Friday, July 29, 2011

Weekend Listomania: Special It's Still Rock & Roll To Me Audio/Video Edition

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manual catharsis specialist Fah Lo Suee and I are off to...well, actually, truth is we're not going anywhere due to a bizarre picture-hanging accident that I'd really rather not get into, except to say "If you drink, don't drill."

In any case, things are still probably going to be quiet around here for the duration of the weekend, so until Monday rolls around, here's a fun little project to help us wile away the idle hours:

Favorite or Least Favorite Pop-Rock Single or Album Cut of the Skinny Tie Band Era

No arbitrary rules, although we're obviously talking about the immediate post-First Generation Punk period, roughly from the late 70s to 1983 or '84.

And my totally top of my head Top Six is/are:

6. The Brains -- Money Changes Everything

The original indie single, not the remake on the Brains' album. I'm not a huge fan of Cyndi Lauper's more familiar version, but she knew a great song when she heard one. [h/t Sal Nunziato]

5. Tommy Tutone -- Angel Say No

Yes, these guys actually were Two Hit Wonders, and this is the one that doesn't have a phone mumber in the title. If truth be told, I've always preferred it.

4. Nick Lowe -- She Don't Love Nobody

A wonderful John Hiatt song (Chris Hillman's Desert Rose Band had a country hit with it, and deservedly) and probably my favorite Nick Lowe record that Nick didn't write himself.

3. Missing Persons -- Destination Unknown

Yes, I know the drummer played with Zappa and yes, Dale had a nice rack. The music, however, remains mannered pretentious crap and a cliche at birth. IMHO.

2. Gary U.S. Bonds -- Out of Work

One of the countless great pop tunes Bruce Springsteen gave away back in the day, and one of my long-time faves.

And the Numero Uno steaming pile of crap from those Fabulous Eighties simply has to be...

1. Quarterflash -- Harden My Heart

A thoroughly awful record, obviously, and sweet Jeebus, Rindy Ross has to be the lamest sax player in music history.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Early Clue to the New Direction? Yes, and It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate...

From 1980, please enjoy Canadian New Wave outfit Red Rider and their huge in their homeland (but inexplicably not here) hit single "Don't Fight It."

This is actually about 90 percent of a great record, but it's the ten percent that sucks -- i.e. most of the lyrics -- that simply drives me crazy. Everything about the music and performance here is just terrific, beginning with writer/singer Tom Cochrane's nasal dead on Jim McGuinn inflections on the titular choruses, and ending with one of the all-time great fade-outs with electronic handclaps. But jeebus fuck, with the exception of the aforementioned chorus, the words to this range from the merely incomprehensibly opaque...
She's got the answers
She waves them like a flag
She'll take all the cards from the Soho League
And stick them in her bag for security cringe-inducing "Love is a Battlefield"-ish horseshit.

She likes her fever
She says, 'Take it like a man'
And we fight combat sometimes
But we don't fight it hand to hand

I mean really -- just yuck.

In any event, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded the first reader who gleans the track's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Shameless Self-Indulgence Posting

Long story short: I've had an apartment's worth of stuff in a storage facility somewhere in the wilds of the Bronx for five years, and over the weekend I had it retrieved to an undisclosed location. Mostly, this is because I needed to find some old audio and video tapes of various bands I toiled in, for ongoing archival restoration projects that are occupying my golden years; fortunately, they all survived and I'll be boring you guys with excerpts from them in the coming months.

But -- some other cool stuff also turned up and I just had to share.

For example, I had completely forgotten I owned an actual 45 copy of this little piece of rock history.

I have no idea where I got it, by the way, or how long I've had it.

But this is the one that really tickles me -- it was a birthday present from my old bandmate Glen "Bob" Allen, and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In any case, it's now framed and hanging on the wall at the home of a certain shady dame of my acquaintance.

Seriously -- isn't that just the coolest thing you've ever seen?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

" Potent as a Warm Glass of Beer..."

Sorry, after yesterday, I just had to repost this.

From 1975, comic genius Albert Brooks sings the original censored lyrics to Maurice Ravel's Bolero. Unheard since the now standard concert piece was originally premiered at the Paris Opera in 1928.

