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Saturday, March 31, 2007
While it might just seem like I'm looking for a reason to just post a picture of myself with this wonderful behind the scenes shot of Christina Lindberg on the set of THRILLER (THEY CALL HER ONE EYE), I actually do I have a point to this listing.
I occasionally get nice emails concerning this blog and have become aware the last couple of days that I am having some issues with my school email account. So just a note to let anyone know, who might have emailed and didn't get a response, that I apologize. I seem to be getting my emails but often late...so perhaps not at all. So if the occasion ever arises that I don't respond to a personal email please leave a note in the comments section and I will make sure I get back to you.
Thanks and enjoy the picture of Christina from the photo gallery of Synapse's great THRILLER dvd.
Mario Bava: Announcement and Reminders
Head on over to the link below to read Tim Lucas' exciting announcement concerning his long awaited Mario Bava book. A very big congratulations to Tim and Donna Lucas is due from all of us who have been eagerly anticipating this book like no other.
Also a reminder that Tuesday is the official release date for Volume One of Anchor Bay's THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, which features five of the maestro's finest (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, KNIVES OF THE AVENGER AND KILL BABY KILL). Also coming out Tuesday is Bava's intense RABID DOGS (with an alternate version entitled KIDNAPPED included).
With this news from Tim Lucas and these just around the corner releases this is a pretty happy day for this Italian horror fanatic.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Warren Beatty is 70 Today
It's hard to believe it but Warren Beatty is turning seventy today. He remains, 45 years after making his feature film debut in Elia Kazan's SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS, one of our most iconic and great actors. He is also a fine director, solid writer and an influential producer. I thought to celebrate the man's birthday I would count down my ten favorite Beatty films. I haven't seen all of them but I have seen the majority and a handful rank among my favorite American films.
So to Warren who's lived a fuller life than most of us could even imagine, happy 70th.
10. LILITH: Robert Rossen's strange and effective film gave Beatty one of his finest early roles and pared him up with Jean Seberg (who gives possibly her finest performance).
9. BULWORTH: Beatty write, directs and stars in this brutally funny political satire about a politician who walks up to the edge and then slips right over it. Morricone did the score and it remains one of the most biting political commentaries of the past decade.
8. HEAVEN CAN WAIT: Beatty again directs himself and stars with Julie Christie in this remake of the classic 1940's film. He received Oscar nominations for directing, acting and producing for this very funny and at times moving film, his last of the seventies.
7. MICKEY ONE: Arthur Penn tips his hat to the French new wave with this sharp and very cool flick from 1965. Beatty gives a solid, understated reading in the role of Mickey and this film is screaming for a Dvd release.
6. REDS: Beatty won the oscar for this brave and unusual epic that he again wrote, directed and starred in. This has recently been released as a fine deluxe dvd with the notoriously interview shy Beatty providing some very rare and valuable insights.
5. PARALLAX VIEW: One of the great classics of Seventies paranoia and one of Alan Pakula's finest films. This eerie 1975 feature has Beatty giving one of his best and most complex performances. Makes a great double feature with THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.
4. SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS: Has their ever been a couple lovelier than Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood? Kazan's 1961 film still packs a major punch as one of the great stories of young love. Beatty in his scenes with Pat Hingle as his father has never been better. Natalie Wood is unbelievably moving in this film and the final scene between her and Beatty is one of the sixties finest moments.
3. McCABE and MRS MILLER: My favorite Altman film is one of the most unique and haunting I have ever seen. A bearded, sad and weary Beatty exclaims at one point to Julie Christie that he has poetry in him and it's a line that neatly sums up his entire career.
2. BONNIE AND CLYDE: Arthur Penn's legendary film did as much to change American cinema as an other in its history. Beatty is jaw-droppingly good as the Clyde Barrow and I still find it hard to grasp that he didn't win an oscar for this performance. It remains one of the most astonishing films ever made and features Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman giving two of their greatest earliest performances.
1. SHAMPOO: Hal Ashby's masterpiece gives Beatty his greatest role as the swinging playboy hairdresser who can only bring himself to give just so much was written by Beatty with legendary screen writer Robert Towne. Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn and Lee Grant all give great performances but the film belongs to Warren. One of the most perfect films of the seventies and against heavy competition my favorite Warren Beatty film. The closing shot of Beatty set to Paul Simon's subtle score is a scene that I play over and over in my head. Funny, moving and one of the best American films ever made.
Beatty hasn't made a film since 2001's disappointing TOWN AND COUNTRY. I think the man has a couple of more jewels left for us though and I'll gladly follow him in whatever he chooses to give us. He is one of the great and mostly uniquely American icons we have and my love affair with sixties and seventies cinema would have been lessened without his work...all of this and he also played Milton Armitage on tvs THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Bryan Ferry-What Goes On (April 1978)
Here is a very cool and very rare television performance of bearded Bryan Ferry performing his incredible Velvet Underground cover of WHAT GOES ON. It remains one of Ferry's most impassioned and impressive performances and deserved to be a much bigger hit than it was.
Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 13) Bryan Ferry The Bride Stripped Bare
Bryan Ferry's furious 1978 release THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE was a relative failure upon initial release and is now mostly remembered in the context of Jerry Hall leaving him for Mick Jagger. Rolling Stone exclaimed in the headline of their original negative review that the album was "more Edith Piaf than Muddy Waters" and I always wondered why that was considered a bad thing.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is one of the great break-up albums of all time as it is an album that had Ferry responding to punk and the criticism he had fell under after his first solo albums.
No band had been more progressive or acclaimed than Roxy Music in the early seventies but by the time of the brilliantly subversive MANIFESTO and FLESH AND BLOOD they were becoming more and more disdained by groups and critics who had forgotten what the word irony meant. So THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is an incredibly ambitious album, one that sees Ferry trying to answer his critics with a reminder that he could indeed rock while still maintaining the cool and slightly sinister air that he had developed for himself with Roxy Music.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is an album obviously made by a man in distress. It is one of the most authentically paranoid albums ever recorded and it is a startling cohesive album considering it is a mixture of original songs and cover versions.
Ferry is one of the great underrated singers of the rock era, he is an extremely talented song stylist who has the unique ability (like one of his idols Elvis Presley) to take seemingly any kind of song and make it uniquely his own. He is also an incredibly important songwriter and when he is at the top of his game (FOR YOUR PLEASURE, COUNTRY LIFE, FRANTIC) he is pretty unmatchable.
Ferry had been unhappy with 1977's IN YOUR MIND, even though it contained several astonishing tracks and the brutally good guitar work of Chris Spedding, and he wanted THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE to signal a new beginning for him.
