Archive for June, 2010

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The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Vol. 3

June 12, 2010

After taking the first 10 films in a couple of easy-to-digest sets of five, we’ve decided to shove ten (10!) films down your throat this time around in the interest of giving your mousewheel some much needed exercise. Brace yourself for the undiluted loquaciousness that is Volume 3 of this still-viable series.

Previous versions:
Volume 1
Volume 2

Unfortunately for Stewart, Donna Reed succumbed to motion sickness almost immediately. And had just eaten.

11. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Capra’s slick inversion of the Scrooge mythology, in which the protagonist (a do-gooding son of a bitch teetering on the verge of suicide) is visited by the ghost of network TV, which attempts to saves its own ass by dragging family members away from each other and back to their rightful place at the receiving end of the “talking picture box.”

Using Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey as a thin metaphor for television’s unblinking one-way eye, the ghost/angel self-servingly points out how un-wonderful life would be without itself, a brutal vision that includes anarchic riots, the collapse of the world’s economy and families interacting with each other around the dinner table.

While arriving decades too early to depict the internet and the damage done, it is, at the very least, prescient enough to slam various board games and Jumbles.

This summer, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

12. Sunset Boulevard (1950) Bad Boys II (2003)

[Ed. note: Given that Sunset Boulevard is only famous for its last line, we have replaced it with an equally powerful film.]

Michael Bay parlays his advertising career into a lucrative money-printing machine with the delivery of Bad Boys and its attendant sequel, Bad Boys II. His embrace of style-over-substance and cliche-over-originality can be viewed as “circuitously ironic” by even the most jaded moviegoer.

Combining the comforting familiarity of buddy-cop conventions with the popularity of blowing shit up (in slow motion), Bay concocts a film that defines “lightweight” and “disposable.” It also gives the two leads (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith) a chance to show us what they do best: play Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Hailed as “brilliantly forgettable” and “only in theatres.”

Being a bridge, it was somewhat unprepared for being "shot right in the fucking face."

13. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Light years ahead of its time with its use of “artistic whistling,” The Bridge on the River Kwai tells the true story of American POWs who are put to work constructing an “Overground Railroad” bridge at the behest of the Japanese captors.

Faced with budget issues, lack of motivation and some truly hellish morning stretches/corporate team-building exercises, the POWs surprise their captors with their rather bridled enthusiasm and good old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Will these purpose-driven troops construct this monument of Japanese excess before the war ends/bridge gets blowed the hell up? Only Steve McQueen and his trusty companion, Motorcycle, know for sure. Exceedingly long.

One nipple per ear, just like in the contract...

14. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Some Like It Hot paved the way for the cross-dressing comedic hijinks of Bosom Buddies, the Kids in the Hall and The Crying Game. Following the story of two guys who don women’s apparel to get into Marilyn Monroe’s pants (assuming she too wasn’t wearing a skirt), this controversial comedy was a showcase for the comedic stylings of the two leads, as well as being the perfect display case for Marilyn Monroe, who positively shines with her ability to act coy, surprised and coyly surprised. Filmed in United Artists’ groundbreaking “TechniGray.”

Being a large space helmet, it was somewhat unprepared to be "shot in the fucking eye," not to mention begin surrounded by various robots and upper torsos.

15. Star Wars (1977) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

[Ed. note: Come on. The 2nd movie is twice what the first one is. It’s just simple math.]

Easily the best of Lucas’ Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back is a fluid meshing of fast-paced action and dark drama, no doubt a result of Lucas ceding the film’s writing and directorial duties to actual writers/directors.

Features Mark Hamill (in his only role ever) as Luke Skywalker, a former carpenter named Harrison Ford (born Jesus Harrison Christ) as the anti-hero, Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher as Hamill’s love interest and sister, Princess Leia.

Skywalker loses a hand to his dad and his sister to an unrelated male. The only black man in space sells out to “the Man,” who also happens to be black, but just on the outside and two robots enjoy the fruits of a common-law marriage.

