Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: 'The Women of David Lynch: A Collection of Essays'

Like almost all artists worth discussing, David Lynch is highly controversial. Some viewers praise his ability to place you in an unsettling, beautiful, transcendent, and completely realized world. Others dismiss him as a purveyor of weird for the sake of weird. He has also split viewers in terms of his treatment of women. Some feel that the way he portrays women is complex and ultimately empathetic. Many others have dismissed him as a misogynist who gets off on forcing his female characters to suffer.

This particular issue has continually resurfaced since the release of Blue Velvet 33 years ago and on through the debut of the long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks just a couple of years ago. The argument regarding Lynch’s treatment of women is so pervasive that Scott Ryan decided to devote an entire issue of his Twin Peaks ’zine The Blue Rose to the women of David Lynch. Ultimately, he has devoted an entire book to that subject. Since Ryan is a man, he is not the most qualified writer to dive into this sensitive topic, and he very wisely keeps a low profile in The Women of David Lynch. Instead he cedes control to thirteen women to explore such topics as Dorothy Valens’s role in Blue Velvet, the roles of non-white women in Twin Peaks, and the roles of all of the female characters in The Elephant Man. There are also interviews with Mรคdchen Amick of Twin Peaks and Charlotte Stewart of Eraserhead and Twin Peaks, which provide firsthand accounts of what it’s like to be a woman in Lynch’s world.

Most of the authors who contribute to The Women of David Lynch lean toward a more positive assessment of his treatment of women. They believe that he is generally intent on presenting a realistic idea of what it is like to be a women struggling through a patriarchal society. Understandably, the writers who tackle his treatment of non-white female characters are less forgiving, particularly Melanie McFarland, who is the only writer who is very emphatically not a fan of Lynch’s work. However, even she admits that it’s all a matter of interpretation as she cites other women writers who continue to admire Lynch’s work. Lynch is certainly an artist who demands active interpretation from those who take in his often confounding and troubling work.

As much as I love that work, I am one of those fans who is often troubled by the ideas behind his dreamy/disturbing imagery, and I found it very enlightening that many of the women of The Women of David Lynch found some of Lynch’s more controversial characters, such as Dorothy Valens and Mary X of Eraserhead, worthy of empathy and praise. I guess it does come down to interpretation, though just as a guy as Scott Ryan is not the ideal assessor of Lynch’s treatment of women, a guy like me is not the best assessor of the conclusions of the women who contribute to The Women of David Lynch. I can say that several of these writers confirmed some of my negative assessments, but some challenged them for the better, helping me to gain a more thorough appreciation for work I already loved with definite political reservations. While a couple of the more experimental essays didn’t work for me at all (one is written in the parlance of a Facebook post complete with excessive all caps and “LOLs”; another briefly reviews each of Lynch’s features from the pov of a misogynistic murderer on acid), most of these essays are accessible and enlightening, though I’m sure this particular issue will continue to be debated as long as people continue to study the work and women of David Lynch.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: 'Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film'

From his decision to adapt the scandalous Lolita to the world-annihilating cynicism of Dr. Strangelove to the unflinching anti-storytelling of 2001 to the horrific physical and psychological violence of A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick made a career of shocking viewers. He seemed to save up his most unrelenting succession of shocks for what turned out to be his final film. Kubrick’s decision to film a lengthy orgy extreme enough for U.S. censors to demand its actions be obscured with digital censors was shocking. The fact that the film required an excruciating 18 months to shoot was shocking. The way the long, long, long awaited film from the man many rated as cinema’s greatest living artist baffled, repelled, and bored many viewers was shocking. Kubrick’s sudden death shortly after completing the first cut of Eyes Wide Shut was the biggest shock of all.

