyable as aspects of Tarantino's films are, the inescapable bouts of gratuitous, explicit, screensplattering carnage are tired. So very, very tired. It's one thing to show the violent side of slavery--that's real and necessary for a film such as this. It's quite another to have the walls literally painted red. It's not really entertaining, and, if anything, destroys the rhythm and mood of the film. Like a triple-bacon cheeseburger after three courses of nigiri.
So, a qualified recommendation for this film. The acting is enjoyable, the story not strikingly original (then again, it is Quentin "slavish hommage to my favorite genres" Tarantino) but engaging and the characters vividly drawn (especially DiCaprio's henchmen). But the odd soundtrack choices a real disappointment, the veiled homophobia disconcerting and the violence boring when not repellent.
I wish he'd learn to holster that particular gun, because this could've been a really fun Western, spaghetti or otherwise, without it.
Oh, and could someone explain the final moments' flashback to a scene we'd not seen earlier regarding Django as the "fastest gun in the South" and especially Django's dressage bit? Because, unless there's a sequel planned in which those two points are principal plot elements, it was the strangest derail I've seen for a film ending since the stupid breakdancing that concludes Tim Burton's abortion of an Alice in Wonderland remake.
Monday, December 17, 2012
You're Getting to Be a Hobbit with Me, Dept.
Here are a few notes for you on The Hobbit:
- Your sobsister saw it today in 3D HFR (high frame rate). In my case, at least, I did not experience seizures, blackouts or pruritus ani from watching a film at 48 frames per second versus the 24 fps to which we as a species are accustomed. I didn't notice, as a few had noted, that the high frame rate made effects and props seem less real in the same way HDTV was supposed to reveal how crap TV sets are. It does afford one a more-unmediated view in the sense of showing how the actors might look were they standing in front of you. In some ways, it's a bit like the difference between filmed and videotaped TV shows, particularly when video was still relatively new.
- The longueurs reported may be in the eyes and wristwatches of the reviewers. I was into it. I liked the slower exposition and extra detail that are necessitated by taking a single book and turning it into a trilogy. I am, however, in the target demo's sweet spot, so YMMV.
- Martin Freeman is quite a good Bilbo. I wondered whether I would carry over his Watson from Sherlock. And then, as the credits rolled, I saw that Benedict Cumberbatch is in the film. Can we get Matt Smith and John Barrowman in there somehow for the full-body BBC nerdgasm?
- As you might imagine, love the dwarves.
- Tim Finn sings the outro song, composed by him. All Kiwi all the time, that Peter Jackson.
- There are some eye-popping set pieces in this film and some amazing (virtual) camera movement. I can't begin to imagine the work involved in realizing some of these images.
- I will be interested in seeing how the rest of the book is stretched into two more films, though. As The New Yorker's film critic somewhat peevishly noted, it's 45 minutes into the film before we see young Bilbo, as we're first shown the fall of Erebor and the older Bilbo and young Frodo on the eve of Bilbo's departure at the start of LOTR. Fuck him. I enjoyed it. And I will likely enjoy seeing all the other cool backstory that Jackson and his crews will share with us. Again: SWEET me SPOT.
Oh, and 2013 is also bringing us Iron Man 3, World War Z, The Wolverine, Spielberg's Robopocalypse, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim and prequel 300: Battle of Artemisia.
I take my escapism neat and big. Truly, this is a golden age for fantasy/superhero/sci-fi fanboys and -girls beyond imagining 20 years ago.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Macarena for Bosnian Orphans, Dept.
Something I did not know before watching this video, itself a bit mid-’80s but also surreal: that large groups of people know how to dance Gangnam Style and will do so before a camera. Not since ‘86’s pandemic of Los Angeles crowds walking like Egyptians has a Caucasian group reached across ethnic lines so enthusiastically to assume the identity of an ethnic Other.
It was, I believe, Martin Luther King Jr. who said,
“We are the world. We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day.
So let’s start giving.”
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I'm Bi. Curious?, Dept.
Missed Skyfall in its blow-your-face-off IMAX incarnation, unfortunately. But saw it.
I was influenced by surprisingly good press. Usually, the 23rd film in a series isn't very good...oh wait, I can't generalize to all those other 20+-film megahit franchises that don't exist in the global market.
