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Monthly Archives: May 2010

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Weekly Mishmash: May 23-29

album_bananaramaBananarama – Collectables Classics. Bananarama was one of those ’80s groups that I’ve always enjoyed, but not enough to buy their albums back when they were popular. Collectibles Classics is the trio’s first four albums — Deep Sea Skiving, Bananarama, True Confessions and Wow! — packaged with a tacky cardboard sleeve. All of these albums have their share of glossy filler, but I enjoyed hearing them back to back and tracking the evolution of Siobahn Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward from shaggy, overall clad popsters to full-on dance divas. Sure, the ladies sing indistinctly with no harmony whatsoever, but they did write much of their own material and have a certain spunky charm that’s not easy to resist. One often thinks of them in terms of “fun” stuff like “Venus,” and yet I’m surprised at how dark a lot of their songs were. Take “A Trick of the Night” from True Confessions, for example, a tale of a boy prostitute with glossy yet hard hitting production straight outta Miami Vice. The tune is typical of the professional Tony Swain and Steve Jolley-produced material from LPs #2 and #3, but the lighthearted, d.i.y. inspired Deep Sea Skiving is the most purely enjoyable they ever got. I also have a soft spot for the fizzy, Stock Aitken Waterman produced Wow! Even if the album is heavy on brain dead beats which got better served in concise single-length remixes, I pretty much worship at the S.A.W. throne and this is a good one. Surprisingly enough, Bananarama is still going strong with Dallin and Woodward working in a more club-oriented mode as a duo. Girl power at its finest!

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). This is a film that is practically dripping with prestige: Hemingway adaptation, top-rank stars, opulent production. No wonder that it is a crashing bore as well. Though it does have a few great moments (the climactic battle and chase), mostly the film is ponderous and talky, never letting you forget that fact over the course of nearly three butt numbing hours. As an American everyman aiding a band of Spanish freedom fighters, Gary Cooper is pretty much the same as in every other film he’s done. Ingrid Bergman delivers an uncharacteristically hysterical performance as Cooper’s clingy love interest. Both are terribly miscast, although I can’t say the same of the generally fine supporting actors — highlighted by the indomitable Spaniard played by Katina Paxinou (who nabbed an Oscar for her work, then disappeared from sight). Mostly taking place high in the Spanish mountains, the filmmakers gave this film a sense of heightened reality with dramatic lighting and fake looking sets offset by more straightforward outdoor scenes. Totally schizo, in other words, but very indicative of this film’s lack of focus.
Meet the Mayor (1932). This scrappy b-movie served as a vehicle for vaudeville actor Frank Fay, and an interesting little diversion on our 50 public domain comedies DVD set. Prior to viewing this, the only thing I knew about Fay was that he was Barbra Stanwyck’s first husband and he treated her badly when it became apparent that she had the goods he lacked to become a movie star. Whatever douchebag-like behavior Fay had privately isn’t evident in this film (originally released as A Fool’s Advice), in which he plays a simple elevator operator who helps invent a recording device that he uses to dethrone the corrupt mayor of his town. Fay generally comes across as a second rate Will Rogers type, genial but lacking in magnetism. The film is pretty typical early talkie stuff, somewhat leaden but watchable with a few familiar faces in support. Nat Pendleton plays a menacing heavy (big surprise) and Franklin Pangborn is on hand essaying his patented Flustered Hotel Clerk.
Sally, Irene and Mary (1938). This was our week of having free previews of a bunch of satellite stations, including the Fox Movie Channel (which DirecTV cruelly upgraded to the “bunch of movie channels we don’t want” tier a few years back). This fluffy musical was the only thing I recorded from them, mostly because it’s otherwise unavailable. This was a remake of the old silent-era story of three girls pursuing show biz careers in the big, bad city. Despite the title, it mostly revolves around Alice Faye’s Sally, with Joan Davis’ Irene as able comic relief and Margery Weaver’s Mary merely serving as pretty wallpaper. Radio star Fred Allen, underutilized Jimmy Durante and a young Tony Martin round out the cast. Standard stuff overall, I’d say, and yet musicals from this period can always be counted on to have at least one amazing number. In this case it’s the tinkly “Minuet In Jazz” performed by Raymond Scott’s Quintette with dozens of chorus girls dressed in shiny 18th century-inspired garb. I so wished it was on YouTube, but unfortunately you’ll have to tune in the Fox Movie Channel to check it out.

In the Garage

Last week, I went into the little studio we’ve set up for printing LitKids and took some photos to share. I have a nifty little corner of the garage set up with an old drafting table and a few inspirational things hung up on the walls. Things have been moving along okay, if a bit slowly for my tastes. There is so much trial and error involved in home screen printing, especially the method I’m using with photo sensitive goo and light exposures. I won’t bore you by going into too much detail; just want to mention that last Thursday I made the most perfect screen yet — a five minute sunlight exposure with four sharply defined images ready for printing.

