Archive for December, 2010

Near-perfect New Year’s Eve

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Had a near-perfect New Year’s Eve: woke up when I felt like it, re-watched parts of some great films (Nashville, You’re Not There), listened to some great music (Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Cathedral, Mastodon), had a fantastic band practice, read Jack Kirby comics, cleaned the fish tank, solved some problems with my computer, had a great burger for dinner with some beer, didn’t have any terrible traffic hassles, drank gin and tonics at home and watched the comings and goings of the neighbors, and rung in the new year listening to a great band around the corner of my house (they played a bunch of good songs like Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, The Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”, and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy”… where I was the only white boy in a crowd of middle-aged Chinese-Singaporean men); thank God I didn’t go into the middle of the city tonight, otherwise I’d still be there, not relaxed and chilling out.

What I didn’t do was hug and kiss my wife and son, my mom and dad, my brother and his family. But that will happen soon.

Happy New Year!

P.S. This is what I had for breakfast yesterday:

Breakfast, December 30th 2010

Breakfast, December 30th 2010

Strange people everywhere

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Pretty sad New Year’s Eve, hanging out at home watching DVDs. But it’s better than being anywhere else, and nobody’s invited me to do anything. I fuckin’ hate New Year’s Eve. What a constant disappointment year after year. Why do people think they can have fun on New Year’s Eve and go to some great party? I was having my hamburger at some place on Bukit TImah Road tonight and I saw this one hot chick and her loser-looking boyfriend (he had shaved the sides and back of his head, and had a patch of wiry fuzz on the top of his head; I didn’t see what he was driving, but he probably had a lot of money), with her bitchy but hot-looking friend. The girlfriend was wearing short shorts and looked like a prostitute (but she probably wasn’t), and her friend was wearing a little black dress; they were talking about the short shorts girl’s low top, and the black dress girlfriend thought she should compensate by opening up one more button, and she had it that way for a while, showing quite a lot of her chest, but after a trip to the bathroom she came back with the button done up. Although she’s a whiner, she still needs to look classy. Prize case.

Later on, the girlfriend was whining about something, and seemed to be pouting about something that the boyfriend had said; the boyfriend stormed off after saying some immature shit, and then the hot chick and her bitchy friend were left to complain to each other about stuff. This is what life is. The city is full of weirdos, man, weird shit.

Moon Roof

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Moon Roof

Merry Xhristmas

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Hey, it’s the second-last week of the year, the one that includes Christmas, as well as the final working days of the year. It was a super-busy week for me (why is it always like that anyway???)m as I was occupied with reviewing the edits a copy editor did on my new book, putting together a new magazine, and getting ready for the first gig of my band Supertzar, which took place on the evening of Friday, December 24th (Christmas Eve) at Home Club on Clarke Quay in Singapore.

On Sunday I started reviewing the edits, and that and also some regular work took up the whole day (except for about four hours spent at a Christmas party at my publisher Nick’s place, which was good fun). I also spent some time on Monday night, Tuesday early morning before work, and Tuesday evening on it, typically working until midnight. Pooped. All week long I was busy at work getting Issue 102 of my magazine together. Wednesday was a normal day, when I left at a reasonable hour and went home and watched a DVD. Thursday I went to band practice after work, going through the songs for that Supertzar would be playing on Friday night at our gig. That finished at 10:30, and I spent 30 minutes waiting for a bus that never came! I gave up and took the MRT home (since I knew that if the bus actually came it would fill up and stop at every stop along the way) and a cab from Clementi. Sheesh. Spent an hour at home chilling out, eating dinner, enjoying a gin and tonic, before going to sleep totally exhausted.

Friday was the big day. I had a busy six hours at work, which included a simple Christmas lunch with whichever staff was still around, and then off I went to a pre-gig practice. We did a good job, then went for some dinner, and then to the soundcheck. I was nervous before the show, trying to make sure that I’d memorised my lyrics properly, that I wouldn’t screw up. Oh-oh-oh-oh… We got some drink coupons and started on a bit of beer, not too much. There were two bands before us, “Through The Avenue”, four big Malay guys (the bassist was really very very big) who played some pretty good hardcore (although the vocalist wasn’t so great, and one of the guitars was out of tune for some parts of the set), they only played a short set; and “Paris In The Making”, a band with a not-so-great name but a very tight screamo set that sounded A LOT like Isis and Pelican (the vocalist mainly used the scream throughout, without any of the mellow lyrical bits you’d hear in Isis). Very tight, impressive. Our set started off, and everything went without a hitch, although we had to drop a song, so we gave up on “Frosty The Snowman”, the little thing that we dreamed up for Christmas eve. It was fun.

Then the gig was over. Whew! I felt relieved, all of the preparation and aggravation and problem solving and worry about whether the gig was going to happen or not was behind us and we pulled it off without any screw-ups! Hooray!! I stayed for a while, the rest of the band went home, the drummer nursing his wounds, as his hands were bloody from his banging away. A DJ played a set after the bands were done, and the music was great – old ’80s and ’90s alternative music, very cool. I talked to the DJ for a while, Joe Ng, very very nice guy. One of the friends who had come out had a car, and he drove me home, that was much appreciated.

Saturday I called up Naoko and Zen to wish them a Merry Christmas, then did the same for Mum ‘n’ Dad ‘n’ Ralph ‘n’ Nicole ‘n’ Evan ‘n’ Lauren, downloaded from my camera the video we had taken of the performance and had a look at that. I could see a bunch of things that I didn’t like about my performance, so I learned a lot about what I want to change next time we do a live show, starting with my stage gear, and my stage presence. Also, I’ll have to do something about my between-song chatter, it’s not so great.

It was Christmas Day, so I ate the Christmas meal that mum had left me, cordon bleu (thanks, mum). I also opened the little goody that she left in the refrigerator, turns out it was a bar of chocolate and a chunk of salami (thanks for that too, mom). I also watched a bunch of DVDs: “Black Sabbath” (only one of the three self-contained stories in the movies), “Ponyo On a Cliff by the Sea”, “Tears of the Black Tiger”, parts of “The Buena Vista Social Club”. Since the DVDs were due that day, I went to West Mall to return them, then checked out “Tron: Legacy.” After that, I took a bus in the heavy rain and went to meet my neighbour Prakash and his wife Maira for some tapas, then off for drinks at a whisky bar. Great people, great times, great conversation, great food. Got home late-ish, stayed up late doing photo album stuff.

Sunday, woke up at 9:00, did photo album stuff, laundry, dishes, work, reading, and no DVDs. Gonna run some errands and do some work for the company. Sheesh…

Here are some videos from Friday’s gig:

“Never Say Die”

“Iron Man”

“NIB”

“Black Sabbath”

“Sweet Leaf”

“Paranoid”

Here are some recent pics:

My new coffee mug is VERY BIG!

My new coffee mug is VERY BIG!

Supertzar!!!

Supertzar!!!

My Christmas goodies from Oma, before...

My Christmas goodies from Oma, before...

... and after.  It's salami and chocolate, my favourites!

... and after. It's salami and chocolate, my favourites!

Movie review:

TL

TL


Tron:Legacy – While I’m not a fanboy for Tron, I thought that this would be fun, or at least not an embarrassing father-son movie like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull; I was right about the latter (barely), but wrong about the former. The movie made no sense at all, and was ultimately terrible stupid. Kind of like Speed Racer, or something, but without the over-the-top CG.

Interesting week…

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

What a week. Tuesday I went to a 3-hour lunch with some bankers. We were sitting in a private room in this posh restaurant, and from the hall where the staff were working on the food and stuff we heard some one yell out loudly in anger “OH FUCK!!” It was quite surreal. Wednesday I went to a reception at the Raffles Hotel, stayed too long and drank a bunch of beer and snacked on a bunch of so-so goodies. Thursday I ran a bunch of errands, including picking up some new shoes, and then went to the Prince of Wales to see a colleague’s sister’s husband’s band play. Friday my own band had a practice, we auditioned a new drummer and a new guitarist (our old drummer has moved to bass) and had a good time. Great band, very tight from the outset. Now I need to work on memorising my lyrics so that I’m not constantly looking at a sheet.

Saturday I woke up, did a bunch of chores, and then went out to see “Let Me In.” Great! I also went to the public library and discovered that they have tons of comics! I got Maus I, three books that collect Jack Kirby’s trippy work, and also one about Plastic Man and one about The New Teen Titans. Fantastic!

Movie Review:

LMI

LMI

Le Me In – One of the best movies I saw last year was “Let The Right One In”, a Norwegian vampire movie that was bleak and arty and basically about the morally ambiguous relationship between two twelve-year-old kids. I walked into this one five minutes late, which I normally don’t do, but I thought it would be okay because the credits usually eat up five minutes anyway. But in this case, the movie had started already, at a scene that I knew was halfway through the film. I thought to myself “did I come in one hour and five minutes late instead of just five minutes late?” But what the director does is he starts at an important scene from the middle, then jumps back two weeks.

The film is a very faithful remake of the original, and it’s always interesting to see how the director’s going to stage any given scene. The one thing that is very different is that neither of Owen’s divorcing parents are ever seen; the father is only heard on the phone, and the mum, who he lives with, is only seen from the shoulders down, heightening the sense of Owen’s isolation and loneliness. No adult befriends Owen, and his classmates are either indifferent or hostile. Owen’s moral lapse comes out strongly in this film, and he’s so happy to finally have a companion that he forgets that Abby is a heartless killer.

One complaint is the soundtrack, which is too moody, and when it turns moody it projects that something bad is going to happen. I don’t remember much music in the original at all. But since its intention is to make the viewers tense, it sure does its job well.

Owen is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, the young boy who was in The Road, and he was 13 at the time it was filmed. Abby is played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who was Hit Girl in the movie Kick Ass, and she was also 13 when the film was made. Both actors have been working since 2005 and have been in a bunch of films!

Comic book reviews:

M

M

Maus I – Maus is the story of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, and his life in Poland in the 1930s and 1940s with his first wife (and Art’s mother) Anja; this is mirrored by the life of the family in the 1970s or 1980s, after Anja’s suicide when Art is a young artist, married but with no kids, and his relationship with an eccentric, aging Vladek and his new wife Mala, who Vladek doesn’t get along with. In the story the Jews are portrayed as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs (both black and white). In some senses the tale would be well known – prosperous Jews are slowly constricted in their business activities, their possessions are taken away from them, they are removed from their homes and businesses, they are forced to live like dogs and their livelihoods are taken away from them. Eventually they start seeing that some Jews are being killed, then they are seeing that many Jews are being killed, then they realise that they could be killed at any moment too… and so many that Vladek knew were snuffed out off-scene, as Vladek recounts when he learns years later. Finally they hide out, because every cluster of survivors would know of even more who had been killed, then they try to escape, then they are trapped for good.

The modern tale of Art and his father and where their story together is going is unknown, and watching it develop is fascinating… and makes you feel just as helpless and bewildered. Their relationship is very complicated, and Art records even the seemingly mundane, such as an incident with matches. There’s also the discovery of a comic that Art drew long ago, “Prisoner of the Hell Planet” about his mother. I can’t wait to read Maus II.

DCJKFWOV1

DCJKFWOV1

For a review of Jack Kirby’s work please visit My big bad Jack Kirby page.

