Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What did he say?...

Someone at the FBI must not have had much to do in 1964 and 1965, according to this blog post at Daily Dose.

Apparently, in early 1964 a disgruntled parent wrote to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy complaining that the lyrics to the song "Louie Louie", by The Kingsmen, were "filthy." What I want to know is, how could she tell? I've never been able to tell what the singer is saying in that version of the song, which has been covered, some claim, by more singers and bands than The Beatles' "Yesterday", which is a lot of cover versions.

At any rate, the FBI reportedly spent the next two years attempting to decipher the song's lyrics, using such strategies as playing the 45 at 33 1/3. (If you're too young to remember 45s and LPs, you might not get that reference. Look it up.) However, according to the report the feds didn't ever bother to contact the band's lead singer, Jack Ely, or the man who wrote the song back in the 1950s, Richard Berry. Perhaps the agents tasked with the investigation were too embarrassed to ask either of them, "Did you sing/write a dirty song?" We can only hope.

The FBI never did figure out what the lyrics say (maybe the complaining mother has the superpower of being able to understand all song lyrics), and so they never said whether or not the lyrics are obscene.

Of course, there is a larger question here. That is, why are some people so determined to find something dirty or otherwise offensive in everything?

This all reminds me of the rumors that the 1963 song "Puff, The Magic Dragon", by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, was really all about - gasp - marijuana. That would have come as a great shock to my second grade teacher (during the 1963-1964 school year), who required everyone in my class to memorize the lyrics to that song.

There were also the stories about The Beatles' song, "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds", which was supposedly really all about LSD. Even Paul McCartney is reported to have admitted (in 2004) that the song really was about acid, but John Lennon always maintained that it was not about drugs, but was inspired by a drawing his son Julian made in nursery school. Call me naive (it's okay; people do, all the time), but since Lennon was the primary writer of the song, his testimony is good enough for me.

Sometimes, it takes a little work to find this objectionable content. For awhile, it seemed like the national pastime here in the US was to play songs backward to find messages that bands had supposedly left hidden in their music. These messages went from supposed clues in Beatles songs that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a look-alike, sound-alike, all the way to accusations that a variety of recording artists had put tributes to and recruiting messages for Satan in their songs that could only be understood when the music was played backward. A few conservative Christian speakers made names for themselves traveling the country and giving presentations about this activity.

Most of the accused, of course, denied putting any kind of reversed messages in their songs, while a few admitted to using a technique called backward masking to hide messages in their music. Most of those who admitted to doing this said they did so only after the accusations, and then to answer their accusers. Or, to make fun of them, which wasn't really that difficult a thing to do.

It isn't just music people search to find objectionable material, however. For awhile, finding the phallic symbols and other obscene messages in Disney animation was somewhat of a cottage industry. And some people managed to find things that they could get outraged about, like the minster with a supposed erection in "The Little Mermaid." The thing was, you generally had to be viewing the films in slow motion or frame by frame to see most of these "obscene" drawings, although some accusers claimed otherwise. An Arkansas woman, who will remain nameless here to protect the guilty, even went so far as to sue Disney and its video distribution company, Buena Vista Home Video, claiming that Disney displayed an "explicit sexual message" on both the package and in the movie "The Little Mermaid", although she later dropped the suit, according to Snopes.

Personally, I think the people who go looking for these things, or read things they object to into music or films or other art, have too much time on their hands and excessively dirty minds. If you have to play a song backward or watch a film frame by frame to find something objectionable, it isn't that much of a threat to the innocent.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Music Sunday (late): The "I've Seen Them Play Live" Edition

NOTE: I started writing this on Sunday. Events intervened. So, I'm finishing it on Monday. If events don't intervene again.