Coming tomorrow -- the original deeply disturbing lyrics to Pachelbel's Canon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Does Humor Belong in Music?

From 1975, and his hilarious from stem to stern album A Star is Bought, please enjoy genuine comic genius Albert Brooks -- with special guest Albert King -- and "The Englishman/German/Jew Blues."

[h/t fmcg]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Jade Winehouse (1983 – 2011)

What a waste, that's all I'm going to say.

Except that Back to Black, her 2006 breakthrough album, is going to outlive us all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Listomania: Special Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! Audio/Video Edition

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental under-the-counter-cultural ambassador Fah Lo Suee and I will be heading to fabulous Melbourne, Australia, ancestral home of Antipodean Asshat Rupert Murdoch. It is our plan to visit the grave of the Odious Aussie's father Keith, with the intention of consuming a case of Foster's and then pissing on the old man's headstone. Mean-spirited, I'll grant you, but certainly not as reprehensible as junior's minions hacking the cellphone of a murdered girl.

In any case, and because things will doubtless be fairly quiet around here until our return, here's a (hopefully) fun little project to help us all wile away the idle hours:

Best or Worst Parody or Pastiche By (Or Of) a Pop/Rock Artist, Song or Album!!!!

No arbitrary rules, except don't bother nominating Robbie Fulks' "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" as I've already pretty much flogged that one to death lately. And yes, we've done something like this before, but a) I needed an excuse to post that Peter Sellers record yesterday and b) it's been really too damned hot this week so cut me some slack.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Stan Freberg -- Heartbreak Hotel

From 1957, still the funniest Elvis take-off ever. Freberg, of course, was a jazzbo hepster, and probably didn't much care for The King or for rock 'n' roll generally, which is the kind of thing that gets the knickers of snobs like Dave Marsh into a twist. Me, I was ten years old at the time and loved Elvis and thought this was hilarious anyway. Still do.

4. The Haircuts -- Raindrops Are Falling

On the other hand -- and I love Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howie Morris -- this (and all the other Haircuts skits I've seen) strikes me as an outsider's parody that doesn't really work. Your mileage may vary, of course.

3. The Diamonds -- Little Darlin'

A remarkably faithful slightly over-the-top cover of an earlier r&b hit by Maurice Williams (of "Stay" fame). The irony is that The Diamonds, a bunch of (obviously white) Canadians who would have preferred to be singing jazz or standards, thought the song utterly ridiculous and considered what they were doing a satire. And yet the result remains one of the most genuinely exciting early rock records ever made.

2. The Heebeegeebees -- Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices

Words fail me. Incidentally, there used to be a priceless video of these guys doing this live, complete with scarves that stood straight out regardless of the wind at the time, on YouTube, but it seems to have been taken down, alas.

And the Numero Uno "uh, right" [said in a Bill Cosby voice] performance by a rock personage or personages simply has to be:

1. The Moody Blues -- Days of Future Passed

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colours from our sight,
Red is grey and yellow white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion.
Pinprick holes in a colourless sky
Let insipid figures of light pass by.
The mighty light of ten thousand suns
Challenges infinity, and is soon gone.

Night-time: to some, a brief interlude,
To others the fear of solitude.
Brave Helios, wake up your steeds!
Brings the warmth the countryside needs
Seriously, for years I thought this was deliberately meant as a joke, until I discovered that the drummer wrote it. If you know what I mean.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ach! It's an Extremely Teutonic Early Clue to the New Direction!!!!

From 1965 (or thereabouts), please enjoy the incomparable and much-missed Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove as he conducts research into The Beatles hit recording of "She Loves You."

A song which, as was said of Pat Buchanan's famous speech at the 1992 Republican convention, probably sounded better in the original German.

As always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the clip's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Only Pretty, What a Pity: Redux

Okay, I posted about this song -- the Lovin' Spoonful's late pop/psych masterpiece -- last week, and I must confess to being sort of obsessed with it recently.