DCAEPM

DCAEPM

DC Archive Editions: Plastic Man – Plastic Man was a hit in the late ’30s for artist Jack Cole, who worked with Will Eisner (of “The Spirit” fame – in face, Eisner writes the introduction to this volume). Plastic Man is “Eels” O’Brian, a notorious gangster who has acid spilled on him in a heist gone wrong. He is saved by a kind monk, who inspires him to fight criminals. As Plastic Man (or as “Eels” O’Brian, whichever can help his cause) he busts gangsters, an Asian opium ring, pinball crooks, Madam Brawn’s gang of notorious female gangsters, Those Hands (disembodied hands that steal compulsively), the United Crooks of America, the evil Magnetic eight ball, Hairy Arms, a 17th century warlock/scientist who lives on in an infected brain, a corrupt sculptor, submarine nazis, weather Nazis in Mexico (Hitler makes a quick appearance), an Indian medicine man, evil actors in the Maniac House, and a freaky scientist with his forest of evil animated animal-trees (and tree-animals). He saves a bald beauty, spars intellectually with Woozy Winks and gets enlisted with the FBI. He also encounters strange sidekicks, like a dopey Western Union guy, who helps him bust Nazi collaborators, and Woozy Winks, a dopey fat guy who is charmed with a spell that protects him from personal harm. In the surreal final episode, Woozy takes on the magicians Abba and Dabba, while Plas recovers from an explosion. The artwork, layout and design is sensational, with a great use of black, and a trippy talking microphone “narrating” the proceedings. Some drug references, including opium, someone feeds “Eels” reefer to make him go crazy, someone else gives Woozy “loco pills” (LSD?). Great, surrealistic fun that was many years ahead of his time.  He was doing tripped-out Jack Kirby-like stuff way before Kirby was. With his tale of a hero who gains super powers after some chemical was spilled on him, and who keeps a secret identity so that he can fight crime, he’s not all to different from Eisner’s The Spirit anyway – although he’s definitely a lot stranger.

DCAETNTT

DCAETNTT

DC Archive Editions: The New Teen Titans – Great drawing, quite good characters, even if they seem pretty square (particularly midwest conservative Wally “Teen Flash” West. The volume covers “The New Teen Titans” issues 17-20, plus all four issues of a mini-series chronicling the origins of the members (one each issue – Cyborg, Raven, Changeling and Starfire are chronicled here – I guess they don’t bother with Robin, Wonder Girl or Kid Flash as they’re established characters).

Issue 17  is “The Possession of Francis Kane”, which is a bit like Carrie, in that it is about a woman that seems possessed (but she’s not possessed by a demon, rather possessed by Dr Polaris, trying to escape the dimension he’s trapped in), and whose mother tries to exorcise her. Bizarre. Wally seems to be falling for Francis, forgetting about his lonely love for Raven. Action, destruction, helpless females. Starfire is on the cover, even though she’s not in the book. Issue 18 is called “A Pretty Girl is like a  Maladi”, about a Russian bride-to-be who unknowingly brings radiation poisoning to the USA, and the Russian superhero Starfire who is sent to bring her back/put her out of her misery. Wally constantly insults him for being a Soviet murderer, but is put in his place at the end by a strange twist. Good one, but a bit melodramatic/pointless, like all of those stories about good guys fighting each other for stupid reasons (Spider-man vs The Fantastic Four, The Avengers vs The Hulk, etc). Teen Titans 19, “The Light Fantastic” is about Mr Light, a powerful but lame super-villain who escapes from jail and reanimates ancient Hindu relics that become rampaging monsters. With the help of Hawkman. So-so.   “Dear Mom and Dad” is done in a letter format, with Wally writing a sentimental letter to his mom and dad about a day in the life of the New Teen Titans, and about how they bring down the Disrupter and his dad.  The Disruptor has strange powers, he can disrupt anything, short circuiting people’s superpowers or their regular bodily functions (heartbeat, etc). Crazy. Pretty gruesome villain, and a strange family feud goes on as well. The letter-writing thing is corny too.

The Mini-series. Issue 1 tells the strange, sad tale of Cyborg, how his relationship with his father was poisoned, and how he ran into fair weather friends, like a thug called Ron, who become some sort of Black Panther. Nasty story, but good story telling. Issue 2 tells Raven’s story, and it is about trippy-trans-dimensional demons like Trigon, and the people of the world of Azarath, and the godmother of the clan Azar. Issue 3 tells Changeling’s story, and it is kind of silly and jumps all over the place, not the better tale. Issue 4 tells the story of Starfire, and it is the best of the bunch, showing a young Koriand’r as she deals with her evil older sister Kommand’r, the evil Citadel, the even-more-evil Psions, and her eventual flight to earth, away from her father King Miand’r, mother Luand’r, and brother Riand’r.

What a week

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

It was a pretty busy week. I listened to a lot of John Lennon (the Signature Box, twice) and some Richard Thompson. Monday and Tuesday I had to leave work quickly to run errands, and on Wednesday I went home to be with mum ‘m’ dad for their last night in Singapore this year. Thursday they flew off to New Zealand, and Thursday night I went downtown for another round of Christmas shopping and errands. I got nearly everything done, except for two items, but that will get taken care of soon enough.

Friday night I went out to Boat Quay’s Home Club to see some live bands with two office colleagues. It was a shoegazer festival! Goody. The first band, Under The Velvet Sky, was playing some crazy Frank Zappa-esque prog rock. They sounded pretty good, but since I only heard part of their last song I bought their CD, I’ll have to check it out. Stellarium was up next, they were pretty straight forward shoegazer, sounding a lot like My Bloody Valentine, although they did a cool cover of Sonic Youth’s “100%”. Got home, watched half of “Play Misty For Me” and then went to sleep.

Saturday was a busy day. Woke up, watched the rest of “Play Misty For Me”, then watched “Diva” and most of “The Phantom of Liberty.” Then I headed downtown, did some banking, bought another Christmas present, and went to the multimedia library to get some more movies. Got eight: “Death Note 2″, “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea”, “M*A*S*H” (the Robert Altman film), The Beatles Anthology Parts 1 and 2, “Tears of the Black Tiger”, “Buena Vista Social Club”, “The Sargasso Manuscript”, and “Black Sabbath”. Great. Then I went off to the National Museum of Singapore to catch a screening of “Kurutta I’peiji”, a Japanese silent film from 1926 about madness and life inside an insane asylum. The performance included musical accompaniment by The Observatory, an art rock band from Singapore that I’m a big fan of. The music was atmospheric and interesting, and at times as chaotic as what was being shown onscreen. There were two crescendoes in the film and the band filled them with some great noise. After that, I headed home and watched “Death Note 2.” There had been a CD launch party from Lunarin, but I gave it a miss.

Today it looks like I have a lot of work to do – chores, housework, shopping, etc. Busy busy busy…

CD reviews

UTVS

under the velvet sky, “the black sea sorcery” – Eccentric, crazy jazz-core with lots of found sounds (radio blurts) and tons of zaniness, with great odd and freaky garbage. I don’t know how to describe an album of four songs with lengths like 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 29 minutes, 2 minutes. Sheesh. But I’ll try…

One long jam, it was recorded live in the studio in October, 2008. First track “Mystique Morning” starts off with some trippy guitar sounds and other sound effects, then comes in with drums. Comes in with great psychedelic guitars, and blares out for a while. “A Girl Named Gaza” takes a while to get going, and the drum and bass build up for the guitar, which cranks out some psychedelia. Beautiful. Trippy narration there after a while, taking it into the next track. With “The Sorcerer’s Hat”, a song of nearly 30 minutes, there’s initially trippy echo guitar, and some horns coming in, some percussion. There is nearly 10 minutes of echo-ey guitar plonking, before the psychedelia heats up. The song chills out ten minutes later, and the dijeridoo kicks in, and the song gets quiet. What’s happening, man? The song trips back to a new song, groaning with some child’s nervous murmuring. It later builds up into a funky slam, with loud riffs, some distant crowd announcements and horns understated, before everything grows into a fever pitch. Fun! “Rain At The Break Of Dawn” is slow starting, with a cello vibe, then it becomes a bit like chilled out raga rock. Groovy, man!!

S

Stellarium, “Stellarium” – This Singapore band knows exactly what it’s doing when it comes to re-creating those beloved sounds from our favourite Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth albums, and it sounds great. The first song, “Any Day Is Fine” sounds like your standard Jesus And Mary Chain aggro feedback noise, right down to the weak vocal mix. Great noise and drones. “Chocolate And Strawberry” is bass-led, with some great fretwork and that droning vocal over feedback thing. “Harbinger” is more melodic, but it is also bass-led and feels very comfortable. Man are the vocals weak in the mix! “Vertigo” mumbles along with a fantastic wall of bass warblings. “Paddle Pop” starts off with sheer noise, then goes almost into a near-Godflesh negative banger, and then a bit of a dreamy song, before becoming a hive of evil feedback, harsh and abrasive. “The Grass Is Greener” is a big thick fat riff, with some horrid vocal sounds. “Tomorrow’s Monday” is sort of a boring track, ut stll very Jesus and Mary Chain-ish (they had boring songs too, right?), or maybe even a tad Love and Rockets-esque (ditto), but it picks up in the last few minutes as it grows in to a wicked maelstrom of noise. “Fader” starts off fast like a sqruonky Sonic Youth tune, then goes into some surf rock (?!?!), that is maybe a wee bit Cure-like, a wee bit Curve-like. Or maybe it is simply surf rock the way Sonic Youth would do it. Either way, it’s hard to get a bead on. The final track “Dead Nebula” seems 14 minutes long, but it is actually a feedback-marinated eight minute ditty, followed by 90 seconds of silence, then a true shoegazer ditty starts up, with jangling chorused guitars. Sweeeeeeet… The tune starts off strong with some great drum beats and a very nice electric groove, it builds up slowly, and then after four minutes all hell breaks loose. The “mystery track” has a very fast electronic beat, and totally washed out/layered vocals. The guitar is nearly impossible to identify as guitar, it’s so distorted.

A Page of Madness with The Observatory

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I went to the National Museum of Singapore tonight to catch an incredible event – it was the screening of “A Page of Madness” (狂った一頁, or kuru’ta i’peiji), a Japanese silent film from 1926. The screening was accompanied by live music performed by The Observatory, one of Singapore’s coolest bands.

The film is based on a story by Kawabata Yasunari, the Nobel Prize-winning author, and is about a retired sailor who takes a job as a janitor to look after his wife, who was institutionalised after trying to drown their child. It takes the point of view of the insane at many moments, and you see all sorts of crazy antics. There were two climactic scenes in the film, one when the patients broke loose and began terrorizing the place, and another time when the sailor himself went berserk.

While the movie is difficult to follow, as there are no intercards for dialogue or context, it is full of all sorts of amazing images and visual effects, such as superimpositions, flashbacks, rapid montage, and complex camerawork, all to recreate the world of the insane. There is a beautiful female dancer, there is the sailor’s wife who is somehow elegant in her madness, there is a young boy, a young lady in her kimono, a middle-aged doctor who looks a bit constipated, a western doctor, a flapper who dances incessantly (although sometimes she lies on the floor and pretends to be a dog – barking mad), interesting-looking bearded and mustached men, and there is a trio of madmen who move in strange mechanical/kabuki gestures. There is also odd social commentary at the end – when the lunatics put on their masks, they become happy and normal again. I started my camera at two points where the film looked like it was getting interesting, and I was lucky – I caught some cool parts of the film with some great music.

I was fascinated with the “font” that was used to write the title and the names of the actors and other staff. It was nearly indecipherable. The “終” that you see at the end, as you see at the end of nearly all Japanese films, was made out of lights and very hard to recognise. Even the opening and closing credits were a great work of art.

