Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: 'The U.S. Albums' by The Beatles

No band’s discography has spent as much time under the geek microscope as The Beatles’, and when Capitol/UMe announced that it would finally release all of the Fabs’ major American releases on CD for the first time, the questions and concerns started flying freely across the vast online wasteland. Would they be faithful to the original Capitol (and in one case, United Artists) albums, complete with unique mixes, duophonic disasters, and all that awful reverb A&R guy Dave Dexter, Jr., applied to numerous tracks? How closely would the packaging replicate the originals? And so on and so on.

I did my best to address some of these issues a couple of weeks ago in my review of a twenty-five track sampler Capitol/UMe sent out in advance of the proper box set’s release. Because of the particular tracks the label selected to represent the big box, I actually couldn’t address much. Well, now I do have a copy of The U.S. Albums, and all is clear.

So, yes, the advance word is true that all duophonic mixes have been replaced with proper stereo ones culled from the 2009 Parlophone remasters. Dexter’s unnecessary reverb has been wiped from the story. Those seeking to recreate their memories of huddling around stereo hi-fis and spinning Yesterday… and Today for the first time in June 1966 will find the experience quite different this time. And so on and so on.

The U.S. Albums has now been available for over a week. There have been numerous reviews posted elsewhere and unbelievably in-depth discussions on message boards. Let’s assume my fellow purists have gotten most of the belly aching out of their (our) systems and focus on what’s here, because despite its divergences from total purity, The U.S. Albums is a pretty beautiful box set.

First, let’s look at that 1966 hodgepodge Yesterday… and Today. Yes, those reverb-saturated duophonic mixes of “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “Doctor Robert”, and “I’m Only Sleeping” have been replaced by the proper stereo remasters from 2009. The accompanying booklet is very up front about this and the decision to give listeners the best listening experience possible (you may recall that when the first Capitol Albums box set was released in 2004, the majority of reviewers, who’d probably never heard these albums on vinyl, complained cluelessly about the poor sound of the duophonic and echoed-up tracks). However, the mono versions of these tracks are the unique American mixes. This should have been a given for “I’m Only Sleeping”, which differs very noticeably from its UK counterpart (the backwards guitar snippets used in the verses are totally different), but Capitol/UMe might have gotten away with slipping on the 2009 mono mixes of those other tracks, which feature much subtler differences (in the U.S., “And Your Bird Can Sing” had slightly louder hand claps during the guitar solo and “Doctor Robert” had slightly louder vocals and a slightly more complete ending). It is impressive that no cheating was done with these tracks. The U.S. stereo mixes of “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” are also subtly different from the UK ones and are also preserved on The U.S. Albums. Other immediately noticeable unique mixes—such as the extended edit of “I’ll Cry Instead”, the stereo “Thank You Girl” with its extra harmonica, and the stereo “I’m Looking Through You” with its false start—are intact too.

So is the packaging, which completely blows away the Capitol Albums box sets with their tacky looking sliding boxes that inevitably made the CDs spill out on the floor and their mini-LP sleeves of thin cardboard that did not completely replicate the original covers. The U.S. Albums boasts slavishly faithful (yes, Help! is a gatefold; yes the inner sleeves are crowded with ads for other Capitol releases), sturdy cardboard sleeves. Yesterday… and Today is packaged in its butcher sleeve with the replacement “steamer trunk” cover included as a sticker that can be pasted over it just as Capitol did back in ’66. Each CD also includes a plastic sleeve to protect the discs from getting scuffed on the paper inner sleeves and a good quality plastic resealable plastic bag not likely to tear as quickly as, say, the flimsy ones in Led Zeppelin’s 2008 Definitive Collection box.