A few weeks ago on Music Sunday I wrote about having seen Elton John in concert at Dodger Stadium back in 1975 and what a fantastic show that was. Well, this morning as I was driving back from getting Sunday morning donuts and listening to the radio, I heard one of the songs he did during that show, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting". Amazing concert experience, especially when all 66,000 people or however many were at the show were shouting "Saturday, Saturday, Saturday" along with him. I'm surprised we didn't cause an earthquake or something...or at least an insurrection from the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium because of all the noise we made.

But, hearing that on the radio this morning, I thought that today I would share some music from some of the acts I've seen live over the years. It isn't a huge selection, but I've been to some good shows. And I thought I'd start by waking you up with another live performance of "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting, from nearly ten years after my experience and a continent and an ocean away, as Elton John did the song at Wembley Stadium in 1984:

Personally, I thought that the Wembley crowd was a little lax on the chorus compared to those of us at the show in 1975.

One of the opening acts at that Elton John show in 1975 was Emmylou Harris. She had released her first solo album, "Pieces of the Sky" earlier that year, and one of the songs in that collection was "Boulder to Birmingham", which Harris wrote with Bill Danoff in tribute to Gram Parsons, who she had sung with for a couple of years, making two albums in the process. I can't remember for sure if she sang this song at that show, but it's a lovely song. This is a performance of it on German television in 1978:

The other opening act that day was Joe Walsh, who had recorded this song, "Rocky Mountain Way", with the band Barnstorm, in 1973. The live performance in this clip is from the early 1990s and features some other pretty good guitar players:

Speaking of the Rocky Mountains, I also saw John Denver in concert once. Yeah. Don't laugh. Really. Denver had the reputation of being a slightly, oh, cheesy, performer who wrote slightly cheesy songs. And maybe some of them were. I liked those songs. And I like this song, "Sunshine on My Shoulders". Yeah, I like songs that rock. I also like nice, quiet meditative music, which is what this live version of this song is:

I saw U2 in concert during their Zoo TV tour, on November 7, 1992. The opening acts were The Sugarcubes and Public Enemy. I had a great vantage point, maybe ten rows back from the stage, until I nearly got crushed during Public Enemy's performance, so I retreated back into the stands and watched U2 from there. I was kind of sad that I didn't get to see U2 closer up, but the show was just fine from farther away, too. Lovely. Transcendent. Which was a good thing, because I caught the cold from hell that night (outside, at night, in November, in Oakland - what else could have possibly happened?) and was sick until sometime into January. It was worth every second of being sick.

I'm sharing this clip of "One" not because it is my favorite U2 song, but because it is probably my favorite U2 video. But it is a great song, not so big as many of their songs, but small and intimate, as befits its subject matter:

There are some other bands and performers I've seen live that I could share, but this has grown out of all proportion already, and so I'm going to close with this clip from Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I've seen Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) in different configurations, but never all of them on the same stage at the same time. This started when i was in high school and I saw Neil Young in concert at the Forum in Inglewood. David Crosby and Graham Nash were his special guests for that show (and Linda Ronstadt was the opening act). Then, about a decade later, I saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the Fresno Fair. A couple of years later, also at the fair, Crosby and Nash performed. Anyway, this is "Southern Cross":

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Monday: The Silent Edition

People don't really pay much attention to silent films these days. To be truthful, there are people now who won't even watch black and white films. It's got to be in color, with lots of loud explosions and chase scenes and casts of thousands (even if most of the thousands are computer-generated these days, rather than being actual human beings).

On the other hand, an argument can be made in favor of black and white, silent films. This is one of those arguments, one of the best:

That is a scene from Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), and it is amazing. I had read about this film for years and didn't believe the hype. Then, a few years ago I got to see the film in a showing on Turner Classic Movies. It was late at night. I didn't think, going in, that I would be able to stay awake for the whole movie. And then it began, and I was entranced. I can't really describe the film. You have to see it.

