Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: 'This Is a Book About The Kids in the Hall'


Everyone likes to think that as soon as Lorne Michaels returned to Saturday Night Live in 1985, the flailing sketch-show instantly got back on course with new blood like Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, and Jan Hooks, who helped make up the strongest cast since the Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, etc. days. Nope. First came a disastrously experimental season in which quintessential eighties movie actors Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, and Joan Cusack struggled to do what the seasoned improvisers do. Michaels certainly got one thing right in his lame return season: he hired new writers Mark McKinney and Bruce McCullough. This opened up a working relationship that would lead to the show that would even make Hartman, Carvey, and Hooks’s return-to-form Saturday Night Live look safe by comparison.

However, as John Semley’s new book This Is a Book About The Kids in the Hall makes perfectly clear, Lorne Michaels did not poof The Kids in the Hall into existence like some sort of improv fairy godmother. McKinney, McCullough, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson had already been sharpening their comedic blades on Canadian stages for five years before their series’ 1989 debut. Semley traces their lives further back than that, revealing some pretty unfunny stuff about alcoholic fathers, depression, and most shockingly of all, Canada’s first high school-massacre, a horrific event Scott Thompson survived. Whereas such experiences would have sent most people to the shrink’s couch, these guys worked their experiences and issues into their comedy and ended up with TV’s funniest sketch comedy show (with the possible exception of Monty Python’s Flying Circus). Even reading descriptions of the “Hey, any of you guys ever beat up your dad?” or “Screw you, taxpayer!” sketches made me laugh out loud.

Though he likes to crack wise, Semley himself isn’t nearly as funny as his subjects, but he basically maintains an appealingly conversational tone throughout that keeps the reading entertaining. The personal and interpersonal troubles, network struggles, failures, and triumphs of The Kids in the Hall make the reading absolutely compulsive.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 336


The Date: August 31

The Movie: American Graffiti (1973)

What Is It?: After seeing his buddy’s ice-cold sci-fi experiment THX-1138, Francis Ford Coppola bet George Lucas that Lucas could not make a goofy, lighthearted, popcorn flick. No, Georgie didn’t immediately go to work on Star Wars; he made American Graffiti, a plot-less romp about driving cars, flirting, and listening to great, pre-British Invasion Rock & Roll right before the Vietnam War fucked everything up for young people. Lucas went mainstream, had a massive hit, and never looked back.

Why Today?: In the movie, this is the date in 1962 on which the kids go racing and flirting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 335


The Date: August 30

The Movie: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

What Is It?: What could have just been an update of Bride of Frankenstein is a totally individual film. Robert Morris is the young assistant of Pete Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein. Morris is beheaded for a crime he didn’t commit. The good doctor resurrects him by transferring his soul into the body of his girlfriend, Susan Denberg, who’d drowned herself after witnessing the execution. A badly scarred brunette in life, Denberg somehow springs back to life as a blonde with perfect skin and a yen for revenge against the trio of snotty rich kids who committed the crime for which Morris was killed. 

Why Today?: On this day in 1797, Mary Godwin is born.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: 'The Zapple Diaries: The Rise and Fall of the Last Beatles Label'


Like most things Beatles-related, the story of Apple Records is well known and well documented. The story of Zapple records, however, tends to be more of a footnote in Beatles lore. It was the experimental subsidiary of Apple masterminded by Paul McCartney and Barry Miles, co-owner of Swinging London’s famed Indica Bookshop.

Zapple was a bit like that old story about the blind men and the elephant. Miles felt the label should be used to document the works of underground poets and intellectuals. McCartney pictured it as an outlet for his own watered down avant-garde pretentions. John Lennon imagined it as a means to document his existence with Yoko Ono. George Harrison thought it was a nuisance.

Because it offered little in the way of traditional entertainment, Zapple is less famous for the contents of its discs, more so for its controversial Beatles associations: Lennon’s penis on the cover of Two Virgins, Harrison’s plagiarism of Bernie Krause’s synthesizer squawks on Electronic Sound, etc.