Daniel Craig is the anointed successor to Sean Connery. The others may have their adherents. I do not number myself amongst them. And very much not of panto spy Roger Moore, whom I can no longer imagine going through his shtick without hearing "Yakety Sax" for soundtrack.
Skyfall hit all the marks. Action. Love. Loss. Locales. Humor. Molten love interest in the form of Bérénice Marlohe. It moves the Big Story forward. The Mission: Impossible series tries to do that too, but as I don't relate to Tom Cruise's characters as any more or less real than his public persona, it all takes on a kind of flatness for me. His character (what's his surname? Falcon? Neutrino? Thrust?) had a wife or someone who died or lived but thinks he's dead? or knows he's alive? I don't care. At all. I didn't even remember he was married or engaged or petting above the waist. So, I'll consider his films not to have met their half of our brief contractual relationship. At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, I pretty much carried away that Han was encased in carbonite, to offer one particular benchmark for mainstream film series to hit.
So, Skyfall. I neglected to mention (on purpose!) the Villain. And gratefully it's not Sociopathic Eurotrash or Ethnic Megalomaniac. But a proper, unhinged bad guy with a backstory that folds neatly into the theology and none of the "threatens to flambé Canada with a laser scalpel from space" Mooreiana. I know...the co(s)mic scale of the mid-period Bonds gave them a sort of Barbarella camp, but I like martini Bond rather than drink-that-looks-naked-without-at-least-one-paper-umbrella Bond. Javier Bardem, blonde and fey (or as Entertainment Weekly had it, "sexually ambiguous,") is restrainedly over the top, moving the Bond Villain closer to a Heath Ledger Joker. I do wonder what motivated the decision to have the character exhibit a bit more polymorphous perversity. Bardem's character range is popularly defined by the gamut of macho running from Vicky Cristina Barcelona's irresistible lover to the brutality of his hired killer in No Country for Old Men. By contrast, he appears to play on both teams here, melding the omnivorous lover and stone killer, in his critically and popularly well-received interpretation of Raoul Silva.
Shanghai has a dazzling turn in the film's mid-section. It's so interesting to see it portrayed as this glittering exemplar of exotic modernity. Your sobsister was there in the early-mid '90s, when it was just just beginning to shed its Mao-era skin and lay down the foundations for the transformation east of the city across the Huangpu River. It was the summer that sunglasses and sidewalk ice cream shops seemed to be every where. In Skyfall, it takes on a Blade Runner-ish LED gloss reflected on new buildings, new windows, new walls.
So, go. Run like the wind if you've not seen it yet. Escapist fare with some chew to it. And a finale not in space or astride a volcano but in raw Northern countryside familiar to Bond.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Tears in Heaven, Dept.
From the Netflix film summary:
Austin and Julie Locke are devastated when they learn that their young son, Dax, has been diagnosed with cancer. But with courage, determination and faith, they decide to give Dax one last Christmas -- even if it has to be in October.
I don't know about y'all, but I turn to film and television for entertainment rather than opportunities to peek into shattered lives. Was this on the Bringdown Channel? Or possibly PlathTV? *ha ha* No, no. It aired on gmc, which, like KFC, hides its product behind a bland initialism.
gmc, the Gospel Music Channel--it probably lowercases its logo because that's just how humble and Christlike they are--was founded by the son of televangeli$t Rex Humbard as a "a positive, entertaining alternative to broadcast television," according to his business partner.
So, if you've ever had a hankering to have yourself a Touched by an Angel or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman marathon, call your local cable provider and snag yourself some "Uplifting Entertainment™."
And if you happen to like Movies with Messages, you'll be shittin' in high cotton, cousin, with gmc's upcoming premiere Christmas Angel about the dilapidated and abandoned house next door to the telegenic little blonde narrator girl maybe being occupied by an angel who grants wishes? Or perhaps you'd like to tune in for gmc's world premiere of its series I Forgive, in which viewers get to vampirically feed off the emotions of reg'lar folks as they forgive, on semi-national television, people who did unconscionable shit to them like murder their son. Why? Because the show offers "a welcome and much needed alternative to the often sensationalistic, exploitive and negative reality genre."