I've always liked it, of course, for lots of reasons, beginning with the fact that thematically it's an astoundingly dark and worldly wise song for a band pigeonholed as a purveyor of good time music. For another thing, it's structurally really quite clever; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a bridge in a different tempo that seems to come out of nowhere, and then a final chorus, the kicker being that all the choruses have different lyrics and the Author's Message title phrase doesn't appear until the very end of the song. Plus it's gloriously melodic and gorgeously sung, and if you listen carefully to the very end of the fade-out, there are some really phenomenal sort of modal guitar licks being dispensed.

Check it out (the mp3 below is from the remastered CD reissue, whereas the YouTube I posted last week was taken from scratchy vinyl.)

Eyes to look at, not to see through
She never could see truth for lies
With a smile she'd win us over
Face a trick to take a prize

Tickled pink
The mid-aged dandy
Sold his horse to buy her all the
Icing for her face like candy
Hung up the mirrors wall to wall

Married life was short but funny
With long lost cousins dropping by
Later on her alimony
Paid for young men's gentle lies

By the window hangs a mirror
Where she hides her sagging chin
Now sadly as she crouches nearer
Never seeing past her skin

"Mommy said, when you were younger
'The face you made would stay that way'
That's all true and if you doubt it
Reflect upon yourself today"

Everyone except the baby
Answers for the face they wear
As a mask of pure contentment
Or a mask of pure despair

Only pretty, what a pity...

As I said, I've always liked it, and the second verse is absolutely brilliant -- in four concise poetic lines, writers Joe Butler and Jerry Yester manage to tell you everything you need to know about the arc of the sad, spoiled life of a vain and shallow woman; you can practically see her, her foolish monied husband (the earlier chorus bit about selling his horse is especially nice), and the house they lived in (on Fifth Avenue, if I'm any judge) before she dumped him and turned into a not so gay divorcee. I must confess, however, that I hadn't understood one crucial part of it until I read the lyrics on-line last week. That aforementioned bridge, where the vocal goes all robotic, is very hard to make out, but as you can see above it's the voice of Only Pretty's mirror giving her the naked truth; that sound of glass breaking at the end is her smashing it rather than face herself.

I should add that if I were a betting man I would put good money down that the song is based on somebody (or somebodies) real that Butler or Yester knew; fortunately, a certain blogger pal of mine is friends with Joe and his wife, and with any luck I will be getting the lowdown sometimes in the very near future.

Have I mentioned I've become sort of obsessed with the song?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wednesday Rolling Stones Karaoke

Okay, words really fail me over this one.

From 1967, it's the instrumental backing track for the Stones' just out of prison psychedelic masterpiece "We Love You."

We don't care if you only love "we"
We don't care if you only love "we"
We love you.
We love you, and we hope
that you will love "we" too

We love "they".
We love "they", and
we want you to love "they" too


We don't care if you hound "we"
And love is all around "we"
Love can't get our minds off
We love you, we love you

You will never win "we"
Your uniforms don't fit "we"
We forget the place we're in
'Cause we love you
We love you. Of course, we do

I love you. I love you
And I hope that you won't prove wrong
We love you. We do.
We love you. We

Apart from being a very cool song, pay special attention to the stuff on the right channel after the drums come in. The late great Brian Jones on mellotron, folks, and as the late great Lester Bangs famously said of his work here, only Brian could make the mellotron ooze menace and danger.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Holy Crap!

Stage collapse leaves fans, bands shaken in Ottawa

Thousands of spectators were watching the band Cheap Trick perform when a sudden storm swept over the outdoor concert and toppled the main stage just before 8 p.m. on Sunday.

A severe thunderstorm watch had been in effect on Sunday night, but CTV Ottawa reporter Katie Griffin said the storm arrived with little warning and caught everyone by surprise.

"It just happened so fast," Griffin told CTV's Canada AM from Ottawa on Monday morning.

Okay, I get that severe weather is the new normal (thanks, global climate change!),but don't you fuck with Cheap Trick, Mother Nature!

Video embedding of the collapse disabled: see it here.

Great Lost Skinny Tie Bands of the 80s: An Occasional Series

From 1980, please enjoy unaccountably obscure New Wave combo The Keys and their unaccountably not a hit single "Just a Camera."

