Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New/Old Horror Series Coming to Psychobabble in 2020...

Hello, Psychobabblers, and welcome to 2020! Firstly, I’d like to apologize for the relative scarcity of posts in 2019, but take comfort in my New Year’s Resolution to you: I hereby promise to post more than mere reviews and news items this year. I’ll begin fulfilling that promise with a new Psychobabble series based on an Psychobabble old series.

This particular New Year’s Day doesn’t just offer us the opportunity to reflect on the previous year, or even the previous decade. 2020 essentially marks the 100th Anniversary of essential feature-length horror films. It was in 1920 that Robert Wiene essentially kick started the genre with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In honor of this milestone, I will be posting addendums to Psychobabble’s 150 Essential Horror Films to bring the list up to an essential 200! I have also edited the existing posts extensively. So check in with Psychobabble on the first day of every month leading up to Halloween season in October to see which movies have made the cut.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Review: The Beatstalkers' 'Scotland's No. 1 Beat Group'

The Beatstalkers were an odd duck in Britain’s mid-sixties beat scene. Were they a middle-of-the-road pop group like The Tremeloes? Sometimes. Were they aggressive, modish noise merchants like The Who? They were when they were at their best. Were they purveyors of twee quirk? They certainly were when a pre-fame David Bowie was providing their material. Were they Scotland’s No. 1 beat group? Well, they were if you trust the title of Sommor’s new compilation of everything The Beatstalkers recorded.

The band’s lack of a firm identity makes this record an inconsistent listen. Even its liner notes are up-front about how some of this stuff is not very good. While Dave Lennox’s sometimes keening vocals can be an issue, material is the main problem. Bill Martin’s daft “Mr. Disappointing” is truth in advertising. Bowie’s three contributions are notable only because the writer (and very audible guest backing vocalist) would go onto much, much, much better things.

However, when The Beatstalkers are allowed to just do their thing, which is basically in the Birds/Action/Small Faces vein, they’re good, and their historical significance is worth mentioning. Along with their interpretations of those Bowie songs, The Beatstalkers also cut a pre-lyric version of the garage band staple “I Can Only Give You Everything” (titled “Base Line” in its instrumental incarnation) and released a really tripped-out version of Reg King’s “Little Boy” long before The Action’s admittedly superior version saw the light of day.

Scotland’s No. 1 Beat Group is also an inconsistent listen because of its varying sources. A couple of long-lost early demos are of understandably rough quality, and a number of the proper singles were clearly dubbed from crackly old vinyl. However, the later singles all sound good, the pressing is nice and quiet, and the extensive liner notes included on a booklet insert are very well done.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Psychobabble’s 10 Favorite Retro Record Releases of 2019

This year Psychobabble basically committed to reviewing only vinyl for maximum retro-ocity. Fortunately, there were some top-notch releases on wax in 2019 for fans of twentieth-century psych, soul, new wave, and Swedish pop. Here are Psychobabble’s 10 favorite retro music releases of 2019.

 (Each entry links to the original review)

10. For Fox’s Sake by The Fox
In short:For lovers of the brand of fresh-faced British rock that the rains of Sabbath and Zeppelin washed away, this album is a revelation.”

In short:This 50th anniversary edition of The Band is a fine way to hear one of the very best albums of the Rock & Roll era.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: 'Slaughterhouse-Five' Blu-ray

Kurt Vonnegut is among the most popular and clear-eyed writers with a taste for the experimental, but his work is notoriously difficult to adapt because his tone and humor are so individual and his plotting so unhinged. Consequently, few filmmakers have had the guts to tackle his source material, and even fewer have done so successfully. Most people will agree that George Roy Hill came closest with his 1972 version of what is probably Vonnegut’s signature work.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) becomes “unstuck in time,” as he bounces from childhood trauma to his horrifying experiences as a prisoner of war during the bombing of Dresden in WWII to his sometimes troubled family and political life after the war. His pinball thoughts also take him to Tralfamadore—an alien otherworld in which he lives out his fantasies of solitude with his beloved dog and the Hollywood starlet (Valerie Perrine) of his dreams.

