Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with the Old, In With theNew - 2013, 2014

My idiot cat is very happy, currently stretched out between the keyboard and the screen, purring away and occasionally batting my fingers. She is a lot of help. Here is a picture of her helping me put away some pots and pans I got this year - she is often very helpful that way:

The year is waning fast. I figure I should put up one more post though. It has been a very eventful year - blizzards, the Red Sox, wickedness, personal loss - in a year in which I passed one of those milestone birthdays people get worked up about (not that I am about to admit which one, though anyone following my band series might be able to hazard a guess, from the dates referred to here and there...) It was a momentous year, with anniversaries and birthdays, deaths, retirements of friends at work, things that brought out reminiscences and considerations of events - and things like the trip my brothers and I made to Ellsworth ME, to find our great- (and great-great-) grandparents' graves.

All of which makes me more inclined than usual to post something like this, looking back, maybe looking ahead. It was an eventful year - a reasonably satisfying one, in a way. I don't usually post things like resolutions or goals for the next year - but if I had last year, I would have ended up reasonably happy with the results. Just thinking about the blog - I have stopped writing film reviews for some reason, and stopped writing about politics (though I think about politics more than is healthy) - but I am rather pleased (and a bit relieved) that I have kept up with my Civil War posts, with those band of the month posts, with the director of the month posts (though I've missed the last couple - holiday congestion, call it; I should be back at it in the new year. Not sure what kind of theme I will pursue - though I suspect I know where I will start...) I hope this continues in 2014 - I see no reason not to keep it up. I have music and civil war posts already in the pipeline, so things should proceed. And I imagine I will pick up another anniversary series this year - I have been diligent in making Armistice Day posts every year - 2014 is the 100th anniversary of The Great War, an event that, I think, was as definitive for Europe as the Civil War was for the United States. Everything since revolves around it, to this day, we are still working out its aftermath. (Just as the US is for the Civil War.) I don't actually know as much about WWI going in as I did about the Civil War - that sounds like an invitation to find out all I can, and I hope I can share it as I go.

This might turn into a history blog, after having spells as a political blog, mostly a film blog, though always a bit of a music blog. Why not? I have been reading history the last couple years - Civil War mostly, though lately I've been reading Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe - a fascinating subject itself. But - I do hope this year to get back to more film reviews - and for that matter, more politics.

I can't get away from politics. I have been inclined to try to avoid it lately - it's been very depressing these past few years. But - you can't get away from politics; I certainly think about it enough. I could have plenty opt opportunities to argue about it, particularly on Facebook - though that is a soul destroying forum for any kind of serious conversation. Just this week I had a bit of a conversation - someone posted a meme about how the Republicans passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments with almost no Democratic support - and now, the Democrats passed Obamacare with no Republican support. It would have been hard to figure out the intended point, if the thing hadn't included an anti-Hillary Clinton bit: seems to have been a Republican source trying to resurrect their past as the sensible party. It's not very effective - though one certainly can feel the irony of the party of Lincoln becoming the party of Jeff Davis. Parties change - it is fascinating to see how the Republicans and Democrats have reversed themselves so completely, and almost perfectly. Still - the conversation that ensued ended with someone making one of those weaselly both-sides-do-it, what-is-the-difference complaints - a complaint given the lie by the graphic itself. Obamacare passed with 0 Republican votes - whether you think the ACA is a good thing or bad thing, it's pretty clear that it is part of a very different set of policies between the party.

And that is true - party discipline is about as strong right now as it has ever been in the US (especially among the Republicans; the Democrats are a bigger, broader party - their positions and orthodoxies are a lot less rigid.) And I was thinking about it - I can list off a dozen or so policies I would like to see: and most are official Democratic positions, and the others have supporters among Democrats; none (almost) have any support from the Republicans at all. I wonder how often, in American history, that would have been true? that policies I like would be almost exclusively associated with one party?

I mean it - here are some examples, things I would like to see:

Higher minimum wage
Higher top marginal and corporate tax rates
Expended social security and medicare and Medicaid
Expanded benefits for food stamps and other programs
More spending on education
More spending on infrastructure
Better health insurance systems
Climate change projects
Gay marriage
Stronger unions
Stronger regulation of banks and financials and corporations
Prosecution of bankers etc. for the more egregious offenses
Reining in the security state

Of those - everything down to stronger unions are basically positions held and advanced by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans. The strength of the party positions varies, the parties may have different priorities - but those positions are all clearly aligned with one party or the other.

The bits about bankers and corporations goes quite a ways beyond the official Democratic party - but plenty of actual Democrats (my senior Senator, prominently!) push for those kinds of policies.