If you can’t see a screening, the film is available online.

The venue was a mid-sized theatre, and I was lucky to find a front row seat, even though I was not early. I got to sit close to the band, which included two guitarists, a percussionist/drummer/bassist, and two people on electronics (one an iBook expert, another a black box knob-twister – her table, and the floor in front of the guitarists, was littered with pedals and boxes of all sorts). When the evening started, the lights went off, the band walked in dressed in black with their white kabuki masks on, and then low, ambient noise kicked in. After a minute or two the film started. All throughout, the music was odd and atmospheric, quiet and subdued, but often rising to exciting, chaotic crescendoes when the film called for it. The band recorded the gig, I hope that they release it as well. A DVD version of the film with The Observatory’s soundtrack should be released as a film.

Here are some pictures and video clips of the evening:

Pics:

Pre-show setup

Pre-show setup

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 1

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 1

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 2

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 2

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 3

狂った一頁  with The Observatory 3

Videos:

December DVDs

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Every December Naoko and Zen go to Japan and I fill my hours by watching movies. This year I watched a bunch of good ones:

N

N

Nashville- I’ve been a Robert Altman fan for ages, and I’ve always wanted to see Nashville. I recently re-watched M*A*S*H and Altman has been on my mind, so I was happy to come across Nashville at the local library recently. Score!

The film starts off in that confusing Altman way, but you quickly get a sense of who the characters are, and want to re-watch the opening scenes to figure out what he was telling us about his characters from the beginning. The film is a mini-documentary as we get to watch the performance of several songs in full, and we learn a little bit about music production. In the early scenes we see all the characters, even though we don’t know who they are. Most noticable is Shelly Duvall, a girl with wild socks, long legs, some sort of bikini, and red and yellow shoes (kind of like Roller Girl?). From the airport at the beginning of the movie we move out on cars, see those great VW beetles, Cadillacs and a crazy chopper three-wheeler (with Jeff Goldblum riding), and a great pile-up on the freeway (with a resulting pick-up party, beer and all). There’s the nutty campaign of Hal Phillip Walker, who wants to change the national anthem, cancel the electoral college and ban lawyers from office. There’s Lily Tomlin, young and stunning as a white gospel singer and a devoted mother of two deaf kids (there’s a great scene of her listening patiently to one of them telling a nice story about a day at the pool) and another lonely soul; Elliott Gould and Julie Christie drift through, playing themselves, and Karen Black plays the role of the pretender stage star Connie White (Black was also in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1,000 Corpses”). The real star is Ronnee Blakley, a raven-haired Loretta Lynn type who has a gorgeous voice and has several great acting scenes, but who loses her marbles onstage after two really amazing numbers. “All my luxury has turned into misery.” Superb! Also very good and raven-haired is the strictly beautiful Cristina Rines, who plays the “Mary” of the country group Bill, Mary and Tom (clearly modeled on Peter, Paul and Mary). Tom is the playboy, whose game is not understood until late in the film (great scene when he debuts a new song and four women in the audience each clearly thinks it’s about her). Great stuff. Geraldine Chaplain is also great as Opal, a woman who may or may not be a BBC reporter trying to put together a documentary about Nashville of that year, but only succeeds in putting together some rubbish in a school bus parking lot, and in a junkyard. It’s all very absurd.

Besides the great storyline, Altman gives us a wonderful look into what country music and Nashville was all about in 1975. We get lots of great audience shots, and anyone who pays attention can see lots of interesting things going on. In the commentary, you get an explanation of the composite album that is in the opening credits. He introduces Thomas Howell Phillips, a writer/novelist from Mississippi whose whole family was in politics, and he did a 30-minute speech for Hal Phillip Walker, the politician whose speaker truck is driving through Nashville at the time. He introduces Richard Baskin, the music genius there who put it all together. Notes the funny names that music industry people had for themselves, like Frog, Trout, Bear. Used local musicians and announcers. It was Jeff Goldblum’s second movie and he talks about bringing him in. Notes the rifles that the Tennessee Twirlers use. Originally cast Susan Ansbach as Barbara Jean, but they couldn’t afford her. Had already bought two songs form Ronnee Blakely, so they made her Barbara Jean. For the four-car pullout scene, he says “We cast these cars as carefully as the people who drove them.” Joan Tewkesbury, who wrote the script (whatever of it that was used) experienced the highway pile-up party herself when she arrived in Nashville to prepare the script. The film was shot in six weeks, no time to do a wardrobe test, so the actors mainly wore what they had, some things were swapped between actors. Created situations and let the actors go with them. Most people didn’t know that the mic was on them. Met the actor who played Barnett, Allen Garfield, with Francis Ford Coppola in Cannes after they had done “The Conversation”, told him to bring exactly what he was wearing that day. Barbara Harris was neurotic about her early pile-up scenes, wanted to buy them off of Altman and destroy them. Shooting in the Grand Ole Opry happened over two days, on the second Nixon resigned. “Go get a go go – it’s good!”  Gary Busey was supposed to play the part of Tom (from Bill, Mary and Tom), but had another commitment come up, he wrote the song that the trio sing “Since You’ve Gone”. All of the actors sing their own songs, whether they are good or not (or whether they can sing well or not – Alman didn’t like the singing of Timothy Brown or the scrumptuous Cristina Raines). Geraldine Chaplain (who is the daughter of Charlie Chaplin and the granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill, by the way) is hysterical nearly every time she opens her mouth, including “I make it a point never to gossip with the servants.” Shelly Duvall smiles at “I’m Easy” (she’s supposed to be).

INT

INT

I’m Not There – The film shows Bob Dylan in his various phases, something that anyone who knows anything about Bob Dylan would get a sense of anyway. Director Todd Haynes, who had done the Velvet Goldmine film that fictionalised the lives of Iggy Pop and David Bowie, did the same with Dylan here, who is only named in the opening credits “Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan” and in the song credits at the end. The movie moves through the many phases in Dylan’s career, some straight forward (Cate Blanchett as the totally addled Dylan of the mid-60s) and some less straight forward (Richard Gere, as the “Billy The Kid” persona that Bob may have liked to affect during his post-cycle crash period, or the “Woody Guthrie” persona of an 11-year-old black child in 1959). The various characters of Dylan are done in different styles, including documentary style (the story of Jack Rollins), and the nostalgic/nonsensical cowboy scenes with Richard Gere and his cowboys/judges/ostriches/giraffes. Great dialogue: “I don’t call myself a poet, I don’t like the word. I’m a trapeze artist.” Or a self-conscious chameleon (but he wouldn’t like that either, would he?). Great scene as three old women in wheelchairs and neck braces exit an elevator in red white and blue-coloured dresses. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth has a cameo. UK press conference is very stuffy. “You never know how the past will turn out.” Intellectual sparring with Bob. Chatting with Allen Ginzburg from a car while he rides in a golf cart. “Who cares what I think. I’m not the president, not some shepherd. I’m just a storyteller.” Pain, remorse, love: “I have none of those feelings.” Or how about “Sleep is for dreamers.” Great scenes in a ’60s party (one of many?) with Brian Jones and Edie Sedgwick, strung out Bob muttering “love and sex are two things that really hang people up.” Scenes of the tarantula as Bob writes Tarantula. The film ends with Richard Gere completing his quest, sorta. In memory of Jim Lyons. The best scenes are the ones filmed in black and white, which means mainly the Cate Blanchett parts. And, of course, there’s wonderful music throughout.

Commentary is so-so interesting – the source of the film idea is from director Todd Haynes’ drive across the country from New York to Portland in 2000, listening to Bob Dylan, got the idea, presented it to Dylan in late 2000, making sure that everything was on a single sheet of paper. The film opens with the idea of death, and getting born again and again and again. Everything in the film comes from something or other in the Bob Dylan universe. Initially, people accepted Bob Dylan as Woody Guthrie because of his exuberance, but eventually he had to define himself. Shows Bob with a bouncing foot, too much energy. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is Carla Hendricks, folk singer, looking a bit worn out, and seen at the 17-minute mark together with a radiantly beautiful Julianne Moore.

There are plenty of extras, although nothing really and truly essential. The do show the trailers, however, which are actually quite good. They play with words: “All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” is a quote from Dylan himself and it’s very significant about trying to understand this cryptic jokerman. “Inspired by true/ false/ authentic/ exaggerated/ real/ imagined stories… of the greatest artist/ agitator/ poet/ fighter/ genius/radical of our time.” He is everyone, he is no one. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cards video is presented, first edited together, then one by one by the various actors that played Bob Dylan in the movie. This should be boring, but somehow it’s possible to watch it eight times and still be compelled to watch on. “Twenty dollar bills” (instead of 10 dollar bills) and “Suckcess” (instead of success). Each has their style of doing this, but Richard Gere seems the most self-consciously acting; his notes are also on hard card stock, easier to handle.  Is this intentional? Some seem to have different stacks, bewildering. Gere is the only one to get ahead of himself. There are two short deleted scenes only. Does that mean that everytyhing else that turned out well is actually in the movie? Extended/aternate scenes mainly show full musical numbers that were trimmed. “Tombstone Blues” (sung by Marcus Carl Franklin, the only actor to sing his own song), “Hattie Carroll” and “Pressing On”, sung in the Christian Bale sequence, and “Goin’ to Acapulco”, sung by Jim James of My Morning Jacket in the Richard Gere scene. Four minutes of “outtakes and gag reel” that has only one interesting moment, when a horse in Richard Gere’s scene drops a big shit, then unloads some horse pee. Three minute tribute to Heath Ledger, just a collection of his scenes, then 2:40  of video from the premiere. “Heath says “you leave the movie with no more knowledge of Dylan than when you entered.” I guess this makes the biopic as an artistic conceit, allows Dylan to remain an enigma. A twenty minute documentary about the soundtrack. Usually a soundtrack is the last thing done, but here it was done first. Lee Ranaldo got involved. Haynes didn’t chase his favorite or the best Dylan songs necessarily, just the ones that had to be part of the narrative.

TTM

TTM

The Third Man (Criterion Collection edition) – Voted the best British film of the 20th century, and regarded as the best film ever filmed in Vienna, The Third Man was the first of its kind in many ways: filmed in 1949, it was the first British film shot largely on location, it was also the first to focus on a single musician rather than an orchestra for its soundtrack.

This Criterion Collection DVD is loaded with stuff. The first DVD comes with the full movie, plus three additional audio tracks: commmentary by Stephen Soderbergh and screennwriter Tony Gilroy, commentary by film scholar Dana Polan, and an abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment of the story, to follow the whole film, as ready by actor Richard Clarke. There is also a video introduction by director Peter Bogdanovich. The second DVD has three documentaries, two radio plays based on The Third Man, photo data, the two alternate opening narrations, and a bunch of other stuff.

