Saturday, September 30, 2006


And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care.

And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on...and on...
-- U2, "October"

These are the reviews I'm working on for this month.

Amazon: The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (their major label
debut, inspired by this Japanese folk tale), Nellie McKay - Pretty Little Head, Ben Folds - Supersunnyspeedgraphic, Hinder - Ex-
treme Behavior
, Aimee Mann - One More Drifter in the Snow
(her first Christmas album), Totally Awesome (the title is sadly inaccurate), 9/11: Press for Truth, Riptide - The Complete First Season [three-disc set] ('80s cheese with Perry King and Joe Penny--yeehaw!), Taking You Higher (Cedric the Entertainer in variety show context), Windy City Heat (Eminem and Johnny Knoxville dig this Bobcat Goldthwait mockumentary), Lewis Black - Red, White & Screwed, The House of Sand (click here for alternate take), U2 - Zoo TV Live From Sydney The Best of the Electric Company - Volume 2 [four-disc set], and The Oh in Ohio.

Resonance: Amy Arbus - On the Street (collection of her style snaps for the Voice, circa 1980-1991) and Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55 (music by Air and lyrics by Jarvis Cocker) and a "Threads" timeline of Ari Up (the Slits, the New Age Steppers, etc.).

Siffblog: Free Zone (Amos Gitai; with Natalie Portman and
Hiam Abbas), The Fall (Peter Whitehead; with Paul Auster, Ar-
thur Miller, etc.), Tales of the Rat Fink (documentary about Ed
"Big Daddy" Roth), and Claude Chabrol's The Bridesmaid.

Endnote: 1980 image of U2 from their official webite.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dirty Pretty Thing

Lily Allen, Alright, Still, Regal/Parlophone (EMI)

Riding through the city on my bike all day
Cause the filth took away my license
It doesn't get me down and I feel ok
Cause the sights that I'm seeing are priceless

Everything seems to look as it should
But I wonder what goes on behind doors
A fella looking dapper, but he's sittin with a slapper
Then I see it's a pimp and his crack whore.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

There are records I just can't stop playing. St. Elsewhere was like that. It got so ridiculous after awhile that I had to put the CD away before I made myself sick of it. It's like eating something you love over and over again. Next thing you know, you never wanna see that dish again. A pleasure...destroyed. So, to make sure I never tire of Alright, Still, I'm gonna have to remove the disc from my sight at some point. For now, I can't get enough. If I wanted to get reductionist about it--and why the heck not--Ms. Allen's debut is like the perfect combination between Madness and Lady Sovereign. In other words, it couldn't be more British.

The 21-year-old has the attitude and lyrical sensibility of the Streets and the Arctic Monkeys and the dance-pop smarts of Annie. Now Annie is Norwegian--not British--but Allen has the same kind of sweet, but not childish voice. That said, Annie would never sing lyrics as explicit as those on Alright, Still. The voice may be pretty, the tunes bouncy, but Allen doesn't mince words. Not that Annie's doing any mincing either, but she's certainly coming from a more peaceful place. If Allen's music didn't sound so deceptively upbeat, it'd all be a bit of a bummer.

And it's that very dichotomy that keeps me coming back. Is it a gimmick? I dunno. The next record will help me decide. The fact that Allen has such a crafty sense of humor about all this doom and gloom--she's a comedian's daughter, after all--certainly bodes well for her future. Same goes for St. Elsewhere, one of the year's other more notable debuts. The lyrics are a lot darker than you might think. Ubiquitous hit "Crazy," for instance, isn't about being crazy in love, it's about being crazy. The words are like a "Howl" for the hip-hop era. Danger and Cee-Lo may have found a melodic way to tackle the subject, but tackle it they have.

On Alright, Still, Allen is, essentially, singing about Tony Blair's second term (except for that Iraq part). Britain was feeling optimistic when he took office. It was a new day in the UK and all that. Now, it's all gone to hell in a handbasket. Things are no better than when Thatcher or Thatcher Lite (John Major) were in office. Everything was supposed to change when Labor found its way to 10 Downing Street. If only he'd quit while he was ahead. I digress...but records like Alright, Still and Everything People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and movies like Dirty Pretty Things and Bullet Boy speak to a firm sense of disillusionment.

I enjoy a little escapism from time to time, but I've got the need for some social consciousness, too (hello, Robert Nesta Marley!). The thing I like best about Alright, Still is that it manages to satisfy both desires at once. Does Allen really know what life is like amongst London's lower classes? All evidence points to the contrary. Maybe she made it all up--the crack whores, the victimized old ladies, etc.--but she's convinced me she witnessed these things. That they really happened. And she's wrapped her dark tales of woe in some of the year's most irresistible grooves. Sampled artists include Jackie Mittoo, Sir Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Earl King, and the Isley Brothers. Whether you need this record or not is for you to decide. In a more general sense, however, it's necessary, it's timely--and damn if it isn't fun.

