Monday, October 29, 2007

Into the Prine

Into the Wild won me over within the first few minutes. Midway through, Alexander Supertramp, AKA Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), and his new friend, Tracy (Kristen Stewart), duet on "Angel from Montgomery."

Granted, it comes from out of left field that he can play an in-
strument (some kind of keyboard contraption), but this is a guy who went with the flow. Sean Penn's filmmaking reflects that flow.

The duo don't perform the world's greatest rendition, but it
would strain credibility if they did. The tune fits the tone of
the piece perfectly. For me, it sealed the deal. John Prine
wrote an amazing song, and his version is great, but Bonnie
Raitt made it her own—it's one of the happiest marriages be-
tween material and performer in the history of popular music:

It really gets to me. And Raitt delivers the lyrical anguish with admirable restraint. Similarly, the movie got to me, too. It's ironic, because one concerns a short life; the other a long one.

In Penn's view—I haven't read Jon Krakauer's book—McCand-
less lived the life he wanted to lead. In Prine's view, his subject compromised her happiness, but retained ownership of her soul. Instead, she asks, "Just give me one thing / that I can hold on to."

She could be Giulietta Masina at the end of Nights of Cabiria: a survivor. Sometimes even the smallest gesture of support can put you back on track. And if that's all it takes—you ain't dead yet.

Then there's this bit: "But how the hell can a person / go on to work in the morning / to come home in the evening / and have nothing to say." I've been reading Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, and this passage would fit right in—so clean. Yet messy.

It occurs to me that McCandless gives Hal Holbrook's widower Ron "one thing" that he "can hold on to." So, in a sense, Penn's film combines both perspectives: young and old, foolhardy and cautious—optimistic and resigned. Neither is right or better. On screen, Christopher may seem the more heroic character, but his recklessness comes with a price. At least he doesn't die in vain.

Endnote: Image from OutNow!, video
from YouTube. Click here for part two.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Day of the Locust

Author/screenwriter Nathanael West
(1903-1940) died young, but he left two
celebrated novels behind, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939).

The latter is one of the finest
roman á clefs ever written about
Hollywood, on par with Budd
Schulberg's What Makes Sammy
Run? and Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays. (Or
the uber-cynical cinematic equivalents: Billy
Wilder's Sunset Blvd and Robert Altman's The
Player.) It also features a character named—
yes, that's right—Homer Simpson.

Locust Music is an independent label located in Chicago. Last year, founder Dawson Prater released one of my favorite records, Starless and Bible Black's self-titled debut. This year, he has continued to issue material that defies easy categorization, like Silmaril's The Voyage of Icarus and Begushkin's Nightly Things.

An element of folk runs through these recordings, but that doesn't make Locust a folk label, not when some artists use samplers and other electronic devices. As Kelefah Sanneh (The New York Times) quips, it "specializes in music too weird to be considered old-fashioned." Well, weird's a bit much, but unique—definitely.

230 Divisadero230 Divisadero
"Hands" (mp3)
from "230 Divisadero"
(Locust Music)

More On This Album

230 Divisadero, 230 Divisadero, Locust Music

Whispery words meet fuzzy, buzzy instrumentation
on the debut from this two-man duo. Matt Shaw hails
from Britain and Nick Grey from Monaco. Their long-
distance working relationship recalls the Tall Dwarfs
and the Postal Service, but their music stands alone.

The two are joined by guests on guitar, clarinet, and
bass. They also credit Hasmig Bedrossian for soprano
voice ("Old Photograph") and Constance Lozet for random
humming ("For Cody"). For the most part, though, they
created these lovely, multi-layered sounds on their own.

The Family Elan, Stare of Dawn, Locust Music

Considering that Glasgow's Chris Hladowski cites Greek, Kurdish, and Azerbaijani devotional music as influences, it may seem simplistic, if not misleading, to compare the Family Elan to the Incredible String Band, a British collective formed in the 1960s.

