Friday, August 31, 2007

Baby Dolls and Waxworks

Baby Doll: Excuse me, Mr.
Vacarro, but I wouldn't dream
of eatin' a nut that a man
had cracked in his mouth.
Silva Vacarro
: You've
got many refinements.

Baby Doll: Thank you.

Federico Fellini once explained that he cast Donald Sutherland
as the lead in Casanova (1976), because the actor looks like
"a big sperm-full waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator."

Hmmm, maybe that plays differently in Italian. Then again,
maybe not. Is it a backhanded compliment, or the world's
most disgusting putdown? It covers both bases handily.

Recounting the tale is how Jack Pendarvis begins his article, "Baby Doll: The Smuttiest Story Ever Told," one of the highlights of The Oxford American's excellent movie issue. (Pendarvis's piece on Dick Powell, happy hoofer and offbeat noir anti-hero, is another.)

The author adds, "We can only assume that Fellini never saw
[Karl] Malden in Baby Doll, because Malden has Sutherland
beat by a mile." (Though married, his wife is a virgin.)

[Only a mile, not a country mile? This is,
after all, the South we're talking about.]

About the title character,
Carroll Baker's Baby Doll,
screenwriter Tennessee Williams notes that just because she sucks
her thumb (and sleeps in a crib!),
"It doesn't mean she wants a penis in her mouth." No, it just means she's orally fixated. You say potato, I say...

Immediately after reading this
article, I added Elia Kazan's Baby Doll (1956) to my Wish List. It may simply be an overdose of Southern-fried baloney, but I expect to be thoroughly entertained by the desperate antics on display. Plus, Eli Wallach, in his silver screen debut, plays Silva, the man who lights Baby Doll's fire.

A decade later, Sergio Leone would cast the venerable actor as "il Brutto," i.e. "the Ugly" in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the iconic Spaghetti Western in which Wallach gives, as usual, a great performance—as do Clint Eastwood (the Good) and Lee Van Cleef (the Bad)—but ugly? I think not! Never was, never will be.

Baby Doll: I feel so weak. Oh, my head is buzzy.
Silva Vacarro: Fuzzy?
Baby Doll: Hmm. Fuzzy and buzzy. My head is swingin'
round. Must have been that swingin' that done it.

Click here for Jonathan Rosenbaum on Southern
cinema. And here for my review of Baby Doll.

Endnote: If you have any interest in Southern film, I
couldn't recommend this issue of The Oxford American (#56) more highly. (Thanks to Bill for the tip. I was just going to read a couple pieces, but couldn't stop till I'd devoured the whole damn thing.) Images from Google Images and The Oxford American.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Crafty Work: Part Three
(for part two, please click here)

Here's the conclusion of my conversation with Bülent Akinci,
the Berlin-based maker of Running on Empty, a fine film more people should have the opportunity to see...but probably won't. We had a pleasant chat, though interviews aren't really his forte. Note that he starts to interview me towards the end. He seemed much more relaxed in that role.


So, what attracted you to [actor] Jens
Harzer? I think he's great, by the way.

He's more famous in the theater world, and in movies where he wasn't the main character— the supporting actor—like Requiem.

I haven't seen that, but I've heard about it. Did it
come out before your film or around the same time?

The same time last year, and now it's at some of the same festivals. I didn't know he had made Requiem, and the director of Requiem didn't know he had worked with me, and he had the main role.

What do you like about what he offers as an actor?

I had the opportunity to look at many stars for this role—many stars wanted it—that I didn't want. I saw him through casting,
and he was so brilliant. He interpreted this role very well, so
then I told him about my many insurance [selling] experiences.

You sold insurance?

[Harzer's character is an insurance salesman.]

For a short time, I was a life insurance man.

I didn't know that.

He did really good work, but he doesn't like movies so much.

He prefers theater?

Yeah, movies are exhausting—too many hours waiting—but he told me when he works
again in movies, he would
like to work just with me.

It's a very physical role. Maybe that tired him out.
And he dances. I love the scene in the
[florist] truck.
You did a great job casting the other actors, as well, because each one of them has a moment that's very demanding. I thought the scene in the truck was amazing, because it starts out one way—with him dancing in the back—but then when they're talking
in the cab
[Wagner and a client], it's really kind of chilling.

Many people say that.

