Friday, December 30, 2011

It's Still Friday, Isn't It

Another random list of songs from this year:

1. Wilco - Rising Red Lung
2. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - No ONe Is (As I are Be)
3. Surfer Blood - Miranda
4. The Feelies - Bluer Skies
5. Beastie Boys - The Bill Harper Collection
6. Jane's Addiction - Words Right out of My Mouth
7. Gang of Four - I Can See From Far Away
8. Tom Waits - Pay Me
9. Josh T Pearson - Thou Art Loosed
10. PJ Harvey - The Glorious Land

Videos? Josh T. Pearson?

And Polly Jean:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Melancholy Christmas

A good Christmas movie really needs a bit of angst. Think about the Grinch, or Rudolph in exile, or Charlie Brown and his tree. There may be nothing to beat It's a Wonderful Life in terms of sheer desperation, but is there a more melancholy Christmas movie than Meet Me In St. Louis? I could add, of course, is there a more beautiful Christmas film - but it's Minelli, so that is a given. But if you don't go down, you can't come up (it's not a solstice holiday for nothing) - so have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Random new Music

And, once more, 2011 randomized -

1. Six Organs of Admittance - Above a desert I'Ve never seen
2. Wire - red barked trees
3. Fleet Foxes - Bedoin Dress
4. The Kills - the Last Goodbye
5. Boris - see you next week
6. Deerhoof - C'Mon
7. TV on the Radio -You
8. Iron & Wine - glad man singing
9. Burfer Blood - Voyager Reprise
10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Spazz

Video? from a likely contender for record of the year - TV on the Radio:

...and now, off to the mall...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where they Really Know About Winter

Well, winter arrived here in New England, with a vengeance - the cold anyway. No snow yet, not much - but the cold! thanks for that... Anyway - who knows cold better than our friends in Minnesota and Winnipeg?

Friday, December 16, 2011

December is for This Year's Music

Another random sampling of records I bought this year:

1. Boris - Spoon [from Attention Please, the Wata record they released this year - sounding, here, more than a little My Bloody Valentinesque...]
2. REM - All the Best [Collapse into Now is an almost listenable REM record - they went out on a pretty decent note, I think.]
3. Decembrists - January Hymn
4. Tinawiren - Takkest Tamidaret
5. Gang of Four - Do as I Say
6. Feelies - Later On
7. Battles (featuring Matias Aguayo) - Ice Cream
8. Boris - Leak - Truth, yesnoyesnoyes [from Heavy Rocks, sounding more like Dinosaur Jr. than ever]
9. Damon & Naomi - Walking Backwards [hey! more Kurihara!]
10. Times New Viking - No Room to Live

Video? Boris is always good:

And maybe an actual Times New Viking video:

Monday, December 12, 2011

The History of Cinema is Still a Short One

Another birthday post - this one for the greatest of them all. Here is a thought - Yasujiro Ozu was born 5 years before Manoel de Oliveira, who is, as noted, still active.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One Hundred Three and Counting

It is, again, the birthday of Manoel de Oliveira, 103, still working (another film in post-production, one after that in pre-production - I like the description on IMDB - "Three connected stories set in Brazil following a visit of devil to earth, a case of adultery and the delusions of an ornithologist." - sounds good!) And still working at a very high level. Look at these shots from Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl - without trying to find anything special - you can't miss. Every moment of every film, I believe, is lovely to look at...

Friday, December 09, 2011

Another 2011 Music Sampler

Continuing with December's theme, here's a random sample of 2011 music:

1. Danielson - Grow Up
2. Beastie Boys - Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament
3. Jane's Addiction - Twisted Tales
4. Boris - Jackson Head
5. Six Organs of Admittance - Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us
6. Tom Waits - Talking at the Same Time
7. Tinawaren - Aden Osamnat
8. Damon & Naomi - SHadow Boxing
9. Wilco - Art of Almost
10. Loutaliica - Junior Dad

And video? Loutallica?