Even Barry Miles seems somewhat unsure of how to find a way into Zapple in his new book. Beginning and ending abruptly, The Zapple Diaries: The Rise and Fall of the Last Beatles Label is only intermittently the story of the label he ran. Each chapter in this brief book (which includes lots of photos and entire-pages devoted to pull quotes) is focused on a particular topic that took place during his days in The Beatles’ inner circle. Some of this is not related to Zapple directly, such as the arrival of some Hell’s Angels scumbags at Apple (on Harrison’s misguided invitation), Lennon’s drugs problems, and quite a bit about Apple’s shambling business. More on-topic chapters occasionally veer from The Beatles, as Miles discusses working with poets such as Allen Ginsburg, Charles Olsen, and Charles Bukowski for the label.

As much as the narrative ping-pongs, it’s consistently interesting and pulses with Miles’s insider knowledge. McCartney, Lennon, and Harrison sometimes come off as rather unsavory. McCartney’s treatment of the Apple staff could be cruel and Harrison passing off Krause’s work as his own is downright criminal, no matter how unlistenable that work may be. More often, they seem naïve, but not distastefully so (Miles only seems to dislike Allen Klein, which is pretty par for the course). No matter their own ambitions for Apple and Zapple, McCartney and Lennon did seem to genuinely want to use their money and resources to help powerless, unknown artists who could never get their work placed with a more conventional company. That is the heart at the core of The Apple Diaries.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 334


The Date: August 29

The Movie: Heavenly Creatures (1992)

What Is It?: In a tiny window between his early career as a Herschell Gordon Lewis-inspired gore hound and his mainstream success as a maker of blockbusters, Peter Jackson made his very best movie. Heavenly Creatures recounts the disastrous friendship between two troubled girls at a New Zealand school. The girls find solace with each other, escaping into adolescent fantasies, composing stories about a disturbingly violent, alternate-universe royal family. Audaciously, Jackson visualizes these fantasies in bizarre sequences, one of which involves a massive orgy among life-size clay figures. The relationship between the girls intensifies and intensifies, building up to an extremely disturbing climax. Melanie Lynskey as Pauline Parker and Kate Winslet as Juliet Hulme make their film debuts here, and both are extraordinary.

Why Today?: On this day in 1954, Parker and Hulme are found guilty (at least by some accounts... others claim the date was the 28th).

Sunday, August 28, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 333


The Date: August 28

The Movie: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

What Is It?: Hammer’s first adaptation of le Fanu’s Carmilla. Ingrid Pitt transcends the exploitation with her energetic presence and committed acting. She plays a lusty vampiress who goes around biting and bedding everyone in sight. Well, everyone but Peter Cushing. The depiction of a predatory lesbian vampire is homophobic, but Pitt plays her with such humanity that she earns our empathy much more so than her vacant-eyed victim, whom she genuinely seems to love.

Why Today?: On this day in 1814, Carmilla author Sheridan le Fanu is born.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 332


The Date: August 27

The Movie: Lord Love a Duck (1966)

What Is It?: Insane satire in which Tuesday Weld dreams of transcending her lowly high-school girl status to become a beach party movie star and wacko school mate Roddy McDowall (a 38 year-old school mate, no less), somehow makes all her dreams come true.

Why Today?: On this day in 1943, Tuesday Weld is born.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: 'Theatre of Blood' Blu-ray


Vincent Price was adored by fans but ridiculed by critics for his out-sized, hambone theatrics in nasty horror flicks. So it’s little surprise that Price’s personal favorite of his own ghoulish filmography was supposedly Theatre of Blood. Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor thought to have committed suicide who returns from the dead to bump off the critics who ridiculed him for his out-sized, hambone performances. As Lionheart employs a gaggle of homeless people and a hippie henchman who could pass for Ian Hunter to help cross the snooty, upper-crust critics off his list, there’s a whiff of social revolution about the movie. The fact that he is also criticized for only acting in ancient plays and loses an award to a young actor named William Woodstock (ba-dum!) will also help the film appeal to preservation societies.   

