|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Saturday, March 05, 2005 |
( 3/05/2005 02:57:00 PM ) Bill S.
JUST LIKE ELVIS WITH THAT TEEVEE – A few quick bullet points, all related to this week's TV viewing:
Friday, March 04, 2005
( 3/04/2005 04:35:00 PM ) Bill S.
"DESPERANTO IS SPOKEN HERE" – Of all the rock 'n' roll survivors who sporadically revisit the studio to crank out a new disc, Marianne Faithfull has been one of the most entertainingly uncompromising. Ever since 1979's Broken English officially proclaimed the former sweet-voiced songbird's transformation into gravelly-voiced world-weary chanteuse, Faithfull has periodically emerged with a new release of bracingly clear-eyed art-pop. Listening to her newest, Before the Poison (Naïve), can't help but serve as a standing condemnation to all the namby-pamby rock 'n' roll suicides who've passed over the years. Just hear that cracked and craggy voice as she ruefully notes the perils of "Crazy Love," and you know that time has neither tempered nor defeated this most adult of singers – if anything it's added mournful resonance to her work.
As a singer and occasional lyric writer (as opposed to a full-blown songwriter), Faithfull rises and falls with the inventiveness of her collaborators. And with the likes of P.J. Harvey and Nick Cave (with spry guest shots by Damon Albarn and Jon Brion) providing strong musical support to her mournful lyrics this time out, Poison is definitely one of the high points. A meditation on the bonds of lover, friend & family, the disc may be less immediately walloping than English – call it alt-folk-cabaret, perhaps – but its dazzling music sticks with you.
To these ears, the instant keepers include Albarn's "Last Song" (why couldn't he have come up with something this gorgeous for Think Tank?), an ambivalent lament over the loss of village greens that Ray Davies would've killed to come up with; Harvey's "My Friends Have," a moaning mid-tempo catalog with a smart bassline and banshee backing vocals courtesy of Miz Polly Jean; her "No Child of Mine," a spoken verse lament ("Every man I've ever loved has been a child!") with two infectious choruses, plus Faithful & Cave's "Desperanto," which startles you with its squawnking sax and throbbing organ riffs after the trio of more subdued reflective pieces that preceded it (including the title song) but quickly establishes itself as the disc's old-fashioned Patti Smith-styled rocker. The rest of the disc takes a little longer to seep in, but once it does, you feel you've known these songs for ages: heard, perhaps, over a decade ago - when you woke up nervous in the middle of the night to worry about where your life's going.
You know, just the fact that this album exists makes me feel good. That it sounds as great as it does makes me out-and-out optimistic. . .
( 3/04/2005 07:01:00 AM ) Bill S.
HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DOES A CAT SLEEP? – Let's wake Savannah and ask her. . .
Some days, when you remember being awoken in the middle of the night by a kitten racing up your body, it's hard not to give into the impulse to bop on over and immediately start ruffling this sleeping cat's fur. . .
Thursday, March 03, 2005
( 3/03/2005 03:17:00 PM ) Bill S.
"YOU'VE GOT PERS-ON-ALITY, PERS-ON-ALITY . . ." – Aaron Neathery (check out his posting on the Edwoodian children's matinee director, Barry Mahon!) takes small issue with my words on Wheeler & Woolsey. To wit:
I don't think current tastes are quite the reason for W&W's latter-day "also-ran" status. For audiences in the 1930s, Wheeler and Woolsey were right up there with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. But when tastes shifted in the 40s, even comics that we consider completely distinctive today were rapidly put out to pasture. I doubt the comically naive Wheeler and Woolsey would have stood a chance in a world where Abbott and Costello and the Ritz Brothers were box office champs, but that's not to say their screen characters had, then or now, lost the ability to entertain. I'm not suggesting that I believe W&W to have been as talented as many of the aforementioned comics, but if their films had received the same vigorous TV exposure in the 60s and 70s as the Three Stooges' Columbia shorts, Hope and Crosby's "Road" pictures, and the canon of Laurel and Hardy, I think they'd have much more of a following today. Unfortunately, aside from a select number of features (King Kong, the Astaire/Rogers musicals), RKO's film library was sadly neglected until its acquisition by Ted Turner.Aaron makes some good points: cheap teevee repackagings definitely played a part in keeping the works of Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges alive – I can remember first seeing the latter in the fifties as part of a kids' show hosted by ventriloquist Paul Winchell. But I hope I wasn't giving the impression that W&W had "lost the ability to entertain" because that's definitely not the case. . .
