Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Big Deal may live up to their name.

And there are lots of other good tracks on their Soundcloud page. I should add that in 2013 Soundcloud has supplanted both Radio and Youtube as the place where I discover new music.

Friday, November 22, 2013

'Gypsy' Songs

Many Gaga fans love 'Gypsy' from Artpop:

It does nothing for me: more 'loud', space-filing, but strangely unexpressive vocals, more wretched lyrics, more ghastly rock bombast, more pieced-together song structure, and so on. (The only songs I like from Artpop are Artpop, Sexxx Dreams, Fashion!, Manicure, Mary Jane Holland, and Do What U Want, i.e., 6 out of 15 tracks)

Anyhow, Gaga's 'Gypsy' got me thinking about other, better tracks with 'Gypsy' in their title. Roughly in order of preference then

1. Cher's 'Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves'

2. Suzanne Vega's 'Gypsy'

3. Fleetwood Mac's 'Gypsy'

4. Santana's 'Black Magic woman/Gypsy Queen'

5. Uriah Heep's 'Gypsy'

6. Tony Orlando & Dawn's 'My Sweet Gypsy Rose'

7. Milton Henry's 'Gypsy Woman'

8. Black Sabbath's 'Gypsy'

And that's about it: Shakira's 'Gypsy' is almost certainly worse than Gaga's. Have I missed anyone (especially anyone good)?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Versions of 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World'

Tears for Fears' original was, of course, one of the best #1s of the 1980s.

Its 10 minute, extended version is worth listening to at least once just to hear all the synth layers separately.

The Bad Plus's jazz trio arrangement is lovely (I'm not sure why these guys get sneered at).

Clare & The Reasons' chamber pop/torch reworking (live on The Culture Show) is pure seduction.

Lorde's grim reimagining (which sounds like it's a good fit for The Hunger Games Part 2) initially struck me as too mannered, but has grown on me these past few days.

Glee, as is its wont, used the song as an anthem of perseverance and (gay) self-affirmation. Anything I've missed?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Two Thoughts on (the rise and fall of) Female Pop Stars

Two years ago, at the height of Born This Way furore, I identified the problem with Lady Gaga's pop trajectory: after Bad Romance Gaga took as her model the more conceptual, overexposing 1989-1992 Madonna, the Madonna whose music feels secondary to exhibitionism, cultural provocation and domination for its own sake. That was a problem for Gaga because Madonna had all the cultural political capital gained from her first three albums to spend down during that period, while Gaga's obnoxious and exhausting phase had to be 'funded' out of only the handful of broadly appealing singles up to Bad Romance.
Fast-forward two years and Gaga's OK-ish (and certainly better than BTW) next album, Artpop, arrives together with all sorts of extra-musical, antic and excessive promotional stunts, but only the hard core of fans are paying any sort of positive attention: Gaga's selling a few hundred thousand records not millions. The sort of good will you need to have to get the casual fan to buy your stuff no longer exists for Gaga - it's all been spent. Maybe Gaga will enjoy being a more cult figure, albeit one's that's possibly about as big as Bowie was for much of the 1970s:
"As of June 1983, Bowie’s total global album sales were as follows (according to Zanetta/Edwards’ Stardust, figures rounded up/down):
Three top sellers: Ziggy Stardust (1.38 million units moved), ChangesOneBowie (1.33 million), Young Americans (923,000). A few gold records: Diamond Dogs (745,000), David Live (598,000), Station to Station (552,800), Aladdin Sane (533,000); a few mid-list sellers: Space Oddity (455,600), Hunky Dory (445,600), Pin Ups (421,250), Scary Monsters (347,400). With the “Berlin” records, a complete cratering: “Heroes” (279,000), Low (265,900), Lodger (153,360), Stage (127,350). Between 1977 and 1983, one of every two new Bowie LPs was returned unsold by retailers. By contrast, Michael Jackson sold over a million copies of Off the Wall between August and December 1979 alone." (Pushing After The Dame)
Here's hoping she can come up with some 'Berlin'-worthy music once she realizes her new status.
2013 has seen the rise of the exciting, brilliantly precocious Lorde. This was a genuinely unexpected development; 2013 was supposed to be the year of the 'Baby Robyns': Frida Sundemo, Faye, MØ, and the like:

I'm not sure that it quite makes sense for all these Scandi-gals to sell nothing while Lorde sells millions! Indeed Robyn herself has never had quite the global success (esp. in North America) that Lorde is having. Thus, while Lorde is a fantastic development for the charts, the flukiness and winner-take-all-ness of pop chart success remains troubling. Incredible luck is involved in becoming a 'chosen one'. Lorde shows signs of understanding this, and of appreciating her good fortune more generally. Let's hope she never forgets the point (it's probably one of the keys, along with staying a little bit 'alternative' to the mainstream, to Lorde's preserving good will and having a long career).

