Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Last night I taped an interview with DJ Ghosty for his Vintage Rock & Pop Shop on New Jersey's WFDU, 89.1 FM, out of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Ghosty and I chatted about Keith Moon's Beach Boys infatuation, Roger Daltrey's sometimes difficult and often under-appreciated role in the band, and the future of The Who. I also selected three personal favorite Who cuts to discuss and play. I believe the interview will be airing Sunday, May 4, at 11am, but I'll follow up to confirm that date. If you don't live in the NJ area, you should be able to stream the interview anyway on wfdu.fm here.
Perhaps no artist has an output as consistent as that of The Beatles. With the exception of Yellow Submarine, which is really an EP of new Beatles material tucked inside of a George Martin soundtrack album, all of their LPs are essential. When they split in the seventies and stopped prodding each other to keep that quality level moon-high, there was a lot more filler. That put them in a most unfortunate position, since few bands can be reasonably compared to The Beatles, and now the ex-Beatles were being compared to their former selves. Consequently, the solo years have increasingly been painted as a wash out by certain fans and critics.
This isn’t true. In fact, John, Paul, George, and Ringo made a lot of great music after they ceased to be a unit. You just have to weed through their output a bit. In his new book Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers, Andrew Grant Jackson does most of the work for you. The writer cherry picks 182 songs out of that mass of albums and singles released from McCartney in 1970 right up to RIngo’s Y Not from 2011. The structure is cute: Jackson arranges the songs as pseudo-post-Beatles-Beatles LPs. For music made before Lennon’s death, he generally uses the Revolver ratio: five each by Lennon and McCartney, three by Harrison, one by Starr. He really does end up covering the mass of the guys’ best post-Beatles songs even though a selection of their albums (Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass, RAM, Imagine, Band on the Run, Ringo) still fully deserve to be heard in their entireties. However, the bulk of Jackson’s commentary has more to do with the history of those years than the selected songs, making it quite similar in approach to Bill Janovitz’s recent Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones. For the most part, I liked the telling too, though Jackson does make some missteps along the way. I’m all for using a bit of irreverence to juice up the storytelling, but he goes way too far when he says that Lennon’s “big mouth got him killed.” Actually, it was an insane man with a gun who got Lennon killed, and it’s pretty sick to suggest he was responsible for his own death in any way.
Get Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers on Amazon.com here:
Sunday, April 20, 2014
A decade after dropping the first, full-blown zombie apocalypse on our heads with Night of the Living Dead, George Romero got around to showing us what happened next. This time the thrills were more graphic, thanks to makeup legend Tom Savini and a full-color presentation, and the satire was sharper. But you already knew that. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of its U.S. release, here are 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Dawn of the Dead!
1. A tour of the Monroeville Mall by his friend Mark Mason, who managed the establishment, was most inspirational to George Romero. When Mason mentioned that his mall would be a good place to hole up during a disaster, Romero started formulating the plot of his second Living Dead picture. He also ended up filming Dawn of the Dead in the Monroeville Mall. Other movies with scenes shot there include Flashdance and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
2. The mall scenes in Dawn of the Dead had to be shot between 2 and 5 AM. 2 AM is when the mall’s final establishment, a tavern, closed for the night. 5 AM is when cardiac patients were admitted to exercise.
3. The Monroeville Mall would once again serve as a horrific setting in Stephen King’s Christine in 1983. A year before that novel was published, Romero and King collaborated on the portmanteau Creepshow with Romero directing and King writing and acting. The two horror icons would also meld minds on Romero’s big screen adaptation of King’s The Dark Half, though the original plan for Romero to direct King’s It for the small-screen as a seven-hour miniseries fell apart because of scheduling problems (Tommy Lee Wallace directed the half-as-long version in 1990 instead). From a Buick 6 was another Romero/King union that withered on the vine, though Romero adaptations of The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon and Gerald’s Game might still happen. Romero has already completed scripts for both possible films.