I guess the irony meter was broken in the marketing office the day that copy flew out the door.
Anyhoo, back to The Heart of Christmas. It stars Candace Cameron Bure, who used to be DJ Tanner on Full House and is currently the sister of Rapture-lovin' Jesus-botherer Kirk Cameron. She doesn't play the mother of the afflicted child, but, instead, a Woman with a Career who's Too Busy to spend time with her husband or go to her daughter's soccer games or take her son trick-or-treating--she will Be Moved by the family's story, okay? and probably change her selfish, ungodly, feminazi ways.
This made-for-TV film--"based on a true story of hope and compassion," according to the manufacturer--is apparently inspiring in that the family's community gathers around it in its time of trouble, much like George Bailey's in It's a Wonderful Life. The only difference being that that's a nuanced film classic, and this is extruded product like Play-Doh stars.
One Amazon.com reviewer writes:
"I highly recommend this movie, please be prepared to cry as it is very very sad. I think it was extra hard for me because I've buried two of my children."
And I think: You've buried two children, and you watch movies about children dying of terminal diseases? Me, I might watch some Star Wars or maybe Astaire-Rogers musicals, but I haven't walked a mile in that reviewer's shoes.
So, yeah, The Heart of Christmas. For when you want to celebrate the birth of humanity's savior by watching a film about the random yet relentless impact of disease on a young boy's life...sorry, about how a little boy played his role in God's Plan by dying of leukemia and inspiring people and stuff. Enjoy.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Some Mistakes Were Made, Dept.
I'm a former military officer who thinks it pretty reasonable to have an affair with the head of the CIA with the expectation that no-one will ever find out about it.
I'm a married mother of two who sees nothing wrong with writing a series of threatening anonymous emails to a family friend of my married lover because I feel threatened by her.
I'm a journalist who needs a ghost-writer to actually write the biography of the man I'm bedding.
And I'm a highly educated academic who pretty much always wears sleeveless tops so you can see my cut bi- and triceps all the time.
From Bismarck, North Dakota, ladies and gentlemen, little Paula Dean Kranz! Watch as she attempts to dismantle her life from the inside out!
Saturday, November 10, 2012
On Assignment, Dept.
So, a week after seeing Cloud Atlas, I watch another film that burns through a series of movie genres and features an actor playing multiple roles.
In contrast to the former, however, Holy Motors does not take pains to make its point clear to the viewer. In fact, it seems somewhat indifferent in that regard. It merely offers images and stories and seems to say, Work with that, 'k?
I don't really want to offer too much detail about the film. Although, given the fact that it's only here for one week, I wonder how many readers will even find it at their multiplex anytime soon. Aside from the fact that it has stiff competition for moviegoers' entertainment dollars, opening, as it does, the same weekend as Skyfall and Lincoln, two films that are its polar opposite in terms of setting and meeting audience expectations.
That said, more than a few critics are touting Holy Motors as film of the year. I think it unlikely it'll accumulate The Artist-level Oscar™ buzz--though both films are built around a love of cinema--simply because, as noted, it doesn't make things obvious or comfortable for the viewer, and a leading man who sheds his characters like a molting snake doesn't leave much for an audience to identify with.
What I will share is that Holy Motors will leave you guessing even as it doesn't demand that you "get" the film to have enjoyed it. And fans of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face will get a treat.
Monday, November 05, 2012
Wait for the Book, Dept.
Okay. So I gave Cloud Atlas the best shot I could. Watched it in a sparsely attended Thursday showing at an IMAX theater.
Eyecatching movie. Poor adaptation. E for effort. Would not watch again.
Sorry, kids. I read the novel on which the film is based in order to watch the film with a clear and recent sense of its source material. And I feel that for someone who hasn't read the novel, he or she is getting some odd, truncated, oversimplified version of the story, like relating Joyce's Ulysses in the form of an org chart or PowerPoint presentation.