( 3/03/2005 06:50:00 AM ) Bill S.
"I'LL KEEP YOU WARM, AND YOU'LL KEEP ME SANE!" – And a Happy Birthday to my spouse and friend, the woman who's been patient enough to live with me, lo these many years, through my long distracted moments and my fuck-ups – the wonderful Becky Fox!
I love you, babe!
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
( 3/02/2005 07:47:00 AM ) Bill S.
"AND HERE I THOUGHT CHEESE WAS YOUR KRYPTONITE. . ." – First story image we see of Mitchell Hundred (a.k.a. the Great Machine) is of the short-term superhero racing through the sky to intercept what seems to be a falling jetliner. "You're probably sick of that picture by now, huh?" a tee-shirted Mitch asks the reader as the panel pulls back to reveal that we're looking at a painting on a basement wall. "Christ knows I am!"
But Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Tom Feister's Ex Machina (Wildstorm/DC) isn't just the story of an embittered former superhero. Turns out that Mitch has also been mayor of New York City. The First Hundred Days, which collects Ex Machina #1 – 5, describes the new mayor's rocky beginnings as leader of the "ungovernable city," and one of the basic underpinnings to the series is the idea that working effectively in city government can be even slipperier than chasing after super-villains. Hundred and his staff face challenges that range from a serial killer in a city-paralyzing snowstorm to the presence of a politically sensitive piece of agit-art at one of the city museums. As the world's first and only supertype, Mitch's powers (the ability to communicate with machines) and good intentions weren't enough to keep bad things from happening – he's haunted by the fact that he was unable to keep the first plane from destroying the one twin tower felled on 9/11. How much good he'll be able to do as "just another cog" in the political machine is still unclear.
The title of this comic, then, is wittily multi-faceted: on one level, it refers to our hero's mysteriously defined abilities to hear and control machinery; on another it connects to Thomas Jefferson's description of democracy as a "Great Machine;" while on a third it also alludes to the Greek drama device of "deus ex machine," the god-in-the-machine that dropped down out of the skies at the end of a play and put things right. Hundred may think of himself as a good Jeffersonian liberal (who ran for office outside of both parties), but the reality is he was elected in a wave of voter response to his public display of heroism on September 11th. ("People blame me for Bush in his flight suit and Arnold getting elected governor," he notes in the opener. "But the truth is. . . these things would've happened with or without me.") He's been voted into office as Big Daddy Rescuer, not as Great Mediator.
Mayor Hundred's friends and co-workers have their own different takes on the man, of course. To Russian émigré Kremlin, the amusement park mechanic who designed the Great Machine's jet-pack costume, the fact that Mitch has turned away from costumed heroism is a betrayal of his god-given powers. To police commissioner Angoti (a lifelong Republican "with the alleged 'fashion sense' of a Democrat"), Hundred's powers are something to be kept in check, just like the rest of her unruly city. To cynical dreadlocked political advisor Dave Wylie, Hundred's inexperience and desire to buck the established political machine are both strengths and weaknesses. To Hundred himself, looking back at his term from 2002 through "godforsaken 2005," his tenure as mayor is essentially one big tragedy. We may not know the specifics yet, but it looks like this story isn't going to end well.
