Posts Tagged ‘CLT Recommends…’

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CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (Part 2)

August 23, 2011

After the speedy opening romp of Pong/Thalassocracy (detailed here in Part 1), Black pulls back a bit for the next four and unwinds. The pace slows down towards “amble” and even approaches “truly laid back,” which could easily be mistaken for “coasting,” if he weren’t only six songs into a 22-song set.

3. (I Want to Live on an) Abstract Plain.mp3

An ode to wanting to be elsewhere, which is one of those vague feelings that gets under the skin like nostalgia, only with generally better results. You can’t go back. Nothing is like you remember it. However, with the right sort of wanderlust you can push forward. (Although, unfortunately, nobody ever really trusts a drifter.) Frank says “this town is dead to me,” only using better wording and imagery.

I’ve had it with this town
I never saw those shifting skies
I never saw the ground
Or the sunset rise

A bit later, he hints at the antagonism that lies underneath the unfocused (more omnidirectional than vague) “let’s blow this joint” emotion:

I’m building a frame
A place to put my ten-yard stare

But despite all the underlying tension (most of which I’m attributing to it with no assistance from the source material and a lot of self-awarded editorial leeway), the song itself is amiable, catchy and features a couple of tempo shifts, which as the album goes on become more and more common. This would seem to suggest that Frank Black’s new, um, black is tempo changes, replacing all the groundwork laid by the Pixies’ damn-near-patented “loud/quiet/loud” dynamics.

4. Calistan


This track remains one of my favorite Frank Black tunes (of ever!), not so much for the tune itself (although it does sport some rather large hooks), but because of the subject matter. There’s a dry and dusty near-Western feel to the lyrics (and the music), but what pulls me in is the border town imagery, illustrated by the Spanglish chorus.

Used to be sixteen lanes
Used to be Nuevo Spain
Used to be Juan Wayne
Used to be Mexico
Used to be Navajo
Used to be yippy-ay-I-don’t know

Note that “Navajo” is pronounced “Nava-joe” in accordance with Black’s bastardization of Spanglish pronunciations. In Spanish, the “j” would be pronounced as an “h” (as in “Jesus”)(also, as in the way that the Navajo pronounce it). Black inverts it completely by giving it the hard “j” (probably not an actual thing, this “hard j” — at least not according to prominent Englishologists), doubling the language tweakery by blowing right past the border English “h” and grabbing onto the imported Americans’ (German, Dutch, etc.) practice of pronouncing letters of “foreign” words in completely the wrong way. No doubt about it: English (especially the American version) is a tough language to glom onto, what with it’s shifting “rules” and incessant borrowing from other cultures.

So, as an immigrant, when you’re tangling with a brand new language and its odd habits of using consonants as vowels and taking sudden hard left turns at certain consonant groups and then ignoring them completely later in the sentence, it certainly doesn’t help that the word “jalapeno” or “Navajo” are part of the vernacular. Which rules do you follow? And why do adopted words seem subject to local accents? As if the whole thing wasn’t ridiculous enough (citizenship tests, et al.), you’ve now got the opportunity to further display your “not-from-around-here-ness” by completely fucking up the pronunciation of a word that shouldn’t even be let across the border without a phonetic spelling. You can’t win.

Black being a denizen of L.A. (and the citizens’ band [BUT LATER ON]), he knows his way around the mishmash (and frequently, mismatch) of blended cultures. He references pachinko parlors and karaoke while namechecking the La Brea tar pits, all the while blending things further with his polyglot chorus.

I can identify.

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, a literal stone’s throw away from Mexico, I knew all about Mexicans. (Of course, no one really uses the term “Mexican” any more. Mexicans = people from Mexico. 20+ years ago, “Hispanic” wasn’t really used much in regular conversation. Mexicans were Mexicans and Hispanics were Mexicans with political aspirations.) The culture that is a border town is (dichotomously) diversity defined, while still noticeably marked by pockets of exclusivity . It all depends on which side of town you’re on. Heading to where the money is, border towns look like inland empires (obligatory Lynch reference, yo). It’s all new money wealth and in-ground swimming pools and white teens with riced-up sports cars and bomb-ass ghetto-fab SUVs.