In that scene, do you see Wagner as an Angel of Death?


I like the way you can see that he's either giving this man the chance to do what he wants , which could be seen as a good thing, or he's really horrible for encouraging him to leave his wife and children without a husband and father. I'm glad you didn't put scary music in that scene. And they're both really good. I meant to praise the other actor, too. It's almost like a short film. And the scene
in the car with the French-Algerian character.

This film has a lot of one-plot scenes, like episodes. From
one lonely person to the next lonely person. He understands,
he gets it, basically, bit by bit. His lies become more brutal.

I read a review in Variety—they really liked it—
and the writer points out that he doesn't have a
cell phone. Is that to make it more timeless, or
to make it seem like something that could be set
in the past? I like the use of the telephone booth.

Basically, he's separating himself from everything that's modern, so he doesn't need a cell phone. His life is a lie, so the telephone booth is like a home for him. When he goes there, it's artificial—
not direct—contact. It's more enclosed, kind of like his heart.
They [phone booths] are pretty much disappearing in Germany, just like here. I had to take it [the booth] with me everywhere.

[I'm not sure I heard this part correctly;
the McCaw Hall acoustics were a little dodgy.]

It seems like a motif, because
the diner has these windows, then there are the car windows—we see the world through his windshield—and then we see
him in the booth. There's a lot
of glass around people, and all these homes away from homes. So,
I've read a bit about The Flying Dutchman, because
I wasn't that familiar with its history. Were you inspired by a particular version, like the Richard Wagner opera, since his name is Wagner? Or just the general story?

The general story.

I have to ask: Have you seen any of
the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?

One—the first one.

I can't remember if it's in the first, but
there's a Flying Dutchman in the second.

Also, in SpongeBob. [laughs] You know, SpongeBob?

Yeah, but I didn't know...

The Dutchman is like a monster.

That's perfect. So, how can other people see the film?
Do you have any more screenings in the United States?

The first screening was in Dallas. The next is at the Tiburon Film Festival. This film has played on almost every continent, about
20 festivals. Last year, the Sundance Film Festival almost took
it. It was very, very close, and they thought Americans would
take a lot of interest in it. It was really surprising when it wasn't taken, but once Dallas did, it started getting more interest.

Is it on DVD in Germany?

No, maybe next time.

Are you working on another film,
or thinking about another one?

I have many ideas. In three weeks, I'll have the chance to get money for my new project.

If you could, would you include any of your short films with the DVD?

No. They are very crazy
films, a bit like Buñuel
or Eraserhead. Do you
like Eraserhead?

Yes actually, I do. I like it quite a bit. And it's aged
well. I mean, it was a sensation when it came out.
This year marks the 30th anniversary, so there have been a lot of screenings in the States, and people have been writing about it. I interviewed David Lynch a few months ago, and I think he's still very proud of the film, even though it took years and was difficult to make, because he had no money. It holds up really well.

Have you seen INLAND EMPIRE?

Yes, I've seen it twice, and it's amazing that 30 years have passed, yet it has some of the same ideas as Eraserhead.

Like the dreams?

[I'm not sure I heard this correctly.]

Kind of. Even though it's shot on video... It's
interesting for a filmmaker at this stage of his
career in that's it's one of his most experimental
films, whereas many of his peers have gotten more
commercial over the years. Except instead of being
short like Eraserhead, it's three hours of strange stuff.

It plays in Germany in four weeks.

There's a whole Polish section, and I just read that
he's starting a sort of museum of his work in Poland.
So, he wasn't just interested in working with Polish actors and shooting in Lodz, but Poland has become really important to him. I don't know where that
came from. So, you may get the chance to see him,
if he's spending more time in Europe. I would think
he would want to be in Germany when the film opens.
He traveled all around the United States with it.

Some critics don't like it, and others say it's one of the best films they've seen in the last [few] years. There's nothing in between.

It's really good. I liked Mulholland Drive better,
though. I had more of an emotional connection
to it. So, what are some of your other favorite films
or filmmakers, even those that didn't directly
influence you? What's really made an impression?

Well, there's Terrence Malick.

