Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day catch up

An evening of eh.

Call Me Madam (Walter Lang, 1953) bears all the markings of 1950s Hollywood bloat. Too long and too expensive, it helped render the musical an increasingly untenable proposition despite containing perhaps the quintessential Ethel Merman film performance. A pop-friendly editor could easily chop 25 minutes from the running time. At the very least, the moments when George Sanders sings (!) have got to go. Still, even the non-Ethel numbers roar, especially a drunk Donald O'Connor in "What Chance Have I With Love?" singing the type of clever/corny lyrics that made Sondheim roll his eyes. Try "Look at what it did to Romeo/It dealt poor Romey an awful blow" or "If an apple could finish Adam/They could knock me off with a grape."

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (Don Weis, 1953) - That pop-friendly editor would leave just two Youtube clips - Bob Fosse, Debbie Reynolds, Barbara Ruick, and Bobby Van hoofing it up at a college juke joint and Van alone in "I'm Thru With Love." Otherwise, Slog Central even at 72 minutes.

Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013) - The last shot shows Anna and Elsa skating together rather than Anna locking lips with Kristoff (and Elsa remains partnerless). A mildly radical payoff for sitting through a slate of crummy, dead-bottomed songs. Best part - Olaf confessing he has no bones.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013) - I'll admit that every time Leo started to explain IPOs or whatever, I wanted to ask him to slow down. But that's no excuse for Scorsese allowing him to abandon the explanations. So, slow down! As Todd Haynes proved with his even longer Mildred Pierce, there's enormous drama in laying out processes. In any event, we need to update Richard Dyer's dictum in "Entertainment and Utopia" to demonstrate that Hollywood films show us not how to organize dystopia but what it feels like (for those who organize dystopia). Sequel: The Schmucks of Any Street - a glimpse into the lives destroyed by Jordan Belfort et al. and an investigation into Belfort's current life of exorbitant speaker fees and pokey paybacks.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

"Well, I wouldn't throw Brian Eno out of bed": Two Films Watched

Whatever Happened to Susan Jane (1982) is built from a remarkable conceit. Director Marc Huestis found a 16mm educational short called The Outsider (which you can watch in its entirety here) in the trash and staged a camp coup by imagining an update to its tale of unpopular teenager Susan Jane. With scenes from The Outsider edited in as flashbacks, Whatever Happened to Susan Jane finds our heroine long past her awkward years living a bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco. A sympathetic friend from The Outsider years, Marcie Clark, comes to visit Susan Jane after ditching her square, married-with-children life in Virginia. Initially put off by this intrusion from her gawky past, Susan Jane introduces Marcie to her queerpunk friends and now Marcie feels like the outsider.

Huestis uses almost all of The Outsider in his 60-minute film and with a 15-minute club sequence as its centerpiece, Whatever Happened to Susan Jane has a lopsided feel to it. There's just not enough time to develop any of its conceits. But that's finally what gives the film its queerpunky edge, alternating between fabulous stasis and racing energy. That club sequence is a question mark-inducing bacchanal featuring a performance by The Wasp Women and a reporter who asks an 18-year-old guy if he's experimenting with sex ("Well, I wouldn't throw Brian Eno out of bed"). Later, the reporter is (hilariously) accosted by two children (why?). The music (by Noh Mercy, Tuxedo Moon, D-Day, etc.) is pretty bad - conceptual shtick in desperate need of a song doctor. But it competes obnoxiously with much of the dialogue further cementing the film's punk credentials. No lost masterpiece but much better than the evening's other flick.

