Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette has died. He was 87, and apparently has been suffering from Alzheimers disease for the past few years - I had heard he was ill, and so am not surprised. Still; saddened. The news come the day after I finally finished paying my 88 pounds for the new Out 1 collection - unfortunately, before this object crossed the ocean to my front door, so I can't spend the next week watching it... But it is coming...

He is One of the Great Ones. I haven't posted any kind of list of favorite directors lately, but if I did, he would be up there - top 10 somewhere. I came to him late - most of my favorites I discovered in the mid and late 90s, when I started watching films obsessively. I saw some Rivette in that period, but didn't see enough until 2007, when I saw a whole series - that immediately elevated him to his place among the greats. I do remember when I first heard about him - when La Belle Noiseuse came out - that was before I was an obsessive filmgoer, and the main thing I remember about it is that it was a very French film about a painter that had some actress naked for 3 hours. Some time after that, probably around 1998 or 99, I finally saw a Rivette - Haut Bas Fragile - by that time I had become an obsessive filmgoer, I knew who Jacques Rivette was, in a general sense (historically), and had seen some films obviously influenced by him - Pascal Bonitzer's Encore, possibly, or some of the Assayas or Desplechins films that call Rivette to mind... I liked it - quite a bit in fact, though I don't know if I could have explained it at the time. Later, Va Savoir got a bit of an American release, and I saw that in the theaters. And I tried renting the Story of Marie and Julian, though the DVD copy I got was damaged and I missed the opening 15 minutes or so of the film - which made it even more incomprehensible... Though still enjoyable. I liked Va Savoir very much - liked The Story of Marie and Julian well enough. It meant that Rivette had gone into that pile of directors whose films are just too hard to see - so you have to wait for your chance and take it.

That's what happened: the HFA booked a whole run of his films, and I went to see them, starting with Paris Belongs to Us, the Nun and Celine and Julie Go Boating - and those three were enough to put him in the pantheon, and then I saw Out 1: Spectre and L'Amour Fou and Jeanne la Poucelle and La Belle Noiseuse - and that settled it. They all hit me hard - you can see the comments from back when I wrote about films I saw, at the Rivette link - his films, once I saw them clean like that, really hit the sweet spot. All those doubles and old houses and games and plays and lost manuscripts - that stuff fascinates me; the structural games - but also the sense of play, invention, imagination in his films. Their playful postmodernism - if I had been able to see Paris Belongs to Us in 1993 or so, I would have saved a lot of time. Back when I was reading Pynchon and Barth and Gaddis and McElroy and Queneau and DeLillo, and reading about them - it struck me when I saw the film how well it matched them. Like Lookout Cartridge or V, with its mystery plot, lack of resolution, the lost artists and artifacts, the shadiness of the whole thing, the way it comes apart and gels into something sinister at the same time. Seeing it, it felt like something I had been waiting to see - and then I saw Celine and Julie and the short Out 1, and those were even more perfect. They bring in the other great thread in his work - the making of art, of theater, or sometimes music, painting, etc. But especially theater, since it is art as collaboration, as invention and exploration, and as acting things out. Maybe most of all, he gave us a view of art as play. That convinced me. That series, and his films, changed how I saw films, and probably how I saw the world.

It is sad that there will be no more Rivette films - though given what I still haven't seen (the three titles in the Arrow set I just bought, mainly - Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, Duelle and Pont Du Nord), I have plenty to look forward to - and more, his films have a kind of inexhaustibility that makes rewatching them as surprising as watching them. The ones Ive managed to buy never disappoint, and I keep noticing more to them, more twists and ideas and details. And more - his films have been immensely satisfying, intellectually - but they are also, always, exceptionally entertaining. They are full of pleasures, like early Godard, as well as depth and thought. He was one of my favorites, and will be missed.