With its gimmick murders (theyre based on the killings in Shakespeare’s plays) and copious campy humor, Theatre of Blood has much in common with another key Price film, but Robert Fuest shot The Abominable Dr. Phibes as a vibrant psychedelic hallucination. Director Douglas Hickox realized Theatre of Blood with grittier, dirtier, greyer realism, though cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky’s use of distorted, fish-eyed lenses really heightens the film’s nightmarish, stomach-churning grotesqueries. 

The grungy palette of Theatre of Blood looked wretched on home video, and as much as I love Price and the film’s satirical premise, I always found Theatre to be off-putting and inaccessible because of its ugly presentation on VHS and DVD. As I was hoping it would, Twilight Time’s new blu-ray has really turned around my feelings about the film. Although white specks are constant (as they tend to be on a lot of Twilight Time releases), the picture is clear, bright, organic, and sometimes even colorful, allowing the wicked brilliance of Hickox and Suschitzky compositions to shine through. Sound is very tinny, sometimes distorted, but the picture looks so good that I was only mildly bothered by the audio issues. More importantly, I’m grateful that I can now truly enjoy one of Vincent Price’s best roles. A lively and interesting commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and journalist David Del Valle, who performed an extensive video interview with Price in 1988, completes this blu-ray, which is available from Twilight Time's official site here.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 331


The Date: August 26

The Movie: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

What Is It?: Al Pacino gives one of his less AL PACINO! performances in a based-on-a-true-story bank heist flick in which his main motivation for grabbing the moola is to pay for his boyfriend’s gender reassignment surgery. Pacino’s love for Chris Sarandon humanizes the crook and scrambles the usual seventies super-macho, anti-hero stereotypes. Godfather co-star John Cazale is great as Al’s partner in crime.

Why Today?: Today is National Dog Day, which certainly applies to the afternoon too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 330


The Date: August 25
The Movie: Beetlejuice (1988)
What Is It?: An ace melding of the darkness of Frankenweenie and the freewheeling, plot-be-damned comedy of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Screenwriters Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren pull the neat trick of making their heroes recently deceased young marrieds whose newly purchased home is invaded by a ghastly nuclear family. As the title spook, Michael Keaton doesn’t so much steal this show as he hijacks it with dynamite strapped to his chest. Drawing on classic cartoons (particularly those of Max Fleisher, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones), Salvador Dali, and his own trademark stripey, swirly design scheme, Tim Burton builds a detailed environment spewing imagination.
Why Today?: On this day in 1958, Tim Burton is born.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: 'Comic Book Fever: A Celebration of Comics 1976-1986'


It may be hard to fathom in an age when adults literally get violently angry about reading bad reviews of the latest big-screen superhero explosion fest, but there was a time when comic books were lighthearted, fun, and almost exclusively intended for children. They could thrill to Superman’s escapades and laugh at Casper’s antics without the requisite shovelful of “darkness” and “grit.” The Dark Knight might hawk Hostess snack cakes in full-page ads and Spider-Man might team up with SNL’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Comics could also be just as complex and artfully illustrated as they are today, but they were still generally aimed at kids.

George Khoury— and his guest writers, such as Mary Skrenes and Roger Stern— celebrate and eulogize the era in which comics transitioned from child to adult-child fare in his new book Comic Book Fever, presenting a series of topical articles focused on the decade between 1976 and 1986. It begins with Captain America’s goofy bicentennial patriotism, the last gasp of Harvey comics and Archie’s wholesome frolics, moves through a more thoughtful period in which Marvel and the Hernandez Brothers (Love and Rockets) introduced progressive ideals into superhero adventures, and ends with the inevitable “maturing” of the form with Alan Moore on the left and Frank Miller on the right and buckets of blood and aimless cynicism splattered everywhere in between.