Even if you are among those viewers who loathe Eyes Wide Shut, the shocking nature of its making may still compel you to read Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams’s uncovers new shocks that enrich the story of an already labyrinthian film. Although I knew that the film gestated in Kubrick’s mind for a long time, I was surprised that it did so for as many as 40 years. Kolker and Abrams imply that Kubrick’s obsession with bringing Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle to the screen may have infused much of his earlier work, including Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining (Kubrick annotated his copy of Stephen King’s novel with ideas for scenes that seem straight out of Schnitzler’s), and unproduced projects such as Burning Secret and Laughter in the Dark. Though there is a lot of humor in the finished product (particularly in its oft-misunderstood orgy sequence), I was also surprised by the wealth of evidence that Kubrick seriously considered adapting Traumnovelle as a comedy, and that he’d considered casting Woody Allen and Steve Martin in the lead role and communicated with Terry Southern about writing it.

While I noticed at least one exaggeration (Kolker and Abrams called the Eyes Wide Shut shoot history’s longest, but the 12-year shoot of Boyhood and the 5-year shoot of Eraserhead easily beat its 18 months), the book is well researched (materials include Kubrick’s personal faxes and notes he made on scripts and in books) and doesn’t oversell its conclusions. I’m not sure if it will spur Eyes Wide Shut haters to reevaluate the film, but Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film will give them some fresh insight into the seemingly impenetrable mind of Stanley Kubrick.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Farewell, Peggy Lipton

In a town of cuckoos, criminals, murderers, and demons, Norma Jennings was the token normal person in Twin Peaks. Peggy Lipton played the owner of the R.R. Diner with both a soothing sense of calm amidst the chaos and a sort of quiet toughness when confronted with bozos like lunkhead husband Hank Jennings and crass capitalist Walter Lawford. 

Of course, Lipton's career started well before the 1990 debut of Twin Peaks. Perhaps her biggest claim to fame was her role as counterculture cop Julie Barnes on Mod Squad, but she'd also appeared in a multitude of other series such as Bewitched, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Virginian. She had a side career as a singer, as well, releasing versions of Laura Nyro's "Stoney End" and "Lu" and Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven". 

Peggy Lipton was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, but following treatment, she resumed acting on series such as Rules of Engagement, Crash, and Psych, and even resumed the role that most endears her to Psychobabble when she returned to Twin Peaks as Norma Jennings in 2017. Sadly, Peggy Lipton died from cancer yesterday. She was 72.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: 'Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1947-1949'

When we last left Superman: The Golden Age Dailies a year ago, our hero had wrapped up any war-time business to contend with arch nemesis Lex Luthor and get goofy with the likes of Mr. Mxyztplk and a pair of invisible imps called the Ogies. As IDW's series continues with more golden age adventures ranging from 1947 to 1949, Supes is no longer grappling with his most famous foes, though the whimsical post-war tone basically continues. 

Aside from a reappearance of the Ogies (who materialize in corporeal form as twin pin ups), the bad guys are more mundane with a preponderance of machine-gun toting gangsters. Consequently, there's a bit more violence this time, and things get particularly grim when a plot to off Lois Lane involves electrocuting a cat. Hiss! 

However, wackiness still abounds, and Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1947-1949 is at its most fun when Superman is digging a bizarre underground maze to protect a youth serum or constructing a giant sea monster to foil a scheme that involves a yegg who must marry Lois Lane to save his own life. Most hilarious of all is a story in which Superman makes a series of uncharacteristically vain and idiotic decisions that end up with him agreeing to wrestle Clark Kent in order to protect his secret identity. In another bonkers tale, Superman is sent to jail and forced to perform hard labor...for the crime of speeding. Then there's the storyline titled "Superman: Male Escort". I kid you not. 

While the sexism of some of these stories has aged badly (in one infuriating strip, he spanks a woman, which of course, she thinks is charmingly masculine), the lunacy of them is just what we need in an age of overly serious superheroes and their overly serious fans.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Specs for the 'Universal Horror Collection: Vol. 1'

The fact that Scream Factory got its claws on some beloved Karloff/Lugosi Universal horrors was big Blu-ray news back in January. Since then The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection has undergone a name change, as it is now part of a series that will include Universal Horrors devoid of the studio's two biggest creeps. And now we have specs from Shout for what the set now titled The Universal Horror Collection: Vol. 1 will entail:

The Black Cat
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Gregory William Mank

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Farewell, Peter Mayhew

One of the weirdest bits in George Lucas's weird space opera was the presence of a giant dog who could fly a space ship. When casting the role, Lucas's main criteria was that the actor be tall. He got what he wanted when he met 7 foot, 3 inch Peter Mayhew.

