Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Sea Hawk (1940)

8.5/10 - One of the best Errol Flynn films. Opens with a rousing naval/pirate battle and ends with a classic sword fight with the main villain, played with delicious malice by Henry Daniell, who, it turns out couldn't handle a sword at all, so everything was filmed in long shots, with doubles, using shadows, etc. Still, Curtiz and his editor did a great job of putting the sequence together. I enjoyed the plot of this one, and the scenes between Flynn and Flora Robson, who does an terrific job as Queen Elizabeth, are worth the price of admission. Sadly, the film is missing Olivia de Haviland - the female lead being played by Brenda Marshall, who does okay but lacks Olivia's spunk. (Marshall went on to William Holden the following year.) Great score by Korngold. Claude Rains, Alan Hale and Una O'Connor all return from Robin Hood. It's a lot of fun, although it certainly portrays the Spaniards as evil and treacherous. Unless, of course, they were half-English like the heroine. Would love to see this and some of the other Errol Flynn films on a big screen.


“Cher Tzara. Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”
Man Ray in a letter to Tristan Tzara, 1921

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If Guillaume Apollinaire Had Been in Funkadelic

In the end you are weary of this ancient world
So wide can't get around it
So low you can't get under it
So high you can't get over it

You've had enough of living in Greek and Roman antiquity
This is a chance, this is a chance
Dance your way out of your constrictions

Here even the cars look antique
(Tell sugah)
Only religion has stayed new, religion
Has stayed simple like the hangars at Port-Aviation
Gonna be freakin', up and down

And shame keeps you whom the windows are watching
From entering a church and going to confession this morning
Hang-up alley way
With the groove our only guide
We shall all be moved

Ready or not here we come
There's the morning's poetry and as for prose there are the newspapers
There are 25 cent tabloids full of crimes
Celebrity items and a thousand different headlines
Gettin' down on the one which we believe in

This morning I saw a pretty street whose name I forget
The inscriptions on the signs and walls
The billboards the notices squawk like parrots
I love the charm of this industrial street

One nation under a groove
Gettin' down just for the funk
(Can I get it on my good foot)
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
(Good God)

Jesus climbs into the air
They shout if he's so good at flying let's call him a fugitive
Those priests that are forever ascending carrying the host
Finally the plane lands without folding its wings
'Bout time I got down one time

One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now

Now you're walking in Paris all alone in the crowd
Feet don't fail me now

Herds of buses amble by you mooing
The anguish of love tightens your throat
As if you were never going to be loved again
Give you more of what you're funkin' for
Feet don't fail me now

Do you promise to funk?
The whole funk, nothin' but the funk

Now you're on the shores of the Mediterranean
Under the lemon trees that are in flower all year long
You go boating with some friends
Ready or not here we come
Gettin' down on the one which we believe in

Here you are in Marseilles in the middle of watermelons

Here you are in Coblenz at the Giant Hotel

Here you are in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree

You are in Paris getting interrogated
They're arresting you like a criminal
Here's your chance to dance your way
Out of your constrictions
(You can dance away)

You suffered from love at twenty and at thirty
I've lived like a madman and I've wasted my time
You don't dare look at your hands anymore and all the time I want to cry
Over you over the women I love over everything that's terrified you
Feet don't fail me now

Here's a chance to dance
Our way out of our constrictions

You're standing in front of the counter at a sleazy bar
You're having coffee for two sous with the down-and-out

At night you're in a big restaurant

These women aren't mean but they do have their troubles
All of them even the ugliest has made her lover suffer

Gonna be groovin' up and down
Hang up alley way
The groove our only guide

I humble my mouth now to a poor hooker with a horrible laugh
You are alone morning is approaching
Milkmen clink their cans in the streets

We shall all be moved
Feet don't fail me now

And you drink this alcohol burning like your life
Your life that you drink like an eau-de-vie

Givin' you more of what you're funkin' for
Feet don't fail me now

You walk towards Auteuil you want to go home on foot
To sleep surrounded by your fetishes from the South Seas and from Guinea
They are Christs in another form and from a different creed
They are lower Christs of dim expectations

Here's my chance to dance my way
Out of my constrictions

Goodbye Goodbye

Givin' you more of what you're funkin' for

Sun slit throat

Friday, July 19, 2013

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

7/10 - Though I grew up a Beatles kid and have owned every album and seen all the other films, I had never seen Magical Mystery Tour. It wasn't readily available when I was younger, and, frankly, it had such a terrible reputation that I purposefully avoided it later on. So, after decades of waiting, and with super low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself enjoying this bizarre little film. I certainly wouldn't argue that it's great cinema, but I would argue that it's a fascinating and even important piece of work that doesn't deserve its bad reputation. Part Monty Python, part Fellini, part Godard, and full-out freaky-ass weird psychedelic, it's no wonder that it bombed when shown on British national television the day after Christmas, 1967. THAT decision is the real mistake in the history of the Magical Mystery Tour. The film should've been shown on college campuses, not broadcast to a bunch of middle-class Brits on Boxing Day. (And in black and white to boot!!!) But taken on its own, the film has a lot to offer. Personally, I love the Beatles's psychedelic sound, so the music alone is real treat. And all of the song sequences are interesting and filmed well. "I Am the Walrus" captures the totally surreal and slightly creepy vibe of the song. (Good trivia question - If John is the Walrus, who are the other three in the movie? Ringo seemed to be The Rooster.) Harrison's "Blue Jay Way" (an underrated tune in the catalog, IMHO) is totally trippy, with an obvious nod back to the early surrealist films, with an actual reference to Man Ray's "Kitty" photograph included. It also has a sly sense of humor, with "Magical Mystical Boy" scrawled on some guy's chest with a marker, referring, I imagine to George's reputation for spiritual investigation at that point. "Fool on the Hill" has a beautiful cinematic moment when Paul is running along a hill, with a forest on the next hill in the background. Magical Mystery Tour deserves to be seen on a big screen (another weird aspect to producing it for the telly - it's visually arresting, with some lovely cinematography at times. Interestingly, the Director of Photography for the film was "Richard Starkey." But even the non-musical sequences were interesting. There's a scene where John is serving up shovel-loads of spaghetti to an obese woman that seems to have been a major influence on the later Monty Python scene from "Meaning of Life" with the man who eats too much. And there are many other scenes that point directly towards Monty Python, whose show would start two years after MMT. Anyway, not a brilliant masterwork of cinema, but definitely worth watching, especially if you're a Beatles fan.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jumpin' at the Woodside