I know next to nothing about this band except that they were on A&M and that their astoundingly good eponymous 1981 album was produced by Joe Jackson(!). Of course, said album was never released in the US and has never been available on CD, which is probably why the group did not register on my personal radar until a few days ago.

[h/t Swboy]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Weekend Listomania: Special It's What's Happening, Baby! Audio/Video Edition

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Roger Ebert-impersonator-with-benefits Fah Lo Suee and I are to to Tinseltown, i.e. fabulous Hollywood CA, for a screening and press junket in celebration of the forthcoming Adam Sandler sure-to-be-classic comedy Jack and Jill. The high concept: Sandler plays his own twin sister!!!!

Apparently the late George C. Scott saw the trailer and, despite being dead, didn't care for it much...

...although we have high hopes. At the very least, we expect the food to be good.

In any case, and because things will doubtless be fairly quiet around here until our return on Monday, here's a hopefully amusing project to help you wile away the idle hours in the interim:

Favorite Obscure or Semi-Obscure Song by a Well-Known or Reasonably Well-Known Sixties Pop/Rock Band!!!

Self-explanatory, and no arbitrary rules whatsoever except -- No Beatles!

And my totally top of my head Top Five candidates are:

5. The Sopwith Camel -- Maybe in a Dream

The "Hello, Hello" band, and though you might not believe it, their album is a gem from stem to stern. This closing track is the dreaded classical-rock, a la Jim McGuinn quoting "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," in a solo, only stretched out to the length of a whole song. The musicianship is really quite extraordinary for a bunch of hippies, and the track has been a fave of mine for ages. Doesn't sound like anything else on the record, BTW.

4. The Easybeats -- Made My Bed: Gonna Lie In It

The b-side of "Friday on My Mind," and almost as epochal, in my humble opinion. Jeebus, this is good. I mean Stones-Who-Kinks good, with one of the great fade-outs of all time.

3. The Rolling Stones -- Miss Amanda Jones

There is, apparently, an entire generation that grew up thinking the Stones wrote this song for Lea Thompson's character in Some Kind of Wonderful. Heh. In any case, one of many overlooked gems from Between the Buttons, and why it hasn't been covered a zillion times is beyond me.

3. The Lovin' Spoonful -- Only Pretty What a Pity

Their late pop/psych masterpiece, and amazingly despairing and cynical for a band with a rep as purveyors of good time music -- "Everyone, except the baby, answers for the face they wear" is one of the most chilling lines in any 60s song I can think of. Incidentally, despite the album cover photo above, the late great Zal Yanovsky was still in the band when they recorded this; in fact, they did the song, with him, on Ed Sullivan, although the video doesn't seem to be on YouTube.

And the Numero Uno if-it's-so-good-why-isn't-it-famous track of all time clearly is....

1. Nazz -- Under the Ice

What we used to call hard rock, and it didn't get any harder. An early Todd Rundgren masterpiece, and drummer Thom Mooney - the band's secret weapon -- really deserves a Nobel Prize for nuclear physics. Or something -- perhaps I haven't given enough thought to the metaphor -- but in any case, he's quite astounding on the track.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ah Yes, It's a More Warm and Fuzzily Nostalgic Than Usual Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1965 -- and more specifically, from a recent MOJO sampler of representative Brit singles from that pivotal year-- please enjoy the best Liverpool band not managed by Brian Epstein, i.e. The Searchers, and their charming minor hit in the UK (here, not so much, although it got airplay in NYC as I recall) "Popcorn Double Feature."

As always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the track's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Every Trick in the Book....

And speaking as we were yesterday of whether or not Fountains of Wayne have entered their eating-their-own-tail phase, please enjoy the 2005 Robbie Fulks' parody/tribute "Fountains of Wayne Hotline."

I've posted it before, but it seems relevant to the discussion. Not to mention so smart and funny and dead-on that it's kind of scary.

Seriously -- I'm convinced that Adam and Chris would love to have written the damn thing themselves.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rock Album of the Year?

It's only July, and it's not even a contest.

And "A Dip in the Ocean" isn't even CLOSE to being the best thing on the record.

Although, as my old bandmate Andy Pasternack said upon hearing it, "this song is so good it hurts."

