Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 31 May

as always, thanks to all who participate in this weekly exercise as contributors of critiques and comments, and as readers...

Bill Crider: Stage Door Canteen

Evan Lewis: "Have You Got Any Castles?"
Iba Dawson: Starter for Ten
Jack Seabrook: "The Geezenstacks" (Tales from the Darkside Fredric Brown adaptation)
James Reasoner: Kronos
Jeff Segal: Minnesota Clay
Jerry House: The Song of Old Wyoming
Randy Johnson: Speedway (1929)
Rod Lott: Double Vision (2002)
Ron Scheer: Man in the Shadow
Scott Cupp: The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash
Steve Lewis: Highway 13 and Bombay Mail
Todd Mason: On the Web: MyDamnChannel, Link TV, UbuWeb and others

And related matters:
Iba Dawson: Fifteen Movie Questions Meme
George Kelley: Once Upon a Time in the West
Michael Shonk: TV for Mystery Fans
Patti Abbott: the Detroit Symphony and Everything Must Go
Sanford Allen: Dungeon of Harrow

Jeff Segal, guest reviewer: Overlooked Movie: MINNESOTA CLAY (1964)

Though director Sergio Corbucci's best westerns would follow this restrained early effort, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying a film that seems as much standard Hollywood as Italian. By contrast, its contemporary, Leone's influential A Fistful of Dollars, really showcased the European style that helped render these films so distinctive. Though not without its own controversies in terms of influence and in your face violence, Fistful greatly overshadowed Corbucci's earliest Eurowesterns.

Minnesota Clay opened in Italian theaters a month after Per un Pugno di Dollari (A Fistful of Dollars). Both movies share the plot twist of a town bullied by two different gangs as would Corbucci's own 1966 Django (which found considerable success in many territories save for the US, where it had no consequential release, and England, where it was banned). Corbucci and his frequent collaborator Adriano Bolzoni reduced the 2nd gang to a hastily introduced and easily disposed of subplot during the course of Minnesota Clay while both Fistful and especially Django made the other gang essential to their Machiavellian storylines.

Minnesota Clay not only had baggage (of its dual Italian/Hollywood influence, in this case) but so does its title character, wearily portrayed by Eurotrash vet Cameron Mitchell (perhaps dubbing his own gravelly voice in the export prints). An unjustly convicted middle aged pistolero/ widower turned-prison-fugitive, he practically rivals the great mute gunfighter "Silence" (Jean-Louis Trintignant from the innovative Il Grande Silenzio, a 1968 western that many consider to be Corbucci's cruellest yet also intensely beautiful genre contribution) as one of the most sympathetic protagonists in this director's filmography. With his fading vision, can Clay prevail against all of his enemies and protect the headstrong daughter who doesn't even know that he is her father? Leone's gunslinger is as iconically mysterious as he is lethally unstoppable but Mitchell is permitted to flesh out his character in a manner that made him less mythic yet more fallibly human, a hardcase who we fear might not succeed in his objectives.

Georges Rivière, veteran of several moody Golden Age Italian gothic horror movies, portays the sly, vicious Fox, Clay's main foil. Typical of the skewed Eurowestern perspective, Fox is introduced as the town's sheriff, dressed mostly in white while Minnesota is downmarketedly restricted to drab dark clothing, displaying the fashion sense of any common Hollywood heavy. Do not trust well dressed or uniformed individuals in these movies. Even as late as the classic surreal 1976 Italian western Keoma (from action specialist Enzo G. Castellari, best known as the director of the original epic Inglorious Bastards), post-War Between the States veterans are shown, in uniform, to be local gang hired guns. The bearded walking arsenal, Keoma (Django's Franco Nero), is shabbily draped in Anglo and traditional Native American clothing like a militant hippie Jesus in a duster who will go onto out-argue Death (Castellari's nod to Ingmar Bergman) and bring some small sparks of life to the apocalyptic ghost towns that he rides through, while also killing plenty of murderous trash and issuing sardonic one liners (a Franco Nero western trademark).
Keoma is probably my all time favorite Eurowestern but it is challenging listening for many a potential fan, thanks to an eclectic soundtrack (westerns of the seventies had markedly different styles of scoring than their more exultantly soundtracked 1960's predecessors).

Fernando Sancho greasily provides menacing support throughout Clay in what must be one of his earliest bandito roles and even Horror Express's future prickly Inspector Mirov, Julio Pena, has a part.

Performers from all over the world, including Asia and potential export box office drawing yankees such as Mitchell, the soon to be revived-from-a-dead-career Lee Van Cleef and the then relatively-unknown Clint Eastwood, would cast their lot in "spaghetti westerns" but production co-financing countries such as Spain, Germany and France were particularly useful in this regard.

Though the direction, editing and choreography of Clay aren't as assured as Corbucci's later efforts, there are some nicely realized sequences (including a runaway wagon setpiece). Some of the less impressive post-sync dubbed gun shots should have been replaced; rival director Leone famously claimed to have utilized rifle shots for revolver sound FX and cannon blasts for discharging rifles, an option not then available to Corbucci.The soundtrack by Piero Piccioni is listenable but was overshadowed by Ennio Morricone's more infectious (and influential) Dollars score. Along with Django composer Luis Bacalov, Morricone would eventually contribute some of the most memorable soundtracks to Corbucci's westerns, including my favorite, the delicate and melancholy score for The Great Silence.

Minnesota Clay is available as a letterboxed stand alone title from VCI and as part of Video Asia's compilation, Spaghetti Western Bible Presents The Fast, The Saved, and The Damned (which includes the bizarre 1971 Blindman, co-starring Ringo Starr as a Mexican bandito--its so called remake, Comin' at Ya!, with the same director, Fernando Baldi, and star Tony Anthony, and featuring Pedro Almodovar's future muse, Victoria Abril, re-started the 3D craze in the eighties, and Massacre Time, a 1966 effort from genre-hopping film maker Lucio Fulci...the most traditional of his three westerns, though the opening Zaroff-style man hunt and various zoomed-in shots of violence show the intensity that Fulci would become internationally known for in his future thrillers and chillers).