And how about the Danielson, sounding more Pixie-like than ever, with all those electric guitars and everything.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Exhilarating Misery at the Movies

I've gone a bit off the grid here lately - holidays, things like that - I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo, sort of - and not written about films in a while. I picked a bad time to stop writing about films - I've done some complaining this year about the quality of the new releases, but the last month or so has seen a very strong run of films. Maybe better than that - I've liked every film I've seen since the middle of October or so, and most of them I've liked very much.

I do have to say - it has been a harrowing stretch of films. The apocalypse seems much on the minds of our best filmmakers. It's been that way all year - Meeks Cutoff might have been the best film before this stretch; Contagion, Page One, even Rango might be considered end of the world films as well. But this fall - a run of films have come out that are quite relentless in their sense of dread. Or, in the case of the Almodovar - that accumulate dread in the corners, shielded by the bright colors and glamourous actors and high melodrama. But it is every inch a horror film as well... Now - there have been some cheerier films this fall - but I am going to put them off for now, stick with the misery...

Melancholia - 13/15 - Antichrist, I thought, made it halfway back for old Lars - this one, though, seems to me to be among his best. You have a simple enough story - 2 parts - first, "Justine" - Kirsten Dunst getting married, a huge party, she and her husband turn up late, and after that the tensions simmer and stew and everything goes to shit. Her boss harangues her about work; her father clowns and snipes at her mother, who interrupts and snipes right back; sister warns her, husband tries to ne nice, brother in law reminds her how much money he's spending, and it all gets worse and worse and poor Justine reacts predictably. In the end, all is lost, as everyone fails her, most abandon her, and she gives as good as she gets.... Part 2, "Claire", is about her sister and the end of the world. Poor Justine is back, catatonic with depression now, and there is a new planet that is going to either circle the earth harmlessly or crash into it and kill everyone - Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, tries to keep it all together, but her sister's madness seems a bit contagious, or maybe she is just the only sane one in the lot, and thus reacts to the end of the world with perfectly rational hysteria.

All this is done in a mix of LVT's trademark nausea inducing camera work and the kind of hyperslow aestheticism of Antichrist. It begins with nearly frozen tableaux of the end of the world as a bad dream - Dunst in her wedding dress in a pond, or walking with huge vines of yarn hanging from her limbs; Gainsbourg carrying her son across a golf course, sinking halfway to her knees with every step. This gives way to the shaky cam of the wedding reception, interrupting this mode from time to time with more of the dreamy tableaux. The shaky cam is particularly shaky - I have to admit, the first time I saw it, I was not in peak form going in, and probably sat too close, and "nausea-inducing" was not a figure of speech... That stuff doesn't usually bother me (It didn't the second time I saw it...), but a larger point might be that it didn't seem particularly well done - I can't imagine Breaking the Waves looking any different - I mentioned the way Antichrist makes you feel the presence of the cameraman - this time, it felt a bit more affected, almost like it was expected in a Lars Von Trier film. But that can't detract from the film's other virtues. The cast is excellent - the second half is a chamber piece, 4 characters in a huge house; the first half a teeming mess, full of first rate performers chewing on their corner of the scenery. John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard, Udo Kier, Brady Corbett, etc., all stealing the bits they are in.... In the second part, Dunst, Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland play off one another as the world ends, all remarkable. And, shaky cam or not, the imagery is superb - the jumbled chaos of the first half with faces and bodies suddenly picked out of the mess; the dazzling shots of the house and grounds, and the strange new planet in the sky... A lovely and disturbing film.