Head to another side of town and you’re going to need a guidebook and an Spanish-English dictionary. Of course, each side of town is equally authentic and there are a few areas where you see some dithering (a digital term! for no apparent reason!), but generally speaking, border towns are not so much “Oh, Melting Pot!” as they are a somewhat uneasy coexistence of homogeneous cultures.

But authenticity is key. You can’t get real Mexican food without real Mexicans. Ask anyone who’s lived near the border. Trying to find good Mexican food is a fool’s errand in many parts of the country. This fact was plainly expressed in a very short-lived radio ad that ran while I was living in El Paso. It proudly announced that a restaurant had “Mexican food made by real Mexicans.” There’s an underlying offensiveness to that phrase. (See also: the second part of the restaurant holdup scene in Pulp Fiction, specifically Tim Roth’s shouted instruction — “Mexicans! Out of the fucking kitchen!” Even impulsive Brit stickup men knew who was working the back of the house.)

The insinuation is that the Mexicans will never get out of the kitchen, thanks to continued racism and random oppression from the Man and while you may actually prefer to have your authentic Mexican food to be prepared by authentic Mexicans (i.e., the ones most qualified to make native food), you really don’t get to go around saying so in so many words. Hence, the ad vanished, but for my brother and I, it lives on. Forever.

If you could ignore everything else about undocumented workers, etc., it’s actually the perfect tagline. If you heard an ad touting German food made by real Germans, you’d think “Fuck yeah! Bier und Sauerkrauten FTW!” and never once be troubled by the image of fiercely nationalistic young blonds slaving over a hot, authentic Stoverevekkenkerffumuschitteren. But if you use that phrase in relation to any of the so-called “marginalized” races (for the most part, “not white” [although "White-Hispanic" hits all the buttons at once]), you get in trouble. All hail White Guilt.

But enough about le culture, and more about Frank. The track sports some steely guitar and a windblown feel that makes it the perfect summer track. Of course, this track would be equally welcome in winter, especially since the heat of lyrical imagery would be a welcome blast of hot, dusty air during those colder days. You can almost smell the melting asphalt and see the shimmering, “pool ofwater” mirage spreading across the sixteen-lane horizon.

5. The Vanishing Spies


Another song that touches on the ineffable sadness of life not being nearly as magical as it once was. As you go further in life, the number of “unexplained” occurrences drops, replaced with facts and footnotes and the scars left by Occam’s Razor.

More specifically, this is Frank’s lament (as spoken by Fox Mulder’s office backdrop): I WANT TO BELIEVE.

Give me a blip, oh
And I’ll totally flip, oh yeah, yeah
Say it’s nothing but sky
And I’ll be a lonely guy

As to who the titular “Vanishing Spies” are, Black remains coy (or rather, “noncommittal”), but you can’t argue with the wistful quality of the music. Implicitly (through the power of editorial overreach), I’d say the vanished spies are the no-longer-all-that-common alien visitations. When all the mysteries are gone, all that’s left is life that plays out like a shitty street magician, telegraphing all its misdirection and plainly showing its cards. No one wants that. Not you. Not your kids on their 10th birthday. All he wants is for someone to say it’s “possible.” It doesn’t even need to be “probable.” Is that too much to ask?

6. Speedy Marie


An unabashed love song, filled with ecstatic imagery. Black goes nearly Shakespearean with Speedy Marie, his ode to his (at the time) wife. Early on, he mentions that he “sings this romaunt.” And he does exactly that.

In the sixth track, Mr. Black’s sings “I sing this romaunt”. A romaunt is a romantic poem. And, sure enough, the song ends with a quite lovely, romantic poem directed to a woman. This last section is written and sung in the classic 14-line sonnet style, with a rhyme pattern of A-B-A-B, C-D-C-D, E-F-E-F, G-G. The lines are actually an acrostic; the first letter of each line spells out “JEAN MARIE WALSH,” presumably the Speedy Marie of the title.