Corbucci's participation in movies such as Clay and the dynamic supernatural peplum (Italian sword and sandal) Goliath and the Vampires (US release title for 1961's Maciste Contro il Vampiro) led to his helming Django, whose aesthetically and financially successful coffin-dragging wanderings would encourage the film maker to devote a considerable part of his career to making notable European westerns. Movie fans and scholars would label him as one of the "three Sergios" along with Leone and Sergio Sollima, whose own relevant highlights include The Big Gundown (1966) and its Lee Van Cleef-less sequel, Run Man Run!

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: UbuWeb to MyDamnChannel

Just a quick few citations today on a busy morning:

is a repository of avant-garde art, very much including the a/v, which has been compiling and expanding since 1996. To attempt to catalog it would amount to replicating its rather cataloguesque nature, but it's pretty easy to navigate in...give it a look if folks ranging from Brian Eno to Marcel Duchamp to Jasper Johns to Samuel Beckett to Gertrude Stein are in any way of interest...

MyDamnChannel is one of the primary aggregators of short humorous video and film on the web...Funny or Die has managed to become better known, with more munny behind it, but MDC still has something to be said for it, particularly when most of it loads, as it isn't doing for me at this hour. I'm particularly fond of Wainy Days, the Harry Shearer/Judith Owen Channel, and the soap-opera parody Horrible People at MDC, but there's plenty I haven't seen yet.

I've certainly talked up such free and less-inexpensive video aggregation sites as the National Film Board of Canada, Archive.org, Amazon and Netflix, Hulu and Crackle, but of course there are so many more to explore at any given time...one I'm fond of is that associated with the small leftist news and culture channel Link TV, which offers a lot of free and full-length content in addition to clips and information on the other documentaries and the rather good slate of dramatic films it offers.

And here's this weekend's film article I was moved to write:
"Film sequels which are at least comparable to their predecessors, when not better..."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Women editors in fantasy and sf at midcentury...

Laurie Powers has a nice bit of remembrance of Cele Goldsmith, later married to become Cele Lalli (and I didn't know for a long time that "Cele" sounded like "seal"), winner of a special award of not quite Hugo status at the 1962 World Convention (John W. Campbell, Jr., won a relatively undeserved award for the previous year, if one deserved for his career)...Laurie was under the impression that Goldsmith was one of the few editors of the fantastic-fiction magazines in her decade (essentially 1955-1965, as she passed from serving as assistant to the inept Paul Fairman into full editorship of Fantastic and Amazing in 1958, which lasted till her publishers, Ziff-Davis, sold the magazines out from under her in 1965, at which point she moved over to ZD's bridal magazines for the balance of her career). Though Laurie mistook the Goldsmith/Lalli magazines for pulps, a status Fantastic never had (despite merger with its pulp predecessor, Fantastic Adventures, in 1954) and Amazing gave up when Fantastic was founded, in 1952.

Goldsmith/Lalli was one of the great women magazine editors in fantastic fiction, but was hardly alone...in fact, there were almost more female editors of the fully-professional magazines before her than there have been since, even with Ellen Datlow's major projects and Shawna McCarthy and Kris Rusch as editor and/or former editor of two high-profile magazines each; Sheila Williams at the head of Asimov's, and such magazines as Weird Tales in its current Ann VanderMeer-edited inpulpation and Hildy Silverman's Space and Time hovering at the edge of not-little-magazine status.

Well, here's my (revised) comment at Powers's blog:
It should be noted, that Fantastic and Amazing weren't pulps any longer when Cele Goldsmith began editing them, or even when she was, as assistant editor, pulling the decent stories out of the slush pile (such as Kate Wilhelm's first story) to put in the magazines to supplement what Paul Fairman was buying without reading from reliable pros.

Amazing had gone to (initially expensively semi-slick) digest sized issues with the foundation of Fantastic in 1952, and both remained in that format till Fantastic's absorption by Amazing during Elinor Mavor's editorship in 1980, and Amazing retained it till game company TSR reformatted the magazine as a large-sized slick in the 1980s. So, they were no more pulps than Dell's Zane Grey Western was. [Laurie, the granddaughter of a prolific pulp-fiction writer, is more familiar with western fiction than with fantastic fiction, hence some correspondences cited.] One of Mavor's issues, after the merger:

Goldsmith wasn't the dominant editor of her time (frankly, in the early '60s in the magazine field, there wasn't one...but a number of excellent ones), but was one of the most eclectic, publishing relatively experimental work by the likes of Ballard, Thomas Disch, David Bunch, Ursula K. Le Guin (though Le Guin began rather conservatively), Harlan Ellison, and others alongside some old-fashioned material by E. E. Smith (the Zane Grey of sf) and others, as well as artists as important as Leiber (somewhere between the Elmer Kelton and the Walter Van Tilburg Clark of sf and fantasy)...Barry Malzberg and particularly Ted White's versions of the magazines were about as good, and as adventuresome, but didn't have the Ziff-Davis distribution might behind them and were never monthly.

Along with Wilhelm and essentially Le Guin and Roger Zelazny (who had published juvenilia elsewhere), among Goldsmith/Lalli's "discoveries" were Disch, Ben Bova, Keith Laumer, and I believe Sonya Dorman as a prose writer (like Disch, she was simultaneously a widely-published poet).

Mavor and Goldsmith/Lalli were the only female full editors of Amazing and Fantastic, but Lila aka L. E. Shaffer was doing more than her share of the work editing Fantastic Adventures (Fantastic's predecessor) and Amazing during Howard Browne's official tenure (much later editor Kim Mohan is a male Kim).

Among the other female editors in sf and fantasy pulps and digests in the 1940s into 1950s and onward, one should look into:

Dorothy McIlwraith, who did brilliant work as editor of Weird Tales for the second half of its original run (Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Margaret St. Clair, Ms. C. L. Moore, and Moore's husband Henry Kuttner, along with Leigh Brackett's husband Edmond Hamilton, all published some brilliant work there, and they by no means alone); McIlwraith was compelled by the publisher to sign herself as simply D. McIlwraith while simultaneously editing Short Stories magazine...