Basic background: The book comprises six novellas involving people in six different times: a notary aboard a Hawaii-bound ship leaving the Antipodes in the 19th Century; a British composer in Bruges in 1931; a reporter in California in 1975; a British vanity press publisher in the current day; a clone restaurant server in mid-22rd-century New Seoul; the half-literate survivors of The Fall in 24th-century Hawaii. Their stories interweave. In the book, each narrative is cut in half and resumed after the furthest-future story is told in its entirety. In the film, one flits from moment to moment to scene to scene.
[SEMISPOILER ALERT: Basically, eight actors play most, if not all, of the principal roles. So, we see Tom Hanks as a scheming doctor in 1, a hotel manager in 2, a thuggish memoirist in 3, an actor in a film-within-a-film in 4 and the protagonist in 5. Lotsa makeup. Lotsa weird, unconvincing prostheses.]
I feel that the filmmakers feared that the translation from complex text to film would be too far a leap for audiences with no context outside what they're shown because they've changed the book in fundamental ways that either (i) pander to the audience (kewl CGI chase scenes!!) or (ii) try to make the connections between the six novellas really obvious.
And that's my problem with it. The source novel by David Mitchell is 500+ pages long and moderately complex in its statement and recapitulation of themes and images and words. In order to make this comprehensible for an audience that does not have the benefit of a text through whose pages it can retrace its steps and remind itself of names and events, the filmmakers chose to take the basic theme--the continuous transmigration of souls (limited by the author to the character bearing the comet-shaped birthmark in each story)--and expand it to every single character in each novella. So that everyone shows up reincarnated in every story. Which was not the author's intent, at least that I could read.
The film sorta kinda ends up being about love transcending the specifics of one time or place, but also sorta kinda about the same eight people's imprisonment in an unbreakable cycle of reincarnation. Which are not the same thing.
Also, major changes were made, presumably to make the film more accessible, so that, for example, the subtle and engrossing story of the intellectual and spiritual awakening of Sonmi-451, the cloned server, becomes a whiz-bang antigrav shoot-'em-up, complete with a studly hero who saves this weak female who is also a Vessel of Wisdom. Urgh.
Even at almost a three-hour running time, the film contains a fraction of the detail that the book offers. Thus, the weaving relationships between the young composer, the established composer whom he serves, the composer's wife whom he beds, the composer's daughter whom he despises, themselves a mirror of contrapuntal themes of music, are elided in favor of a simpler story. The fascinating backstory of how the corpocratic New Seoul came to be and of how Sonmi slowly achieves self-actualization are dropped in favor of a flashier, more traditional sci-fi narrative. The far-future story, narrated in a post-apocalyptic pidgin that's reminiscent of the speech in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, is fascinating on the page, but unintelligible on the screen (and not just because some scenes seem to have had the directorial instruction: "Mumble!").
Can I recommend it? It's intellectually, formally and artistically ambitious, certainly, which one doesn't hear much in discussing $100M films. It's visually engaging, especially in IMAX. The whiplash editing has its own advantages over the ordered structure of the book and creates its own rhythms and juxtapositions. So, yes, I'd say see it as a film experience.
But read the book first. Really. That's Cloud Atlas. The film is Cloud Atlas: The Anime.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Everything Old Is New Again, Dept.
Here's what I love. Culture as a virus.
So, "Dat's de Way to Spell 'Chicken'" was written in 1902 by Sidney Perrin, a very successful African-American composer of what used to be called "coon songs."
Yes, in the ragtime/pre-WWI days, a hugely popular subgenre of American music was the coon song. Which, as you might guess, portrayed African-American life in the United States in unflattering caricature. Sort of like rap, in that white people loved it, black people performed it (although there were a number of white performers) and it contributed to ensuing decades of validated bigotry ("Yo, they call each other 'nigger' all the time, man!"). The only difference being that, in those unenlightened days, though "nigger," "darky" and "coon" were liberally thrown around, they didn't have quite as many brand names to flaunt and "bitches" and "hoes" had entirely different meanings.
Anyhoo. So, this song, which plays on the stereotypical love of African-Americans for the yardbird, features the following chorus in dialect:
C, dat's de way to begin,
H, dat's de next letter in,
I, dat am de third,
C, dat's to season the word,
K, dat's a filling in,
E, I'm near the end,
Dat's de way to spell chicken
So, we have an image of the African-American that is of an early-20th-century piece with razors, loaded dice and watermelon three meals a day.
