Sunday, June 28, 2009


He Told
Us to
Turn to
the Sun",

Am I evil? Yes, I am.
-- The Misfits

Are we evil? We are evil.
-- Father Murphy

This Father Murphy isn't a kindly Irish priest or a cozy
British sitcom, but a musically voracious Italian trio. Singing
primarily in English, Torino's Rev. Freddie Murphy, Chiara Lee,
and Vicar Vittorio Demarin raise an unholy racket (okay, they ask-
ed for that). Actually, they also throw in a few folk-oriented, or-
gan-fueled dirges, but a sonic explosion is always just around
the corner. Not as overtly psychedelic as their pals Jennifer
Gentle, I can still envision them playing on the same bills.

Portugal. The Man, The Satanic Satanist, Ap-
ing AIRballoons/Equal Vision Records

In reviewing last year's Censored Colors, I compared Portugal.
The Man
to "art rockers like Soft Machine, Animal Collective,
and Menomena" and praised the vocal harmonies of the Portland-
by-way-of-Wasilla trio (yes, founders John Baldwin Gourley and
Zachary Scott Carothers hail from the home of Sarah Palin).

Bolstered by 10 addition-
al musicians, including Cornershop sitar and keyboard player Anthony Saffery, their fourth full-length is an immediately
more accessible, less heavily multi-tracked affair; closer to Of Montreal than Menomena.

The harmonies are still there, but they take a backseat to subtle
country flourishes and shuffling dance beats. In the press notes,
singer/guitarist Gourley explains, "I was really trying to go for the more Motown structure than anything...really short, tight songs."

At times, they almost evoke "Miss You"-era Rolling Stones, es-
pecially on "Work All Day," a development I wouldn't have seen
coming, although I'm not complaining—not too much, at any rate.
The album starts to sound samey as the first half gives way to the
second, but I still predict this elaborately-packaged CD will re-
ceive more attention than anything they've recorded to date.

Portugal. The Man plays Seattle's Chop Suey on 9/17.

Quixote, self-titled, self-released

That's Quixote and not Quixotic, altough you could describe this Brookline, MA quintet as such, since they work jazz, country, and post-rock influences into their pungent pop ("Annunaki" could pass
for a lost duet between the Minutemen and Aztec Camera).

As violins and horns dance around him, Joel Stulpin sings as if his life depends on it. His sympathetic sidemen include Anthony Val-
era (guitar), Evan Murphy (drums), Justin Demers (bass), and
Greg Prendergast (keys). And hey, is that an accordion I hear?

Mount Eerie, Wind's Poem, P.W. Elverum & Sun [8/18/09]

Most artists get quieter or
more accessible as they get
older, but Anacortes, WA one-
man band Phil Elverum contin-
ues to lay down rumbling, some-
times pummeling noise on the
third Mount Eerie platter,
which takes wild, untamed
nature and Twin Peaks, i.e. wild, untamed humanity—hence the
occasional "heavenly choir" effect—as its guide. While his subdued
vocals recall Neil Young, circa Harvest, his instrumental excur-
sions aren't so easy to describe, ranging as they do from experi-
mental rock to dark metal (not that the two subgenres don't share
similarities). Like all Elverum & Sun releases, the packaging, par-
ticularly the foil-stamped LP, is as lovingly handcrafted as ever.

Click here for my review of Black Wooden Ceiling Opening

Endnote: For more information about Father Murphy, please click here; for Portugal. The Man, here; for Quixote, here or here; and for Mount Eerie, here. Images from their websites.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Magnificent Obsession

I've been writing about Douglas Sirk for eight years now, so I thought it might be a good idea to create a blog post with a couple of links and a short profile. As I get—or create—more opportunities to write about this amazing auteur, I plan to add them to this entry.

Reel News:
Douglas Sirk - In Praise of Melodrama

Criterion Collection - Magnificent Obsession

And this piece for the Northwest
Film Forum's 10th anniversary book:

Douglas Sirk once noted, "There is a very short distance be-
tween high art and trash." Mentor to Rainier Werner Fassbinder
and inspiration to Todd Haynes, few filmmakers from the but-
toned-down 1950s have influenced independent cinema more.

His intelligent, theatrical approach also lives on through Pedro

Almodóvar and François Ozon. Unlike his cinematic progeny,
however, Sirk played by the rules, but there's more going on in his
meticulous melodramas than meets the eye—note the Brechtian
use of mirrors, television screens, and other reflective surfaces.