I'd been interested in silent films even before I saw "The Passion of Joan of Arc", but it was mostly an historical interest. I would have rather read about the silents than watched them. I mean, really. A lot of silent films are odd to watch after seeing films as they are today. But some of that sometimes has to do with technical issues, including films that are shown at different frame-per-second rates than they were filmed in, which can make the movement in them look unnatural. Additionally, the acting can look, well, silly; exaggerated and melodramatic. Part of that is the convention of the time, and part of it is probably the natural exaggeration of stage acting, which was where many film actors came from. This includes Maria (or Renee, depending on the source you consult) Falconetti, who played Joan in Dreyer's film.

Although Dreyer's next film, after "The Passion of Joan of Arc", was a sound film, it was made very much like a silent film, with little dialogue and with dialogue cards as were used in the silents. That film was "Vampyr" (1932), a horror film that is just as amazing in its own way as was "The Passion of Joan of Arc". Vampyr, with it's visual effects and story (taken from a Sheridan Le Fanu story), is a unique visual experience. Notable for the time, it was shot entirely on location rather than in the controlled environment of a studio:

Another of my favorite silent films is one I happened on quite by accident, again late one night on TCM. I started watching, intending to just watch for a little while and then go to bed. I ended up watching the whole film not that it was that long, just over an hour. This was "The Unknown", from 1927, directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney, Sr. (not to be confused with his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., who, among other roles, played the Wolf Man several times in various films).

If you recognize Browning's name, that's probably because he also directed "Dracula" (1931) - yes, that one, with Bela Lugosi - as well as the cult film "Freaks" (1932). And, if you don't recognize Lon Chaney's name, you've been missing out on some of the classics of silent film, with "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923). But those are just the most remembered of some 162 films (according to IMDB), some of them lost and only one of them a sound film, and that a remake of an earlier silent film he had starred in.

The thing about "The Unknown" is that it is incredibly dark. It is the story of Alonzo the Armless, and that's all I'll say about that because I want you to see it, and to experience it the way I did, knowing nothing about the film. Chaney's performance in the film might seem melodramatic to those of us used to seeing acting in today's films, but Burt Lancaster, not a bad actor himself, has called this performance by Chaney "the most emotionally compelling" performance ever put on film. And Joan Crawford, who starred opposite Chaney in "The Unknown", has been quoted as saying that she learned more about acting from watching him work on this film than from any other experience in her career.

Really. Go see a silent film. You can find some of them in their entirety on YouTube, including both "The Unknown" and "The Passion of Joan of Arc".

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Music Sunday: The Film Score Edition

Now, this is movie music:

I watched "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) last night for the first time in years. I'd forgotten how much I like the score, which was composed by Elmer Bernstein. It was nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to the score for "Exodus", composed by Ernest Gold. However, Bernstein's score was listed at number 8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 25 best film scores from American films. The score from "Exodus" does not appear on the list, although it was nominated when the AFI list was being compiled.

I'm a big fan of movie music, although it has been said that the best film scores are invisible to the ear because they fit so well that you forget that the music is there. And that is true, to an extent. Still, movie themes, the music that plays over opening or closing credits, should be something that is memorable. So should main themes within the scores.

For example, here is what is known as the "Love Theme from The Godfather" (1972), composed by Nino Rota:

Again, great movie music. I'm not really happy with the sound quality of this clip, but I think it illustrates something: if the music is good enough, it will sound good no matter how bad the sound quality of a recording.

Nino Rota also composed the score for the Zeffirelli version of "Romeo and Juliet" (1968):

Another movie that has a wonderful score is "Gone With the Wind" (1939), composed by Max Steiner. You can argue about the suitability of the film and its themes all you want, I don't think it is possible to argue that the score is not top-notch:

Some of the music from these films is iconic. So is the music from "Star Wars" (1977), composed by John Williams. That might be surprising, coming from a science fiction (or, some might say, science fantasy) film, but I don't think so. I've heard some describe this score as "bombastic", but I like it.