Mayhew was an orderly with no acting credits prior to 1977, the year he appeared in both Star Wars as Chewbacca and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger as The Minotaur--a sort of human special effect in contrast to Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion miniatures.

Although his limited acting career was spent behind masks, Mayhew was more than a mere special effect, projecting his humanity beyond his wooly wookiee suit with distinctive body language. His work certainly went a long way in ensuring that Chewbacca would be a favorite character, especially among children (he certainly was my favorite when I was a Star Wars-addicted tot). Peter Mayhew was never going to win an Oscar, but he was well loved. He died this past Tuesday at the age of 74 after many years of health problems.

Review: 'Peeled' by The 40 Watt Banana

In the late sixties and early seventies, New Zealand's The 40 Watt Banana made music that is at once fairly experimental and the kind of thing you'd hear on the soundtrack of a Roger Corman acid flick. With a name that sounds like something Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years considered calling his garage band before settling on "The Electric Shoes," The 40 Watt Banana are very, very much of their era. Kevin Clark and Dave Parsons are the core of the group, and the former's trumpet and latter's sitar are the dominant instruments. Imagine Hugh Masekela crashing an Incredible String Band jam session, and you'll start to get the picture.

To be clear, all of these elements are pluses. Late sixties psych, groovy jazz, sitars, and goofy, psychedelic band names are all awesome. Though Clark and Parsons aren't quite virtuosos, they do brew up a heady sound, and much of what they brewed is on Pharaway Sounds' new vinyl comp Peeled. The liner notes include a caveat regarding the sound quality: only the single "Nirvana" (a relatively pop-ish track that has appeared on a few compilations and is the one number here with vocals) was culled from an original master tape. However, the warning is unnecessary since audio quality is always far from dire, and the lower-fi sound of some of this material just adds to the mesmerizing atmosphere that is the main appeal of The 40 Watt Banana.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Expanded Edition of 'The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus' Coming This June

In December of 1968, The Rolling Stones mounted an innovative concert for television that featured themselves hot off of releasing their best album, Beggars Banquet, as well as a slew of guest stars that included Marianna Faithfull, Jethro Tull, a super group led by John Lennon, Taj Mahal, and show-stealers The Who. Shelved for unclear reasons in '68, the show was finally released on video nearly thirty years later, and has since made its way to DVD. However, all of those cool editions of one of the coolest things ever shot for the small screen will pale in comparison to a new edition heading to shops this June 7.

The deluxe edition of The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus will include the original hour-long special on Blu-ray and DVD, and the audio will be the centerpiece of a CD set that also includes several outtake performances from John Lennon's Dirty Mac and Taj Mahal. For the first time, the audio will also be released separately on vinyl.

Here are the full specs:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Honk'

Ever since the release of Made in the Shade nearly 45 years ago, compilations of Rolling Stones Records-era Rolling Stones records have poked out every few years like the lascivious tongue that pokes out from most of their covers. When the Stones quietly released Blue and Lonesome a few years ago, another in this long, long lines of hits comps was inevitable, and that shoe is finally dropping now with Honk. It is another Rolling Stones Records-era compilation with a lot of the usual suspects from “Brown Sugar” to “Start Me Up” and beyond