Mary Gnaedinger, long-term editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Fantastic Novels, which reprinted from the early Argosys and All-Storys, and eventually would reprint novels published in hardcover, going as far as to reprint both Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and Ayn Rand's Anthem in the last issue...(most of the reprints were better than the latter, I hasten to add, and the magazines published some important original fiction as well)...

Bea Mahaffey, who worked with Ray Palmer, who had been Ziff-Davis's first editor of Amazing and Fantastic Adventures before striking off on his own...his most durable title has turned out to be the paranormal magazine Fate, but he was still interested in publishing fiction magazines in the 1950s, and Mahaffey was editor of the best of them, Universe...notable for publishing Theodore Sturgeon's pro-gay-acceptance story "The World Well Lost" in its first issue, in 1953...

And among those in editorial support roles, Larry Shaw worked for several publishers in latter '50s on magazines, and his (first, I think) eventual life partner, Shirley Hoffman, often helped out, under the name she used in her fannish writing and eventually in her fantasy, sf, and Spur-Award-winning western writing as well, Lee Hoffman.

There're more, of course...Judith Merril didn't edit magazines, but anthologies like nearly no one else in her time (including collaborating with husband Frederik Pohl to ghost-edit Tomorrow, the Stars, officially "edited" by Robert Heinlein), for example...but, well, yup, there're still quite a few out there for you to look into.

But Cele Goldsmith/Lalli was never a pulpster...

(And it's time again tomorrow for Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V!)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Film sequels which are at least comparable to their predecessors, when not better...

OK, too many people in a row over the last several days have asserted the necessary inferiority of film sequels, so I'm moved to suggest a few of my favorite counterexamples:

1. The Testament of Orpheus. The mildly sfnal followup to Cocteau's second or third fantasy masterwork Orpheus, and a sort of capstone to Jean Cocteau's film career...autobiographical in the same manner as Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five or any number of other fantasticated works which take advantage of the range of metaphor the fantastic allows to tell very personal truth.

2. For a Few Dollars More. An improvement over A Fistful of Dollars, less blatantly derivative of earlier films, and bettered enormously by one of the (if not the) best of Ennio Morricone's western scores. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly improves on it only to the extent that more money was available for the production of the third film, as a result of the international success of its two predecessors. (Tribute films such as The Quick and the Dead and Unforgiven ring some interesting changes.)

3-5. The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Godfather, Part II. Three of the examples usually cited of richer, more elaborated, more engaging sequels to rather good films, at very least of their type. The original Dawn of the Dead almost makes this cut, too.
6. The Organization. While this third film about Virgil Tibbs, the second to have no relation to John Ball's novels and stories, is not a patch on In the Heat of the Night, it is a major improvement on They Call Me Mister Tibbs, and of the two sequels is closer to Ball's work, as well as an honest treatment of how relatively virtuous vigilantism frequently isn't going to triumph (and there's a nice ambiguity about how many different groups and agencies amount to the Organization of the title). Also, a cast made up of an impressive number of young actors who were going to go on to major or at least solid, briefly prominent careers, ranging from Daniel Travanti to Raul Julia to Max Gail, and good roles for underused performers such as Sheree North, Barbara McNair and Lani Miyazaki.

7. Batman Returns. What can I say, I find Christopher Walken as Donald Trump, renamed as a film-geek joke for a vampire actor, a better and more interesting villain than Jack Nicholson as a too-blatantly sadistic Joker (frankly, than Heath Ledger thus, too). Michelle Pfeiffer's turn as Catwoman, almost fully-enough realized, helped, too.

8 and 9. Subspecies II: Bloodstone and Underworld: Evolution. Actually good, or good-enough, films which are sequels to terrible films, and thus both the best and worst examples here (even as, say, the second films in such franchises as Star Wars and Resident Evil, or for that matter the James Bond films, are improvements, if frequently not quite sufficient improvements). S2, however is a genuinely interesting film among a series of otherwise undistinguished work, and U:E is a less blatant example similarly.

10. Before Sunset. Well, there are a number of cycles of films, of which Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series is probably the most famous (leaving aside such intentional series, not unlike television and radio series, such as The Whistler and what became of The Thin Man films...and Bond, again) that follow the life of a single character or serve as a family saga, but few if any films of that sort are so much better in their second (and probably final) installment, certainly to the degree of this one...particularly given how good, if flawed, the first is.

I'm sure there are Bergmans and similar film cycles I should be considering, but this is top of the head in the wee hours...and perhaps some special recognition should be given to nearly-as-good sequels which take a completely different tack than their predecessors (the gentle fantasy The Curse of the Cat People following the savagely satirical horror film Cat People), and works in a related medium serving as improvements on the original (one obvious example being the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, the film redone more in spirit it was intended...though that might more correctly be seen as more remake, as with all The Maltese Falcons and The Big Sleeps).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, April 1, 1949 - May 27, 2011

A great composer and performer, a recognized novelist, who had a weakness for coke, and apparently not getting proper HIV meds from his halfway house, left, and thus found himself in jail of late, entirely too often, entirely too long. This didn't help. 62 years old...he helped create rap, did impressive jazz-pop, and wrote incisive lyrics even after life had torn up his voice. Rest in glory.

I saw him and his concert band once, at George Mason University, in 1989. Brilliant set.

"Lady Day and John Coltrane"

From the Wikipedia page:
In the liner notes [for his first album, Small Talk at 125th and Lennox], Scott-Heron acknowledged as influences Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Jose Feliciano, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Nina Simone, and the pianist who would become his long-time collaborator, Brian Jackson.