Monday, November 04, 2013

holychild's Playboy Girl

I could love this. The video's 'ironic burlesque' thing is confusing but sort of brilliant. Is this LA duo the next XX or The Knife or Passion Pit? Or does the 'Madonna Studies' influence trump all? Who knows at this point? But holychild definitely seem worth following. Several more tracks are perusable (a couple are freely downloadable) here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rachel's Reflective Surfaces (2003)

Go to 2m 50s in. (There's some recent problem with youtube coding for start-times of embedded videos that prevents this from happening automatically.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Finale of Sweet Smell Of Sucess (1957)

The final two minutes of Mackendrick's (and Odets and Lehman's and Wong Howe's) Sweet Smell of Success clinch its status as one of the greatest films of the '50s, and it's Elmer Bernstein's remarkable score that, having jet-propelled the film since its first frames, now brings it home. Bernstein makes two miraculous transitions, from a violin threnody to a reprise of the brassy Street theme from the beginning of the movie to a first wistful then heraldic, Copland-ish theme as Suzie Hunsecker steps out of the Brill Building and, after we close on a trembling J.J. 30 storeys above, she crosses the street into the light and her future. Perfect.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vera Miles in The Wrong Man and Psycho

(Click to get a larger version of the image.)

Hitchcock evidently liked to cluster things around Vera Miles's head. She's most famously framed by looming light-bulbs in Psycho cellars, but, as our image shows, a lamp in The Wrong Man and some rakes earlier in Psycho show that for Hitchcock, Miles's head was always in play.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Claire Bloom in Carol Reed's The Man Between (1953)

Carol Reed's The Man Between (1953) reprises much of the structure of The Third Man (1949), with a bombed out Berlin substituting for Vienna, James's Mason's Ivo Kern making for a slightly less shady/trying-to-make-good version of Welles's Harry Lime, and Claire Bloom's Susanne Mallison combining aspects of both Alida Valli's Anna and Cotten's Holly Martins.

Susanne arrives in Berlin all smiles:

While she soon realizes that something potentially unsavory is up with her brother's wife's friend, Ivo:

since Ivo is James Mason, any wariness she feels is made bearable:

Happy through a dissolve:

Love in the ruins....

Things take a more serious turn; still very beautiful though:

Not even being captive in a Psycho-cellar-like room brings her down:

Susanne ends up whacking that big light like she's Vera Miles too! See about 1m 45s into this German trailer for TMB:

It wouldn't be Reed without some Dutch Angles:

Oh, just kiss her already!

I mean, look at her:

Happy Saboteurs.

Susanne and Ivo end up sheltering in a prostitute's apartment to evade capture. He ends up clinging for dear life out the window, while she has to pose as another prostitute:

Susanne reveals that she's quite the hotsy-totsy under her lady-like exterior, finally getting Ivo to kiss her:

And quite a bit more by implication. We cut to the morning...


Needless to say, there's not a happy ending after all this. But for a tale about bombed out cities, war criminals, kidnappings, East-West tensions,  and so on, The Man Between is pretty sunny and romantic. Thanks to Mason and Bloom's charm and beauty, it's a hell of a date movie.

Bloom is such a brunette ringer for Grace Kelly in TMB - and hits some of the same notes that Kelly will as Lisa Fremont in Rear Window (becoming a saboteur and posing as a prostitute rather than breaking and entering) - that TMB almost feels almost like a missing Hitchcock picture: Lisa Fremont meets VanDamm. As far as I know, however, Bloom never worked with Hitchcock. Maybe he was too low-brow for her? Bloom was classically trained, after all, did lots of prestige theater, hung with Olivier and Burton, married heavy-Method-guy Rod Steiger in the '50s, and lived with Philip Roth through the '80s, marrying and then spectacularly divorcing him in the '90s (go here for a gossipy overview and some nice photos). Or maybe Hitch associated her too strongly with Chaplin (after her breakthrough in Limelight (1952)), or found Bloom too not-blonde and too English at the exact moment he was at his most American, really making his bones in Hollywood, and the most waist-deep in blondes signable to long term contracts he'd ever be. Presumably the rough answer is available in one of Bloom's two memoirs/autobiographies.

Bonus Video: I've heretofore mainly known Bloom from Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) and from her Lady Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited (1981) for TV. Here's one of her key scenes from the latter:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doris Day's There's A Rising Moon (For Every Falling Star)

Doris Day killing it as she always does. (Memo to self: track down Young At Heart (1954).)