From 1952-59, he hit the peak of his powers, using the user-
friendly form of the "woman's weepie" to comment on race (Im-
itation of Life), conformity (All That Heaven Allows), and oth-

er matters beyond the usual genre perimeters, while coaxing
performances out of matinee idols, like Robert Stack (Written
on the Wind) and Rock Hudson (Magnificent Obsession), that
few believed possible, yet the proof lives right there on the
screen—sometimes even in glorious CinemaScope.

[Slightly revised from the original text.]

Endnote: Now that I've familiarized myself with most of the
films Sirk made with Hudson, I plan to seek out the ones he made
with George Sanders, to whom he offers the highest of praise in the
interview that accompanies the Magnificent Obsession DVD. Im-
age of the helmer on the Heaven set with Hudson, Jane Wy-
man, and Agnes Moorhead from The Criterion Current.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I don't
take not-
es at press
screenings, because I find it easier to watch the screen—
especially when subtitles are involved—than to watch, listen, and/or read while trying to guide my pen across paper in the
dark (and I'm not about to use a lighted implement and irritate
everyone around me). That said, I make an exception every on-
ce in awhile, and I've always found these chicken stratches al-
most as amusing as enlightening. Here are a few examples.

CITY OF GOD / Cidade de Deus
(Museum of History and Industry, 2/03)

It was all about the influences.

Amores Perros, The Harder They Come, Pulp Fiction,
Black Orpheus...Otário, sucker...Walter Salles...Run
Run...James Brown...A Clockwork Orange...
crazy names...Traffic, Blow, Mean Streets, Oliver!

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City of God was my third favorite film of the year after The Good Thief and Lost in Translation. Click here for my reviews of the soundtrack and City of Men, the nominal sequel.


(Seven Gables, 6/09)

I was on a roll, when...

Iben Hjejle, Harriet Walter, Kathy Bates as Charlotte...
"Art lovers are a more reliable source of income than art"...
"I can't criticize his character, mainly because he doesn't
seem to have one"...[like a] sybaritic rock star, Marc Bo-
lan...cast is invested but...[and then my pen ran out].

(Pacific Place, 6/09)

I went to town with this one. in which real-
ity is heightened...article

in The New Yorker...Da-
vid Strathairn...Eternal
Sunshine...[Paul] Giamat-
ti..."Shipped to New Jer-
sey to save on sales tax"...Chekhov, Uncle Vanya...Russian patient...self-pity...can't separate self from
character...dark tones, mostly greys...Lauren Ambrose..."5%
keeps you animated"...hollow, light, empty, bored...drug
mule, black market...loses empathy, self-control...does-
n't tell his wife..."Who wants to have an American soul?"

Click here for my review.

And here are notes from a few filmmaker appearances:

(Mayor of the Sunset Strip, Lincoln Center, 10/03)

"As dark as Kim [Fowley] is, he's one of the more honest
people in the whole picture...[he's] the Darth Vader to Rod-
ney [Bingenheimer's] Luke Skywalker...Going to the record-
ing session for the Beach Boys' Smile album...24 months in
the cutting room...I'm a big Henry Mancini fan...I have a
huge collection...Second highest-selling documentary of
all time...1.3 million...March of 2004 in New York and
LA...[Bingenheimer was a] Davy Jones stand-in.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip was my 11th favorite film of the year.

(Dance Party USA and Quiet City, NWFF, 9/07)

"We did multiple takes of almost everything...I had a full script,
but all the words were the actors' own...We usually did four or
five takes...120-page script...There were a lot of surprises, that's
why I wanted to give it structure. I tried to be open to what was
really happening...I would be interested in shooting with two [us-
ed one camera]...For the most part, I found it fairly easy to cut
from the film/material that we had...Tin Men, Diner, Ozu, still
shots...People that I knew from life, that I thought were interes-
ting people...I wrote it with her in mind. Whatever is happening
to her, she makes the best of it. Spontaneous, interesting qual-
ities in real life, funny...A little bit of scene-reading and acting
exercises...All the people in the film are people I would like to
work with again...DVD coming out in January [on] Benten."

(Editor, The Last Temptation of Christ, SAM, 1/08)

"Extremely arduous...Six million dollars...Flood, wild dogs...
Italian...Morocco...Dailies flown out once every two weeks...
[She] cried during the dailies, burst into tears...He [Martin Scor-
sese] got very alarmed...I started to cry again...When he was
shooting the crucifixion, had very little time...Beautiful red earth
of Morocco...Exhilarating...Peter Gabriel spent three months with
us...Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's beautiful voice...The Episcopalian Bish-
op of New York was one of our greatest supporters...Universal was
supportive...Michael Powell was with us during this difficult time."