"Johannesburg" in concert

"Home Is Where the Hatred Is"

"Winter in America"

"No Knock"

"Message to the Messengers"

"I Think I'll Call It Morning"

brief interview, about "...Televised"

FFB: MOVIES ON TV edited by Steven Scheuer; ROGER EBERT'S VIDEO COMPANION: 1996 Edition

Steven Scheuer, television reviewer and historian and chat show host (most durably, oddly enough, for the public-broadcasting series All About TV, which changed title to World: Comm in its last episodes), was apparently the first to produce a volume of capsule reviews of films appearing on television, with the first edition of this Bantam Books stalwart appearing as TV Movie Almanac & Ratings in 1958, and the last edition, as Movies on TV and Videocassette, in 1993. Young film geek Leonard Maltin gained his early career in part by putting together his similar TV Movies volumes for Signet/NAL, in imitation and as an attempt at improving on the model of Brand X, starting a decade later (after Maltin had published his own film fanzine for a couple of years to help demonstrate his competence for such a gig), and the Maltin book of course continues to receive updated editions. But while Maltin strove to give more information in most entries than did Scheuer, and perhaps was a little more free with the snappish description of what he tagged "bombs," the approach of the two series was and is rather similar, and it was useful to have volumes of both during the 1970s particularly to weigh against one another as guides, and to see which films were cited in the one that weren't in the other.

I've been reading a fair amount of "vintage" newspaper and magazine film reviewing over the last month or so, and so have discovered that every bad thing ever said or written about midcentury primary New York Times film reviewer Bosley Crowther was richly deserved (not a complete dunce, but entirely too close for someone in his position), and generally that the most widely-read reviewers in the field in those decades were often a pretty undistinguished lot, particularly when compared to my earlier exposure to the likes of John Simon and Harlan Ellison and Pat Aufderheide. I've always had a less than thoroughly positive experience with Roger Ebert's critiques, certainly, despite both his obvious love of film (and his various activities to help popularize film festivals and general geekdom/appreciation in the field, not least his protean television series) and his status as a literary sf fan and infrequent contributor to the fiction magazines (Ted White published a couple of Ebert short stories in Fantastic and Amazing SF in 1972)...and certainly, over the last decade, he's been fighting a lot of personal health crises with every evidence of courage, grace and wit (between them, he and his old reviewing partner Gene Siskel have not been the most physically lucky of public figures). I just wish I liked his reviews better, for the most part, even though they, too, are much better than the likes of Crowther's on balance, and of the two too-young recipients of the Pulitzer for criticism at the turn of the 1970s, Ebert's award is slightly less puzzling than that given to Washington Post television reviewer Tom Shales. I picked up a copy of the 1996 volume of the Ebert Video Companion, which was conveniently to hand, to see how it would strike me.

About as much a mixed bag as I suspected it would. While I mostly agree with his positive assessment, and more importantly how he arrived at his positive assessment, of the charming if slight and somewhat improbably arrayed Before Sunrise (the decade-later sequel, Before Sunset, is a more mature similar work in every way, and beyond the obvious), Ebert appends a somewhat goofy tag from his mailbag, in which a law student who engaged in a similar experience to that of the film's characters found himself expelled from law school for lying about why he'd missed classes, with Ebert making a journalistic effort to get to the bottom of this rather fey incident. Moderately amusing, in context, and not actually harmful, but rather off-point in a book that could actually have offered another film review in that space. More offputting to me are the occasional clumsy bits, perhaps driven in part (as George Kelley is not alone in making this defense of Ebert and his colleagues) by the daily grind a newspaper reviewer can face, such as this sentence from the justifiably irritated review of Basic Instinct: "[Sharon Stone's character] is a kinky seductress with the kind of cold, challenging verbal style many men take as a challenge." Now, this is as much the fault of a theoretical copy-editor as Ebert, perhaps, and a small matter (though hardly unique in its challenge to even the casual reader); less forgivable is Ebert's consistent citation of the arbitrary, manipulative nature of the Joe Esterhaus script in this post-daily review, with particular harping on the clumsy trick ending...which Ebert nonetheless makes a point of not revealing, not even with a "spoiler alert" or other less blatant device, since he has done his best to get the reader wondering how egregiously bad it can be...and then leaves the reader with the options of forgetting about it, or seeking out and sitting through the film (or fast-forwarding, I suppose). Also attached is a rather leaden bit of business about Ebert chatting with fellow film reviewers about the excised 45 seconds from the film that MPAA demanded to change its US rating from NC-17 to R, where Ebert attempts to be humorously coy about the nature of the act portrayed, and doesn't quite succeed. Worse yet, he can suffer attacks of Auteurism in which a fiction-writer particularly should know better than to indulge, as with his review here of The Color of Money, which makes several at least interesting points about the failure of the film while at no time acknowledging that it is an adaptation of the novel, as the film it sequels was also an adaptation of a novel, by Walter Tevis, and the points Ebert is trying to make would only be strengthened by taking that fact into account (his critique would also be strengthened by noting the aggressively inept performance by Tom Cruise in the film, Cruise [never worse that I've seen] almost in couch-jumping mode and the most obvious reason for the failure of the film, but that is much less a matter of omitting useful and pertinent fact). And even the generally well-done critiques, such as that for Badlands, just don't rise to the level of perception and discernment that, say, James Agee's similarly brief reviews do (or, specifically, Simon's comparable review of Badlands). One can do worse, and frequently, I have had the sense over the years Ebert could do better...though sometimes, it's more that he's been given way too much credit for already having done better. (And not alone in this, either...eh, Ms. Kael, Mr. Sarris, and not a few others?)

For more Friday Books, please see the reviews and index links at Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May's Forgotten/Overlooked Music (so far)

Paul Bishop: Anna Wilson and Friends: Countrypolitan Duets
Bill Crider: Jimmie Rodgers (the folk-pop one)
Jerry House: Steve Gillette
Randy Johnson: The Animals
George Kelley: Roy Orbison: The Monument Singles Collection
Todd Mason: The Byrds, Hüsker Dü, FLiP
Eric Peterson: Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century by The World/Inferno Friendship Society
Perplexio: Dragon
Charlie Ricci: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

FLiP(ping) the Byrds...Hüsker Dü?--May's unForgotten (but unfamiliar?) Music


The Byrds...
Hüsker Dü

(And since Blogger's been such a charmer lately, you might be better off in several ways by double-clicking on the videos below to allow them to open in their own windows...full view of them, and quite probably less stuttering.)