All of this is, rather obviously, a huge allegory about depression. You could almost say, the first half shows the onset of depression realistically, in a woman's collapse - the second half, allegorically, as the end of the world. Like Antichrist, it makes its metaphors extremely literal - and here seems to be explicitly autobiographical as well. Thinking about it tends to recast von Trier's earlier films - retrospectively, they all seem to be like this one. About a woman who is beset by troubles - the cruelty of the world, an abstraction that is usually manifested in an arbitrary but real external force - a pipe, a dead child, an accident, America... Oddly, maybe because this one is less generically melodramatic, it strikes me as being a bit more self-pitying - the way everyone blames Justine for her breakdown, while they all contribute to it... But that doesn't really diminish it. It is a thrilling piece of filmmaking, which is an odd thing to say about a film about this kind of crushing despair - but there it is.

Take Shelter - 13/15 - Jeff Nichols' second film, starring Michael Shannon as Curtis, who has bad dreams - when they start leading him to dangerous behavior (hallucinating about his dog and his friends attacking him; building an elaborate storm shelter to survive a gas attack), he also checks on his mental health. His mother was afflicted by paranoid szchophrenia from her 30s, just like him.... Nichols plays out the tension to the end, between Curtis's hallucinations as premonitions and as madness - is the end of the world at hand, or is he going mad? It's a fantastic film - Shannon is great - a decent man, tortured, fighting himself, fighting the voices in his head, fighting everyone around him (and trying not to fight them, at the same time). The supporting cast has less to do, but they (Jessica Chastain, Shea Wigham, Kathy Baker, etc.) are excellent as well. All this does play as a kind of allegory of the world as it is, the anxieties of contemporary America - the collapsing economy, leaving all of us on the edge (much of the angst is about money, work, not to mention health care and the environment - it works in all the things we have to be terrified about these days) - but that level of allegory is grounded in a careful and detailed consideration of Curtis's mental breakdown, played with conviction and realism. Complicated, of course, by the fact that his private demons, the terrible storm he foresees, is just about dead right in terms of the catastrophe that is coming for all these people. He may be mad in the literal sense but dead on about the metaphors. All this, I could add, is not very far from what von Trier gave us in Melancholia - a character whose breakdown takes on a kind of universal sign - storm - planet - which consumes the people around them. Both films end in a very similar way - the threat seems to come - it is averted - then, it comes back - and this time, the "sane" characters see it to. It's as if their madness was contagious.... In any case - this is a remarkable and heartbreaking film, every bit as devastating as the von Trier.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - 12/15 - this, while avoiding the end of the world imagery of those other two films, is, like them, a careful examination of the inner world of someone whose inner world is coming apart. Starts with a girl in a farmhouse somewhere in upstate NY, who runs away and lands with her sister and brother in law in a cottage by a lake in Connecticut. Fomr that point on, the film flashes back and forth between the cottage and the girl's life on the farm - we learn, soon enough, that she was part of some kind of cult. At first, a relatively benign looking cult, though with intimations of extreme patriarchy (men eating first), plus mystical/self-sustaining platitudes - as the film goes on, the horrors of the cult escalate - to rape, intimidation, robbery and murder. Cult behaviors are explored - changing names, breaking down identities, creating new ones in the family. Hints of Manson begin benignly (through music, say) but become literal in the end. This is contrasted with the girl's experiences after fleeing, her relationship with her sister and her husband (a soulless and horrible yuppy), and hints of their past, a difficult past. For a long time, the film actually holds these world's in a kind of balance - you can see what drew her to the cult, its sense of real family, its anti-materialism. We see what she is running away from - her brother-in-law's snottinesss, or the way they push her back into drinking, which seems pretty clearly to have been a big part of her problem. When she starts drinking again, she gulps it down like an old friend. The film maintains for a while the notion of these two worlds as equally cruel and bad - though, interestingly, as things get worse with her sister, we see the flashbacks to the things that were truly evil at the cult. All this builds to a masterful final shot that is positively devastating.

