Archive for June, 2011

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Jay Maisel + Asshole = 11,400 Hits

June 27, 2011

Some of you may be familiar with Jay Maisel. Some of you may know him as a talented photographer. Others may only read architectural magazines or NY Mag and such and know him from his 72-room mansion. Now, thanks to some extraordinarily nasty copyright thuggery, people all over the internet are getting to know Jay Maisel in a whole new way.

Jay Maisel + Asshole
11,400 hits

Here’s what happened. Andy Baio (of waxy.org) decided to compile an album of chiptune Miles Davis covers. He did everything he was supposed to:

I went out of my way to make sure the entire project was above board, licensing all the cover songs from Miles Davis’s publisher and giving the total profits from the Kickstarter fundraiser to the five musicians that participated.

But then he ran into an unexpected problem:

But there was one thing I never thought would be an issue: the cover art.

Before the project launched, I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover — a pixel art recreation of the original album cover, the only thing that made sense for an 8-bit tribute to Kind of Blue. I tried to draw it myself, but if you’ve ever attempted pixel art, you know how demanding it is. After several failed attempts, I asked a talented friend to do it.

You can see the results here:

That’s when Jay Maisel, the original photographer, entered the picture:

In February 2010, I was contacted by attorneys representing famed New York photographer Jay Maisel, the photographer who shot the original photo of Miles Davis used for the cover of Kind of Blue.

In their demand letter, they alleged that I was infringing on Maisel’s copyright by using the illustration on the album and elsewhere, as well as using the original cover in a “thank you” video I made for the album’s release. In compensation, they were seeking “either statutory damages up to $150,000 for each infringement at the jury’s discretion and reasonable attorneys fees or actual damages and all profits attributed to the unlicensed use of his photograph, and $25,000 for Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations.

After seven months of legal wrangling, we reached a settlement. Last September, I paid Maisel a sum of $32,500 and I’m unable to use the artwork again. (On the plus side, if you have a copy, it’s now a collector’s item!) I’m not exactly thrilled with this outcome, but I’m relieved it’s over.

$32,500.

For an album that was created from $4,500 in Kickstarter funds, with all money going to the chiptune artists.

Andy Baio, who hired someone to craft an homage to an iconic album cover, who curated an album of covers with permission from Miles Davis’ publisher, who profited nothing from this experience other than the joy of creating something, is out $32,500.

Meanwhile, Jay Maisel, he of the 72-room mansion, is $32,500 richer.

Jay Maisel + Dick
323,000 hits

And for what? Being able to wield copyright like a mafia thug’s baseball bat? For being unwilling to consider the work transformative enough to fall under “fair use”? For being so full of himself that he can’t even accept the hat tip of an homage?

I don’t care how much you may believe that copyright, trademarks, patents, etc. are good and just and fair, but in your mind, if you truly believe that Jay Maisel deserves 7 times the amount the album was created for, then you’ve got problems far beyond being too myopic to recognize a clearly transformative work.

And to argue that this isn’t transformative misses the point entirely. This isn’t some simple PS filter de-rezzing. It takes actual talent to create pixel art. See this for comparison:

And as to all this compressed, very black “art” scattered throughout this post? They’re simple ASCII conversions of iconic Maisel photos (done with this handy tool). These “pictures,” which took me all of 10 minutes to convert and post without using a single ounce of actual talent are transformative enough to avoid a copyright beatdown.

But actual art, created with actual talent? I guess that’s something to throw lawyers at.

Jay Meisel + Greedy
73,200 hits

Jay, I hope whatever you spent Andy’s money on was worth it.

-CLT

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Heavy Rotation 75

June 19, 2011

[Another three tracks submitted for your approval. This week’s lineup features Psychic Dancehall, Pepepiano and Pink Playground. No unifying theme other than the initial “P”, which is nothing more than a happy coincidence I just noticed as I was typing up these very words you’re reading. (Or glossing over.)  Need a track removed? Just ask: 2timegrime@gmail.com.]

Previous Rotations here:
The Heavy Rotation Archive

Psychic Dancehall – A Love That Kills.mp3

There’s no shortage of love songs out there. Psychic Dancehall has a killer of a love song: an echo chamber threnody built on the belief that love exists and is wonderful but that this same love will rip the floor out from underneath you with alarming frequency. The music itself fades nearly away at points, leaving the vocals alone in the reverbed darkness, save for some fatalistic minor chords and an approximate organ tone that embeds itself firmly in the audio wallpaper.

Pepepiano – I Understand You.mp3

If you can name this genre, than you can own it and charge other unimaginative musos for using it when attempting to describe indescribable audio tones without resorting to lazy shorthand like “ethereal” or “the Cocteau Twins on acid.” “Electronica” doesn’t really do justice to Pepepiano’s audio collage/collisions. I Understand You progresses like a series of jump cuts, from twee-ish charming to white noise Bomb Squadding (that’s a PE ref, yo) to nu-disco electro-jacking, all in under three minutes. On second thought, it’s less like “jump cuts” and more like an MPD sufferer falling down a long flight of tuneful stairs, each one triggering a burst of white noise or tasteful sample.