Bogdanovich, in his intro, calls it the best “non-auteur” film ever made. Carol Reed is underrated, probably because his last films weren’t so fantastic. Great black and white photography, the real star of the film, showing the wetness of the stones. Orson Welles had told Bogdanovich “Black and white is the actor’s friend. Every performance is better in black and white. Name me one great performance in colour, I defy you.” Peter Bogrdanovich agrees, as there is a lack of distraction by familiar colour themes, and the focus is on the drama instead. Orson Welles says it’s the greatest “star part”, in the way that he doesn’t step onstage until late into the movie. Welles says he had no influence on the film, he only wrote the cuckoo clock speech. The film is called daring and fast cutting, and Bogdanovich recommends the In Search of the Third Man book. The documentary notes that Guy Hamilton, an assistant director on this film, went on to direct three Bond films, including “Goldfinger,” and explains how Graham Greene went to Vienna for a few weeks, arriving on February 11th, 1948; on the last day he heard from the British intelligence about the penicillin scam, which gave him his idea for the plot. The UK intro to the film was narrated by Carol Reed himself ,the US intro by Joseph Cotton. “Oh, I want to tell you about Holly Martens.” Walks under a ladder (why is it there? it’s a prop, he’s been scripted to walk under a ladder… it’s foreshadowing!), talks to an old Austrian porter (famed Austrian actor Paul Horbiger, actually), who tells him that Harry Lime, the man he is looking for, is dead and either in Hell (he points up) or Heaven (he points down). This is a mixup of language, but it also shows how upside-down everything was in 1949.

There is some great German dialogue by the famed Austrian actress Hedwig Bleibtreu: “Die Befreiung habe ich mich ganz anders vorgestellt.” (I had imagined that the Liberation would be much different than this.) “Oh, danke, Sie sind wirklich das eingzige anständige Mensch hier.” (Oh, thank you, you are really the only decent person here.) Crooked frames in some shots describe the chaos, sprial staircases hint at madness. Holly is bitten by a cockatiel, then there is the chase through the streets of Vienna. “You were born to be murdered” Callahan says to Holly. Extra content – director Reed and producer David Selznik had disagreed over Welles, who was Reed’s choice but who Selznik considered box office poison. There were three units – day, night, and sewer, and the on-site production continued over seven weeks. Director Carol Reed chewed benzedrine in order to be able to direct all three units, nearly 24 hours a day. Reed cut a Vienna at night series, but couldn’t use it because he believed that every shot must be functional (where is it? why isn’t it in the Criterion Collection version of the film?!?!). Since Welles came late, many shots were done with stand-ins; and since he was appalled at the filth of the sewer, a sound stage was built at Shepperton Studios to recreate parts of the sewer system. Austrian actors were flown in for this too. In the studio at the same time were Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift and Ann Sheridan. Viennese musician of note Anton Karas played at the welcome reception for the film actors when they came to shoot on location, Carol Reed was taken by the instrument he played at the recdption, the hitherto-unknown (to him, and to British and American actors and directors) zither, and recorded hours of his music in his hotel room. When it was decided to use the music in the intro, it was unprecedented because film scores were always orchestral and didn’t focus on solo instruments.

There is archival material, such as the press pack, and the original trailers: (man’s hard voice) “Hated by 1,000 men”, (woman’s desirous voice) “desired by one woman.” (man’s voice) “The Third Man – hanging’s too good for him”; (woman’s voice, desirous) “Nothing’s too good for The Third Man”. Crazy titles like “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither” (ugh!!!). Then there are the documentaries: Shadowing The Third Man is a documentary that shows long snatches of the film and moves along slowly, as it would if it was sold to fill a 90-minute space but had less than 10 minutes of real content; the film provides at the start some Zeitgeist, it seems that 270,000 men were killed in World War II, and 500,000 were in prisoner of war camps or in exile, so women were largely responsible for rebuilding the city. Reed and Selznik argued over Anita Valli’s clothes, Selznik thought that they were too dowdy for a big star. Paul Horbiger couldn’t speak a word of English and had to be coached by phoneticists. Hedwig Bleibtreu, the landlady, was 82 at the time, but she always showed up on time for filming, never arrived late. A now-adult Hansi talked about his role, how he was just playing himself. The documentary shows cool morphs from modern Vienna to scenes form the movie, such as the cat scene, and the 300 km of sewers. The Ferris Wheel was deep in the Soviet zone, a sort of propaganda set to display the wonders of communism. “Harry is in only 10% of the film, the love triangle is only complete for a sort scene. Welles wondering “how anyone can work in these conditions. Sewer police were mobilised for the shoot. In some scenes we can see Orson Welles’ breath in the cold weather, these were the scenes filmed on site. Also, we learn that those are Carol Reed’s fingers poking through the grill to demonstrate some great non-verbal dialogue. There are also four very important lines cut from the end of the film:

- Calloway – What happened?
- Martins – I couldn’t bear his pain, I put a bullet through him.”
- Calloway – We’ll forget that bit.”
- Martins – I never shall!”

The dialogue, however, is replaced by Harry’s nod, and some of the body language between Cotton and Welles (and Trevor Howard, in a few seconds) is just what it is.
The script called for, and the crew filmed, a scene where Anna was kidnapped by the Soviets, but this was cut from the film to make it less political (I almost wish that they had included it – there was so much noise about her passport and the Russian authorities, it was irritating and irrelevant otherwise. On the other hand, it also never got boring.

“The Third Man theme” was a #1 hit on the Variety Charts in the week ending June 10th, 1950. Hard as it to imagine, for a brief period the world was in the grips of zither mania!! But as a result of the European success of The Third Man, Korda kidnapped the negative, and the relationship with him and David Selznik deteriorated.

There are two tracks of commentary on the DVD, one by filmmakers Stephen Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy that is not very interesting at all, but film scholar Dana Polan offers a strong commentary throughout the film, and we learn a few things from him, as well as the film theory stuff about the type of film that it was, a “binary film” that provided tension between values, identity, moralising, as well as between the old world and the new, the artistic world of European film and the commercial world of Hollywood, which is already suggested in the credits. Polan describes Holly as a brash, cocky American who’s a bit slow on the uptake and a prime example of the ugly American abroad (Soderbergh and Gilroy are harder on his character, calling him a blank nothing who never really succeeds at anything of his own accord – he’s a bit of a Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski in that regard). For the early scene of Martins walking under a ladder, it depicts him walking of his own volition right into a world of bad luck. Holly was supposed to be a British cahracter, but David O. Selznik insisted on an American. Bernard Lee, who was M in the Bond films, plays Seargent Paine. Parallels exist in the film with the formula westerns that Holly writes, that whole “sherrif telling the stranger to be on the next stagecoach out of town if he knows what’s good for him.”

The packaging of the DVD is stunning also – the first disc shows the full ferris wheel on its round shape, while the second disc shows the mesh of cables and supports seen from inside a cabin, symbolically depicting the object from the outside (the full movie) and its inner workings (the documentaries about the movie and its dissection).

“Who Was The Third Man” is a documentary in German by Austria’s Wien-Kanal, it starts with a jazz intro with the theme song. It gave more zeitgeist than other films, explaining that on March 10th, 1950, the film opened in Vienna, and 120,000 went to see it in following weeks, curious to see how Vienna would be portrayed in an American film.

Someone made the comment that the grave where they filmed Harry’s multiple burials is not occupied by someone called Grün, which is German for “green”; Lime also means green. There are other similarities – Greene stayed at the Hotel Sacher, like the writer Holly Martins does, and he was also in 1948 to give a talk at the British Council, like Martins also is. Stylistically, the documentary moves from colour to black and white, as if to achieve some goal. But the documentary does explain that Greene knew British spymaster and traitor Kim Philby, who was in the area at the time, and how Greene rubbed shoulders with master spies, and after he had rubbed shoulders with these people, had heard the racketeering tales. There’s footage of Paul Horbinger talking about the film in 1979, and more discussion about the soundtrack. Reed wanted a non-virtuoso to do the zither soundtrack, wanted it to sound broken and cracked, like Vienna itself. For the first recording, all that Anton Karas did was a first take, and for the first recording all he got was a blue suit, he was happy. Later he became a millionaire, selling 40 million records, and opened up his own club. Couldn’t read or write music, though, it seems.

The sewers: there were 7,500 km when the documentary was made in 2007, but in 1949 when the film was made there were 3,000 km). Sewer shooting needed four weeks. Welles’ body double was a butcher Otto Schusser. Then there is a nice final shot of the long walk – the host walks down the side as they re-produce the original film’s final shot.

Another documentary is Graham Greene: The Hunted Man, A 1968 profile of Graham Greene with Christopher Burnstall, which touches on nearly all of his work up until that point except for “The Third Man”. Funny. Starts off with Greene’s passport, and its many stamps, all from countries that we know he’s visited because his stories are set there. Then there is the discussion – which Greene only allowed to be audio-taped, he didn’t want to become a non-serious writer who becomes a TV comedian – that touches upon so many topics, such as Greene’s life, and where he felt hunted: Indochina, during the London Blitz, and by the Catholic faith. “Human nature is not black and white, but black and gray.” The conversation takes place on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, traveling through Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Three days, two nights, with no restaurant car. Feels a writer should not be recognised, likes borders, but never wants to stay in any one place too long or let the ice get too thick. Used to play Russian roulette, but one bullet in a chamber was too few for him, he lost the kick, so he put in two bullets! He met the pope, who had read The Power And The Glory and was surprised that his books were black listed. “Some parts of your books will always offend some Catholics; you shouldn’t pay any attention to them whatsovever.” Talks about smoking opium in Indochina, but that he’d only have 10 pipes on three occasions in a given week and that real addicts would have 50-250 pipes a day. Smoking in pairs is social, and anyone could get a full night’s sleep with any amount. How wonderful.

There are brief interviews with students: “I don’t think that any of Greene’s heroes are heroes; they’re just ordinary people who’ve gotten themselves in a mess.”

- The war does spoil everything,doesn’t it?
- it gives the young men a chance.

Greene became a Catholic before his first book, and it was a secret for 10 years, but by Brighton Rock it was obvious. Never wrote about Nazi Germany, Hitler was a boring subject. Liked gossip, would listen to what women, priests, lawyers and doctors had to say to each other. Did psychoanalysis, needed to keep a dream diary. Used to write 500 words a day, later came down to 200 words a day. Continues to write, even when it is going badly. Beginning and ending of a project is clear in its framework, then there’s the mountain range in between the two and a hope for surprises.

Extras: Anton Karas in London, a snippet, beautiful, hypnotic. A feature on the sewer brigade, which polices the sewers. “There are strange jobs in this world, but surely none so weird as these police of the underworld.” “The Lives of Harry Lime: A Ticket To Tangiers.” Radio play, broadcast August 24th 1951, from a soundplay written by Orson Welles. “Harry Lime had many lives. How do I know? My name is Harry Lime.” Answered ad in Paris, went to Tangiers, fell in love, got trapped into a strange game, got attcked, turned it all around, and beat the crazy rap. Wild, man, wild…

TY

TY

The Yakuza – “The sword is the mind. If the sword is right, the mind is right.” Robert Mitchum is an old GI who spent time in Tokyo, an old army buddy calls him up on a favour, to help him out of trouble with the yakuza, and they head to Tokyo together to look up a guy they knew who was a yakuza big shot (played by a young Takakura Ken in his second English-speaking role), as well as a girl, the yakuza’s sister, who he was living with who wouldn’t marry him. Long meaningful looks upon re-encounters. Great kendo hall sword dance. Takakura Ken attacks gangsters with a bicycle. The movie is full of great scenes, like when Mitchum gets out of an elevator, helps a woman who has fallen with her groceries, then goes to exact vengeance on the man who’s betrayed him. Ken-san takes down his own nephew (against the specific request of his brother, still a top yakuza), next to a calligraphy of the word “kotobuki”, which means “life”. Ken’s back tattoo is exposed during the final duel, it is a glorious 不動明王 (the one of the Five Wisdom Kings of the Shingon tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism known in India as Acala, Achala अचल; “immovable” one). The revenge tale is beautiful and tragic, and in the end quite pointless. The men at the end uphold their dignity, they solve problems, but they also share tragic losses. The film is all about the idea that “I have an obligation to you I can never repay.”