Initially, Hill and screenwriter Stephen Geller threaten to cheat their way through Vonnegut’s bizarro world by having Pilgrim type actual text from the novel for the camera, but this conceit is quickly abandoned and the filmmakers allow Dede Allen’s ingenious editing and excellent performances from the low-key Sacks, uproarious Ron Liebman as a fellow American soldier who seems to want Pilgrim dead more than the Nazis do, Eugene Roche as a loving father figure in the internment camp, and Sharon Gans as Pilgrim’s attentive wife to carry the story. Glenn Gould’s haunting and elegant performances of classical keyboard pieces draw the pathos out from under the film’s ample absurdity and horror beautifully.

Arrow Films’ new blu-ray edition of Slaughterhouse-Five also tunes into the film’s beauty with a visual presentation that is clean, richly colored, and warm and a strong mono audio track. Bonus features include a feature commentary from film historian Troy Howarth; comparatively confident on-screen analyses from Kim Newman and Daniel Schweiger, who focuses on Gould’s music; an interview with Perry King (Pilgrim’s ne’er-do-well son in the film); and another interview with Robert Crawford, who documented the original film’s production.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Psychobabble’s 10 Favorite Pop-Culture Books of 2019

Psychobabble’s 10 favorite pop-culture books of 2019 cover all the bases of this site’s main obsessions: scary movies, geek TV, classic Rock & Roll, creepy comics, and David Lynch. Here they are…

 (Each entry links to the original review)

In short:Visual and textual fun…”

9. Face It by Debbie Harry
In short:It’s a gas to see that Harry’s style-consciousness is even at work in her autobiography.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Motown's Mono Vinyl Series, Part 1

You can get into the “stereo vs. mono” debate until your ears disintegrate, but when it comes to Motown soul, there is no debate. Mono is the only way to experience the unified power of the Funk Brothers’ and the silky harmonies of The Miracles and The Marvelettes. So the label’s new limited edition series of vinyl cut from original mono master tapes is completely welcome. Most of these discs are long out of print on wax in their definitive mixes, and a couple in the first wave—The Marvelettes’ Sophisticated Soul and The Supremes’ Reflections—have either never been available in mono (the former) or only available in that format in the UK (the latter).  

This review will focus on three albums in this first wave, while the other two (Reflections and The Temptations Sing Smokey) will feature in their own review later this month. First up is 1963’s The Fabulous Miracles, a good representation of the soft Tamla sound that gave way to a heavier beat a year or two later. A few of Smokey Robinson’s songs are a bit too typical of his label’s early sound, and the mere ten tracks make the whole package feel a bit slight. However, the man’s butterfly voice never stops fluttering with elegance and tonal perfection, and needless to say, the spellbinding “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” is perfect in both performance and composition. The tougher, Sam Cooke-style blues of “Won’t You Take Me Back” and “Happy Landing”, the joyous yet easy-going stroll of the minor hit “A Love She Can Count On”, and the darting woodwinds of “Whatever Makes You Happy” mix things up nicely too.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: 'Melody Makers: Should’ve Been There'

Melody Maker was generally more significant for Barrie Wentzell’s striking B&W photos of sixties and seventies pop and rock stars than the depth of its reportage. So Leslie Ann Coles’s documentary Melody Makers: Should’ve Been There is a fitting tribute to the long-running UK music paper. The storytelling is as flimsy as a puff piece on Yes, but boy, those Wentzell photos that fill the screen throughout this film’s 88 minutes are impressive. Peter Gabriel resplendent in his daisy headpiece. Brian Jones cradling his sitar. Tina Turner commanding the stage as a Screaming Mimi in a mini.

Just as readers bought Melody Maker for the musicians it celebrated rather than the paper’s staff, viewers will likely check out Melody Makers for the rockers too. However, insights are meager at best (a few tantalizingly slim tales involving the Stones’ reactions to Jones’s death, Syd Barrett’s mental troubles, and Peter Grant’s bad attitude) and non-existent for the most part. Too many discussions involve uneventful encounters with pre-fame rock stars for the sake of a “The security guard didn’t even know who Bob Dylan was!” punchline. Discussions of the magazine’s inner workings are similarly skimpy as we learn a little about its delegation of work, its failure in the U.S., and Wentzell’s work methods, but not much else.