There was a little old lady, who was walkin down the road
She was struggling with bags from Tesco
There were people from the city havin lunch in the park
I believe it's called al fresco
When a kid came along to offer a hand

But before she had time to accept it
Hits her over over the head, doesn't care if she's dead
Cause he's got all her jewelry and wallet.

When you look with your eyes
Everything seems nice
But if you look twice
You can see it's all lies.

Endnote: All lyrics from "LDN." For more information, please visit Allen at MySpace or her official website. According to the bio, Allen's favorite artists include the Specials, Rip Rig & Panic, T-Rex, the Slits, Blondie, Wreckless Eric, Kate Bush, Prince, and Eminem. With the exception of the Arctic Monkeys' Mercury Prize-winning debut, each of the records I mentioned features one track I can't get into as much as the others. On Anniemal, it's "Heartbeat," on St. Elsewhere, it's "The Boogie Monster," and on Alright, Still, it's "Friend of Mine." Images from SquirrelFood.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood: Part Five

Part Five: Not So Magically Delicious

This site's tagline is "Where the shillelagh meets the hood." It comes from something my friend Jeff said when I mentioned, a few years ago, that Ireland's Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, et al) would be directing Get Rich or Die Tryin', the story of New York rapper 50 Cent. Well, I'm always interested when the Irish put their spin on black culture and vice versa (although I can't say I've come across many examples of the latter). I've explored this topic in previous posts, but examples of the former include the Irish blues of Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher and the Irish-accented hip-hop of House of Pain.

There are bad examples, too. I'm thinking of projects that poke fun at both cultures, like the ludicrous Leprechaun series, specifically Leprechaun 5: In the Hood (with Ice-T and Coolio).

Thanks to the Gloved One, I have a new bad example to add to my list. (Believe me, I will never, ever refer to him as "The King of Pop." First of all, I think it's disrespectful to the true King, and secondly, Off the Wall is the only album of his--not counting the Jackson Five--I can fully embrace...and that was released 27 years ago). So, I post the following without further comment as the concept says it all.

Michael Jackson's latest business plan reportedly revolves around building a leprechaun theme park on the Emerald Isle. "He loves the whole idea of leprechauns and the magic and myths of Ireland," a source tells the Irish Daily Mirror. "He's always wanted to open his own theme park and he thinks Ireland is the perfect place and it will all be built around the leprechaun theme." (The Scoop)

This album cover is how I would like to remember Jackson. I received the Quincy Jones-produced Off the Wall as a birthday present in 1979. (And if "Rock With You" didn't set the template for Justin Timberlake's entire career, I don't know what did.) The LP was a gatefold. Open it up, and you were greeted by a full-length photo of Jackson wearing glowing white spats. What a great gift.

Note: Images from Riverside Life and Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Men in Scarves

Last Sunday, The New York Times published "Lover Boys," a profile by Lynn Hirschberg of three up-and-coming French actors. Actually, they've already arrived. The author's point is that they have what it takes to become international stars, and not just national treasures. (To her credit, Hirschberg didn't use the word "treasure," but she/her editor did title the piece Lover Boys...) The trio consists of Mathieu Amalric (Kings and Queen), Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement), and Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped), the gent in the scarf. Here's the key paragraph on Duris, whose career I've been following since When the Cat's Away.

I attended a screening of "Dans Paris" at Cannes. It starred Romain Duris as a chronically depressed man who has complex relationships with his brother and his girlfriend. Duris’s performance was electrifying—surprising, moving, riveting.
It was completely different from his work in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," released in America last year. In that film, a retelling of the James Toback movie "Fingers," Duris portrayed a small-time gangster who is also an aspiring concert pianist. The jumps in the film from the world of classical music to the character’s hectic life on the streets could seem contrived, but Duris makes every event both believable and fascinating. “That was a great performance,” Daniel Day-Lewis told me last year.
It was an apt compliment: Duris’s work in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" was reminiscent of Day-Lewis’s breakthrough role in "My Beautiful Laundrette."

To have Daniel Day-Lewis praise your work--it doesn't get much better than that. To read more, please click here. (Bear in mind that most Times articles require registration and cease to be free after 14 days.) As for other Duris titles, I would recommend Cedric Klapische's Russian Dolls, the sequel to L'Auberge Espanol. Although I missed the first film, I enjoyed the second quite a bit (Klapische was also behind When the Cat's Away).

Based on the films I've seen, I do think Duris has what it take to succeed outside of Europe. I feel the same way about Denmark's Mads Mikkelson [below right], who appears this fall in Casino Royale--as sadistic Bond nemesis Le Chiffre--and has already worked in other international/non-Danish productions, like Spanish sex farce Torremolinos 73 (as a Scandinavian porn star, natch) and Jerry Buckheimer's revisionist King Arthur (with Keira Knightley's Guinevere as a scantily-clad warrior...yipes!).