(To better help you visualize this song, imagine the “floor piano scene” from Big, only instead of Chopsticks, it’s late-70s/early-80s synth vamps and instead of Robert Loggia, it’s a hyperkinetic robot made out of day-glo and refracted sunlight (which is made out of radio static and a second-hand store boombox).

Pink Playground – A Man Alone (John Barry RIP).mp3

Even if you don’t know John Barry, you know John Barry. Houston’s Pink Playground knows John Barry, offering up a well-crafted ode to the composer of the James Bond theme. Capturing the neo-noir atmosphere of Cold War spy gaming via sonic craftmanship is no easy feat, but this track is done to perfection, taking you back to a simpler time when men were men and seduced women and shot a lot of foreigners with misshapen heads and drama!tic accents. (The “!” is intentional. And a potential punchline/punchsymbol[?]. However, if it doesn’t at least make you smile with bemusement, then feel free to consider it a typo.)

 -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.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Heavy Rotation 74

June 12, 2011

[A fine trio of selections for this oft-delayed return to partial form. Featuring the talents of Like Some Cat from Japan, Just Another Snake Cult and Light Asylum. A bit electro, a bit goth and a bit wall-o-sound. Safe for all ages but possibly enjoyed most by those in the 30-45 demographic. Need a track removed? Just ask: 2timegrime@gmail.com.]

Previous Rotations here:
The Heavy Rotation Archive

Like Some Cat from Japan – Johnny Ramone.mp3

If you’re a fan of LCD Soundsystem, Whitey or any other fine purveyor of the oft-maligned musical form known as electro-rock, then this Cat is right up your alley (didyouseewhatididthere). Bouncy, bright beats meet deadpan recollections of something that easily could have happened, probably didn’t happen and who gives a shit if it did or didn’t as long as you can sing along with it and you probably will. It all sounds so plausible: Johnny Ramone/1994/a request for cocaine. It’s smart-arsed brilliance laid on just thickly enough to put you on the inside of the joke but not so thickly you feel you need a trucker hat and a PBR just to pretend to enjoy it on a different level than everyone else. Doubleplusgood.

Just Another Snake Cult – I Know She Does.mp3

Speaking of alleys, this is right up mine. Just Another Snake Cult roll up a patented (probably not, actually) blend full-bodied shoegazer-esque pop. It’s spirited and uplifting without being cloying. The backing vox are to die for. (And if you’re in a rival band, possibly to kill for.) It’s a love song. (Not usually up my alley, but hear me out…)  But it’s the kind of love song that actually makes people believe in love rather than just the airy ideal of love. Plus there’s some organ, which is always a bonus. In other words, it’s exactly like the Charlatans meeting Phil Spector for drinks in an underlit club with the Black Hollies playing on the jukebox. Exactly like that. (This will not be discussed, although it may be on the test.)

Light Asylum – Dark Allies.mp3

Quite possibly the synthest, gothest track ever. It’s like every seminal goth band DJing an 80’s Night down at the local club, taking turns blasting ABC and OMD and all other sorts of abbreviations at girl-drink-addled club kids and announcing each track (and drink special) with patented “goth vox” just to shake things up a bit. Light Asylum kicks out a pristine ruckus (ha! that makes no sense at all! moving on…) reminiscent of an early-rising Clan of Xymox or a goth-er Apoptygma Berzerk. Good for very nearly scaring children except that the bright synths would cause breakouts of rhythmic motion rather than pants-wetting.

-CLT

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The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films: Volume Whatever

June 7, 2011

Take that, world. Here it is: the final installment of a series I tried to will into non-existence via misnumbering and inattentiveness. But it proved too strong to be defeated by inactivity and is now proudly counting itself among the “published.” Enjoy?

Hepburn signals her lower-class upbringing with a typically shite umbrella.

91. My Fair Lady (1964)
Rex Reed and Audrey Hepburn star in this classic musical which illustrates the old adage (often through song) that with the proper amount of training, any woman can be transformed into a useful (and non-embarrassing) human being, even a woman sporting a horrific Cockney accent and a whorish mouth.

While many women today may find this depiction condescending at best, its defenders like to point out that My Fair Lady was made back in the pre-bra burning mid-60s when it was still “cool” to portray women as out of their depth operating anything more complicated than a roast or a lawn jockey. They’ll also point out that it’s a “love story” which apparently excuses all of its offenses, as does the inclusion of a “shitload of singing.”

"A devastatingly hilarious caption."

92. A Place in the Sun (1951)
Cancun.

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine run from OSHA inspectors after violating the "Lock-Out/Tag-Out" policy.

93. The Apartment (1960)
Beating Mad Men to the punch by nearly a half-century, Billy Wilder’s comedy depicts the misadventures of a pair of ad execs who decide use a colleague’s apartment as a fuck pad. Wackiness ensues, heavily tinged with soul-searching drama. (So much so in fact, that by the second reel you’ll find yourself yelling at the screen, “Check the nightstand! I’m sure I saw you put your soul in there! You set it right next to your spare watch!”)