Valley of the Dolls (Mark Robson, 1967) has got to be the most boring "camp classic" of all time. It's kept me off the four-hour 1981 mini-series version although I remember with fondness the 1994 short-lived soap and would kill to see it again. So why I expected anything life-affirming from the subsequent Jacqueline Susann adaptation The Love Machine (Jack Haley Jr., 1971) is beyond me. Filmmakers casting about for cognitive dislocations to emulate might want to observe how an utterly unheralded Hallelujah Chorus scores a scene in which Jackie Cooper triumphs over TV executives. Otherwise, there's no use value in this pitiful piece of floating wood. Terrible, overly narrative-driven Dionne Warwick theme song, godawful lead performance by John Phillip Law, crummy fashion show from which I can screen grab nothing, acres of homophobia, etc. And Once is Not Enough is supposed to be more boring?!?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Bozelkablog, 2014)

Tusk absolutely deserves its place amongst the great fatigue classics of the 1970s: Sly's Riot, the Stones' Exile, Donna Summer's Once Upon a Time... (save for side three). But where those albums are energized by their fatigue, Tusk frequently succumbs to it. It's just plain boring for long stretches. I can't remember "Storms" and "Beautiful Child" even while they're playing! I concede that those tracks are essential for the fatigue gestalt. But I'd rather just recollect that gestalt than arrive at it by listening to individual songs. Thus, a cliché like "the whole exceeds the sum of its parts" doesn't quite work.

What might work, though, would be a one-disc distillation. Keep sides one and two except replace "Save Me a Place" with "Brown Eyes" and "Storms" with "Tusk." "Sisters of the Moon" stays because it rocks which allows you to ignore what she's singing about. "Brown Eyes" is Christine at her most Eno-esque (and dishonest?). And, just for the record, "Sara" is the greatest Mac track of all time.

I grant that this messes with the gestalt and results in a rather boyish correction. And really, I can make do quite well with a 12" single comprising "The Ledge," "Sara," and "Tusk." But it strikes a fair balance between the Lindsay and the Lilith Fair. Best of all, the weirdness and intensity that became diffused in the double album bloat now comes out front and center. Special thanks from the band to ME!

1. "Over & Over"
2. "The Ledge"
3. "Think About Me"
4. "Brown Eyes"
5. "Sara"

1. "What Makes You Think You're the One"
2. "That's All for Everyone"
3. "Not That Funny"
4. "Sisters of the Moon"
5. "Tusk"

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Birthday, Greatest Album of the 1970s!

The genius begins with the very title. It wasn't Too Much Too Soon; it was New York Dolls in Too Much Too Soon which means you'd have to make its discographical entry look ugly by capitalizing "in" like so - New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon. But you'd do it to honor an achievement as cinematic as it is musical. For their second release (and last for 32 years), the New York Dolls starred themselves in a movie-album complete with playlets, sound effects, impersonations, and bits of dialogue. Inspired by record-writers Leiber and Stoller, this gimmicky m.o. doomed the Dolls to a short shelf life in a musicscape where Hollywood films had long since stopped belching up the most popular songs in America.

Their taste in covers didn't help either (nor did the fact that four of these ten songs were covers). By 1974, capital-r Rock's premium on authentic expression was an article of faith. So today, in the post-postmodern/poptimist era, it's difficult to hear how revolutionary it was to pay tribute to such novelty numbers as The Jayhawks' (or was that The Cadets'?) "Stranded in the Jungle" or The Coasters' "Bad Detective" (which was neither produced nor written by Leiber-Stoller, by the way) or to treat a relatively recent dance tune like Archie Bell & The Drells' "(There's Gonna Be) A Showdown" with a gravitas usually reserved for rock's blues forefathers. And when they paid homage to the latter with their take on Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'," they sassed it up like a bitch queen reading you to filth. Coupled with the pre-punk noise they were kicking up, this shameless alignment with the camp, the novel, and the cinematic gave the listener a glimpse of a utopia that collapsed masculine and feminine, gay and straight, rock and pop.

So in an attempt to juice even more pleasure out of the thing, I finally watched the album's namesake, the 1958 film Too Much, Too Soon based on Diana Barrymore's (daughter of John, aunt of Drew) memoir. Sadly, it's a dutiful social problem film akin to The Lost Weekend, maybe slightly trashier but not trashy enough to inspire visions of utopia.

The best part is when the oily tennis stud John Howard (Ray Danton) is preventing Barrymore (Dorothy Malone) from walking around with goosebumps.

But goosebumps she gets when faced with this.
And really, who can blame her?

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