So, the Byrds. Not too forgotten, as probably the most protean and innovative of the sustainedly popular US rock bands of the 1960s...certainly even such rivals as the Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, the Band (with or without Dylan), and (the initially anti-popular) the Velvet Underground didn't cover as much territory, explore as many ways of making various sorts of rock music, often at the pioneering edge of such forms as folk-rock, jazz-rock, and country-rock (in the latter-day form, anyway, as opposed to rockabilly).

And no song of theirs is more iconic than Gene Clark and Roger/Jim McGuinn's "Eight Miles High"...a song about their first tour of England, the flight over (and Clark's acrophobia, which alas forced him to quit the band, depriving the Byrds of their best songwriter by any measure), and, as every idiot censor at the end of 1966 Just Knew, getting high. Well, as a sort of pun, anyway...as this was also McGuinn's most thorough expression for free jazz (though the album Fifth Dimension would also feature the similar, nearly as good "I See You"), particularly that of John Coltrane, who knew and was consistently further investigating spiritual highs via music as well. Even the British jazz-loving rock bands, the Zombies and Yardbirds and Animals and all, hadn't quite caught up with what was Happening Now in jazz to the same extent, and while the two songs were early steps, they were assured early steps...and also on the way toward realizing McGuinn's desire to make what he metaphorized as "jet" music, as opposed to older forms. Certainly the jazz fusion bands, coming from the other direction, were mostly several years off, as well.
"Eight Miles High" (remastered)

"Eight Miles High" (alternate take/mix)

"I See You":

The syndicated public broadcasting series Growing Bolder offered its viewers an interesting interview and showcase for McGuinn's home movies of that first British experience for the band, and here it is, with an "Eight Miles High" as soundtrack in the middle, along with snatches of other Byrds and Beatles recordings also heard:
Find more inspiring video, audio, and images at Growing Bolder.

And here's a bit of one of the later (1970), more bluegrass/countrified versions of the Byrds (the Clarence White/Skip Battin/Gene Parsons/McGuinn lineup) doing a improvisational jam/vocals-free version of the song:

And a 1969 concert, also featuring Clarence White, doing a medley of the first three hit singles:

I discovered/rediscovered the Byrds for myself about 1981, having been aware of the hits, of course, in the course of getting a bit deeper into rock generally, and particularly folk-rock, '60s rock, punk rock, and all the other things the Byrds and their contemporaries helped create or at least touched on. By 1984, a pretty grim year (hey, Orwell called it), and at one of my lowest points in that year, I heard for the first time a recording, while riding back to the office in the van-full of neighborhood canvassers for SANE/Freeze, the anti-nuclear proliferation merged organization, this relatively new cover of "Eight Miles High" coming from the University of Maryland radio station, which was puzzling everyone else in the van as to what the hell we were listening to...it was Hüsker Dü, of course, the young Minneapolis punk band about to move off SST Records, a major punk indy label, to sign to the adventurous but clueless Warner Bros. Records, who wouldn't market them even as well as they had the LA-based X some years before:

Hüsker Dü (the band-name means "do you remember?" in Norwegian; it was the name of a heavily-advertised board game at the turn of the 1970s), always ready to express a cathartic rage, and as adept as nearly any instrumentalists in hardcore punk (even their contemporaries the Bad Brains, who had turned away from jazz fusion to essentially create hardcore punk), where suffering ever-greater tensions as a band by the mid-'80s, and this performance:

And perhaps the most Byrds-influenced original music Hüsker Dü did was that on their final studio album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, of which this triptych of songs is a fine core sampling ("Friend, You've Got to Fall"/"Visionary"/"She Floated Away"):

So, pop-punk, punk-pop, melodic punk rock (as well as extremely dissonant punk rock, I must admit) continues to appeal to me, even as proto-punk did in the mid 1970s...and over the last week I've made a little discovery for myself, in the form of the all-woman band from Okinawa, FLiP, and their current single, "Nagai Kiss" (or "long kiss"):

Oddly enough, they didn't just arise in time for me to catch up with them...they played the US as early as 2009, and this earlier (2010?) single, かごめかごめ or "Kagome Kagome" ("Basket Basket" is a no doubt inadequate translation, as is, probably, "Your Eyes or Your Eyes"), I like even better (it is on the ep Dear Girls):

From their first album, I believe, 2008's Haha Kara Umareta Hinekure No Uta:

In LA on the 2009 Japan Nite tour...the Okinawan candy is over there, as noted before going into a slightly ragged but charming reading of (I believe it is) "Yayoi no Nijuku" ("March 29"?):

...and the studio version of that song:

And, finally, apparently at least minor hit single for them in Japan, "It's a Lie":

For more of this month's Forgotten Music, please see Scott Parker's blog for his and the index links to others'.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 24 May 2011

Bill Crider: Maniac (1963)
Chuck Esola: Wild in the Streets (1968)
Evan Lewis: "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune" by Robert Howard, From The Hells Beneath the Hells (Alternate Worlds Recordings)
Geoff Bradley: Identity pilot "Second Life"
George Kelley: Cadfael: The Complete Collection
Iba Dawson: The Naked City (1948)
James Reasoner: Invaders from Mars (1953)
Juri Nummelin: Meek's Cutoff
Michael Shonk: The Amazing Mr. Malone
Patti Abbott: Pelle the Conqueror
Randy Johnson: The Big Heat (1953)
Rod Lott: The Vampire Happening
Scott Cupp: La Momia Azteca (The Aztec Mummy)
Stan Burns: 2008 episodes of Midsomer Murders
Steve Lewis: Tangier Assignment (Billete para Tánger) and Alburquerque
Todd Mason: High School (1968) and tv notes

Related matters:

Ed Gorman: "More from Noir City"
K. A. Laity: "Another Metamorphosis," Illustrated
Ron Goulart: "The Saint in Junior High"
Sara Gran: "Quincy & Columbo & the Cassandras of television: more influences on Claire DeWitt"

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and Other A/V: HIGH SCHOOL (1968) and some TV notes...