The album opens with the surprisingly volcanic SIGN OF THE TIMES, one of the shortest and most potent songs Ferry has ever recorded. It's crunching twin guitar attack of Waddy Watchel and Neil Hubbard combined with some of Ferry's most biting lyrics proved a thrilling starting point. The single famously failed at the height of the punk movement but it holds up just as good as say anything off The Clash's second album that was released around the same time. When Ferry spits out, "Here is a rainbow for your hair" we know that glam is truly over and that we are in the midst of something far more desperate and real.
The album's second track, CAN'T LET GO, is its most famous as Ferry and Roxy Music have revisited it live many times throughout the years since THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE original. Again the duel guitar work by Watchel and Hubbard is incredible and Ferry delivers one of his most pained and impassioned performances. Never has anyone so known for being so cool, that they are almost cold, sounded so vulnerable. The song has been looked at as an obvious message to Jerry Hall but there is the sense that Ferry is singing also to the time period that he came from that was obviously disappearing.
The albums next two tracks were two of the most surprising choices of Ferry's career up to that point. The famous soul track HOLD ON I'M COMING had been a major hit for Sam and Dave in the sixties and Ferry's crunchy version is a fine cover with again his impassioned vocals carrying the track. Even more surprising was the tough version of J.J. Cale's SAME OLD BLUES. Ferry sounds absolutely possessed with anger on this track with Alan Spenner's impressive bass playing standing out.
The gorgeous ballad WHEN SHE WALKS IN THE ROOM marks the albums halfway point and it's a lovely track with Ferry singing lines like, "And your fair weathered friends fail to speak, they're so afraid still waters run deep". The song's final few moments with Ferry and Waddy Watchel harmonizing the title is incedibly haunting and absolutely devastating sounding when you consider what Ferry was going through at this point in his life and career.
Al Green's TAKE ME TO THE RIVER shows just how much bad luck Ferry was having at this point. Originally ridiculed for his version, it would soon become a monster hit for the Eno produced Talking Heads with David Byrne obviously more inspired by Ferry's version than Green's original.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE'S masterpiece follows with Ferry's thunderous stab at The Velvet Underground's WHAT GOES ON. Ferry transforms Lou Reed's original into a frustrated and impassioned plea and when he suddenly starts incorporating lyrics from The Velvets BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT into the mix we are caught in one of Ferry's great moments. The accompanying video featuring a bearded and weary looking Ferry is one the indelible images in a career full of them.
Another beautiful ballad follows in CARRICKFERGUS and like CAN'T LET GO we have Ferry admitting his inability or need to move on. It's a lovely version of a much often performed traditional Irish song.
One last cover is THAT'S HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS and Ferry's version hearkens back to not only Otis Reddings version but ironically Mick Jagger's vocal take on The Rolling Stones cover. All is fair in love and war it seems.
The eerie THIS ISLAND EARTH closes the album and it would have been right at home on one of Roxy Music's early albums. It is worth noting that Ferry's excellent keyboard work here resembles some of Eno's solo albums from this period which gives a good example that these two have always been in a way connected.
Ferry has recently returned to THIS ISLAND EARTH with some remarkable live performances and a BBC session which saw this great lost track getting an amazing response. It is one of Ferry's loneliest numbers and one of his best.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE was Bryan Ferry's biggest gamble and biggest failure in the decade which he owns as much as David Bowie or any other iconic figure you can think up. It was troubled from the beginning as it was originally planned as a double album (the scrapped songs showed up later as b-sides) and an odd, half-hearted marketing campaign sealed it's fate.
The album is not often mentioned among Ferry's best and while it doesn't have the majestic draw of his greatest albums it does give us a rare glimpse of one of our coolest and most important artists at his most open and vulnerable.
Ferry's newest album, Dylanesque, has just been released and the much anticipated new Roxy Music studio album will hopefully arrive later this year.
Please note that the above WHAT GOES ON sleeve collage comes from the remarkable THESE VINTAGE YEARS site. Visit them at www.vivaroxymusic.com for a comprehensive and up to date guide to the wonderful world of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry.
Overlooked Classics: Hollywood Boulevard
Joe Dante's and Alan Arkush's 1976 film, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, for Roger Corman's New World Pictures is an absolute treasure of in-jokes and allusions for film lovers. The film, which stars the lovely Candice Rialson, is one of the great films made about films; specifically in this case low budget exploitation films of the seventies.
Joe Dante is one of those great directors who wears his love for film clearly on his sleeve, as his films are often filled with sly nods and outright tributes to his favorite films. HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD is an incredibly funny send up and tribute to the seventies exploitation film genre, of which HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD is proud to be a part of.
The film is scattered with stock footage from other Corman productions from the seventies including DEATH RACE 2000 and BIG DOLL HOUSE. Dante had been working as an editor for New World's incredible trailers and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD'S quick and clever editing is one of it's biggest assets. This is a deliciously fast moving and entertaining picture that demands repeat viewings to get not only all of the references, but also all of the jokes.
Co-director Alan Arkush is also making, along with Dante, his major film directorial debut and he would of course deliver the glorious ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (also with Dante's assistance) just a few years after HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. His other 70's film DEATHSPORT is also notable if just for the casting of the talented and tragic Claudia Jennings.
The film was reportedly shot in less than two weeks and features, along with Rialson, some of New World's brightest and funniest stars including Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Rita George and of course Dick Miller. Bartel, as the egotistical out of control director, is particularly brilliant in this.
The film hops several genres in it's breezy 83 minute running time including action pictures, gangster films, sexploitation, horror films, a very odd musical sequence and of course the women in prison film. It wears it's un-pc stamp proudly and with the upcoming release of GRINDHOUSE it is a shame that the anniversary dvd (featuring a fine commentary) is currently out of print.
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD'S brightest spot remains the delectable and hilarious Rialson. Looking very much like a young Michelle Pfeiffer, this is Rialson's greatest role and proof positive that she deserved much more of a career than she had. The opening credit sequence where she is excitedly walking down the Hollywood Walk Of Fame has become particularly poignant since her untimely death just a year ago.
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD should be required viewing for all film lovers and students. It is a textbook example on how to make a great film about films and its prideful stance as an exploitation film is especially enduring.
Dante really started to cook after this with the one two knockout punch of PIRANHA and THE HOWLING. Rialson was derailed by her next film, CHATTERBOX, and her career never fully recovered. She remains one of the seventies brightest lights for me though and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD isn't just a good film, but it is a small miracle.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Anyone Here Seen Beatrice Dalle in Process?
A bit of a different post here today as I am writing on a film that I haven't seen. I first became aware of this 2004 French film when I bought the astonishing, and almost too intense, John Cale soundtrack. I am a big fan of Beatrice Dalle and read several widely varying reviews on the film ranging from high praise to overwhelming disgust.
It seems though that the film has fell off the map. A dvd was apparently scheduled by Tartan last year in Britain and France but was either never released or slipped out of print immediately.
I am just curious as to if anyone reading this blog might have seen this film and what their thoughts were.