Fast forward a hundred years, and we have this little bit of primary school theater.
Culture is a virus. It mutates and finds new hosts. Who will be singing the chicken song on our first extraterrestrial colonies?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
For Your Life, Dept.
So, your sobsister caught this today, the one day the film was screened in Milk Chocolate City ("limited engagement," indeed). Oddly enough, at the local "art film" theater rather than the multiplex four blocks away.
The audience comprised mostly men old enough to have seen the band in its heyday, although women in singles and in pairs were scattered around the theater. Those younger than 40 were thin on the ground, but they were properly reverential.
Here's a question: How can you sit through a two-hour Led Zeppelin concert film and not even bob your head? I don't mean the vigorous air drums that the girl with fuchsia hair was playing in the third row, right. Just, you know, some recognition that powerfully rhythmic music is being performed in front of you. Is it the distance created by the medium of film? Are they observers rather than participants? Yet, these same people applauded each number at its conclusion, so the fourth wall had been breached.
(Related but irrelevant: I remember reading a Moon Mullins comic strip in the New York Daily News around the time of Nixon's trip to China. Strip regulars Emmy and Lord Plushbottom are discussing it. And the final exchange was, to the best of my recollection: "He's gone to look for a chink in the Great Wall." "Well, that might be the problem." Them wuz the days.)
At any rate, they raged, raged against the dying of the light, alright, essaying their setlist with a ferocity that simmered at the start and flared a third of the way in.
They crushed "Kashmir," the song that drew the loudest applause of the night in the theater. "In My Time of Dying" and "Nobody's Fault but Mine," their sideways tributes to the country blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson are glorious. "No Quarter" is the spooky Tolkienesque tale I always imagined illustrated by Frank Frazetta. And a premiere of sorts: the first live performance of sobsister fave "For Your Life."
Truth be told, I would've been ecstatic with a show comprising only deep cuts. "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love" and "Dazed and Confused" were fine, but lacked the fire of the other material, perhaps from overuse or, as singer Robert Plant put it, because they're the songs one has to do.
In this vein, for all the love I have for this band, I can see why Plant didn't and doesn't want to re-form the band on more than a one-off basis. They compete with their younger selves every time they play. Plant was 32 when the band broke up after drummer John Bonham's death. He was 20 when it formed. Does he still want to sing those songs in the same way? (Apparently not, given the projects on which he's embarked in the past five years: albums with Alison Krauss and with the Band of Joy that tap deep into acoustic Americana.) And I think he recognizes that people coming to a Led Zeppelin show want to hear "Stairway to Heaven" like on the record, not some reimagined version à la Dylan. His desire to avoid that treadmill for his remaining productive years is understandable.
I had the pleasure and good fortune of seeing the band on what turned out to be their final U.S. tour. June of 1977 at the Garden. Three friends and I had "won" the right to buy floor seats (rear right) in the mail-in lottery that was conducted. They were like unto gods on the stage, assisted by a sound system that must've been audible across the Hudson. So, 35 years later, Circle of Life! But, much as I love them, I don't need to see them live again.
I will revisit this concert on DVD, though, because, you know, they brought it.
As the walls of NYC once read, Zep Rules, OK?
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Let Us Now Braise Famous Men, Dept.
Oh my God. The semiotics of Mitt Romney’s “shopping” cart. Because he “shops,” you know. Just like any old multimillionaire.
Some spring water. Oh, and some Pepsi doubtless stripped of the devil’s twitchin’, what we here in the Mission Lands call ka-fe-yin. It obviously can’t endorse too many brands at the expense of other brands whose boards might have big purses and small brains. It’s the Potemkin shopping cart. I’m surprised he didn’t buy the display food they have in furniture showrooms.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Mitt Romney. The self-referentiality of recognizing that one is a construct. The realization that one’s own personality and thoughts, well, aren’t really primetime material right out of the box, right? The knowledge that, even should he *God forbid* not lose, he’s really alotalot of people’s second choice. Maybe third, were Spermin’ Herman Cain’s rapturous self-appraisal today anything but a madman’s oregano-scented ramblings.
The auto-da-fé of our democracy.