4. While the political implications of Night of the Living Dead were essentially an unintended factor caused by the casting of a black actor, Duane Jones, in the lead, Romero was fully conscious of the anti-consumerism message of Dawn of the Dead and continued to infuse all subsequent Living Dead movies with political themes.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Sideshow Collectibles are strangely multifaceted for models of characters from comics and genre movies. Sure, they’re basically scaled down representations of Darth Vader and Batman and the Alien and Bride of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, progeny of the Aurora models adored by the monster kids of the fifties and sixties. But they are also exemplars of how seriously the geeks of today take their obsessions. The jocks can have their cheap plastic football trophies. Sideshow Collectibles are lovingly, intricately sculpted from assorted materials—resin, polystone, real cloth and leather, fiberglass. They may depict the icons of alleged low culture, but they are genuine art pieces, and they’re affixed with big art piece price tags, which also yokes them with the dubious distinction of being status symbols too (as of this writing, the most inexpensive item on Sideshow’s official site is a $69.99 vinyl doll of a character that looks like a licorice jelly bean called Dolly Colorway; the most expensive are lifesize busts of similar looking guys called War Machine and Iron Patriot, both running $8999.99). This means that they are only available to the wealthiest nerds, guys like Guillermo Del Toro, who pens the introduction to the new coffee table tribute Capturing Archetypes: Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art. This book is a far more economical way to collect these pieces than actually collecting them.
Del Toro offhandedly but insightfully mentions the “fetishistic” impulses of the collector, and Capturing Archetypes is nothing if not fetishistic. Instead of depicting the sculptures in flat full view, the book presents them in alluring shadows, lighting, and smoke, often zooming in on a particular feature or contour. There is an unabashed gaze on body parts, most obviously in the leering sculptures and photographs of curvaceous female characters, such as Catwoman, Molotov Cocktease, Lady Death, Vampira, Elvira, and Jessica Rabbit—who actually receives her own centerfold!—but also the absurd, veiny musculature of male characters like Dare Devil, the Hulk, and even Darth Maul. Capturing Geek Porn might have been a more accurate title for this book, but only the most blinkered critic would deny the true artistry of the pieces it depicts. And besides, Psychobabble Reader, whose body would you rather ogle: David’s or Boba Fett’s?
That’s what I thought.
Get Capturing Archetypes: Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art on Amazon.com here:
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Nevertheless, I may not have made it sufficiently clear that this was not a fact and that it was merely Talmy's version of what really happened. My source was the producer's interview with Richie Unterberger in his book Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers. In fact, Jimmy Page himself denies playing on the song, which you can in this piece on soundonsound.com here, and in this same piece, Talmy says he does not remember whether or not Page played on the track, further revealing his own shaky grasp on the history of the creation of "You Really Got Me". Once again, the truth is that Page did not play any guitar on "You Really Got Me" whatsoever, nor did he have anything to do with the sound or tone of Dave's guitar. I hope that readers of The Who FAQ will understand that I never intended to indicate otherwise. Talmy's false memory will not appear in future editions of The Who FAQ, including the upcoming Kindle edition.
Obviously, Dave continues to be one of my top Rock & Roll heroes and The Kinks continue to be one of my very favorite bands.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
After starting his career with a series of highly stylized films, Lars von Trier made Breaking the Waves, his first after co-founding the Dogma 95 movement, which preached absolute austerity: only location and handheld shooting, only contemporary settings, no non-diegetic sound or optical manipulation, no superficial action, no credit for the director, etc. Typically, he had trouble even playing by his own rules, and von Trier’s break-through film arrived without Dogma 95-certification, largely because of the hyper-stylized, digitally-colored chapter titles accompanied by non-diegetic pop songs by the likes of Jethro Tull, David Bowie, and Elton John to establish the seventies time period.
Breaking the Waves may have failed to live up to the strictures of Dogma 95, but it was most successful in kicking off two decades of controversy courting with his riskiest storyline yet. Bess, a religiously sheltered woman, fulfills her paralyzed husband’s wish for her to seek sex outside their marriage, but she does so in increasingly dangerous and degrading ways. What a lot of critics miss about Breaking the Waves—and similarly provocative films such as Dogville and Antichrist—is that the patriarchy is always von Trier’s real villain. He often conveys this complexly by showing how oppressive institutions twist the thinking of the women they wish to oppress. In Breaking the Waves that institution is a misogynistic religious order and the surrounding community. Its victim is Bess, who believes the only way to do her “duty” to her husband is by suffering, and that suffering is neither glamorized nor fetishized. The hero of Breaking the Waves is Emily Watson in a career-making role that demanded a hell of a lot from her and found her giving so much more than that. She makes the seemingly simple Bess into a lovable, loving, intensely passionate, and ultimately rebellious woman, shredding a recent claim that von Trier is obsessed with “emotionally empty women” in a denunciation of his new film Nymphomaniac on Jezebel.com. I have yet to see that film, but having seen all of his others, I can say that it applies to no von Trier character I’ve ever seen. I’m more on board with actor Stellan Skarsgård, who says von Trier creates some of the best roles for women in an interview on Criterion’s new blu-ray/DVD combo edition of Breaking the Waves.