And, God damn it Academy, get this woman her Honorary Oscar stat (she's 91)!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Caitlin Rose's 'The Stand-In'

This is one terrific, very accessible album. It'll be interesting to see whether its Stone Poneys/Gram Parsons-y/generally West Coasty sound will allow The Stand-In to blow up to be as big as, say, Rabbit Fur Coat was in the mid '00s.

Rose has certainly opened the door to being discovered by the Mainstream, not least by punching the U2/Coldplay button hard on the lovely 'Everywhere I go':

Slight touches of everything from The Motels to The Travelling Wilburys to Fleetwood Mac to Natalie Merchant peek through the standard gamut of Lynn, Cline, and Carter Family influences, so almost every track on the album could be a gateway drug for somebody, and, rest assured, The Stand-In is intoxicating.

Monday, April 08, 2013

I've Overlooked George Stevens

Gap-filling recently with Alice Adams (1935) and A Place In The Sun (1951), George Stevens is emerging for me as a bang-up director. Before this I'd mainly thought of him in connection with Penny Serenade (1941) [fine but not my sort of thing], Shane (1953) [great], and Giant (1956) [just OK], stupidly never associating him such star-identified classics as Swing Time (1936) and Woman Of The Year (1942). Given that Alice Adams is good with some great parts and A Place In The Sun is flat-out terrific - Stevens is already up to between 5 and 7 classics. Beyond that I have at least Annie Oakley (w/ Stanwyck) Gunga Din (w/ Grant), Talk of The Town (w/ Grant and Arthur), and The More The Merrier to further gap-fill with, and who'd bet against finding at least one classic among those?

Stevens is neither a dazzling stylist like Hitchcock or Kubrick nor a dialogue fireworks specialist like Wilder or Lubitsch, instead, rather like immediate peers Wyler and Cukor, he's a talented craftsmen who serves the story whatever it may be, gets great performances, always has the camera in the right place. The upshot is that Stevens racked up (near-)triumphs for more than twenty years, a very fine career albeit not a revolutionary one. But the history of any artform must give proper respect to its exemplary regular practitioners.

Note that about 28 mins into Alice Adams there's a 'rain streaks on the windows as tears' shot that substantially anticipates a famous shot from near the end of In Cold Blood (1967):

One difference: the rain-streak shadows are in addition to Katharine Hepburn's real tears whereas they're instead of Robert Blake's. But Hepburn's father in the film, hearing his daughter weep, gets (subtler) rain-streaks instead of real tears, so I say that Stevens and his DP Robert DeGrasse indeed gazump almost all of Richard Brooks's and his DP Conrad Hall's conception.

Update: Talk Of The Town (1942) is just OK. Above all it's brutalized by a crazy ending (apparently enofrced by giving A/B test audiences final cut!) in which, Movie-Star Logic holds - Cary Grant gets the girl - at the expense of Story and Performance Logic - a beautifully underplaying Grant allows and helps Ronald Coleman (w/ a touch of Victor Laszlo about him) to get the girl. Obviously Grant's movie-star-ness had deformed Suspicion (1941) the previous year so we're now pressing up against the serious downsides of the Golden Age studio/star system: it became impossible for beloved actors to surprise us, and only utterly archetypal story forms could be diligently cast and competently told. In the early '40s both Hitchcock and Stevens are trying to find new stories and open Grant and other stars up to different kinds of roles but the studios (and to some extent audiences) won't let that happen yet.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Great Songs of the '90s: Suede's 'To The Birds'

The B-sides of Suede's 'The Drowners' single were 'My Insatiable One' and 'To The Birds'. Taken as a whole, this was the best single I've ever actually bought. Unfortunately for Suede, their first three recorded songs were their best; they never hit these heights again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Doctor Feelgood: Gap-filling Time Again

I plan to watch Oil City Confidential (2010) and to follow this advice on the music:

[Stupidity is] Definitely the place to start, followed by Down By The Jetty and then maybe Ian Dury’s Laughter just to hear how good and radical Wilko could be in different musical surroundings.

On Brody On Amour (2012)