Khoury only really criticizes the dark turn comics took in his final pages, but his writing about the industry’s more carefree, youth-oriented days is so celebratory that he makes his preference clear throughout Comic Book Fever. There are certainly few “serious” studies of comics that would make room to laud such wacky side roads as Jack Davis’s “Streetball” ads for Spalding, Rock & Roll comics, toy-based comics (Masters of the Universe, Rom, GI Joe, Strawberry Shortcake...), Colorforms, and Dynamite Magazine. Those of us who don’t take comic reading so deathly serious will relish binging on this nostalgia feast. There’s also fascinating drama in many of these stories, such as the troubled creations of the iconic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic and Marvel’s KISS series.

Khoury also emphasizes the fun side of the medium in his presentation. Every page of Comic Book Fever overflows with images of comics pages and covers, advertisements, and memorabilia: toys, place mats, pencil cases, lunchboxes, records, greeting cards, and so on. I remember being a kid ogling all this stuff at my local Heroes World, a comics shop chain that Khoury lovingly profiles in his book. I have much fonder memories of thumbing through issues of Star Wars there than I do of seeing Batgirl getting shot through the spine in The Killing Joke. There are innumerable online forums for those who prefer the latter. Comic Book Fever, however, is for kids like me.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 329



The Date: August 24

The Movie: Peeping Tom (1960)

What Is It?: The tale of  a serial killer who photographs his victims at the moment of their deaths using a dagger concealed in his camera’s tripod. By emphasizing the link between sex and violence, director Michael Powell took his content several ticks beyond even Hammer’s controversial pictures. The film was ravaged by U.K. critics and butchered in the U.S. where it was dumped in the grind houses. That’s rough treatment for perhaps the first film to examine the filmmaker’s responsibility in presenting violent material to audiences, as well as the audience’s own dicey desire to look at the sick and the horrible.

Why Today?: On this day in 1891, Thomas Edison patents the movie camera.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 328


The Date: August 23

The Movie: Better Off Dead (1985)

What Is It?: Savage Steve Holland was John Hughes for the kids who huffed glue at the back of the class, and Better Off Dead is his undisputed masterwork. Teen angst embraces surrealism as John Cusack broods over girls and cars, eats Franch fries and meals that look like puke and slither of their own volition, skis deadly slopes, and hangs out with his middle-aged high school chum Curtis Armstrong.

Why Today?: On this day in 1985, Better Off Dead hits theaters.

Monday, August 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 327


The Date: August 22
The Movie: All That Money Can Buy (1941)
What Is It?: Screenwriter Stephen Vincent Benét adapts his own story “The Devil and Daniel Webster for RKO pictures with a classic turn from Walter Huston as “Mr. Scratch,” the Devil who does his day in court to argue for the copyright on Eddie Arnold’s soul. Look out for the original Cat Woman, Simone Simon, as one of the devil’s minions!
Why Today?: On this day in 1952, the Devil’s Island penal colony is closed for business.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 326


The Date: August 21
The Movie: The Blood of the Poet (1930)
What Is It?: Jean Cocteau unfiltered as he steps around anything resembling a plot to revel in avant garde magic tricks. One artist can’t shake the mouth that keeps traveling all over his body. Another takes a disorienting trip through the looking glass. A snowball fight turns tragic. A card game starts gruesomely and just keeps getting worse. The Blood of the Poet should be as well known as Un Chien Andalou. If only Black Francis had written a catchy tune about this one…
Why Today?: Today is Poet’s Day.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 325


The Date: August 20

The Movie: The Baby (1973)

What Is It?: For most of its 85 minutes, this tale of an adult baby and his weirdo family is really hard to assess. The premise is wack-a-doo, but the rather excellent acting from the totally committed cast and the moody direction by seasoned T.V. director Ted Post kind of rule out the possibility that it’s a bad movie. Still, it’s hard to peg as a good movie, because the raw ingredients—a twenty-something man crawling around and cooing like a six-month old, his mother’s hard-to-swallow motivations, his sister’s increasingly strange behavior, a baby-sitter who gets a little too into Baby’s urge to breastfeed—seem to sound the “bad movie” alarm. The Baby doesn’t divulge its true quality until its final reel, which reveals a completely unexpected twist that is— no exaggeration— brilliant.

