Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Buy Barry!!!

Run out right NOW and buy a Barry Manilow record. It doesn't matter which one as long as you don't get it used. Or free. Every Sunday, Record Head in Milwaukee would open its attic and sell albums at insanely cheap prices. They had so many copies of his 1977 Live that they actually started giving them away with each purchase. Some still thought zero pennies was too pricey and refused the gift.

So yeah - no free Manilow records. Try The Greatest Songs of the Sixties which hit number two on the U.S. pop album charts(!)! Why are you buying this? Because Manilow refused to go on The View yesterday to promote his new album, The Greatest Songs of the Seventies (actually, you might want to wait for the Eighties volume...I'd love to hear his "Pocket Calculator"). He finds Republican, Rosie-riling host Elisabeth Hasselbeck too "dangerous" and "offensive." The producers rejected his request to appear on a Hasselbeck-less View so he bowed out. Or was canceled. Same thing, really. (Read the story here.)

In any event, Manilow is my new cultural hero. And yours too, right? Ok good. See ya at Waterloo under "M," baby!

And check out this bit of tid from the article:

"He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, although many of his big hits -- such as "Mandy," "I Write the Songs" and "Looks Like We Made It" -- were written by other people"

Sheesh - did Hasselbeck write this copy? Well, Lizzy, listen up:

1. Who cares?

2. That just makes him all the cooler.

3. Um, he did write A LOT of songs, some of which were his hits.

4. Ooh, I just got some diss fodder.

5. Who cares?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cassette Tape Skull

How cool is this pic?

The only albums I can make out are metal ones - Motley Crue: Shout at the Devil and Judas Priest: Screaming for Vengeance. Is this a critique of the seemingly natural association of death with metal? Or a critique of metal's seemingly impoverished bank of subject matter? Is it a celebration of metal's power, so great as to reduce itself to a pile malleable plastic? And what would our response be if the cassettes were melted from other artists/genres? Or a mix thereof? Scandal featuring Patty Smyth with Franco et Rochereau?

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Richard Fleischer 1955)

In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris slotted Richard Fleischer under "Strained Seriousness." But it appears that Fleischer's mortal sin wasn't so much pretentiousness as it was mere inconsistency. Take The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a remarkably unlurid account of the turn of the 20th century Stanford White/Evelyn Nesbit/Harry Thaw affair. Recently released as part of a Joan Collins box set (a Richard Fleischer box just wouldn't fly), it falls somewhere between the tight-as-I-wish-my-tummy-was The Narrow Margin and the nightmare of the Neil Diamond The Jazz Singer - neither brilliant nor crummy enough to merit sustained thought.

There is one terrific conceptual edit, however, that I want to commit to memory. Stanford White (Ray Milland) is chatting with a friend during intermission at an opera house.

A buzzer alerts the crowd that the opera will soon resume. I took the liberty of including the close captioning altering same in case the turned heads of the friend and a gentleman in the background weren't enough to signal the sound.

The shot dissolves into another scene. But the buzzer sound continues over the dissolve. See? (Since you can't hear)

We are now in a dentist's office where Evelyn Nesbit (Joan Collins) is outside buzzing to get in. Notice the dentist at top left who has turned at the sound.

In short, it's a match on sound. Nothing earth-shattering. But they're uncommon enough in classical Hollywood cinema that it's worth taking notice here.

Also, purely for my own edification, there is a piece of music in the film which seems to sing a character's inner thoughts, a practice that would become increasingly prominent in ensuing decades. Harry Thaw's (Farley Granger) rage is brewing at the sight of Nesbit's former lover White. The song captures Thaw's rising fight-or-flight tension.

And the camera tracks in to more strongly cement the song to Thaw's inner turmoil.

But the song is diegetic as the scene takes place at a theater performance to which we're introduced several shots prior.