I've been thinking about him a lot lately, because
as much as people like his films, it's becoming more apparent how important they are. Even while watching Herzog's Rescue Dawn, his fictional version of Little Dieter Needs to Fly, there are all these images—close-ups of wildlife—that are reminiscent of Malick. You would think, by this point, directors like Herzog would have their own style and their own view of the world, but even people of his generation seem have been influenced by him. I'm starting to see Malick in everybody's films. Filmmakers are paying more attention to nature, the way he does. That's something I really associate with him—man in nature, and that constant battle.

Mostly nature and girls.

That works for The New World, because you have this young native woman, who is despoiled by these people coming from England and Scotland, and they're also building all these things—they're destroying the land.

And they make her wear shoes.

Do you have a favorite Malick film?

Badlands is really good. And The Thin Red Line. And that
other one with Richard Gere [Days of Heaven]. I've seen
every film. [laughs] He's only made four. He's sometimes compared to Stanley Kubrick, but he's warmer and more poetic.


We wrapped things up at this point as his Q&A was on the horizon, but continued to chat for another ten minutes. With my recorder off—and a cigarette in his hand—Bülent Akinci relaxed even more, and talked about working with Peter Greenaway and Wim Mertens.

Endnote: Der Lebensversicherer, AKA Running on Empty, isn't scheduled to open in the US. Nor is it available on DVD. If I could rectify that situation, I would. Here's hoping Akinci's next feature meets with a wider audience. Images from, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Berlinale, and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crafty Work: Part Two
(for part one, please click here)

As with Steve Buscemi, I spoke
with writer/director Bülent Akinci
for The Stranger during the 33rd Seattle International Film Festival. In order to keep things brief, I only posted a small portion to Slog. Here is the rest of our conversation. Parts are translated from his native German, hence Akinci's short answers—which make my long questions seem even longer!


I was really struck by the editing of your film [Running on Empty]. I'm assuming you worked with an outside editor?

Yes. Part of how we edited it—I wanted audience members,
at some point, to see things from the character's point of view.

[The film was edited by Tina Baz and Inge Schneider.]

That works really well. I like it that the transitions instead of being smooth, from scene to scene, a lot
of times they would make me go, 'Wait a sec—where
are we, what's going on?' Then they would start to
make sense. I could tell you weren't just going crazy,
but that there was some forethought to what you
were doing. So often filmmakers use cinematography
to disorient the audience, whereas you achieved that effect through editing. And it's also unlike Tom Twykwer, who does a lot of time-lapse stuff. That's
an entirely different technique. Can you think of other films where you might have seen that style of editing?

I also worked [like that] with my short films. I like to
edit my films a little bit like French editing—montage.

The French New Wave?

Yes. I'm always trying to do montage.

There's a documentary at the festival this year
about Walter Murch, who touches on that. He
talks about the scene in Breathless, where two characters are in a car, and instead of the camera
just following them down the street, there's a shot,
then a jumpcut, and then another jumpcut... It
hadn't occured to me you were doing a version
of that. So, because SIFF is focusing on Germany
this year, and also since The Lives of Others won
the Best Foreign Film Oscar, do you feel like
there is a New New Wave in German filmmaking
right now—or some kind of resurgence?

Yes, we saw The Lives of Others winning the Oscar. It has happened many times in Germany. In earlier times, you
had Fassbinder and Werner Herzog—who you mentioned—
now there are so many directors trying different ways of storytelling. Like in America, there are many different ways
to tell a story. In Germany, it's just beginning. I think that's why my film failed. People were not used to seeing that kind of film... Therefore, Tom Twykwer, [Florian Henckel von] Donnersmark, Oscar Riller—they're beginning to start a sort of New Wave.

I've seen a lot of really good German films lately.
The ones that make it to the US usually concern
German history—Downfall, Sophie Scholl, The
Lives of Others
—but we don't always get to see
those that are more personal or more intimate.
And these films are fascinating, but I wish we were
seeing more, with the exception of Fatih Akin, who
is doing his own thing. Have you seen his new film?

No. Have you seen it?

No. It [The Edge of Heaven]
just played at Cannes, but
I don't think it's played in
the US yet. Do you think if
you had stayed in Turkey,
you could have done the same things in terms of filmmaking?

[Like Akinci, Akin is a German
citizen of Turkish descent.]


Do you think Nuri Bilge Ceylan is an exception in
getting to make the kinds of films he wants to make?