To wit:

Juxtaposed in each moment’s sight
Everything that I ever saw
And my one delight
Nothing can strike me in such awe

Mouth intricate shapes the voice that speaks
Always it will soothe
Rarer none are the precious cheeks
Is the size of each sculpted tooth
Each lip and each eye

Wise is the tongue, wet of perfect thought
And softest neck where always do I
Lay my clumsy thoughts
She is that most lovely art
Happy are my mind and my soul and my heart

Now that Frank Black has made everything any guy has ever done for his girlfriend/wife/s.o. look like so much underwhelming and non-poetic drivel, I guess we (the guys) have nothing else left to do but punch ourselves in the brain for being cursed with above-average brains (at best) and see if we can somehow shoehorn one of these intricate couplets (my favorite is: “And softest neck where always do I/lay my clumsy thoughts“) into an anniversary card or singing telegram (public domain only I’m afraid — to keep costs down).

Or maybe we can just point out that Mr. Black and Ms. Walsh are now separated, as if that were evidence enough that the amazing amount of effort needed to produce this sort of loveliness is obviously a complete waste of time. Or something.

Also of note: not the first time Mr. Black has gone acrostic. There’s also Ana, which spells out a very simple message… (See the top comment.)

Until next time…

-CLT

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CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (Part 1)

July 27, 2011

Frank Black’s second solo album appeared without much ado in the summer of ’94. There may have been more “ado” elsewhere (perhaps Boston or L.A.), but for someone in South Dakota who visited the local records in a somewhat religious fashion (when money was available — so, not frequently, but more “periodically”, like a backslidden Catholic [which FB very much could be, if the lyrics of Weird at My School are to be believed]{but he actually isn’t, which is fine}), it was bit of a surprise. All of a sudden, there it was on the “New Release” rack: Frank Black, in all his weird glory, looking like a prom date that was the result of a lost bet.

More background: I discovered the Pixies in 1992, shortly after their dying gasps. These dying gasps of one of the most important bands ever were apparently delivered by Frank Black (known at that time as Black Francis) via an instrument that was very much of its time and place: the fax machine. “Dear Band – We are no longer,” or words to that effect were faxed to Kim Deal (bassist) and David Lovering (drummer). Joey Santiago (guitar), however, received a phone call, and in fact, was invited to play guitar on Black’s first solo album, Frank Black.

As is often the case when you discover genius only to have it torn away by forces beyond your control (see also: Skinny Puppy, Love & Rockets, My Bloody Valentine — all of whom ceased operation between 89-91, right about the time I was getting into them [although they've all come back since then]), it leaves behind a feeling not totally unlike the ungainly metaphor of a bandaid being ripped off a fresh wound. Frank Black’s first solo album failed to resonate immediately, but steadily grew on me for the next decade. However, Teenager of the Year arrived a couple of years further down the road when the old wounds were pretty much closed, sealed by fate, etc. and some of the more exposed edges had been rounded off by the quiet resignation that sometimes comes with living life.

The Pixies were indeed a once in a lifetime experience and I had missed out, but… well, there’s nothing you can really do. So you move on and distance yourself a little more from bands that seem to be implosive, and then find all of your overwrought “feelings” about said bands mocked openly by their eventual reunions and endless touring. (See also: all the bands I listed. Except Love & Rockets, who made a few more albums before re-vanishing again, but not before I got to see them as 3/4 of the reformed Bauhaus, which was pretty fucking kickass.)

This sounds more dramatic than it actually is, but the fact remains: Teenager of the Year will always hold a place in my heart that Frank Black (the album) never can and I’m pretty sure that’s because of two year’s worth of perspective. Obviously, I wanted Frank Black to sound like the Pixies. He doesn’t, especially on Frank Black. There are hints and motifs but these are very much Frank Black’s albums.

Put both of these albums together though, and you see some patterns emerge. Lots of sci-fi references and UFO fascinations trotted out. Pop culture meets skate culture meets L.A. melting pot meets mystic shit borrowed from Native American culture and fringe cults. It’s all in there and it’s all a continuation of Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde, the last two Pixies albums and the two that most fans agree are the weakest. And they are, if we’re being honest, although it took me a few years to figure that out. They’re by no means “bad” albums (in fact, stacked up against 95% of all other bands’ output, they’re actually excellent albums, but when you set the bar as high as their first 2-1/2 albums did…), but they are definitely more Frank’s albums than they are Pixies’ albums.


