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Weekly Mishmash: February 17-23

Starting today, I’m going to do a little roundup of the movies, books, music and whatever else I’ve digested over the previous week. Here we go!
The African Queen (1951) Bogie and Kate, leeches and tsetse flies. This is one of those rare classic movies that I’d never seen before due to the fact that it’s always “there” and someday I’ll get around to it (the film equivalent of spring cleaning or flossing). What a wonderful film. In addition to having a lot of adventure and romance, John Huston and James Agee’s screenplay sparkles with the sort of smart and non-stylized dialogue rarely heard in films from that period.
Before the Music Dies (2006) A documentary that attacks the consolidation of America’s music and radio conglomerates and the focus group tested, mass audience pleasing pap they produce. This film made a lot of excellent points, but it honestly didn’t illuminate or tell me anything I didn’t already know. Despite the appearance of several heavy-wattage musicians (Erykah Badu was the best), it seemed cobbled together with a lot of cheap shots and unnecessary live footage. I’d even argue that the kind of earnest folk and blues that this film champions has never been commercially viable — so what’s the point?
The Chordettes — “They’re Riding High” Says Archie. An eMusic download of the female harmony-pop quartet best known for the fantastic “Mr. Sandman.” This LP is a Best-Of originally released in 1957 (the Archie of the title is Cadence Records head Archie Bleyer, who was married to one of the ladies). Although it’s missing the later hits “Lollipop” and “Never On Sunday,” I really enjoyed this plushly produced, sweet stuff — not nearly as cheesy or sleep-inducing as I thought.
The Lives of Others (2006). Fascinating film that offers a glimpse into a time and place that I previously had little knowledge of (Communist East Germany in the ’80s). It comes across a touch too talky at first, but after a while I was so absorbed in the characters that it didn’t matter.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Will Farrell hearing voices in his head. An excellent cast and a thought-provoking premise, and I loved the graphic treatment of Farrell’s various anal-retentive habits. The only thing that bothered me was when (spoiler alert!) Dustin Hoffman advised Farrell to sacrifice himself so that Emma Thompson could publish her novel as it was intended. Would any halfway decent person with a conscience really do that?
La Vie En Rose (2007). Edith Piaf was a phenomenal singer, a prickly personality, and a hardcore drug abuser. That’s about all I learned from this film, but it sure is a beautifully made biopic — and Marion Cottiard is unbelievably good. I’m pulling for her to nab that Oscar.

2 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: February 17-23

  1. k2design on February 26, 2008 at 3:34 pm said:

    “I’d even argue that the kind of earnest folk and blues that this film champions has never been commercially viable”

    Well, THAT depends on your definition of commeercial viability, doesn’t it? There were an awful lot of “race” records keeping Wisconsin Chair Company in business — they formed Brunswick Records to keep their plant busy building phonographs. And without the earnest performances of the Carters (and others), there’d never have been the semi-earnest folk movement that brought us the Kingston Trio. So they were niche markets… but Sam Asch made a living, and left a great legacy to the Smithsonian in his Folkways Records archive.

    Yeah, I didn’t see the film, so I’m talking through the hat I don’t wear. But commercial viability brought us the Fabians and others of that ilk. So I’d argue that the music business is finally getting what it deserved. The megaliths that absorbed all the intersting personal visions that once comprised the inddustry (think the Chess brothers, Art Rupe, the Biharis, the Florence Greensbergs…) spent so much of its energy justifying its corporate existence it had nothing left for the music.

    But, ultimately, it wasn’t this paucity of content that brought down these monsters — it was a paradigm shift in technology that potentially returns the creation of the music to the creators rather than the accountants.

    And if there’s there’s one thing I learned from the Deviants’ first album, it’s a nugget contained in the liner marginalia: “When the mode of the music changes. the wallls of the city will fall.”

    Here’s (and hears) to the fall!


  2. Thanks for your long comment, Steve!

    You made some good points there. Check that movie out, if you can. It’s not on DVD but the IFC channel has been playing it often. Truthfully, there has always been and will always be room for quirky and interesting music that doesn’t grab a huge audience. Now with the internet and file sharing, it’s a lot easier to find stuff than ever before. I say screw the major labels and their outdated business model.

    I didn’t know that about Brunswick records – very interesting!

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