Why Today?: On this day in 2013, director Ted Post dies.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: 'Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Three'


Like the movie it chronicled, The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Two ended on a cliffhanger. Instead of the movie’s lingering questions of parentage, the books’ cliffhanger was “Will Volume Three suffer from the same issues as Volume Two?” The problem with Abrams Books’ second volume in its compilations of classic Star Wars trading cards is that it shrank the images down way too much, reducing its reproductions of Topps’ Empire Strikes Back cards to a size smaller than that of the actual cards. Pages were overwhelmed with wasted white space while you needed a magnifying glass to see those images of the most visually arresting Star Wars movie.

Well, the cliffhanger has now been resolved, and the news is much better than Luke’s discovery that Darth Vader really is his dad. The images are once again back to the oversized dimensions of those in Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume One. That’s great news because although Return of the Jedi does not have the artful visual style of its predecessor, it does have the most interesting looking menagerie of aliens of any Star Wars picture, and you get to ogle the likes of Jabba the Hutt, Bib Fortuna, the Gamorrean Guards, Nien Nunb, Admiral Ackbar, Sy Snootles, and the rest in all their weird glory in Volume Three.

The fact that Return of the Jedi provided many of the trilogy’s most interesting stills—stills that are arguably more interesting than the film, itself—helps to mitigate the fact that the overall presentation is a bit less interesting this time around. There are none of the outtake, behind-the-scenes, or production art images used in the Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back series. Gary Gerani, who wrote the cards’ original captions, seems less enthusiastic this time too, providing far fewer of his witty and colorful comments than he did in the first volume. In the plus column for Topps, the image quality is vastly improved for Return of the Jedi (images on Star Wars and Empire cards tended to be extremely grainy and often blurry) and the card backs feature neat character illustrations. In the plus column for Abrams is the fact that the pictures are no longer being presented at microscopic size. It makes one wish for a fourth volume in Abrams’ series called The Empire Strikes Back: The Non-Tiny Original Topps Trading Cards.


366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 324


The Date: August 19

The Movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

What Is It?: The second Star Trek movie is often sited as the first good one, but it’s really the only one worth a damn. While the first one tried to be 2001, the second strives more for Star Wars and succeeds incredibly well by continuing the original series’ “Space Seed” episode in which Ricardo Montalban’s Khan last appeared. And, yes, those are Ricardo’s real muscles. The finale must have been a real shocker for long-time Trekkies.

Why Today?: On this day in 1921, Gene Rodenberry is born.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Original Cast Chips in on Mark Frost's "Twin Peaks" Book

"Twin Peaks" won't be returning to TV until 2017, but we'll be getting our first taste of 21st Century "Peaks" sooner than that with the publication of series co-creator Mark Frost's book The Secret History of Twin Peaks on October 18. Coming the same day will be a 10-hour, 8-CD audio book version of the book that will include the voices of new and old Twin Peaks residents. From the original series are Kyle "Agent Cooper" MacLachlan, Russ "Dr. Jacoby" Tamblyn, Michael "Deputy Hawk" Horse, David Patrick "Jerry Horne" Kelly, and perhaps most interesting of all, Chris "Hank Jennings", who was not on the extensive list of returning cast members. Amy Shiels, James Morrison, and Robert Knepper, as well as two actors who apparently won't be appearing on the show, Annie Wersching and Len Cariou. No word on whether or not the author's voice will be among the talent, but there is an intriguing trailer for the project that you can watch here:
 
You can pre-order the CD or book version of The Secret History of Twin Peaks here:
 

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 323


The Date: August 18
The Movie: The Doors Live at the Bowl ’68 (2012)
What Is It?: Forget the silly Christ imagery and bad poetry that pollutes Doors lore. They were a good band, Jim Morrison was sexy and had an expressive voice, and he could put on a good show. Aside from a few breaks to allow him to indulge in his drivel, The Doors’ historic concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of ’68 was short on bullshit and high on entertainment. The audience and the band were in good humor, betraying the dour reputation of both parties. When Morrison and Ray Manzarek create a moment of incredible tension in “When the Music’s Over”, Jim snaps it with a well-timed burp. As the show progresses, the acid he dropped backstage starts to kick in, and his performance becomes more unpredictable without completely losing the rhythm. The band is tight, turning in stand out renditions of “Spanish Caravan” and “The Unknown Soldier”.
Why Today?: Today is Bad Poetry Day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 322