The security state - NSA spying, drones, all that crap - is about the only item on the list where I radically part company with the Democrats. It's an issue that you will hear Republicans weigh in - though to be honest, I don't believe a word of that. Rand Paul can say what he wants to now, but if he were to get elected president in 2016, I hope no one will be shocked to find that he's as enthusiastic a war monger and authoritarian as any other Republican. (Or way too many Democrats.)

BUt the point of this is - well: two things. First - that parties matter, whether you like it or not. And second - imagine me trying to make this case on Facebook, a sentence at a time. It's hopeless! I can't do anything in a sentence at a time. I need 1000 words!

So consider yourself warned.

And so - I have managed to time this almost perfectly to finish on the stroke of midnight - or 11:59 I hope, so this hits 2013 not 2014. I will leave you with another cat - a carving of a lion in Copley Square. Happy new year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Is that a reindeer I hear?

Look out Doctor! There's a Dalek behind you!

Merry Christmas - let's hope you all got nice boxes to sleep in!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Accept No Substitutes

If you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room... Odd post for Festivus, but for a history nerd like me, what can I do?> Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, the greatest firearm ever invented, is dead, at 94. A machine that more or less literally redrew the map... He certainly made it easier to air one's grievances.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Its the Season...

Winter has come and gone this week - by the end of the day, it will look like spring around here! headed for the 50s...

All right. We are less than a week from Christmas - a rather startling fact, that I can't quite process. I might have some shopping to do....

So - whatever, man. Time for tunes. Here, then, a perfectly random friday offering...

1. Dungen - Mina Damer Och Fasaner
2. Benny Goodman Sextet - Six Appeal (fromt he Charlie Christian collection)
3. Fairport Convention - Book Song
4. ABC - The Look of Love Pt. 1
5. The Fall - Cruisers Creek
6. Pavement - Passat Dream
7. Neko Case - Magpie to the Morning
8. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart
9. OOIOO - Baby Bamboo From Noise
10. Matthew SWeet - Does She Talk

Not a single Christmas song. Can Bing help? Video? Cruiser's Creek, video, sounds like a plan...

Matthew Sweet - this is Girlfiend, live - but it's got Robert Quine playing - that's worth having.

and what the hell - Richard Lloyd, playing Someone to Pull the Trigger:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Quiz for the Holidays

Dennis Cozzalio has a new quiz up, just in time for finals.... Larry Gopnik's Post-Hanukah, Pre-Christmas, Post-Schrodinger, Pre-Apocalypse Holiday Movie Quiz. Took me four days to finish this one (it's like in high school and college - I spent all my time listening to The Who to do my homework...) But here it is!

1) Favorite unsung holiday film

A. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence? for all having the word in the title, it doesn't get much attention for that element of it (even from me, and I have paid a lot of attention to it) - but - it probably should.

2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved

A. The most obvious was probably The Fall - a film I hoped I would think was okay, but that turned out to be wonderful. There are others (and I think I have used this a lot in these sort of quizzes) - but it is hard to beat the difference between expectation and result there.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?

A. I grew up on Fractured Fairy Tales, so what choice do I have?

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?

A. No - haven’t seen it.

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past

A. Michael Shannon should make Westerns.

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere

A. Anything by Altman? McCabe and Mrs. Miller notably.

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie

A. Visconti is one of the holes in my experience - I have only seen The Leopard.

8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?

A. Theater - Nebraska; Blu-Ray - Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides (my damned nephew watched all four of them over Thanksgiving.) DVD - shoot: Winchester 73 (writing about it) - been a while since I have watched a lot of movies. And what the hey - streaming: Up - my nephew again, downloaded it from Netflix.

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies? (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)

A. I am generally inclined to argue, though probably with myself. If I'm in a conversation I might argue with the person - depends on the conversation, I suppose. In the past, some of these conversations could become less than amiable - now, I find myself less willing to start fights - so I just write up rebuttals to myself...

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?

A. Joan Blondell! Over and over!

11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping

A. Isabelle Huppert, in another country, maybe...

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie

A. I would say Holiday.

13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)

A. I will have to wait for the new year for write-ups, but:
1. The Act of Killing
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. Beyond the Hills
5. Apres Mai
6. Like SOmeone in Love
7. 56 Up
8. Stories We Tell
9. Computer Chess
10. The Hunt

(Though since Inside Llewyn Davis hasn't opened yet, maybe the whole list should wait...)

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction

A. people always ask this. It’s very hard to answer. I might as well go with Batman & Robin, since it's something of an extreme case - to my horror, when I rewatched it, I found myself actually enjoying it. Not just Uma Thurman either.

