Sunday, October 23, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 23

Series: The Groovie Goolies

Episode: “Population Party”, in which The Groovie Goolies do the same things they do in every episode of The Groovie Goolies: crack corny jokes, spout catchphrases (“I needed that!”; “A-wa-roo-roo-roo!”), violate innumerable copyrights held by Laugh-In, look rad, and sing catchy bubblegum pop songs. This episode basically stands out because the songs “1-2-3” and “Population Party” are two of the series catchiest.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 22

Series: Twilight Zone (1980s revival)

Episode: “The Shadow Man/The Uncle Devil Show/Opening Day”, in which the nerdy kid from “Charles in Charge” finds a bodyguard in a silhouetted boogie man that lives under his bed and ends up abusing that newfound power. The nightmare-stoking nocturnal appearances of the Shadow Man are what make Joe Dante’s segment unforgettable. The other segments—one a silly yet pretty unsettling short about a Satanic Captain Kangeroo and the other a role reversal tale in which Jeffrey Jones is the victim of a murder plot hatched by his wife and her lover (directed by John Millius, who wrote Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue in Jaws!)—are pretty good, too.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: 'I Am Brian Wilson'

The big problem with pop-artist autobiographies is that pop artists are much better at stringing together phrases like “ooooh baby” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” than composing compelling prose. A few songwriters have been versatile enough to produce really well written autobiographies (Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Kristin Hersh, Stuart David, etc.), but most should probably stick with the “oooh babies.”

Brian Wilson is an interesting exception. His persona is one of charming, and rather inarticulate, sincerity. He is a pop star with a true “voice” beyond his singing one, and though I do not expect or even want compelling prose from Brian Wilson, I still want to read his story as told by him because it is such a fascinating and intensely personal one.

I Am Brian Wilson fits the bill perfectly. Wilson wrote his book with the assistance of the versatile Ben Greenman, and its too-articulate and linear prologue chapter had me worrying that I’d be reading Greenman’s voice instead of that of the show’s star. With the first proper chapter, that articulateness evaporates and the linearity splits like an egg to allow Brian’s ping pong-ball mind to bounce out. One moment he is waxing nostalgic about the old children’s show Beany and Cecil, the next he is remembering the 1973 Holland sessions, the next he is leaping ahead 25 years to discuss his solo album Imagination. Greenman seems to play the role of stenographer rather than co-writer as Brian unleashes his flood of memories, opinions (favorite albums: Rubber Soul, A Christmas Gift for Your from Philles Records, and Tommy—great choices, Brian!), and creation stories. Serious fans will swoon when he discusses marvelous oddities such as “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”, “A Day in the Life of a Tree”, “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, and “In the Back of My Mind” with the same attention he affords “California Girls” and “God Only Knows”.  The utter lack of pretense in the prose captures that familiar slightly flat, slightly sad, often rhapsodic voice with true authenticity. A definitive passage has Brian describing how he once dressed up as a mummy to amuse a cousin in the hospital and clarifying that “I wasn’t really a mummy.” That absence of guile, that innocence, that subtle and perhaps unself-aware humor is what makes Brian Wilson’s complex music so uncomplicatedly beautiful and him so lovable.

Of course, I Am Brian Wilson would fail as the Brian Wilson story if it did not deal with the darker corners of his life, and Wilson wanders through these areas fearlessly. He basically leads the story with a run down of all of his troubles with drugs, family, isolation, weight gain, and chemical withdrawal, and discusses each more thoroughly and with trademark honesty as the tale continues. He goes into depth about the two most dreaded figures in his life—father Murray and Svengali “doctor” Eugene Landry—but does so without a trace of bitterness and a loving portion of balance, acknowledging that both of these men did Brian a little bit of good as well as a fair share of harm. He wastes almost no space on his clashes with Mike Love, though.

Bitterness, like articulateness, has no place in a Brian Wilson autobiography. Love, music, and an immensely sincere man’s true voice are what you should expect and what I Am Brian Wilson delivers.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 21

Series: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Episode: “Final Escape”, in which Season Hubley plays a convicted murder who plots a foolproof escape that involves hiding in a coffin and getting buried in the prison graveyard. Ha! Most of the shows featured in 31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season have some sort of supernatural angle, but “Final Escape” may be the scariest of them all because of its realism. The final image will give you nightmares even if you see it coming. Hubley sure didn’t.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: 'Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year'

There’s a bit of a Catch 22 to Mark Lewisohn’s ambition to tell The Beatles’ story more thoroughly and definitively than that oft-told story has ever been told before: the more time he devotes to writing that story thoroughly, the more time he is leaving other writers to swoop in and finish the job before him. So while Lewisohn toils away on his follow up to his first volume of The Beatles: All These Years, which will presumably cover 1966, writer Steve Turner has done the proverbial swooping with his new book Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year. Poor Mark Lewisohn. I simply cannot see how he can do a more thorough or definitive job of covering the most pivotal year in Beatles history than Turner has.

1966 was the year The Beatles’s outlook regarding music, drugs, religion, politics, art, facial hair, and their careers changed radically. It is the year they retired from live performing and made what is now generally regarded as their finest album. It is the year The Beatles were at the center of heated cultural clashes in Japan and the Philippines; Lennon enflamed controversy with his widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misquoted thoughts on Jesus; and met Yoko Ono. It’s also the year that John and Ringo ate pigeon pea soup before taking a four-hour tour of building developments in Tobago on January 20. That’s the level of detail that drives Beatles ’66, and while it may initially come off as a hint of some sort of “my research is the thoroughest!” ego trip, those tiny details regarding what The Beatles ate, wore, and even watched on TV on given days really gives these events a sense of time, place, and reality. The fact that The Beatles were so intellectually and artistically active in 1966—even though the band recorded their fewest songs that year and John spent a fair share of it sitting around his house—make the relatively mundane passages interesting.