Still, if you're talking science fiction film scores, I prefer this, from 1951's "The Day the Earth Stood Still," composed by Bernard Hermann:

I also like the music from "Planet of the Apes" (1968), composed by Jerry Goldsmith. This bit, called "The Hunt" is not the theme but is from the body of the film and is, I think, just brilliant. It fits the film perfectly:

So, something a little different for Music Sunday today. I like to think of it as me doing my little bit to promote the idea that music doesn't have to be rock or pop, or have lyrics, to be listenable.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

And what have you been watching on TV?

Okay. Here goes. I'm going to admit, here and now, that my "guilty pleasure" TV viewing this season has been "Arrow", which airs on Wednesday nights on the CW.

Now, I wasn't convinced at first that I was going to like the show at all. I mainly tuned in because of the presence of John Barrowman in the first-season cast. Those of you who read here on a regular basis know that I'm a Whovian, and since Barrowman has played Captain Jack Harkness in both "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood", I had to tune in to see what he was up to here. Turned out, his character is a villain, very different from his Captain Jack persona.

But, while I came for the Who connection (which has also included guest appearances by Alex Kingston, who plays River Song in Doctor Who), I've stayed for a storyline that is relatively interesting. Certainly, there have been some twists that I haven't expected.

Who knows if I'll stay interested in season two, but season one has been fun.

Also, speaking of fun television viewing, I missed out on "Fringe" when it had its original run on the Fox network, but I've just started discovering it now, via my roommate's Netflix account. Now, I've only watched the pilot and the first couple of episodes, but so far I'm intrigued.

There's mystery. There's conspiracy. There are evil corporations and government agents whose loyalties are not entirely clear. There's some good acting (that's the one drawback with "Arrow"; some of the acting is less than brilliant) and some very good writing. I'm reminded of the best episodes of "The X-Files" when I watch "Fringe", specifically as it seems to be developing an overarching mythology. I like the presence of a mythology in "The X-Files", and I'm liking it in "Fringe".

Now, if we could just convince the powers that be in television production to give us more interesting series and less "reality" television. I realize that supposedly unscripted shows are cheaper to produce than traditional series television. But I'm not interested in seeing reality, or what passes for it in the world of television. There's enough of that out here in the real world. But I love a good story, well told, and more of that on television would be most welcome.

So, what are you watching on TV these days? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And the controversy continues...

Since I wrote this on Friday, I've continued to think about the situation with Abercrombie and Fitch and it's CEO, Mike Jeffries. I know, I've been wasting time that could be spent on other, more productive, things. It's just that stuff like this bothers me.

I've been especially thinking about Jeffries's comment that A&F goes after "the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends."

You know who he means, don't you? He's going after the "richies" in "Pretty in Pink" (if you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it in awhile and don't quite remember who the richies were and what they stood for, go watch it again), the kids who feel entitled to pass through school and life on their good looks alone, who don't believe they actually have to study or work for their grades and their money because, "Dude who has time to study or work when we've, like, got all this partying to do."

Yeah. Starting to remember them, aren't you? Every high school has them, and every college, too. At least every one I've ever been exposed to.

At least, I'm not the only one who is still thinking about this. I ran across an L.A. Times column this morning that addresses this issue. Apparently some people are sending the clothes they bought for themselves or their teenagers back with the message that they won't be shopping at A&F again. Others are calling Jeffries comments about those who don't fit into his definition of beautiful (young, thin) "bullying".

Some people have also started a petition calling on A&F to start stocking larger sizes. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm not generally in favor of boycotts, but in this case I think what is needed is for more people to stay to Abercrombie & Fitch, and to Jeffries, something along the lines of "I don't care if you start stocking every size imaginable, I will never, ever spend a dime in your stores again."

You see, the thing is, even if they start making and stocking all sizes, they've already stuck their foot in it and revealed their true feelings about those of us who aren't now and never have been "the cool kids". They might start marketing to a wider demographic, but they'll still be making the comments. They'll still be coming off as the haters they so clearly are. If they start selling larger-sized clothing, they'll be doing it for the money and the positive publicity, not because they've suddenly become more sensitive, caring people.