So to reiterate what I said in my review of the sampler, The U.S. Albums will disappoint those who want utter authenticity. Those who want as close a reproduction of those old American albums as they’re going to get with supreme sound and packaging, those who don’t mind hearing “I Feel Fine” pop up on Beatles ’65 without so much reverb that its magnetic guitar riff is nearly indecipherable, will be most pleased.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: 'Frankenstein Created Woman' Blu-Ray

Frankenstein Created Woman is by far the best of Hammer’s Frankenstein sequels. What could have just been an update of Bride of Frankenstein in the same way The Curse of Frankenstein dragged James Whale’s Frankenstein into the fifties is a totally individual film. Hans (Robert Morris), a young assistant of Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing—who else?), is beheaded for a crime he didn’t commit. The good doctor resurrects him by transferring Hans’s soul into the body of his girlfriend, Christina (Susan Denberg), who’d drowned herself after witnessing Hans’s execution. A badly scarred brunette in life, Christina somehow springs back to life as a blonde with perfect skin—as well as Hans’s yen for revenge against the trio of snotty rich kids who committed the crime for which he was killed. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ten Mysterious and Imaginative Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations

According to imdb, Edgar Allan Poe’s works have been adapted 287 times as of this writing. With eight of those not even seeing release yet, the penner of weird and gloomy tales hasn’t fallen off the radar of film and TV creators one iota. That’s a lot of stuff to sift through, and I won’t pretend I’ve seen all of those adaptations. I have seen enough to put together a short list of unmissable realizations of Poe stories, the faithful and the far out, the straight and the surreal, the subtle, the hilarious, the animated, and the bloody. Here are ten great Edgar Allan Poe adaptations you might want to cram in today in honor of his 205th birthday.

1. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928- dir. Jean Epstein)

Edgar Allan Poe is unquestionably among the most popular writers in history, which accounts for why he’s been adapted so many times. However, his work usually doesn’t lend itself to faithful adaptation. He’s often a lot more interested in piling on the words to fashion a mood than he is in telling a story. Perhaps this too is a reason for his popularity among filmmakers. An oft-adapted story such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” is so lacking in plot that it allows an interpreter to take it in any number of interesting directions. French filmmaker Jean Epstein did that in his silent adaptation from 1928, using spare surreal imagery to convey the dread Poe labors to conjure in his story. With assistance from co-writer Luis Buñuel, then making Un Chien Andalou with Salvador Dali, Epstein welds together an assortment of fantastical, unforgettable images. The odd ones—disorienting POV shots, nightmarish sets, screwing frogs—pack as much power as the ones that are now regarded as spooky movie clichés—mysteriously extinguishing candles, billowing curtains, reanimated corpses. Even as the story takes its liberties with the source material, the presentation conveys the atmosphere of a Poe story uncannily, which is really the most important thing.

2. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932- dir. Robert Florey)

After reworking Dracula and Frankenstein into films that don’t rely too heavily on Stoker or Shelley in 1931, Universal treated Poe with a similar lack of respect with its adaptation of “Murders in the Rue Morgue” the following year. The film works mainly as a vehicle for Karl Freund’s expressionistic cinematography, Bela Lugosi’s sinister mugging and line readings, and Robert Florey’s totally wacko plot developments, such as Lugosi’s plot to prove the theory of evolution by shooting up women with gorilla blood. That twist surely would have tickled Poe, whose macabre sense of humor is lost on all those readers who just think of him as a purveyor of opium-spiked horror. Despite the fact that it didn’t quake box offices, Murders in the Rue Morgue set off a mini cycle of Poe movies for Universal. Ironically, this unfaithful adaptation was the closest thing to a faithful adaptation the studio produced…

3. The Black Cat (1934- dir. Edgar G. Ulmer)

…and for proof of that, check out The Black Cat. The story is actually one of Poe’s clearest, and more faithful adaptations would come in later years (and later on this list too), but Universal was always pretty revision happy, and writer Peter Ruric and director Edgar G. Ulmer get downright slap-happy with “The Black Cat”. So long to the simple plot of marital mania and revenge. Hello to a psycho chess match between Satanic war criminal Boris Karloff and sadistic “hero” Bela Lugosi. Karloff’s ailurophobia allows the film to very, very, very tangentially relate to Poe, but his story has no bearing on Ulmer’s masterpiece otherwise. Karloff and Lugosi have never been better matched, both relishing every line of peculiar dialogue, and with its art deco style and insane brew of Satanism, torture, and head games, The Black Cat may be the best film on this list even if its pretty spurious as an adaptation.