This is probably why Frank Black (again, the album) felt like a continuation of Black’s solo album aspirations from Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde, only extended to an actual solo album. I wanted the Pixies to go backwards and reclaim their glory. Frank just wanted out. Kim just wanted a million cigarettes and a semi full of booze.

The towel was thrown in well before the faxing, though. I still have in my possession a 1992 bootleg of a live set the Pixies did opening for U2 in Florida. Pretty lifeless as live sets go, with the band sounding more “perfunctory” than anything else. Still, it was the first time I’d heard Manta Ray, which is one their best b-sides.

It was a combination of various things that turned this into the perfect summer album, my head space being one of them. At some point, you lose your teen angstiness and are then able to appreciate lighter efforts like these, rather than feeling that if it’s not a doom-laden epic (like, say, the Cure’s Disintegration), then it isn’t a serious artistic statement. There’s plenty of hummable tunes hidden throughout Black’s album, as well as some weightier pieces, but nothing that drags you and your soul down to the darker side of town to make a deal with the devil or, at the very least, play a bit of craps in a metaphoric back alley.

It’s a sprawl of an album at 22 tracks, but most of them breeze by quickly enough that it never feels like an effort, even if you listen to it from front to back. There’s some surfer vamping, some steel guitar, a lot of angular guitar (even some regular guitar!) and plenty of quotable lyrics. The incredible thing is that out of 22 tracks, there’s only a handful of clunkers, most of which are purely subjective clunkers. There’s really not a bad track on the album.

I’m going to run through Teenager of the Year from front to back, pointing out anything I liked or thought was interesting or anything angular and spiky enough that I can hang a digression from it. I won’t be posting the whole album, but I will be posting (and addressing) most of it. Those that don’t make the cut will still be toyed with briefly before being dismissed. Hopefully, you’ll find this to be half as entertaining as I imagine it to be.

CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year

Teenager opens with a pair of blistering, get-you-in-get-you-out, punk-as-post-punk-deconstruction-reconstructed, catchy-as-all-hell two minute romps. Here they are in their sequentially numbered glory:

1. Whatever Happened to Pong?.mp3


The opening track begins with a head fake: guitar that feints in the direction of anthemic mid-tempo rock before sprinting in a new, punkish direction. The title gives it away. An ode to Pong, which much like anything else that appears overly-simplistic, is also an ode to wasted youth (not the drunk kind of wasted, although I would imagine Frank was no stranger to the booze — after all, he went to college).

My brother and I used to play it down at the bars
Taking money from guys more used to the playing of cards

Most of the lyrics mimic the ball action (a sentence opening which will seem progressively dirtier with each readthru), paddle, left, paddle, right, with the riffs shifting gears here and there to allow another verse before the chorus heads back into the left-right action.

Now virtually everyone’s singing a popular song
But I still believe in the excellent joy of the pong

Bash radio. Get nostalgia. And it’s purposeful nostalgia. Time travel namecheck upcoming.

Now if they take it H.G. Wells
I’ll be on the first flight
To a time before the Kong
Oh, whatever happened to Pong?

Progress. It’s a killer. Everything seems better when you look at from a distance. Frank Black, proto-gamer longs for sub-8-bit graphics and sub-midi-file bloops.

All in all, a good opener. Catchy with a bit of fluff but still spiky enough to snag outre ears. Oh, and check the video, which was made with the combined power of stock video and couch change:

2. Thalassocracy.mp3


In case you needed to be reminded, Frank Black has a (partial) college education. Grossly simplified, thalassocracy means “ruling the sea.” The sea is another of Black’s fascinations. He refers to watery kingdoms and accompanying mythology a few times in his preceding work. On the Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle, he touches briefly on one “ruler of the sea” in the song, Mr. Grieves:

What’s that floating on the water?
Old Neptune’s only daughter

(To make the syllables work properly, you have to pronounce Neptune as “Nep-tune-ah” like Black does here. He’s halfway to the Fall with that one word, echoing Mark E. Smith’s appended “-ahs”.)