Turkey is also beginning [to produce] a new wave of
filmmakers, but most of... When you want to be a director,
it's a luxury profession, so most of the directors in these countries—poor countries—come from rich families. I don't
come from a wealthy family, so I tried at the beginning of my
life to be a musician, but I failed, so after that I studied film.
In Turkey, I don't think I would've had that opportunity.

So, it's more democratic [for directors] in Germany?


It's good your parents moved there. [laughs]

Endnote: Part three to come. Images from (Jens Harzer, looking crazy) and The Sofia International Film Festival (Bülent Akinci, looking calm). This marks my 200th post!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Burden of Dreams

Holler, Wild Rose!,
Our Little Hymnal,
Backlight Records [9/18/07]

Our Little Hymnal is pseudo-operatic alt-rock in the tradition
of Jeff Buckley and Arcade Fire.

I prefer the former to the latter, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say I dislike Holler, Wild Rose!, they don't do much for me. I was expecting something lighter, looser, and, well, jauntier by that countrified name—plus, exclamation point!—but this is some pretty serious business.

At times, the New Jersey sextet also recalls U2, Ride, and Rufus Wainwright. The music swells and subsides while John Mosloskie—a superior singer to AF's atonal Win Butler—intones and testifies.

Clearly, he has important messages to impart. Yet, I can't always make out what he's saying, just snatches here and there, like "I'm the captain of your heart." That said, he has a supple, expressive voice. If he isn't professionally trained, like Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark, I'll eat my hat. (Or my shoe, pace Werner Herzog.)

So, it ain't my thing, but this record was five years in the making, and it shows in the expansive arrangements and performances.
A lot of care and feeding went into this thing. I respect that. I
don't have to like it, but that doesn't mean you won't.

Endnote: This is the kind of record KEXP should get behind, but probably won't. I enjoy the station, I really do, but too often they pass on unknown bands unless someone else makes a move first. (There are exceptions, of course, like Pela, their latest fave rave.)

Take the Gossip, for instance. KEXP should've shown their music some love ages ago. Instead, they didn't embrace the Portland
trio until England made them stars. Granted, they were spinning the Scissor Sisters—featuring ex-Seattleite Jake Shears—before their career followed the same trajectory (moderately successful in the US, huge in the UK), but too often they wait for cues from external forces when they should trust their own instincts.

Incidentally, Our Little Hymnal clocks in at 68:26 minutes—now there's some bang for your buck! For more information, please see their official website. Images from their MySpace Page.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Quicker Picker Upper

PRE, Epic Fits,
Skin Graft [9/18/07]

Akiko only wears underwear on stage. When she comes
on at first, she seems a little vulnerable in her minimal clothing...but then she starts singing and explodes.

-- Rock On London

If it's on Skin Graft Records, you know it's going to be loud. That's the rule. I've listened to a few of their records now, and this London outfit are a perfect fit. Lots of yelling, sub-metallic guitar mangling, rumbling bass, and pounding drums—works for me.

That said, I have no idea what Akiko "Keeks" Matsuura is yelling about, or whether it's even in English (though a few words seem to be...). John Webb and Kevin Hendrick are also credited with vocals, but they only add a few exclamations here and there. The quintet is rounded out by Rick Bennett on drums and Matt Warburton on bass—yep, two bass players (rumble, rumble).

That said, the song titles are in English. They include "Drool...," "Fudging on Our Folks," and "Scenes from a 1963 Los Angles Love-in." And those are just the first three. There are 14 short tracks altogether, including a Half Japanese cover ("Ride Ride Ride").

The grand total: 20 minutes and some change. And there you
have it. I was drinking my morning coffee while listening to this CD, but Epic Fits would've woken me up just fine all by itself.

Endnote: According to the press notes, "Epic Fits is available in three editions. Two are CDs from Skin Graft Records: a standard jewel case and an individually numbered 'first edition' packaged with a fold-out poster sleeve and encased in an embossed metal box. The gatefold vinyl LP is available from Lovepump United."

Incidentally, last week I watched the movie Without Limits about Steve Prefontaine (a blond Billy Crudup). In no way did this album remind of the Oregon runner, except for one thing. His nickname was "Pre." For more information about PRE, please see their MySpace Page (from which I swiped the band portrait above).