The film was written and directed by C.S. Leigh and is apparently near silent, with only Cale's minimalistic piano score and an occasional brief slices of dialogue. I have read that it is made up of just 29 long shots which I find very intriguing.
I might be stabbing in the dark but any comments on this film, or links to an available dvd, would be greatly appreciated.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Welcome To Japan, Kate O'Mara
I am currently re-watching all of the James Bond films in order after recently purchasing all of the most recent MGM deluxe box sets. I must say that it is fascinating to watch them again this way from start to finish and I will write more on these at a later date.
I will say one aspect that I am really enjoying is sifting through the wealth of bonus materials that are available on disc two of each film. Some of my favorites have been the vintage tv promotional materials for the films. Some, like the David Wopler produced WORLD OF JAMES BOND, are just basically a compiled collection of narrated clips but other such as the deliciously strange and slightly ridiculous WELCOME TO JAPAN, MR. BOND have some surprising delights.
The main delight of the YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE promotional short WELCOME TO JAPAN was the sight of the unbilled Kate O'Mara, whom tv fans will know from her work in everything from DOCTOR WHO to THE AVENGERS. She has been a favorite of mine since I first laid eyes on her one Sunday afternoon as a youth watching an edited version of Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. I believe seeing Kate, Madeline Smith and of course Ingrid Pitt in this film probably solidified my lifelong love for all things British and female.
Hammer fans will also remember Kate from Jimmy Sangster's odd 1970 film THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN opposite Ralph Bates.
Seeing her pop up in this strange little Bond promotional short was a major treat and made one of the, in my opinion, lesser Bond films feel a little sweeter.
Johnny Cool On TCM Tonight
The hard to see and...well...very cool 1963 thriller JOHNNY COOL is showing on Turner Classic Movies tonight. This film has long been overdue for a dvd release so I am glad to see it popping up on TCM. This film marked the first time that William Asher and Elizabeth Montgomery collaborated, they would marry the same year and then a year later create BEWITCHED.
JOHNNY COOL features a galaxy of great faces from the sixties; everyone from Henry Silva to Joey Bishop to Mr. Sammy Davis Jr. shows up. The film belongs to Montgomery though and she is incredibly sexy and good in it. Anyone who grew up with her as Samantha on BEWITCHED should check her out in this role, it is a shame she didn't get a chance to make more films and play more parts like this one.
The Billy May jazz soundtrack, which is highly recommended, features an unforgettable title track by Sammy and is among the best scores of the early sixties.
Give it a look.
Monday, March 26, 2007
One Snowy Evening In Philadelphia
Sylvester Stallone had a feeling the weather forecasters were wrong. So he got his small crew together with the thought and hope that it would snow a day early and he could get the last shot of his film ROCKY BALBOA.
This is a photo from that eerie day evening in Philadelphia when it did indeed start snowing early which allowed one of the great films and characters of the seventies to be given a poignant and worthy farewell.
There is actually a book out now that chronicles different peoples stories from all over the world who have travelled to Philadelphia just to run up these steps. Perhaps to fill a childhood dream or to remind themselves of something that Sly wrote in the new film, that "The last thing to get old on person is their heart".
I like this shot very much, it appeared during the film's credits like some sort of ghost for those who stayed around. It also happens to be the last moment that Sylvester Stallone was ever photographed on the steps that he made immortal. Most of the crew had already packed up and gone home and he would shortly after this.
ROCKY BALBOA is out on dvd now with a great commentary from Sly, several deleted scenes, a wisely unused alternate ending and some documentaries. I wrote about how much this film meant to me in the very young days of this blog and I can't recommend the dvd highly enough.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Sylvia Kristel and Francis Lai In The Studio Together
After the debacle of the first EMMANUELLE soundtrack which saw composer Pierre Bachelet lifting parts off of a King Crimson record without Robert Fripp's permission, the producer's of EMMANUELLE 2 hired famed composer Francis Lai to score the sequel.
Lai produced a fantastic score that was wonderfully evocative, erotic and perfectly complimented the follow up film that topped the original in almost all aspects.
The biggest coup of the scoring sessions was the idea to have Sylvia Kristel herself come in and perform the title track with Lia playing on and producing the sessions. The song remains a rare instance of a celebrity recording where everything goes right. Kristel's wonderful hesitant vocal matches Lai's lush music perfectly and she would record a French and English version. A single was released of the song and it was a minor hit in France and Japan.
Here are some very rare photos of Sylvia in the studio with Lai. They are taken from the incredible Japanese photo book from the early 80s dedicated to Kristel. It's one of my favorite books and I haven't seen these photos pop up online so I thought I would share.
Joe Dallesandro on Film: The Climber
Since the advent of DVD my days of obsessively collecting grey market dubs of unreleased films has calmed down considerable. It has been hard enough to keep with the number of European films released legitimately on DVD in the past decade but occasionally though I will come across an unreleased film that I have wanted to see and order it from any number of genre loving vendors.
I must admit there was a certain excitement in waiting for my copy of Pasquale Squitieri's 1975 film L'AMBIZIOSO otherwise known as AMBITIOUS or THE CLIMBER. This prime slice of seventies Eurotrash stars two of my favorites Joe Dallesandro and Stefania Casini so I couldn't pass up a copy when it appeared on ebay. Receiving my package reminded me of the old days when getting boxes of unseen delights from the likes of European Trash Cinema, Midnight Video or Video Search Of Miami would make my week.
It is no surprise that the best thing about THE CLIMBER is its cast. Dallesandro and Casini are two of the most beautiful people I have ever seen and they are in their prime here. They were also a couple at the time and that lends their scenes together something a little special. Dallesandro is exceptional in this film, it's rumored to be one of his favorites and he turns in a fine performance as a young thug on the rise in the Italian underworld. Little Joe was on a roll in this period as he was preparing to shoot two absolutely astonishing films, Louis Malle's BLACK MOON and Walerian Borowczyk's LA MARGE. Casini is good in everything she appears in and this film is no exception. She is completely believable as the woman who falls in love with and is ultimately destroyed by the criminal lifestyle.
Squitieri made a series of these Italian crime films in the early to mid seventies and his direction is pretty sharp here. This is by no means a great film but it's an entertaining one. Squitieri also turns in a few surprising moments including a brutal and prolonged stabbing scene and a very odd, and surprisingly moving, final five minutes.
The film doesn't skimp on the violence with lots of gunplay and squibs. Franco Campanino turns in a varied and solid score that swings between hard rock and more lyrical orchestrated pieces. Cinematographer Eugenio Bentivoglio gives the film a suitably grimy palate and would work with Squitieri on several films before and after this.
The version I watched is the full uncut 102 minute print with all of the violence and nudity intact. It comes from a rare Greek full frame VHS and is dubbed in English. The print is faded and very dark in spots but as of right now it is the best and most complete version out there.