They would be doing it for the bottom line. And they might have to do it for the bottom line. According to the L.A. Times reporting, A&F has been underperforming for years, with stock prices down 20 percent since 2006 and one investments expert is quoted as saying that "the brand is probably ruined." The bloom is, apparently, off the rose, despite some of the comments I reported Friday from people who have called Jeffries a "brilliant visionary." Others, it seems, are starting to say, "Well, not so much."

Okay. I'm not going to spend any more time thinking about Abercrombie and Fitch or about Mike Jeffries. He's like the richies I was talking about earlier. He wants people to think about him, wants them to want to emulate him. Like them, he doesn't deserve that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Music Sunday: The 1971 Edition

Last week, because I had been doing some research into the 1970s, I shared some of the music that came out the year I graduated high school. This week, since I'm still stuck in the Seventies in my research, I thought I'd skip back a few years from high school and share some of the music that came out in 1971, the year I graduated from junior high.

This is going to be tricky. I sat down and did a little research and started making a list of all the music that I really liked that came out in '71. Turns out, it's a long, long list. 1971 was a really good year for music, at least as far as I'm concerned. Oh, there were some clunkers and some schmaltz. If you're of that time, as I am, you'll remember "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" and "Knock Three Times", both by Tony Orlando and Dawn, for example, which were omnipresent on the radio. But the good (or at least what I liked) far outweighed the bad.

What this means is that I'm going to have a difficult time choosing what to share here today.

A few songs will be eliminated simply because I've shared them here before: "Stairway to Heaven", by Led Zeppelin and "Behind Blue Eyes", by The Who (which I'm really tempted to share again anyway, because it is brilliant, but I won't) are just two of those. But that still leaves me with a long list of good music that I'd really like to share.

I think I need to start with Janis Joplin's version of "Me and Bobby McGee", even though I'm fairly sure I've shared it here before, too. This song, which was written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, has been recorded by just about everyone in the music business over the years, but this is the definitive version, I think. It was recorded in 1970, shortly before Joplin died, but it wasn't released until 1971:

Another song from 1971 that I've always loved (and which I also might have shared before) is The Doors' "Riders on the Storm". Legend has it that it entered the Billboard Hot 100 on the day that Jim Morrison Died, July 3, 1971, and that it was the last song the four members of the band recorded together. I don't know how true any of that is. Either way, here it is:

In 1971, Elton John released the album "Madman Across the Water". It's a good album, but my favorite song among all the good songs it includes is "Tiny Dancer" which, incidentally, was part of "Almost Famous", a film I like a lot, too. Here is a live performance of "Tiny Dancer" from the year the song and the album were released:

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was a protest song that didn't sound like a protest song, musically speaking. It was reportedly inspired by police brutality witnessed by one of the song's writers, Reynaldo Benson, a member of The Four Tops, at an anti-war rally in Berkeley in 1969. Benson, Al Cleveland, and Gaye were credited with writing the song, which was named the fourth greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 and again in 2011. Here is a live performance of the song:

And here is another protest song, from what might be an unexpected source, Paul Revere and the Raiders. "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)", which was first recorded in 1959 by Marvin Rainwater as "The Pale Faced Indian" and was written by John D. Loudermilk, memorializes the "Trail of Tears", the forced relocation of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole peoples from Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama to Oklahoma after the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This song spent a week at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, 1971:

Here, as a matter of historical interest and to show where the Raiders' song came from, is the Marvin Rainwater version:

This version didn't get much notice, but a 1968 cover by Don Fardon, who is English, managed to reach number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is, as you can see, very much like the later version by the Raiders, although some of the lyrics are different from both the earlier and later versions:

And, yes, that is what is known as a tangent. It's interesting, however, to see the evolution of what is essentially the same song through the years.

To bring it back to 1971, which was where we started, here is Led Zeppelin in a live performance of "Rock and Roll", which was released as a single in 1972 but was released on their fourth album in 1971:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Controversy sells?