The more I think about it, too, the better I think it is. Watching it, it seemed to drag a few times - but in retrospect, I think that is part of the design. It works through her experiences, from the escape, to something else - it is notable that she gets more and more crazy as time goes by - and that the flashbacks get more and more intense. It is as though she starts disassociated (after escaping), and over time, she comes out of her trance - the more she escapes the horrors of the cult, the more she remembers the horrors of the cult, and the more horrifying they become. This film has much the same tone as Take Shelter - a kind of deadly dread, knowing there is nothing you can do, no way for this to end well... Finally - once again, this is a superbly acted movie - Elizabeth Olsen is first rate - John Hawkes is on hand, bringing his sense of homespun decency to a role that has no decency in it - but that strange, emaciated charisma makes the role that much more powerful. Sarah Paulson too is very good.

The Skin I Live In - 12-15 - Almodovar film, starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya as a mad scientist and the woman whose skin he has made... the tale is told all out of order - starts with a woman in a kind of suit, working with fabrics, locked in a room - we meet the doctor who keeps her there - get pieces of the outside of the story - false skin, stronger than real skin, hints of his madness, hints of the woman's resistance to the treatment. Then the maid's son turns up - a crook in a tiger suit - he attacks the woman, rapes her, and the doctor shoots him... That touches off 3 sets of flashbacks - the maid's story about the brothers and the doctor's wife; the doctor's flashback to his daughter's misfortunes; then - another set of flashbacks, to the boy who picked up the daughter at a party, and led to all her troubles - and then to his own. BY this time, the woman with the skin has slept with the doctor - and now we get the whole plot - who the woman is, why she looks like the doctor's wife, why she has been trying to kill herself - the whole shebang. It is, shall we say, a particularly extravagantly absurd plot - but one that bites deep..... It is certainly a first rate bit of filmmaking - Almodovar is a master of the form. It is, in the end, a pure horror film - quintessential horror film - by my pet definition - "the instability of the self - how the self is threatened by forces outside it, that turn out to be somehow inside it - the themes of the Other who is a Double; themes of invasion, especially - loss of bodily integrity, loss of self" - it's about as pure an example as you could ask for. Mad scientists, loss of identity, ghosts in the machine - sexual dysphoria indeed. A very fine film, and one that probably matches all those above in its sense of complete devastation....

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Happy Birthday, JLG!

A day late, as it happens, but it suits our purposes. And next week - Week End starts a full week's run at the Brattle! Hurrah!

I shall celebrate with a nice cup of coffee, maybe a beer...

Friday, December 02, 2011

Random 2011 Tunes

WIth December here, let's start running through some of the music I bought in 2011- starting by letting iTunes give me a random 10 for the day:

1. Gang of Four - Fruitfly in the Beehive
2. Fleet Foxes - Montezuma
3. Danielson - But I don't Wanna sing about Guitars
4. Gang of Four - She said 'You Make a Thing of Me'
5. Wilco - Standing O
6. Decembrists - Dear Avery
7. Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise
8. Bill Frisell 858 Quartet - Old Times
9. Wilco - Born Alone
10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Jumblegloss

And video? some restrained Gang of Four?

and mayby some live Wilco:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

While the turkey is cooking, here's some old rock and roll - let's be thankful for the electric guitar!

And Sly:

Or, if you are a cat - what better to be thankful for than a paper bag and a friend to wash your head?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Platinum Blonde

I don't have a lot of time to devote to his today, so keeping it simple, the basic Frank Capra story - man gets what he thinks he wants, finds it a trap, escapes and gets what he thinks he really wants. The film ends, but the next one is likely to pick up where that one left off with the same story. Every shot will be perfect.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Great Googlymoogly!

I am back again without a good theme for this Friday. Maybe a couple scattered thoughts that might have musical illustrations... politics?

That seems appropriate. The fact that it was pulled off their first record after 9/11 - well, I could draw apocalyptic conclusions. We do seem awfully deferent these days to the Forces of the Law. Just remember - when you see a bunch of guys in riot gear beating up a bunch of guys in tee shirts, you can probably guess that the guys in riot gear are the bad guys.