The film is accompanied by commentary from director Sydney Pollack, who compares Takakura Ken to Paul Newman and Steve McQueen and says things like “The Japanese are preoccupied with detail in every aspect of life.” He notes that every Yakuza film shows someone getting out of jail, there’s always a cemetary scene, and he does this in his movie too too (sorta). He notes that Robert Mitchum has “an extraordinary face marinated by life.” Kishi Keiko had lived in Paris, had married a friench director Yves Champs. Pollack stole Tokyo walking scenes by filming Mitchum walking with the camera in a car driving by. The film has lines like “farmers may watch TV from their tatami mats and you can’t see Fuji through the fog, but don’t let that fool you, the Japanese are still Japanese.” Music is by a jazz musician who was well known in Japan. Takakura Ken couldn’t speak English, but learned it phonetically for the film. According to Pollack, Takakura Ken still sends a Christmas card to him every year, and he gave Pollack a 13th-century katana.

TFOKA1

TFOKA1

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1 – Starts off with “Fireworks”, a 14-minute long homoerotic film starring the 18-year-old Anger himself. There are images of the sleeping man, posing sailors, toughs who beat him up, fake fight, a man lighting a cigarette from a burning faggot, milk over nipples, a roman candle in the crotch, a Christmas tree helmet, a plaster of paris hand, and a sparkly face. Great use of soundtrack! Apparently, Anger has said that “This flick is all I have to say about being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July.” Art itself. “Puce Moment” has images of courtainry (apparently Anger’s grandmother’s dresses) one after another, and an acoustic song that sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins or the Velvet Underground (when it was made in 1949 it used Verdi, but this version uses two songs from the 1960s by Jonathan Halpern). A freaky fashion girl gets dressed. “Rabbit’s Moon” of 1950 starts off with what seems like haunting falsetto Hindi music, but then becomes doo-wop (by the Capris, the Dells, Mary Wells, the Flamingos and the El Dorados). The rabbit in the moon, which is an Asian motif, dances around by himself, dressed very much like a clown. Along comes a beautiful woman, who he tries to woo. A wicket jester appears, doing magic tricks, eventually stealing the princess away, and so the rabbit commits suicide. It’s all done in a very stagey way, but with beautiful blue/silver/black lighting, and a wonderful snowy stage. There’s a snatch of Balinese kecak music. “Eau d’Artifice” shows a moonlit Louis XIV world with a noblewoman wandering the gardens through scenes of bubbling orgasmic liquids, fountains, waterfalls; the short movie is again filmed through a blue filter, so it is all blue/silver/black, with one splash of colour on a fan (reminiscent of the lonely spark of electricity in “Fireworks”). Certain scenes left blurry. Finally, there’s a superimposed scene that makes the woman seem like she’s exploding in water. “The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” shows rings and chains, a woman surrounded by pleasure and conceits. Man eats chain, there’s a dragon mirror, vividly coloured rooms, Satan in the mirror, huge fake eyelash lady dances with Pan/Satan. Egyptian woman reanimates a mummy, puts something in its mouth. Greek temple, Russian cossacks, dark stage, Hollywood starlet in round-brim sun hat, cage head with crescent moon overlay. Round motifs, stockinged feet, raw images. Swings hands and catches small ball, bigger ball, the moon. Moon becomes pill, he eats it, a zombie emerges, an occult Satan’s head pentagram, Zodiac, Tzarist court, tomb of cats, the drink of hallucination, Mexican masks, same as real face. The model from “Puce Moment”, Yvonne Marquis, re-appears, and Anais Nin herself has a role in it (she’s the woman with the birdcage helmet). Nearly 40 minutes of crazy, trippy, baccanalian freakiness that is more insane than even the most hallucinogenic Jack Kirby comic book… and that’s saying something!

I

I

Insomnia (Criterion Collection edition) – a strange film about a detective who makes the dubious decision to cover up a case of friendly fire in an incident where he chases down a killer. The killer is smart, but there’s one serious problem with the story – which bullet from which gun killed whom? Yes, there’s a serious mistake in it, at least as far as I can tell. Beautiful women, and some interesting sex scenes, in Norway’s land of the midnight sun.

JAYYOP

JAYYOP

John and Yoko’s Year of Peace – This is a CBC colour production and it has many shots of John and Yoko that aren’t commonly viewed, probably because they sit in a Canadian archive and are primarily used in Canadian broadcasts as the big networks already have plenty of John Lennon footage.  There are some great early shots of John and Yoko in white suits prancing around. “Better to do something than to do nothing.” Early on, John and Yoko had decided that they could use their celebrity to send a message, and they did their bed-ins, and they launched their advertising messages. “Promoting peace was an uphill battle in 1969″ (and we get a sense of this when John and Yoko are confronted by right wing cartoonist Al Capp). “It was cruel and angry, and several wars took their daily toll.” Yoko admitted that they were naive, but they were doing what they could at the time. John and Yoko were looking for a new place to host their stuff, and after two hours of negotiation, Canada agreed. They go on to talk about what this all meant, that Canada was the first state to really give them something, and the Canadian prime minister was the first global leader that a Beatle had met. Lennon proved to be a rock start who could emerge from his castle on the hill and re-engage with the kids and what they cared about. At the Montreal bed-in, journalists came to see if they should take John and Yoko seriously. Timonthy Leary was there. Rabbi Feinberg: “the love that they have or each other is so strong that it extends itself to all humanity.” Right wing cartoonist Al Capp tested their commitment to love with aggression, but from the edit it seems that there was no incident (who knows what the real story is, though).

Jerry Leiviton, a 14-year-old kid won an early interview through his temerity, but eventually the room was full of journalists all the time, they even had radio station CFOX broadcasting live. John managed to mix serious messages with horseplay, and it became a fun place to be.

Then there’s the description of the stuff that went on around the bed-in. There was a gathering on Mount Royal, that ended up on John and Yoko’s doorstep. The organisers later on drove John and Yoko around Ottawa, eventually dropping in on prime minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau (then freshly-elected, but eventually going on to serve 15 years as the head of government). There’s a picture of John writing a note to Pierre. The driver of the car notes that, as they drove around Ottawa, “Get Back” came onto the radio, and he had John Lennon in the back of his VW Beetle singing a Beatles song. Surreal.

The concert in Toronto was the first solo show by a former Beatle, and took place only two weeks after the show the Beatles broke up officially. John got a motorcycle escort to Varsity Stadium in Toronto, but there is no footage.

Eventually, the “War Is Over” media campaign went to Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Paris, Berlin, London, Rome and Athens. John explains why he likes Canada, as does Yoko in an interview conducted in 2000. In the earlier interview, John tells Lloyd Robertson of the CBC Weekend “Canada is the first place that has given us something. For instance, the media and the press treat us as human beings. I’m astonished.” John and Yoko hold hands on the show, she gives him a nice smile. When explaining why he doesn’t do this sort of thing in Biafra, Vietnam or Cambodia, “I don’t want to be Mr and Mrs Dead Saint of 1970.” They go to stay for a while with Ronnie Hawkins, who at the time lives at the top part of Mississauga Road. Yay, I was near the bottom part of Mississauga Road at the time, but as an infant. Rompin’ Ronnie notes that when they met for the first time, John knew all of the words for The Hawks’ “Forty Days“. Great documentary, great days.

After a while, Trudeau stirs, and he take the note John wrote him seriously; eight months after it was written, he comes aboard and agrees to meet John and Yoko; this seems to make him, after the word of John, a leader who is “this side of the Stone Age.” It was the first time a Beatle had met a pop star. Trudeau was more perceptive, he was sympathetic to their cause. Their scheduled 15-minute interview was more like 45-50 minutes. Trudeau had apparently told Lennon that he had read his book, prompting Lennon to say that “If all politicians were like Mr Trudeau, there would be world peace.” Or, as Ono later observed, “At the time it was important that there were people like John Lennon and Pierre Trudeau.” The tour they had talked about setting up was to be a big global festival that would touch 16 countries, but in the end had to be cancelled.

The message dips into future events, with a short, memorable part about the 1980 assassination of John Lennon, then the 2000 memorial where Ono once again took out an ad in Time Square, this time saying “Over 676,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8th, 1980.”

Since this is a CBC production, I guess it’s relatively rare. Here’s the link to the first part of the YouTube edition of the documentary:

This posting originally included a review for Gimme Shelter, the Criterion Collection Edition. That review is not part of My big bad Rolling Stones page.

TSM

TSM

The Saragossa Manuscript – This is a totally silly Polish film from 1965, I only watched it because there are all these signs on the outside saying that it is the favourite film of Jerry Garcia, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppolla (interesting, right?), but the film itself is not quite what you’d want to commit three hours to. It is interesting to some extend, in that it shows an event, and then jumps back to the event that precedes that (through some storytelling or otherwise), and just meanders about through various sword fights and other hallucinogenic episodes (mostly involving a skull-shaped chalice). Delicous. The common image throughout is of the two criminals tortured and left to die, the two voluptuous sister, and woman’s two breasts. Beautiful.

TBVSC

TBVSC

Buena Vista Social Club – I only watched part of this, as it seemed to be mostly about the recordings.  It is a piece of history, and some of the musicians in the film have died. I want to watch it again when I am more in the mood for this kind of music; all I have in my head these days is Black Sabbath, and the two don’t blend.  But the idea of discovering a Cuban Nat King Cole is just incredible to me, and you can see and hear it right there. Amazing.  The scenes of the city are just great.  I want to go to Cuba some day. The intro with the photographer showing off some of his best pictures (Fidel Castro at the Lincoln Memorial, which was called “David and Goliath” is just great propaganda) is just fantastic documentary-making.

TOTBT

TOTBT

Tears of the Black Tiger – A great little film that is part sentimental nostalgia film, part John Woo ripoff, part John Wayne, and part homoerotic romp. Crazy colours, amazing ricochet bullet.  ”Did you catch that? If not, we’ll play it again.” Vintage stylish credits roll five minutes into the film, with cheezy song. Cheesy showdown on what looks like a theatre stage between Dum (the hero) and Mahesuan (one of the villains). Dum shoots the snake instead of Mahesuan.  Ten years ago, at Ban Plana Station, there’s old train footage, and then the gorgeous “Sala Awaiting The Maiden”, with its central scenes. The water turns ridiculously red after the fight. The filmmaker uses constant rain, at least in the intense scenes (confrontation, battle, etc.). The moon scar that Dum got from Koh, the broken flute, the hankie and the harmonica. Then there are the comedic scenes: “Did you say goodbye to your wife?” “Yes, sir, all seven of them.” There’s the crazy blood brother oath, and all of the battles – the best fighters seem to always kill two men with one bullet. How? We’ve already had one “Ten years ago” scene, here comes another “One year ago” scene, which shows our star-crossed lovers’ reunion in Bangkok, when he pretends to not remember her. Then there’s the attempted rape by Koh, and of course the rescue by Dum. The movie finally gets serious, and seriously good, with the lyrics of the end that tie it all together. “Love is like a bull corralled/ Captured but untamed/ He’ll buck and charge for freedom/ Love will not be held.” The two lovers on the beach speak with their thoughts, everything is symbolic (art house crowds love that, it’s the language they speak). The gang ambushes the wedding, they even bring their midget on a pony.  What a cowboy gang!