Unfortunately, the soul-searching continues for much of the running time, leading to conflict and threats of changing the locks. By the end they’ve found their watches and not much else, forcing them to forge on as soulless ad execs, a condition that helps them “fit in” better at the office.

From left to right: Sweary Van Browington, Raspy McFBomb and Happy "Kill Crazy" Headpuncher.

94. GoodFellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese heads into unfamiliar territory with this period gangster flick, featuring the acting talent of Ray Liotta’s furrowed brow and the highest number of F-bombs to ever appear in a mainstream motion picture. When not splattering the walls and car trunks with blood, Liotta’s gangster character is splattering your inner ear with endless variations of “fuck.” The rest of the cast joins in, raising the ratio of fucks-to-normal-words to an all-time high of 77-to-1, shattering the 58:1 ratio set by Nash Pluto. (Statisticians point out that a majority of the “fucks” were uttered by audience members who wished to know “What the fuck is this bullshit?” and “Where the fuck can I get a refund?” Also recorded: “The fuck?”, “Is this supposed to be a fucking comedy?” and “Six bucks for a fucking soda?”)

Original poster photo rejected by Quentin Tarantino as being "too shoesy."

95. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Released in conjunction with my 20th birthday (which would make me old enough to be someone’s dad — twice), Pulp Fiction was the first of two seminal pop culture touchstones to share in the unbridled joy that is the day of my birth. (The other is Fatboy Slim’s second album, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.)

Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated followup to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction is a pop culture repository, featuring knowing winks to such kitsch items as Modesty Blaise and Clutch Cargo. It was also a comeback vehicle for John Travolta, who briefly started reading script summaries and showing some selectivity before throwing caution to the wind and cranking out film after goodwill-pulverizing film.

On the other hand, he and Tarantino did manage to resuscitate a moribund heroin market with their tastefully shot ode to shooting up. Just remember, kids: always the veins, never the nose.

Reviewers praised John Wayne's "restrained perspiration."

96. The Searchers (1956)
Dark proto-noir-western featuring a relatively understated John Wayne as a hat-wearing cow person hot on the trail of a gang of kidnappers. Famous for its signature shot of Wayne standing emotively in an empty doorway, as well as for its willingness to turn genre expectations on their collective ear. Explores themes of redemption, often through the use of iconic doorway shots, paving the way for a new wave of nihilist Westerns directed by many Western nihilists.

Nothing brings up "baby" faster than a chain smoking father figure and another non-chain smoking father figure.

97. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Another Depression-era screwball comedy centering on a couple’s misadventures while raising a jaguar (the titular “Baby”). Hijinks (often of the “screwball” variety) ensue, until the final reel when the “Baby” turns on its owners, slaughtering one and maiming the other before going on a kill-crazy rampage. This rampage comes to a halt thanks to a “pushed to the edge” Charles Bronson, who seems to find the “violent revenge” business agreeable and starts up a few “kill-crazy” rampages of his own. The nadir of ’70s dystopian filmmaking with a 30+ year headstart.

Viewers found themselves confused during long scenes of Clint Eastwood staring at his own back.

98. Unforgiven (1992)
Yet another depressing deconstructionist Western, only two spaces removed from the last one, as AFI continues their downhill coast to #100, grabbing names they’ve heard of and shoving them onto the list.

Unforgiven takes place in the seldom-discussed part of the West where it’s always night and it’s always raining. As is the case with most “avenging a hooker’s disfiguration” films, Unforgiven is chock full of iconic shots of a very tired and iconic Clint Eastwood standing in various iconic doorways (and rainstorms).

Hepburn and Tracy brace themselves for the inevitable culture clash (accomplished mainly by staying white and square).

99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Longtime closeted couple Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn star as the uptight, mildly racist parents of a college student who insists on shaking up the status quo by bringing home her new, non-white boyfriend, Mr. Tibbs. A majority of the running time is given over to uptight discussions of the impending blackness, broken up with a second storyline where Poitier’s character deals with even more uptightness at the hands of the local law enforcement he was sent to help.

An IMPORTANT FILM, delivering the message that black people are no different than white people, except they’re more “black” and prone to causing uptightness in insular whites like Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Rod Steiger. Look for a young Rob Reiner as adorable loser, Meathead.

Cagney plays against type as some sort of rouge-sporting, hat-wearing showgirl.

100. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Released during the height of American patriotism, Yankee Doodle Dandy sings and dances its way into the final spot on AFI’s list, presumably pushing John Wayne’s The Green Berets to 101. Filled with cheerfully positive tunes such as “Buy War Bonds,” “Save Your Nylons for the Boys Overseas,” “Buy More War Bonds,” and “Necessity is the Mother of Temporarily Useful Female Employees.”

Very much a product of its time as evidenced by its disastrous re-release during the height of the Vietnam War, tanking miserably at the box office despite the hasty insertion of the timely song-and-dance numbers “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” and “Icn Bin Ein Newly-Minted Canadian, Motherfuckers!”

-CLT