(All that competes with the thought that, somewhat contrary to my endorsement of the general anti-Strokes sentiments on the blogosphere, they kick, once in a while. Maybe they are that much better live - I can't say their records ever really engaged me, but watching them on YouTube, they almost convince. And then there is the fact that having made sure to get the import version of This is It - I was convinced even then that this was one of the better songs on the record. I like the way it morphs from a straight Stooges ripoff to a straight up Feelies cover - the guitar solo from Moscow Nights, ain't it? Etc.)

I have to do this, too - one of my co-workers has had Frank Zappa in his head all week, and won't stop humming the opening riff to this -

What can you do? "Save your money, don't go to the show."

Okay - then - 10 sngs at random:

1. Melvins - the Savage Hippy - hey! iTunes has caught my mood! This might be Mayor Bloomberg's theme song!
2. Dungen - Gor Det Nu
3. Louis Armstrong & The Hot Five - Come Back, Sweet Papa
4. Carter Family - River of Jordan
5. Built to Spill - Made Up Dreams
6. X - Because I do
7. Spiral Stairs - Blood Money
8. Dire Straights - Lions
9. Yoko Ono - Death of Samantha
10. Beck - Gamma Ray

Well? Might as well - the visuals aren't anything special, but here's the Melvins....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sergeant York

This Sunday, let me add to Friday's remembrance with another WWI film. This one is the rarest of breeds - a film about WWI that is not anti-war. Though it is a strange kind of not-anti-war film: a film about a pacifist who comes to fight - though the film is as much about a violent man who becomes non-violent as about a non-violent man who takes up arms. Which gives it some kick - in a way, then, it becomes really about the limits of absolutes in morality - there is always a case where your values are less useful than some others... Whatever you might say about WWI, in WWII the values are different. There is that. Of course, being a Howard Hawks film, it is largely about the mastery of someone who is very very good at what he does.





Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Random Ten Plus One!

A gimmick! A random eleven (maybe not entirely random) published at 11:11 11/11/11!!!11!11! etc. (I wonder how many other bloggers will think this same thing is just too cute to resist? will we bring the internet to its knees? we'll see!)

1. Grateful Dead - The Eleven Jam
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - The Ship Song
3. Warren Zevon - Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
4. Thelonius Monk - Suburban Eyes
5. Elvis Costello - Oliver's Army
6. Rush - Witch Hunt
7. Elvis Presley - Lawdy Miss Clawdy
8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Rifles
9. Boris with Merzbow - A Bao A Qu
10. Smashing Pumpkins - Rhinoceros
11. Benny Goodman - Seven Come Eleven

Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman:

And - Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd, the same:

Armistice Day 2011

Veteran's Day, 2011 - it's notable that 2 years ago, there were still three surviving veterans - possibly combat veterans, at that point. Now, there is only one, Florence Green, 110 years old...

I've said before, especially in regard to this holiday - I think it's important to keep the original point of days like this in mind. And probably - WWI being one of the most decisive moments of history - this one in particular. And so?

Some songs: Here's A Long Way to Tipperary, from a 1914 recording:

And Pack all your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag:

And - Over There... patriotism in full bloom:

But I can't stop without another version of Eric Bogle's transcendent anti-war song - the Band Played Waltzing Matilda...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Now that Wonders in the Dark has finished counting down their list of musicals, I am moved to comment. First - that's it's been a treat to follow along, as it came out. A bit intimidating, as well... Not so intimidating that I'm not inspired to offer my own list of favorite musicals.

Or best musicals - or whatever they are. The countdown does tend to stir up questions about genre - they seem to have been deliberately vague about the definition of a musical - though they seem to have reached a consensus on some things. Documentaries and concert films seem to be right out - none on the list (that I can see) - I'm assuming that if they were considered eligible, you'd see Don't Look Back or Stop Making Sense or Gimme Shelter in there somewhere. That's a rule that makes sense, though it's odd that everyone seems to have gone by it on their own.

