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Weekly Mishmash: March 22-28

Al Green — Let’s Stay Together. Downloaded from Amazon for $1.99. Although I’m a huge ’70s soul fan, strangely enough I’ve never owned anything by Al Green — not even a greatest hits collection. This LP was a good introduction. Everybody knows the title track, of course, and the rest of the LP follows in the same mellow (though not as memorable) groove. Another highlight on this album is Green’s anguished, 6-1/2 minute take on the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” I always believed (incorrectly) that this tune was a hit single; apparently it’s survived this long on being merely a killer album track.
Lives and Loves of Daisy & Violet HiltonThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins by Dean Jensen. Excellent bio, touching on a lot of broader subjects — the fickleness of fame, the search for love and companionship — all through the story of conjoined twins who led an eventful life through just about every sphere of the mid-20th century entertainment world. As a biographer, Dean Jensen is a bit fanciful. He fills this book with conversations that obviously weren’t documented, along with iffy details that nevertheless give a terrifically evocative sense of place and time. Usually I hate this style of writing, but I actually found it absorbing here and totally befitting its subject. From the beginning all the way to the twins’ humble final years, dutifully working as produce weighers in a North Carolina grocery store, this was a “page turner” that kept me captivated.
Match Point (2005). Although I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s movies, until Match Point I hadn’t seen anything of his since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway. Maybe I just thought his best films were behind him as it were. This was a surprisingly good thriller, playing somewhat like the “serious” half of Crimes and Misdemeanors. Woody Allen’s version of upper class London life is just as hermetically sealed and squeaky clean as his New York-set stuff from the ’80s. Aside from the odd soundtrack featuring early opera recordings, however, there aren’t a lot of Allen-like touches here — which is a relief. The script is pretty good, enlivened with some great locations (like that to-die-for apartment on the Thames). Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson sure are pretty to look at — too bad they’re no great shakes in the acting department.
Pandora’s Box (1929). It’s been about ten years since we last saw this — and it’s as potent as ever. G.W. Pabst made the perfect choice of Louise Brooks to play Lulu, in an iconic performance. Lulu is a frivolous, complex woman given depth by the gorgeous, helmet-haired actress. Even the scene with her staring at a lit candle is mesmerizing. Still one of my favorite silent movies. Criterion’s DVD is surprising; I kept thinking it had deleted scenes, but in actuality the film’s speed got slowed down to a more naturalistic pace. As with the cleaned up image, it’s a huge improvement. The DVD also has a choice of four different scores, which I didn’t know at the time. The one we heard, composed by Gillian Anderson (not the X-Files star), was terrible — bombastic, stereotypically “German” music that never attempted to match the mood of the scenes it underscored. That was a huge disappointment, but on the other hand there’s a cool bonus disc with documentaries and interviews with the enigmatic Miss Brooks. It’s frustrating that Brooks grew tired of the movies and retired early on; had she stuck it out and not been so feisty, she could’ve been an even bigger celluloid legend.
Shack Out on 101 (1955). This tawdry little melodrama got onto the TiFaux after reading enthusiastic comments about it from both Ivan and Vince. Well, I can say that it is different. Lee Marvin displays unimaginable amounts of uninhibitedness as a cook at a seaside hash house where shady goings-on are happening. I also enjoyed Keenan Wynn as the dive’s proprietor and Terry Moore as a slutty yet patriotic waitress. Most of the action on this bargain basement potboiler takes place on a set that looks like a Red Lobster outlet gone to seed. Honestly, it’s kind of a dull, grimy little affair, but the curious amongst you might want to check it out.
They Might Be Giants — Flood. I went to the record store last week wanting to get a new CD. How very 1990s, eh? Anyhow, after spending close to an hour looking through all the racks, I only wound up with an extremely safe choice in They Might Be Giants’ Flood. I already knew it was pretty good, having owned the gatefold sleeved vinyl edition since the album’s 1990 release (I remember this well, since that was the very last year the major record labels were still producing LPs in large numbers). Revisiting these 19 tracks reveals an album that has actually held up admiringly well. TMBG’s nerdy chic ethos has proven to be prescient these days, and Flood catches them brimming over with creativity. “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is the kick-assiest, of course, but I also dig the cajun-like “We Want A Rock” and the danceable “Twisting.” The first half gets a solid A+; the more routine second half grades more of a B-.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: March 22-28

  1. Fall of 1991-Spring of 1992, I taught Conversational English at a university in Tallinn, Estonia with a handful of other Americans. Among the *cassettes* we listened to when we hung out was Flood. It didn’t take us very long to *only* listen to Side 1. And we were *starving* for entertainment from the West!

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