Much, much better than the belated prequels in which Lucas attempts to skew younger by casting a mannequin to play a young Darth Vader and brings in an anthropomorphic Jamaican.

Another lovely shot of Bette Davis capturing her wearing her iconic "I just woke up on the wrong side of humanity" look.

16. All About Eve (1950)
An icy tale about fan obssession and manipulation, All About Eve tells the sordid tale of a fading Broadway star and the fan club president who steals her role and, eventually, her life. As is the case with these “victimless” crimes, no charges are pressed and everyone agrees to bitchily disagree and occasionally “wrestle it out” in a tubful of Jello.

Famous for the lack of chemistry between the two leads, whose Method-acting approach allowed them to take this film over the top and into the annals of filmery. Jello-wrestling notwithstanding, this film is highly recommended to fans of abhorrent human beings and general cattiness. One of nearly 75 films on this list shot in black and white, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Humphrey Bogart stars in "The Emmett Kelly Jr. Story."

17. The African Queen (1951)
Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn cavort in the African Outback, bantering bitchily and drinking each other under the makeshift table. Pitched as Madagascar meets The Odd (Heterosexual) Couple, The African Queen is prized for its sweeping vistas and plotless storyline. Every bit as good as its 17th place finish would indicate. Keep your eyes open for some bold full-color shots.

Nothing but ninety minutes of half-naked men and women staring meaningfully at each other.

18. Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock shocked audiences and his fellow filmmakers by killing off the only likeable character less than halfway through the movie. The remaning running time combines amateur psychology with taxidermy to weave a harrowing tale of a cross-dressing mama’s boy and the private detective who aims to take him down.

Followed by sequentially-numbered sequels and a shot-for-shot remake which greatly expands the color palette.

Nicholson thoughtfully covered up Dunaway's receding hairline with his chainsmoking habit.

19. Chinatown (1974)
A hardboiled detective story that recalls the great film noirs of the past, all of whom it apparently outranks. The film follows the footsteps of Jake Gittes (who apparently can’t walk ten feet without being physically assaulted) as he investigates an adultery case that somehow manages to involve water rights, corruption, incest and takeout menus. Jack Nicholson turns in an amazingly gritty performance, one he wouldn’t top for nearly three decades (2003’s Anger Management).

Nicholson spots a name he recognizes; appears pleased.

20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Jack Nicholson follows up his gritty performance in Chinatown with his completely unhinged portrayal of an aging actor with easy access to booze and cocaine. Set in a psychiatric hospital, this Oscar-winning film exposes the abuses of the system by the staff and details the complete breakdown of the human psyche.

A triumph in movie myth-making, featuring an unreliable window-breaking narrator and an unreliable coke-snorting actor.

-CLT

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The History of Media: Visual Arts Edition Vol. 3

June 8, 2010
[After what seems like forever, but has only actually been a month, The History of Media is back with the conclusion of yet another cliffhanger (the dreaded ellipsis) and will most likely end in yet another ellipsis. If you’re just joining us, be sure and check out Volumes One and Two, which had blazed a bloody, but dignified, trail up to this point.]

The VCR's patented "dust collection" technology allowed it to look outdated several years before its time.

Post-Ellipsis
The movie industry, flush with success, strutted away from the battle that never was, having fended off its new drinking buddy, television. Up to its collective ears in record-breaking movie receipts, the film industry (yet again) kicked back on its gold-plated laurels and lazily watched the money roll in.

The cinema was enjoying a new Golden Age, ushered in by the advent of the multiplex, the still-viable drive-in industry and some of the finest movie making ever, in the form of Airport, Airport ’75, Airport ’77 and Airport ’79: New Moon.

But as was foretold by the harrowing ellipsis at the end of the last volume, a new enemy would rise (mostly from the East). This new invention would kill the film industry harder that it had ever been killed before.