Work, pleasures and mysteries:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Volunteers of America

Friday again - here I was about to write that we'd finally made it through a week without any famous musicians dying, when I read that Paul Kantner has died. I suppose he is less iconic than the others who've passed this year, but not that much less iconic - or maybe, more indissociable from his band. I can't deny that the Jefferson Starship became something horrible in the 80s, but how many bands didn't? (And I suppose the worst of it came after Kantner took Jefferson away from them.) Still - the Jeffersons weren't necessarily the first rank of rock bands, but they were big - they were important - and at their best, they were damned good. Airplane or Starship. Though I have to admit - Marty Balin is my favorite...)

Up against the wall, motherfuckers! Ah, for the days when politics was serious and people wrote interesting songs about them... Now? we get dimwit moochers occupying bird sanctuaries, for some reason... And a presidential race between the sensible party and the extremely silly party. Though the sensible party has been misbehaving more and more as we close in on the actual voting. I see more and more from both Bernie and Hillary supporters abusing the other - to hear their opponents talk, only hacks support Clinton, and only bros support Sanders. Bernie's a dreamer! Hillary's a Republican! Bernie's a communiss! Hillary's rich! I guess it's normal. I worry about the few - mostly on the Sanders side, I am sorry to say - who say they will never vote for Clinton - that is an attitude I can't accept. Whatever you think of Clinton, or either one of them - the Democrats have to win the White House for the sake of the country. Go listen to Donald Trump a while. No. Parties matter, more than the people probably. In officem there probably isn't a dime's worth of difference between Sanders and Clonton: there's a Goldman Sachs bonus check's difference between either one of them and the sanest Republican.

Speaking of Republicans - I will outsource commentary to Edroso I think.

Enough. Music it is! Random Ten!

1. Mahavishnu Orchestra - You Know, You Know
2. The Velvet Underground - What Goes On (live)
3. The Kills - Gypsy Death and You
4. Madonna - Beautiful Stranger
5. Little Feat - Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie
6. Sex Pistols - No Feelings
7. REM - Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)
8. Spirit - Morning Will Come
9. Fairport Convention - Doctor of Physick
10. Blood Brothers - Burn, Piano Island Burn

And again, for Paul Kantner - by favorite Airplane song, written by Kantner and Balin:

Something soothing from the Blood Brothers:

And the Kills:

Friday, January 22, 2016

Already Gone

Another Friday, another 70s era rock star gone. I can't pretend that Glenn Frey compared to Lemmy or David Bowie, but I would also be lying if I denied his importance in my life. The Eagles were the first records I ever bought - Life in the Fast Lane single (not Glenn Frey, though - Joe Walsh), then Hotel California itself. Not long after, I added their greatest hits - and for a year or so, listened to them, quite a lot. And then? my friends and relations were more Kiss or Aerosmith fans, so that's who I listened to more - then I discovered Styx, and though that's hardly a huge step forward, for me, it served as an invitation to more - what? AOR rock? I guess. Better anyway: it wasn't long before I was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Who - real music...

The Eagles went on their way, and I laughed at them with everyone else. But still - they weren't half bad. That isn't high praise - and if you want an honest critical opinion of them, at this late date - sure: they come off like a third or fifth generation copy of Untitled era Byrds - mushy country inflected rock-pop, catchy enough, but without a lot of character, smug and professional to a fault.... But they still aren't half bad. Even watered down Byrds is pretty good, and they were undeniably talented - they could play, they could sing, they wrote some songs that get in your head and don't come out - songs that come close enough to being great song as not to matter. So - no: I can't love the Eagles, or ever not snicker a bit at them - but I also can't help but like more of their songs that I care to admit. They aren't half bad.

And finally - whatever else the Eagles did, they were inspiration for the best TV show I saw last year. That might not sound so impressive if I admit I only watched 2 new TV series all year (Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange, and Documentary Now!) - but still. The Blue Jean Committee episode of Documentary Now was really fantastic - parodying that California soft rock sound, but gentle and soft - parody that doesn't deny its pleasures, and gets all the little details - the look, the sound, the gaps between the musicians' roots and their ultimate sound, or their on and off stage personalities - all that stuff. It's fantastic. Playing around with all the sources - The Eagles and the Band, the Byrds (the singers being named Gene and Clark might be a hint), all the west coast bands (no matter where they might actually be from), from CCR to America to Poco, to Martin Scorsese, VH-1, Spinal Tap - all in an hour of television. And it's mix of mockery and affection - well - that's not far from how I feel about the Eagles now. They're a bit of a joke - but they're also pretty damned good.