Friday, August 24, 2007

15 Minutes With Steve Buscemi

An Interview About Interview:
Part Two (for part one, please click here)

In June, I spoke with the actor/director [above, with Michael Pitt in Delirious] for The Stranger. It was the last day of my assignment as Seattle International Film Festival contributor, so I quickly transcribed half the interview, and posted the results to Slog.
Here is the rest of our short, but interesting conversation.


Do you see them [characters] in any way as extensions
of your personality? That they represent something that's a part of you anyway—a certain cynicism, or...

[I was referring to Pierre in Interview and Les in Delirious.]

I don't know. I mean, I always just try and put as much of
myself into any character I play, and that's the fun of acting.
I think we all have a range of emotions and different facets
of our personality that maybe we don't always express or
[that we] try to suppress, but it's in there. I think it's in all
of us, and the beauty of acting is that you get to tap into that.

And then walk away.


Is there any part that was hard to get away from? Something about the character—even if it's positive, although I suppose that would indicate it's negative.

Not about the character... A few years ago, I did a film called The Grey Zone. Just the nature of the material, and reading about that whole time [the Holocaust]. That stayed with me for weeks after we stopped filming. It was a really upsetting film to work on.

I'm glad I saw that. It's hard to watch, but—I mean
this as a compliment—it wasn't as hard as I thought
it would be. I was concerned that it would be more
than I could take. So, I think he got that balance right.

Tim Blake Nelson, yeah. [smiles]

So, if I understand correctly, because your film... [is related] in terms of the production, have you actually met with Stanley Tucci and Bob Balaban to talk about their [Theo Van Gogh] films, though they're separate projects?

Stanley and I are good friends, and he just started shooting his film, Blind Date. But I haven't talked to him since he just got back, and then he went to Toronto to work on another film. Each one was really—the director could do whatever they wanted. There was no consensus. The interesting thing is that all three films were supposed to be shot one after the other using the same crew, but the week before Stanley was about to shoot—because he was supposed to go first—the financer didn't come up with the money, so then it was every man for himself. Since then, Bob Balaban has dropped out, so they're hoping John Turturro will do it.

In the [Interview] credits you mention Robert Altman.

I worked with him a couple of times. Kansas City—I got
to do that film right before I did Trees Lounge. It was a
wonderful thing to have happen. And then Tanner.

What did you like about his work, whether
as an actor in one of his films, or in general?

I like his attitude—he fights hard to make the films he wants to make. He said to me he doesn't care whether they're successful—
he wants them to be successful—but on his terms. He told me this when I met him though Kansas City. Then he corrected himself, and said, "On our terms," so he immediately included me.

That's nice.

And that's what he does. He makes everybody working on
the film feel they're an important part in contributing. And he
gives the actors a lot of responsibility, and the crew, and he's able
to keep his uniqueness. All the best directors I've worked with have a definite style of their own, that they really know how to work well with people, and use their talents to help them.

When Trees Lounge came out, you elicited a lot of comparisons to Cassavetes. Was that just a coincidence, or is he someone you like as well? And you've gotten
that less, I've noticed, as you're developing more of
your own—I don't know if I would say style, but I find people comparing your work less to other directors.

I talked about that in the [Trees Lounge] production
notes. I remember talking about that, and it was put
into the production notes, and I think journalists see
that, and so that's what they talk about. I'm curious if I
had never mentioned it, would I still get the comparisons.

That's a good question, because you did also say—
I've read interviews where you said there's a lot of autobiographical stuff in there. And that's you, not Cassavetes. He had his own biography to draw from.

[And with that, our 15 minutes were up.]

Endnote: Interview and Delirious are playing in limited release. Delirious image from indieWIRE (they hated it; I found it amusing).

Friday, August 10, 2007

My Gun Is Long

(Mike Hodges, UK, 1972, 91 mins.)

"What kind of a bird is that?"
"It's a Maltese Falcon."
-- Mourners in Pulp

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

As a fan of 1971's Get Carter and 1998's Croupier, I should've
heard about Pulp before this year rolled around. I hadn't.

Just as 2003's I'll Sleep When I'm Dead was Hodges second
go-round with Clive Owen, Pulp was his second go-round with
Michael Caine. Though both pale in comparison to their prede-
cessors, strong performances bind the crime-laden quartet.