In fact, I think the magnetic Mikkelsen has as good a shot at international success as Amalric and Ulliel--if not more so. For further evidence, try Wilber Wants to Kill Himself, Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands, or Adam's Apples. This isn't to take anything away from Amalric, a fantastic actor--and eerie Roman Polanski doppelgänger--but I do wonder if he isn't a little too offbeat for movie stardom, which is what Hirschberg was talking about. For those not yet familiar, give any of these titles a try: My Sex Life (or How I Got Into an Argument), Late August, Early September, and Munich.

As for Ulliel, he's too green to be placed in the same category as these older, more experienced actors. On the basis of André Téchiné's Strayed alone, I agree he's got talent, but it seems premature to anoint him a possible future great. (That said, he does bear a slight resemblance to the young Belmondo, and that can't hurt.) In the case of Duris, The Beat That My Heart Skipped made me a believer. Instantly. And irrevocably. Assuming stardom is what he wants, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Note: Images from The New York Times (Jean-Baptiste Mondino credited) and PhotoBucket Video and Image Hosting.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's a Family Affair

The Slits, Revenge of the Killer Slits EP, S.A.F.

Reforming a legendary band 25 years after the fact is rarely a wise idea. So, I'm pleased to report that this three-song release is actually pretty good. Considering the terrible things I've heard about Ari Up's recent live "performances" (and I use that term loosely), the music is better than I had any right to expect.

First of all, vocalist Up [second from left] and bass player Tessa Pollit [third from left]--Palmolive and Viv Albertine are missing from the current line-up--may have gotten older, but they haven't grown up. Thank God. The spirited tunes sound like a mash-up between the original Slits, the Sex Pistols, and Bikini Kill, one of the many riot grrrl outfits who took inspiration from the quartet.

Just as the Slits had ties to the Pistols (and the Clash) back in the day, those ties continue as the disc features Paul Cook on programming, along with his daughter, Holly, and Steve Jones's daughter, Lauren, on backing vocals. Further, the dedication reads: This is for Sean, Nils, Joe, Sid...RIP.

Here's a quick run-down of the songs: "Slits Tradition" is a haunting hip-hop number that sounds a little like punked-up MIA, "Number One Enemy" revisits the band's raw late-1970s sound, and the enchanting "Kill Them With Love" returns to territory Up explored with the On-U Sound posse back in the 1980s, specifically the New Age Steppers (see the epic "Fade Away"). It combines her distinctively warbly approach to rapping with dubbed-out, double-time rhythms.

Whether this new version of the Slits, which includes Marco Perroni (Adam and the Ants) on drums, could produce an entire album of this quality, I can't say. And it's a moot point as the press release states, "This is a one off recording from a Slits line-up that will never be repeated again." All I know is that these three numbers--short and sweet as they are--do the Slits legacy proud.

Note: Images from Women of 1970s Punk. Click here for my review of Cut and here for Slits tour dates. This is my 100th post.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Greek to Me

Patricia Barber, Mythologies, Blue Note

"Ample hours to dream, still I lack / Repose, and wander through the night."
-- Patricia Barber, "Morpheus"

When it comes to concept albums, my first question has always been: Is the music any good? Second: Does the concept work? Chicago-based jazz musician/composer Patricia Barber, who produced her ninth recording with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation, tickles the ivories with finesse, but her soft-spoken vocals just don't do it for me.

I usually like smoky alto talk-singers, but there's something a little forced about Barber's style. She tries to swing, but enunciates too carefully for her words to ever really take flight. I was reminded of Broadway sensation Audra MacDonald, who may not swing, but sure does soar. I sense Barber's going for a sort of Nina Simone-by-way-of-Joni Mitchell thing, but those are hard acts for anyone to follow ("Icarus" was even inspired by and dedicated to Simone).

The concept, meanwhile, is a translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid into contemporary argot (Barber describes the author as "a Roman poet...putting a spin on Greek mythology"). With the exception of "The Moon," the rapping at the end of "Phaeton," and "Whiteworld," which references khakis and Hummers, she pulls it off, but I'd rather watch 1959's Black Orpheus again--or listen to Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova soundtrack.

Endnote: Image from the official Patrica Barber website. She plays Seattle's Triple Door on 10/10/06. My mom had the Black Orpheus soundtrack back in the day, but I didn't get to see Marcel Camus's feverish French-Brazilian film until this year's SIFF. Marcel is, by the way, related to the late, great Albert Camus.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Not Turning Off

Spoon - Telephono and Soft Effects (Matador/Merge)

"My favorite songs are minimal—We Will Rock You, Back in Black, Kiss by Prince. Those songs take on the world, but they do it with just a few instruments. I can't explain why, but that's really all you need."
-- Britt Daniel to TIME magazine (2003)

I've always thought of Austin's Spoon as the post-punk version of classic rock. By that, I don't mean Led Zeppelin, but the more melodic sounds of the Who, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones--yep, Britons every one. And yet I'm thinking of their most American-sounding stuff, i.e. Exile on Main Street as opposed to their early-1960s sides. That said, the Texans took their name from a song by German combo Can and were often compared to Wire, another band of Brits, in their formative days.