On Trompe Le Monde (above), he’s got an entire song about the underwater world, Palace of the Brine, which, believe it or not, refers to the Great Salt Lake in Utah:

In a place they say is dead
In a lake that’s like an ocean
I count about a billion head
Every time there’s a motion

Later he gives it away, through the restorative power of screaming:

Beneath reflections in the fountain
The starry sky and Utah mountains

This, however, is some sort of vindictive fight song, for lack of a better term. It roars out of the gates and never slows down, with Black spewing intricately layered invective in the general direction of his nemesis. It paints an ugly-as-sin word picture using $64 words and heady references:

Wait
It isn’t so great since you learned karate chop
You’re walking machs and I’m just swimming in the slop
You waved your wand at me and made me dance flip flop flip
I want to sing for you and make your head go pop

But, like anything else Black writes, a picture will emerge. It seems to be a trick of evolution the protagonist is railing against. Someone has made it onto land (karate chop/walking machs) while he’s still stuck in the sea (swimming in the slop). There’s even more to it: “waving your wand” – fishing rod, “dance flip flop” – caught on the line, “sing for you and make your head go pop” – sirens?

The chorus refers to both the Inuit Indians and Caeser, which seems to be an contrasting of living in harmony with nature as opposed to the Romans’ relentless march towards domination through conquest/technology. This is confirmed in the second verse:

Hey
You’re spraying in the windy and I’m just pissing off
I’m literally deaf down here from your canned philosoph
Soft, soft, soft, soft, softly can you hear me through the sucking of your quaff
I’m thalassocracy and you’re just Romanov

In other words, I am the sea and will be forever. You may have evolved but I’ll outlast you and your “kingdom.” (Incidentally, the Romanovs were the last ruling Russian family before the February Revolution ended their reign, leaving the country in [eventually] Lenin’s hands.)

All in all, extremely deep stuff for a 97-second punk-pop tune. This one-two punch of bare-faced nostalgia and multi-layered mythological narrative speeds by in less than 3-1/2 minutes, laying the groundwork for the rest of the album. It’s an intro that lets you know exactly what you’ll be dealing with (oddball shit + brain exercises), even if the tempo rarely reaches this pace again.

That’s it for this section. This retrospective will continue (hopefully) over the next few weeks. If nothing else, the cumbersome introduction is out of the way, leaving us with plenty of music to enjoy between wordy bits from yours truly.

-CLT

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CLT Recommends Vol. 1: The Thing

June 16, 2011

Way, way, way back in the day (May 26, 2010 to be exact), I kicked off a self-congratulatory snarkfest entitled “The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films.” Having typed that mouthful would have seemed to have been enough, but I was challenged (on my home turf!) by FJ/RXJ to tell you about some of the movies I actually like. (This may also become a catch-all for music, games, pop culture detritus, entities, books, magazines, short-form videos, img macros, that thing I saw on Facebook, etc. Anything that I can recommend with maximum wordiness will be typed the hell up and shot into the ‘tubes. You’ve been warned…)

It’s an interesting idea. As another occasional writer (but now more occasionally a photographer), RXJ is well aware of the fact that it’s much easier to tear something down than it is to build something up. Negative reviews flow like tainted water. Good reviews tend to build mountains out of molehills made entirely of used-up superlatives. So… goddammit. Here we go.

As we head into this spectacular failure entitled “The Capitalist Lion Tamer Guide to Things Wot I Like Vol. 1” (or whatever), keep in mind whose fault this is. And then go to his blog, ooh and ah over his spectacular pictures and then comment on them… I suppose. But be sure and give him “the look” while you’re there, just in case this goes down as badly as I’m already promising it will.

(Note: If you were expecting me to kick this off with some high class entertainment like a Bertolucci flick, well, quite obviously, I am not. If you’re thinking I’ll be getting to that sort of thing later, prepare to be disappointed! I’m [apparently] not That Guy.