THE CLIMBER isn't among the best Italian crime films of the seventies but it is a solid entry and would make a fine selection for a DVD release from a company like No Shame or Severin.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Film Quiz Madness
I have seen this quiz, which was originally posted at the Sergio Leone and Infield Fly Rule Blog, appear on several different sites so I thought I would have a go at it.
This was a lot of fun but I will inevitably regret many of my answers and will have to stop myself from using the edit button at a later date.
PROFESSOR IRWIN COREY'S FOREMOSTLY AUTHORITATIVE SPRING BREAK MOVIE QUIZ:
1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it?
The first time I saw Soderbergh's SOLARIS I was completely polarized, the second time intrigued and the third time convinced it was the best science fiction film since BLADE RUNNER.
2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
Kevin Smith, I absolutely can not stand this man's films and have never been able to grasp the appeal of them.
3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film.
Every frame of Roman Coppola's fascinating C.Q. The obvious references ranging from MODESTY BLAISE to BARBARELLA are obvious but the more you watch the film the more it gives you. A really lovely valentine to the 1960's and many of its most unique films.
4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie
THE RED SHOES
5) Your favorite Oscar moment
Even though even he deserved it for many roles before SCENT OF A WOMAN watching Al Pacino finally win and being visibly moved in his acceptance speech is something that I will never forget.
6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce?
7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it
Tough one but I would say Roeg's WALKABOUT. There is something so mysterious and moving about that film. It draws me into a place that is completely foreign to me in a way that few films ever have come close to.
8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie
Not a big Fuller fan but WHITE DOG is very intriguing.
9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta?
Is this a real question? Bellucci is one of the most beautiful women on the planet and one of the best actors. She is the new Sophia Loren.
10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT. No matter how low I might be re-watching this movie always brings a huge smile to my face. The sight of Romy Schneider nearly losing it towards the end next to Peter Sellers can clear up any nothing day.
11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing?
Any Kevin Smith film especially CLERKS.
12) Favorite John Boorman movie
POINT BLANK, but BEYOND RANGOON is one of the 90's most underrated films in my estimation.
13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern?
Warren Oates will always be the man and he was born just a short distance from me. Respect to Dern but no contest.
14) Your favorite aspect ratio?
Tough, with guys like DePalma it's 2.35 but I would say overall 1.85.
15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet?
I think this has always been true of certain directors, Truffaut included.
16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie
17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts?
Another tough one. I would have to say ALLIGATOR.
18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman?
Silverman melts me and she's incredibly funny.
19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché?
I will never tire of the criminal who needs just 'one last score'.
20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no?
Not one of Speilberg's best and I miss Karen Allen but come on it's extremely entertaining.
21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie?
Might be cliched to say, but REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Saw this at an outdoor theater a couple of years back and James Dean and Natalie Wood are absolutely immortal.
22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated?
Dario Argento's career since PHENOMENA. He might never make anything as good as SUSPIRIA or DEEP RED but I think OPERA, STENDAHL SYNDROME, SLEEPLESS and THE CARD PLAYER are fine works that will be remembered in years to come. Honestly PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is the only film of his that I don't admire.
23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television?
NETWORK came to mind first but then I remembered Kazan's FACE IN THE CROWD with a brutally brilliant Andy Griffith.
24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau?
Bruno of course.
25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film?
Hard one...but Mark Kermode's documentary on Ken Russell's THE DEVILS (HELL ON EARTH) was a mind-blowingly important piece of work.
26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie?
Hardest one on here but I would have to say Jean-Luc Godard's casting of Brigitte Bardot in CONTEMPT. He originally did it because the studio wanted a major star and then after he cast her he attempted to make it seem ironic. No one would have guessed that she would come on and give such a wonderfully layered and complex performance. It is one of the great performances in any Godard film, and the self proclaimed 'businessman from Switzerland' ended up admiring her so much that he gave her a cameo in MASCULIN FEMININ.
27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie
PARIS TEXAS, my favorite moment in any film is the three minute close up on Nastassja Kinski's face.
28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz?
When Cruz is working in Spanish films she is an absolute treasure so no contest here.
29) Your favorite movie tag line (Thanks, Jim!)
ROCKY: "His whole life was a million to one shot"
30) As a reader, film goer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed?
The main thing that bothers me about main stream film criticism is the idea that they review it after one viewing to meet a deadline. The greatest films demand time and re-viewings. I also have a pet peeve about critics who judge film based on a particular actor or director's real life problems.
EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter?
Obviously they do to me. The public at large, I would say ultimately yes. They may not mean what we would like them to to most people but I don't think you can deny their importance to peoples lives.
This was a lot of fun, thanks to Dennis Cozzalio for posting this at the great Sergio Leone Infield Fly Blog.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
More Fuel For My Claudine Longet Fixation
Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for the music of Claudine Longet. Her COLOURS album was one of the first in my Dust Off Those Grooves series that I have been working on here and she will undoubtedly be featured again on my little blog.
I have just come across a newish blog dedicated to her which will join my links to the right. This marks the third Claudine Longet link I have added which gives her more than anyone else. Give the sites a look and give her a listen if you haven't before.
Here is the newest link.
Jimmy Webb Remembers Richard Harris
To go along with my review of their final collaboration here is Jimmy remembering the great Richard Harris.
Remembering Candice Rialson
It has been almost a year since the untimely passing of the lovely and talented Candice Rialson. I will be posting a review of my favorite film of hers, the great HOLLYWOOD BLVD., in the next week or so but I thought in the meantime I would share some rare scans I got off ebay a while back. Sorry about the quality but I haven't seen these pop up in too many places.
Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter Twelve) Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb: The Yard Went On Forever
It was no surprise after the incredible success of their A TRAMP SHINING album and MacARTHUR PARK single that Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb would join together for a second album. It was a surprise that they would choose to make an album as dark and uncommercial as 1968's striking THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER turned out to be.
While their first collaboration had centered on a man remembering the past and lost loves THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER would feature the perhaps the same character at the end of not only his life but of the world itself. Again produced, arranged and written by Webb with Harris delivering anotherseries of, at times, over the top vocal performances THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER is an album unlike any other; futuristic with its eyes firmly on the past and mysterious while retaining a clearly lamenting view of modern culture.
The title track begins with a group of singers asking the question, "Is everybody safe? Has everybody got a place to hide?" alerting us immediately that this is going to be a very different beast than A TRAMP SHINING. The song soon turns from gentle into one of Webb's monster productions with one of his most crazed arrangements that recalls the mid-section of MacARTHUR PARK. Harris is pretty magnificent throughout this album, one can imagine him strolling into the studio after a night of heavy drinking ready to sing about the apocalypse. His vocals got snickered at a lot but there is never a moment when we don't completely believe him.