You might remember, if you read here very often, that about a month ago, I wrote a post about how I disapprove of exclusivity. Among other things, I wrote that people who strive to belong to the most exclusive clubs, eat at the most exclusive restaurants, go to the most exclusive schools only do that to to "assert that they're better than others, are entitled to special stuff that others don't deserve, and are just more deserving than all but a few others they want to be associated with."

Well, if you do remember that, you aren't going to be surprised to read this post.

It seems that Abercrombie and Fitch and its CEO, Mike Jeffries, are in the news again over the company's marketing strategies. The clothing chain that markets to the presumably young and beautiful is no stranger to controversy after having been accused of (and sued for) being racist, sexist and ableist in hiring policies, and called down for selling things like women's t-shirts that carried messages such as, "Who needs brains when you have these?", is coming under fire again for its exclusionary marketing.

While the chain carries men's clothing in sizes XL and XXL, they do not sell women's clothing over size 10. A profile of Jeffries in the online magazine Salon in 2006 quoted him as saying "...we want to market to good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that" and that "A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."

How an almost 70-year-old man (he was 61 when he was interviewed for the Salon article) can be so blithely insulting toward anyone, especially any woman, who does not fit his conception of beautiful (which amounts to very young and very thin) is beyond me, but apparently he's comfortable with that. He reportedly even only wants "beautiful" people in his stores.

Not that his is the only company that uses these sorts of exclusionary tactics. In a report on ABC News, it was said that a number of upscale retailers only carry low-size, high-priced merchandise in order control the clientele they attract.

The thing that bothers me the most, though, I think, is not the fact of the racism and sexism and exclusivity that Abercrombie and Fitch seems so proud of. What bothers me even more are statements like that made by Robin Lewis, author of "The New Rules of Retail" in the ABC News story, where he called Jeffries a "brilliant visionary". This is basically saying that no matter what the company does, or the attitudes that Jeffries espouses, as long as the company keeps growing, keeps making more money, whatever it does is perfectly all right.

Really? You can be racist and sexist and ableist, but if you're rich that's fine?

Mr. Jeffries can do what he wants as long as his stockholders (A&F is a publicly traded company) approve, I suppose. But from where I'm sitting, he really looks like a jerk. Of course, I'm sure he doesn't care about my opinion. I'm old and fat and female, so in his universe I don't count for anything.

This is me, not giving a flying fig what he thinks, either.

When life consists of miscellaneous stuff...

Again, it's been a busy few days. So, I haven't dropped off the earth, I've just been doing stuff out here in the real world. This includes writing, CVP volunteer stuff, looking for work, and...well, so much stuff I can't even quite remember some of it.

I also had an ailing computer for a few hours yesterday, so couldn't get online until that got troubleshot? troubleshooted? Fixed, at any rate.

Yes, I know troubleshooted is not a word. I just thought it was funny and had to include it.

But, mostly I haven't been writing because I'm going through one of those pissed at the universe phases that I encounter occasionally, and I haven't wanted to subject you all to that. It's been a free-floating pissed-offedness for the most part, but there have been some foci to it as well, including the fallout from news out of the recent National Rifle Association meeting...not going to get into that at all because, well, for reasons.

There was also the news out of Cleveland. What the hell was that guy thinking, kidnapping and holding hostage three women, two of them teenagers at the beginning and one of them a friend of his daughter's. I'm not into the "let's all hate men" thing, but there are men in this world who just don't seem to have a freaking clue that they don't have special rights just because they have a...well, you know. I won't comment further on that, either.

On a related note, I read an item in the past week or so about a middle school that banned girls from wearing strapless gowns to graduation, or to the graduation dance, or something. Well, I can see that in principle, as I'm not sure that thirteen-year-old young women really need to be wearing strapless dresses, but that's just me. I'm old. But the reason the school district gave for the ban was something along the lines of "because it would be distracting to the boys." Excuse me, what? Are we still teaching young men that if they can't control their hormones, it's the girl's fault, and that it is the girls' responsibility to cover up so that the boys won't be distracted, or do something about that distraction. Really?