What should we make of Richard Brody of The New Yorker's extraordinarily disdainful response to Michael Haneke's Amour (2012)? For example:
I don’t doubt Haneke’s sincerity when he affirms in interviews the personal and compassionate roots of the story—the sufferings of his ninety-two-year-old aunt, who had wanted him to help her commit suicide. But what comes off onscreen is the filmmaking’s smirking pleasure at depicting, with a chilling explicitness, a heinously affirmative killing—a peculiarly active variety of euthanasia.p>In doing so, Haneke lined his dominoes up perfectly. First, he constructed characters whose bonds of love seem incontrovertible, so that Georges couldn’t be accused of mixed motives. Second, he made this characters seem, angelic, so that there’s no trace of perversity or caprice on Anne’s part, no selfishness or cruelty on Georges’s. Third, he cast soulful actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, to play the couple.[my italics]
[T]he director films his elderly couple with a superficial simulacrum of wisdom and experience, strips them of traits in order to reduce them to the function of the film to render the appalling act justifiable, to strip out the appearance of mixed emotions. And yet, what comes through is that Haneke likes filming a killing, takes a smirkingly ghoulish look at the act, and takes unconscious pleasure in the unconscionable. As Georges smothers the incapacitated Anne under a pillow, her legs kick in resistance: she may be willing to die, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop living. Nothing in Georges’s demeanor suggests anything but the desire to end Anne’s misery, in defiance of any objection the world might make. How he faces that opprobrium, or the force of law, we can only imagine. Haneke either knows and doesn’t show it, or doesn’t bother to imagine it; but, for him, it doesn’t matter. He has had his fun. He has shown murder and made his viewers love it, has brought them into complicity with his smirkingly ghoulish pleasure. The hollowness of the contrivance conceals the grotesquerie of the sacralized Grand Guignol. Where “Django Unchained” suggests Quentin Tarantino’s unconscious delight in the unconscionable “Amour” reflects Haneke’s calculated desire to stir up a reaction by way of a cynical ambiguity, to recalibrate a moral shock with an overwhelming preponderance of mitigations. [my italics]
The subject of “Amour” is powerful and true... That’s what makes Haneke’s rigid contrivances—the pristinely repressed and filtered script and images, the directorial straight face held with iron bands to suppress laughter—all the more repellent. [my italics]
Let's start with Brody's basic complaint that Haneke 'lined up his dominoes perfectly', that he engineers a kind of best/ideal case for euthanasia. Well, what's wrong with that? Obviously, as multiple old saws go, extreme cases, whether they be best/ideal or nightmarishingly murky and confounded, normally make for 'bad law' and/or lousy public policy. But Haneke's made a movie, not authored a treatise or a carefully weighted pros and cons style report on a projected law change. Haneke's ideal case can legitimately form part of the backdrop for a public policy debate but it's no substitute for that kind of careful discussion. Similarly, describing highly idealized cases of punishment and torture (where we know guilt with certainty, where there's intense time pressure, and so on) is one thing; developing and justifying public policy about punishment and torture is quite another. Extremely vivid highly idealized cases may mislead - taking account of that is why we have treatises, formal processes of policy development, and all the rest of it.

One can sort of see what's getting Brody's goat here: Haneke on euthanasia is playing the same game that 24 did on torture. But so long as we are clear that embracing euthanasia/torture as public policy would mean endorsing a whole euthanasia/torture regime, hence accepting lots and lots of highly non-ideal cases then we can stop panicking about jejune treatments of ideal/best cases. That is, we can allow ourselves to feel the power of Amour's and 24's types of cases precisely because such cases do nothing to establish (and, unless we are easily panicked, can never force us to take a position on) the moral viability of the respective regimes each might be felt to implicitly advocate.

Now consider Brody's claim that "How he [Georges] faces that opprobrium, or the force of law, we can only imagine. Haneke either knows and doesn’t show it, or doesn’t bother to imagine it". This point strikes me (and others, esp. swkaplan among Brody's commenters) as completely bogus. Haneke's film is clear that Georges ends his own life almost immediately after he end Anne's. He has no 'fun' left in him; here's can be no question of Georges gaining any advantage from killing Anne. He isn't now 'able to get on with his life' let alone achieve anything less noble. That this is so is, of course, another example of Haneke getting his 'dominoes in a row' for his ideal case. So this part of Brody's argument is riddled with falsehood and reduces to his main argument that (Straw Man-ishly) supposes that Haneke is making public policy, that Amour's drama is a treatise.

Update:An article by Haneke scholar, Roy Grundmann is worth thinking over. Grundmann's essay contains several obvious mistakes, but in grappling directly with the pigeon sequences and the paintings it's a useful starting point towards a more comprehensive reading of the film than I provide here (where I'm really just trying to straighten out a basic logical point about the film's strategy and mistaken reception).

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Paintings in Haneke's Amour (2012)

Three quarters of the way through Amour, immediately after the terrifying moment when Georges slaps Anne, Haneke shows 6 paintings, each for about 8 seconds. Repeat viewings confirm that each is a gallery-lit closeup of (part of) one of the paintings from Georges's and Anne's apartment. Here are Amour's gallery-lit closeups (in Haneke's order) together with how we see them in the apartment.

The sequence begins and ends with paintings we see in the bedroom. We don't encounter the third painting in situ, in the living room, until the very end of the film.