Yet, there are instances in which Cole makes it clear that she is looking for ways to zap the material to life. There’s a neat sequence in which several talking heads discussing Keith Moon’s monkey shines are cut together in a hodgepodge montage that could be the editing equivalent of Moon’s “hit random shit and see what happens” drumming. While Melody Makers is almost frustratingly neutral (the paper had its detractors, but none speak up in this film), sly commentary also comes out in the editing from time to time, as a discussion of how MM ignored celebrities’ hedonism is punctuated with a photo of (alleged) celebrity rapist Kim Fowley.

Since photography is so central to the story and storytelling of Melody Makers, it feels like a movie that would have been better served as a coffee table book, and I did occasionally find myself hitting the pause button to pore over some of Wentzell’s striking shots. So the three-minute image gallery included on MVD’s new DVD edition of Melody Makers: Should’ve Been There is a nice bonus, especially since it is set to the only non-generic music on the disc: The Strawbs’ “Oh How She Changed”. I’m still holding out for that coffee table book.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review: 50th Anniversary Edition of 'The Band'

Bob Dylan and The Band spent the summer of ’67 in Woodstock, isolated from the sitars, Mellotrons, and psychedelics that defined the season. When they emerged, they put out the two albums that redefined Rock & Roll for back-to-the-roots ’68. But whereas John Wesley Harding felt like Dylan’s most personal album since Another Side, The Band’s Music from Big Pink was clearly made under Dylan’s heavy influence. It’s an excellent record, but their own defining personal statement was still a year away.

The Band finds The Band leaving the Dylan-collaborations and covers behind for a completely self-created work. Robbie Robertson emerged as a songwriter with a vision nearly as individual as his mentor’s. Much has been made of the idea that The Band is a sepia snapshot of America’s past seen through the eyes of an (Canadian) outsider. However, many of Robertson’s characters seem to be born Americans, and he dramatizes them with such commitment and authenticity the backwoods funk of “Up on Cripple Creek” or the farming woes of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” feel completely homebrewed in American soil. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is so soaked with humanity that it’s easy to forget that its sympathetic narrator fights alongside the Civil War’s villains (apparently that’s what staunch Civil Rights activist Joan Baez did when she turned it into a hit).

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review: '1973: Rock at the Crossroads'

While it may not ring the cultural-epoch bells of 1955 (beginning of Rock & Roll era), 1964 (British Invasion), 1977 (punk invasion), or 1991 (cue opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), 1973 was actually a watershed year for pop music. Iconic releases included The Dark Side of the Moon, Quadrophenia, The Harder They Come, Court and Spark, Raw Power, New York Dolls, Band on the Run, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Innervisions. In fact, in his new book, 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, Andrew Grant Jackson deems the year “the zenith of classic rock,” referencing a FiveThirtyEight.com analysis concluding that classic rock radio plays more songs from that year than any other. He further argues that it was also the jumping-off point for such near-future genres as punk, disco, and hip-hop.

That’s all well and good, but frankly, I can read a book of Jackson covering a year as musically uneventful as 1974. He is the author of one of my favorites from 2015: 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music. His book on 1973 follows an identical format, approaching the year in question season-by-season with each chapter focusing on a clutch of like-minded pop events: the makings of significant albums, the maturing and metamorphosing of significant artists, the hedonism of the culture, etc. Jackson’s storytelling is so well supported and energetically told that he had my attention even when discussing artists that would normally send me rushing to my radio’s off switch.

He also draws major non-musical events into the discussion, usually using significant musical moments to fuel these discussions, so the release of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” leads into a pocket history of Roe v. Wade or Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” segues into details about gay rights. By doing so, Jackson makes these 46-year-old events seem eerily relevant without ever belaboring the connection. This is even true when he reminds us that the pestilence currently infesting the White House was absolutely awful way back in ’73, the year he and his dad went to war with the Department of Justice over legitimate charges that they were blocking African Americans from renting in one of their properties. 