Dum is betrayed again and again – when will he ever learn? She and the captain have their heads tied together, what a sad wedding. Dum looks into her eyes and tells of the ambush. Now the captain knows. After he sees the light, he becomes a bad guy, smokes like Fai. Of course, at the ambush at the end, it is raining heavily. The palace looks like Salzburg International Preparatory School, where I went for two years. Great cheezy scene during the rainy shootout, while Dum and Mahesuan stare each other down in the rain, there is a crescent moon above Dum (remember his scar?), and we see a shooting star flare through the sky. Also the rain falls only on Dum’s face, Mahesuan’s face is dry. And why not?

Throughout the movie the sad song intervenes from time to time, and there is the image of wildflowers choosing that time to fall, they all fall. At the end, they are two pictures side by side, the star-crossed lovers cannot meet, they are permanently on both sides of it all.

POACBTS

POACBTS

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea – The music is very much like classical music, and with the opening sequences we get an underwater symphony of light and sound, a Ghibli Nemo but with strange boats, creatures, and magicians. Nice just-under-the-water scenes, where the surface gloats suspended above us like a sun-glowing tent. The main villain/father figure looks like Alice Cooper, but he speaks Japanese, of course. The little five-year-old Sosuke is a sweet little boy, and he loves Ponyo, the little goldfish he finds. His mom, Misa, drives along mountainous roads such as you’d see in Amalfi in Italy quite a lot like Lupin did in the Castle of Cagliostro, or like the raiders to in Laputa, both Studio Ghibli films directed by Miyazaki Hayao, the director of this film. There are great scenes of wind and sea power, and our modern world is dwarfed by the spirit of nature (of course). The story get a little strange, when we learn that this little goldfish could set the entire balance of nature a-kilter, and cause the moon to collide with the earth (?!?!), but this is not all that important to the story, and it’s more about the love between Sosuke and our little magickal childe, Ponyo. The scenes show Ponyo discovering ham, instant noodles, shortwave radio, power generators and honey tea. The film coughs up words like “Devonian Sea”, which apparently is a geological period and system of the Paleozoic Era, spanning from 416-359 million years ago when the pectoral and pelvic fins of lobe-finned fish evolved into legs as they started to walk on land as tetrapods and had names like Cycloptopus and Devonychus. Go figure! One of the best parts of the story is an encounter with Ponyo’s mother, a monstrous (and monstrously beautiful) sea spirit who is bliss personified. The story is fun and touching, and at the end one father says goodbye to go back to his home in the sea while another returns to his home from the sea.

TBA12

TBA12

The Beatles Anthology – Great opening montage – the four men are dwarfed by the name “THE BEATLES” coming down like something from Tron. Four minutes into the story, which opens with “In My Life” and a montage of photos, we get the first words of the story. Birth words, then zeitgeist with the four guys talking about their influences, and how they would listen to whatever was on the radio at the time because nobody had any money and they had to take what they could get. The music that was on hand was “Rocket 88″, Elvis’ “That’s alright Mama”, “Ain’t That A Shame. Ringo is hardly quoted here, and the songs aren’t adequately subtitled. Paul notes that when he heard Elvis, he thought “that’s the guru we’ve been waiting for – the messiah has arrived.” References to Big Bill Brunsey, I have to look him up, and the song he sang, “These Earthly Things.” In those early Liverpool days, Paul and George took a bus to learn their third chord, the B7 (after the A and the E). Paul describes his first meeting with John, how they met at a Quarrymen gig, but how John was impressed that Paul could remember the lyrics, in particular “25 Rock” by Eddie Cochrane. Paul gives a demo of this song in the documentary, and he could still sing the lyrics. The band’s first recording is “In Spite Of All The Danger”, a nice little thing. Descriptions of The Jacaranda, which still looks like a club the year they did the documentary. Funny how the band would show up with three guitarists, and the guy would say “okay, so where’s the drummer then.” Lots of scamming going on. There’s a 1960s live recording with Stuart Sutcliffe (only one? they played together for sooooo many shows). In Liverpool in 1960, Pete Best was known as “mean, moody and magnificent.”, and he replaced Paul as a drummer – they auditioned him one day, then jumped on a bus for Hamburg to do their first gigs. Rory Storm came to Hamburg with Ringo, and they had first class treatment by sleeping five to a room, much better than what the Beatles had. Paul and Pete were busted for burning a condom against a wall and deported to Liverpool, then they were back in Hamburg for their second stint. Later, there was dissatisfaction with Pete Best, and Ringo sat in for their sessions in Hamburg from time to time. He was mature, bearded, and owned a Zephyr Zodiac. “That was probably a knock-off, or fell off the back of… a showroom” Paul explains (ha ha). As the band was coming together, they left Hamburg and lost Stuart Sutcliffe as a bassist; neither John nor George wanted to play bass, so Paul obliged. There was an audition for Decca on January 1st, 1962, which Paul says “it’s not great, but it’s good.” Decca boss Dick Rowe didn’t sign them claiming that “guitar groups are on their way out.” They hawked the Decca tape to Parlaphone and EMI and did “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”, and this is where Part 1 ends. Hooray.

Part 2 is very much about music. I am now noticing that this documentary doesn’t have a narrator and is assembled completely out of interviews with participants in the Beatles story, archival footage, and montages while music that has no accompanying video is played. This one opens with the post-Hamburg era when they are in Liverpool and trying a tour of the UK, playing in London, achieving fame in Liverpool but with no LP released. While snippets from their early sessions is played, the camera roves all over rare photos and posters of the Beatles from the era. The effect is spooky, but also a bit cold. Even colder is later on, when the camera roves around a drumkit, two guitars and a bass player setup, all humans are absent as we listen to John, Paul, George and Ringo record their first album and engage in session banter. Sure, the vintage equipment is interesting to gawk at, but it imparts a sense of loneliness. The boys tell of a tour they did with English artists, as well as people like Roy Orbison. They would hear Roy writing another great song at the back of the tour bus (a little something called “Pretty Woman”), and felt that they had to try their hardest to keep up. The birth of the competitive songwriting spirit. With time, the boys became swinging Londoners, with Ringo and George renting a room for 45 quid a week (a fortune in those days). The money was coming in and the boys were eating well for the first time in many year (or ever). They were close to the Rolling Stones, gave them “I Wanna Be Your Man” before they even recorded it themselves.  There is some live material that looks great but suffers from bad sound for “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (Paul’s lead vocals are drowned out by John’s backing vocals, George’s guitar can’t be heard. In the pre-Command Performance we see some jerk poking the back of Paul’s head while he’s talking to the camera. There’s a shot of the Queen Mother, who seems to be waving to the band. Funny memories of their tour to France, when it was the boys who were screaming for the Beatles and not the girls. Then there’s the moment when they get the word that they finally had a hit in the US and it had gone to number 1. That must have been their biggest moment up until then. Part 2 ends with the boys landing up on US shores and experiencing Beatlemania overseas.

Part 3 picks up with EMI letting Capital have the Beatles in the US if they promise to spend $70,000 to promote them. The boys aspired to be in a movie like “The Girl Can’t Help It”, a Jayne Mansfield film that had performances from Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Describes the trip to Hong Kong, where there were lots of Brits and no Hong Kongers. Got to Sydney with capes that they had bought in Hong Kong, it rained and the blue colour in the capes ran. Kids who had waited 24 hours were disappointed, but later all of Australia turned out to see them, a sea of people. The UK’s Marx Brothers in “Hard Day’s Night”, the boys gong crazy. Girls passing out in the crowd. USA tour collage. They met Little Richard (in Hamburg the first time, but again in the US), Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino with his diamond star watch. Bob Dylan. Paul found the meaning of life the night he met Bob Dylan. “There are seven levels. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. It was fabulous.” Ringo almost killed in Montreal by anti-Semites?!?  People would wheel out cripples, hoping to have them healed by the Beatles. Opportunism. Only peace was in the loo. John’s spastic act explained, pretty crappy. They played 32 shows in 34 days in 24 cities. George Martin – John was the first example of feedback on record, and it was an accident. Paul sometimes at left of stage, sometimes at right. Ringo drum cigarettes. Help! movie, Bahamas, skis, great studio videos. Paul at the tugboat talking about all this. MJ for breakfast. Ringo’s crazy phrases came up as “Hard Day’s Night,” “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Describing the writing of “Yesterday”:

Paul: I had a piano by my bed/ And woke one morning with this tune in my head.
George: And so, for Paul McCartney of Liverpool England, opportunity knocks.
John: Thank you, Ringo, that was wonderful.

George noted that “Sinatra still refers to ‘Something’ as his favourite Lennon-McCartney song. Thank, Frank.” Then, scandal coverage: The MBE Debased!!

Anthology 5 starts up at Shea Stadium, which was packed with 56,000 people. “At least we’re not taking it seriously.” John cracked up, played the “I’m Down” organ. John, George and Ringo talk about meeting Elvis. “They used us as an excuse to go mad, then they blamed us.” Paul interviewed about it in front of one of his stages.

In Part 6, they talk about the mess of playing in the Philippines and how they feared for their lives, they are still very resentful. It was shown on TV how they had not arrived at the presidential palace. Years later, they were finally seen as hip for standing up to Ferdinand and Imelda. Paul sings solo acoustic “Elenor Rigby.” When the “bigger than Jesus controversy came out,” they get a guy from the KKK talking on TV about the Beatles concert in town, making veiled threats. Desperate CBS reporter went around New York tying to find anyone who disliked the Beatles as a result of the whole kerfuffle, finally found a 10-year-old kid who was the only one who admitted that he liked another group better than the Beatles (Herman and his Hermits). They were feeling danger on tour, getting death threats, etc. Too much Elenor Rigby in soundtrack. Music: “It has been a hobby. It still is.” Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started out as a concept album, but they only got one or two songs on the concept, then they went back to making a regular album. “It was 20 years ago today,” I remember seeing a documentary on 1987 when it was 20 years after the release, now it’s nearly 45 years since the release… Jagger at the “Day in the Life” sessions with Marianne Faithfull, the orchestra with the funny glasses and fake noses footage. Animated bits from the cover are interesting, then the colouring. Jimi Hendrix opened a London concert with the title track two days after it was released. Ringo learned how to play chess during the recording because there was so much studio tomfoolery. (My son Zen told me that George Harrison looks like Severus Snape, or Doctor Octopus). Julian Lennon in Greece with John, they all do a Greek circle dance on an exclusive island. Nice.

Anthology 7, we get a full glimpse of George’s hairy monobrow. “You can’t go to Harrod’s to get a mantra.” Defending Magical Mystery Tour, which Paul stepped in to direct, but it was awful. The Beatles used a lot of video after they stopped touring, because they wanted to get messages out to their fans without putting their lives at risk by going on the road. “Hello Goodbye”, John does an Elvis point ‘n’ pose. Beatles waring 1962 uniforms in 1967. Three Beatles in the park, George on ukelele. George played some of the many songs he wrote at the time in India that he’s never recorded, such as “Derry Doo.”

Anthology 8 starts with The White Album, which they recorded with three studios going at the same time. “The moment you need is on your shoulder.” Paul at the camp fire talking about the Beatles. George’s floppy hat and sheep boots walking around London. Everyone happy to have Billy Preston around because the pressure came off. Ringo shown in great lime green suit with frilly lime collar. People on the street nearby hearing the band come out to figure out what is happening, the band plays a rooftop concert, the police come out and try to bust them, politely, as the cameras roll. John’s nonsense singing for some of the verses. Long footage of rooftop concert. John sits on the floor in some sessions. “An intimate bioscopic experience with the Beatles.” “Something” video with the four Beatles wives.