Released a decade ago, Telephono is Spoon's full-length debut. According to the liner notes, it was recorded by John Croslin (Zeitgeist/the Reivers) to eight-track in 1995. At the time, the group was a trio consisting of singer/guitarist Britt Daniel (a dead ringer for Buddy Holly-era Gary Busey), drummer Jim Eno, and bass player Andy Maguire. Also recorded to eight-track, Matador issued the more sophisticated Soft Effects EP the following year.

Merge has now remastered and made both available again as a two-CD set (though they've restored all original artwork, I would've preferred one disc). My Spoon collection, non-LP tracks aside, is now complete. Although I don't hear much Wire (except in the minimalist "Mountain to Sound," a precursor to the classic "Fitted Shirt"), I do hear a band that had locked in on their signature sound right from the start.

As far as those classic rock references are concerned, another one that comes to mind is Rod Stewart--or even John Lennon--in terms of Daniel's effortlessly versatile vocals. And no, I don't mean the present-day standard singer, but Rod the Mod, circa the Faces, as well as those rockin' solo recordings, Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story. Like Stewart, Daniel can handle the soft stuff as well as the hard. And that's just as true of his guitar-playing as his singing. (Did I mention that I love '70s-era Stewart?)

So, that's what I hear on this set: Rock as punk. The tempos are fast and the numbers are short (many around the two-minute mark), but they're definitely fully-formed songs--verse, chorus, bridge, et al. Daniel, the sole songwriter, already had a sense of structure and songcraft. This is the kind of stuff you can sing along with, dance along to--whatever it is you do when some catchy, fast-moving rock and roll comes on the stereo. You can even swear along with the "motherfuckers" in "All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed" or the "fucks" in the Thin Lizzy-esque "Nefarious" (according to Matador, the latter was their first single).

On subsequent recordings, especially Girls Can Tell (2001) and Kill the Moonlight (2002), Spoon have reminded me of Elvis Costello and the Jam, which is to say, they may not be pop purveyors, but they've long understood what a hook is all about. Try "Idiot Driver," "Towner," or the feedback-drenched Pixies-style rocker "Don't Buy the Realistic" to start ("Dismember," on the other hand, sounds too much like the Pixies for my taste).

For those who haven't yet made Spoon's acquaintance, Telephono probably isn't the best place to start, but if you tuned in late and weren't sure if their 1990s records were any good, my answer is: Yes! Plus, the two-CD package comes with the video for "Not Turning Off" and sells for the price of a single disc. See also A Series of Sneaks (1998), the adventurous album that got them dropped from Elektra, and which was also reissued by Merge in 2002.

Endnote: Images from Merge and Matador. I tried to afix some older photos to this post (from back when they were a trio), but with no luck, hence the Gimme Fiction-era picture at the top.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Julie, Malcolm, Tom, Dirk, and Albert

If there's anything that has me feeling guilty about my all-time top 30, it's the lack of British entries. I'm as much of an Anglophile as an Anglophile can get. I'm British on both sides (my maternal grandmother was even born in Liverpool, home of a certain Fab Four named--Clinic!), I've visited the Island four times (including a post-graduate semester back in the Thatcher era), and I've been subscribing to the spectacular Sight & Sound for an eternity and a day (to quote Theo Angelopoulos...who is decidedly not British).

The point is: I live for British culture, specifically British film. Heck, even the food isn't as bad as they say--or it's gotten better over the years (thank the affordable organic cuisine of Prêt à Manger, which saved my stomach the last couple of times I visited). But I'm also crazy for American, French, and Japanese film and that had a profound effect on the list in question.

In order to make up for the British titles I was unable to include, I've compiled an all-UK list (below). Note that for the purposes of this exercise, which I bashed out as quickly as possible (since I can always make changes later), I'm counting films the American-born Stanley Kubrick made in Britain (like Joseph Losey, Richard Lester, and Terry Gilliam, he relocated to England--and never looked back). I'm also counting any Irish films made in England, English films made in Ireland, and all Scottish efforts. I'm also counting Petulia, even though it's set in the US, since Lester had been ensconced in the UK for some time before he made it.

That said, I'm not counting Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, Roman Polanski's Repulsion, or Joseph Losey's Eva. Should I? (I prefer Herbie Hancock's pop-jazz score to Antonioni's film anyway.) The former character is Italian, the second Polish, but their films are key snapshots of Swinging Sixties London, while Eva is set in Venice and stars France's Jeanne Moreau. Then again, I decided to include Nicholas Roeg's Venice-set Don't Look Now. Well, you've got to draw the line somewhere or everything's fair game, so the buck--er, pound--stops there. Then again, can you ever really get enough of Julie Christie? I mean, excising the marvelous McCabe and Mrs. Miller from my all-time top 30 still hurts...