4. The Tell-Tale Heart (1953- dir. Ted Parmelee)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: 'The Doors: R-Evolution'

D-Evolution might have been a more appropriate title for the new Doors clips compilation since R-Evolution starts with far and away its best clip. To give the band’s first single a bit of extra promotional pizzazz, Elektra’s Jac Holzman commissioned a promo film for “Break on Through” that’s like watching The Doors’ album cover come to life, the guys lip-synching in moody chiaroscuro. Shot on actual film, this is also the clip that looks best on the blu-ray, many of the others being TV appearances from so-so video sources. The Doors go-for-it in the “Break on Through” promo too, Morrison lunging at the mic as if he was actually singing, but they more often look bored during performances on corn-ball shows like Shebang, Murray the K, and Malibu U, in which the musicians mime on a beach-bound fire engine surrounded by vacantly grinning California girls while Morrison appears in disembodied shots filmed at a later date. The attempt to pass off Robbie Krieger’s brother as Jim in wide shots of the band is not convincing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cult Club: 'Wake in Fright' (1971)

In this feature, Psychobabble looks at classic cult items beyond Horror and Rock & Roll. 

Wake in Fright is a horror movie without the things that define a horror movie. There are no ghosts, though it is terribly haunting. There are no serial killers, unless you count the drunken hunters who wantonly slaughter kangaroos in perhaps the most disturbing scene I’ve ever had the displeasure to watch. There are no monsters, unless a town can be a monster. That town is Bundanyabba, or “The Yabba” as the locals call it. They are the demons who do the monster’s bidding. They stupefy its victims with beer. They drain its victims’ resources with sub-moronic gambling events. Then they go in for the kill with a methodical but swift dehumanization process.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Doc on Who Managers Last Minute Sundance Entry

Just a week before the kick-off of Sundance 2014, director James D. Cooper has slipped his documentary Lambert & Stamp into the film festival. While there's plenty of information out there about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp-- the management team every bit as self-contradictory, self destructive, and flamboyant as their clients, The Who-- there isn't much to glean about Lambert & Stamp. There are two imdb pages for men named James D. Cooper, one of whom is credited as prop guy on a short called "Dolls for Strangers, the other being credited with zilch, so it's probably safe to assume this is his first film. However, we do have this official synopsis from

LAMBERT & STAMP / U.S.A. (Director: James D. Cooper) — In this crazy, chaotic gospel of chance, aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert set out to search for a subject for their underground movie, leading them to discover, mentor, and manage the iconic band known as The Who and create rock 'n' roll history.

Following its screening at Sundance's U.S. fest, Lambert & Stamp will play at the Sundance London festival, which takes place from April 25 through the 27th.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: 'The Jimi Hendrix Experience'

Listen to Jimi Hendrix play and you’ll hear him express an unparalleled rainbow of feelings through his electric guitar: rage and violence and tripped-out mysticism and sadness and confusion and turmoil and extreme horniness and beauty. These same feelings infused his existence despite the sort of benevolent space cadet persona he usually projected in interviews and on stage. In 1983, author Jerry Hopkins got behind the alluring images of an outer-space virtuoso to reveal the real man in his essential biography The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix did spend a lot of time in the cosmos because of the ridiculous amount of chemicals he regularly ingested, but there is an earthier tale here too. James Marshall Hendrix’s impoverished upbringing was as unglamorous as you can imagine. He spent his young adult years drugging and stealing cars and stumbled his way into the army where his greatest dream was to ascend to a low-pressure job as a file clerk. 
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