There's more. But I'm on a library computer at the moment and my allotted time to use it is about to run out. So, just let me say that the continuing dearth of jobs is also continuing to frustrate me as well. One thing I can't really complain about this time is my Facebook feed. People have mostly been behaving themselves this week. There have been a couple of exceptions, but those were easily hidden.

Additionally, I can't complain about my writing, which is going fairly well considering the mood I've been in. In fact, I've been finding this week that the only time I'm really happy and content is when I'm writing something.

So, maybe I should have made myself sit down and write posts every day. Maybe I would have been happier.

Oh, one thing I want to mention before I go for the day, considering that I write about movies here from time to time: I finally got to see "Argo" last weekend. Fabulous movie. I can see why it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And I do want to jump on the bandwagon of folks who thing that Ben Affleck got robbed by not being nominated as Best Director for his work on the film. The performances were wonderful, with special props to Affleck for starring as well as directing. It was especially interesting to watch the movie with a friend of mine who lived in Tehran for a time, up until just a couple of years before the events depicted in the film. She had a few quibbles with details, but it's Hollywood; they never get anything completely correct. But, even knowing the city and the culture and recognizing the fact that there were some inaccuracies, my friend still liked the film a lot.

If you haven't seen "Argo", please do. I'm pretty sure you won't be sorry you did.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Movie Monday: Sometimes they aren't so good...

Last night I watched a movie that wasn't very good, that didn't do well at the box office in its initial release, and that the critics hated when it came out.

But, it is a curiosity, for at least a couple of reasons, and I was curious about it. So, when I discovered that it was available on OnDemand, I had to watch it. I'm not sure I'm glad I did.

The film was "The Iron Petticoat", from 1956, directed by Ralph Thomas, written by Ben Hecht (who had his name taken off the film, or at least attempted to; he's back in the credits for showings on Turner Classic Movies), and starring Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope. Which was why I was so curious about it. I don't think I can imagine a more unlikely film pairing.

I only found out that the Hepburn and Hope had ever done a film together about a week ago, during a discussion about films with an SCA friend of mine. So, when I discovered it listed for viewing, I decided I had best watch it before it disappeared again.

As it turns out, it disappearing was not such a far-fetched idea. It got lousy reviews, did dismal box-office, and then was unavailable, at least in the United States, for over 50 years until a showing in 2012 on Turner Classic Movies (it was on their OnDemand list when I found it last night).

The film is meant to be a Cold War comedy, with Hepburn playing a Russian military pilot who flies her MiG to West Germany not because she is looking to defect but simply because she's had a bad day. An American Officer (Hope) is assigned to persuade her to defect. He takes her to London with him to accomplish this, but he is also going to the UK to see his very rich fiancee (played by Noelle Middleton; yeah, I've never heard of her before either). Predictably, complications ensue, including Soviet agents who are determined to capture Hepburn and take her back to Moscow to put her on trial for treason.

One of the problems with the film is that Hepburn's Russian accent is nearly unintelligible for the first half hour or so of the film, and merely bad after that. Forgive me. The woman was a great actress, but accents, or at least a Russian accent, was not one of her talents. The other huge problem of the film was the presence of Bob Hope. I'm not a huge fan, especially after what he did to the land on which a major movie ranch stood for years and years (namely, bought it as an investment, subdivided part of it for tract homes and left the rest to rot...but that's another post for another time). The thing is, what apparently started out as a good script got turned into a "typical Hope comedy", to quote a trivia item on IMDB's page for the movie.