Also, I decided to throw in a few made-for-TV productions, since Dennis Potter and Alan Clarke did their best work for TV (and that's where Mike Leigh and Ken Loach got their start).

UK Top 30

1. Brief Encounter (David Lean)
2. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
3. Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
4. Ratcatcher (Lynn Ramsay)
5. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
6. O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson)
7. The Servant (Joseph Losey)
8. Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
9. Elephant (Alan Clarke)
10. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer)

11. Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh)
12. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
13. Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg)
14. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson)
15. The General (John Boorman)
16. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz)
17. Billy Liar (John Schlesinger)
18. If... (Lindsay Anderson)
19. The Go-Between (Joseph Losey)
20. Last Orders (Fred Schepisi) [Yeah, he's Australian...]

21. My Name is Joe (Ken Loach)
22. Room at the Top (Jack Clayton)
23. Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan)
24. Darling (John Schlesinger)
25. I, Claudius (Herbert Wise)
26. Brideshead Revisited (Charles Sturridge)
27. My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears)
28. The Singing Detective (Dennis Potter)
29. House of Mirth (Terence Davies)
30. Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger)

Runners-up: Bedazzled (uber-Brit comedy from un-Brit Stanley Donen), Expresso Bongo (Val Guest), Alfie (Lewis Gilbert), A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes; see also Kiyoshi Kurasawa's Japanese take on the tale), The Fallen Idol and Odd Man Out (Carol Reed), This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson), Brazil (Terry Gilliam), Day of the Jackal (British/French co-production from America's Fred Zinneman), Dirty Pretty Things (Frears), Intimacy (terrific Hanif Kureishi adaptation from France's Patrice Chereau), Naked (Mike Leigh), and the collected works of Roger Michell, Michael Winterbottom, and Alec Guinness (specifically his Ealing Studios comedies).

Endnote: There are still a lot of British films I haven't seen, like Tony Richardson's A Taste of Honey, which sounds like something I'd enjoy (and inspired recent Latin-flavored indie Quinceañera), Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears (hey, that rhymes), Joseph Losey's The Boy With the Green Hair (for the title alone), and Alan Clarke's full-length tele-films (although I just picked up The Firm), so I reserve the right to revise. Images from the IMDb, Julie Christie Picture Galleries, and Viddy Well's ACO Page.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thirty is the Magic Number

Yes, I realize that Mrs. Fellini (Giuliet-
ta Masina) has Spock eyebrows in
57's Nights of Cabiria. That was her
style at the time. (See
La Strada.) I
swear it adds to her impish charm.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Three weeks ago, I met the founder/editor of the fine German film
journal or "filmzeitschrift" STEADYCAM. He happened to mention
that he was looking for top 30s, so I put one together (see below).
I haven't sent it to him yet, though. It's a work in progress. Ev-
ery few days, I take a look at it and make a change or two.

At first, I thought: How easy. Yeah, right. Well, it wasn't really
that hard to put together, but I had to leave out some major films
and filmmakers, like Akira Kurosawa (I prefer Kiyoshi). Granted,
my objective wasn't to list the 30 greatest movies of all time, but
rather the ones that have impacted me the most, along with a
few that have influenced my favorite modern-day directors.

For an inveterate list-maker like myself, the compiling part was
fun. Not so fun was the leaving-stuff-out part. Guilt quickly set in.
And hasn't left. But why should I feel guilty? It's my list after all,
and a lot of the filmmakers left out are no longer with us, so it's
not as if they're gonna know (or care). I still feel like I'm slight-
ing their work by omission. I also feel a little sheepish for ele-
vating Touch of Evil above Citizen Kane. Does that make
me a bad person? An unreliable critic? I'm not suggest-
ing one film is better or more important than the
other--only that I like one more. That is all.

All-Time Top 30
1. Nights of Cabiria / Le Notti di Cabiria (Federico Fellini)
2. The Third Man (Carol Reed)
3. M / Eine Stadt Sucht Einen Mörder (Fritz Lang)
4. Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder)
5. They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray)
6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
7. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
8. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)
9. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
10. Contempt / Le Mépris (Jean-Luc Godard)

11. Chinatown (Roman Polanski)
12. The Seventh Seal / Det Sjunde Inseglet (Ingmar Bergman)
13. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
14. Rocco and His Brothers / Rocco ei Suoi Fratelli (Luchino Visconti)
15. Point Blank (John Boorman)
16. Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville)
17. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
18. Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
19. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
20. Ratcatcher (Lynn Ramsay)

21. Brief Encoun-
(David Lean)
22. Night of the Hun-
ter (Charles Laughton)
23. Vertigo (Al-
fred Hitchcock)
24. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett)

Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk)
26. The Mother and the Whore / La
Mamain et la Putain
(Jean Eustache)
27. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
28. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks)
29. Branded to Kill / Koroshi no Rakuin (Seijun Suzuki)
30. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