Anyway, the photos below show some of the stuff I’ve been working on lately — a screen stretched with a cherished old silk shirt with a comic book pattern (which didn’t stretch right, soaked up too much liquid, and eventually got ripped), a piece with pages from a circa 1900 copy of Treasure Island pasted on, inks, papers, and all that good stuff. Enjoy!








You Need a Montage

One of my favorite YouTube people, bobtwcatlanta, has taken the time to upload a gem of an awards show — the 1978 Emmys. This was the 30th anniversary program, filled with more back patting than usual (and a neat set design). The first segment contains montages aplenty and Cicely Tyson wearing a weird quasi-Egyptian gold headpiece.

Weekly Mishmash: May 16-22

poster_codetwoCode Two (1953). Fun, documentary style flick about L.A.’s motorcycle cops. This film follows three men (Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton and Jeff Richards) as they go through arduous boot camp at the police academy (look fast for the same roadway from the Charlie’s Angels opening credits), make their way through office gruntwork, and finally earn their badges as motorcycle patrolmen. This film is awfully backward in its portrayal of manly men and their worried wives and girlfriends, and the many straightforward shots of people driving hogs around might make you reach for the nearest gun. It’s still fascinating from a historical point of view, however, with plenty of gritty footage straight out of an industrial training short. The film picks up a bit once the dramatic stuff gets under way, with rogue cop Meeker chasing down an underground cattle thieving ring. There’s also a scene where the hunky leads relax in bathing wear — nice!
Dead Again (1991). This is the third time I’ve seen this Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson thriller (it’s one of Christopher’s all time faves). It is one of those films that people either love or hate. Despite the film’s ludicrousness, I always fall for it, even to the point of not seeing the many “twist” plot points that get thrown at you like so many ham-handed scissor references. I think it’s because Branagh and Thompson are so committed to their characters, and they seem to be having a grand time playing both 1940s lovers and a contemporary pair who are not at all freaked that they physically resemble said 1940s couple.
Niagara Falls (1941). This breezy Hal Roach production was the latest offering in our cheap-o public domain comedy film fest. The print on our DVD was surprisingly crisp and clean looking, matched by comedy that was actually quite enjoyable on its own modest terms. The plot concerns a pair of young strangers (Marjorie Woodworth and Tom Brown) thrown together under unpleasant circumstances. When the two seek lodging at a Niagra Falls hotel, they are mistaken for newlyweds and booked in the same room. Although the two seem to have an easy way out (why don’t they just say they’re not married?), they are forced together via a zealous country hick (Slim Summerville) — much to the dismay of his long-suffering bride (ZaSu Pitts in full-on “oh dear” mode). A short, silly farce made watchable by a pleasant cast and slick production which could almost be mistaken for an MGM b-movie. The falls themselves appear through the magic of rear screen projection, by the way.
Night of the Comet (1984). I rented this expecting some good ’80s cheese; well, it’s cheesy alright but not so good. A comet hits earth, turning most of humanity to rust colored dust save for two vapid L.A. teens. The girls (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) make their way to a neon-lit radio station, where they and a handsome stranger (Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager) must elude zombies and mysterious agents who are coldly monitoring the trio. Interesting concept, but the production’s cheapness and plodding pace are a huge bummer. The film couldn’t decide whether the comet made people into dust or zombies, so they went with both and apparently hoped no one would notice. On the plus side I dug the ’80s shopping montage and the many shots of an empty downtown L.A. (shot at 5 a.m., perhaps?), and Stewart made for a nice, level-headed heroine.
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Another relic of Disney live action musical cheeriness from the ’60s. I find these flicks fascinating, but this 1880s-set opus left me puzzled. For one, the movie doesn’t really revolve much around the title band, preferring to stick with crusty grampa Walter Brennan’s political convictions (he’s a Democrat and Grover Cleveland supporter; son Buddy Ebsen is a Republican). Much time is also devoted to a romantic subplot with Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson serenading each other to indistinct Sherman brothers songs. The family itself has too many kids who don’t have enough screen time to make an impression (even 14 year-old Kurt Russel gets lost in the shuffle) — a symbol of this pleasant yet overlong production. The one thing I did enjoy was the crafty “Ten Feet Off The Ground,” which can be better heard here on the great Café Apres Midi Meets Disney compilation.
album_essentialbarbraBarbra Streisand — The Essential Barbra Streisand. Being a proper music loving queer, I decided to explore the rich catalog of Barbra Streisand on eMusic. At first I only wanted to get her first two “Greatest Hits” albums from 1970 and ’78, but then I realized that the same credits could be used on this 2002 compilation with twice as many tracks. This set covers her first forty years in the biz in an even-handed fashion. Babs’ earliest stuff is the highlight, of course. From the opener “A Sleepin’ Bee” one can tell what a breath of fresh air she was, and old style singer’s singer with uniqueness and vitality. I’m delighted they put in the wonderfully sung “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” but my favorite tune of hers is the rendition of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End” — a song that by all rights could have been a hippie-dippy mistake, but Barbra’s enthusiasm makes it a joyous romp. From there on out, her music got more formulaic and overproduced as ironically her singing improved. I can admire the virtuosity in a “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl, but it’s missing the spark of something like “Lover, Come Back to Me” from 1963. Whoever compiled this tended to pick vocal virtuosity over hits (a nice tactic), which means entire albums are sometimes omitted. For example, I kinda wish they included something off 1984’s pop-oriented Emotion, but then again it would have destroyed the flow between the Yentl and Broadway Album selections. And there’s also the matter of everything post-’85 being such a crashing bore. It really says something that even when doing a snoozy ballad, though, the woman is like buttah.