Words fail me, otherwise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Words Fail Me

Play this loud.

VERY loud.

The reunited Buffalo Springfield, a few weeks ago, and "Bluebird."

It's an audience tape, obviously, but still.

Let's just say if I don't get a ticket to one of their shows when they finally hit the East Coast I'm gonna take a hostage.

[h/t Gummo]

Monday, July 11, 2011

And Speaking of Gorgeous....

...from 1970, please enjoy the late Pete Ham's exquisite acoustic demo of Badfinger's genre-defining powerpop classic "No Matter What."

Our old pal Steve Schwartz contributed this to a Weekend Mix that went up over at Burning Wood last Friday; I'm posting it here because a) it's ridiculously great and b) I'm late with my review of the new Fountains of Wayne album (for the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review) and I don't really have time for a more original item at the moment.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Oh My God, It's Perhaps the Blandest Early Clue to the New Direction Ever!!!

Younger readers may not recall this, but there used to be a rabid conservative Senator in the 60s and early 70s named Roman Hruska. Apart from his rabidness, history has taken little note of him, and with good reason, but if his name rings even a vague bell today it is because of his famously innovative defense of complete crap.

From Wiki:
Hruska is best remembered in American political history for a 1970 speech he made to the Senate urging them to confirm the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska claimed that "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?"
In that spirit, from 1964, please enjoy -- if that is the correct word -- this extremely tepid live version of the venerable "Money (That's What I Want)" by the deservedly obscure journeyman Brit band The Wild Oats.

Seriously, these guys apparently had a devoted local following in the Suffolk area of the UK, but they never got a record deal and they were barely a footnote to a footnote to rock history before the above live album (an amateur recording done by two fans at a club gig) was exhumed in the mid-90s. They still do the occasional reunion show, I'm told.

In any case, and as always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the track's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Wednesday DVD Roundup

Okay, my workstation here at Casa Simels has been pretty much overrun by all sorts of interesting and alarming recent video releases, so herewith a few words on the best of the bunch. I should add that all of them are available over at Amazon by now.

1. Diabolique (Criterion Collection)

From a book by the same Frog thriller novelists who provided Alfred Hitchcock with Vertigo, this 1955 suspense flick from the great Henri-Georges Clouzot has been imitated -- well, ripped off -- by countless filmmakers. That said, and having just seen it for the first time ever, I gotta tell you: This is one deeply creepy movie, and it works like gangbusters despite Brian De Palma, William Castle, et al. Criterion's new digital restoration looks great, and there's a couple of cool bonuses with the set, including the original trailer.

2. The Making of the President: The 1960s (Athena)

A three disc set of the David Wolper documentaries based on the first batch of Teddy White's campaign books, as originally aired on ABC back in the day. They're all mostly fascinating, with tons of inside-politics tidbits I'd forgotten (did you know that Harry Truman came out against Kennedy in the '60 primary?) and at times startling time capsule newsreel and TV footage. Of course the most interesting thing about the docs (with hindsight) is their implicit Establishment acceptance of all sorts of what now appear to be schoolboy myths of American Democracy. Best bonus: The tribute to JFK film made for the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

3. Mr Wong Detective; The Mystery of Mr. Wong (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The opening salvos in Monogram's low budget Chinese detective series (meant to compete with the contemporary Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films being made elsewhere). Of course, the casting of Karloff is what we'd now call non-traditional (heh), but he brings immense dignity to the part and as B-films go, these are highly entertaining genre exercises. The prints are in great shape, incidentally, which may be a revelation; if the only Monogram films you've ever seen are some of their slapdash horror efforts in piss poor Public Domain videos, you may be surprised at how well made these two are.

4. Trailers From Hell: Volume Two (Shout Factory)

The "Trailers" part of this one -- a sort of MST3K version of the coming attractions for a bunch of crappy genre flicks -- is an exercise in camp that's mostly a matter of taste; I don't particularly find it funny, but your mileage may vary. That said, this is probably worth getting for its bonus feature, which is (to my knowledge) the first home video appearance of a widescreen print of the original Roger Corman version of Little Shop of Horrors.

