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Tag Archives: Dusty Springfield

Sketches of Dusty

I drew these sketches shortly after downloading a massive BitTorrent package containing basically everything Dusty Springfield recorded from 1961-1995. This will be an interesting project to digest slowly over time. It begins with Blossom Dearie’s sweet 1970 ode “Dusty Springfield,” followed by a trio of charming acetates the erstwhile Mary O’Brien recorded as a youngster. As of now I’m just getting into the material she did with her brother Tom as folkie trio The Springfields. This music is actually quite lively and shares a lot in common with the jumpier cuts Ms. Springfield would do later on in the ’60s. Anyhow, these pages are my little tribute to Dusty in all her magnificent blondness over the years.


Weekly Mishmash: August 8-14

The Body Snatcher (1945) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Have you ever shopped at the retail dumping ground Big Lots!? One of my pleasures of the past year is finding out about their DVD section. We’ve gotten a lot of old movies and TV shows there — cheap! My latest find is this Val Lewton double bill on a single DVD for only three bucks. Re-watching them this week reveals that these are excellent b-movies, atmospheric and amazingly effective for such low budget ventures. All in all, the only fault I could find in both is their casting of bland leading men (James Ellison in Zombie and Russell Wade in Body Snatcher). The Body Snatcher is the better known of the two, thanks to Boris Karloff’s chilling performance as a 19th century corpse wrangler for a doctor (Henry Daniell, also good) who takes his job a wee bit too seriously. Horror icon Bela Lugosi is also in the cast, but he has a nothing role and doesn’t do much with what little screen time he has. Despite the flaws, the film has all the making of a classic chiller. True, some scenes are rather pat and unnecessary, but it does have atmosphere to spare and I was unprepared by the outright creepiness of the climax. I Walked with a Zombie is one of those special films that I have a long history with, having first heard of it via Danny Peary’s first Cult Movies volume from the early ’80s (anybody else own this unsung book?). When finally viewed on American Movie Classics channel, I fell in love. Revisiting it now, the film’s flaws become more apparent but it’s never lost its creepy luster. One of the highlights is Frances Dee’s subtle performance. She strikes the proper mix of curiosity and strength as a nurse who is shipped to a mysterious island to care for a rich man’s wife (who seems gripped by a zombie-like spell executed by the locals). Tom Conway as the husband is pretty good, but the film belongs to Dee and perhaps the seven-foot tall zombie whose presence says a lot for a guy who never utters a word. The photography in this film is magnificent. Jaw-dropping. This was directed by Jacques Tournier, who mined similar atmospheric territory in later stuff like Out of the Past. What Tournier and Lewton did on a limited budget ought to be studied by today’s filmmakers.
book_dustyDusty by Lucy O’Brien. For being such a well-regarded singer, there are actually few books written about the life and music of Dusty Springfield. With her biography Dusty, British music journalist Lucy O’Brien does an excellent job of tracking the peaks and valleys of the beehived diva’s incredible career. As a matter of fact, a more appropriate title for this book would also belong to one of Dusty’s albums — See All Her Faces. One of the great contradictions about Dusty is that she never truly reconciled her bejeweled and fabulous image as a white lady who could sing black with her inner Mary Catherine O’Brien, the insecure, secretly lesbian little cockney girl. It’s kind of a recurring theme throughout her career, and it’s to O’Brien’s credit that in addition to intricately covering the recording sessions of her albums that these white/black, gay/straight, image/reality themes are a constant. Even though it’s written in a straightforward style with a few errors, O’Brien writes with great detail, illuminating every phase of Dusty’s career with liberal interview quotes. It’s a nifty biography which covers a lot of stuff I previously knew little of (especially her “lost” years in the mid-’70s when she became a reclusive party gal in L.A.). The book also contains a nice discography collecting all her 1959-99 recordings.