High School, Frederick Wiseman's 1968 follow-up to 1967's mental-hospital/human warehouse cinéma vérité Titticut Follies, is almost as nightmarish (the Philadelphia school board made what Wiseman refers to as "vague noises" of lawsuit, and settled for Wiseman agreeing to it not being screened in Philadelphia or suburbs...which, as it happens, continued to be the case till just before it was presented on PBS as an episode of the POV series in 2004). Filmed at the large and theoretically prestigious public Northeast High School in Philadelphia (still largely "racially" segregated as late as 1968), it manages to gather examples of petty cruelties and gross distortions offered in the name of education and discipline, small glimmers of hope here and there among the students and faculty in the sea of perfunctory if usually well-meant, negligent going through the motions. I first saw it while attending a pompously, would-be slightly progressive private high school in Honolulu, and was struck by the similarity of the institutional experience a decade and change later, not the message, I suspect, it was hoped I'd take away.

The students seem largely alienated from their coursework and teachers, chivvied by martinets among adult hall monitors and other disciplinarians, marking time and awaiting their fates (one discussion between a young returned Vietnam vet and a teacher about who among recent graduates became a casualty of war to one degree or another certainly is among the most chilling offhand bits); the more enthusiastic of the kids are often engaged in such Time-Honored Good Fun as bizarre transvestite mockery of cheerleaders by cheerfully misogynist sports-team members, which leads off this clip, segueing into a sex-miseducation session for the boys by the kind of male gynecologist who almost perfectly sums what's wrong with certain aspects of his era (and that he's in the educational position he's in is both unsurprising and flabbergasting):

Even a few seemingly hopeful signs prove misleading at closer inspection, such as the near-juxtaposition of an older teacher rattling off "Casey at the Bat" humorlessly (and to kids several years older than might be the ideal target audience for even a good reading) as an example of Instruction in Literature with this, a younger teacher hoping to Reach the Kids with the self-conscious, kitsch lyrics of Paul Simon's "The Dangling Conversation," the substitution of a contemporary mediocrity for a "classic" one:

Some of it is simply too perfect, such as the Frank Rizzo-wannabe administrator telling a boy, who is protesting what he sees as being singled out for excessively harsh punishment, that the Mark of A Man is the ability to Take Orders. The engagement of some of the kids in a special program, where they get to work with astronautical gear, simply highlights how thoroughly most of the rest of what they face fails them, and therefore everyone. And in most inner-city schools since and not they alone, that kind of institutional failure certainly has not been reversed, certainly not to any sufficient degree. A sequel of sorts, High School II (1994), is about one inner-city program that is trying and to some extent succeeding in succeeding with very disadvantaged students, instead.

Available on DVD from Wiseman's own label...a bit steep, but perhaps your strapped local library can be encouraged to consider it, or get a loaner from another strapped library.

Meanwhile, as the larger networks in the US do their annual dance for sponsors, the "upfronts," there's remarkably little that's too remarkable about the upcoming season in the US...even if two "period"/historical dramatic hours are clearly inspired by the little-watched, passionately-loved cable series Mad Men: NBC's The Playboy Club and ABC's Pan Am (CBS had already tried their luck with this kind of thing with the summer series Swingtown a couple of years back). Like the CBS entry, they hope to combine the nostalgia with prurience, as much as one can get into that on broadcast tv, and perhaps gain at least the kind of audience that was able to sustain the slight Las Vegas series for several seasons. Comedian Whitney Cummings is deeply involved with two different sitcoms on two networks (she stars in one); Chelsea Handler has one based loosely on her alcohol memoir...I foresee that none of them are likely to hang around long, and that might even be a pity if they were allowed to break out of typical sitcom tropes (which at least the pilot of Whitney isn't).

Antenna TV and This TV, the digital broadcast networks that sprang up in the wake of Retro TV, continue to offer an interesting (though not always watchable) mix of older films, to supplement particularly the awful array of old sitcoms on Antenna (All in the Family being one of the few bright spots there, while Maude, Sanford and Son, The Monkees and Too Close for Comfort are as good as that network gets otherwise), with This mostly plundering the MGM vaults and Antenna the Sony/Columbia (hence, of course, endless piles of Three Stooges), but it is fun, in a way, to see such things as the Ziv TV syndicated staples Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol again...and note how, if sometimes backhandedly, feminist those Ziv series were...the women characters are rarely fragile flowers, whether heroines (under attack, since the stars were usually all men) or villains, such as the female gang member plugging away as energetically if ineffectually as her male counterparts at the Highway Patrol in one episode I caught recently.

Speaking of our smaller commercial broadcast networks, Ion TV (founded as Pax, and extending their little pun by referring to themselves as "positively entertaining") will begin broadcasting the second season of Men of a Certain Age tonight at 10p ET...as cable series continue the long march onto broadcast tv, as repeats as well as in sharing partnerships. As someone who's been missing this series since jump, I might well give it a try this way...though I suspect Ion might be more sensitive to language matters than its cable home, TNT, is. You might not have a This TV or Antenna TV affiliate too nearby (though you probably do) but it's hard in the US to not be within antenna or cable distance of an Ion station.

Monday, May 23, 2011

As Others(?) See Us-ly Things...

Or, as Dave Langford has it as his running subhead in his sf/fantasy fanzine Ansible, "As Others See Us" (and such variations as "As We See Ourselves"):

1. From the Letters column of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1963, into the period when it was edited by my favorite of its editors, and my default choice for my favorite writer of any kind, Avram Davidson; or, why I'm not much of a D&D guy, most likely:

"Lately, I and my friends have been somewhat disappointed with F&SF. Mr. Davidson leaves something to be desired as an editor. Therefore, I am declining your kind offer to renew my subscription to your magazine."--E. Gary Gygax, Chicago, IL

2. From Jackie Kashian's The Dork Forest, a 2009 episode with Mike Phirman and Maria Bamford, who asks, and is reassured by the others that she's thinking of "steampunk":

"'Cyberpunk'...is that where you have a typewriter, and make a heavier typewriter?"