5. Curse of the Faceless Man (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

A low budget mummy flick, with the gimmick that the mummy is from ancient Pompeii rather than Egypt. A big fave of the adolescent me since its early 60s airings on my local Chiller Theater, and it holds up pretty well thanks to reliable genre star Richard Anderson. MGM's video transfer is full-screen, alas, but the print is otherwise close to prisine.

6. Riot on Sunset Strip (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Actual documentary footage of the teen/hippie curfew riots that inspired "For What It's Worth," Aldo Ray, the incomparable Mimsy Farmer doing her LSD freak-out dance, and great lip-synched performance footage of garage rock gods The Chocolate Watchband doing the most amazing Stones/Kinks/Yardbirds pastiche ever. In short: The Citizen Kane of Summer of Love exploitation flicks, in a gorgeous widescreen transfer and at a budget price. No finer video product will be released this year.

7. Damnation Alley (Shout Factory)

In 1977, 20th Century Fox had two sci-fi flicks in the pipeline -- the big budget post-nuke apocalypse Damnation Alley, with George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent, and Star Wars -- guess which one the studio thought was going to be a blockbuster. Seriously, this is just hilariously bad, beginning with the preposterous mutant radioactive scorpions, but it's done with wonderful straight-faced conviction and the futuristic mobile home/monster truck at the center of the action is actually kind of cool. This is the first DVD appearance of the film, and Shout Factory has done an exemplary job: The newly restored transfer, in widescreen and roof-rattling surround sound, is gorgeous, and there's an interesting (a word and a half, in this case) audio commentary by producer Paul Maslansky.

Coming tomorrow: Actual powerpop related stuff!!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Tuesday Beatles Karaoke

From Anthology II in 1995, please enjoy the backing track for George Martin's stunning string quartet arrangement of Paul McCartney's breakthrough 1966 Revolver masterpiece -- "Eleanor Rigby."

I don't even know where to begin about this one, except that Martin has said that the down-stroke string stuff that begins at approximately 1:27 seconds in was inspired by Bernard Herrmann's music for Hitchcock's Psycho, i.e. the shower scene.

Which is to say that a manipulative slasher movie begat one of the great 60s odes to existential alienation.


Monday, July 04, 2011

Garden State Parkway Revisited

Okay, I'm not going to get all sentimental on you, but I'd originally planned on posting The Hollies version of Bruce Springsteen's "Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)" today but thought better of it, for obvious reasons. Then I thought I should post the original (which I've done on previous holiday weekends) and thought better of it too.

So instead, enjoy this wonderful Jimmy Fallon story about Springsteen. If it doesn't bring a little tear to your eye, have it looked at. The embed code's been disabled, but just click...

...on this link to watch it.

And special thanks to our pal Sal Nunziato for posting this quite remarkable Springsteen eulogy for the late Clarence Clemons over at Burning Wood.

Like I said, I'm not gonna get all sentimental on you today.

Friday, July 01, 2011

It's Movie Week: Cinema Listomania (Special Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Is Relativity's DVD of Season of the Witch, the latest piece of crap starring Nicolas Cage, by any chance what we're talking about? Might Warner Home Video's Blu-ray of Sucker Punch, the latest mishegass from 300 director Zack Snyder, conceivably be in the running? Or against all the odds and all that is good and decent in this world, might the respective CBS discs of Beastly, a remake of Beauty and the Beast featuring one of those fershlugginer Olsen twins, actually be The One(s)?

To all of these I say -- no way. There's no getting around the fact that the Event is two (count 'em, two!) new editions of adaptations of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels -- the Criterion Collection version of Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly and the no frills but still worthy MGM Limited Edition of My Gun is Quick.

Kiss Me Deadly, in case you haven't seen it, is one of the most astounding things to have emerged from the 50s, an apocalyptic film noir made by people who seem to have considered the source material absolute trash and who went out of their way to subvert it, starting with the opening credits, which run backwards.

