Monthly Archives: June 2009

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Weekly Mishmash: June 21-27

The Aura (2005). The final film for South American director-screenwriter Fabián Bielinsky. Like his previous Four Queens, this one concerns an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A timid taxidermist (Ricardo Darín) dreams of committing the perfect crime, never thinking he’d accomplish such a thing until a fateful hunting trip spins things into motion. Deliberately paced, beautifully photographed suspenser often gets by merely with the changing expressions in Darín’s face. Fulfilling up to and including the very last frames; I actually enjoyed this more than Four Queens (also recommended).
Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4: 1964Various — The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4: 1964. A crazy quilt of a box set covering 163 a- and b-sides that Motown or its subsidiaries released (or planned to release) during 1964. This was the first year in which Motown had sustainable pop success, culminating with the Supremes’ first three #1 hits. It was also the year that the Temptations broke through after years of failed attempts at hits, the debut of the Four Tops with the peerless “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and the commercial peaks of Martha & The Vandellas (“Dancing In the Street”) and Mary Wells (“My Guy”). It’s interesting to listen to these enduring hits in the context of when they came out, surrounded by sometimes forgettable b-sides, interesting failures and outright flops (former child star Bobby Breen among the latter). Being the year of Beatlemania, you also have the blatant cash-in “Give Me A Kiss” by the Hornets — a bald faced “I Want To Hold Your Hand” ripoff — R. Dean Taylor’s silly “Lady Bug Stay Away From That Beatle” (cooler heads prevailed when they canceled the release of that one), and one of the few R&B attempts at a Fab Four sound with Oma Heard’s “Lifetime Man.” I find that, as I go earlier with these sets, there’s a lot more basic filler to be found. That’s especially the case with the samey sounding C&W on the Mel-O-Dy label, Berry Gordy’s valiant try at crashing the Country charts. Still, these are fascinating sets. I don’t mind at all that I’m going poor trying to collect them. Not at all!
Peter Pan (1953). I think it’s been about 25 or 30 years since I last saw this. When I first saw Peter Pan as a child, I remember being spellbound with the “You Can Fly” scene (it’s still enchanting). Besides that one highlight, however, this has never ranked among my favorite Disney classics. It just seems too shrill and unlovable, marred by several bad decisions. Making Peter Pan into a teenager with several girls competing for his attention was flaw #1. I also hated the bratty Tinkerbell as much now as I did at age ten. It really astonishes me that Disney is currently putting their marketing muscle behind her widely proportioned butt. The film is also too short (which is like complaining that the meal was lousy and the portions were too small, I know). One instance where the theme park attraction outdid the film it’s based upon, for sure.
A Royal Scandal (1945) - PosterA Royal Scandal (1945) and Angel Face (1952). Two recordings from TCM’s director salute to Otto Preminger. With A Royal Scandal, Preminger took over for an ailing Ernst Lubitch. This doesn’t surprise, since Lubitch’s stamp of forced gaiety is all over this gilded fabergé egg of a film chronicling Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead) as she seduces a young army officer (William Eythe). In her last role as a screen leading lady, Bankhead has a wonderfully droll way with her lines that elevates the material. I also enjoyed the opportunity to see the underused and attractive Eythe in a meaty role (for more on Eythe, see Just Ask Christopher). Too bad the script was a stagey, cliché-ridden waste. The melodramatic Angel Face made for somewhat more worthwhile viewing, even if it often falls into the old “beautiful girl goes apeshit” trap. In the title role, Jean Simmons plays a rich and deceptively controlling young woman who convinces beefy ambulance driver Robert Mitchum to help her dispose of an annoying relative. Claptrap of the most enjoyable kind, with a genuinely surprising climax.
Who Gets To Call It Art? (2006). Sundance Channel recording. A lively documentary on Henry Geldzahler, legendary curator of modern acquisitions at the Metropolitain Museum of Art from the ’60s to the ’80s. From this film, Geldzahler comes across as a flamboyant enigma with a talent for befriending every emerging artist just before they “make it”. The only glimpse at his private life can be seen in the figure of a man standing nearby in David Hockney’s famous portrait of the man. On that count the film doesn’t succeed, but it is a cool look at the art scene of that era brimming with nice contemporary interviews with Hockney, Frank Stella, Larry Poons and James Rosenquist. This film even uses footage from the duller than dull Painters Painting to good effect.
A Woman Under the Influence (1974). I’ve never seen a John Cassavetes film before this particular one popped up on the Sundance channel lineup (an aside: I love the Sundance channel). Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk star as a married couple in L.A. dealing with her descent into madness. Although it takes a good while to gain momentum and Cassavetes’ sloppiness as a director is all too evident, this film packs a wallop. Though well-intentioned, Falk’s character does all the wrong things in reacting to his wife’s puzzling behavior — which makes the film all the more agonizing. Rowlands is, in a word, amazing. This movie could have easily been pruned by a half hour, but what remains is a wow.

Valley of the Dolls

For vintage marionette kiddie show weirdness, Space Patrol will fill my quota for the week. With inebriated puppets and an eerie soundtrack, consider it a shoddier predecessor to Thunderbirds. “The earthquake upset my equilibrium.” Right, missy.

Meat That Can’t Be Beat

Ground Meat - CoverLet’s talk ground meat. Especially the myriad ways ground meat could be prepared for that idea-strapped ’50s housewife. Exciting, eh?