With apologies to: Frank Capra, John Huston, Henri-Georg-
es Clouzot, Elia Kazan, Yasujiro Ozu, Luis Buñuel, Sergio Leone,
Sam Peckinpah, Robert Aldrich, François Truffaut, Michelange-
lo Antonioni, Eric Rohmer, Kinji Fukasaku, Rainer Werner Fass-
binder, Sidney Lumet, Richard Lester, Lindsay Anderson, John
Schlesinger, Joseph Losey, Shohei Imamura, Bernardo Bertoluc-
, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Peter Weir, David Lynch, Ter-
ry Gilliam
, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Neil Jordan, Aki Kaur-
ismäki, David Cronenberg, Paul Schrader, Gus Van Sant, Mich-
ael Mann
, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Jim Jarmusch, Olivier Assayas,
Wong Kar-wai, the Dardenne Brothers, and Jonathan Glazer.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Endnote: Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, La-
na Turner, Janet Leigh, and Alain Delon all show up twice
(Lang cameos in Contempt). And Brief Encounter doesn't
really star cats--but it would be kinda cool if it did. Im-
ages from Salon, Box Office Online, and Chris Beetles.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Covering Bumbershoot

Just a few thoughts while this thing is fresh in my mind. First of all, bumbershoot means umbrella. This is, after all, Seattle...even if Labor Day is as hot and dry around these parts as the rest of the country. Amazingly, even a lot of Northwesterners don't know this. Plenty of those who do still insist on referring to the local arts festival as "bumpershoot" (as in bumper car). Imagine how confusing it must be for newbies and out of-towners!

For those who are unfamiliar, Bumbershoot probably sounds like a silly name for a festival, regardless as to what it means. They may have a point. Then again, I've got three words for such folks: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza. Now, who ya callin' silly...?

So here are some facts, figures, and observations. 2006 marked the 36th incarnation of the festival. I moved here in 1988, so that means I've been attending Bumbershoot, on and off, for 18 years. This year, I caught 12 acts/presentations: Blondie, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Flatstock [poster art show], Lady Sovereign, Charles Burns [above left] and Chuck Palahniuk, the New Pornographers, Spoon, Kanye West, Dengue Fever [below right], Thee Emergency, Breakestra, and Bettye Lavette.

If I had more time and energy, I'd have caught the Gossip, Laura Veirs (who I interviewed last month), Mary Lynn Rajskub (the lines were too long--and she was booked all three days), Mates of State (I reviewed their last CD, which is quite good), Vashti Bunyan, Mary Gaitskill, Nouvelle Vague, and Feist (but only because André 3000 think she's the shit). Granted, I listened to the Thermals and Rocky Votolato on KEXP, so it was almost like being there (the former are also featured in Burn to Shine: Portland).

Most of the acts I saw were pretty good. If I wanted to nitpick, I'd say the Blondie set was too "stadium-ready"--guitar solos, drum solos, and the like--but what the hell: They were playing a stadium. Also, Debbie Harry's all-chartreuse outfit was rather gauche. Then again, it made her easy to see on that big stage, yards away from those of us in the stands. (Also, the band was as tight as ever and those solos were pretty short.) Further, neon was big in the 1980s, especially in the fashions of Stephen Sprouse, so maybe it was a tribute of sorts on Harry's part. Naturally, the boys in the band were dressed in ever-fashionable black.

Some of these artists tried out fresh material. I love them dearly, but found the new Spoon songs kind of dull. Then again, maybe a few weren't really new; maybe I just didn't recognize 'em. I now have all their albums, but my favorite is Kill the Moonlight--for my money, it's one of the best damn records. Ever. I like their follow-up, Gimme Fiction, well enough, but it isn't quite the same. In any case, they're a fine live act, although they didn't do any covers. When I last caught 'em in concert, they did a Stooges number, although I can't remember which one. (Whatever it was, it was good, but not as good as the Black Keys' barn-burning "Loose" from a couple of Bumbershoots ago.) Spoon [above left] are also known to cover Wire and the Kinks. I was hoping they'd indulge in a little of that action this time around, but no dice.

Then there's Lady Sovereign [below right]. Other than a few EPs and singles, she hasn't dropped her debut yet. From what I understand, it's been finished for awhile. I thought it was supposed to come out in February, but I guess Def Jam's going for a big fourth quarter push instead. So, most of the material she performed was new, and it was all good, which bodes well for Public Warning, whenever the heck it hits the streets.