Vaughan's engagingly hard-mouthed script at times comes close the sitcom quips of the Michael J. Fox-led Spin City (our hero has a wisecrackin' assistant who could've come right out of that show), but he also uses his book's "mature readers" advisory to allow his characters to speak (once they're out of press earshot) with a candor not allowed in mainstream network television. When Mitch and his advisors receive word of an inflammatory painting that's part of a new display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (a portrait of Lincoln with what everyone keeps calling "the N-word" plastered across it), the first thing Mitch and Wylie want to know is the race of the artist who created it. When the museum curator states that, "I think creators of all colors have the responsibility to appropriate 'taboo phrases' from hatemongers," Mitch replies, "Fuck! That means she is white."
Tony Harris & Tom Feister's art – as a seven-page supplement showing both the photo sources and sketch-to-finished-page process reveals – favors the dark-toned faux realism of so many superhero comics today. The approach is suited to the muttery backroom action that comprises so much of the book (we do get a few flashbacks of Mitch in full superhero glory), though at times the panels come off a bit too posed and subdued to capture all that's happening in the story. Still, if you're gonna err visually in a book like this, underselling is probably the way to go.
I missed latching on Ex Machina when it first began appearing as a regular comic, so I'm happy to have the opportunity to catch up with this nicely priced ($9.95) collection. Aside from the intro chapter, the rest of the book comprises a four-part story arc that, in trade form at least, is well-paced and tightly constructed. I suspect that this - like Vaughan's other "mature" series for DC, Y – The Last Man - is a work well-suited to the collected format. If DC keeps releasing 'em that way, I know that's how I'll be following Mitch and the gang. . .
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
( 3/01/2005 07:51:00 AM ) Bill S.
"THAT GIRL SHOULD BE PENALIZED: BACK FIELD IN MOTION!" – Gotta admit I knew so little about the work of 30's comedians Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey that when I received a copy of one of their movies as part of a taped collection of little-remembered movie comedies, I didn't know whether it was a feature film or a short subject. Turns out that Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934) is a short feature, one of several that the twosome made for RKO Pictures. Smoothly directed by Mark Sandrich (who would go on to helm the early Astaire & Rogers musicals), the movie is frequently touted by the duo's admirers as one of their best vehicles. On the basis of my first viewing, I'd say the praise isn't misdirected because Hips is a pretty entertaining movie: packed with plenty of pre-Code innuendo and comic inventiveness, not to mention chorine-heavy song-&-dance intervals and the kind of art deco set design RKO seemed to have a lock on in the thirties.
The movie concerns a pair of amiable hucksters, Andy Williams (Wheeler) & "Dr." Bob Dudley (Woolsey) who've been selling a line of Dr. Dudley's Flavored Lipstick on the city street corners. When they set up shop across the street from a struggling cosmetics company, Maiden America Beauty Products, they sweet-talk dippy salesgirl Daisy (Wheeler-&-Woolsey regular Dorothy Lee) and her boss Mrs. Frisby (a statuesque Thelma Todd, gamely matching Woolsey's every double entendre) into believing they're really wandering millionaires. Lurking in the background is an oily type named Armand Beauchamp (George Meeker), who is spying on the company for rival cosmetics firm, Madame Irene. After our heroes are mistakenly accused of swiping securities from the office of a banker, Armand takes advantage of the situation to force the duo to go on the lam.
There's more in the movie – unlike some of the earlier 30's comedies I've been reviewing, this 'un is stuffed with story – along with two delightful musical interludes. The first 'un features Ruth Etting at the mic (the songstress is given prime billing alongside Todd, though she really only appears in the movie's opening), the second contains the boys with Daisy and Mrs. Frisby doin' an extended comic song-&-dance entitled "Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'" as they wreak havoc to the city office set where they're cavorting. There's a comic pool game – where our heroes enter into a "friendly" game with the two cops tailing them – featuring lots of stop motion work, plus a climactic cross-country car race filled with cartoony visual resourcefulness. And speaking of cartoonishness, we even get a moment where the bespectacled Woolsey, checking out the flavors on his lipstick line with a group of obliging beauties, lifts both legs and stiffens his body like a Tex Avery wolf! There are several erection/arousal jokes in this flick, and each one's surprising and amusing.