Which is why Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, wanted his name off the movie. Hecht was also a journalist and playwright, and had a hand in not only writing for the screen but in fixing, without credit, the screenplays for some pretty famous films, including "Gone With the Wind". One of the films he worked on without credit, by the way, was "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), which starred Tony Randall and Barbara Eden, and which you really should see because it is a great George Pal-produced and directed fantasy. Anyway, Hecht was not happy with what had been done to his screenplay and because Hepburn's role was reduced by half in the editing room. She reportedly wasn't happy about that either, and has been quoted as calling Hope "the biggest egomaniac" she had ever worked with.

So, I can't really recommend the film. On the other hand, it is a curiosity, and there were a few good lines. Still, by best recommendation would be to go see a good Katharine Hepburn movie. There are plenty to choose from.

Here, by the way, is the trailer for the film. I'm not sure why it is in black and white. The film was in color.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Music Sunday: The 1974 Edition

I've been researching in the 1970s the past few days, and so I thought it might be time for some '70s music. '70s music kind of has a bad reputation in some circles because it was the decade of disco. It almost seems like that should be capitalized. Decade of Disco. With some echoes in there, or something, maybe a little reverb. And I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of disco.

On the other hand, a lot of non-disco music also came out in the '70s. The music of that decade was at least a diverse as that of any other decade. And a lot of music came from the decade. So, I decided to focus on 1974, the year I graduated from high school.

Yes. I know. I'm old. Still...

The first song I want to share was out early in the year, but the album (remember those) it was on, "Grievous Angel", by Gram Parsons, came out several months after Parsons's death. Pity. This song, "Las Vegas" (sometimes billed as "Ooooo, Las Vegas"), was co-written by Parsons and British musician Ric Grech, who played bass with Blind Faith, among other acts. It's a really good song, at least in my opinion. I wish Gram Parsons had stayed around long enough to make more music. I didn't know this song when it came out, but I've loved it ever since the first time I heard it:

Also out in January of 1970 was Gordon Lightfoot's album "Sundown". The album and the title song both reached number one on the charts in the United States, as did the second single from the album, "Carefree Highway". Both songs are good, each different from one another in theme.

Here is a live performance of "Sundown" from 1974:

And here is "Carefree Highway". Completely different vibe:

The Eagles had an album out in 1974, "On the Border", which included such hits as "Already Gone" and "Best of My Love". But there's another song on the album that I like at lot. This live performance of "James Dean" comes from the band's performance at California Jam on April 6, 1974:

"Already Gone", the first release from the album, went to number 32 on the US charts and "Best of My Love" was the band's first number one single. "James Dean", on the other hand, which was the second single released from "On the Border", only made it to number 77.

So far, the songs I've shared today come from similar roots. Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" is farther down the road into a different part of the 70s music scene. From the album "Caribou", this is one of my favorite Elton John songs, not least because of the absolutely amazing live performance I saw of it at Dodger Stadium on October 26, 1975. When the song began, it was still light. But the song was long enough that night that by the time it ended the sun had gone down and it was completely dark. Then, just as the last chord faded out, the stadium lights all came on. It was beautiful. This clip is not from that show, but from a show at Wembley stadium in London in 1984. I tried to find a clip from the show I went to, but if it exists, I couldn't find it.

And now for a little novelty...Ringo Starr had an album come out in 1974, "Goodnight, Vienna". One of the songs from that album was "Only You (And You Alone)", a cover of a song from the 1950s. As a promotional clip, Starr sang the song on top of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, alongside a mock-up of a flying saucer and huge figures looking like Klaatu and the robot Gort from "The Day The Earth Stood Still". This came from the fact that the album cover recreated an iconic scene from that film. Finding this clip, which I didn't realize existed, tickles me because I can remember driving by on the freeway during that period and seeing the saucer and huge figures on the roof of the building, which had been put up as promotion for the album. Growing up in Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s made for some trippy and unique experiences:

John Lennon also had a new album out in 1974, "Walls and Bridges". The song "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" was included, here in a live performance with Elton John:

For some reason, today's post has taken me most of the afternoon to put together. so I'll leave it at this for now. I might have more to share from the 1970s later on.