Pulp landed on my radar when I came across a review claiming
the UK band name took their name and style from the celluloid
obscurity. By style, I'm thinking of their tidy logo and Jarvis
Cocker's National Health-like specs (designer frames as nerdy
knockoffs), but I can't recall whether the writer went into much
detail, since I lost track of the original piece. That said, custom-
er reviews on and the IMDb make similar claims.

In any case, I don't doubt that
the film might've made an im-
pression on the Sheffield lad,
although the word "pulp" has
a variety of connotations, and
I couldn't find a concrete con-
nection. Also, the All Music
notes that the group's
original moniker was Arabi-
Pulp. Cocker formed the
band in 1978—when he was
a mere 15—and dropped "A-
rabicus" the following year.

According to their bio, he studied film at St. Martin's College in
London, and almost pursued a filmmaking career until his mu-
sic caught fire in the early-1990s. This year, he released his solo
debut. On the cover, he's even dressed like the Oscar-winning
actor, except his suit is dark where Caine's Pulp outfit is light.

In his Amazon review, Jeff Shannon compares Pulp to 1953's
Beat the Devil, in which John Huston and Humphrey Bogart blow
off some steam after the sturm und drang of The Maltese Falcon
and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The analogy makes sense—
even features Robert Sacchi, "The Man With Bogart's Face."

Hodges' steam-blower opens with a steno pool transcribing
Caine's gangster fiction, AKA pulp. The sound design ping-pongs
between the voice in their headset—Caine's, naturally—and the
machine-gun ratatat of a roomful of typists clattering away.

Before the credits commence, Hodges cuts to Caine wearing a
corduroy suit and Nat Health specs (purple-tinted, in this case).
We aren't in Carter country anymore. Micky King has pseudo-
hippy hair, and appears less tightly-wound than Jack Carter.

Throughout the credit se-
quence—Mickey Rooney,
Lionel Stander, and Lizabeth
Scott are among the sup-
porting players—King tries
in vain to hail a cab. Then we
get a shot of his coastal sur-
roundings. We're definitely
not in Merry Old anymore.

"That's how it all began," he
narrates. "That bizarre adventure, which put five people in the cemetery, and ruled me out as a customer for laxatives." Turns out
he's a London funeral director, who abandoned his wife and kids
due to "a burning creative urge" to be a continental scribe.

King adds, "The writer's life would be ideal, but for the writing—
that's a problem I would have to overcome." (I hear ya, brother.)

Five minutes in, and he has emerged as the blueprint for Owen's
acid-tongued character in Croupier, the similarly unreliable nar-
rator of his own life story. Basic perimeters established, King gets
a gig ghostwriting Preston Gilbert's memoirs. En route to meet
Rooney's Gilbert, a Jimmy Cagney-cum-George Raft figure, the
bodies start to pile up. It's a classic film noir scenario—the new
hire who walks into a world of death—but with dirtier dialogue.

One body later, King meets Gilbert's girlfriend, Liz (Nadia Cassi-
ni, dubbed), who enters clad in the silver screen's shortest shorts
next to Chloë Sevigny's pair in Palmetto. Rooney also flaunts his
sex appeal—as it were—in the scene where he poses before a mir-
ror in tighty-whiteys. That's his introspective moment. The rest
of the time, he overacts wildly, but it fits his part as a retired Hol-
lywood star gone seedy in Malta, while Caine is his usual excel-
lent self. Gravel-voiced Stander, as Gilbert's right-hand man,
and husky Scott, as Gilbert's ex-wife, also offer good value.

When someone murders one of these hangers-on, all become sus-
pects, and King makes like one of his fictional dicks to solve the
case. Near as he can tell, the first hit was intended for him. Since
everyone was seated at the dinner table when the second took
place, it's possible one of them hired the killer priest. Then three
more bodies hit the floor, and the film is over. Gee, that was fast.

In any event, nothing about it reminded me of the band Pulp,
other than a few stylistic details. In the careers of Michaels
Caine and Hodges, Pulp serves as a bridge between the violent
intensity of Get Carter and the wicked fun of Croupier—there's
also a whiff of The Long Goodbye and Sexy Beast—but fans of
the Britpop combo will have to look pretty hard to find anything
that might have influenced them in this irreverent crime caper.