1973 is satisfying in itself, but it still left me hungry—specifically for a book in this format for each year between ’65 and ’73 and beyond. But, I guess that’s asking a lot from a guy who has already given us one of the best books of 2019.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: The Fox's 'For Fox Sake'

Had the breaks been a little better, The Fox might now be spoken of in the same breath as Small Faces, The Creation, The Move, The Action, Traffic, and the other mod and/or psych bands they resemble. Alas, the Brighton quintet only made one album, because as frontman Steve Brayne relates in the liner notes of a vinyl reissue of the For Fox Sake LP, their management “poached” Black Sabbath and decided to put all of its eggs in that gloomy basket. Timing might have something to do with The Fox’s failure since their mid-sixties sound was so out of step the times when they released their one and only LP in 1970.

That The Fox is all but forgotten is a drag, but there’s nothing draggy about For Fox Sake. For lovers of the brand of fresh-faced British rock that the rains of Sabbath and Zeppelin washed away, this album is a revelation. Almost every song is a gem, inviting comparison to the works of more famous artists but offering enough originality to make it essential in its own right. You’d be hard pressed to find a song by a white band that used reggae off beats earlier than “As She Walks Away”, which also resembles Larks’ Tongue-era King Crimson three years ahead of schedule. Had Hendrix experimented with circus music, he may have been able to lay claim to the sound of the epic “Madame Magical”, but since he didn’t, he cant. Most other tracks don’t strive for such uniqueness, but so who cares when For Fox Sake supplies the best Action (“Secondhand Love”), Creation (“Lovely Day”), and Small Faces (“Man in a Fast Car”) songs of 1970? Only the inchoate jam “Goodtime Music” is not up to snuff.

Sommor Records’ vinyl reissue of For Fox Sake affords this project some belated attention. The very cool album cover art is nicely reproduced. Sound is a bit flat and distorted, though that’s may be more a consequence of the album’s original lo-fi production than the digital mastering. The LP-sized booklet with Brayne’s notes and several band photos is a nice bonus. But great songs by a great band that almost nobody has heard are all the incentive necessary to hunt down For Fox Sake.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Vinyl Remasters of 4 Police Albums

Perhaps no late seventies/eighties band was as successful and brilliant in equal proportion as The Police. Each of their five albums is a must-own, almost completely unburdened by sub-par material, and each one displays a different facet of this most complex of power trios. Their debut Outlandos d’Amour saw Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland attempting to fool the punks into believing they were kindred spirits, failing at that, and producing a slick yet electrifying brew of speed rock, reggae, and pop. Their next two albums are their most similar as Regatta de Blanc and Zenyatta Mondatta lose the punk gestures to focus more on their tasty brand of poppy white (Blanc) reggae (Regatta—they were just as handy with a pretentious album title as they were with their instruments). With Ghost in the Machine, The Police took greater advantage of the studio, fattening their sound with greater use of keyboards and Sting’s surprisingly effective, overdubbed saxophone arrangements. Synchronicity went for broke as The Police shunned none of the magic studio recording offered, wrote a slew of actual and potential hits, and still made room to be hilariously eccentric (“Mother”!). That their greatest success and artistic statement was also The Police’s final album meant they went out on top with a flawless legacy.

The legacy sounds as flawless as ever on half-speed remastered vinyl from A&M. The mastering jobs generally sounds pleasingly similar to that of the original seventies/eighties releases. Regatta de Blanc, though, sounds distinctively improved with stronger bass and more vibrant detail, while the bass frequencies of Synchronicity are pumped up a bit. Initially released in last year’s Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings box set, four of The Police’s five are now getting individual releases as well. I’m not sure why the band’s most visceral disc, Outlandos d’Amour, wasn’t invited to the party, and since each Police album is essential, the box set might still be the smartest way to go, especially since it includes a bonus disc of equally essential non-LP singles. Still, those who need to flesh out an incomplete collection should be very happy with these individual releases.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: 'Humble Pie: Life & Times of Steve Marriott + 1973 Complete Winterland Show'

There’s never been a singer quite like Steve Marriott, with his banshee cry streaking out of his elfin frame. He was one of the very few British soul shouters who never seemed to force the energy, never seemed to be doing a parody of authentic, African-American singers (sorry, Mick). Monumentally talented yet still underrated, particularly outside of his home country, Marriott is certainly worthy of more attention. Setting that issue straight seems to be the goal of Gary Katz’s goal when putting together Humble Pie: Life & Times of Steve Marriott. However, as that title suggests, the storytelling is a bit lop-sided, with little attention paid to Marriott’s most vital years as a Small Face and most of the documentary focusing on his seventies work as a member of Humble Pie.