Doggies Need Haircuts, Too

Something we fished out of the trash: an Oster electric dog clipper in its original box. It was missing a few parts, but I did manage to scan these swell illustrations from the instruction booklet. Who knew small animal grooming was so complex? I love the very ’60s character of the drawing on the bottom.



Weekly Mishmash: May 9-15

Great Expectations (1946). I remember having Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations assigned in high school Freshman English. Our class was required to read the entire book, then perform scenes from it in five or six sections. My section was first up, so I ended up only reading the opening few chapters. With the kind of logic only a high schooler could comprehend, I felt that reading just the beginning better prepared me to wow my classmates with a flawless performance as the escaped convict (yeah, right). 25 years on, I still haven’t read Great Expectations — but now that we’ve seen the beautifully mounted ’46 David Lean film adaptation, at least I have a better understanding of this quintessentially British tale. This is a nicely photographed film that is compelling in the first half and somewhat dry in the second half, hobbled with an appealing but miscast John Mills as the adult version of the book’s main character Pip. Personally, I love the atmosphere at the beginning with the curious young Pip, creepy Miss Havisham, and her alluring adopted daughter Estella (wonderfully played by Jean Simmons). By the time Pip grows up and attempts to become a refined gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor, the story loses a lot of momentum. The film is still a top notch production, despite the iffy source material. Did I just call Dickens an iffy writer? My English teacher would freak if she heard that.
Legion (2009). With Pandorum and now Legion, my spouse seems intent on unleashing an invasion of bad Dennis Quaid movies on our household. This one is slightly better than Pandorum, but only slightly. It concerns evil angels who descend upon Earth and unleash an apocalyptic virus that turns all humans into zombies. Zombies who can walk up walls, stretch their limbs to weird proportions, or do whatever this movie’s half-assed script requires. Paul Walker plays a rogue good angel who sawed his wings off, intent on helping the ragtag group stranded at a desert diner which includes a girl pregnant with mankind’s savior (or something like that). This film is mostly a bunch of retreaded ideas randomly thrown into a blender, with a few “wow” moments to momentarily impress a jaded teen or three. The nadir comes when the bad angel is revealed to have steel-plated wings, for no apparent reason. Those wings are pretty much the shining symbol of this pointless flick.
Lonely Wives (1931). The latest in Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack theatre! Lonely Wives is a plodding early talkie, based on a hoary stage property, about a playboy lawyer who meets a lookalike actor who wants to impersonate him in a vaudeville act. To teach their (lonely) wives a lesson, the two arrange to swap places. Hilarity ensues, etc. etc. Edward Everett Horton plays both roles with the aid of some still nifty split screen effects, but the usually reliable character actor disappoints with the similar approach he takes (only glasses and facial hair differentiates the two). Probably the main appeal of this film to contemporary eyes is the opportunity to see three silent-era actresses at their flirty, sexy best. Most enjoyable are Patsy Ruth Miller and Esther Ralston as, respectively, lawyer Horton’s secretary and wife. The true surprise of the cast is Laura La Plante as the frustrated spouse of Horton’s actor lookalike. She was quite the skilled comedienne and a blast to watch, even in a silly forgotten farce such as this.
Match Your Mood (1968). One of the pleasures of Turner Classic Movies is the educational/industrial shorts they show late Friday nights. The latest was this production from Westinghouse and Jam Handy demonstrating how custom decorating your refrigerator doors is, like, the grooviest thing one could possibly do. Look:

There’s Always a Woman (1938). I adore bubbly Joan Blondell, almost as much as I love Joyce Compton. When a Blondell comedy that I’d never heard of popped up on the schedule, I had to give it a looksee. There’s Always a Woman is an unassuming crime caper that might as well have been titled Thin Man Ripoff #323, but the appeal of Blondell and co-star Melvyn Douglas made the so-so story worth it. The two have excellent chemistry as a married couple running a detective agency, a snappy pair who suddenly turn combative when they wind up competing against each other on a hot case involving a rich widow (Mary Astor being as Mary Astorish as possible). All told, a silly and forgettable vehicle, but it’s fascinating to see Blondell cast in a lead role and toning down her usual sauciness. At times she’s quite sophisticated, resembling an earthier Constance Bennett. There’s a few fun scenes here with Blondell and Douglas getting belligerent (violent, even) with each other.