I think it can be argued that nothing in the history of Swing Jazz ever surpassed these three minutes. There may be other contenders, but "Jumpin' at the Woodside" represents the best of something in this world. Lester's solo in the fourth chorus is wonderful, but the ending... the ending is deliriously sublime. The intensity of Herschel Evans' awesome clarinet solo literally gives me chills sometimes. With those glorious horns roaring behind him like mysterious behemoths rising out of the deep dark bog-marsh of primal human existence. On more than one occasion, I have come close to a kind of Whirling Dervish ecstatic moment listening to this song. If it lasted a couple of minutes longer, I would probably have reached union with the Creator.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago rocks big time.

The sheer size of the collection, the quality of the works, the presence of excellent unknowns, and interesting pieces by the well-knowns make it one of the greatest museums I’ve ever visited. I want to go back.

My favorite discovery was Harald Sohlberg’s Fisherman’s Cottage, 1906. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It captured me instantly from across a large, crowded room. The light on the cottage contrasting beautifully and hauntingly with the dark trees. Almost had a Magritte weirdness to it. I went back to look at it two more times.

Also discovered the crazy, wondrous furniture of Carlo Bugatti, father of Ettore, who designed the famous automobiles. Other highlights: Cezanne’s Basket of Apples; Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge; three paintings by Man Ray – you don’t get to see those too often; Magritte’s On the Threshold of Liberty; and 18 Joseph Cornell boxes.

I didn’t really like the unnecessary division between “American” and “European” sections. And they weren’t even consistent. Man Ray and Joseph Cornell were in the European section. Max Ernst had one work in the American section and one in the European (perhaps pre- and post-move to the U.S.?) They also had too many Monets, but then doesn’t everyone? Not enough Rousseau or Chirico, though they did have an interesting Chirico drawing I had never heard of.

But there were so many great paintings. I haven’t been that transfixed in a museum in a long, long time.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Captain Blood (1935)

8.5/10 - The original (sound) swashbuckler. Errol Flynn's first major role. A film historian on the Bonus Feature called it the greatest debut by an actor in cinema history. Definitely has to be one of the best. His screen presence is incredible. And he and Olivia de Havilland have great chemistry together. Very enjoyable action-adventure. What a real "summer blockbuster" should be like.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

My Favorite Dylan Songs

List-making out of an email exchange with a friend.

My 15 Favorite Dylan Songs

  • Visions of Johanna – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
  • Tangled Up in Blue – Blood on the Tracks (1975)
  • Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
  • It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
  • Up To Me – Biograph (Outtake from Blood on the Tracks, 1974)
  • One More Cup of Coffee – Desire (1976)
  • Simple Twist of Fate – Blood on the Tracks (1975)
  • Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
  • Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) – Street Legal (1978)
  • Desolation Row – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
  • Gates of Eden – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
  • I Shall Be Released - Greatest Hits Volume II (1971)
  • Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind – Bootleg Series Vols.1-3 (Outtake from Another Side, 1964)
  • Blind Willie McTell – Bootleg Series Vols.1-3 (Outtake from Infidels, 1983)
  • Most of the Time – Oh Mercy (1989)
Ten That Almost Made It
  • All Along the Watchtower – John Wesley Harding (1968)
  • Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) – Street Legal (1978)
  • Isis – Desire (1975)
  • Dirge - Planet Waves (1974)
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
  • A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Freewheelin’ (1962)
  • You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Greatest Hits Volume II (1971)
  • Went to See the Gypsy – New Morning (1970)
  • It's All Over Now, Baby Blue – Biograph (Live version, 1966)
  • Clothes Line Saga – Basement Tapes (1967/1975)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Me and Bobby Mcgee - Some Background

Some interesting facts about this song that I just learned:

  • Kristofferson was influenced by Fellini's La Strada.
  • The impetus for the song was a writing assignment given to Kristofferson by his new song publisher, Fred Foster, when Kris said he was having a dry spell. Foster told him to write something with an "On the Road" concept about me and Bobby McKee, a secretary at the publishing company.
  • At the time, Kris was flying oil workers out to rigs in the Gulf of Mexico via helicopter during the week, then flying back to Nashville on the weekends to work on his musical career. The song basically came while he was flying around Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

From the new book, Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville. Tanks to Paul Wiener for letting me know about it.