The first commercial VCR came bundled with six technicians, each assigned a button.

The VCR
Japanese electronics company JVC kicked Old Man Movie right in the throat with their VHS (Video Home System) player that promised a new era of TV and movie-dependent independence. Now people could watch television and movies in the comfort of their own home, on their own schedules.

No more standing in line at the box office or endless waiting for their favorite programs to hit syndication. The public was now in command of its mostly pre-recorded destiny, leading to skyrocketing VCR sales and not much change at all in box office receipts.

Quite obviously, home taping was once again killing an industry.

An apoplectic Jack Valenti (representing the MPAA) stormed a listless Congress, demanding that they get off their overstuffed asses and do something, goddammit. During his Oscar-worthy performance, Valenti compared the theoretical damage done by home taping to a combination of the Holocaust, My Lai Massacre and that time when he got beat up in grade school.

The television industry fought back as well, claiming that the public had no right to watch their favorite shows and movies, whenever and wherever the hell they wanted to. “What of our precious and highly annoying advertising?” they whined. “They’ll be able to skip past it, thus rendering our efforts useless. Not to mention blockbuster lineups like ‘Must See Thursday,’ which will now become ‘Can See Whenever the Hell We Want.'”

"While you were out, the VCR secretly replaced your memories with tangled masses of worthless magnetic tape."

The Positive Negatives of the VCR Invasion
However the film and TV industries greatly overestimated the public’s willingness and ability to program their VCRs, meaning that most viewing was still prerecorded movies or “live” TV. In fact, the general inscrutability of the VCR usually meant that it was regarded as a minor household diety whose mood swings and impenetrable manual were tolerated in exchange for nearly “on-demand” viewing.

Much like any diety, the VCR would periodically demand a sacrifice, devouring random tapes like “Child’s First Birthday” (priceless) or a New Release rental from Blockbuster (considerably more expensive).

Not only that but the VCR’s entropic delivery system caused videotapes to degrade steadily in a short period of time, soon reducing the act of watching an “old favorite” to a tedious bout of dicking around with tracking in a futile attempt to make the movie look like something other than scrambled Cinemax porn featuring dialogue recorded underwater.

Steve got directions to the adult bookstore, only to find he was already there...

“Boon:” Not Really a Dirty Word
Not every industry felt threatened, however. The new videotape proved to be a boon for the porn industry which was thrilled to have another delivery system. Porn theater staffers were thrilled to see their semen cleanup time drop by over 50%. Porn aficionados were thrilled to be able to “privatize” their perversions, without fear of being accosted by women’s right groups, soft news journalists or the Sarasota, FL Sheriff’s Department.

In other news, the trench coat manufacturers fought this turn of events with “Home Masturbation is Killing the Coat Industry” pickets. This movement never coalesced, mainly due to the fact that few people were willing to wear t-shirts or hoist signs with the word “masturbation” prominently featured.

Horrors! Who will gouge me for ancient "New Releases" and late fees now?

As the years went on and prices dropped, the movie industry began to embrace this “threat” as a powerful ally in its constant struggle to make even more money. They were delighted to discover that the public was more than willing to purchase something they had most likely already paid to watch in a theater. They were made positively giddy with the realization that the public would buy the same movie twice, provided one version was slapped with a “Special Edition” label and contained a cursory 5-minute “Making Of” featurette cobbled together from second unit footage and “found sound” recordings.

Movie rental businesses were thrilled as well, what with suddenly having a reason to exist and the opportunity to charge $3.99/night for a tapes that had been on the New Release wall for nearly half a decade.

Coming up next:
A veritable rogue’s gallery of industry killers, each more diabolical than the last.

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Heavy Rotation 47: It’s All Coming Together Now Edition

June 6, 2010

Another week, another selection of varied tunes for your perusal. Except this week. Well, there are tunes, but they’re all up in each other’s bidness, as you’ll have bludgeoned into your head with this extremely wordy issue of Heavy Rotation. Many thanks in advance for those who wade right in.