Random facts: My Gun Is Long is the title of one of King's
pulp novels (as "Guy Strange"), the soundtrack was composed
by Beatles producer George Martin, Jarvis Cocker's "Running
the World" appears in the movie Children of Men with Michael
Caine...and Clive Owen, and the Pulp DVD is completely devoid
of extras. Thanks, MGM, for the nice price. Otherwise: boo! Imag-
es from The Best Blog Ever and The BBC. The Caine photo is one
of my all-time favorites. The photographer: David Bailey, natch.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

From Tennessee to Texas

Slider Pines,
Road, Avenue, Railroad,
Wire to Ear Records [9/25/07]

To me, Memphis is a strange mix of strip malls, lame tourist traps, unsung talent, and racial unease. In my mind, it's a weird town.
-- Joey Shanks, Slider Pines

From the press notes, I couldn’t tell whether this trio (Shanks, Bill Spellman, and Andy Lester) was based in Dallas or Memphis, but they do sound vaguely Southern. It’s not that the music is vague—it’s fairly hard-rocking stuff—just that the Southern thing is subtle rather than pronounced, i.e. more Big Star than Muscle Shoals,
to keep those Deep South analogies going. (The band's MySpace
indicates that Texas is their current stomping ground.)

I don’t know if Slider Pines have ever been compared to Big
Star, but other writers have namechecked the Black Crowes, the Pernice Brothers, the Shins, and the Hold Steady. On my first listen, I heard only the Pernice Brothers—guitarist Shanks sings like Joe Pernice—but on my second pass through Road, Avenue, Railroad, I could hear the Shins, too, though I still don’t hear the Black Crowes or the Hold Steady. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

Until their latest, I was a big Shins fan, but now they’re starting to bore me, and I’ve never been crazy about any of the acts mentioned above—Big Star aside. Still, I like this record. Pretty straight-forward for my tastes, but there’s this appealing retro 1970s thing going on. If anything, it’s more Cheap Trick than Big Star, but they’re in the same ballpark.

Some groups do what’s already been done, and come across
as completely redundant. Others trod the same well-worn
paths, yet still manage to create something compelling. It’s
a fine line, of course, and this is all thoroughly subjective.

While I recently took the Selfish Gene to task for their lack of originality, Slider Pines are hardly more cutting edge. Arguably, they’re even more predictable. There’s just a greater degree of confidence going on here—less self-consciousness, less of a desire to impress. I like that, and I like Road, Avenue, Railroad.

Endnote: For more information, please see the official Slider
Pines website
. Band image from their site, Big Star from the AMG.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Shake It Up, Baby

Goodnight Loving,
Crooked Lake, Dusty Medical Records [9/18/07]

This Milwaukee quintet offers up lo-fi garagey sounds with country trimmings. I found it instantly appealing. (Previous effort, Cemetery Trails, was produced by Greg Cartwright of the Oblivians, Reining Sound, and the Detroit Cobras.)

If the recording were crisper and cleaner, I probably wouldn't like it as much. There's something charming about all that glorious fuzz, the byproduct of a secluded Wisconsin recording session.

According to the press notes, "Multiple listenings will expose rustic auditory atmospherics such as thunder and chirping
birds, all caught on tape live at the cabin." Plus, the songs
are catchy in a 1960s kind of way. CMJ cites the Feelies,
Uncle Tupelo, and the Violent Femmes in their description
of the band's first full-length. I'll buy that. I have no idea
if Goodnight Loving were influenced by any of those
artists, but they can stand proudly beside them.

Crooked Lake is saturated with harmonica, and a Beatlesque approach to rhythm, i.e. it sounds as if Paul's on the bass and Ringo's on the drums—circa the Cavern Club. Twist and shout!

Birds & Batteries, I'll Never Sleep Again,
self-released [10/09/07]

Just as Nature vs. Nature featured a Neil Young cover ("Albuquerque"), so too does Michael Sempert's follow-up. I'll Never Sleep Again opens with a lugubrious "Heart of Gold."

My first thought was "Ugh," but it grew on me after awhile. This version may not be light on its feet, but Young's original lyrics never suggested...bouyancy in the first place. Still, it might've made more sense as the closing track. Opening an album with something loud and sluggish isn't necessarily the best way to go.

The rest of this San Francisco singer/programmer's sophomore record, which features nine musicians this time around—approximately half are permanent—is more melodic, but still slow-moving and introspective (Julie Thomasson's Rhodes playing certainly contributes to that effect).