Click here for part two.

Endnote: Images from This Is an Adventure and Collider.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Unforced Ease

Call from
ed, 347

With breezy vocals and fuzzy guitars, former Guided by Voic-
es sideman Doug Gillard dishes up power pop perfect for summer days—or winter evenings ripe for a blast of light.

Call from Restricted combines bright Red Kross harmonies
with driving Cars rhythms and classic Beatles melodies (Gillard
has also done stints with Death of Samantha and the Hold Steady).

When a pop record works as it should, everything seems effort-
less—as if the music just emerged magically from out of the ether.

And yet, despite the fancy fretwork on tracks like "Entwined" and
"Gogol Was Rollo," an unforced ease permeates this multi-instru-
mentalist's sophomore recording. If the second half doesn't flow
as easily as the first, Gillard still scores more of a hit than a miss.

Ketch Harbour Wolves, Dead Calm Horizon, self-released

For those who find Austin's Shearwater too dark and dramat-
ic, this Toronto five-piece represents a more relaxed introduc-
tion to baroque pop (the press notes also compare them to In-
terpol and the National). Just take a gander at the band's No-
va Scotia-inspired name, EP title, and three of the seven
songs: "Leaves," "Midnight Dark Water," and "Animals."

As a fan of the ornithologically-minded Texas outfit, howev-
er, I'd like the Ketch Harbour Wolves better if they crank-
ed up the heat more. Dead Calm Horizon goes down without
a hitch, but it lacks the sticking power of Shearwater's operatic
release Rook, despite a shared interest in mournful brass,
delicate woodwinds, and evocative nature imagery.

Summer Cats, Songs for Tuesdays, Slumberland [7/14/09]

Slumberland releases this Melbourne quintet's debut hot on
the heels of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's first poptastic
platter, and there's a similar spirit at work here as the shy and
bashful meet the bold and forthright. Sweet boy-girl vocals
waft in and around crunchy riffs, while soulful organ, wistful
harmonica, twinkling chimes, and playful lyrics build a brid-
ge between the two. Time will tell whether Summer Cats
will win over as many hearts as their New York labelmates,
but Songs for Tuesdays presents a strong opening salvo.

Click here for "Hey You" mP3

Endnote: For more information about Doug Gillard,
please click here; for Ketch Harbour Wolves, here or here;
for Summer Cats, here. Images from Flickr and Slumberland.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Movie of the Month:
Part Seven

I recently reviewed
the following film for
Video Librarian, and
thought the results
were worth sharing.

(Gonzalo Arijón,

France, 2007, 130 mins.)

Piers Paul Read's Alive!, the 1973 bestseller that inspired Frank
Marshall's 1993 feature film, previously recounted the story of
the Andes crash survivors, but Gonzalo Arijón's Stranded
allows them to explain what happened in their own words.

Like Kevin Macdonald's Touching the Void, convincing
recreations, in tandem with footage from yesteryear and
oral history-style interviews, help to bring their harrowing
experience to life, making it almost as much of a docudrama
as a documentary (City of God cinematographer César Char-
lone, who almost ended up on the same plane, shot the reen-
actments). Further, Arijón adds commentary from mem-
bers of the rescue team and films the interviews at
the snow-covered Valley of the Tears crash site.

With 34 years to reflect
on the events of 1972, the
16 survivors, who were en
route from Uruguay to Chile,
keep the tears at bay for the
most part, but remain both
confounded and transform-
ed by the ordeal. As Rober-
to Canessa states, "It was
so arbitrary." Twenty-four of the 45 passengers, a mixture of
rugby players and relatives, survived the initial collision
without a scratch, while others were badly injured or kil-
led. "Why you and not me?" Canessa thought at the time.

As for the cannibalism that saved their lives, another explains
simply, "It was a life or death decision." Largely Catholic, they
thought of it as a sort of Holy Communion. For the rest of their
72-day stay, the men were battered by stinging winds, snow-
storms, and an avalanche that felled several more of their com-
patriots, including Liliana, the last female survivor. Originally
and rather poetically subtitled I've Come from a Plane That
Crashed on the Mountains, the DVD comes with a 52-min-
ute making-of featurette. Highest recommendation.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part Six: Philippe Garrel x 2

Endnote: Slightly revised from the
original text. Images from OutNow.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wear and Tear

Dark Room Notes, We Love You Dark Matter, Gonzo Records [import]

This city berates me. Dublin type wear & tear.
-- "The Same City Awaits Me"

Next to Seattle's Curious Mystery, Dublin's Dark Room
Notes boast the four coolest names in contemporary music:
Ronan Gaughan (vocals), Ruairi Ferrie (guitars, synth), Dar-
ragh Shanahan (drums), and Arran Murphy (keyboards).