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover

A. McCabe and Mrs. Miller? I don’t know really.

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

A. Marcello, all the way

17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)

A. Aguirre: Wrath of God - it's hard to beat that shot...

18) Director with the strongest run of great movies

A. Ozu over his whole career; Godard in the 60s, or Ozu in the 30s or 50s, or Capra in the 30s.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?

A. Elitism is good. One should be the best you can be, like the best you can find, and value everything.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film

A. Beverly Hills Cop II? (I haven't seen a lot...)

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?

A. Joli Mai - rereleased on its 50th anniversary (I believe). This was an odd year - fewer of these than usual.

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy

A. Guy Kibbee? or maybe Eugene Pallette? I guess that would have to be traditional... I pray that it's traditional...

23) Video store or streaming?

A. Um - I do stream movies now and then, so I guess that is the answer. It is not really an improvement over video stores, I admit that. (Netflix is, though, which is why I haven't been in a video store in 12 years or so - that and there aren't any left....)

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter

A. Would Night of the Hunter count? probably not, since Laughton probably can't be called a "noted director" on one film - still... I think in it's place, among directors with a decent career as directors - it's Yi Yi, Edward Yang. There is quite a bit of competition - An Autumn Afternoon, Tabu, L'Argent, etc...

25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?

A. Anna Karina, very easily.

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?

A. I convinced some of my history nerd buddies (who were not really the type of film nerds) to see Kusterica's Underground - they liked it, very much, so there's that.

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest

A. I need to see Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Clan in a good print - I have seen it twice, but the print was a mess - badly damaged soundtrack. So there is that.

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it

A. Nightmare Before Christmas? I suppose Curse of the Cat People would be the best answer for real horror films.

29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree

A. Jimmy Stewart's cowboy hat?

30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014

A. Inside Llewyn Davis, to start.

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Have a Remedy

And with this month's band of the month, we are back on schedule. I mean, back to my rough autobiographical chronology. Though truth to tell, it was not easy deciding when to slot The Who into this story. I've been writing about bands I really started to embrace in college - Springsteen, U2 - I liked the Who in high school, when I was listening to all AOR. I liked them very much - maybe not up to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, but not far off. I bought Who records when I did not have money to buy records with - they war one of my favorites before I went to college.

But I'm putting them here, because it was in college that I understood the full majesty of the Who at their best. That was when I heard Live at Leeds. My roommate had it on tape: I listened to it (along with the White Album and The River) over and over and over. I never actually bought it, though - I taped the tape and listened to that until it wore out. Then (around the end of the 80s) I broke down and bought the CD. And then, when the deluxe edition of the CD came out, I bought that. And, you know...

It was the perfect record for what I wanted to hear in college - it shaped what I liked. My appreciation of the Who grew in tandem with my deeper love of Springsteen, my discovery of U2, my general embrace of more contemporary bands. The Zep got shaded out (and the Doors, and Black Sabbath, and a good deal of the hard rock I liked in high school) - the Beatles grew, and The Who grew. The Beatles, though, were the Beatles - they were in their own world - the Who was the model of what I loved.

Live at Leeds. Even then, I can't say I was much of a fan of the later who - though I did buy a copy of It's Hard when it came out - just about the only record I bought that in college, before War. And that was not a coincidence - what I liked most about U2 is that they seemed to me to be the 80s version of the Who. What I wished the Who sounded like in 1983 - worthy successors. It's Hard? I don't remember much of it - Eminence Front is the only song I really remember from that record (and a pretty good song at that - Pete could craft a tune, even when things were not going so well); digging around on the internet for this, I am reminded of some of the others - Cry if You Want - sheesh! I forgot that existed! and I think I loved that song, when the record came out... Still - that wasn't going to hold up, not to bands like U2, and certainly not to classic Who - and never to Live at Leeds.

If they had a problem, it's that everything else they did faded next to that live record. (And to the other live recordings they made in that period - 69 to early 70s - not sure when it stopped, 73 or so maybe...) The later stuff declines - maybe Pete Townsend got too caught up in his elaborate ideas - maybe the drugs cut them down - maybe - something else was wrong... but though there is plenty to like about their 70s records, they were distinctly less convincing after Who's Next - and when Keith Moon died, they were just another mince band trying to adapt to the times. (Look at the woful clothes in that Cry if you Want video - oh god: the 80s...) And the earlier stuff - is superb, but they were a band that needed the technology. Those great songs they did in the 60s sound thin, weak, compared to their mature sound (and I mean, sound.) They always had the attitude, the approach - those crunchy guitars and hammering drums and Entwhistle's bass sound, keeping the beat and carrying the melody - but until they got the equipment to make the noise they made in the late 60s, it never quite makes it. Or - hearing it now - it feels like it is striving for the sound of Live at Leeds and not getting there. But still - the albums get better and better, until Tommy and Who's Next sound fantastic - and they could make a dreadful noise live.