Since Humble Pie was produced in the late nineties, it was shot on full-frame video. That video presentation means its new Blu-ray presentation does nothing for its images, but audio is an improvement over the included DVD in this Blu-ray/DVD/CD set. The decision to fill the screen’s margins with distracting visual noise was a bad one, though.

The documentary itself offers plenty of opportunities to hear Steve wail, though its abundant performance footage leaves the talking heads (Humble Pie members Peter Frampton, Jerry Shirley and Clem Clempson, friends Chris Farlowe and Spencer Davis, fans Chris Robinson and Kevin Dubrow, two of his ex-wives, etc.) to take a back seat and deprives the doc of a complete picture of the man. Fortunately, an hour of bonus interview footage fleshes out Marriott to a certain degree with personal stories from many of the main movie’s participants. Still, the most enticing bonus of this set is that CD capturing a ferocious Humble Pie set from Winterland in 1973.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Review: Rolling Stones' 'Let It Bleed' 50th Anniversary Box Set

Once they realized they couldn’t get by with covering great old Chuck Berry and blues numbers forever, The Rolling Stones got busy with trying to hack out a distinctive sound of their very own. This led to their most eclectic period as they continually tossed fashionable sounds against the wall to suss which one was the stickiest. While it’s tantalizing to imagine how the rest of the Stones’ career might have played out if they’d settled on the cool marimbas and Elizabethan harpsicords of Aftermath or the spooky Mellotrons and Moroccan jams of Their Satanic Majesties Request, they probably made the wisest choice to stick with what they knew best. Thus, the rugged blues and sinister Rock & Roll of 1968’s Beggars Banquet became the template for much of the rest of their career.

Their 1969 follow up, Let It Bleed, never strays too far from the previous year’s outing, though there is too much good stuff in the grooves to dismiss it as an also ran. If “Country Honk” is a more disposable C&W parody than “Dear Doctor” and “Midnight Ramber” is a less elegant first-person portrait of evil than “Sympathy for the Devil”, the Stones kept things fresh with the incomparable apocalyptic atmospherics of “Gimmie Shelter”, the wicked grooves and guffaws of “Monkey Man”, Keith Richards’s deliciously gnarly solo-vocal debut “You Got the Silver”, and the hard-learned insights and choir—choir!—of the pop symphony “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Review: Nirvana's 'MTV Unplugged in New York' on Vinyl

Nirvana’s appearance on MTV’s Unplugged series was the final creative statement from the nineties’ defining band and a pop star whose terrible exit from this world increased his mystique a hundred fold. Consequently, it’s been overanalyzed like some sort of Rock & Roll Zapruder film. Such morbid hullaballoo misses the real value of this TV special and its accompanying soundtrack.

Rather than a sad epitaph, MTV Unplugged in New York is a surprise celebration of the best songwriter to emerge from the thing labeled “grunge,” which always valued sonic sludge over songwriting. Stripped of their feedback squalls, presented with acoustic instrumentation and brushed drums, “All Apologies”, “About a Girl”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Come As You Are”, and “On a Plain” fully shine as simple pop melodies and chord structures matched with Kurt Cobain’s evocative Sylvia Plath-meets-Francis Bacon lyricism (arrangements of his other songs differ little from their studio counterparts). 25 years after all the tragedy and controversy, Cobain’s songs are what remain, and they were never given a more naked or elegant presentation than on Unplugged in New York.

The album is just as significant as a testament to Nirvana’s collective great taste in songs and ability to put their own stamp on diverse selections from David Bowie, The Vaselines, Leadbelly, and The Meat Puppets (with accompaniment from that band’s Kirkwood brothers that pulls no attention from the show’s stars). All the while, Cobain’s lighthearted, self-effacing between-song banter further deflates the show’s reputation for funereal heaviness.