Though I prefer CM's woozy psych-blues, DRN's debut marks a
respectable dive into the more wide-awake world of synth-pop.
If We Love You Dark Matter isn't quite as addictive as Cut
Copy's In Ghost Colours, my favorite synthesized dance disc
of recent years, this darker, sexier CD seems likely to ap-
peal to the same sort of discriminating party people.

Movers & Shakers, Larrabee, self-released

With guitarist Matt Price's whiskey-soaked voice and Marc Valois'
pulsating organ, Movers & Shakers come on like a 21st-century
iteration of the Band. Similarly, mandolins twang, trumpets blare,
and drums pound, but the Boston-by-way-of-Austin quartet rare-
ly sounds like an oldies act. On the Maine cabin-recorded Larra-
bee, roots rock meets alternative rock, and fans of the Replace-
ments, Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, and My Morning
Jacket would do wise to lend these fellows an ear.

Thee Oh Sees, Help, In the Red

It's so easy to fall.
-- "A Flag in the Court"

About the last Thee Oh
Sees CD, I wrote, "The
Master's Bedroom Is
Worth Spending a Night
In is less psych-folk than
before...more garagey, with a slight rockabilly beat. Nice stuff."

Well, I'm thrilled to report that the Bay Area band has surpas-
sed themselves this time around, and Help moves beyond nice
into the more rarified air of the sublime. It's still garage-oriented,
but the songs have more sticking power. Imagine a super-charg-
ed Smile-era Beach Boys recreation of Piper at the Gates of
Dawn, and you've got my favorite album of the year.

Click here for a review of 2007's Sucks Blood

Endnote: For more information about Dark Room Notes,
please click here; and for Movers & Shakers, here. Thee Oh
Sees open for Jay Reatard at the Crocodile on 6/15. Images from
Irish Music Television and TOS MySpace Page (Virgil Porter).

Monday, June 01, 2009

(My) Summer Hours

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

Amazon DVD: The Secret Life of the Am-
erican Teenager - Season Two
[three-disc set] and Parker
Lewis Can't Lose - The Complete First Season
[four-disc set]

Amazon Theatricals: Cold Souls (with Paul Giamatti), The Stoning of Soraya M. (with Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jim Ca-
viezel), Chéri (Stephen Frears directs Michelle Pfeiffer), and
Public Enemies (Michael Mann! Johnny Depp! Sharp suits!).

Still playing (or yet to open): Food, Inc., Hunger, Sin Nombre,
State of Play, Summer Hours, Sunshine Cleaning, Two Lovers, and Tyson.

SIFF: Links to my notes for this year's program guide: Don't
Let Me Drown
, The Escape, The Firm Land, Forasters, Gotta Dance, Kimjongilia, The Missing Person, Pirate for the Sea,
Spring Breakdown, The Spy and the Sparrow, Summer,
True Adolescents, and With a Little Help from Myself.

Sidenote: Of the bunch, I liked The Firm Land and The Mis-
sing Person (with Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan) the best.

Siffblog: SIFF coverage concludes with reviews of Food, Inc., Summer Hours, Cold Souls, and The Merry Gentleman. Also, more ex-
cerpts from a chat with Barry Jenkins. Next up: Little Dizzle director David Russo. In addition, I created new links to a 2007 review of 51 Birch Street and an '06 interview with Lynn Shelton.

Still playing: Gran Torino...even though it's now out on DVD.

Video Librarian: The Compass, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along
Blog, The Fox and the Child, The Modern Jazz Quartet - 35th
Anniversary Tour, Best of Snoop Dogg's Father Hood, Scott
Walker - 30 Century Man (click here for my interview with
the director)
, Z Rock - Season 1, Little Dorrit [four-disc set]
(click here for my Amazon review), and True Blood -
The Complete First Season [five-disc set].

Sidenote: About the latter, I wrote, "True Blood takes vampire lore
in a variety of intriguing new directions...a strong recommendation."

Endnote: Images from Cinematic Intelligence Agency.