Then again, maybe not. Let’s instead focus our energies on the chapter heading artwork from The Ground Meat Cookbook, forgotten bits of ephemeral cuteness which count among the latest additions to my Cool Vintage Illustration flickr set (note: this isn’t the first time I’ve been enamored of a Culinary Institute cookbook, nor will it likely be the last). Drawn by a lady by the name of Selma Quateman, these illustrations have a clunky charm that brings to mind some of Warhol’s pre-Pop Art stuff. It’s always funny to me how these old meat-based cookbooks never fail to sport drawings of adorable cows, horses, lambs, etc. The one of farm animals sniffing out a succulent meal is particularly sick. Have a looksee:

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Ground Meat - Illustration

Weekly Mishmash: June 14-20

Before we begin the mishmash, let me direct you to the new look at Web-Goddess.org. I designed the banner and drew the cartoon portrait of Kris a few months back. It was a fun challenge and she nicely integrated the banner design with the rest of her site. Cool beans.
A Cast of Friends by Bill Hanna with Tom Ito. Used book sale purchase. Along with longtime partner Joe Barbera, William Hanna created The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and about a million interchangeable cartoons (remember Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels?) that sucked many a Saturday morning for the kiddie me. This book was a short, sometimes interesting look into the animation biz as he and Barbera adapted it to the TV age. Hanna was more of a businessman than a true creative, however, and it shows in the way he approaches this memoir. At times, his bland affirmations come across like a CEO addressing a stockholder meeting. The best segments are his early memories of working at Warner Bros. and MGM in the ’30s, developing a scruffy cat and mouse who would evolve into Tom & Jerry. By the time he gets to his time as a TV titan forty years on, he seems more content to rhapsodise about his boat or offer banal observations on family and aging. I wonder if Chuck Jones ever got this doddery in his twilight years?
High Noon (1952)From Here To Eternity (1953) and High Noon (1952). Strangely enough, I’ve never seen either of these until they popped up as part of the Fred Zinneman director salute on Turner Classic Movies. I loved From Here To Eternity. The film might look hokey and overacted by today’s standards, but in 1953 this was potent stuff delivered by a surprisingly diverse cast. Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra head a cast that actually comes across as refreshingly low-key and realistic for a vintage melodrama. Deborah Kerr attempting to stifle her British accent probably fares the worst, but she’s okay enough. Given its pedigree, High Noon was something of a disappointment. I wouldn’t rank it as one of the best ever, but I enjoyed the mounting sense of dread as Gary Cooper faces the most trying hour of his life. Westerns aren’t a genre that I normally gravitate towards (I live in a desert; deserts are boring), but this one had a strong enough story to keep me intrigued. Like Eternity, it has an excellent supporting cast of pros who give it their all.
Ghandi (1982). Is this epic as ponderous and boring as they say? Yes. Did it steal the Best Picture Oscar away from E.T.? I’d say no. Though overlong by at least a half hour, Ben Kingsley created a magnificent Mahatma Ghandi, and the film’s pacifist message holds up better over the years than Spielberg’s “find your inner child” granola. This film is very meditative in spirit, and I dug it.
Painters On Painting (1973). Dull documentary explores the New York art scene as it was moving past Abstract Expressionism and Pop into Minimalism and Conceptual art. Contrasting gritty black and white interview footage with color shots of various paintings, the film really ought to be titled Painters Talking. They talk and talk, revealing mostly that they only know how to express themselves through their art. Robert Rauchenberg and Andy Warhol are the most entertaining simply because of their quirky personalities. It is interesting to see many painters at this midpoint juncture in their careers. Many, such as Frank Stella, would go on to make better stuff later on than when this was filmed.
Casablanca Records StoryVarious – The Casablanca Records Story. Out of print box set from 1994, nabbed off eBay for a song. Primarily known as a disco label, Casablanca actually had a diverse lineup that fully embodied the hedonistic “do it till you’re satisfied” ethos of the ’70s. Opening with the seductive 14 minute album-length version of Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby,” this set captures the full spectrum of its 1976-83 heyday. The label’s flagship rock act KISS is M.I.A., but lots of disco in rare and unusual 12″ mixes kept me hypnotically entertained with their repetitive beats. A few overlooked gems stand out, such as Teri DeSario’s terrific Barry Gibb production “Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Keep Me From You.” There’s also lots of tasty funk jams from Parliament and Cameo, and… the Captain & Tennille? A personal fave would be the 7-1/2 minute album version of Meco’s immortal “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” which includes bits of Princess Leia’s musical motif. Geek heaven, I tell ya.

Addictipedia

New Two Bunnies and a Duck is up today. Subject: Wikipedia. I can’t get enough of Wikipedia. You go there to look up something, then find that an hour has gone by and you’re looking at something that had nothing to do with what you originally came there for.

There’s also the Two Bunnies and a Duck book at Lulu.com. I find that the book has been downloaded exactly zero times since being uploaded six months ago. Not that I’m bitter about it or anything.

Make It Stop

A nice reader requested of me, “Matt, can you share some video of Bananarama’s ‘I Heard A Rumour’ as performed by the cast of Kids Incorporated?” Truthfully, nobody asked me that. But here it is, anyhow.