The Date: August 17
The Movie: Kuroneko (1968)
What Is It?: A samurai horde storms a cottage and rapes and murders the mother and daughter-in-law who live there. A black cat licks the women’s charred bodies, and a demon spirit grants them renewed life in exchange for a vow of vengeance. The women are happy to oblige, as they must now drink the blood of all samurai who cross their vampiric path. Director Kaneto Shindō takes this seemingly simple premise into astoundingly complex territory with Kuroneko (Black Cat). Most provocatively, his script does not spare these wronged women the dehumanizing effects of waging war. Like all great antiwar films, Kuroneko is harsh and profoundly tragic. It is also an eerie horror film and a dazzling showcase of cinematic magic tricks.  
Why Today?: Today is Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 321


The Date: August 16

The Movie: Lenny (1974)

What Is It?: Bob Fosse made his name in musical theater as an actor, dancer and choreographer, and his cinematic work followed suit when he directed and choreographed the musicals Sweet Charity and Cabaret. A biopic about a comedian may seem an odd choice for Fosse’s third directorial effort. It all makes sense when you see it. Lenny is a musical without a single musical number. Everything from the editing to the actors’ movements appears expertly choreographed, the rhythms flowing from one potentially jarring time jump to the next with the abandon and perfection of a John Coltrane riff. Dustin Hoffman as Bruce and Valerie Perrine as his wife give landmark performances: Hoffman’s final contempt-of-court monologue is one of the truest things on film, and Perrine’s interview sequences don’t betray a splinter of artifice.

Why Today?: Today is National Tell a Joke Day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 320


The Date: August 15

The Movie: 8 ½ (1963)

What Is It?: Fellini confronts his childhood, his filmmaking, and his prodigious infidelities with self-demolishing honesty, surreal humor, and incredible style. 8 ½ is overflowing with uncanny imagery and haunting music by Nino Rota. Marcello Mastroianni plays the director’s stand-in Guido Anselmi as a guilt-riddled dreamer struggling to make his latest picture amidst the constant meddling of backers and producers. Unable to keep his head in the here-and-now, Guido bounces around his past in surrealistic, poignant, hilarious flashbacks.

Why Today?: Today is half-way through the eighth month.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 319


The Date: August 14
The Movie: The Jerk (1979)
What Is It?: Steve Martin’s Navin R. Johnson tells the story of how he built a fortune on his armless eyeglasses empire and then lost it all. Actually, Johnson is more of a naïve doofus than a jerk, which implies that he’s got a mean bone in his body, which he doesn’t, and his romance with Bernadette Peters is very sweet.
Why Today?: On this day in 1945,  Steve Martin is born.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Farewell, Kenny Baker

Although his face was generally only recognizable to his most ardent fans, Kenny Baker played one of the most famous and beloved movie characters in the history of cinema. He was the childlike droid R2-D2 in the original Star Wars trilogy. Of course, that means he had a lot of adent fans. 

When the diminutive droid wasn't an actual remote-controlled machine, when it required to exude some of that effervescent personality for which it was famous, Baker crouched down into its cramped, uncomfortable hull and made it shimmy, rock, and whir. Because of his flagging health, Baker did not appear in his old costume in many scenes of the prequel trilogy (good for him) and only served as a consultant on the more recent, and much better Force Awakens, but he will always be remembered as the one and only R2-D2. 

Baker further earned his cult credentials, and actually got to show his face and speak, in several other beloved films including David Lynch's The Elephant Man and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits. That's a pretty cool resume. Kenny Baker died at the age of 81 of an undisclosed illness with which he'd been suffering for quite some time.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 318


The Date: August 13

The Movie: Born to Boogie (1972)

What Is It?: Director Ringo Starr’s love letter to Marc Bolan is a surrealistic swirl of killer performance footage and insane, acid-dipped fantasy sequences. Ringo gets on camera too, as does Elton John.