(Tuesday's Overlooked Films and Other A/V tomorrow. Be here or be otherwise!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

FFB: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JAZZ by Leonard Feather (Horizon 1960)

This is another of those books so seminal, so omnipresent in my youth, that it's hard to imagine that it's out of print. But, even with the Da Capo 1993 paperback reprint, it is.

Leonard Feather was a British boy who apparently taught himself to play piano, listening to all the early jazz he could find, and his love of the music took him to the States in 1939 (not, on balance, the worst year a Briton could've chosen to emigrate, even if not a jazz fan). He soon became one of the most prominent of jazz reviewers, critics and historians, as well as a minor composer (more of Feather's songs were covered more often than, say, Steve Allen's) and performer (my own major primary exposure to Feather the composer is through the Langston Hughes jazz and poetry album, Weary Blues, where half the album is Hughes backed by Feather and his one-off band, the other half by Charles Mingus's group--yes, of course this is out of print as well, insanely). Feather became co-editor of the sadly vanished jazz magazine Metronome (JazzTimes kind of holds its place these decades, or Cadence) and Feather gained both the envy and the slightly aggrieved respect of fellow jazz writers by striking a deal with a number of labels...the going rate for liner notes on jazz albums was something along the lines of $25 each in the 1950s; Feather reportedly offered several labels a package deal, wherein he would do all their albums for a flat $15 each...if indeed he got all their business. Which, for several labels, for a while, he did.

But this might be his first masterwork, reasonably comprehensive and strenuously attempting evenhandedness in its assessments of nearly all the important players in the jazz world from its beginnings up through the end of the 1950s (before his death in 1994, he would produce two more volumes as supplements, covering the 1960s and 1970s) and even providing contact addresses (one almost blanches at the thought of all those home addresses being provided in these post-John Lennon, post-Selena days) which might or might not've helped with getting at least a few gigs for the still-active artists. That's the bulk of the book, which is led off with several appreciative forewords by Ellington, Goodman and the CBS Records guy John Hammond (as opposed to his son the musician) and several brief but informative essays about the nature and history of jazz. The back of the book offers several more specific supplementary texts, including Gunther Schuller's essay on jazz, classical and therefore Third Stream music, and the "Blindfold Test," which Feather brought over to DownBeat magazine after Metronome folded where it continues in his memory (JazzTimes does something similar, "Before and After").

Still a valuable resource, long after the home addresses have been made rather inutile except for pilgrimages...

For more of today's "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stuff I shouldn't be eating: packaged cake rolls

And, frankly, these things make it easy to not eat them. [And, as of late 2012, the corporate management of Hostess, which had been plundering their corporation while whining endlessly about unions which demanded their members not be fired, from what the directors would insist were redundant jobs...and surely the management had absolutely none of those among its vice presidents in charge of golden-parachute rigging...made sure the option of eating Drake's or Hostess or Dolley Madison cakes has not been available, by shuttering the business.]

Drake's Cakes and Hostess Cakes are made by the same folks these days, Intercontinental Baking (which is trying to phase out the Drake's brand in favor of incorporating the Drake's products into the Hostess line, as they did previously with the [oddly, traditionally even worse] Dolly Madison line of snacks)...and one of their major competitors is the discount snack-baker Little Debbie (aka Little Debris among those who've forgotten how similarly bad most Hostess cakes are in comparison...Gross-test, as they have been infrequently referred to in my ken). Drake's products are and have been consistently better than their corporate sibling's through the decades, as Hostess has consistently been willing to use lard in such products as Twinkies, and generally just chooses to make a lesser product...and that's certainly true here, where among the three cake and cream twists, the Hostess product is actually the worst of the three (despite costing as much as the Drake's, and roughly twice as much as the Little Debbie). The cream and cake in the Hostess was the blandest and the least chocolate-flavored (though the LD was close in the lack of cocoa or substitute flavoring); the Hostess was a bit crisper in its theoretically chocolate coating than the mushy LD, but not as crisp as the Drake's. The Drake's was easily the most flavorful as well as having the best crispness and "mouth-feel," while not being up to the quality of contrast of their Devil Dogs (essentially a non-coated devil's food "sandwich" with cream filling) or Funny Bones (a coated devil's food cake with a light peanut-butter filling). The Little Debbie, by flavor if not texture and relative lack of expense for what's at best a mediocre product, is certainly a less ridiculous choice than the Hostess; the worst that can be said for the Yodels is that, like most Drake's cakes these years, the cake part of the roll is a bit dry.

But none of these products are up to the work of a genuinely good bakery, nor up to the best of the Drake's line (even now, much less what Drake's was producing in, say, the 1970s)...even Little Debbie's peanut butter/chocolate cookies are a bit better. I'm not sure Hostess manages anything better these years, since I won't eat lard (they have managed to not put lard in Ho-Hos these days, perhaps so that they can manufacture them with the same equipment used to make Yodels).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

for a few links more: Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 17 May

As usual, thanks to everyone who has participated this week, as contributor and as reader and/or commenter...this might be the best set of items we've had so far, salted with some insufficiently appreciated classics as it is, as well as the genuinely obscure ranging from good to brilliant. If I've missed your contribution, or you'd like to make one today and haven't yet, please let me know in comments.
And please spare a good thought for contributor Ian Covell, who wrote up the Dali/Disney collaboration "Destino" in March, as he recovers his health.