And so? we need a list - so here's what Genius gives me from the only Eagles song I have on iTunes:

1. Eagles - Hotel California
2. CCR - Up Around the Bend
3. Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
4. Beatles - The Long and Winding Road
5. Bruce Springsteen - Hungry Heart
6. Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
7. Pink Floyd - Us and THem
8. Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday
9. Led Zeppelin - Good Times, Bad Times
10. Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done

Here they are trying to rock out - actually, no - this is a heck of a song:

And from 74 - James Dean - a low down bad refrigerator... I'm not sure what James Dean ever did to deserve this, but still...

And Mojo Nixon's thoughts on the Eagles' legacy:

And here's America with Gene Allen (Fred Armisen) from the Blue Jean Committee...

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ain't No Need of Crying

Happy Friday. Not very happy, is it? Somehow, the bad new from the entertainment world keeps coming - before people got over the shock of David Bowie's death, we're faced with Alan Rickman's. I wish he'd played Sherlock Holmes somewhere - he was this generations Basil Rathbone, and ought to have gotten a shot at Rathbone's most famous role. Alas. He was mind-bogglingly good in a lot of film - too few of which had anything else going for them. He stole most of them, even the good ones, without seeming ruffled in it - what can you say. He'll be missed.

Well - miserable news that is, but the world goes on. It's a Friday, and we need some music. So - randomize! time to randomize!

1. Warren Zevon - Accidentally Like a Martyr
2. Gomez - Song in My Heart
3. Kings of Leon - Dusty
4. Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Hammer Song
5. Sleater Kinney - Not What You Want
6. The Bards - My Generation
7. Rance Allen - Ain't No Need of Crying
8. PJ Harvey - Happy and Bleeding
9. PJ Harvey - Working for the Man (where did the randomizer go wrong? though Polly Jean is a welcome place to stick, I suppose)
10. Red Krayola - The Story So Far

And some Video? How about Rickman as Rathbone in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves? These seem to be deleted scenes - though it makes you wonder why they didn't delete all the scenes with Costner and just make a Sheriff of Nottingham movie. Rickman's all I remember from it...

Such as - Call off Christmas!

And some music - here's Warren Zevon:

And how about Rance Allen, because there ain't no need of crying when it's raining:

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

This year is starting with too much death. Today I hear that David Bowie has died. It is hard to know what to say - his importance is obvious; he was one of the great ones. I haven't gotten to him in my band of the month series, largely because he is hard to sum up - too protean by half, a master of everything he turned his hand to. A very fine actor, when he tried it - in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence - in the Man Who Fell to Earth, his star power, his beauty and his skill create powerful characters, unique characters. Though even as a musician, he was maybe first an actor - building new characters, in the songs and to sing the songs - songs always as performances, in every sense. Look through a bunch of performances of a single song - how they change, music, attitude, pose, character - it's wonderful.

I will miss him.

Here is Heroes, on Marc Bolan's show - a glorious performance:

And a neat video to Space Oddity, 1969:

And finally, playing Waiting for the Man with Lou Reed:

Friday, January 08, 2016

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

God heavens, we're a week into 2016 already! Second Friday - band of the month time - and I think I want to start with a pretty straightforward band of the month - AC/DC, the pride of Australia. They're easy to write about, their appeal is obvious and direct and, as far as I am concerned, undeniable. I don't have to say a lot: they are what they are - straight and hard and direct and utterly reliable, from the beginning to the end. They are one of those bands whose music sounds inevitable to me - bands like Motorhead, like the Ramones - and the Feelies, in a slightly different vein. They have found a style, a sound, a groove, and they work it, pretty much just the one, and they have perfected it - and more than that - made it sound like it has always been there, always will be, and is just as it should be. They play a type of music that thousands of bands play - and somehow, sound completely unique - no one else sounds like them.