Turner fattens out the most well-traveled tales with the most complete context he can provide. We learn the precise exchange around Ringo’s coining of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the left-leaning inspiration behind the seemingly rightwing “Taxman”, and the drug that actually inspired “Got to Get You Into My Life”. Turner subjects “Tomorrow Never Knows” to an utterly fascinating comparison with The Psychedelic Experience, exposing exactly how Lennon adapted Timothy Leary’s book. He also does the seemingly impossible by exposing the vulnerability behind Paul McCartney’s unflappable fa├žade. All of this amounts to one of the most human portraits of The Beatles I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the best. Better get cracking before Steve laps you with Beatles ’67, Mark.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 20

Series: Tales from the Crypt

Episode: “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”, in which lousy, aspiring ventriloquist Bobcat Goldthwait longs to learn the secrets of puppet-master Don Rickles. Rickles was once the greatest in the business, but now he’s retired, and apparently, hooked on dope. Not quite, boils and ghouls. The secrets behind Rickles’s syringe and miraculous ventriloquism skills are too amazing, too bizarre, too disgusting to reveal here. However, I will say that “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” was the talk of the high school halls after it aired in 1990, and it is most certainly one of the most memorable tales The Crypt Keeper ever dredged up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: 'The Secret History of Twin Peaks'

One of the reasons we Twin Peaks freaks get so freaky about or favorite show is that it’s more than just a TV series. Twin Peaks is a feature film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me). Twin Peaks is a menu (cherry pie and black-as-a-midnight-on-a-moonless-night coffee followed by a few doughnuts for dessert). Twin Peaks is a playlist (Angelo Badalemnti’s two TV soundtracks, his feature-film one, Julee Cruise’s gap-filling Floating into the Night). Twin Peaks is also a bibliography, and in this unusually high-quality book house of TV-tie-ins is Jennifer Lynch’s moving, shocking and insightful The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Scott Frost’s hilarious and eerie The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, and David Lynch, Richard Saul Wurman, and Mark Frost’s utterly wacky Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town.

With next year’s deliriously anticipated Twin Peaks revival, it’s pretty likely we’ll get another Badalamenti soundtrack and more dinner and dessert recommendations (in fact, a Twin Peaks cookbook is in the pipeline). But first, there’s a new addition to our library. Series co-creator and author of numerous non-Twin Peaks books Mark Frost has just published a rather unconventional “novel” called The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

When Frost’s book was first announced last year, I assumed that it would mainly focus on filling in the massive time trench between the series’ final episode in 1991 and the 2017 revival. That’s not really what it does. Rather, this book is true to its name in relating the strange and wonderful town’s history stretching all the way back to Meriwether Lewis’s weird experiences when passing through Twin Peaks during his expedition with William Clark more than 200 years ago.

Frost formats his book as an FBI dossier assembled by a mysterious “archivist” for the perusal of a new special agent identified with the initials (hardy-har) TP, who will clearly be a key character in Season Three. The dossier comprises letters, FBI memos, newspaper articles and editorials, interviews, artifacts, and other materials that tell a not-totally-linear history of the town. Regardless of how Frost delivers his information, he handles it all with a masterful grasp of history (real and unreal), a keen ear for his characters’ voices, and a full grasp of the particular medium he is using at any given time.

Though there were many atmospheric elements of Twin Peaks, Frost is mostly concerned with its mystical side, which involves creepy owls, a mysterious race of giants, provocative cave paintings, secret societies, bizarre religions, magical rings, scientology, Satanism, and UFOs. The latter is somewhat surprising since I was always under the impression that Frost and (particularly) Lynch were not thrilled about the sci-fi direction Harley Peyton and Robert Engels took the series in its second season. Yet, there is a lot about UFOs in The Secret History. As a fan who never considered its sci-fi dalliances to be among the most fascinating of Twin Peaks, I could have used a lot less UFO conspiracy in The Secret History, though I’m assuming this will be integral to the TV revival. And though it establishes the town’s strange nature with a potent blend of historical details and creepy fiction, the Lewis and Clark passage goes on way too long.

Not surprisingly, The Secret History hits its peak when Frost begins folding familiar Twin Peaks residents into the tale. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but I will say that we learn some fascinating new details that enrich the characters of Josie Packard, Major Briggs, Norma and Hank Jennings, Ed and Nadine Hurley, Dr. Jacoby, Carl Rodd, Ben Horne, Andrew Packard, Catherine Martell, The Log Lady, Lana Budding Milford, and Dwayne and Doug Milford, who truly dominates the story. This is particularly useful since a good deal of these characters will not be part of the revived series (sadly, many of the actors who portrayed them have died).

Although there are a couple of strange inconsistencies with the series as we now know it that I’m assuming will be explained on the revival, Frost really captures the creepy unease of his and Lynch’s series. The final pages dragged chills up my neck. One key Twin Peaks element that it could have used more of is humor, though there are subtle bits of it, and super fans will be rewarded with jokey references to the series’ original name and an aborted Frost/Lynch TV project. As a visual work, The Secret History of Twin Peaks delivers completely. This is an absolutely beautifully designed and illustrated book, and its tactile cover and pages are truly in the spirit of an exceptionally sensual show. More than ever, I can’t wait for it to come back to my TV next year so I can see how Twin Peaks ties in with its own Secret History.
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