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Tag Archives: Belle And Sebastian

The Twee Leading the Twee

Spotted the animated video for Belle and Sebastian’s “I Didn’t See It Coming” on the Max‘s Facebook feed and instantly fell in love. The special remix of this Write About Love track is due out next month. It’s a sweet tune, but what really sings are the Alexander Girard influenced imagery — how wonderfully twee it is!

Weekly Mishmash: November 21-27

Belle and Sebastian — Write About Love. Given this album’s mixed reviews, I was leery but decided to give it compulsive download off eMusic (their label was leaving the site). Belle and Sebastian’s fans tend toward two camps: those who love the early, twee indie stuff and those who love the later, more polished sound. This new album seems to have alienated both. On first listen, the album seems pleasant if exceedingly safe and half-baked. Further exploration ought to reveal more depth to the songs, but mostly they come across as throwaways. I totally dug The Life Pursuit (2006) and Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2004), but it’s been nearly five years and I was expecting much more than a formless grab bag of folskiness and jumpy, ’60s tinged pop. This outing is a bit different in allowing guest performers: Norah Jones is her usual scintillating self on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” but she’s simply too unique to fit into the B&S universe. It’s a jarring presence and the fact that the song is underwhelming doesn’t help at all. At least the chipper singing voice of actress Carey Mulligan is more smoothly integrated on the title cut (one of the better tracks, actually). This isn’t a horrible album — three or four tracks would be a great addition to a “Best of B&S” mix — but it isn’t terribly distinctive or great, either.
Gold Diggers In Paris (1938). My second offering from the Busby Berkely vol. 2 DVD set is the last (and weakest) of the Warner Bros. Gold Digger musicals. Exchanging Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler/Joan Blondell for the considerably lower-wattage Rudy Vallee and Rosemary Lane is the first clue that we’re in for a more grounded, less glitzy time. The slight story opens on a South Seas-themed nightclub run by cash-strapped Vallee and the wonderful Allen Jenkins. When French emissary Hugh Herbert mistakenly visits the club and invites Vallee’s chorus girls to perform at that year’s Paris Exhibition, Vallee and Co. must hurredly get the troupe trained in classical ballet and hope that Herbert doesn’t notice. Meanwhile, Vallee deals with a chiseling ex-wife (Gloria Dickson) and falls for the elegant lady (Lane) who works at the ballet school. Silly nonsense, basically. There’s still some fun to be had, especially in the scenes with Jenkins and stocky Edward Brophy as a dim-witted gangster who tears up at the sight of beautifully performed ballet movements. The film also has goofy faced, mugging blonde Mabel Todd, an odd novelty jazz combo called The Schnickelfritz Band, and a subplot involving a talking dog — signs that this once-elegant series was taking a turn towards the lowest common denominator.
poster_mutiny35Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Rented this for the simple reason that it was one of the few 1930s Best Picture Oscar winners I had yet to see. I don’t know why it was avoided so long; the picture is a swell maritime adventure and a good example of Hollywood studiocraft in its prime. As for the story, you know it by now — a British shipping vessel bound for Tahiti is commanded by the fierce Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton). As the voyage goes on, his increasingly tyrannical behavior causes first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) and midshipman Byam (Franchot Tone) to stage a revolt and stay on the tropical island. What’s interesting about this film is the pacing — the first and last fifths are dense and plot-heavy, while the middle part takes its time in showing both the escalating tension caused by Laughton and the idyllic paradise once the men land in Tahiti. I liked both that and the acting (especially Laughton, who is a formidable presence). The film also seemed refreshingly non-stagy. The boat scenes are as realistic as possible, and I don’t know where they filmed the tropical scenes but they put the viewer right there with the swaying palms and such. The only cheesiness came in one brief special effects shot when a crewman was dragged underneath the ship (it looked like a doll in an aquarium). As history it’s questionable, too, but when it comes to good old fashioned storytelling the film is tops.
Opening Night (1977). Searing John Cassavetes film about an actress (Gena Rowlands) whose boozy life spirals downward after witnessing the accidental death of one of her fans. This was typical Cassavetes/Rowlands territory, on the unpolished, long and meandering side but engrossing all the same. I had a similar reaction to A Woman Under The Influence in wondering how the actors held up after playing characters who are put through an emotional ringer scene after scene. Unlike Woman, this film spends a lot of time exploring the mechanics of the characters’ workplace — it is interesting (and cool) to watch various play scenes being acted out from both backstage and the audience’s point of view. On the acting side, Rowlands, Cassavetes (who plays a fellow actor) and Ben Gazzara (as Rowlands’ director) are all very good. I also relished seeing an older, matronly Joan Blondell in the cast and acquainting herself well with a casual ’70s indie milieu. This was a good film, with a notably uninhibited lead performance, but with more editing it could have been truly fantastic. One gets the feeling that Cassavetes was too invested in the footage to step back and trim at least a half hour from his own movie.
Suicide Squad (1935). Another poverty row Joyce Compton picture, and one of her worst (having sat through the likes of Escape To Paradise and King Kelly of the U.S.A., that’s saying a lot). This was a routine (boring) and modest (dirt cheap) fire fighting drama in which Compton co-stars with Norman Foster as an overly confident firefighting recruit. I have a more thorough writeup on the Joyce Compton News & Notes weblog.

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.