Again, if I was gonna nitpick, I'd say Sov was on the immature side. No matter. It wasn't just what I was expecting--it's what I wanted. Lyrically, sartorially, etc., she's what the Brits would call a "lad." (Her oversized yellow t-shirt boasted "Last of a Dying Breed" in Wham!-meets-Frankie Goes to Hollywood-size block letters.) Except, of course, she isn't. A lad, that is. The petite rapper smoked, swore a blue streak, spit water at the crowd (I didn't hear any complaining), and even had 'em chanting "fuck you" at one point. In person, she's cute as a button and chockful of charisma. Which adds to the fun. I could also say that, at around 60 minutes, her set was too short. As Procol Harum once sang, "The crowd called out for more" and refused to disperse, so the S-O-V came out to say, basically, I love y'all, but that's all I got. As for me, I'll take a good short set over a long bad one any day.

As for covers in general, few of the artists I caught were interested, which is too bad. (And I missed the aforementioned Nouvelle Vague, who are all about new wave/post-punk classics, but they're another group I've heard live on the radio.) Granted, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings brought out their brilliant interpretation of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately?", but I was hoping for one of their non-LP rarities, like "This Land is Your Land" or "I Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition was In." Otherwise, Jones and the Gang were in typically top form. The former correctional officer did not strap on her five-inch glitter heels for the occasion, but was otherwise resplendent in a sparkling silver pantsuit.

Then Kanye West graced our presence with a nice long set. (Keep in mind, the fashionable fellow once did the "Jesus Christ Pose" for Rolling Stone; "graced" is, indeed, the word.) Well, it was a bit choppy, i.e. the house lights went dim between sections, which was confusing, but that's my only real beef. West and string section--plus two backup singers, two MCs, and DJ--performed the expected hits, a few new jams, and even some covers (finally). The originals were excellent, especially "Gold Digger" and encore "Jesus Walks." Granted, the marching band version in Dave Chappelle's Block Party is even better, but that's a special case.

As for covers, I mean tracks with which West had no involvement along with those he has produced for others. His band, for instance, launched into a lovely version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." Yeah, everybody's doing it these days, but I ain't sick of it yet. The Mem-Stad crowd, consisting of 23,000 punters by West's estimate, sang along, so I guess we were all in agreement. Then again, they also sang along with the "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" sample and it was, literally, just a sample. That was both weird and cool. The six string players--all women, incidentally--also played "Bittersweet Symphony" and Talib Kweli's West-produced "Get By." Alas, neither was performed in their entirety. It kept the show zipping along, but if I'm getting into something (and I was), I hate to have it taken away from me so soon.

It happened again with Thee Emergency [left]. They were great, by the way; just what I was expecting based on their Jim Diamond-produced debut, Can You Dig It?. Midway through their set, bell-bottomed guitarist Nick Detroit launched into the distinctive, drawn-out intro to Stiff Little Fingers' "Alernative Ulster." I got my hopes up...but it was just a tease. I don't think Jake Burns' Belfast-based crew gets covered much, which is too bad, as that first album (Inflammable Material) is loaded with fiery punk gems with which Thee Emergency's younger fans might not be familiar. And should. Maybe next time...

So, that's my Bumbershoot 2006. I missed much, but still got plenty of bang for my buck, so I count the experience a success. Sorry to say few friends were there to share it with me, with the exception of Bill, who has more energy than most. The rest were either out of town or at home working (those crazy freelancers). How anyone could pass up the opportunity to squeeze a year's worth of live music--plus comedy, literature, etc.--into one weekend is something I'll never understand. It's a time-saver, it's a money-saver, and it makes for the best people-watching around (assuming you like watching other people as much as I do--man, I live for it). And I say that as someone who only experienced 5% of what the festival has to offer. Ah well, their loss.

Note: All images from the official Bumbershoot website and Amazon (Scott Balikian credited for the Dita Vox photo). When I get the chance, I'll switch out the Bumbershoot pics. The incredibly accurate Burns self-portrait looks great, the others are a tad blurry. Also, I took snaps of Sharon Jones and Thee Emergency. If they turn out all right, I'll post 'em here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

It's My Birthday

They say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah

They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time.
-- The Beatles, "Birthday"

Or maybe it isn't, but mine definitely takes place during the sublime month of September. Seriously, as they say on Grey's Anatomy--it's the show's catch phrase--I love this time of year, especially when the air turns crisp, the big movies hit the screen (Brian De Palma's Black Dahlia, Martin Scorsese's The Departed, etc.), and the fall TV schedule begins. That said, here are the reviews and other ephemera I'm working on for this month.

Amazon: Fraggle Rock - The Complete Second Season [five-
disc set] (fun stuff--even for a demographic anomaly like me),
Commander in Chief - The Inaugural Edition, Part 2
set], The Groomsmen (the latest from actor/director Ed Burns),
The Road to Guantánamo
(Michael Winterbottom and Mat
Whitecross take on Gitmo; see here for alternate take), The Cars - Unlocked: The Live Performances, Flavor of Love - The Complete First Season [three-disc set], Grosse Point - The Complete Series [two-disc set] (I loved this short-lived show), Who Killed the Electric Car?, Wassup Rockers, One Tree Hill - The Complete Third Season [six-disc set], and Kevin Devine - Put Your Ghost to Rest.