Once again there is a modicum of variation to distinguish it from the myriad other Stones compilations. “Dancing with Mr. D.” makes its first appearance on a Stones compilation, and there is a trio of tracks from Blue and Lonesome. There’s also a triple-disc version of Honk that includes ten live tracks all culled from performances given over the past six years, which means they don’t catch the Stones at their most vital or even spry. The live tracks are more notable for its most interesting (“She’s a Rainbow” makes its live album debut) and weirdly redundant (did we really need both studio and live versions of lesser songs such as “Mr. D” and “Bitch”?) choices than it is for the presence of guest stars Ed Sheerhan, Florence Welch, and Dave Grohl, who don’t make the Stones seem as fresh and relevant as Mick thinks they do. However, it is the fact that half of the studio tracks come from the Stones’ less vital albums of the past 35 years is what ultimately makes Honk a less thrilling compilation than the vast majority of others. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: Weezer's 'Dusty Gems and Raw Nuggets'

With a roster that included Liz Phair’s Whip Smart, Grant Lee Buffalo’s Mighty Joe Moon, Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand, Pavement’s Crooked Rain/Crooked Rain, and The Cardigans’ Emmerdale, 1994 may have been the best year for rock and pop since the sixties. Yet those “alternative” albums didn’t yield much in the way of smash singles. Weezer was a very notable exception from the Class of ’94; the rare band to make terrific, organic pop and be rewarded with a several hits singles. Ace of Base may have ruled the airwaves, but everyone still went around whistling “Undone—The Sweater Song” and “Buddy Holly” (and into 1995, “Say It Ain’t So”). With infectious stuff like “My Name Is Jonas”, “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”, “Surf Wax America”, and “In the Garage”, most of the rest of Weezer (aka: “The Blue Album”) could have made the grade as singles too. And Weezer’s excellent mid-nineties output didn’t even end there. On the B-sides and various artists comps was such A-material as the folky “Jamie”, the fifties-ish “Susanne”, the crushing “Mykel and Carli”, and the Stack-O-Vocals “My Evaline”. The band also managed to capture terrific live versions of more familiar stuff such as “My Name Is Jonas” and “Surf Wax America” on tape too.

Along with some spare demos (including a bizarre version of “Undone” that slows the tempo to a sloth’s pace and makes room for a bit of rapping and a Nirvana pastiche called “Paperface”), these stray tracks were compiled onto Dusty Gems and Raw Nuggets, the bonus disc of the deluxe edition of Weezer released to commemorate its tenth anniversary. Now on its 25th anniversary (we’re old!), Universal Music is giving Dusty Gems and Raw Nuggets its first vinyl release. Isolated from the album its supports, this disc is still very much worth a listen, and a real treat for fans of Weezer and fans of vinyl (I’m certain there’s a major overlap between those particular groups). The vinyl is marbled blue and limited to 4,000 units.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Review: RSD Reissue of 'The World of David Bowie'

That David Bowie was a brilliant artist is pretty much universally accepted, though few fans have much affection for his Deram-era recordings. Before taking off with “Space Oddity” or zapping the glam movement into action, Bowie fancied himself a Dickensian waif and crooned Anthony Newley-esque psychedelic show tunes. This stuff is a tough sell for the average Ziggy Stardust or “Heroes” fan, but I must admit that there is something appealing about Bowie’s weird early stuff. Not that it betrays his future brilliance. While his melodies are generally fine, his singing is often overly mannered and his lyrics are downright bad: rambling, pretentious, and so, so corny. His twee topics include his desire to buy a coat, his desire to sell some toys, a magical land populated by children, and his dream of being Sir Lancelot or something.

Yet, while this stuff should drive one bonkers well before reaching the end of the Deram-era comp The World of David Bowie (which Bowie, himself, mostly culled from his eponymous debut album), it has quite the reverse affect. It’s a grower. Certainly the ornate, super-’67 instrumental arrangements account for a great deal of this collection’s charm, but perhaps it is also the fact that Bowie’s own innate charm is irrepressible even when he’s partaking in a pretty major folly. And some of the songs are good enough to enjoy without reservations or qualifications, particularly catchy stuff like “Karma Man”, “Let Me Sleep with You”, and “Silly Boy Blue”, which almost sounds like it could have found a home on Hunky Dory (sadly, the truly mad “Laughing Gnome” is not in attendance, though). Throw caution to the wind and enjoy.