However, the ISB's Mike Heron and Robin Williamson also looked to the East for inspiration, specifically to India and Pakistan (hence the tabla and sitar). Hladowski's instruments of choice include the bouzouki and long-necked lute, while partner Hanna Tuulikki joins in on voice and flute.

Stare of Dawn is a contemporary affair, but it could easily be the product of another era. Or plane of existence. Similarly, it's easy to lose track of time when listening to these five long pieces. Time doesn't stop, it just...expands. (Time is flowing like a river/ to the sea...)

My knowledge of devotional music is limited, but I get the
same feeling listening to the Family Elan as to Sufi vocalist
(and former UW artist-in-residence) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,
even if the emphasis is on the chiming, droning playing rather than the soft-spoken singing (Khan was a full-throated vocalist).

Stare of DawnThe Family Elan
"Wide Eyed Fox" (mp3)
from "Stare of Dawn"
(Locust Music)

More On This Album

Do Hladowski and Tuulikki also enter a trance-like state
when they perform? Does their audience also dance like
whirling dervishes? It wouldn't surprise me if they did.

Henry Flynt & Nova'billy,
Henry Flynt and Nova'billy, Locust Music

Is Flynt an avant-gardist or just a trippy freak?
-- François Couture, the
All Music Guide

Talk about uncategorizable. Nova'billy, which stalked
the Earth—specifically Lower Manhattan—from 1974-
1975, mates southern-fried rock with free-jazz skronk.

According to Eugene Chadbourne's illuminating AMG biography, Flynt
was an associate of Yoko Ono, the
Velvet Underground (he sat in for
John Cale), and La Monte Young. On Locust's fourth Flynt release (see below
for more), the North Carolina native is credited with vocals, violin, and guitar.

With a maximum of jamming—
Flynt's violin playing is particularly
virtuosic—and a minimum of (left-wing) vocalizing, you
could recommend this live album to fans of Little Feat and
Ornette Coleman, the Allman Brothers Band and Pharaoh Saunders. And how many artists can you say that about?

Note: Other Flynt releases on Locust include Raga Electric - Experimental Music: 1963-1971, I Don't Wanna, and Purified by the
Fire. Image credit: Henry Flynt at Nova'billy concert, The Kitchen, June 27, 1975, photo by Peter Moore © the Estate of Peter Moore.

Paul Metzger, Deliverance, Locust Music

Paul Metzger's fifth solo effort, Deliverance, which seems unlikely to have been influenced by the classic 1972 John Boorman movie—or the James Dickey book that inspired it—consists of three pieces. All played on the 21-string banjo. In
no way, shape, or form does it resemble the film's famous "Dueling Banjos." Not that that would be a terrible thing. It just doesn't.

To my ears, the Minnesota musician's customized banjo sounds like a violin crossed with a sitar, and brings to mind the string-work of local guitar maestro (and sometime-Locust recording artist) Sir Richard Bishop. On an LP, the first two tunes ("Orans" and "Bright Red Stone")
probably fit on one side, while the 31:07-minute title track
most likely takes up the entirety of the other (Deliverance
is also available on 180-gram vinyl in a gatefold sleeve).

In Arthur, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore describe the disc
as a "brilliant long-form acoustic exploration of the cosmos' outer tears, free from cliché and dullness." Yep, that about sums it up.

Ethan Rose, Spinning Pieces, Locust Music

The sophomore release from Oregon's Ethan Rose
is also comprised of three tracks. The insert explains
the thinking behind its structure, i.e. "These pieces were
originally issued as limited edition multiples by Locust Music."

The first track, "The Singing Tower" (2007), was "sourced
from the automated carillon at Stanford University." The
second, "...The Dot and the Line..." (2004), was "sourced
from player pianos at the Immortal Piano Company" (located
in his Portland hometown). And the last, "Miniature & Sea"
(2003), was "sourced from music boxes and optical film reader."

Despite the divergent dates, sound sources, and locations,
the three pieces work together surprisingly well. Music
writers often (and understandably) use the word "nostalgic"
to describe Rose's delicate, handcrafted work—it's the aural
analogue of a film by Britain's fabulous Brothers Quay.