For the album’s 25th anniversary, DGC is now reissuing Unplugged in New York on 180-gram vinyl. For the first time, the set is being expanded to a double-LP to make room for five rehearsal performances previously only available as DVD bonus tracks. The recordings have not been remastered, and those rehearsals of  “Come As You Are”, “Polly”, “Plateau”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, and “The Man Who Sold the World” are mostly notable for their rehearsal-type chatter (“Can I have more vocals in my monitor?”, etc.), alternative banter, and technical glitches (though Cobain’s extra-watery guitar solo on “Come As You Are” is pretty cool). The bonus tracks aren’t quite essential, but MTV Unplugged in New York as a whole certainly is, so it’s still nice to have it on vinyl.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: 'The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing the Franchise to the Big Screen, 1969-1980'

Star Trek had barely been cancelled when its obsessive fans began obsessing about where the Enterprise might head next. Even as Gene Roddenberry dangled the possibility of a new live-action series, and forced fans to settle for a cartoon, there was talk of a feature film for years. Events began to snowball by the mid-seventies, and Trekkers (never call them Trekkies!) got their big screen treat when Star Trek—The Motion Picture zoomed into cinemas in 1979. Well, maybe “zoomed” is not the right verb. Perhaps “floated in slow-mo” is more appropriate for Robert Wise’s notoriously inert epic. Disappointment followed.

One Trekker (or does she prefer “Trekkie”?) who was not let down by all that “V’ger” business was Sherilyn Connelly. In fact, she is downright defiant about her love of Star Trek—The Motion Picture in her new book The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing the Franchise to the Big Screen, 1969-1980. Even though I’m among the many who find little to love in Star Trek’s first cinematic outing, I can certainly get behind Connelly’s stance considering my own vocal love of such fan-irritating items as The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. I can also get behind her attitude since she expresses it with so much wit and willingness to acknowledge the flaws of a film she realizes is flawed but loves anyway.

So you don’t really have to share Connelly’s zeal for a ponderous exercise in saying “V’ger” over and over to dig The First Star Trek Movie. The road to the film’s eventual release is convoluted enough to make for interesting reading under any circumstances. There are bizarre discarded plots about the Kennedy assassination and Kirk swashbuckling with giant space spiders, gobs of debunkable Roddenberry bluster, and a disturbingly prescient side-story in which Leonard Nimoy gets shit from prototypes of the disgruntled losers who now make social media so delightful. However, it is always the author who is the true star of this show. Connelly’s writing is so lively and littered with humor (for example, she turns flogging her previous book about My Little Pony to an audience of self-serious Trekkies/Trekkers into a running gag) that it makes The First Star Trek Movie much more fun than the first Star Trek movie.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: 'An American Werewolf in London' Blu-ray

By the early eighties, the werewolf genre had essentially been dead since Lon Chaney Jr. last wore the fur. There was AIP’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf, and Paul Naschy’s low-budget wolf cycle, but not much else happening in the way of lycanthropes. The time must have been right for things that bark and scratch in 1981, though, because that year saw a small new wave of werewolf pictures.

Without a doubt, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London stands out in a pack that also included the more bluntly satirical The Howling and the self-serious Wolfen. Landis’s vengefully imaginative script, inventive direction, freewheeling sense of humor, and geeky awareness of monster movies past made for a film that almost seemed too much of a tonal hybrid to call horror, yet as funny as it often is, An American Werewolf in London is a true horror movie. It’s just an audaciously original one. And with its killer cast (David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter’s magnetic likability ramps up the emotional impact when bad things happen to them), a neat moon-centric pop soundtrack, and Rick Baker’s groundbreaking special effects (still the very best werewolf effects on film as far as I’m concerned), I contend that An American Werewolf in London is not just the best werewolf movie but also the best movie of the 1980s.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

'The Beatles: Singles Collection' Coming Soon...

The Beatles news just won't slow.  Just a couple of weeks past the release of the 50th anniversary Abbey Road box set, there's already something new to announce. On November 22, Apple Corps./Capitol/UMe will release The Beatles: Singles Collection. As the name implies, this limited edition box set will include each of the Fabs' vinyl singles from 1962's "Love Me Do" b/w "P.S. I Love You" through a single containing the mid-nineties pairing of "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love" (though odd post-breakup releases such as the "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da" singles will not be included).
The novelty of this set is that the picture sleeves will represent Beatles singles from around the world, so we'll see "From Me to You" b/w "Thank You Girl" as it was issued in Norway and "Hello, Goodbye" b/w "I Am the Walrus" as Mexican Beatlemaniacs bought it in 1967. 