Not that I’m claiming some sort of Pabst Blue Ribbon-esque street cred by pounding out overly-long tributes to pulp cinema, but rather that I find I like the things I like for no real reason, which will be explained via a longish list of reasons and very frequent digressions. Volume 1 will be no exception [mostly due to it being Volume 1, a.k.a. "The Standard Bearer".])

(Note II: This thing about The Thing is exceedingly long. [4,400+ words.] Wear something comfortable.]

THE THING

John Carpenter’s 1982 film is very loosely based on 1951′s The Thing from Another World, starring James Arness (most famously, Man with Hat on the long-running Gunsmoke) as some sort of sentient space carrot.  The original has its fans, most of whom are presumably dead or running out their remaining years in managed care. Some may even claim the original is superior, but if that were truly true, I wouldn’t be writing this then, would I? There’s only one correct opinion as far as I’m concerned, and as long as I’m doing all the typing, that would be mine.

Quick summary: a crew of scientists uncover a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people (among other things) it’s taken over. Shot way the hell up north in British Columbia (see below for how far the hell up north) and on 40-degree sound-stages in Los Angeles. Looks, feels and sounds fucking cold. Appropriately disgusting with groundbreaking special effects. Appropriately violent and turbocharged with atmosphere. The atmosphere is kill. Oppressive paranoia hangs all over the place. Kurt Russell sports some impressive facial hair. Dogs are involved. Way too involved.

It’s a lot like 1979′s Alien, being that it also crafts an incredibly dark story using a small, tightly knit cast, none of whom look like movie star cliches, but rather like people that wandered into the auditions while trying to find directions to the nearest truck stop or liquor store (and still nailed it!).

Way the hell up there.

UNINTENTIONAL DIGRESSION

(This means I’ll probably have to run through Alien as well. Good stuff, with some surprising ultraviolence and killer special effects. Plus, H.R. Giger got to bring his weird-ass, phallus-obsessed art to the mainstream, resulting in a spectacularly evil-looking alien with a psychosexually charged penis-dentata-meets-acid-blood structure.

I’m sure I’m reading way too much into it, but there’s a definite weirded-out-by-pregnancy subtext present, what with the facehugger’s ability to lay eggs… in your fucking mouth. Eggs that mature and hatch. And then burst right the fuck out of your chest with a maximum amount of pain and blood and a minimum of forewarning or painful contractions. It’s familiar ground, one trodden on by David Cronenberg (The Fly) and David Lynch (Eraserhead). Something about the undeniable alien-ness of a being growing inside someone’s body, completely hidden. Probably the most common form of “body horror.” The exit of said being in The Thing is rather messy as well.)

Back to The Thing

Nothing is more authentic than a beardsicle.

KEY #1: AUTHENTICITY

Not many people could do what Carpenter did with this one, including refrigerate the hell out of his cast for an authentically cold feel.

Nothing feels as cold as The Thing does. The key is the breath. That’s real condensation there. Seeing your breath is real. They do it now with digital effects and you can tell. It looks no more real than the synchronized, equally-sized breaths of Madden football players in a snow game. (Little known fact: down lineman breathe in sync.) You can see the fakeness and feel the warmth of a 72-degree actor pretending to be cold and completely failing as an almost-but-not-quite puff of white “breath” appears somewhere near their face. More actors need to be pushed to discomfort. As Neil Simon (or possibly Spencer Tracy) once said: “The physical labor actors have to do wouldn’t tax an embryo.”

They don’t fake it in The Thing. That’s Key #1. (Which should probably have been labeled “KEY #1″ up above this for clarity. No matter. We’ll fix it in post. [Another film term. It means "this continuity error will be mocked mercilessly and enshrined forever at IMDB."])(Oh, but look: I fixed it anyway. Good for me and my foresighted hindsight.)

KEY #2: PARANOIA

Another reason this film works so well is the steady ramping up of fear, distrust and paranoia. Everyone’s possibly infected. This element is deployed mercilessly. Everyone is always yelling at everyone else and threatening each other with severe violencings. Guns are waved around a lot. So is a flame thrower. Some knives get waved about threateningly. This description would seem to make The Thing just another guys-pointing-guns-at-each-other-and-getting-shouty flick*, but it never devolves into anything that played out.