Webb's end of the world is an industrial nightmare that is felt everywhere by everyone, from the 'Nagasaki houswives' of the title track to the cruel 'Gayla' of the narrator's past.
The album has very few silent spots, everything seems to connect in this man's memory of the world that he knew and is remembering. After the bombast of the opening we are treated to one of Webb's finest compositions, the lovely and haunting WATERMARK. Art Garfunkle would later record an album of Webb songs and he turned this into his title track. This features some of Webb's most distinctive lyrics, "I'm looking through old varnish at my late lover's body caught on ancient canvas". At times THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER feels like THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, one imagines our narrator as being completely and totally alone in some sort of isolated bombed out shelter scribbling his final few memories on any scrap of paper he can find.
INTERIM and GAYLA are both songs of domestic drama and memories with Webb's dark muse from many others songs, Sue, making an appearance. Again Webb's lyrics and production are unlike anything else recorded in 1968 or any other year, who else would have the insight to write a line like, "It's all that I can do to count my skeletons and take my paid vacations"?
The album continues with the near ten minute THE FIRST HYMN OF THE GRAND TERRACE that details when the 'earth caught fire' and Webb compares this ultimate disaster with the narrator's most missed lost love.
THE HIVE is the album's most bizarre and brutal moment. With a piano that Tori Amos would copy for her track PRECIOUS THINGS on her early 90's debut and hyper kinetic percussion (by none other than the great Hal Blain) that sounds like something off a Ministry album, this sounds like a soundtrack to a lost Italian horror film more than a late sixties pop album. Webb again, much like on the 5th Dimension's PAPER CUP, will lyrically foreshadow the shoegazing movement of the early 90's with, "God bless our happy cubicle, keep it safe and sanitized, homogenized and pasteurized, there's no place like numb".
After the psychotic sounding HIVE the album ends with two pretty and deceptively optimistic sounding songs. LUCKY ME chronicles are narrator celebrating his solitude and his sudden loss of emotion. It is a subject that Webb explores again and again in his music; the world ultimately won't end with bombs but with indifference.
THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS ends the record with the narrator trying to explain the way the world used to be, a place where you could actually "have a dog" where "there wasn't any smog...and a man could find a woman and a man could fall in love". The haunting final last line of "the yard went on forever" seems even more relevant today as the world is increasingly being overtaken with mini strip malls and the obsessive idea that everything needs to be covered by something that might possibly make a profit.
It is of course no surprise that THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER was a major flop. I am willing to guess that Jimmy Webb and Richard Harris knew they were making something that wasn't going to be a popular success, and I am willing to bet they didn't give a damn. Harris would go onto record a couple more booze soaked albums without Webb that are at times ridiculous but mostly sublime in their ferocious over the top nature. Webb would soon start his own mesmerizing solo career that would have him becoming more and more obsessed with sound; while his lyrics, music and arrangements got more and more focused and even greater.
THE YARD WENT ON FOREVER remains one of those rare albums that really stands alone, it doesn't sound or feel quite like any other album. It also remains, along with The Pretty Things S.F. SORROW and The Kinks VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, as one of the great records of the sixties that were able to lament a past that they were literally watching the present strip away from them.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The 5th Dimension sings Jimmy Webb's Paper Cup
The always great Bedazzled Blog posted this clip on YouTube. Try to take your eyes off Marilyn McCoo and listen to Webb's lyrical celebration of not caring. Being cold, closed off and un-emotional has never sounded so inviting. Great clip of one of the sixties great vocal groups.
Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter Eleven) The 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb's Magic Garden
After supplying The 5th Dimension with some of the biggest hits early in their career Jimmy Webb joined creative forces with the band; writing, producing and arranging this fantastic and inventive album from 1968.
A commercial failure upon initial release THE MAGIC GARDEN is now rightly considered to be The 5th's Dimension's greatest moment. The album features the best examples of the sublime vocal work and harmonies the band were known for as well as some of the most potent examples of Webb's early lyrics and production.
The album opens fittingly with PROLOGUE which features the group harmonizing with the line, "Have you tried Love?" before quickly moving into the majestic title track that promises a magic garden that, "will make you feel free". Typical sixties stuff but Webb's production and odd arrangements raise this way above the typical and lyrically he soon begins to subvert the listener's expectations.
SUMMER'S DAUGHTER features an incredible vocal performance by Billy Davis Jr. and it introduces us to the mysterious muse like character Susan, who at least in this track appears to be heaven sent. The oddly titled DREAMS/PAX/NEPENTHE introduces the first signs of darkness that will overtake the album with it's weird sitar refrains and creepy Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue harmonies. The flower child Susan suddenly has, "Cobweb shadows all over her face like lacquered lace".
The strength of THE MAGIC GARDEN is in its willingness to not deliver what the listener expects which is perhaps why it failed so miserably upon its initial release. The opening tracks flowery sixties vibe is totally destroyed by the bizarre and quite astonishing CARPET MAN.
CARPET MAN sounds more like a shoegazer track from the nineties than a piece of typical sixties pop. It would have been right at home on album like SPLIT by Lush. The song chronicles the Muse's Susan control and downright cruelty to her lover. When Webb throws out a line, "She'll say come to the wedding and of course you do and then the groom and her will have a dance on you. She walks all over you, you know she can, you're the carpet man", we realize that this magic garden isn't the place of peace and love we thought it was.
The next track is the sound of the record company freaking out. The cover of TICKET TO RIDE is jarring but also not all together inappropriate. It does remain the band's one concession to the nervous executives who were going to have to try to see this album to 1968 audiences. It also features each vocalist absolutely belting the Lennon and McCartney classic in impressively vicious over the top way.
The album's masterpiece and one of Webb's most tortured compositions starts out side Two. REQUIEM: 820 LATHAM is The 5th Dimension's greatest moment and one of the most stirring and soulful songs I have ever heard. It's near suicidal lyrics are given one of Webb's most startling arrangements with a potent bass line that is just underneath one of the most beautiful string arrangements the man ever came up with. Billy Davis Jr. delivers one of the most extraordinary vocal performances of the decade on this track and the startling, "I'm still alive", line is chill inducing. Richard Harris would record a typically over the top version of this track on his great MY BOY album but this remains the definitive reading of one of Webb's most complex and moving compositions.
REQUIEM gives side two a lot to live up to but Marilyn McCoo's sweet vocal delivery on THE GIRL'S SONG is a perfect follow up. It is fitting though that we aren't sure at this point if we are listening to the mysterious Susan's plea or just someone else that she has run over.
THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN is the album's most famous cut, as The Brooklyn Bridge would deliver a soaring version of it in 1969 and have a major hit. It's debatable as to what the definitive reading is but the deep soul Dimension original is lovely stuff and it's hard to believe that it wasn't one of their major hits.
