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Weekly Mishmash: August 23-29

Devo — Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Various — Grease Soundtrack. My continued exploration of albums from the ’70s brings me to these two releases, which have little in common besides being released in 1978. In April of that year, as Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction” bombed as a single, “You’re The One That I Want” was kicking off an impressive string of hits from Grease. It’s hard to imagine how jaw-droppingly bizarre Devo’s first album must have appeared when it first came out. At this stage, the band was still a basic guitar-based outfit that shared more in common with the Ramones than, say, Kraftwerk. Although the ingredients are traditional, Brian Eno’s production ensures this is a thoroughly avant garde listen, solid from start to finish. “Mongoloid” is my favorite, although “Uncontrollable Urge” comes a close second. The humorous “Shrivel-Up” sounds more like the synthesized novelty act the band would become later on. The deep fat fried nostalgia of Grease is a 180º turn from Devo (maybe not so much; Devo has a ’50s rock influence, too). This album is a bucketload of fun, although bizarrely programmed with the hits taking up the first third and a buttload of indistinguishable covers from Sha-Na-Na (anybody remember their variety show?) taking up the middle. I’d like to hear these songs in the order they were performed in the movie; luckily iTunes makes that easy enough. Songs added to the movie version — “Grease,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” “You’re The One That I Want” — were a perfect way to bring it into the ’70s without sounding obnoxious. On a personal note, I can remember Olivia Newton John and John Travolta’s “Summer Nights” being one of the few songs that the ten year-old me greeted with joy every time it came on the radio. Thirty years later, it still sounds fresh (to my ears).
Die Hard (1988). Call me weird, but I actually never saw this movie until this weekend. I thought it was great, one of the definitive action movies of the ’80s. The direction, editing and that gorgeous nighttime cinematography were all top notch. Bruce Willis is the perfect everyman hero, Bonnie Bedelia has just the right complexity as Willis’ wife, and Alan Rickman is a devious terrorist. Sure, there are a lot of clichés (the Euro-sleazy terrorists, for example), but it was perfect popcorn entertainment. I don’t know why I avoided it for so long — maybe I thought it was moronic, like the Lethal Weapon movies — but it was excellent.
Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953). Jennifer Jones is a proper lady waiting for a train while debating her affair with Italian lothario Montgomery Clift. This David O. Selznick production was a notorious affair in itself, marked with production troubles involving the Italian neorealist director Vittorio De Sica. Clift’s miscasting might be the main culprit, but mostly I blame the turgid, uninteresting script (I watched the notoriously butchered, shortened version; perhaps the full length version improves on things, but I doubt it). This is one dull film; even the swell midcentury modern train station and the presence of a young and bizarrely gorgeous Richard Beymer as Jones’ nephew can’t improve matters. Skip.
Queen of Outer SpaceQueen of Outer Space (1958). Ridiculous sci-fi with a deserved reputation as a Camp Classic, although that image is tainted with moments of boredom. Looking about a decade older than everyone else in the cast, Zsa Zsa Gabor stars as a Venusian beauty who helps a crew of stranded American astronauts off a planet ruled by a crazed, oatmeal-faced queen (Laurie Mitchell). My reaction to this opus is probably the same as grim leading man Dave Willock, who spends the entire film looking as if he just ate some nasty fish. Although the proceedings are pretty dull, the film is worth watching just to see the various reactions of the comely extras — supposedly made up of beauty contest winners, although I spotted plenty of horsey looking ladies amongst them. I was most impressed by the film’s wild color schemes, including some flirty primary-colored miniskirts that must have influenced Star Trek‘s costume designer.
Roustabout (1964). A surprisingly not so bad Elvis Presley movie that I recorded off Turner Classic Movies’ day-long salute to the singer (I hesitate to call him an actor). Presley plays Charlie Rogers, ne’er do well rebel who decides to temporarily settle on a job with a traveling carnival. Mostly I recorded this because of Barbara Stanwyck, who co-stars as Presley’s feisty boss. Dressed in sporty looking Edith Head ensembles, Stanwyck is quite the silver fox and could easily have been the romantic interest here. The rest of the movie is actually quite fun, with several silly but enjoyable numbers. These Elvis movies are always interesting just to check out what was considered top-notch mainstream filmmaking in the ’50s and ’60s. The singing and dancing might be iffy, but the widescreen Technicolor photography will always be reliably good.
Season of Passion (1959). Painful-to-watch melodrama, based on a play which is supposedly a beloved classic in Australia (where the story takes place). While Ernest Borgnine and Anne Baxter have been comfortably involved for 17 years, prim Angela Lansbury and drunken John Mills have only just met as the foursome gather during the summer holiday season in Sydney. This was a strange film, one so pointlessly banal and uncommercial it makes me wonder why it was produced in the first place. Casting-wise, Lansbury fares the best, while Borgnine and Baxter struggle with Aussie accents to agonizing effect. The shrill Baxter is particularly unbearable to watch. I might have read somewhere that this film is considered an overlooked gem somewhere — don’t you believe it.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: August 23-29

  1. Brad In Worcester on August 31, 2009 at 7:52 am said:

    People just don’t “get” Devo, which is cool.
    But my appliances LOVE it!

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