Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: 'Wild at Heart' Blu-Ray

1990 was a wild year for David Lynch. That’s when he and Mark Frost revolutionized TV with “Twin Peaks”, shocking a passive viewing public with more bizarre humor, cinematic atmosphere, graphic violence, and red-hot sexiness than it had ever seen on the little screen. The vibrations “Twin Peaks” sent out into world—making possible such future series as “The X-Files”, “The Sopranos”, and “Mad Men”—were so intense that we sometimes forget that ’90 was also the year Lynch had a breakthrough on the big screen when he won his first Palme d’Or with his adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel Wild at Heart. It is significant that both pieces came out in the same year, because both Wild at Heart and “Twin Peaks” share steamy pulp-romance sensibilities, post-modern humor, pure surrealism, and lots of cast members. Both were also rejected by a fickle public as quickly as they were embraced, TV viewers losing interest in the second season of “Twin Peaks” and critics increasingly deciding that Wild at Heart was too self-referential and self-conscious. That’s always a misinformed way to approach a David Lynch film as he may actually be our least self-conscious, most purely intuitive filmmaker. Despite its nods to such pop-culture touchstones as The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley, Wild at Heart really follows a Rock & Roll rhythm all its own, and though it shares similarities with “Twin Peaks”, it diverges from that show and Gifford’s novel in its refreshing hopefulness. It is a film that completely believes that love can survive in a world that’s “wild at heart and weird on top.” While words like “weird” and “ironic” are overused in describing David Lynch’s movies, one word that isn’t is “sweet,” and Wild at Heart is ultimately a really sweet movie—even with its head-smashing murder, toilet seduction, severed-hand snatching dog, gross self-decapitation by shotgun, and close up of puke on a motel room carpet. Hey, it’s sweet, but it’s still a David Lynch movie.

Wild at Heart first came out in a pretty spiffy DVD edition by MGM in 2004, with a nice selection of extra features and refurbished sound and vision personally overseen by Mr. Lynch. The disc’s vibrant clarity was a revelation after so many years spent watching the film’s absolutely wretched incarnation on VHS. Ten years later, MGM has apparently decided that a breakthrough movie by perhaps the greatest living director is not worth putting out on blu-ray, so it passed Wild at Heart off to Twilight Time. It also passed along all of the extra features from its old DVD, which appear on the new blu-ray in standard definition. These are all worth a rewatch, especially for Diane Ladd’s interview. Her explanation for Marietta Fortune painting her face with lipstick is impassioned and it makes perfect sense of one of the film’s craziest scenes. The only new extras are a booklet essay (the cover of which is one of the sexiest movie stills I’ve ever seen) and Twilight Time’s standard isolated music and effects track. It would have been really nice to get those 75 minutes of deleted scenes that Lynch released on his Lime Green set in 2008, but I’m assuming Lynch personally owns that footage since his company Absurda released that DVD box and it wasn’t MGM’s to hand out. Oh, well.

The main draw of this new disc is obviously the blu-ray upgrade. No new tinkering has been performed, but the remastering of the old DVD was sharp enough that it has made the transition to high-def very well. There are some white specks here and there, but if this is the best we’re ever going to get Wild at Heart on home video, I have no complaints.

Get Wild at Heart on blu-ray at here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Date Confirmed for My 'Who FAQ' Interview on WFDU

Update: I just received confirmation that my interview about The Who FAQ on WFDU's Vintage Rock & Pop Shop will be airing on Sunday, May 11. Once again, the show airs at 11am and you can either hear it on your radio dial at 89.1 if you live in the NJ area or you can stream it live at here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: 'Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers'

Perhaps no artist has an output as consistent as that of The Beatles. With the exception of Yellow Submarine, which is really an EP of new Beatles material tucked inside of a George Martin soundtrack album, all of their LPs are essential. When they split in the seventies and stopped prodding each other to keep that quality level moon-high, there was a lot more filler. That put them in a most unfortunate position, since few bands can be reasonably compared to The Beatles, and now the ex-Beatles were being compared to their former selves. Consequently, the solo years have increasingly been painted as a wash out by certain fans and critics.

This isn’t true. In fact, John, Paul, George, and Ringo made a lot of great music after they ceased to be a unit. You just have to weed through their output a bit. In his new book Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers, Andrew Grant Jackson does most of the work for you. The writer cherry picks 182 songs out of that mass of albums and singles released from McCartney in 1970 right up to Ringo’s Y Not from 2011. The structure is cute: Jackson arranges the songs as pseudo-post-Beatles-Beatles LPs. For music made before Lennon’s death, he generally uses the Revolver ratio: five each by Lennon and McCartney, three by Harrison, one by Starr. He really does end up covering the mass of the guys’ best post-Beatles songs even though a selection of their albums (Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass, RAM, Imagine, Band on the Run, Ringo) still fully deserve to be heard in their entireties. However, the bulk of Jackson’s commentary has more to do with the history of those years than the selected songs, making it quite similar in approach to Bill Janovitz’s recent Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones. For the most part, I liked the telling too, though Jackson does make some missteps along the way. I’m all for using a bit of irreverence to juice up the storytelling, but he goes way too far when he says that Lennon’s “big mouth got him killed.” Actually, it was an insane man with a gun who got Lennon killed, and it’s pretty sick to suggest he was responsible for his own death in any way.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

20 Things You May Not Have Known About 'Dawn of the Dead'

A decade after dropping the first, full-blown zombie apocalypse on our heads with Night of the Living Dead, George Romero got around to showing us what happened next. This time the thrills were more graphic, thanks to makeup legend Tom Savini and a full-color presentation, and the satire was sharper. But you already knew that. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of its U.S. release, here are 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Dawn of the Dead!