ORANGE AIR is, along with CARPET MAN, the most vicious and progressive cut on the album. The back and forth male/female vocals add an apprioately schizophrenic feel to it and Webb's strange horn arrangement makes it even more chaotic sounding.
The off kilter PAPER CUP was the biggest single off the record even though it has lines like, "Everyone says I'm quite insane and my life is going down the drain and I don't care". The song's celebration of not-feeling foreshadows the shoe-gazing movement that I mentioned earlier and it's not hard to imagine Kevin Shield's My Bloody Valentine covering it.
EPILOGUE closes the album with the same, "Have You tried love", line that opened the record but it's no longer a question. The magic garden of the sixties was getting ready to turn into something as isolated and cold as Webb's destroyed lead character.
THE MAGIC GARDEN failed to even crack the top 100 and it sidetracked one of the sixties most unique groups. They would recover with more hits but they would never reach the majestic heights of this album again. It would slip in and out of print and has become one of the sixties great lost classics. It stands as a reminder to a time in popular music when risk was a top priority, it is hard to imagine a writer or a band today going as far out as this album does.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
William Friedkin's Cruising Will Hit Cannes And Finally Dvd Later This Year.
After years of being out of circulation, William Friedkin's disturbing 1980 film CRUISING is apparently ready to hit the streets again. The Internet is being flooded with reports that the film will play at Cannes this summer and will then arrive on a fully loaded special edition DVD. The disc is being supervised by Friedkin and will feature a commentary, documentary and possibly up to 45 minutes of deleted footage.
No word yet on whether Karen Allen participated in the documentary but Al Pacino absolutely did not.
Pacino has long been silent on CRUISING and I can't say that I really blame him, as the film Friedkin delivered was not necessarily the one Pacino signed up for. The darkly ambiguous CRUISING is one of the most mysterious American films ever made and while it was initially a critical and commercial disaster, the last five years or so has seen a sharp critical turnaround. After feature stories in publications like Britain's SIGHT AND SOUND it has been reported that CRUISING has become the most requested unreleased dvd on the market.
At the dark heart of CRUISING sits an idea that has always fascinated Friedkin, that being a transference of evil. It is a subject he has explored in films ranging from THE EXORCIST, TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA and JADE. To call CRUISING ambiguos is an understatement, it is a serial killer film where everyone is in their own way the murderer.
CRUISING is a flawed film but it is the kind of flawed film that only a great director can make. It packs a huge wallop and in the almost two decades since I first saw it I have never been able to shake its strange and disquieting effect. It is a unique American film by one of our most important directors with one of the great performances by our finest actor, it is long overdue for a DVD release.
I can't wait to hear the Cannes report later this year.
Freddie Francis (1917-2007)
Tim Lucas over at VIDEOWATCHBLOG has reported the sad news that the great British director Freddie Francis has past away. Tim has written a wonderful tribute to the man so I will only add a few words.
My first exposure to horror films came as a youth seeing Hammer films on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon television. Seeing these films left an indelible impression on me that has shaped my love of cinema since. I certainly wasn't aware of the name Freddie Francis as a youngster but I was his films; seeing everything the great Oliver Reed thriller PARANOIAC to THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN to DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE provided many chills and thrills as a youth and they remain some of my most revisited Hammer and Francis directed all three of them.
Francis' contribution to a perhaps more exploitative cinema such as the Suzanna Leigh shocker DEADLY BEES to TROG may be among the man's lesser works but they always displayed a certain flair and imagination that is often lacking from lower budget exploitation and genre films.
Head on over and read Tim's fine remembrance and have a Hammer Horror night in tribute to the great Freddie Francis.
Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007)
It has been reported that talented director Stuart Rosenberg has passed away. Much like the Hollywood studio directors that he grew up watching Rosenberg worked in a wide variety of genres.
He began his career in television directing programs ranging from ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS to THE UNTOUCHABLES to THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He made his feature film debut with the Paul Newman film COOL HAND LUKE in 1967 for which he won the Director's guild award for.
Other notable films in his career include the great LAUGHING POLICEMAN, BRUBAKER and of course THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.
He made two of my favorite films, the underrated Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve comedy from 1969, THE APRIL FOOLS and the Mickey Rourke classic POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. These films meant a lot to me growing up and I revisit them each year.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM director Darren Aronofsky has often credited Rosenberg as being one of his mentors.
Rosenberg and his films will be remembered.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Artist and Muse #12
Just a reminder that the newest Almodovar film, VOLVER, hits dvd tomorrow. Penelope Cruz decided she wanted to be an actress after seeing Almodovar's TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN as a teenager and their partnership has been a notable one. VOLVER is a fine film with an incredible performance by Cruz whom, in my eyes, should have won the Oscar this year for it.
The disc features a commentary with Almodovar and Cruz, along with an extended interview with the actress discussing her relationship with her favorite director.
Also available now is the great box set VIVA PEDRO which features 8 of Almodovar's finest.
Glen Campbell Sings Jimmy Webb's By The Time I Get To Phoenix
While Jimmy Webb had already had songs performed before this one, BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX was the song that really announced him as one of the most distinctive voices of the sixties.
Campbell's version remains definitive and is one of the great singles of the decade.
Within a year everyone from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra would record the song, it now stands as one of the most recorded songs in popular music history.
Forty Years Of Jimmy Webb
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Glen Campbell taking a little known song called BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX to the upper reaches of the pop and country charts and introducing the world to a young songwriter named Jimmy Webb. All of this week, in addition to my regular posts, I will be paying tribute to the great Jimmy Webb with articles on his undervalued solo albums as well as great albums he produced and wrote for artists ranging from Richard Harris to the Fifth Dimension.
Jimmy Webb remains an artist that continually pushes the boundaries of songwriting, composing and arranging and he has influenced countless numbers of artists in pop, rock, country, punk and even classical music. I can't think of a more deserving man to give week long tribute to than the great Mr. Webb.
As I said, I will continue to have my regular posts throughout the week but I hope those reading enjoy my upcoming tributes to one of the greats.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Billy Budd Finally Hits Dvd With Terence Stamp Commentary
Apparently early March saw the long awaited release of the film that gave the great Terence Stamp his first major role, the Peter Ustinov directed Billy Budd. This great Melville adaptation, that garnered Stamp his only Oscar nomination, has been long out of print so the dvd is very welcome.
Early reviews of the disc have been good with special note going to an audio commentary featuring Stamp along with Billy Budd admirer and Limey director Steven Soderbergh.
With the release of Billy Budd, almost all of Terence Stamp's films of the sixties are available on American Dvd with the most notable omissions being Poor Cow, Far From The Madding Crowd and the elusive The Mind Of Mr. Soames. Let's hope that those three fine films hit region 1 sometime soon.
Billy Budd is available on its own or as part of the Literary Classics Collection box set.