The World of David Bowie is another special record store day reissue from Universal Music. This limited edition of 3,500 units is presented on blue vinyl and sounds quite nice.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Picture Disc Edition of Rush's 'Hemispheres'

As soon as they acquired resident intellectual Neil Peart, Rush had big conceptual ambitions. Yet, although sprawling conceptual epics were the centerpieces of album such as Caress of Steel, 2112, and A Farewell to Kings, their short songs were still better than their long sci-fi and fantasy narratives. With their final album to contain such an epic, Rush finally got it right. As far as I’m concerned, Hemispheres is the first Rush album on which the long songs unquestionably beat the short ones. If you put me on the rack and stretched my body until I revealed the meaning of  “Cygnus X-1 (Book II-Hemispheres)”, I’d end up being pulled to pieces, but it is as dreamy, enveloping, and enthralling a musical suite as Rush would ever conjure. So what if the lyrics are gibberish? They sure beat the log-limbed metaphors of what may be the worst of Peart’s early songs: “The Trees”. This ditty sports the message: “People bicker and complain too much! Some of them even whine about wanting equal rights!” Trenchant insights from a rich, white, Ayn Rand fan.

Rush is better in the short form with the hard-edged and autobiographical “Circumstances”, which boasts a wicked-tricky spiraling riff and some of Geddy Lee’s most hysterical wailing, but that too pales next to the album’s grand finale. Considering Rush’s celebrated musicianship, it is surprising that they did not record their first stand-alone instrumental until their sixth album, but “La Villa Strangiato” is well worth the wait: nearly ten minutes of  Alex Lifesons flaming Spanish guitar, lurching melodies, wild bass flutters, and best of all, a mighty riff based on Looney Tunes soundtracks.

As part of its recent Record Store Day roster, Universal Music has reissued its rare 1978 picture disc edition of Hemispheres for a limited run of 5,000 units, which is great news for everyone who likes to watch a naked guy standing on a brain spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. Picture discs tend to be a bit noisy, and this one was pretty crackly right out of the sleeve and a bit of grinding sound is noticeable through headphones, but the mastering sounds really good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Today in Long-Overdue Collaboration News: Ringo Starr and David Lynch

Ringo Starr and David Lynch are not artists most people would associate with each other, but I guess they built some kind of friendship while championing transcendental meditation for The David Lynch Foundation together. In any event, the world's best-known drummer and the world's most popular surrealist are working together on a book to be published next September. 

Ringo is pulling most of the weight since Another Day in the Life will be a sort of autobiography told through photos and quotes. So sayeth Ringo, “This is a way of putting my life out there, because if I were to write a memoir, there’d be five volumes before I got to The Beatles. So I’m going at it this way, through photographs and quotes. And this is, I feel, a better way for me to do it.” However, the book's quotes will not all be Ringo's, as Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh are among the others who will apparently sing his praises.

As for Lynch, he will be providing the foreword, and an early statement from him about the project reads, "Ringo's picture book, Ringo in book form. The essence of Ringo." Okey dokey.

Famed pop photographer Henry Diltz will also be contributing a foreword, which may suggest that some of his own work will be included in the book. But let's focus on that union of David Lynch and a Beatle, because collaborations don't get much more Psychobabbley than that.

Review: Blu-ray Edition of 'A Face in the Crowd'

You can’t say we weren’t warned. Nearly 60 years before the disastrous 2016 presidential election, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd warned of a big-mouthed, small-minded, adoration-addicted TV personality who would catch the ears of middle and Southern America with his off-the-cuff babble to ultimately help push a conservative agenda.