If you’ve still got time to spare, take a look at these:

http://thisstuffisfree.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/free-magic-tricks/

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/05/sneaky-hate-spiral.html

http://hiddenleaves.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/shit-laertes-says/

Earlier, more varied and economical editions available here:
The Heavy Rotation Archives

….

Bauhaus – Rose Garden Funeral of Sores (Live).mp3
Pixies – Hey.mp3

First up: Goth pioneers Bauhaus drop their art-damaged punk all over John Cale’s dark musings on Jesus’ Marys: the virgin mother and the attentive prostitute. From the street hassle of being a virgin mother:

Virgin Mary was tired
So tired
Tired of listening to gossip
Gossip and complaints
They came from next door

to the epicenter of the pointless, projecting gossip:

And a bewildered stream of chatter
From all sorts of
All sorts of
Untidy whores
Came from next door

The song tracks the petty travails of being a legend in your own time, a position made less envious by being linked inextricably by the savior of the world, a man of impossible standards and unconditional love.

Peter Murphy struts, vamps and screams, playing off the lyrical surges while his bandmates chime in with hoarse, whorish shouts, channeling the tormented/tormenting taunts of “screaming whores” with guttural barks of “UH!”.

But their choice don’t seem to matter
They got swollen breasts and lips that putter
And their choice of matter and their scream of chatter
Is just a little parasitic scream of whores
Screaming whores
In the rosegarden funeral of sores

And now the Pixies…

From the most Biblically obsessed of their albums (1989’s Doolittle) comes this perverted love/lust song, filled with contaminated yearning and cursed fatalism. Riding a bassline they wouldn’t top until later that album (I Bleed), Black Francis unleashes his naked desire only to find it anchored to the dead weight of a self-destructive relationship:

Hey!
Been trying to meet you
Mmm…
Hey!
Must be a devil between us
Or whores in my head
Whores at the door
Whore in my bed

But hey!
Where
Have you
Been?

If you go, I will surely die.

We’re chained…
We’re chained…
We’re chained…
Chained…

As the track heats up, Black Francis obliquely quotes “Rose Garden’s” screaming whores:

‘UH!’,
Said the man to the lady
Mmm…

‘UH!’,
Said the lady to the man she adored
And the whores like a choir go ‘UH!’ all night
And Mary, ain’t you tired of this?
‘UH!’
Is
The
Sound
That the mother makes when the baby breaks!

[I’ve been listening to these two tracks for the better part of 15 years and never saw the connection until just last week. Go figure.]

Bauhaus – Rose Garden Funeral of Sores (Live)

Pixies – Hey

Pixies – Hang Onto Your Ego.mp3
Public Image Limited – Public Image.mp3

The Pixies cover a Brian Wilson track that got deep-sixed by Mike Love for being too cynical and “out there” for the average boomer, taking an angular, guitar-heavy run through the greatest Beach Boys track never to hit the airwaves. (What if it had? It might have changed the face of “classic rock” completely. I think it would have hit Jimmy Buffett’s pocketbook the hardest…)

As the band warms up for the run, Black Francis fires off “Hullo, hullo, hullo…” quoting the opening of P.I.L.’s opening salvo Public Image, another deconstruction of rock ego and myth-making. Why this appropriation? Perhaps to indicate that Hang Onto Your Ego could have been a generational kiss off to a generation of undemanding Beach Boy fans.

I know so many people
Who think they can do it alone
They isolate their heads
And stay in the safety zone

But what can you tell them?
What can you say that won’t make them defensive?

So…
Hang on to your ego
Hang on, but I know that you’re gonna lose the fight

They come on like they’re peaceful
But inside they’re so uptight
They trip through the day
And waste all their thoughts at night

But how can I say it?
How can I come on when I know I’m guilty?