Friday, March 16, 2007
30 Years Of Annie Hall
Annie Hall isn't my favorite Woody Allen film, although I don't think it is a bad choice as one. I would probably take Hannah and Her Sisters or Manhattan over it but Annie Hall is the one film Woody Allen has made in his career that everyone seems to agree on. It is also the film that introduced me to the wonderful, and sometimes frustrating, world of Woody Allen.
This ode to a failed but ultimately memorable relationship won 4 1977 Academy awards including Picture, Screenplay, Director and Diane Keaton won for Best Actress. Woody Allen was even nominated for Best Actor but lost to Richard Dreyfuss.
It is fitting that some of my finest, and most vivid, memories of Annie Hall involve girls in my life. I have found that inevitably my love for Woody Allen will always come up in a relationship and Annie Hall is always the film I show as an introduction and explanation. I have yet to have shown the film to someone that didn't love it as it almost plays like a virtual greatest hits movie. Annie Hall is a film with so many memorable moments that I am always struck upon each new viewing by a moment where I will think, "wow, that scene is from this film too". Everything from the Marshall McLuhan cameo to the lobster scene to the subtitled thoughts moment to the Christopher Walken and Shelly Duval sections are here. The film almost feels like part of my DNA and has come to play a major part in my life, it is almost like pulling out an old family photo album to show someone where I came from.
I think one thing that makes Annie Hall so special is that it is the film where Woody Allen perfectly melds together his more 'serious' cinema with his earlier 'funny' films. It is a more grown up work than Bananas but it isn't as bitter as Stardust Memories. It marks a perfect moment for not only Woody Allen but for many of its fans.
Putting all of its most famous moments aside the film fittingly belongs to the enigmatic Diane Keaton. It is often forgotten just how wonderful an actress Keaton is, consider the fact that she made Annie Hall the same year as the viciously disturbing Looking For Mr. Goodbar. Annie Hall is also the character that she has never quite recovered from, for many of us and perhaps for Ms. Keaton herself she will never be more sublime and perfect as she was in this film. The moment towards the end where she sings Seems Like Old Times is one of the most moving and cemented images in film history, and it still tears me up every time I see it.
Many film fans think that Star Wars should have won best picture for 1977 and I have had several arguments with some of them over the years. I still love Star Wars but for all that film meant to me as a youth Annie Hall has meant even more to me as an adult.
Woody Allen has made many films since Annie Hall, some great and some not. Annie Hall remains, if not his great work, his most endearing. For her 30th birthday I send her good wishes and thanks for a dream she continues to whisper.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Return Of The New Flesh
Congratulations to Tim Lucas, one of this blogs biggest supporters and favorite people. Over at his always excellent VideoWatchblog is the exciting announcement that he will publish his complete on the set accounts for David Cronenberg's monumental Videodrome.
Fans of Videodrome and/or Lucas will be aware that Tim was the only reporter on the set of this, the most innovative film of the 1980s but that his work has only been seen in excerpts over the years. Head to the link below to read Tim's full story and mark your calendars for an important upcoming book. I can't wait.
The picture to the right is from the rare original novelization/tie in from 1982. Videodrome is currently available in one of Criterion's best sets and should be in the home of every film lover.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
A Few Words For Lucio Fulci
Italian director Lucio Fulci passed away eleven years ago today. The excellent Cinebeats blog is currently running a well written tribute to the man and I thought would post a few thoughts on one of the men that got me into Italian Horror cinema.
My first exposure to Fulci was, like a lot of others, through those old cut and horribly cropped videos of films like Zombie and The Gates Of Hell. The excitement of finding those old tapes and realizing that I was watching, even in sometimes gutted form, something completely different to the horror cinema I had been raised on was entrancing.
If discovering Argento was my entrance into the world of Italian Horror then my friend letting me borrow an uncut widescreen copy of Fulci's The Beyond marked my point of no return. The Beyond remains, if not Fulci's best film, at least the ideal introduction to his world. One of my most memorable filmgoing experiences remains seeing this film at a midnight showing in Lexington's Kentucky Theater. Regardless of the fact that the audience didn't get it seeing Fulci's surreal and sometimes over the top images on the big screen left an indelible impression.
Fulci's late work damaged his career. It is unfortunate that he couldn't have made The Wax mask with Argento, it would have been nice to have sent the man out on a strong note. The best of Fulci remains the three giallo's he made starting in 1969, Perversion Story, Lizard In Woman's Skin and Don't Torture A Duckling. All are thankfully on DVD and his work with Florinda Bolkan in those last two films is particularly notable. He made two fine, if undervalued, European westerns with A Bullet For Sandoval and Four Gunmen of The Apocalypse.
Fulci would return, in 1972, to his early comedies with the trippy Laura Antonelli vehicle, The Eroticist but starting with 1977's Murder To The Tune Of The Seven Black Notes through to the stylish and disturbing New York Ripper in 1982 Fulci would link his name forever to a particularly extreme brand of horror filmmaking.
Zombie 2, City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond and House By The Cemetary remain his most famous and popular films. Rightfully so I think, there is a distinctive feel to these films that can finally only be described as Fulciesque. He would work with many of the same people through these films and the performances of David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale and especially Catriona MacColl would give these films an added element of greatness.
Something snapped after New York Ripper though and Fulci would never again get the type of financing or understanding that he needed. Manhattan Baby, Murder Rock and Devil's Honey are all frustratingly almost there but the brutal Ripper remains his last fully realized film.
It is often said that Fulci doesn't occupy the same place as Bava and Argento in the Italian cinema and this might be true but he does occupy his own very unique and at times shockingly sublime place. He is remembered and he will continue to be.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
THE CARPENTERS - TICKET TO RIDE (1969).
The record company hadn't figured out what to do with them yet. Forget the images of the band in the snow, just focus on the close ups of Karen and listen to that voice.
Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Carpenters: Ticket To Ride/Your Wonderful Parade)
I have always thought it must have been a nightmare for the A/M employee assigned to market The Carpenters in the early seventies. The early 45's of the Carpenters are some of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded but the subject matter, from obsession to stalking and chemical depression must have caused more than a few headaches in the P/R department. And yet they got away with it, put Richard in the cutest sweater you can find and just make sure Karen is smiling and you've got a recipe for one of the most succesful and subversive groups of the seventies. It was no surprise to me when, starting in the late 80's, they began to get embraced by punk. There was something pure about them that most 'great' bands from the seventies couldn't touch, and by the time that the late eighties rolled around and most of those bands had dissolved into everything they had once preached against so loudly; The Carpenters remained untouched.
One of The Carpenters great moments came early in their career with the release of their first major label single, a cover of The Beatles Ticket To Ride backed by Richard Carpenter's own Your Wonderful Parade. The single would barely chart and their first album, Offering was a commercial failure. Within just a year Richard would transform a dark Bacharach/David song about longing and unrequited love into an almost playful love song and The Carpenters were born as one of the most successful groups in the world.