The difference between real-life clown Trump and fictional one Lonesome Rhodes is that Rhodes did not get his start as an utterly immoral monster with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, he gets his start as a penniless drifter happy to be left alone, take shelter in jail cells, and whack his guitar and wail some pretty funky country-blues numbers. When the host of A Face in the Crowd—a radio show spotlighting regular folk—discovers Rhodes at a county jail, she sees bigger opportunities for out-sized personality. His own radio show follows, and when he gets his own TV program, his first act is to put an African American woman on screen—a radical act in 1957 recognized by his show’s viewers—to solicit donations to rebuild her burned home. Such flashes of benevolence melt as Rhodes metamorphoses from popular media star to populist demagogue, his appeal is recognized as a potential political tool, and his initially obnoxious behavior turns deplorable in a way that should resonate intensely with viewers tuned into the political environment of today.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Review: 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times'

Because of  the way it was made—actors maintaining a near constant state of hysteria in the punishing Texas heat while surrounded by rotting carcasses or literally torturing each other—The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a fascinating film to study. However, Joseph Lanza’s new book The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times is not really about the harrowing ordeal of making the film; it is about the harrowing times that birthed it. Lanza builds a sordid, extremely cynical snapshot of America circa 1973 and beyond, connecting the dots from various historical touchstones to their equivalents in Tobe Hooper’s horror milestone. The factual elements range from the undeniably relevant (the rise of serial killers and the decline of hitchhiking) to the less obvious (solar flares, Alice Cooper, Gestalt therapy, Deep Throat).

Lanza sometimes provides evidence that these historical elements had a conscious influence on Hooper and co-screenwriter Kim Henkel, but not always, as is the case with extended looks at the Nixon presidency and the Zodiac killer. Consequently, Leatherface fanatics who really just want to know about their favorite film may find much of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times frustrating. Those without specific expectations will find it a spellbinding, though brief, history of some of the worst aspects of America somewhat filtered through one of the most trying horror films ever made and consistently filtered through Lanza’s withering world view. Certainly the kinds of strong-stomached horror fans who adore The Texas Chain Saw Massacre shouldn’t be disappointed with a book that often graphically describes true-life horrors that are infinitely more disturbing and repellant than anything Hooper and Henkel imagined. You’ve been warned.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

'Lost Highway' Coming to Blu-Ray This Summer

While Blue Velvet is often rated as David Lynch's best films, Criterion's recent announcement that the prestigious home video company would be releasing that film left a lot of commentators commentating, "Why re-release Blue Velvet when MGM's edition is perfectly great and Lynch films such as Lost Highway remain in Blu-ray limbo?" Kino Lorber to the rescue. On June 25, Kino will finally be bringing Lynch's 1997 brain-bender to Blu-ray. Extras have yet to be finalized. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Review: Oscar & the Majestics’ 'Rare & Unissued Cuts ’64-’66'

Meeting a band through an E.P. of rarities probably isn’t ideal, and so I wasn’t expecting much from Oscar & the Majestics’ Rare & Unissued Cuts ’64-’66. Okay, so this collection of six tracks may not have made me forget about The Kink Kontroversy or My Generation, but it is some pretty thrilling garage rock from a quartet who dig it fast, loud, and fuzzy. With shades of surf and blues, the things that really hold this verging-on-self-combustion ship together are the group’s speed and shouted unison vocals and leader Oscar Hamod’s assaultive guitar. While the Majestics’ cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready” isn’t quite as hot as Jeff Jarema’s liner notes want you to believe, the other five tracks earn their keep, especially a daffy version of the Kingsmen’s “Haunted Castle”, which is also the only previously released track here (and good luck haunting down an original copy of that single). Rare & Unissued Cuts ’64-’66 spins at 45 RPMs on red vinyl from Beat Rocket Records.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: 'Space Thing Original Soundtrack Album'

A husband who prefers reading sci-fi pulp mags to having sex with his eager wife escapes into a fantasy in which he is an intergalactic castaway in the year 2069. He boards the USS Erection so he can peep on or participate in the erotic frolics of the starship’s crew. Doesn’t sound familiar? That’s because David Friedman’s z-grade softcore porno Space Thing is such a piece of forgettable garbage that it hasn’t even earned an imdb page. It has, however, earned a new soundtrack album on silver vinyl from Modern Harmonic. Is the music better than the movie? Well, if you dig poorly recorded, generic go-go jazz with lots of palm-muted guitar and Hammond organ riffs—occasionally overlaid with the film’s terrible dialogue and half-hearted panting—then I guess the answer is “yes.” By any yardstick, listening to William Castleman’s score (recycled from not Friedman’s She Freak) is less excruciatingly boring than watching Space Thing, which is included on DVD courtesy of Something Weird Video as a bonus booby prize.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Farewell, Joe Harvard, and Thanks, Tanya Donelly!