In their heyday, Wheeler & Woolsey matched the Brothers Marx and Laurel & Hardy in terms of popularity, but they're rarely remembered today. In part this can be attributed to the shoddy treatment that the duo received at RKO (once the studio started making money on its Astaire & Rogers musicals, it shifted the moviemaking talent to those projects and away from the comedies) and the fact that Woolsey started having health problems that led to a too-early demise in the late thirties. But I also think that their obscurity can be explained by the nature of their characters. Though the twosome played distinct types (Wheeler was the watery-eyed, somewhat dim boy ingénue with the pleasing tenor voice; Woolsey was the lankier, somewhat shiftier "brain"), in Hips, at least, their characters remain a little fuzzy around the edges. They lack the distinctness of their better-known peers, who immediately stand out the moment any of 'em enter the movie frame. Contrast Wheeler & Woolsey to a more enduring comedy duo from the forties, the "Road" Hope & Crosby, and the issue becomes even clearer. The two may've been adept at playing comic characters, but they weren't full-blown comic personalities.
Perhaps a longer career and better treatment would've changed that. But, as it stands, the boys' work has since become the kind of movie fare that you're more likely to find broadcast on the movie channels at 7:00 in the a.m. than on prime time. It's definitely worth tracking down if you're a fan of old movie comedies, though. Turner Classic Movies is dusting off two as part of its April Comedy showcase (Hips is being broadcast on April 24th), in fact, and I know I'm setting the timer. . .
(Thanx once again to Aaron. . . )
ADDENDUM: An Interesting Fact That Nearly Everyone Who Writes About This Movie Winds Up Mentioning: Bobby Watson, who plays a flagrantly flitty choreographer in Hips ("My girls could never do that - they bruise!") and who also appeared in a small role in Follow the Leader, had a steady movie career from the forties on, playing Adolph Hitler. He's also the diction coach in Singin' in the Rain.
Labels: obscuro comedies# |
( 3/01/2005 06:39:00 AM ) Bill S.
"SOCKS AND SANDALS, THAT'S WHAT I WEAR!" – Wulp, this blog is another year older today: three full years of blogging under our frayed leather belt. Not as impressive as neilalien, who just celebrated his fifth birthday over the weekend (Excelsior!) but, hey, in dog years I'm twenty-one, right? (I used to know the formula for "really" calculating dog ages, but I think that part of my brain has been overwritten with the lyrics to Scissor Sisters songs.) It's been an odd and periodically stressful year at the ol' Oakhaus, but through much of it blogging has served as a welcome form of respite. Thanx to all out there who've regularly come to visit, those who've stayed around long enough to comment and the many great acquaintances and friends I've made in the blogosphere!
Monday, February 28, 2005
( 2/28/2005 08:02:00 AM ) Bill S.
"BLEEDING ALL OVER THE KHAKIS. . ." – Watched only the opener of this year's Oscar ceremonies – then switched over to Carnivále (Management is dead! – or is he?!?) to see if Clancy Brown's Brother Justin would suffer another bout of projectile vomiting. I wanted to catch Chris Rock's opening monologue since I knew it would catch blog fire in the days ahead. The comedian struck me as more than a bit subdued in the opener (certainly not as shameless as Billy Crystal being wheeled onstage in Hannibal Lector garb), but I chuckled at most of the material. The political digs by-and-large made contextual sense (connecting to Fahrenheit 9/11) and even a viewer overly attuned to fat jokes like me has to admit that the links to nominated documentary Super-Size Me and ever-ready target Michael Moore were funny. As a viewer who wasn't looking to the event as an occasion to wax wroth about the biases of Liberal Hollywood, I was simply entertained by the material, though I also thought that Rock's comparisons between working for the Gap and being POTUS stretched the material past workability. . .
ADDENDUM: Of the live and semi-live blogging takes on the show that I read after-the-fact, Tom the Dog's was probably the most entertainingly thorough, but Cap'n Spaulding deserves props for critically singling out the hackier comedy bits. . .