Even less earth-shattering. I mention it only because I'm studying the different ways subjectivity is displayed or enhanced through music in cinema. Do with it what you will.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Homophobia here, homophobia there

I woke up today with two instances of homophobia in my inbox. First up is Ja Rule. On September 25th, there will be a U.S. Congressional hearing on hip-hop lyrics (full story here).And boy does Ja (or is that Rule?) think Congress has got the focus wrong:

"There's a f--king black kid right now about to get
25 years for having a fight with some white kids over hanging the
nooses over the white tree, let's get to that. Let's get into sh-t like
that, because that's what's tearing up America, not me calling a woman
a b--ch or a h-e on my rap songs."

"And if it is, then we need to go step to Paramount, and f--king MGM,
and all of these other motherf--kers that's making all of these movies
and we need to go step to MTV and Viacom, and lets talk about all these
f--king shows that they have on MTV that is promoting homosexuality,
that my kids can't watch this sh-t," he continued. "Dating shows that's
showing two guys or two girls in mid-afternoon. Let's talk about s--t
like that! If that's not f--king up America, I don't know what is."

Rule (feels more appropriately fascistic than the spiritual-sounding "Ja") told this to the not-ironically-entitled Complex magazine which, in case you've been lucky enough to avoid it, is stuffed with pull quotes, charticles, and pages of "Promotions" (what happened to "Special Advertising Section?"). It's yet another rag bringing us closer to a Fahrenheit 451 reality and as such appeals to the bullying side of our natures, the side that would take Rule's phobic spew as wisdom. I wonder if he would've spewed the same shit for Rolling Stone.

Eh, probably. But it's the "and if it is" that gives his bullshit away. So if MTV stopped, um, promoting homosexuality, Rule, does that mean you'd stop calling women bitches and hoes and work to eradicate such sentiments from all hip-hop? And while we're at it, do you let your kids listen to that kind of hip-hop? Or, to put it in your words, can they listen to it?

Here's hoping we meet in the cutouts bins next time.

Then here's a great review by Mark Harris of the not-awaited DVD release of Cruising. In case you're Complex, I've taken the liberty of pulling some choice quotes:

The film literally darkens as Steve abandons the sunsplashed, airy apartment of his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) to descend into a nightcrawler's realm of facemasks and jockstraps, color-coded hankies and poppers, handcuffs and ominously greased-up fists and forearms, all displayed amid an angry, scratchy-industrial musical thrum. (There's no sissyboy disco for the badass, stone-faced thrillseekers in these gay armies of the night.)

In no time flat, Steve has become one of the undead, drained of color, life and expression. ''Why don't you want me anymore?'' asks Nancy. ''Nance, what I'm doing is affecting me,'' replies the newly bitten zombie.

there's barely a daylight gay world in the movie at all.

As for the murderers, one turns out to be a gay Columbia musical-theater major whose daddy didn't love him enough (did you just hear ten bowling pins crash in the alley of cultural stereotypes?)

Pacino, looking every one of his 39 years in an unfortunate scoop-necked black sleeveless T-shirt and a mutating perm that's as frightening as anything in the script, seems wildly uncomfortable as a cop meant to be a hot piece of sexbait in his late twenties.

Lee also doubts that anyone viewing the movie in 1980 would ''automatically equate'' the world of the film with ''gay culture at large.'' Fair enough, but in that case, count me among the duped: In 1980, I was a years-from-coming-out 16-year-old growing up in New York City, and Cruising scared the crap out of me. In fairness to Cruising, it wasn't conceived in order to make me comfortable; in fairness to me, there wasn't exactly a multiplex full of gay-friendly options back then.

Cruising's second gasp of life can't help but call to mind the thousands of gay men who protested the film — not a single one of whom, remarkably, is allowed to speak for himself on the DVD. (One of the grass-roots leaders of the protests, Ethan Geto, is now Hillary Clinton's senior policy adviser on LGBT issues.)

If the film, now frozen in its historical moment, scarcely seems worth the anger it generated, that's only because we've come a long way, not because anybody judging the movie got it wrong the first time.

Cruising's technical adviser Sonny Grosso claims, somewhat incredibly, that he had ''never seen ferociousness'' like that expressed by the film's picketers (really? This from the NYPD detective on whose life The French Connection was based?) If that's true, bravo to the haters.


Now all we need is a formalist appreciation of Friedkin's emancipatory use of space of texture.