Boston's Fort Apache was one of the most important breeding grounds of alternative rock. In the eighties and nineties, key artists such as Throwing Muses, Juliana Hatfield, The Pixies, Radiohead, Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr., Morphine, Yo La Tengo, and Belly recorded at the studio that Joe Harvard co-founded. Sadly Harvard died of cancer at the mere age of 60 this past Sunday. 

In honor of Harvard, Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and Belly is making ten solo demos for songs that ended up on Belly's superb debut album, Star (the album that really pulled my ass out of the sixties and seventies and into the nineties 26 years ago this very month), available for free. During the early stage at which Donelly recorded the demos with Harvard engineering and producing, she intended them for her current band, The Breeders, but turned them into the foundation of Star after forming Belly with Harvard's support. Stream or download the Star demos at Bandcamp here.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Review: 'The Beatles through a Glass Onion: Reconsidering the White Album'

Right behind its status as the most sprawling and eclectic of The Beatles’ albums, “The White Album” is best known as The Beatles’ most fragmented record. It is known as the album on which the Fab Four essentially became four fab individuals masterminding their own sessions while either using the other three guys as backing musicians or approaching each track as a veritable solo endeavor.

Ironically, The Beatles through a Glass Onion: Reconsidering the White Album is one of the most cohesive multiple-author essay collections I’ve ever read. In fact, most of its thirteen essays read more like chapters in a single-author work. Each of those section shares the same seriousness, competence, impersonal tone, clarity, and tendency to quote large chunks of other authors’ works. This lends the book a straight readability that the usual inconsistent multiple-author collection does not offer. More than one author even shares the same quirks, such as the inclination to compare “The White Album” to Joyce’s Ulysses and the mistaken belief that “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” immediately follows “I Will”.

The stylistic consistency of The Beatles through a Glass Onion would be little more than mildly interesting if the authors didn’t unite to provide an illuminating portrait of an album that has already been very widely discussed. Yet they accomplish this by keenly examining all of the album’s key components—its writing, its recording, its cast of characters, its politics, its unique contributions by the four individual Beatles, etc.

Towards the end of the book there are quirkier chapters on the album’s influence that begin to buck the uniformity of all the preceded it. These includes discussions of Tori Amos and U2’s covers of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (one of the more academic chapters) and Danger Mouse’s mash up of “The White Album’s” and Jay Z’s The Black Album (a slightly more lyrical chapter than the others). Because they are about less essential topics, the mild stylistic variations are fitting rather than jarring and help widen the perspective of an album with a particularly sprawling world view.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' Blu-ray

American teenagers as a culture force came into their own in the 1950s, and as always, the white/middle-aged forces in control were instantly threatened, trying to demonize kids with the over-stated “juvenile delinquency” scare of that decade. However, the combined power of Elvis Presley, James Dean, and the Crypt Keeper could not equal what happened to teens in 1964. They screamed like they were being murdered. They peed their pants. They threw themselves in front of and out of moving vehicles. They lost complete and total control. This crazed behavior was a consequence of three of the things the older generation most feared: sex, Rock & Roll, and foreigners. Those foreigners in question were four youngsters from Liverpool, England, and though The Beatles projected a seemingly wholesome image, teenagers correctly interpreted the licentious messages of Rock & Roll like “Please Please Me”, “Twist and Shout”, and even “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Consequently, they went cuckoo.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Review: 'Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew up the Big Screen'

Defining any year as the “best ever” for movies can’t come off as anything but hyperbolic, and you’d be right to be wary of a book called Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew up the Big Screen when there’s a picture of Jar Jar Binks on its cover. Yet hyperbole or even making a case for all-time-greatness status is not the point of Brian Raftery’s new book. Best. Movie. Year. a zippy history of a year in which films may not have always been great but very often blasted off into bold new directions. As awful as The Phantom Menace was, you cannot argue that it wasn’t a prescient indicator of the kinds of movies that currently dominate cinemas. Several that year were equally prophetic, as The Matrix predicted the Internet’s mass-mesmerism, Election put its finger on how much of a sloppy mess the political process was about to become, Run Lola Run solidified the influence video games continue to wield over cinema, and The Blair Witch Project introduced the inescapable found-footage genre.