1. A tour of the Monroeville Mall by his friend Mark Mason, who managed the establishment, was most inspirational to George Romero. When Mason mentioned that his mall would be a good place to hole up during a disaster, Romero started formulating the plot of his second Living Dead picture. He also ended up filming Dawn of the Dead in the Monroeville Mall. Other movies with scenes shot there include Flashdance and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

2. The mall scenes in Dawn of the Dead had to be shot between 2 and 5 AM. 2 AM is when the mall’s final establishment, a tavern, closed for the night. 5 AM is when cardiac patients were admitted to exercise.

3. The Monroeville Mall would once again serve as a horrific setting in Stephen King’s Christine in 1983. A year before that novel was published, Romero and King collaborated on the portmanteau Creepshow with Romero directing and King writing and acting. The two horror icons would also meld minds on Romero’s big screen adaptation of King’s The Dark Half, though the original plan for Romero to direct King’s It for the small-screen as a seven-hour miniseries fell apart because of scheduling problems (Tommy Lee Wallace directed the half-as-long version in 1990 instead). From a Buick 6 was another Romero/King union that withered on the vine, though Romero adaptations of The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon and Gerald’s Game might still happen. Romero has already completed scripts for both possible films.

4. While the political implications of Night of the Living Dead were essentially an unintended factor caused by the casting of a black actor, Duane Jones, in the lead, Romero was fully conscious of the anti-consumerism message of Dawn of the Dead and continued to infuse all subsequent Living Dead movies with political themes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: 'Capturing Archetypes: Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art'

Sideshow Collectibles are strangely multifaceted for models of characters from comics and genre movies. Sure, they’re basically scaled down representations of Darth Vader and Batman and the Alien and Bride of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, progeny of the Aurora models adored by the monster kids of the fifties and sixties. But they are also exemplars of how seriously the geeks of today take their obsessions. The jocks can have their cheap plastic football trophies. Sideshow Collectibles are lovingly, intricately sculpted from assorted materials—resin, polystone, real cloth and leather, fiberglass. They may depict the icons of alleged low culture, but they are genuine art pieces, and they’re affixed with big art piece price tags, which also yokes them with the dubious distinction of being status symbols too (as of this writing, the most inexpensive item on Sideshow’s official site is a $69.99 vinyl doll of a character that looks like a licorice jelly bean called Dolly Colorway; the most expensive are lifesize busts of similar looking guys called War Machine and Iron Patriot, both running $8999.99). This means that they are only available to the wealthiest nerds, guys like Guillermo Del Toro, who pens the introduction to the new coffee table tribute Capturing Archetypes: Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art. This book is a far more economical way to collect these pieces than actually collecting them.

Del Toro offhandedly but insightfully mentions the “fetishistic” impulses of the collector, and Capturing Archetypes is nothing if not fetishistic. Instead of depicting the sculptures in flat full view, the book presents them in alluring shadows, lighting, and smoke, often zooming in on a particular feature or contour. There is an unabashed gaze on body parts, most obviously in the leering sculptures and photographs of curvaceous female characters, such as Catwoman, Molotov Cocktease, Lady Death, Vampira, Elvira, and Jessica Rabbit—who actually receives her own centerfold!—but also the absurd, veiny musculature of male characters like Dare Devil, the Hulk, and even Darth Maul. Capturing Geek Porn might have been a more accurate title for this book, but only the most blinkered critic would deny the true artistry of the pieces it depicts. And besides, Psychobabble Reader, whose body would you rather ogle: David’s or Boba Fett’s?

That’s what I thought.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Note on Dave Davies, Jimmy Page, Shel Talmy, and 'The Who FAQ'

Hello, Psychobabble readers. I just want to take a moment to clarify a detail in my new book, The Who FAQ. In my chapter on musicians who guest-starred on Who recordings, I mentioned a much repeated and false claim by producer Shel Talmy that Jimmy Page played rhythm guitar on The Kinks' "You Really Got Me". I indicated that this was merely Talmy's claim and never intended to present it as definitive fact. As the player of the unforgettable riff and astounding lead guitar on that classic song, Dave Davies feels great ownership over it and rightly so. There are few songs in the Rock & Roll pantheon with more iconic guitar playing. 

Nevertheless, I may not have made it sufficiently clear that this was not a fact and that it was merely Talmy's version of what really happened. My source was the producer's interview with Richie Unterberger in his book Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers. In fact, Jimmy Page himself denies playing on the song, which you can in this piece on here, and in this same piece, Talmy says he does not remember whether or not Page played on the track, further revealing his own shaky grasp on the history of the creation of "You Really Got Me". Once again, the truth is that Page did not play any guitar on "You Really Got Me" whatsoever, nor did he have anything to do with the sound or tone of Dave's guitar. I hope that readers of The Who FAQ will understand that I never intended to indicate otherwise. Talmy's false memory will not appear in future editions of The Who FAQ, including the upcoming Kindle edition.

Obviously, Dave continues to be one of my top Rock & Roll heroes and The Kinks continue to be one of my very favorite bands.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: The Criterion Edition of 'Breaking the Waves'

After starting his career with a series of highly stylized films, Lars von Trier made Breaking the Waves, his first after co-founding the Dogma 95 movement, which preached absolute austerity: only location and handheld shooting, only contemporary settings, no non-diegetic sound or optical manipulation, no superficial action, no credit for the director, etc. Typically, he had trouble even playing by his own rules, and von Trier’s break-through film arrived without Dogma 95-certification, largely because of the hyper-stylized, digitally-colored chapter titles accompanied by non-diegetic pop songs by the likes of Jethro Tull, David Bowie, and Elton John to establish the seventies time period.
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