Speaking of which, John Lydon (the former Johnny Rotten) sends the Sex Pistols’ fans running for the shelter of their now “status quo” punk bands with the debut single from his new project, Public Image Ltd. His last words as Rotten were, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Cheated by your manager. Cheated by your label. Cheated by your smack-addled murderer of a bass player. Cheated by the revolution that never was. Cheated by fans who wanted nothing more than a soundtrack for drunked, drugged-up mosh pits.

Lydon flips the script, announcing punk is over with a bruising bassline thundering over some exploratory soundcheck/reality check “hullos.” A farewell to Rotten/Sex Pistols/McLaren/Punk “Scene.” If his fans couldn’t be bothered to bootstrap a musical revolution, he’d just have to do it himself.

You never listen to a word that I said
You’ve only seen me
For the clothes that I wear
Or did the interest go so much deeper
It must have been
The colour of my hair

Public Image

What you wanted was never made clear
Behind the image was ignorance and fear
You hide behind this public machine
Still follow same old scheme

Public Image

Public image you got what you wanted
The Public image belongs to me
It’s my entrance
My own creation
My grand finale
My goodbye

[Yet another connection made only recently, although, to be fair, the Rough Diamonds compilation which contains this Pixies track is only a few years old… Still…]

Pixies – Hang Onto Your Ego

Public Image Ltd. – Public Image

Pixies – Ride the Tiger (Demo Version).mp3
Pixies – Ride the Tiger (Album Version).mp3

Since we’re already in a Pixies mood, let’s take two looks at the same track and the difference a great producer makes.

Let’s go ahead and clear the air: Steve Albini is an asshole. But he’s an uber-talented asshole who doesn’t glorify his own position. As is the case with most albums he’s produced, Albini credits himself with nothing more glamorous than “recording.” He knows what he’s looking for and he doesn’t fuck around.

There are plenty of anecdotes out there dealing with his “hands off” production technique. During the 1988 Surfer Rosa sessions, the most famous Albini-ism was his direction, which consisted of declaring things to be either “pussy” (in need of improvement) or “not pussy” (good to go).

So, listen closely to the two versions.

The demo version (taken from the Rough Diamonds compilation) runs nearly a minute longer. There’s a bit more space between the verses, giving Joey Santiago a chance to run through about a half-dozen ideas, casting liberal (for the Pixies) amounts of guitar squall/skronk here and there much like he did in “Vamos.”

The chorus and bridges linger for a bit too long, but that could just be 20+ years of hindsight speaking. All in all, a little unfocused but still a track that thousands of bands would kill to have in their catalogue, perfectly demonstrating the Pixies’ flawless command of the quiet/loud dynamic.

Now listen to the album version.

It is tight. Economical. No wasted effort anywhere. Santiago’s guitar scribblings are limited to propelling the song thru some lingering notes and restrained strumming. Pay special attention to the bridge between the first chorus and second verse, when he pulls the listener along on a thin strand of sustained feedback, using a couple of held notes to tie it all together and letting the rhythm section (and Kim’s backing vocals) do all the heavy lifting.

And Lovering’s drums. Those are definitely “not pussy.” It makes the drumming on the demo version seem so… serviceable. Of course, this may be nothing more than better miking and mastering, but that’s why a great producer is worth the $$$.

Of course, the song itself rocks hard, alternating between melodic and stormy, riding a metaphor from the Gaza Strip to the Cradle of Civilization.

Pixies – Ride the Tiger (Demo Version)

Pixies – Ride the Tiger (Album Version)

-CLT

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The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Vol. 2

June 4, 2010

Just recently we took on the first five films on AFI’s Top 100 Films list, which much like the movie industry itself, is loaded with obvious selections, most of which exceed three hours in length and/or are shot in black and white. The next five films listed promise to be “more of the same.”

Enjoy?

As was common in those days, The Wizard of Oz starred several SURNAMES.