BS

BS

Black Sabbath – The film is in Italian (and Boris Karloff give the intro in Italian). It is a set of three scary stories.  The first one, “The Telephone”, shows a beautiful woman coming home and getting out of her work clothes and into her housecoat.  Very… sexy. Then the phone starts ringing, it is someone threatening to kill her. She is terrified that it is the killer she betrayed to the police, now escaped from jail. She calls up her “friend”, her lesbian lover, the woman she has spurned and said she’d never see again, to come help her, since the police will never arrive in time. The woman comes, and we feel sexy all over. The final confrontation is an interesting surprise that I shouldn’t give away here, but it’s good. The second one is called “The Wurdalak”, based on a tale by Alexei Tolstoy, and it is about a family waiting for their father to return from his hunt of a killer Turk. They fear that he has been turned into a Wurdalak, and sure enough he has. There is a severed head in the film, and lots of spookiness. “Quick, let’s hide in this old convent, we’ll be safe here.” Not really.

M

M

M*A*S*H* – The great Robert Altman film, and what an excitement to watch it again. Donald Sutherland is weird with his strange face and his lanky demeanor, Sally Kellerman is absurd as a regular army clown, Tom Skeritt is hard to take without his signature mustache (he seems out of place as a 4077th Swamp wise-ass) and Robert Duvall is a freaky Frank Burns. Best of all is Elliot Gould, the man who brings a jar of olives to Korea for his martinis. I love the classic scene where he drops an olive into a martini glass that is sitting on the ground of his tent. Nice scene when Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan is getting out of the helicopter, you get a view of her garters, then see her stand up straight to salute the commanding officer, before ducking down in order to not get decapitated by the chopper blades (Sally Kellerman did that stunt herself, by the way). Funny thing about Painless Paul’s prick. The scenes in surgery are pure black comedy, with the cast murmuring and adlibbing while there’s blood all over the linens. Great dialogue too:

Hawkeye (to Hot Lips, after she’s berated him for letting the nurses call him Hawkeye, etc.) Oh come off it, Major. You put me right off my fresh fried lobster, do you realize that? I’m now going to go back to my bed, I’m going to put away the best part of a bottle of scotch… And under normal circumstances, you being normally what I would call a very attractive woman, I would have invited you back to share my little bed with me and you might possibly have come. But you really put me off. I mean you… You’re what we call a regular army clown.
Hot Lips: I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a level of responsibility in the medical corps.
Father Mulcahey: He was drafted.

Then there’s the great scene where Frank and Hot Lips get together

- God meant us to find each other.
- His will be done.

Mad necking and groping ensues. Hawkeye corners Frank on the matter, asks “Was she better than self abuse?” When Frank attacks Hawkeye, Trapper yells out “Watch out for your goodies, Hawkeye, the man’s a sex maniac. I don’t think Hot Lips satisfied him. Don’t let him kiss you.” Classic. The madness of Frank Burns, the pain of Painless Paul agonising of the “latent homosexuality” that he must expose his three fiancees back home to, the recreation of Michelangelo’s Last Supper scene before curing Paul with a faked suicide, it’s all aces.

The movie goes so quickly through so many classic scenes that you think it’s done its job only an hour in. But wait, there’s more. The mystery of Hot Lips’ hair – is she a real blonde (we can find out in so many ways). Then there’s the great harangue “This is not a hospital, this is an insane asylum.” The Japan scenes are hot, full of insubordinance, mock-bad dialogue, and fantastic irreverence (not to mention the umbrella fencing scene. Nobody spoke authentic Japanese (or Korean, for that matter). The story fills out with a football game, which includes some of the crappiest scenes of the movie, the only ones that are relatively plot-driven. Oh well. It’s funny anyway – tokin’ on the bench, general chaos, civil war on the field, it’s a mini war that doesn’t need Korea to produce injuries and lost lives. Funny scenes, like Father Mulcahey praying for the safety of each jeep, or “Tokyo Shoeshine Boy” coming over the loudspeakers.

Then there’s also a 20-minute documentary on the first disc, then three documentaries (40 minutes, 40 minutes, 30 minutes) on the second disc. Let’s see if I can get to all of them.

On the first disc there’s an interesting documentary giving the background of the production. It seems like the director took out all references to Korea, even adding rice farmers hats from Vietnam into the crowd in some scenes. The film had a small budget, only $3.5 million, director Robert Altman only took $75,000. Twentieth Century Fox at the time had two other war films, each one more patriotic: “Patton” and “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Altman kepta low profile while filming, and used new actors, or relatively unknown actors. Donald Sutherland had taken a small role in The Dirty Dozen, and Elliott Gould had been in a few pictures. Tom Skerrit had been with Altman in a few projects, the only actor who had previously worked with Altman. There is a great scene with Altman telling Sutherland at a party that the guy he plays calls himself Hawkeye. “Hawkeye?” the young Canadian asks. The role was good for Sutherland, who was struggling financially at the time, although he and Gould eventually went on to fight Altman with their agents and the studio. Altman used new actors and unknowns to keep his budget low, and he turned in the footage two days early and under-budget by $500,000. The documentary also has a screen test of Kim Atwood and Elliott Gould in 1969. “A crazy camp, a mad set.” Mumbling in the background “pushes journalism to its outer limits.” The zoom keeps actors on their toes, because you never know when you could ruin a shot, even if you’re behind the scenes somewhat. The rift between Altman and Sutherland/Gould unwittingly led them to give great performances. Altman and Burghoff went naked for Sally. The studio was shocked at what they got, and the non-linear film needed a thread in the editing. They finally realised that they could use the speaker announcements to provide that, the wording of which comes from Korean war almanacs and military manuals. Ironically, the old-school screenwriter objected most to the film’s release, due to the massive liberties taken with his script, but ended up being the only one to get an Oscar for the film.

There were two long documentaries I didn’t have time for, but I did watch the 30th Anniversary Cast reunion, which was good, although it didn’t have Donald Sutherland. It’s not very good, as it shows how nonchalantly they gave an award to Robert Altman (who looks exactly like he did when he was making M*A*S*H*), but it has some interesting lines. Seems like Altman hated the series, thought that it was racist. “Everybody’s a racist. We’re all racists.” Apparently Michael Altman only wanted a guitar as payment for his involvement in the movie, but he got a contract after all and probably ended up making more money than his dad did.

DNTLW

DNTLW

Death Note 2: The Last Name – While the first Death Note was about the spirits of death delivering vigilante justice, this one is about evading discovery, and the whole movie seems to be centered around the investigation of police detective L, and also around the media. Handsome young men are everywhere, so are beautiful young women, but they are all psychotic – a starlet becomes a merciless killer, an anchorwoman becomes a merciless killer, a college student becomes a merciless killer. One of the characters, Amane Misa, is tied up in a torture chair for 23 days without food, she goes crazy and delivers a fantastic “kill me” speech. There are three supernatural creatures in the film – Gelus (Jealous?), Ryuk and Rem, and their stories are somewhat interesting, but not very fleshed out. Some interesting lines: “A god of death dies falling in love with a human.” How ironic. “You must be a real devil to want a god of death dead.” “I don’t care if you’re a devil in disguise, I still love you.” The concept of justice in the Death Note world is a bit odd – holders of the death note can condemn someone to death if they know that person’s full name and can hold an image of that person in their mind. Yagami Light is the main character and a vigilante. He is being pursued by police detective L, whose full name nobody knows. Light wants to kill L as he considers him too dangerous to his mission, but needs to seem like working with him to provide a cover. Light seems to be the hero of the story, but you have to wonder when he starts acting like a total dickhead.

- I am indeed King, god of the new world.
- No. You’re just a murderer.

Killing innocent people for a greater good is done rather casually in this movie, and it seems to be quite morally ambiguous in that regard. The movie is somewhat interesting, but the hysterical acting and the illogical plot don’t really help it very much.


The Phantom of Liberty – An absurd piece of surrealism/comedy from Luis Brunuel, released in 1974. It has a lot of well-shot and nicely-acted scenes of absurdity that don’t say anything about anything. It is an ensemble performance with no plot, just episodes that connect to each other and wander out of each other. Starting off with Napoleon’s troops in France, and a statue coming to life to smack a cheeky legionnaire. A park pervert gives pictures to young girls, but it’s not what you think it is (very funny). A man muses “I hate symmetry”, while looking at a framed spider. He has a conversation about spiders with his daughter, time breaks down, some chickens wander by mistake, and a postman delivers a letter in his bedroom. The doctor tells him it is a dream, but then he can’t explain the letter. The doctor’s nurse asks him if she can have time off to visit her sick father, then she drives off, encounters a tank with three soldiers that are hunting foxes, then she checks into a crazy hotel that has poker-playing priests, a flamenco dancer, and a businessman who is traveling with his dominatrix (the woman on the cover). There is also a woman having a romantic getaway with her nephew (!?!?!) and there is passion and violence in their encounter, which is troubled but ends happily. One of the men in the hotel gets a lift from the hotel to the next town, where he teaches gerndarmes who are more like school children. People come and go, there is no discipline, and he’s left with the worst two students in the class. The next scene in the movie is one of the best – it’s the dinner where everyone sits at toilets around a table, then excuse themselves to go and get a bite to eat on their own in another room. The conversation is funny: in 20 years, there will be seven billion people in the world, each of them releasing 12 pounds of excrement and urine per day – that’s 72 billion tons of the stuff every day! Then there is the case of the girl who disappeared from school, but she’s there the whole time. They file a missing person’s report, checking her out to see what she’s wearing. Then months later she’s found again. Another very good sequence is about a man who thinks that people who are cruel to animals should be executed; he turns out to be a sniper who kills a dozen people before he’s apprehended; he’s given the death sentence, but then wanders off and is treated like a celebrity. Finally, there’s the man who meets a woman who looks just like his sister, he reminisces about the times that she used to play piano for him in the buff. The end of the film is a collection of zoo animals.

The movie is extremely well made, very funny, and consistently fascinating. The director plays trick after trick on the audience in a very classy manner, and nothing is as is expected. Beautiful.

PMFM

PMFM

Play Misty For Me – Apparently this was the first film that Clint Eastwood ever directed. I wanted to see this for a long time because, for some reason, I never watched it the million of times that it played on late night TV. The story is well known: Eastwood plays Dave, a DJ who’s trying to make the big leagues (he’s a lousy DJ, his banter is really only announcing the song titles between tracks) who has a fling with a woman who turned out to be a psychotic stalker Evelyn who kept him guessing all movie long. Meanwhile, an old flame re-enters Dave’s life and he wants to give her his attention. Meanwhile, there are attempted murders, murders, Dave’s place is trashed, Evelyn goes to the looney bin after nearly killing Dave’s maid, spouting insane “I love you/I hate you” jibberish “You’re not even good in bed. I just felt sorry for you” before begging for forgiveness; when she is released after only a week in care (?!?!?!), the action picks up for its predictable finale.

There’s some pretty bad dialogue in the film, such as one exchange between Dave and a guy who seems pretty gay:

- Why don’t you go cruise some sailors?
- Please – don’t mention seafood.

Then there’s the faux-antagonistic dialogue between Eastwood and a cop who’s on hand to deal with deranged Evelyn:

- You make lousy conversation.
- You make lousy coffee.

Then there are some other great lines, like “I can think of a thouand reasons why we should begin again,” and “four months in Sasolito is a long time.”

