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Monthly Archives: June 2008

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Weekly Mishmash: June 1-7

The Dragon Painter (1919). We recorded and watched a lot of offerings from TCM’s Asian film fest this week — including this early silent with the first Asian-American movie idol, Sessue Hayakawa. In this brief melodrama, Hayakawa plays an artist/wild man who is crazed with visions of a phantom princess. The local master painter, aging and not having a male heir to pass his knowledge on to, offers the wild man his own daughter (played by Hayakawa’s wife, Tsuru Aoki) in exchange for keeping his own legacy alive. Meanwhile Hayakawa believes the daughter is his lost princess and goes even crazier. Despite being old, creaky and glacially paced, Hayakawa’s uninhibited but never overstated performance almost, almost saves the film.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007). Good documentary about the efforts of decent unemployed shlub Steve Weibe to overtake the record Donkey Kong high score long held by arrogant, patriotic tie-lovin’ Billy Mitchell. This is an unmitigated “good vs. evil” tale, but it did have me spellbound the entire time (not so much with Christopher, however). It’s amazing that people in this day and age are so invested in some archaic old videogame, but that makes the subject matter even more compelling. The principals involved are so geeky and strange (could Mitchell have been any more smarmy and evil, without twirling his mustache even?) that it’s hard to believe it’s real and not some fictionalized event.
Kurt Weill On StageKurt Weill On Stage: From Berlin to Broadway by Foster Hirsch. This book reminded me of Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney bio in that it’s an impeccably researched, wide-ranging and sympathetic book that never really gets to the meat of what made its subject tick. Although Kurt Weill is best known for subversive German musicals like The Threepenny Opera, I actually found the part of the book on his reinvention in America much more interesting. Foster Hirsch goes through everything Weill touched with a fine toothed comb, even giving fair assessments to lost and forgotten works like the 1939 Worlds Fair production Railroads on Parade. Unfortunately I wasn’t very familiar with Weill’s oevure before reading this, and that might have stifled my enjoyment of the book. Some writers know how to illuminate unfamiliar music and make it seem as if you’re in the room listening with them (Ethan Mordden comes to mind); Foster Hirsch, skilled as he is, doesn’t have that quality. In sum: I liked it, it could’ve been better.
Love Has Many Faces (1965) and The Big Cube (1969). As a faithful good-bad movie aficionado (who is still waiting for DVDs of the Jacqueline Susann adaptations The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough to show up!), I had the distinct pleasure of viewing two later, overstuffed Lana Turner vehicles in one week. Both are turgid soapers which are more about Miss Turner’s fabulous wardrobes than anything that happens onscreen. In Love Has Many Faces, Turner plays a haughty heiress who gets in hot water when the body of one of her ex-boy toys washes up on the Acapulco beach where she whiles away the days sunning on her yacht. Although the supporting cast includes Cliff Robertson, Hugh O’Brian, Stefanie Powers and Ruth Roman (really good as a vacationing sexpot), the boring script leaves them with little to do. Mostly it’s about Lana’s unintentionally funny stabs at “acting” while looking swank in an endless parade of luxe Edith Head ensembles. Four years later, she’d be at it again in the LSD tripsploitation flick The Big Cube, playing an aging actress hounded by a spiteful Swedish-accented stepdaughter and her sleazy boyfriend (a gaydar-inducing George Chakiris). This one’s actually pretty fun at times, but once again the cast is let down with a dumb and painfully slangy script (“I belong to the Now Generation!”). Interesting that it has the polish of a major studio production, yet the subject matter is pure exploitation sleaze. Travilla designed the wardrobe for Turner and Karin Mossberg as the stepdaughter, and they both have this fabulously baroque late ’60s thing going on with lots of ruffles and hideous colors. I also liked the film’s occasional peeks at various chichi midcentury modern buildings (like Love, this one was also filmed in Mexico bizarrely enough), both of which made up for the film’s dull histrionics. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls this ain’t.
The Peach Girl (1931). This showcase for the ’20s-’30s star Ruan Lingyu was an interesting watch. How often does one get to see a Chinese silent, anyway? It’s slow-moving and the main characters’ passivity drove me up a wall, but I can see why Lingyu had such a Valentino-esque mystique for Chinese filmgoers. She’s awfully cute and comes across like an Asian Jennifer Love Hewett (I mean that as a compliment).
200 American (2003). A gay-themed drama that appears to have been made for about 25 cents with a stack of VHS tapes, this was a Christopher rental. Although the directing was clumsy and stilted and the acting ranges from adequate to crappy, the script was actually somewhat sharp. Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

Summer Lovin’

Don’t know about you, but I associate summer with maneuvering into furnace-like cars, dealing with an AC that never makes the home truly comfortable, and mainlining cans of Diet Coke like there’s no tomorrow. Oh, and great music! Which brings me to the latest mix, creatively titled What I Found. The contents of this mix don’t have much in common, except that they were all available on at some point (in the case of the Rolling Stones’ “2,000 Light Years From Home,” for about five minutes last April). Herein you’ll find ace examples of retro-styled indie pop, dance, bubblegum, e-z listening, ’60s soundtracks, ’80s kitsch and more. It’s a crazy quilt of different stuff, but it all flows together evenly and I’m finding that the music holds up quite well to repeated listenings. Download the continuous mix version below and see for yourselves.

Download What I Found: Summer 2008 Mix (65.9 MB mp3) Summer 2008 Mix Front Cover Summer 2008 Mix Back Cover

The fun doesn’t end there! Here are some accompanying YouTube clips to enjoy:

Yves So Fine

There have been a lot of high profile deaths in the news lately, but the passing of Yves Saint Laurent at 71 resonates the most in these quarters. Although he had a long and varied career, I always associate him with clean, crisp ’60s styles such as his iconic Mondrian print miniskirt. One of my other favorites is the whimsical floor-length number he did that looked like a football jersey festooned with hundreds of sequins (no photo link; Google, ya let me down again). Take a look at the mod ensembles he designed for Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour for YSL at his best — classic and wearable with a bit of sass.

Weekly Mishmash: May 25-31

Lovers Courageous (1932). One of those movies that shows up on TCM at five in the morning and you record it just because it looks vaguely interesting. Robert Montgomery and the unjustly obscure Madge Evans headline as pair of starry-eyed pups who give it a go despite their different social standings. A standard soaper, most of the interest today might lie in the impressionistic photography of William Daniels (Garbo’s favorite cinematographer) — every scene radiates with a beautiful glow. It also has a sharp and witty script, which is surprising since it was written by the same guy responsible for the froufrou Last of Mrs. Cheyney.
Maxed Out (2006). This documentary on the credit card industry was pretty good, even if it didn’t tell me much that I already knew. PBS’s Frontline did a similar exposé a few years back which was much more incisive, but if that’s not available this is a sufficient second choice. I almost forgot that MBNA America was the number one financial contributor to Bush’s reelection campaign — yeeks!
Thank You for Smoking (2005). Razor-sharp satire was much better than I expected. This could’ve been done as a complete farce, but what makes it great is how the situations are played out with a little humanity and even heart. And Aaron Eckhart rules.
Tulsa (1949). Technicolor hokum with a tempestuous Susan Hayward as the part-Cherokee oil queen of Oklahoma. This is the kind of movie that takes place in the ’20s, but nobody bothers to make it look at least somewhat period correct — but it is briskly paced and fun in a brainless way.