Why Today?: Today is International Lefthanders Day, which should please south-paw Ringo.

Friday, August 12, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 317


The Date: August 12

The Movie: River’s Edge (1986)

What Is It?: Anyone who grew up in the suburbs during the eighties will instantly recognize the nihilistic burn outs in this movie even if they didn’t quite experience what is depicted in the film. Supposedly based on a true story, a girl named Jamie is murdered by the oafish Sampson for apparently no reason, and the other kids conspire to get him out of the state before the cops close in. Grim and hopeless, and truer than the vast majority of teen films.

Why Today?: Today is International Youth Day.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vinyl Reissues of The Damned's 'Machine Gun Etiquette' and 'The Black Album'


In 1977, The Damned released one of the greatest and most archetypal punk debuts, but even the greatest and most archetypal punks were doomed to extinction if they didn’t evolve (The Ramones being the exception that proves the rule, of course).  Their typically punk, inspiration-barren follow-up, Music for Pleasure, suggested The Damned might croak with the other dinosaurs, and the group quickly started peeling apart with Rat Scabies scurrying from the ship and Brian James following close on his tail. It looked like an ignominious end to one of the key British punk acts, especially in light of the premature death of The Sex Pistols in early 1978. But a miraculous thing happened: the band that punk’s many critics hated the most reformed (with Scabies, but not James), signed to a new label, and proved that they could evolve with the best of them. In 1979, The Damned released Machine Gun Etiquette, the greatest punk album ever made because it made good on the genre’s rapid-fire aesthetic while constantly approaching the quintessential punk sound with immense creativity and intelligence. Whether they were trafficking in parody (“Love Song”), comic-book fantasy (“Plan 9 Channel 7”), rabble rousing (“Noise, Noise, Noise”), or cultural comment (“Anti-Pope”), whether they were layering a variety of keyboards or percussion over the standard guitars and drums, whether they were coloring their tunes with psychedelia, sixties garage rock, or the purest sparkling pop, The Damned were making music that was and is unmistakably punk (the one exception may be “These Hands”, a fairground sing-along about a killer clown… which is actually pretty fucking punk).

Now that the reformed, reinvigorated Damned had perfected their birth genre, it was time to continue the evolution by mostly leaving the quintessential punk trappings behind and fully embracing their creativity on The Black Album. There was still a fair share of punk on the album— and tracks such as “Wait for the Blackout”, “Lively Arts”, and “Drinking About My Baby” are some of The Damned’s best in that vein—but there were also experiments with Beach Boys harmonies on “Silly Kids Games”, synthesizers on “History of the World (Part 1)”, prog-rock invention on “Therapy”, slinky psychedelia on “Twisted Nerve” and “13th Floor Vendetta”, goth balladry on “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, and all of these things on the unprecedented, totally gonzo epic “Curtain Call”, which gets my vote for best Damned track and best damned track of the 1980s. Still, The Black Album is essentially a transitional album, and the most perfectly realized expression of the group’s psychedelic leanings was still to come in 1982. Nevertheless, as transitional albums go, The Black Album is one of the very, very best.

Ace Records is now reissuing Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album on vinyl. Played against the most recent CD iterations of these albums, the vinyl sounds a little dull and lacking depth at first blush, but that is partially because the CD remastering was too bloody loud. The sound on Ace’s new LPs is comparable to the mastering of the Machine Gun Etiquette and Black Album tracks on the original vinyl edition of the 1987 compilation The Light at the End of the Tunnel, which I had to use since I do not have the original vinyl editions of MGE and The Black Album for comparison purposes. This means Ace’s LPs most likely offer greater authenticity to the mastering of the original vinyl releases of The Damned’s albums than the remastered CDs do. You just need to boost the volume knob on your stereo... and if you’re not boosting the volume knob when playing Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album, you’re seriously missing the point of them.
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