And so: this is the other thing - that after college, as I embraced punk and underground music far more - The Who stayed right where they were, more or less at the center of it all. Live at Leeds did: Pete beating the hell out of his guitar, his solos were always rooted in his rhythm playing, and the rhythm, everything (this is clearly a big part of why I loved U2 as well); the bass, on the beat and the melody; Daltry's voice - if you are going to bellow, that's the way to do it. And Moonie. That fantastic, fast, sputtery drum sound he had, always moving, moving, moving, always changing... they could drift, they could sink into noodling, solos and making stuff up and wandering all over the place - but they never lost their momentum. Something like that massive jam on My Generation on Live at Leeds works because Townsend never runs out of riffs, never stops coming up with more, and Moonie keeps driving the songs on. That is pretty much what hard rock is supposed to do - no one does it better than they did at their height, and more or less every hard rock band I have liked since have done some kind of variation on it. Maybe not all of them - I sort of re-embraced the virtues of Black Sabbath and Ac/DC through the years, and straight punk... but still. At their best - they are the coolest thing on earth.

And so - the songs:

1. A Quick One While He's Away - which is among the great songs ever
2. I Can See for Miles - which ain't far off the great songs ever...
3. Baba O'Reilly
4. My Generation
5. Substitute
6. Won't Get Fooled Again
7. Pinball Wizard
8. Who Are You?
9. Bargain
10. I'm A Boy

Since the version from Rock and Roll Circus doesn't seem to be available, here's The Who live, doing A Quick One - with a lot of comic business on the way in... (Ivor, being an engine driver, doesn't come on time...)

And at Monterey:

Out here in the fields...

Very early live My Generation:

And at their height, 1969 - same show as the first, stretching out, the coolest thing on earth...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ozu Memorial

Today is Yasujiro Ozu's birthday. It is also, as it happens, the 50th anniversary of his death. I jumped the gun - I should have held up my great big Film Countdown for this date - what can you do? I suppose I can repost my top 32, for the enjoyment of anyone who missed the first...

1. Early Summer
2. Late Spring
3. Tokyo Story
4. I Was Born But...
5. The Only Son
6. Good Morning
7. Passing Fancy
8. An Inn in Tokyo
9. Tokyo Chorus
10. Autumn Afternoon
11. What did the Lady Forget?
12. Early Spring
13. Story of Floating Weeds
14. Woman of Tokyo
15. Tokyo Twilight
16. That Night's Wife
17. Floating Weeds
18. Record of a Tenement Gentleman
19. Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
20. There Was A Father
21. Equinox Flower
22. Days of Youth
23. Brother and Sisters of the Toda Clan
24. Late Autumn
25. Where Now are the Dreams of Youth
26. Hen in the Wind
27. Walk Cheerfully
28. Dragnet Girl
29. I Flunked But...
30. The Lady and the Beard
31. End of Summer
32. Munekata Sisters

And point to another fine appreciation from David Bordwell.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Friday Music, Nelson Mandela

Today should start by noting the passing of one of the great men of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. Someone who's achievements might be underrated, when you think about it - he spent his life fighting Apartheid, was able, in the end, to end it, to take over the government of South Africa - and to do it without destroying his country. Came to power without war, held power without violence - how many other leaders could do that? He will be missed, though I suppose it is more true to say, his example will be treasured. RIP.

On a very different not - Wonders in the Dark's Western Countdown has reached the end, with the inevitable #1 movie, John Ford's The Searchers. It has been a pleasure to read, and an honor to participate.

And now? Let's go with a basic random 10, shall we?

1. Robert Johnson - Ramblin' on my Mind
2. The United States of America - The American Way of Love (a dollar ninety takes you to the movie...)
3. Young Marble Giants - N.I.T.A.
4. The Kinks - Til the End of the Day
5. of Montreal - I Was Never Young
6. The Replacements - Dope Smokin' Moron
7. Creation - Making Time
8. Fujiya & Miyagi - Ankle Injuries
9. Fleetwood Mac - Only You (live at the Boston Tea Party)
10. Tim Buckley - Monterey

Video - first - that was one hell of a random 10 - nothing there to skip at all... Then? Start with the obvious, I suppose - The Specials, "Free Nelson Mandela" - which is the song that comes into the head whenever anyone mentions him name...

And - on the subject, here's Bono trying to play with the big boys, from the Sun City record - this song was worth the price of the record, back in the day... those guitars: it's purified Keith Richards, and what's better than that?

And - from the list? I have to post the United States of America song, even if it's just the song:

And - end with the Replacements, live in 1981, sober!