Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: 'The Monkees, Head, and the 60s'

If 2016 has taught us something that we should have all learned fifty years ago, it’s that The Monkees are great. Not just “Boy, don’t you have fond memories of hearing ‘Daydream Believer’ at the prom?” great, but seriously great. This year they’ve finally received the treatment they deserved since they became a “real” recording band when they made Headquarters. The Monkees’ reunion album Good Times has received almost uniformly glowing reviews. Their TV series has received a deluxe blu-ray treatment usually reserved for critical darlings like Star Trek and Twin Peaks. There has also been an uptick in Monkees scholarship. This past summer, Rosanne Welch published an intelligent analysis of the Monkees TV show called Why The Monkees Matter. A few months later, Peter Mills is publishing a similarly in-depth study of the group’s only feature film called The Monkees, Head, and the 60s.

Following a general run down of how the series came to be, the backgrounds of the four stars of the show, their producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the series, and the music, Mills settles in on his central purpose. He offers a scene-by-scene analysis of Head’s audio-visual chop suey. The analysis is non-academic and fairly general, and there may not be too many revelations for those who already get that the film skewers The Monkee’s pre-fab image and shows how locked into it they were. A lot of page space is devoted to descriptions of scenes without much analysis at all, which can be especially frustrating when it is followed by a big conclusion such as “the juxtapositons in this closing sequence are in some ways irresponsible and morally duplicitous” without any explanation for what provoked that conclusion.

Mills keeps that from ever really becoming frustrating because The Monkees, Head, and the 60s is so packed with trivia, quotes and insights from the men who made the film, background information on its making, and fascinating comparisons between what was in the script and what ended up on the screen (according to the script, Davy was originally supposed to sing “Magnolia Simms” instead of “Daddy’s Song”!). As was the case with Welch’s book, the evidence used to support the analysis is more stimulating than the analysis itself. That’s fine by me since I’m more interested in learning about The Monkees than learning about how someone interprets their work. Mills still manages to get us to care about whom is telling this story by relating his own personal experiences as a Monkeemaniac throughout the book. This is actually an important element in The Monkees story, since the band’s long road to legitimacy has also been our long road to legitimacy, and in hearing Mill’s personal anecdotes about being a fan, we are also reminded of our own experiences loving a band that it seems the world is only just beginning to admit that it loves too.  

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 365

The Date: September 29

The Movie: The Wrong Man (1956)

What Is It?: Although it explores the director’s pet topic to the point that its title basically translates to Generic Alfred Hitchcock Movie, The Wrong Man is one of Hitch’s more unusual films because it is based on a true story and manages more sympathy for its characters than his usual brilliant exercises in style do. Really, there are no more heartbreaking people in the Hitchcock cannon than Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a bass player wrongfully accused of being a “hold up man” (I can’t help but find that designation hilarious and wonder if there is a less awkward term for someone who holds places up), and his wife Rose (Vera Miles), who loses her grip on reality while going through the ordeal of her husband’s incarceration and trial. Wrenching stuff.

Why Today?: On this day in 1909, the real Manny Balestrero is born.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: 'Roy Orbison: The Ultimate Collection'

Roy Orbison was one of the few truly great artists to make an impact between Rock & Roll’s first wave and the British Invasion. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make worthwhile records before and after that brief window of roughly five years. In the fifties he wrote hyper swingers like “Ooby Dooby” and “Claudette”, a hit for The Everly Brothers, while with Sun Records before maturing into the more dramatic, near-operatic style that made him pop’s King of Tears. After having the final big hit of his key phase, “Pretty Woman”, which married the hard rhythms of his earliest records with the more melodic and complex riffing of the burgeoning Mersey sound, Orbison never stopped making records, and enjoyed a major resurgence in the late eighties when he joined Jeff Lynne’s stable as a Traveling Wilbury and solo artist.

Sony Legacy’s new collection, The Ultimate Roy Orbison, boasts of being the first compilation to incorporate tracks from all of the artist’s phases, though this isn’t true since Legacy’s four-disc Soul of Rock and Roll box set from 2008 had already done that. The big difference here, besides the fact that Ultimate distills Orbison’s career down to a single disc of 26-tracks, is that it jumbles the chronology. I generally prefer this approach to boring old chronological order, though the eras represented on this set are so vastly separated that it makes for a bit of a jarring listen when, say, the rockabilly “Ooby Dooby” gets sandwiched between the peak-era gut punch “It’s Over” and the Lynne-era “Heartbreak Radio”. With all due irony, it points out how the slick eighties stuff now sounds a bit dated while the fifties and sixties tracks remain as fresh and timeless as ever.

Still, unlike a lot of classic artists who attempted comebacks in the eighties, Roy Orbison never embarrassed himself. “You Got It” may not be as indescribably essential as “Dream Baby” or “Crying”, it’s still a damn good song, and this collection does do a fine job of highlighting the man’s consistent quality control. Plus, even though The Ultimate Collection covers an expansive period, the only missing track that really hurts is the luxurious non-hit “Shahdaroba”. Of course, Roy Orbison would not deserve to be called The King of Tears if he didn’t make us feel a little pain.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 364

The Date: September 28

The Movie: Strange Brew (1983)

What Is It?: Bob and Doug McKenzie— the dim, beer-swilling, Canuck alter-egos of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis—stumble off of SCTV and onto the big screen in a story based on—no joke—Hamlet. If that source isn’t high-brow enough for you, Bergman’s favorite actor, Max Von Sydow, plays the villainous brewmeister of Elsinore Beer. Honestly, I have not seen Strange Brew in years, so I can’t vouch for whether or not it holds up, but I can say that when I first saw it as a kid, it made me laugh so hard that I puked cherry Pop-Tarts © all over the den carpet. True story.

Why Today?: Today is National Drink Beer Day. Take off, hoser.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 363

The Date: September 27

The Movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What Is It?: Writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling survey a landscape of shitty teen comedies and burn those flicks to the ground with one funnier, sexier, and more truthful than any previous movie about high school. Sean Penn is the ultimate burn out! Phoebe Cates is the ultimate dream girl! Judge Reinhold is the ultimate senior schlub! Robert Romanus is the ultimate douche bag! But it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy Hamilton who casts a spell of realism over all these caricatures… well, maybe not Penn’s Spicoli. That dude just wants to jam with the Stones.

Why Today?: On this day in 1979, Congress adds the U.S. Dept. of Education to the executive Branch.

Monday, September 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 362

The Date: September 26

The Movie: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

What Is It?: Considered an inessential Monty Python movie because it merely glossed up TV sketches for U.S. movie audiences, the first Monty Python movie is still a superb best-of compilation and the higher production values often benefit the comedy. “The Restaurant Sketch” murders its small-screen equivalent!

Why Today?: Today is Lumberjack Day.

Much luck and love, Terry Jones!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 361

The Date: September 25

The Movie: The Vault of Horror (1972)

What Is It?: Amicus’s second portmanteau to mine classic E.C. Comics for big-screen fodder isn’t quite as consistent as Tales from the Crypt, and the vampire makeup (a handful of joke-shop fangs) in “Midnight Mess” is laughable, but this is still a quality collection of spook stories. Best of the bunch is “Drawn and Quartered”, one of E.C.’s best stories and one of the best portmanteau episodes in the history of portmanteaus.

Why Today?: Today is Comic Book Day.
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