However, the main thrust of Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is that 1999 was more of an era-finale than a new-age milestone as the stunning audacity of films such as Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, and Being John Malkovich failed to really take root on the big screen and television was poised to finally surpass film as the more daring visual medium. So there is a slight elegiac tone to Best. Movie. Year. Ever. Of the 30 movies Raftery covers, I saw 22 of them within a year or so of their releases. I can’t imagine myself doing that again in this era of nonstop comic book movies and pointless remakes.

Nevertheless, Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is a complete blast, full of highly entertaining tales of filmmaking with ample support from many of the people who helped make them. It’s also something of a history lesson as Raftery often places the films in a current events context, indicating how, say, American Beauty reflected the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Office Space was a reaction to a soul-deadening shift in office culture, Boys Don’t Cry synched up with the murder of Matthew Shepard, and quite a few of the year’s pictures did the same with the Columbine massacre.

My only complaint is the amount of attention Raftery shines on certain films. I felt as though he buzzed through movies such as The Virgin Suicides, The Mummy, and The Limey too quickly to really provide a sense of their significances or adequate histories of their creations, while he lingered way too long on the tiresome Fight Club. However, the storytelling is never dull, and the film selection is pretty thorough (the only ones I would have tossed in are The Straight Story and Audition). In 2019 we aren’t likely to get a selection of films as interesting as the ones that boogied through cinemas twenty years ago. I doubt we’ll get another book about cinema history as riveting as Best. Movie. Year. Ever. this year either.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: '“Twice the Thrills! Twice the Chills!” Horror and Science Fiction Double Features, 1955-1974'

Cinema had to scramble when a new invasive species called television sprouted up in the 1950s. Big budget production companies dealt with the new threat by making the kinds of big, boisterous, Technicolor epics television could never match. Small budget companies countered with cagey gimmicks, such as 3D, Aroma-rama, and Emergo. More practical, slightly less desperate, and certainly more enduring was the practice of renting two films for the price of one to theaters. Thus, the double feature was officially born. Movie goers could buy one ticket to take in a pair of AIPs like A Bucket of Blood and The Giant Leeches, a pair of Hammers like Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Plague of the Zombies, a European art-horror like Les Yeux Sans Visage matched with a schlocker like The Manster, or an odd couple like Rosemary’s Baby and The Odd Couple.

Bryan Senn’s new book “Twice the Thrills! Twice the Chills!” Horror and Science Fiction Double Features, 1955-1974 pays tribute to the double-decade year period when creepy, kooky double features ruled matinees. This thick volume is not quite a film guide—the entries on each double-bill are way too long and way too loaded with production information. It’s not quite a history—only a 12-page introduction and brief paragraphs prefacing each entry deal with double bills directly. Whatever it is, it’s a ball. Senn does what a topic such as this deserves. His synopses, historical details, and choices of anecdotes are consistently entertaining and a sufficiently sarcastic, reflecting the fun of scarfing down a bucket of popcorn while devouring delightful crap like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and sneaking out of the theater before having to suffer through Invasion of the Star Creatures. His cheeky critiques are spot on, and when he and I disagree, he makes totally fair arguments for his points of view. Sometimes his jokey comments are sheer corn, but that suits the atmosphere of B-grade merriment too. The package is nicely illustrated with B&W images of lobby cards, posters, and press-book pages. Maybe it’s no longer easy to hunt down an actual double feature in your local theater, but “Twice the Thrills! Twice the Chills!” is such a blast that it will likely inspire you to host one in your own home.

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