If you can imagine a cross between Steely Dan, Low, and Kelley Polar, you're halfway there. It isn't my thing, for the most part,
but it's an improvement over Sempert's sleepy predecessor.

The Selfish Gene, The Grand Masquerade,
Ruff Road Records [09/25/07]

Neither terrible nor great, The Grand Masquerade occupies that middle ground between the two extremes.
This Madison, WI quartet knows what they're doing, and they do it well, but
I've heard it all before. Maybe that's
more my problem than theirs...

Interestingly, Spin compares the Selfish Gene to ELO and Spoon, two bands that have almost nothing in common. Well, I like both, and I don't mind these guys, but their sound isn't sufficiently distinctive,
and I could do without lyrics like, "It's a carnival full of carnivores"
("Bad About It"). I've heard worse, and I've heard better.
Passing grade—but just barely.

Endnote: Birds & Batteries play Seattle's Comet Tavern
on 8/14. Please click the links for more information about Goodnight Loving, Birds & Batteries, and the Selfish
. (Click here for a description of the 1976 tome from
whence the latter act takes its name.) Images from Goodnight
Dusty Medical Records, Birds & Batteries, and Wikipedia.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Autumn Reviews

Autumn Leaves

These are the reviews
and other assignments
I'm working on this month.

Amazon CDs: Colbie Caillat - Coco.

Amazon DVDs: Pet Shop Boys - Cubism In Concert, Small Town
Gay Bar
, Demetri Martin - Person,
and The Naked Brothers Band - Battle of the Bands.

Resonance Film: The current issue features an interview with Stephen Kijak (30 Century Man) and a DVD review of Radio On.

Resonance Lit: Paul Drummond - Eye Mind:
The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor
Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound.

Seattle Sound: The current issue features an interview with
John Sayles and a sidebar on the Honeydripper All-Star Band.

Seattle Film Blog: Lights in the Dusk, Bamako, This Is Gary McFarland, Godard's Pierrot le Fou, You're Gonna Miss Me (because I can't
get enough Roky...), the full text of the John Sayles transcript,
and an interview with John Scheinfeld concludes. Also, updat-
ed versions of an interview with Michel Gondry, Le Petit Lieu-
, Danielson: A Family Movie, El Aura, Matthew Barney-
No Restraint
, Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, The Fall,
Malfunkshun, Mysterious Skin, 4, Frozen, Murderball, Boats
out of Watermelon Rinds, The Dying Gaul, The Aristocrats

Steadycam: The current is-
sue features my 2006 Top 30.

"Autumn Leaves" is a much-recorded popular song. Originally a 1945 French song, "Les feuilles mortes" (literally "The Dead Leaves"), with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert, English lyrics were written in 1949 by the American songwriter Johnny Mercer. It has become a pop standard and a jazz standard in both languages, and as an instrumental. "Les feuilles mortes" was introduced by Yves Montand in 1946 for the film Les Portes de la Nuit.
-- Wikipedia entry on "Autumn Leaves"

Endnote: This August marks my least profitable month ever as
a freelancer (plus I got a root canal). Yves Montand image from Wikipedia and Susan Ogilvie painting from Scott Milo Gallery.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Knockin' Around the Net

Every few months, I check Google to see where my reviews (and other pieces) are ending up. Here are some of the more interesting results.


American Shopper - The Movie:
Link to my Stranger review

Tom Cruise - Free Falling:
Amazon review of The Outsiders - The Complete Novel

The Evening Class:
Link to my Siffblog review of
Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Hot Splice, the NWFF Blog:
Link to my Siffblog review of
Two or Three Things I Know About Her

[I'm dubbed a "buzz kill," but in context, it's true!]

The Huffington Post:
Link to my Siffblog interview with John Scheinfeld

Mess Up the Mess:
Link to my blog review of their CD

["Kathy Fennessy likes our album."]

Picture This! Entertainment:
Reference to my Stranger
review of Eternal Summer

Portland Jewish Cinematheque:
Amazon review of Dirty Dancing

Windows Media:
AMG review of Keren Ann - La Biographie de Luka Philipsen

YouTube - Girl Trouble ("My Hometown"):
Excerpt from my AMG bio on the band

Note: Keren Ann and Eternal Summer pics from Google Images.