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.
Why it's set in Wuhu, a real city in Anhui province, I cannot say except that it sets up a "Who's on First?"-type exchange: "Where am I?" "Wuhu." "Woo-hoo to you, but where am I?"  The whole film leans on the flimsiest of reeds: a Chinese inventor (Edmund Breese in yellowface) invents a TV-like device to which all these characters want to buy the rights.  This device is the medium by which all the music acts, except Holloway's, are "televised" in this Chinese hotel.

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
As mentioned above, season one, like those of Twin Peaks and Desperate Housewives, turns on the death of a character who appears and reappears in flashback and fantasy to guide our hero(ine) to enlightenment and resolution.  In this case, Amanda Seyfried, pre-Mamma Mia! and as juicy as an August peach, plays Veronica's sexy incandescent doomed pal.  In fact, she tends to blow VM off the screen whenever she appears, despite the fact that Kristen Bell is a cutie-patootie of no mean magnitude.  Her Lilly Kane is all id, libido and impulse, ignored by, and resentful of, her parents, who favor their fair-haired son who's expected to go into politics or somehow, someway become a Great Man. 

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.