Endnote: For more information, please visit Locust Music. Images: Nathanael West from Find a Grave (he and his wife are buried in Maspeth, NY), the Family Elan from their MySpace Page, Henry Flynt from Henry Flynt Philosophy (including Tony Conrad's photographs of Flynt and director Jack Smith picketing MOMA!), and Paul Metzger from Webzine Millefeulle.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October Reviews

The October Suite

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

Amazon DVDs: Family Ties - The Second Season [four-disc set] (click here for season one), The Panama Deception, Interview, Manufactured Landscapes, The Devil Came on Horseback, The L Word - The Complete Fourth Season [four-disc set], and two from the Criterion Collection: Stranger Than Paradise and Eclipse Series 6 - Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy (Blood Wedding, Carmen, and El Amor Brujo).

When it rains, it pours...bring on the rain!

Amazon Theatricals: Reservation Road (Terry George
directs Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo), Gone Baby Gone
(Ben Affleck directs his brother, Casey, in this Dennis Lehane adaptation), Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lars and the Real
(with Ryan Gosling and his unusual...friend), No Country
for Old Men
(Coen Brothers adapt Cormac McCarthy), Love
in the Time of Cholera
(Mike Newell adapts Gabriel Garcia
Márquez) and Control (Anton Corbijn profiles Ian Curtis).

Yes! I've only been blogging about the latter since June,
and I
just received my copy of Unknown Pleasures in the
mail yesterday (never owned it on CD before). Also, look
what made the cover of this month's Sight and Sound...

Resonance DVDs: Cinema
16: European Short Films
(an embarrassment of riches from
Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay,
and 14 other great directors).

Seattle Film Blog: The Witnesses
(André Téchiné directs
Emmanuelle Béart), The Pornographers (part of
the NWFF's Shohei Imamura restrospective), Let's Get Lost (Bruce Weber on Chet Baker),
and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney! Lumet!).

Endnote: I'm always trying to combine my interest in music
and film. Please click here for Mick Jones on his feelings about
the two forms. While I'm at it, Joe Strummer: The Future Is
, opens at Seattle's Varsity Theater on 11/9.

The October Suite is a 1966 recording by Gary McFarland
and Steve Kuhn. For more information about Kristian St.
Clair's This Is Gary McFarland—I review the film, which is currently unavailable on video—please click here. Images
from This Is Gary McFarland (St. Clair's put together a boffo
website) and Sight and Sound, the world's best film magazine.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Top of the World, Ma!

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.

Bit Torrent:
AMG review of Little Wings – Look at What the Light Did

Blog for America:
Amazon review of Hacking Democracy

AMG bio of Keren Ann

Doors Left Open:
Amazon review of the Decemberists - The Crane Wife

The Official John Densmore Forum:
Amazon review of Ciao, Manhattan!
AMG bio of Keren Ann
This bio is getting a lot of play (see previous search results).

Music Eldorado:
AMG review of OP8 - Slush

Seven Generational
Amazon review of Crude Awakening

TV Shows on DVD:
Amazon review of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – Volume 1
So, where's Volume 2 already?

WLS, 890AM - Chicago's Talk Station:
Amazon review of Broken English

And lastly:

All Music Guide to the Blues, Country, and Hip-hop:
I'm listed as a contributor to all three books.
That was news to me (I wrote for the AMG between 2001-2003).

Endnote: Hot Splice, the NWFF Blog, has linked to my reviews before. In a recent post, publicist extraordinaire Ryan Davis introduces You're Gonna Miss Me with, "There’s also this knowledgeable, with less crazy-rock-star-rise-and-fall hang up, response to the film at SIFFblog—published last week, but I’m just getting around to linking to it now." I get another shout-out here. Also, The Seattle Weekly's Hannah Levin calls me a "kick-ass blogger" in this entry (and speaking of Miranda July, I defend
her in this Slog comment). Pictures from Google Images.