Dave finally plays the song “Misty”, a mere 38 minutes into the film, and also in an ironic bit at the end of the movie. There’s a long 11-minute sequence that shows Dave and his girlfriend making love in a waterfall (?!?!), followed by a long sequence at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The live jazz footage is pretty groovy, of course, particularly the scenes of the people in the crowd having a good time, but it doesn’t really add to the movie much.

HKGTWC

HKGTWC

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle – Groovy music kicks it off before we meet the characters: Harold is a regular office drone, Kumar is a stoner pre-med slacker who shirks his responsibilities. There are plenty of cheezy caricatures we’re assaulted with right away: the corrupt office managers, the dickhead home boys, crazy burger shop attendees, stoner Jews watching titty movies, Newark thugs, weird British chicks playing battleshits (gross), and the odd homoerotic moment (there is some sucking of hash pipes held suggestively in the nether regions, for example). Funny scene with Kumar and the nosehair/pubic hair/butt hair scissors, misadventures at Princeton with the East Asian gang and the crazy ravers, bush peeing crowd (my funniest scene) and a pubes starer, a non-rabid racoon, creepy old hospital patients, our boys getting directions from a gunshot victim on an operating table, the crazy towtruck driver Freakshow with the pulsating neck pustules and the ear crust (very Ren and Stimpy), an ivy league stoner, Doogie Hauser (“Hurry up, dudes, I’m losin’ wood.”), Kumar bangs his head and says “oh, my ass”, our heroes fall in love with a bag of weed, enjoy a stoner cheetah ride, and encounter belligerent cops (“Oh, bullets, my only weakness. How did you know?”) and share a Wilson Phillips moment before running into the same people over and over again, perform random surgery, launch into an inspirational hamburger speech (the hamburger land), capping it all with random making out with the hot neighbour. A scene that is somehow, but not quite, reminiscent of one of the later scenes of “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” And some great immigrant dialogue:

- Dad, come on!
- Daddy is not coming on anything!!

Thank the Internet for YouTube I managed to use it to catch up with the damaged section that my DVD player skipped over.

But really, though… how different is this film from “Beavis and Butthead Do America”, “After Hours” or “Quick Change”? Not all that different, except it’s about stoners.

The deleted scenes are okay, including another one with Luis Guzman, another “marry the bag of weed” fantasy (but with a police officer), extended scenes with Freakshow (really not necessary), and some other detritus. Funny in-car scene with Harold getting scared by Kumar. Coincidence of the evening: a very similar scene appeared in the next film I watched that day, Carnival of Souls.

ITS

ITS

In The Soup – The movie starts off with the words, narrated by Steve Buscemi, “my father died the day I was born,” a thought that anyone who has kids of his own would hate to think about. That’s followed by “I was raised by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Friedrich Nietzche.” The story is about a pretentious young wannabe film director Adolfo Rollo with a 500-page manuscript, no backers, and no food in the refrigerator and no prospects. The manuscript of the film is full of great lines that are very meta, meaning the manuscript is about a man with a manuscript. For example when the connected guys who collect rent come by Adolfo admires their singing.

- They should put you in a movie or something.
- Don’t get cute.

Despite the harmonizing rent collectors, there is abject poverty, and Adolfo tries out “The Naked Truth” with Jim Jarmush and Carol Kane, who think he looks like a young Gary Cooper or Don Knotts. The movie tries sometimes to get surreal:

- (Buscemi’s voiceover) This guy Skippy was turning out to be a real asshole.
- What?!

Adolfo meets Joe, played by a fantastic Seymour Cassel, a connected guy who wants to make his movie, even though it is totally ridiculous. But before that, they engage in a crime spree to raise the money. Adolfo doesn’t want to get involved, but he gets swept up with it anyway. When Joe uses him in a heist gone wrong that involves a guy in a gorilla suit and a midget (where do they come up with this crazy stuff?), Adolfo and his leading lady Angelica, Jennifer Beals (!?!?), confront Joe.

- I got principles, you know.
- Watch out for those – principles and women – they’ll get you every time.

There are lots of great moments, like the one that involves stealing a cop’s $80,000 Porsche, or the encounter with crazy Gregoire, husband of Angelica. Jennifer Beals dancing in the snowlight is perfect, her angel scene with Sam Rockwell as a retarded adult.

Great shot at the beach, with an airplane flying over their heads. Joe passes the cigar, “I guess you could say I got bit by the bug. Make that movie, buddy, make it the greatest fucking movie ever made. Make it a love story. Make it for me.” Beautiful. And he did make it, he did!

COS

COS

Carnival of Souls – Unconventional intro with no credits, jumps right into the action: the drag race down industrial America’s early dirt roads, the old bridge, and the spooky music and “Carnival of Souls” opening title card. Beautiful. Wondrous early scenes of organ-ism with the reverend who looks like Al Gore, and the prophetic words “Thank you, but I’m never coming back.” On the road, cheerful music turns to spooky organ music, the beautiful driver turns on a light to illuminate herself (something no driver would ever do), and then sees her first scary apparitions. Settlin’ in at her new home, then sexxee bath scenes. The scene with the lecherous neighbour in the boarding house is practically scarier than the real fright-scenes. Scary wallpaper. “I don’t sleep so good as it is.” The landlady, a bit of a creep herself, brings up sandwiches for dinner with coffee. “Coffee never keeps me awake.” And then we see her lying awake. And flirting with the lecherous/dimwitted neighbour. She slips into a negligee for some surreal shopping, and then down an escalator (symbolic) to check out the blissful netherworlds. Wandering around the spooky, deserted Saltair that she’s oddly attracted to/repulsed by on a bright afternoon, taking in the amazing old architecture and space-tunnels, boardwalks with shadows coming through slated ceiling, a billboard woman that looks like her, so many beautiful screen captured. Great shadow-in-doorway photography, walking though the long shadows of the old dance floor in disarray and ruin, a solitary old space on the waterfront, Betty Blue with only Betty and no Zorg. Crazy dirge, 1920s dancers, morning turns to night, scary organ music. “Your lack of soul.”

- I hope she does leave.
- I hope she can.

In some ways the film has some really bad acting, terrible dialogue delivery. “But my dear – you cannot live in isolation from the human race, you know!” But who cares – Candace Hildigloss (what a name!) is stunning in a glamorous 50s girl-next-door sort of way.

The amazing Saltair pavilion, which was in disrepair even in 1962 when the film was made, was in many ways the ideal location for a film like this – it had been built in 1893, but had been closed in the late 1950s (even after several resurrections). It is practically the star of the film itself.  Saltair once had the world’s largest indoor dance floor, capable of supporting 2,000 dancing couples and two orchestras. The lake receded, then it flooded. Saltair burned to the ground twice.

With so many scenes that show parked cars, driving, racing, in-car shots, going into the auto shop, the car is very central to the movie. There some great, spacious interior shots and you really have to wonder how they captured them. Sinister voice says “eastbound bus now loading, Gate Nine.” Eastbound, like over the river Jordan? “Why can’t anybody hear me?” as she runs through the town. Can hear her own footsteps and the organ, but nothing else, until the birds chirp, and then the nightmare is over. Scary ghost dances with she, herself. Early Goths. She blends with herself at the end. The psychiatrist and the cleric give each other a deep meaningful look.

The Criterion Collection version comes in two versions: the 78-minute theatrical release, and an 83-minute director’s cutcomes with gorgeous extras:

- a 39-minute reel of outtakes
- a 28-minute documentary on the film done by a Kansas TV station
- a sideshow that included the instructional “Saltair: A History of Isolation” and “Saltair photo gallery.” These demonstrate Saltair through the ages, going from a 1892 architectural drawing, through the glory days in the 1920s when it brought in 500,000 people a year, down to the decay of the early 1960s. “Three hundred tons of steel girders supported the large dome, which was similar in size and shape to the Mormon Church’s Tabernacle on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.” After many ups and downs, the place burned to the ground in November, 1970. There is both a timeline-slideshow that includes postcards from all ages of Saltair and a regular slideshow of pictures, mainly of the 1920s heyday, when the lake was full of revellers.
- samples of Herk Harvey’s Centron Films documentaries “Star 34″, “Centron Commercial”, “Signals: Read ‘em or Weep”, “To Touch A Child”, “Jamaica, Haiti and the Lesser Antilles” and “Korea: Overview.”
- a 4:42 minute documentary from KTWU Channel II called “The Carnival Tour” that showed where the film was made, which was mainly in Lawrence, Kansas. The intersection at 23rd and Iowa is now the area where the drag race started. Dirt roads have been paved to become Clinton Parkway, and the Lacompton Bridge, where the car dropped into the Iowa river, has been rebuilt. The Reuter Organ Company where there were some organ-playing centre is in Lawrence, and many of the rooms there had not changed at the time the news report was filmed. The boarding house the Mary Henry character stayed at is at 6th and Louisiana, and so is the exterior is used. The church that Mary played at is at Kenton and Vermont in Lawrence Kansas, which uses the interior, the organ loft (with Reuter organ) and the stained glass windows, such as the one that says “cast out devils.” The doctor’s office was on a sound stage. Included is also the cool “She was a stranger among the living” poster.
- a 2:16 theatrical trailer for the film. “They demand that they dance with her at the Carnival of Souls. She whirls between the real and the unreal, trying to cling to life. She must dance for the carnival of souls held just for her, for they have come for her for the last time – claiming her as one of their own.”
- Illustrated interviews, which are previously printed interviews that include vintage memorabilia and photos. On offer are director Herk Harvey, screenwriter John Clifford, and actress Candace Hilligoss.

Here are some cool stills of the movie:

From the opening credits

From the opening credits

Movie poster

Movie poster

Movie poster from Japan

Movie poster from Japan

D

D

Diva – By the director of “Betty Blue” Jean-Jacques Beneix, this is a film about opera, but it is also a demented love story and some sort of twisted crime drama involving two gangs hounding the protagonist with two different goals. Despite the beautiful singing, there is crappy modern music in the soundtrack. The only actor in the film to also appear in “Betty Blue” is Gerard Darmon, who played Eddie in that film, but here he’s a thug chasing an incriminating cassette tape. Since there are two cassettes being chased, as well as plenty of fake cassettes, there are a lot of mixups and plot twists. The Vietnamese-French shoplifting girl is fun, she shoplifts from a record shop that has Leonard Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate” on the wall. She lives with a mysterious boyfriend who sits in the bath, smokes Gitanes, listens to music, broods, and completes a 50,000 piece puzzle. The movie is full of shattered cars – they’re everywhere and in nearly every scene – and there are a few moto wrecks as well. Some scenes of her looking out the window (repetition here, don’t know why), and there is a great motorcycle chase through the Paris metro. There is a nice Marilyn Monroe skirt moment, which is good fun but otherwise meaningless. The diva in question is an African-American opera singer who has never allowed her voice to be recorded. The ending of the movie is full of some very graphic violence (as well as bizarre humour, and the occasional moment of subtlety).

Unlike Betty Blue, the characters in this film are not really sympathetic, and I can’t really care about them. The plot of the film was difficult to follow, and there weren’t really too many beautiful moments – the film was very conscious of being urban, chic and stylish.

MSS

MSS

M*A*S*H (Season 6) – It was fun watching some of these old episodes. Some good humor, including sex and booze, plenty of drinking and driving, and Alan Alda was not yet quite so cheezy. Some interesting cameos, including a very young-looking James Cromwell. First episode of the season there is some talk about Frank Burns, but he never shows up at all. He was written entirely out of the series after the first episode, to be replaced by Charles Winchester III.