Spillane's detective hero, meanwhile, as reimagined by Aldrich and scripter A.I. Bezzerides, has no redeeming qualities whatsover; an out an out sadistic thug whose specialty is pimping his secretary out to entrap married guys and shake them down for blackmail money, he's played by Ralph Meeker with just the right note of sleazy gusto. As for the plotting, let's simply say that Spillane's original story was replaced with the wackiest cold war/horror film elements imaginable, complete with an ending that's guaranteed to make your jaw drop. Trust me: This is one very, very odd flick indeed.

Criterion's new version comes from a high-def restoration, and looks as good as you could hope (it is perhaps no secret that the film betrays a certain unconcern with conventional standards of cinematic expertise), and there are several interesting bonuses, including an excerpt from a documentary on Bezzerides and a controversial alternate finale. The accompanying booklet also features an absolutely fascinating 1955 essay on the film by Aldrich himself.

The 1957 My Gun is Quick, on the other hand, is by and large pretty faithful to Spillane's original pulp vision (although it does not seem to have occurred to anybody connected with it that the title could be read, amusingly, as an unintentional metaphor for a certain sexual dysfunction). In any case, I'd be willing to bet that Victor Saville, who exec-produced both films, was not amused by Aldrich's revisionist take on the Hammer franchise, and as a result he assigned this one to the stolid B-picture directing team of George A. White and Phil Victor. The result is a fairly conventional 50s detective flick, and newcomer Robert Bray -- not much of an actor, although he's certainly rugged enough for the part -- wears the hat and the gun convincingly. Connoisseurs of bad film scores should pay special note to Marlin Skiles' quite incongruously perky music in a very long and very pointless car chase scene, which is the only point where Quick seems to be operating in the same avant-garde universe as Deadly.

In any case, the new MGM version is in widescreen and although it hasn't been restored or remastered, looks absolutely first rate. You can order a copy over at Amazon here; Kiss Me Deadly, which is out in Blu-ray as well, can be had here.

And with that out of the way, here's a fun and obviously relevant little project to help us wile away the hours this holiday weekend:

Best or Worst Movie You'd Most Like to See Get the Criterion Collection Treatment!!!

No arbitrary rules whatsoever this time, you're welcome very much.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is/are:

5. Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)

The greatest metaphysical end of the world movie ever. I've written about it on numerous occasions, mostly to lament the fact that there's never been a home video version in widescreen. Are you listening, Criterion?

4 Seven Footprints to Satan (Benjamin Christensen, 1929)

A stylish black comedy version of the very cool fantasy pulp thriller, this was presumed lost for the longest time, but apparently a well preserved copy turned up in an archive somewhere in the last decade, and Turner Classic Movies has been threatening to air it for a couple of years. In the meantime, you can download a not so great version for free here; the print is lousy but apparently complete, with a decent stock score and legible (if poorly translated) intertitles. It's a bit of a chore to sit through in this shape, but it's watchable enough that you can imagine how great it must be under optimum conditions.

3. Brain Dead (Adam Simon, 1990)

Another one I've agitated for on numerous occasions, this fabulous low budget What is Reality? sci-fi thriller (written by Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont, and starring the two great Bills -- Pullman and Paxton) has never been on home video in anything other than washed out, panned and scanned prints. Why Roger Corman doesn't have somebody keeping his vault material in better shape is beyond me, but I live in hope that Criterion will somehow resurrect this one.

2. The Creature From the Haunted Sea (Roger Corman, 1961)

And speaking of Roger Corman, this no-budget spoof quickie (written by Chuck Griffith, the genius scribe of Little Shop of Horrors) is so goofy that it makes LSOHs look like War and Peace. My personal favorite amongst Corman's oeuvre, and what I wouldn't give for a video version from a pristine print.

And the Numero Uno masterpiece crying out for a really super deluxe edition, perhaps with an appreciative essay by its uber-fan Al Franken (I'm not kidding about this) clearly is....

1. Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)

The greatest movie ever made; I doubt a week goes by in which I don't give thanks that I was alive during the historical moment when it was conceived and produced. I should also add that when scripter Joe Esterhaz took out trade ads urging kids to cut school to attend its premiere showings, he was actually underselling the film.

Oh, and I actually do know that there's a deluxe collectors edition version of Showgirls currently available; I'm just being difficult about the fact it's not from Criterion.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?