As much as I love Breaking the Waves, I was a bit skeptical about its appearance in hi-definition. Aside from those gorgeous chapter-title sequences and the brief, fantastical, transcendent digital-image that ends the film, it is a grainy movie shot with shaky hand-held camera. Criterion’s 4k digital restoration does not transform Breaking the Waves into 2001: A Space Odyssey or anything (that would violate the aesthetic von Trier intended), but it does sharpen the film considerably, rendering Artisan’s blurry DVD from 2000 unwatchable. The film looks darker with more natural tones than the washed-out blues that made the actors look like the walking dead on the Artisan DVD. The restoration made me feel like I’d never really seen Breaking the Waves before. So did the reintroduction of shots censored from the Artisan disc, as well as one change that actually altered the film for the worse in my opinion. In its theatrical run, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” played over the final chapter title. Because of rights issues, it was replaced with Elton John’s “Your Song” on the Artisan DVD. Criterion restores the Bowie song to the film. I won’t deny that “Life on Mars?” is a much better song than “Your Song”, but I always found that the naked, corny emotion of John’s song complimented the melodramatic ending of Breaking the Waves with an almost unbearable emotional intensity, so I do miss it.
I have no complaints about the other aspects of Criterion’s new edition. It is stuffed with about 1 hour and 45 minutes of bonus material, including an ingenious selective audio commentary that boils the comments down to the most interesting ones over a 47-minute summary edit of the main feature. So we are spared having to listen to a lot of “umming” and “ahhing” over scenes about which the commentators have nothing much to say. There is also a riveting new interview with Emily Watson in which she discusses her very personal and quite astonishing connection to the character she played. A selection of deleted and extended scenes, one of which makes Bess’s husband’s righteous intentions too explicit, reveals how Breaking the Waves could have been a lesser film with their inclusion. A smattering of other goodies, some of which are a lot more light-hearted than the heavy feature, make this a surprising and satisfying release.
Get the new Criterion edition of Breaking the Waves on Amazon.com here:
Monday, April 7, 2014
In this monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.
How long could Beatlemania possibly last? Like most fads, not long…right? For every enduring hula-hoop there were 50 coon skin caps; for every Elvis Presley, 100 Fabians. Was there any reason to believe John, Paul, George, and Ringo would be the lucky four? Why believe those novelty wigs patterned on their absurd moptops would last any longer than the coon skin cap? Best not to waste a second cashing in or The Beatles’ moment would surely be up. A cash-in flick must be rushed into production. Get those Beatles up on the screen before they go the way of the Watusi.
Expectations were low. Elvis Presley’s movies certainly weren’t especially memorable. Directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, King Creole had a good degree of panache, but more recent pictures like Fun in Acapulco and Kissin’ Cousins weren’t exactly endearing Elvis to the greasy delinquents who’d crowned him the King of Rock & Roll.
Of course, The Beatles were not four Elvises. They didn’t seem to have it in them to make subpar product. The talent behind A Hard Day’s Night was first rate: the vibrant and experimental young American director Dick Lester, who’d so impressed the incorrigibly hard-to-please John Lennon with his short “Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film”, writer Alun Owen, who’d also won over the Fabs with his Liverpudlian teleplay No Trams to Lime Street, and a strong cast of British comedic actors. There was Wilfrid Brambell of “Steptoe and Son”, Norman Rossington of gritty dramas like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the daft Carry On comedies, and the wonderful Welsh multi-talent Victor Spinetti, who’d enjoy a fruitful relationship with The Beatles on film. And let’s not underplay The Beatles’ contributions to a film that ultimately rested on their shoulders: Paul, ever charming and expressing a degree of sneering cynicism at odds with his good boy persona, George, whose shrugging naturalism makes his meeting with a smarmy ad man one of the film’s most memorable scenes, John, whose flashes of signature madness (“My name’s Betty!”) make the whole thing seem spontaneous, anarchic, and Ringo, whose underplayed pathos raise the film above a mere larf, imbue it with genuine emotion, and signal that he might be the Beatle with a real film career ahead of him.