On the other hand - what about Nashville? O Brother Where Art Thou? or for that matter - how did This is Spinal Tap not make it? I won't credit the possibility that they aren't among the 140 best films with music in them - so they must be passed over for other reasons. And - I suppose it's reasonable enough that they are, they don't exactly present themselves as musicals, not in any traditional sense. (Though what else would Spinal Tap be, anyway?) But what is striking about those films, even more than some others that might fall on the edge of being musicals (from - oh - Pierrot le Fou to To Have and Have Not to some on the list - Blue Angel, say) is how conventionally they fit the genre. How is Nashville not, from start to finish, a backstage musical? O Brother Where Art Thou is an even more complete match - it is a backstage musical, featuring multiple performances in the film; plus more than one musical number that is NOT a performance - the Sirens - the KKK rally - the baptism scene. It also has the tone of old movies - light and breezy (with a hint of seriousness) - though I'd say it draws its tone more from old newspaper comic strips than old movies, there's a lot of overlap. It's not just a musical, it's an old fashioned musical - and on top of that, features some outstanding music, played straight. It's interesting that it's not there - not quite surprising - if I hadn't started thinking about definitions, I might not of considered it myself.... But once you think about it - I don't know how you ignore it.

Anyway - that aside - I can't see much to quarrel with on the list. Though - there are a couple films I don't understand missing it. Namely - Fantasia - that might have been definitional, though other Disney cartoons are on there - it is something of a strange beast, though... The other one - and I'm less inclined to forgive this oversight - is Shall We Dance. Fred and Ginger got lots of love - 3 films (that I remember off the top of my head) - #6 and #11 at that - but surely there should be at least one more. I like the early ones the best - you can see that below... but I can see why someone might prefer Swing Time or Shall We Dance - they are sleeker, the formula has been shined to a sparkle - and formula is not a bad thing at all in films... I would take Shall We Dance over Swing Time, but it's not so much the order as the fact that they are both aces... Though I do think this - that over all, Shall We Dance has the best music of any of the Fred and Ginger films. Overall - nothing, ever, beat Night and Day, as a song - but the Gershwin score, the Gershwin songs (You Can't Take That Away From Me; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off) are just marvelous, and add up to more than the music of any of the others....

Okay - enough. What would I vote for? This could bog down into definitions - and so I am going to offer two versions of this list. First - the expansionary one - this is the best films that I can find a reason to call musicals, ranked as movies:

1. Duck Soup
2. Pierrot Le Fou
3. Nashville
4. Blue Angel
5. Love Me Tonight
6. Top Hat
7. Hard Days Night
8. Night at the Opera
9. Gay Divorcee
10. Golddiggers of 1933
11. Wizard of Oz
12. Horsefeathers
13. O Brother Where Art Thou
14. Thirty Two Short Films About Glen Gould
15. Beijing Bastards
16. This is Spinal Tap
17. Merry Widow
18. West Side Story
19. Under the Roofs of Paris
20. Blond Venus
21. Don't Look Back
22. Forty Second Street
23. An American in Paris
24. Singing in the Rain
25. Red Shoes

And then - ranked as Musicals. For - meeting the genre requirements of a musical; and for the music itself - the dancing - the performances, the way the music is used in the film, as an end to itself. I think this is what I would end up with there:

1. Top Hat
2. Love Me Tonight
3. Gay Divorcee
4. Golddiggers of 1933
5. Hard Days Night
6. Duck Soup
7. Wizard of Oz
8. West Side Story
9. Forty Second Street
10. O Brother Where Art Thou
11. Singin' in the Rain
12. Meet Me in St.Louis
13. An American in Paris
14. Shall We Dance
15. Blond Venus
16. This is Spinal Tap
17. Don't Look Back
18. Merry Widow
19. Under the Roofs of Paris
20. The Red Shoes
21. Fantasia
22. Nashville
23. Gimme Shelter
24. Golddiggers of 1935
25. Cabin in the Sky

Today anyway...