Resonance: "Threads"
timeline of singer/guitarist
Kid Congo Powers and DVD
reviews of Bullet Boy and
Fame Whore

Seattle Sound: Unwed
- The White Ox
(Burnt Toast Vinyl).

Seattle Weekly: Profile of Brightblack Morning Light.

Siffblog: Interviews with filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Mi-
chel Gondry
and reviews of Half Nelson (Ryan Gosling as a crack
smoker and Anthony Mackie as a crack dealer--far better than it
sounds!) and Burn to Shine - Portland. The latter features those
Decemberists characters mentioned above; also the Gossip, the
Thermals, and the Shins with a boss version of "Saint Simon."

Saint Simon

After all these implements and text designed by intellects
so vexed to find evidently there's just so much that hides
And though the saints of us divine in ancient feeding lines
their sentiment is just as hard to pluck from the vine.

I'm trying hard not to pretend
allow myself no mock defense
step into the night.

Since I don't have the time nor mind to figure out
The nursery rhymes that helped us out in making sense of our lives
The cruel uneventful state of apathy releases me
I value them but I won't cry every time one's wiped out.

I'm trying hard not to give in
Battened down to fair the wind
rid my head of this pretense
allow myself no mock defense
step into the night...

Mercy's eyes are blue
when she places them in front of you
nothing holds a roman candle to
the solemn warmth you feel inside.

There's no measuring of
nothing else is love.

Endnote: Since I brought up the Beatles and since this is my
latest review round-up, you may be wondering if I've done any
Fab Four-related writing (as my friend Gillian does frequently).
The only title that comes to mind is George Harrison and Friends - The Concert for Bangladesh. I can't think of anything else, which
is pretty amazing, really. Granted, most of my music writing re-
volves around alternative acts, but I love the Beatles and they've
had a profound influence on many of my favorite artists, so go fig-
ure. While I'm at it, my contact at Sub Pop confirms a new Shins
release for the first quarter of 2007 (looks like 1/23, but that date
is tentative). I was only going to post a few lyrics from "Saint Si-
mon," but decided the whole damn thing, with the exception of a
few repeated lines, was worth a look--no other band writes songs
quite like those guys. Images from Wikipedia and DVD Active.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fried Chicken and Scrambled Eggs: Gnarls Barkley Speaks

Once again, I'm stealing from Rolling Stone. From Jonathan Ringen's "The Acid Nerd Gangsters" (8/24/06).


Danger Mouse

"I discovered Pink Floyd when I was 18. The Beatles, as well. It was so mind-boggling that people would make music for the sake of experimentation. For the Gnarls record, a lot of psychedelic music was a big influence--that mix of experimentation and melody."

"A lot of people perceive that if black people are doing music that isn't traditionally black music, then it's a deliberate attempt to do something different, but this record wasn't deliberate on either of our parts. We didn't worry about who would listen to it or what station would play it. We were just trying to impress each other."

Cee-Lo Green

"Growing up, I was artistic and autistic. Not technically diagnosed, but I was bound to color outside the lines a little bit."

"I experienced a lot of detachment, a lot of isolation when I was a kid. I thought I'd grow up to be a hit man. Isn't that crazy? No pun intended."

"When was the last time you heard a black man talk about suicide?"

"I want to please in the sight of my maker and my mother. I'm gaining favor. A lot of my music is to ease my rite of passage, just in case."

"There was a write-up about the San Francisco show that was quite cool. It said the crowd was like the line at the DMV--children, women, senior citizens, everyone is out there. It doesn't make any sense to me, but I'm having fun. It's like, I'm not alone anymore. I'm finally in the 'in' crowd."


And my personal favorite:

"I like fried chicken and scrambled eggs."


Note: So that's Gnarls on Gnarls. Sadly, there are those who feel both musicians have sold out by moving away from their hip-hop roots. For this project, at any rate. Personally, I think that's a crock. Here's one example of what I'm talking about. I sincerely believe this scribe would be a lot more excited by St. Elsewhere if it had only sold 10,000 copies. Why should he begrudge Danger and Cee-Lo their success--after all, they've earned it the old fashioned way. You know, through hard work, patience, and plenty of hard knocks along the way. I find the argument that they "whitened" up their sound to break through to a wider audience particularly offensive. Also, Mr. Breihan describes the album as "tossed off." From everything I've read it was years in the making, so that's just innacurate. Granted, I'm sure some songs came together more quickly than others, but this project got started a long time ago. That said, I can understand that it isn't to all tastes, and I don't deny anyone their disappointment on aesthetic grounds. Different strokes and all that. But allow an artist to take a risk on occasion--and don't slap 'em down when that risk pays off. After all, isn't that what we've come to expect from those we consider true artists? Or do we just want them to do the same thing over and over again...even if it makes them miserable? Images from the AMG and the Gnarls Barkley MySpace Page.