6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Well ahead of its time (4:20), The Wizard of Oz is universally considered a “stone classic,” full of singing midgets, hand-tinted film stock and gay icons. Much like Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, The Wizard of Oz is an extended hallucination suffered by the main character when she is killed by a [SPOILER ALERT!] tornado.

Oz is really two films in one: the first satirizes the blandness of a flat, arid and witch-infested Kansas while the colorful “back nine” pokes fun at the idea that traits like “love” and “courage” somehow make people more “human.”

The posters for The Graduate preemptively give away the entire movie before the trailer has a chance to.

7. The Graduate (1967)
A cautionary tale of plastics and seduction, The Graduate served notice to well-meaning parents everywhere with its chilling portrayal of ennui-laden and aimless youth, many of whom were headed back home for the summer.

Starring a somewhat attractive, young Dustin Hoffman, Mike Nichol’s film answered the age-old question “It’s late in the afternoon. Do you know where your children are?” with a resounding “Floating angstily in the pool/banging Anne Bancroft.”

Worth a look for its prescient commentary on plastics, which were “the wave of the future” for years until dethroned by the sudden popularity of kickboxing.

Brando looks around apprehensively for the next green-tied assailant.

8. On the Waterfront (1951)
An unflinching look at union labor, boxing and Father-surrogate son relationships, Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront is also known for the powerhouse performance delivered by an oddly coherent and dangerously underweight Marlon Brando.

Shot in Oscar-baiting black and white, On the Waterfront earned Kazan an enormous amount of goodwill, which he quickly pissed away with his extensive sellout of colleagues and competitors during the McCarthy “witch hunts” (which netted surprisingly few witches, but did snare several deadly Communists).

Pitched as "The Matrix" meets "Over the Top."

9. Schindler’s List (1993)
Director Steven Spielberg goes back to his roots as a 1940’s-era director, utilizing the black and white cinematography that was the “all the rage” in the days before color (or colour) film.

Cameo appearances by Robin Williams (as a Good Morning Vietnam-ish radio personality) and Roberto Begnini (as a rubberfaced entertainer whose jokes are all of the “too soon?’ variety) keep the film from sinking into complete pathos. Exceedingly long.

They were later charged with "indecent exposure" and "possession of unlicensed umbrellas."

10. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The first Oscar winner to feature a dropped “g,” Singin’ in the Rain is a charming musical that takes a very dark turn at the midpoint when it’s titular song becomes the soundtrack from some dystopian ultraviolence. A change in tone is also signalled by a change of costumes, from suits and fedoras to codpieces, jumpsuits and bowlers.

The remaining time is given over to a heavy-handed allegorical songfest, which lays out a devastating condemnation of both reckless optimism and the collected works of Ludwig Van. Recommended for its amazing choreography and surprising amount of nudity.

-CLT

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Of Pipes, Trilbys and Events That Never Happened

June 1, 2010

This guy looks familiar as all hell...

Announcing the blog debut of the best-kept worst-kept “secret” in this corner of blogland: Clifton L. Tanager, unreliable narrator.

Extensive thanks are in order for Don Mills, without whom this personality would not exist. Several months ago Don asked me to write a piece for his blog, The Problem with Young People Today Is… Unfortunately, due to circumstances both seemingly fortuitous and mostly out of his control, this piece never saw the light of day. Although he never made his official published debut, Clifton soldiered on as a rambling commenter on various blogs.

(I’ve selected a few favorites below if you’re unfamiliar with his disturbing and dislocated monologues. All links will open in a new window.)

More articulate, meandering and deliberate than my usual self, the other “CLT” tends to steer clear of musical advice, expletives and very little else. For every “fuck” that is unspoken, a horrifying story of wartime venereal disease rises in its place. For every up-to-the-minute band that goes undiscussed, another soul-crushing workplace anecdote is recounted.

Available now in blog form, Clifton L. Tanager will be giving you a weekly dosage of advice you don’t need and answers you didn’t ask for, only at:

Unsolicited Advice

-CLT