Each single is on 180 gram vinyl and the box includes a 40-page booklet. 

Here's the complete track listing with the associated country for each picture sleeve:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: 'Häxan' Blu-ray

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is the rare movie that gets to have its cake and eat it too. The film wants to be a serious exploration of the very real, very vile, historical persecution of witches—and it manages to pull that off surprisingly sympathetically, though a bit patronizingly. It also wants to be a full-blooded horror movie at a time before that term had even been coined. This is where the film really soars like a coven of broom-riders. In illustrating the ignorant superstitions Christensen sought to dispel, he makes gold coins dance about a room, releases witches into the sky on their brooms, and unleashes some startlingly grotesque creatures, the most disturbing of which is the director, himself, dolled up as a devil with incessantly wagging tongue. 

For its informational value, tremendous visual imagination, and sheer Halloweeniness, Häxan is my personal favorite silent film and must-viewing at this time each year. This year, there’s the option to watch it in a new 2k digital restoration as the Criterion Collection upgrades the film for blu-ray. Clearly a great deal of work went into sweeping all the speckles, scratches, and other instances of major damage present throughout Criterion’s 2001 DVD from the frames. The film’s heavy grain remains intact. There have also been some changes in the tinting and intertitles.

Unusually, the Criterion Collection has not included any new features aside from the visual upgrade. However, all previous features from its 2001 DVD have been ported over: Benjamin Christensen’s introduction to the film’s 1941 release, the inclusion of the William S. Burroughs-narrated re-edit called Witchcraft Through the Ages (which has not been restored as the main feature has been), film scholar Casper Tyberg’s audio commentary, the Bibliothèque Diabolique featurette on Christensen’s sources, a few outtakes, and booklet essays. Despite the lack of new material, that enchanting 2k transfer may be worth a re-purchase to dedicated cultists.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Farewell, Ginger Baker

Easily one of the most influential drummers of sixties rock, Ginger Baker was also one of the wildest. Yet his seeming lack of discipline--Baker was known to take 12-minute drum solos--was grounded in a much stricter approach to his music than the more genuinely chaotic Keith Moon and his ilk. Baker took his music dead seriously despite an out-of-control personality that saw him come to blows with bandmate Jack Bruce and threaten his own documentarian Jay Bulger on camera at the outset of Beware of Mr. BakerGinger Baker was a studied jazz drummer who had the technique to back up the solos. He was also a stunningly powerful player as evidenced in his work with Cream and Blind Faith, and a surprisingly whimsical songwriter capable of whipping up such lovable Cream tunes as "Blue Condition","Pressed Rat and Warthog", and "What a Bringdown". Baker had been having serious physical issues for years, including chronic pulmonary disease and osteoarthritis, and underwent open heart surgery three years ago. Over the past few months, his health continued to degenerate, and Ginger Baker died today at the age of 80.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: 'Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966'

Although we may now mostly think of the Man of Steel as a star of comic books and movies, Supes also had a very unique life in newspaper comics sections. The strips are where Superman first tangled with Lex Luthor without Luthor’s hair getting in the way. It is where he first tricked that fifth dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptik to say his own name backward. So it was a no small thing when that life essentially came to an end 27 years after it began in January 1939.

The Library of American Comics/IDW’s latest anthology of full-color Superman strips compiles his final adventures as the star of his own series. Coincidentally perhaps, it reads like a Greatest Hits of everything that made his weekend antics such whimsical fun. Once again he travels through time. Once again our hero uses his army of robots made in his own image to get out of scrapes. He blasts into space to deal with weird intergalactic cultures, temporarily loses his powers, and heads back to Smallville one last time. There are also prominent spots for his main friends and foes so that we can wave our final farewells to Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Luthor, and Mr. Mxyzptik, who must have been particularly dear to the heart of editor Mort Weisinger considering how often he pops back into our dimension throughout Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966

Aside from the most fleeting of references to the contemporary conflict in Southeast Asia, The Munsters, and the Sontagian concept of camp, these strips also sit well outside the tumultuous times in which they were created. In other words, they are as timeless as their star. All of this makes for a book that feels like the definitive volume in The Library of American Comics/IDW’s lavish hardcover series of Superman newspaper strips.

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