I know there is a lot more to it than that, for any of those groups - but it is a place to start. And then you can talk about their virtues - the guitars, first - those sharp, precise rhythm tracks (Malcolm Young is just about as good a rhythm guitarist as it gets), the clean, precise (that again) solos from Angus, the propulsive rhythm section, the charismatic squall of either singer (though Brian Johnson never comes close to the glories of Bon Scott), and the first rate song-writing. Simple songs, built on basic chords and obvious structures, but every riff well chosen, every melody memorable... And lyrics as efficient as anything, and usually funny as hell as well - Scott's especially. Lots of stoopid there, and more stupid, probably, that Lemmy or Iggy or the Ramones gave out - but Scott, especially, could turn (and deliver) a phrase (concrete shoes, cyanide, TNT), and build an attitude, and turn the attitude on its head... they are a funny band, as well as fun, deliberately funny - the songs, the act (Angus and his strip tease), Scott's voice - what can I say? What more can you ask?

Top 10 Songs:

1. Back in Black
2. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
3. Ride On
4. TNT
5. It's a Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll
6. Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
7. Big Balls
8. Jailbreak
9. Highway to Hell
10. You Shook Me All Night Long

Video: Bon singing Jailbreak,

Though first - YouTube offers this - pre-Bon Scott AC/DC - that doesn't sound a bit like them...

This is more like it, complete with Scott pretending to play the bagpipes and OWNING the camera:

TNT, 1976:

Highway to Hell:

Back in Black:

Monday, January 04, 2016

Edward Copeland

I have mentioned before the strange way the internet can expand the number of people you will come to mourn. This week, I read, from Matt Zoller Seitz, that Edward Copeland has died. Edward Copeland was the pen name of a man named Scott Schuldt, who ran a blog, mostly devoted to movies, but with some TV and politics and personal posts as well. His blog was one of my touchstones, back in the late 00s - a source of great writing; and for his occasional surveys and list posts - Oscar rundowns; or elaborate multi-voter projects like the foreign film poll he hosted, the Ray Memorial 100. The blog had some of the flavor that Wonders in the Dark has now - multiple writers (though Edward himself tended to dominate), broad interests, a sense of community - lively comment section, plenty of back and forth among blogs - strong opinions, expressed forcefully, but with the expectation of debate... I liked his blog, and his writing, very much, and have missed him, as his health took him off the net. He suffered from multiple sclerosis - and for some years, has been bedridden, and for some time now, struggling even to write. He wrote about his illness, on the blog and on facebook - those posts made wrenching reading, but in the past year or so, they have become very rare - which I suppose is more wrenching still. I miss seeing his posts come up, on facebook or in my blog feeds - I did not know him, beyond the kind of correspondence and interactions we have on blogs and facebook and such, but I will miss him.

(And I can't fail to note that he was the one who got me on Facebook in the first place. Back in 2007, around the time of the foreign film poll, I think, he sent me an invite - probably along with the other participants in the poll, or in his email address book... either way, I did it, and that was that.)

Friday, January 01, 2016


Happy New Year! somewhat. Today is Friday, a day for a music post - and this week, one music story stood above them all - the death of Lemmy Kilmister died earlier this week - one of the great ones. He's been at it a long time - playing in Hawkwind first, then forming Motorhead, stripping his music down to something that roared like an express train. He is one of those musicians, like the Ramones, AC/DC and a few others, who are both infinitely influential, but no one else quite sounds like them. Lots of bands have a lot of Motorhead in them - not very many get it all. He will be missed - it as a comfort knowing he was in the world.

And now - let's see what Genius conjures up from Ace of Spades, shall we?

1. Black Sabbath - Lord of this World
2. Sex Pistols - Problems
3. The Ramones - 53rd and 3rd
4. Iggy Pop - Some Weird Sin
5. Pantera - Message in Bood
6. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers - Chinese Rocks
7. Black Flag - Rise Above
8. AC/DC - Love at First Feel
9. Bad Brains - Banned in DC
10. Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer

Video? Start back in the day - Lemmy in Hawkwind:

Ace of Spades Promo:

Killed by Death, live: