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Monthly Archives: June 2010

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Weekly Mishmash: June 6-12

album_belledearBelle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Yearning for something newish, light and fun on eMusic, I honed in on this gem from one of my fave indie pop acts. I thought Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit was the best album of 2006, and this earlier collaboration with producer Trevor Horn is very much in the same paisley printed bag. Like Life Pursuit, this album puts a smile on my face with its summery charm. Much of the album has a startling, vaguely retro sheen (“Step Into My Office, Baby”), while other tunes (“Piazza, New York Catcher”) hark back to the twee folk that characterized their earliest work. Many purists find this stuff too sweet and sugary, but I find the band’s commitment to real melodies totally refreshing and a distinct step above the atonal posturing that most indie acts indulge in. This also made me want to explore Trevor Horn’s work; I even went to the trouble of making a list of everything Horn produced that’s on eMusic. Peruse his official discography — now that’s a body of work!
Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen. Despite being published 20 years ago, this paperback edition of Dannen’s explosive music industry exposé is an enthralling read. Dannen casts a wide net in detailing the shady practice of goosing record airplay and sales — going back to the payola scandal of the ’50s and earlier — but mostly the book focuses on a ring of sleazy “independent promoters” who racked up millions in the freewheeling late ’70s and early ’80s. The book has a large cast of colorful characters (too large, to be honest), and everyone from thuggish bodyguards to pampered label execs gets a vivid portrait. The main thing I got from this book is that a good old boy mentality pervades the entire industry, and even the highest of label heads have the double-dealing oiliness of mob bosses. Dannen reserves his sharpest barbs for ’80s CBS Records head Irving Azoff, who here seems like the ultimate gladhanding sleazebag. A real eye-opener, and I wonder if it would be all that different for today’s music climate. Given what currently hits the charts, payola must continue being an essential part of the biz. The chapter on disco label Casablanca alone is worth its weight in gold.
Hoosiers (1986). I always wanted to see this, supposedly the template for every inspirational “come from behind” sports story committed to film in the last twenty or so years. Indeed, Hoosiers indulges in just about every sports movie cliché in the book, but Gene Hackman’s commanding presence and the wonderfully authentic, somewhat corny ’50s midwestern atmosphere pulled me over. Actually, the moody photography and faithful period detail were the film’s strongest elements in my opinion. Good performances are delivered by Hackman, Dennis Hopper (r.i.p.) and Barbara Hershey despite the fact that their characters are too stock to be truly believable. The only outright awful element would be Jerry Goldsmith’s score, weaving truly unfortunate ’80s synths into the mix that take the viewer out of the moment. Unbelievably, Goldsmith received an Oscar nom for this. What was the Academy thinking? The climactic game is pretty fantastically staged. I was stirred despite knowing what the outcome would be; if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Manic (2001). Troubled teens argue, fistfight, argue, fistfight, the end.
Reprise (2006). Norwegian film with an intriguing concept, following two young men as they submit their first novels for publication. One becomes an immediate success, leading to a nervous breakdown; the other has his novel rejected but keeps plugging away and hoping to grab the attention of the reclusive older writer he admires. The film is structured in a freeform way, bouncing back and forth in time and dense with dialogue. While the technique is interesting, I found the two main characters somewhat bland and their slackerish lifestyle (mostly concertgoing and hanging out with friends, not much writing) wasn’t all that compelling.

Treasure Island’s Jim Hawkins at LitKids

I spent the last few mornings doing up a run of neato keen-o Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island prints. These came out pretty nice; Christopher even told me they were the best yet. Although the drawing has thinner lines (meaning less likely to come out in the printing stage), the screen prints ended up having a quality where the figure looks like it’s fading into the page. I also tried a neat dot pattern for the background shape. The source book was a “Fireside Series For Boys” copy of Treasure Island that has a great antique quality. I swear the book must be at least 100 years old.

Come on and check it out at LitKids!

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Box

Here’s a vintage ’60s commercial for General Mills’ Twinkles, the cereal with a storybook embedded in the box. Christopher actually saved an old Twinkles box from when he was a child (one instance where hoarding pays off!). I posted scans of the box’s front, side and back to flickr a few years ago. Cute stuff!

Silent Stash Found!

Did you hear about the recently found stash of previously thought “lost” silent films unearthed in New Zealand? The contents include features from John Ford and pioneering female director Lois Weber, but I also love that it contains ephemeral films on how to make hats and tractors. Speaking of which, here’s a new interview with Rick Prelinger of The Prelinger Archives that sheds new light on their archiving methods.

Christopher also wrote about the found silent film stash on Just Ask Christopher.

Weekly Mishmash: May 30-June 5

poster_hauntedHaunted Gold (1932). Haunted Gold is a lively little early b-movie Western starring a lean and green John Wayne. Actually it’s about three parts Western to one part Haunted House Movie, which is enough to make me enjoy it despite the silly plot and stilted acting. Wayne plays a man coming back to his childhood town to stake his claim on an abandoned gold mine, a spot that a gang of meanies and a lovely young woman (Sheila Terry) are vying for as well. Somehow the story also involves a creaky old house filled with assorted creeps and the regrettable stereotypical scared black guy (Blue Washington) who serves as the hero’s right hand man. At film’s climax, Wayne’s white horse “Duke” comes to the rescue doing something impressive even by celluloid animal prodigy standards. This was lots of fun, efficiently covering a lot of ground in just under an hour. Wayne was at an interesting stage where one can tell he’s not the greatest actor, but he has that indefinable “it” factor that the biggest movie stars possess. This was also an odd live action production by Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger (check out the animated owls over the opening credits!).
Prince & The Revolution — Purple Rain. Since eMusic is adding Prince’s back catalog in stages, I decided to toss a spare nine credits their way for Purple Rain, arguably his most enduring work. I used to own this on vinyl as a teen. The album still sounds good with a excellent flow that doesn’t make the hit singles stick out, unlike other megahit albums of the day. The only tune I didn’t originally remember was “Computer Love,” a funky semi-instrumental. Several of the other non-hits are so good they could have been released as singles; the salacious “Darling Nikki” is Hendryx brought into the ’80s, and “The Beautiful Ones” is one of his best-ever ballads. Now I’m itching to get into the Purple One’s other stuff dating from his self-titled ’79 album up through the 1992 “unpronounceable symbol” album.
Swing It, Sailor! (1938). When I think of actor Wallace Ford, I don’t think comedian. I might think “only normal person in Freaks” or “hearty noir supporting character.” Nevertheless, the 50 comedy movie DVD pack we have contains no less than three comedies starring the doughy Ford. This forgettable maritime yuckfest is one of ’em. With Ford and Ray Mayer as two gobs tussling over a hard-edged blonde (Isabel Jewel), this film isn’t very distinctive but it’s a breezy enough way to kill an hour. What interested me the most was Mary Treen as the leading lady’s plain roommate. The versatile Ms. Treen was one of those “hey, I know that lady” comic actresses who seemingly appeared in everything produced by Hollywood from the ’30s to the ’70s. I remember her best as Kay, the dull woman who briefly replaced Alice as the family housekeeper in one Brady Bunch episode. It’s true, everything in my existence ultimately relates to The Brady Bunch.
The River (1951). Late period Jean Renoir film is pretty to look at, but ultimately undone with stock characters and situations. The film concerns a British family in colonial India, particularly the brood’s two blossoming daughters who become entranced by a dashing Army captain visiting their neighbor. This film is rightly considered one of the best examples of Technicolor photography, and in that respect it particularly shines in opening segments depicting India as a mystical rural paradise. When it comes to the plot and acting, however, this was a total misfire. I didn’t find anything compelling about the two girls and their petty arguments (granted, the narration was nice) and the way the drama plays out. Even the subject of death is treated with a disarming callousness in Renoir’s hands. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s not flat out horrible like Renoir’s follow-up, The Golden Coach, my vote for the worst film the otherwise peerless Criterion ever put out. As long as I’m on the subject, what’s your least favorite Criterion DVD?
The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Colorful and fun kiddie adventure from producer Alexander Korda. This is the Arabian Nights told with plushness and visual flair in stunning Technicolor. The special effects might seem cheesy to our jaded CGI overloaded eyes, but I think the cheesiness has its own appeal. The most laudable thing about this film is that it leaves the impression of having spared no expense, yet it never seems like it’s trying too hard. I enjoyed all the characters, especially Conrad Veidt’s menacing Jaffar and Sabu’s industrious thief Abu. Some scenes take on a heady, psychedelic quality, such as when Abu ventures into a massive Hindu temple to retrieve a magic crystal. As with The River, the Technicolor photography has that strange muted quality unique to British productions — dreamy, a little tacky but lovely all the same.

Sunflower Saturday

Every Spring in our backyard, we get a lot of plants randomly growing here and there from the birdseed we throw out every weekend — milo, millet and beautiful sunflowers. I don’t know how it happens (from undigested seeds in bird poo, perhaps?), but we enjoy it a lot. Heavy rains this year have produced a bumper crop of sunflowers, including a couple of massive seven foot tall plants sprouting atop our compost heap. I took some photos last weekend when they were attracting plenty of bees and other flying insects (one of which was caught midflight in the pic below).

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In other backyard news, our victory garden is coming along well. We’ve already gotten lots of lettuce which I never anticipated would grow so well in our soil. Carrots and green onions are growing nicely as well. Time to make carrot cookies! We also grew a half row of tomatoes from seeds. I wasn’t expecting much (again, desert ≠ verdant gardening), but the tomato plants have gotten so huge that they’re taking over neighboring crops. Having the garden located in a space that doesn’t get our killer afternoon sun might be helping. At any rate, I’m looking forward to having bunches of tomatoes to go with our lettuce, carrots and onions.