Bill Crider: A Place in the Sun
Brian Arnold: Dr. Strange (1978)
Chuck Esola: Winter Kills
Eric Peterson: I Went Down
Evan Lewis: "Book Revue"
George Kelley: The Promise: The Making of Darkness at the Edge of Town (and bonus material)
Jack Seabrook: Tales of Tomorrow episode "Age of Peril"
James Reasoner: The Macahans/How the West Was Won (1977-1979)
Jerry House: Carnival of Souls (1962)
K. A. Laity: Cat People (1942)
Patti Abbott: Family (1976-1980)
Paul Bishop: Noir City
Randy Johnson: Cross Fire (1933)
Robert Ivins: First Sounds.org and The National Jukebox at the Library of Congress
Scott Cupp: She (1935)
Steve Lewis: The Desperadoes
Todd Mason: The White Bus; Wonderland (1999)
Walter Albert: Outlaws of the Orient

Of related interest:

B.V. Lawson: "Media Murder for Monday"
Elizabeth Foxwell: The Avengers at 50
J. Kingston Pierce: The Adventures of Ellery Queen: "The Hanging Acrobat"
Stephen Gallagher: The Crimson Petal and the White

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: THE WHITE BUS (1966); WONDERLAND (1999)

On the train in The White Bus; on the street in Wonderland.

These are two films about how to have a really unpleasant life in England, if you must, and how you might fix that. Neither is a first-rate work of art, but both are solid and have a certain drive as well as grace that carries the viewer along...the wit of the surreal Lindsay Anderson-directed short, based on fiction by Shelagh Delaney, the only completed bit of what was meant to be a three-short-film anthology (the other two films from other production units), and of Wonderland's quotidian, not quite Dogme accounting of several days in the lives of an unhappy family, certainly helps (the latter was written by Laurence Coriat, though partly improvised, and directed by Michael Winterbottom). That The White Bus is told from the POV of a young woman office worker (played by Patricia Healey, not to be confused with Patricia Healy), who takes off from her unrewarding and taxing job in London for a weekend in the North...where among the wonders she's exposed to are the new council housing apartment buildings, sitting forbodingly on a relatively barren landscape. In not altogether different dwellings a generation later, in London, three sisters (played by Canadian Molly Parker with a reasonable accent, and actual Brits Shirley Henderson and Gina McKee) attempt to make their ways in life. Parker's Molly is very gravid and with a life-partner (John Simm) who is trying to change up his career just as she's about to give birth; Henderson's Debbie is always up for some strings-free sex, even if it might make her sensitive 10yo son and others around her a bit uncomfortable (the boy's father turns out to be an utter lackwit), and McKee's Nadia is attempting to make some sort of meaningful connection, even if she has to delude herself into thinking a personals-ad operator is actually interested in her beyond a quick lay.

Helping make these films seem almost a natural pair is that Healey rather resembles Parker; if you crossed Parker with Sissy Spacek, and made her taller (perhaps a touch of Mary Woronov)...

The White Bus is, typically of Anderson, a film that is impossible to take with a single through-line, though it is possible to interpret it as Healey's unnamed character's passage through the afterlife (she clearly seems to fantasize, however frivolously, about hanging herself at her office, as she's the last office-worker out and the cleaning staff obliviously go about their duties as her legs dangle down from the top of the screen image). She is harangued on her passage from the office to the railway station by an uptight young man of the upper classes, who is desperately trying to get her to date him, since he won't hold her station against her nor should she his, don't you see. Political operatives of an unnamed party surround her in the train compartment, and the rail trip takes all night. She emerges in what might well be Liverpool or Manchester, also unnamed, but a fairly grim industrial city...nearly the first thing she sees is a woman not altogether unlike herself attempting rather ineffectually to escape what appear to be three male kidnappers, who manage to recapture her quickly after she escapes their car. Then the White Bus, devoted to a day tour for an ethnically diverse group, stops at her wave and she climbs aboard...to be shown any number of relatively dark and dreary industrial sites, and then the combination of a library and art gallery, where the Lord Mayor of the town mutters about the utter filth, disguised as literature, that he has been compelled to study at great length. Eventually, the tour disembarks to see a very graphic Civil Defense exercise, with victims actually aflame, during which all the other tourists in the stands with our protagonist turn into mannequins. She then goes to a claustrophobic fish and chip shop, where the staff is trying to close the joint around her, though a romantic couple also seeking service seem to brighten her day a bit.

There aren't too many bold new insights in the film, particularly as presented by (of all things) the digital broadcast network This TV, which ran it this past Sunday night as a primetime film, from 8-9pm ET (thus up against The Simpsons and much duller fare). This TV followed it with two episodes of the Stargate SG-1 tv series. Seeing this genuinely experimental short film in this context, even given the apparent minor edits for nudity and interruptions for commercials, certainly added to the surreality of the experience. But it's genuinely funny and engaging throughout, even if, for example, there's no obvious reason at first viewing for the transition, frequently, from black and white to color footage and back again...it doesn't (yet, at least) seem to indicate greater subjectivity or objectivity, passion or alienation, realism or fantasy to a given sequence.

Likewise, there are not too many Tolstoyan insights into the unhappy family (and families) in Wonderland (which shouldn't be confused with the historical crime drama of the same title from a few years later). The three sisters and their partners, long-term or passing or ex, don't learn too many profound things about themselves nor each other over the Guy Fawkes holiday, though their bitter, resentful mother does commit a covert act of selfish cruelty that seems to take herself aback, if only very briefly; their father, rather more passive-aggressive, finds himself flirted-with by a family friend, who in her turn has a miserable relation with her adult son, apparently not yet financially capable of moving out of their small apartment. Wrapped around and recurring throughout are the apparently rather idyllic sexual and related adventures of a young romantic couple...who turn out to have a key relation to the others in the film (hm, perhaps another parallel...). It's an easy film to take, but is told in a leisurely fashion, even if most of the threads interweave satisfactorily. This one was plucked off the bargain shelf at a big-box bookstore...I've paid far more for much worse films, on disc or in theaters (and I'm willing to give nearly anything Parker is in a shot, as she chooses interesting projects...even if her performance, and that of costar John C. McGinley, were the only worthwhile aspects of the television adaptation of Dean Koontz's Intensity).

Definitely worth a look, both, if you can catch them. Hey, MGM Channel Thailand will be running The White Bus on June 8! And it's available through Netflix streaming. Wonderland should be pretty easy to procure on disc and otherwise.