But what of that failed single? Certainly Your Wonderful Parade isn't much of a b-side, just a typical late sixties slice of fluff (even though it would include the ominous lines, "Your daily masquerade, paper masks that hide the faces you have made,
Crumbled down upon foundations you have laid"). Flip that record over to it's A side for one of the most majestic and haunting debut singles ever recorded.
The Carpenter's version of The Beatles classic does something that every great cover version should do, it manages to uncover and expose parts of the original that perhaps hadn't been heard before. Richard Carpenter's mournful and finally majestic arrangement of Lennon and McCartney's song literally pulls out all of the inherent sadness of the lyric and lays it right on top. Whereas there was something triumphant in The Beatles original, The Carpenters version is all about the heartbreak. You get the feeling that John Lennon was okay with the girl leaving, that perhaps just as the girl didn't care that neither did he. When Karen Carpenter sings, "I think I'm gonna be sad" there is nothing ironic or subtle about it. This woman meant it.
Richard Carpenter's most brilliant move in the rethinking of The Beatles classic was dropping the famous guitar line, that had already been copied by everyone from The Monkees to The Kinks. He replaced it with an extended opening piano solo that was odd even for the sixties. The spare piano soon gives way to a typically lovely A/M string arrangement but the song really starts 36 seconds in when Karen Carpenter starts to sing.
Much has been written about Karen Carpenter's voice. It's affected everyone from Elvis Presley to Sonic Youth's Kim Gordan to Richard Nixon. No other woman in rock history has come close to projecting such sincere desperation and depression as Karen Carpenter. More importantly there is a sweetness to it that makes the listener think that everything might be all right, if not for Karen then at least for them.
Karen Carpenter singing Ticket To Ride sounds like a strange call to arms with the line, "Think I'm gonna be sad" repeated at the end as some sort of mantra. She was just 19 when she recorded these words and it already sounds like she has had the weight of the world on her shoulders for years.
Ticket To Ride would continue to play a part of Karen Carpenter's life until her death, appearing first as the b-side to to the massive Close to You then on a slew of best of albums and live performances. The Carpenters would continue to confound the record company whether it be with slashing guitar solos on some of their most romantic tracks to releasing an 8 minute single about aliens and telepathic powers. The record company would continue to market them as squeaky clean squares until Karen died and then it seemed like they would disappear until a entire generation raised in broken homes and isolation re-discovered them.
They would record greater songs after Ticket To Ride but nothing could be quite as stirring as hearing that voice for the first time. John Lennon and Paul McCartney might have written the words but Karen Carpenter meant them.
Artist and Muse #11
Arthur Penn and Melanie Griffith discuss a scene on the set of 1975's Night Moves. This is my favorite Penn film and in my view one of the five best films of the seventies. It would be Griffith's first major role and remains one of her finest. Night Moves is currently available in a fine widescreen presentation on dvd, with a vintage featurette focusing on Penn as the only extra.
Monday, March 12, 2007
An Afternoon at the Library with Argento and His Critics
I am granted many spare moments in my days working at the reference area of my college library. I often find myself wandering over to our film section and browsing through old film reference guides. One of my favorite things to look at our bound issues of Filmfacts magazine from the sixties and seventies. Filmfacts, put out by the AFI, had a pretty simple format. Each month would find the newly released films being given a synopsis and then a sampling of reviews from the major critics of the day. I find myself marveling at just how many films are essentially lost in time, that aren't available on dvd or ever even mentioned anymore. These are great reference guides and, along with several other similar publications we carry, offer an intriguing glimpse into not just lost films but reactions to films that I love.
I thought I would offer a sampling of American critical reactions to two Dario Argento films. Argento is a favorite and I never tire of searching down information about his films. Two issues of Filmfacts focus on Cat O' Nine Tails and Deep Red.
Here are some thoughts by some names you will recognize and some you might not on one of Argento's weaker films and one of his best.
Cat O' Nine Tails featured a Filmfacts score of 0 Favorable, 1 Mixed and 6 Negative.
Here is a sampling of reviews for Cat O Nine Tails listed at 112 minutes:
Judith Crist for New York Magazine: "The Cat O Nine Tails provides flickering proof, in living color, of just what you can get under the GP rating.....sleazily sick and senseless murder mystery......vomitous offering comes from the Italian writer director who made his debut with an equally badly dubbed flashy-stylish irrational mystery....Argento's blood relish has come to the fore.....it is unfit for human consumption".
Donald Mayerson for Cue Magazine: "one regrets more care wasn't taken in the casting and dubbing....the complex story is intriguing....this is not a film for people with weak stomachs...the movie suffers from a let-down feeling."
Kevin Thomas for the L.A. Times: "a mere trickle in comparison to The Bird With The Crystal Plummage.....tedious, needlessly overlong, gratuitously grisly and finally simply silly and utterly pointless.....adding some glamour but given no chance to offer more is Catherine Spaak".
and now for Deep Red listed at 98 Minutes:
Ann Guarino for NY Daily News: "the camera is particularly intrigued with gloves....Argento, who's no Hitchcock, manufactures suspense with flashy camerawork, loud noises and pounding music....garnished generously with gore....credibility flies out the window....nothing quite fits".
Linda Gross for the L.A. Times: "frightening, atmospheric.....promises more than it delivers but it's intriguing.....excruciating suspense....bloody flourishes....Daria Nicolodi is credible....artful long shots, eerie music provide primordial terror....English distributors have added 'Dripping' to the original title, an unnecessary hyperbole".
'Robe' for Variety: "Not in the same class as his debut....sirs up plenty of action....same vein as Torso, but lacks that pictures alleviating factor of many pretty females in the cast....pace is fast....technical aspects are outstanding although the blood comes on as pretty fake....camerawork is particularly good".
Vincent Canby for NY Times: "Italian made bucket of ax-murder movie cliches.....soaked in red paint that seems intended to represent fake blood....Argento is simply a director of incomparable incompetence".
That last line by Canby is particular stinging and boils my blood but I find reading these reviews and these particular quotes interesting. I'll not pick these critics apart and I doubt that if seeing the uncut Deep Red would have made much difference to them. I am very impressed that the one critic who seemed to get what Argento was doing and responded to it turns out to be a woman, and Ms. Gross' review is the most intelligent of the bunch.
What strikes me most in flipping through these old critical journals is just how many 'acclaimed' films by 'important' people have been completely forgotten while the work of an, in Canby's words, 'incomparably incompetent' director continues to interest and captivate.
We have dozens upon dozens of these journals here, I'll keep posting more quotes from vintage reviews, and might even do some full scans. Certainly finding the initial reactions to people like Argento, Bava, Martino or even Leone might help us appreciate them even more in seeing the derision and flat out hostility they had to face.