In fact, it heads completely down a separate path with the “blood test” scene, in which half the principals are tied up and the other half are pointing guns and flamethrowers at each other, even though nobody really knows who’s “infected” and who’s “clean.” If you haven’t watched the flick yet, the scene is reminiscent of getting an STD screening, only the doctors are ready to kill you if you ring up a positive and the rest of the patients are either tied up or waving around a (probably unlicensed) handgun and will also kill you if you show the slightest sign of toilet seat herpes. Plus, it’s really cold outside and your chances of living out the rest of your life as a happy and productive horseback rider are swiftly heading past “slim” towards “none” faster than the atmosphere inside the paranoid clinic or the harsh British Columbian wintry mix (not including wind chill) outside.  So: tense.

*Also known as “Fuck You! No, Fuck You!” flicks.

There's a journalism joke in here somewhere.

Key #3: KURT RUSSELL

I’m not one of Russell’s acolytes* but he does completely own this role. He is exactly the sort of guy who would ask for a transfer to the Antarctic simply because above-zero temperatures no longer interest him. The extensive bearding helps, at times taking over a scene entirely. He’s a low-level badass because the situation only calls for low levels of badassery. In manufacturing terms, he’d be more concerned with throughput than process. Point A to B. What’s the most direct route? Even (or especially) if the direct route has resistance.

In fact, it’s probably better if there is resistance. (No, I think you will use that centrifuge!) Just a no-bullshit, get-things-done attitude that grates on the other team members, but they realize the value he adds and so they don’t say much about it, especially if he’s been drinking. I would imagine this sort of kicking-ass-taking-names probably plays hell with the scientific method. (Screw your control groups and peer review bullshit! We don’t have the time!)

*EXTENDED FAUX-FOOTNOTE DIGRESSION

I have dealt with Russell’s acolytes, most of whom champion Big Trouble in Little China as the zenith of filmmaking. I’ve watched parts of it, but I’m not seeing it. This isn’t meant to disparage Russell’s faithful, a few of whom are good friends and whose taste is generally spot on otherwise. Maybe I’m missing something. Feel free to champion BTiLC in the comment threads. I’m always open to another viewpoint. (“Open” and “willing to ignore.” It’s as dichotomous as it is deeply hypocritical. I would apologize for this, but surely you’ve dealt with bloggers before. )

And not “appreciating” BtiLC is by no means a knock against Russell. I enjoyed his work in Tombstone even though he was far from the best thing in it. There were a few scenes of his that would have been better off being replaced with tasteful insert shots of Sam Elliott’s glorious “I-have-no-mouth-and-I-must-drawl” mustache. (Namely: any time he and his wife “interact.” And I don’t mean “having sex” like I normally do when I say “interact.” I mean anytime they converse or make eye contact or say “laudanum.”)

I can guarantee you that no one has made fun of that mustache and lived to tell about it.

[This would also include any scene featuring Bill Paxton front-and-center. Paxton spends nearly the entire running time looking like he's five minutes away from getting his ass kicked. It's the pained expression of a schoolkid willing the clock backwards, knowing that as soon as the bell rings, he's going to get slaughtered by the bully on the playground.]

Paxton's fav emoticon is /:{ It means "Please stop yelling."

I also enjoyed Russell in Death Proof, where he was easily the best thing about it (other than the soundtrack and the decapitation-via-tire car wreck). Any time he was onscreen meant less time given over to girls talking like Quentin Tarantino imagines girls would talk if they were trying to sound like guys. (Especially guys who are former video store clerks.) Also a bonus: no gratuitous shots of Russell’s naked feet.

He was also pretty excellent in Used Cars, another movie I could have sworn Harry Dean Stanton** appeared in.

** Usually the best part of anything, especially when used sparingly, as in Twin Peaks:Fire Walk with Me, in which he refers to a dead woman’s trailer as being “more popular than uncle’s day at a whorehouse.” He delivers this line to a perfectly coiffed Chris Isaak (yes, that one) in the rattiest bathrobe ever attributed to Hollywood costume department.

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