Four Jills in a Jeep (1943). Pleasant WWII fluff, I rented this mostly because it was a late-period vehicle for Kay Francis (whom I find fascinating). This was based on the true story of Francis joining Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Raye as they entertain troops overseas for the U.S.O. Alas, whatever promise the film has for a realistic portrayal of life on the front is tossed in favor of forgettable numbers starring guest Fox contractees Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. As for the main quartet of ladies, it’s a mixed bag. Martha Raye was always an obnoxious delight, even if she was getting somewhat cartoonish at this point (the denture commercials were still decades away). The obscure Mitzi Mayfair was toothy and bland, with a double-jointed dancing shtick that verges on circus sideshow weirdness. Smart, blonde Carole Landis was a surprise, earthy and completely radiant in a timeless way (unfortunately the actress committed suicide in 1948, cruelly cutting short what must have been a promising life). Kay Francis ably plays the group’s den mother with her usual restrained elegance. The scene in which she gets on the floor and scrubs away was the film’s only nod to the hardship these women must have endured. Interestingly, the making-of featurette on this DVD reveals that Francis unsuccessfully flirted with Landis during the ladies’ tour — oh, to be a fly on that wall.
album_goldfrappGoldfrapp — Head First. I don’t delve into new music too often, but as soon as I heard the samples of the dreamy ’80s influenced soundscapes on Goldfrapp’s Head First, I had to download the entire thing. It’s seems as if Goldfrapp (whom I’ve heard only sporadically prior to this) is mining parts of the ’80s that might seem cheesy or unhip. The starting point might be the Xanadu soundtrack, both the Olivia Newton John and Electric Light Orchestra sides, perhaps the instrumental break in Air Supply’s “Lost in Love,” too, with bits of Princely funk and experimental synth lines thrown in. Although on paper it sounds like overkill, the album itself is suprisingly consistent and pleasureable with Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy voice at its center. First single “Rocket” is actually one of the weaker tunes, with “Alive” and the gentle title track being the peaks and “I Wanna Life” standing out as the most authentically ’80 sounding tune (picture something off Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver album fronted by Berlin’s Teri Nunn). Metaphorically speaking, this album is akin to witnessing Kim Carnes and Laura Branigan getting it on atop a fluffy cloud with a bunch of drooling Care Bears watching — filthy yet fun!
Road to Utopia (1946). Having never seen a Hope/Crosby/Lamour movie, I jumped at the chance to DVR one when Turner Classic Movies played a marathon of “Road” movies during their Summer Under the Stars Bob Hope tribute. Since Utopia seems to be the best regarded of the series, I picked this wintry adventure. Hope and Bing Crosby play 1890s vaudevillians who come into possession of a valuable map and inevitably get caught up with saloon belle Dorothy Lamour in the Alaskan gold rush. Having (unfairly) written off both Hope and Crosby as impossibly smug actors, I was surprised at how appealing they both are here. The duo’s comfort with each other, and the impressive way they deliver their rapid-fire zingers contribute mightily to this film’s fun. There’s actually a lot of progressive stuff going on with a parade of sight gags, fourth wall breaking and self-referential humor (including Robert Benchley as the narrator who occasionally pops into the frame to opine on the proceedings). I also enjoyed the songs by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. The duo must have banged out something like “Personality” in a single afternoon, but the tune’s cleverness (and Lamour’s fetching performance) are a true delight:

We’re Not Married (1952). Inconsequential comedy in which several couples find out that their marriages by a frazzled old Justice of the Peace (Victor Moore) were not completely legit. The less said about this, the better, but at least the film had a glimmer of hope in the opening segment with Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen as a pair who fraudulently play a happily married couple on a radio program. The two host a cheery breakfast program which is actually nothing but gratuitous product placements, a concept which sounds promising but ends up somewhat flat and dull in execution. Come to think of it, I had a similar reaction to the rest of the film, in which several promising actors (Marilyn Monroe, Eve Arden and Paul Douglas among them) are basically wasted.