Saturday, November 27, 2010

Your Very

Shades of...

Possibly the best band on the planet.
-- Andy Warhol

First things first: Gray featured in Edo Bertoglio's documentary
Downtown 81, and included art-world superstar Jean-Michel
(1960-1988) and actor/director Vincent Gallo.

Though the Other Music review mentions Gallo, he receives no
credit on this limited edition release, unless he was operating
under a pseudonym. Michael Holman ("masking tape and steel
ball bearings"), Justin Thyme ("finessed tape loops"), and Nick
Taylor ("guitar with historical restraint") complete the line-
up. As for Basquiat, he "played the guitar with a metal file."

So, that's the first thing. The second is this: is Shades of...
any good? If it wasn't, I wouldn't care, but the record would
merit discussion even without the bold face names involved.

At first listen, the 27-track set recalls DJ Shadow, while sub-
sequent listens bring to mind Danger Doom, the one-off colla-
boration between producer Danger Mouse and emcee MF Doom.
I'm not sure how to describe it, but experimental hip-hop might
suffice. At times, it comes close to the jazz-funk Defunkt was
throwing down in '79, but that's one ingredient out of many.

Click here to sample "Wig."

The drums skitter like spiders, the bass line ebbs and flows, the
guitars scritch and scratch. Strange noises intrude from time to
time: walking, sawing, and scraping on metal. Perhaps they re-
corded Basquiat while he was painting and stretching canvases.
Lyrics take a backseat to the sound of the vocals, which range
from gentle croons to dub-inspired chants ("I know...I know...").

As with Danger
Doom's The Mouse
and the Mask
, spok-
en-word samples
bracket each cut.
Instead of cartoon
voices, they're car-
toon-like voices--
one of which
sounds a little like
Gallo, their desig-
nated go-go dancer.

As with the transgressive films of the era (see Richard Kern, Nick
Zedd, et al.), the skits revolve around drugs, street youth, and
clueless authorities, i.e. Gray: "You're harassing me!" Authority:
"Who's harassing you? Calm down." There's also a track called
"Doktor Dhoom," reinforcing the Danger Doom connection.

The set highlight, "Cut It Up High Priest," throbs and pulses as
dub joins rap to the rhythm of finger snaps. Holman leads the
way while a choir of true believers testify, though the priest
appears to be more of a music figure than a religious leader.

Watch Downtown 81 for free here.

The spoken-word samples add interest to the proceedings, but
they do get old over time. That quibble aside, the disc, available
exclusively in the US through Other Music, is a must for fans of
No New York
, Jim Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation, and Glenn
O'Brien's TV Party, on which Basquiat was a regular fixture.

Update: The Radiant Child premieres tonight, Tues,
4/12, on KCTS 9 at 10pm as part of Independent Lens.

Images from Mooks and Culture King. The Down-
town 81
DVD features "outtakes of Basquiat, accompanied by
music from his band, Gray." Also, Tamra Davis's documentary
Jean-Michel Basquiat - The Radiant Child
marks essential
viewing. One of my favorite non-fiction films of the year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I like Cee
, I
really do,
but I'm less
than crazy about the radio-ready version of "Fuck You," now
retitled "Forget You." It seemed bold that the first single to mat-
erialize from The Lady Killer would use "fuck" in the title and chor-
us. Naturally, radio and TV weren't going to touch it, and you can't
really excise the expletive--there would be next-to-nothing left.

So, I understand the impulse, but the words aren't interchange-
able. They have different meanings, different syllables, and a
wholly different vibe. To "forget" means to put it out of your
mind, while "fuck," in this context, is angry rather than sexual.

Green isn't putting his single status out of his mind, he's actively
addressing his ex and the fella with whom she took off. And let's
face it, "fuck" combined with the other lyrics is funnier than "for-
get," which has no bite (see "She's an XBox, and I'm more Atari").

When Cee Lo changed the song, he neutered it. But in so doing,
he's laughing all the way to the bank, because a couple of weeks
ago, Gwyneth Paltrow sang the bowdlerized version on Glee (ka-
ching!) and now everybody who can hear it--and not just those
who've seen the various videos making the rounds--has heard it.

Still, I've been thinking about some of the better known sing-
les to make use of the words "forget" and "fuck." As I suspect-
ed, they aren't interchangeable in these instances either.

Imagine if Jim Kerr had sung, "Don't you fuck about me, don't
don't don't don't, don't you fuck about me..."
Doesn't have quite
the same ring, does it? (I tried to post the final sequence from
The Breakfast Club
, but the em
bedding has been disabled.)

Imagine if Nilsson had sung, "You're breaking my heart, you're
tearing it apart, so forget you."
(Love the song, love the film.)

As I mentioned on a certain social networking site, "Some edits
are better than others...a loud bleep is irritating, but a scramble,
which is what Public Enemy usually uses, tends to work well" (in
that case, "shit" becomes "isht"). I don't know how that would work
with "Fuck You," but I'd be interested to hear the results. Another
option is to edit out the "uh" sound, such that you hear the "f," the
"k," and nothing but a whoosh of air in the middle. Consequent-
ly, the one-syllable word remains--hey, it could be "frick" or
"frack"--and the song's meaning would be preserved.

And of course, NWA would prefer that you not "forget" the police.

Endnote: Image from Swagger New York.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


It's been
a few
now since
, and I'm still thinking about their use of that '80s drum sound. To their credit, it doesn't resemble a retro rehash. Rath-
er, it's the beat, in isolation, that brings the neon era to mind.

It isn't a drum machine or hip-hop beat, but it's so prominent and precise, it sounds quasi-synthetic; not plastic, but hardly organic.

Sleigh Bells with a hyper-distorted version of their trademark beat.

Here are a few of the acts that first put that beat into motion,
though none sound like Sleigh Bells. Note that I was trying to
avoid tracks that use obvious permutations of the Bo Diddley
rhythm, like the Jam's "Start!" Great song, great beat, but the
style predates the '80s (see "You Can't Hurry Love," etc.).

Click here for my review of Treats.

I just reviewed Bob Rafelson's Head, and there's Toni Basil, dan-
cing with Monkee Davy Jones to Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song."
It's a great sequence--and worth the price of admission alone.

Okay, it's fairly organic, but the beat is so '80s, I had to include it.

Classic big beat. No wonder a drummer produced it.

Endnote: Image from Volcano City.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Movie of
the Month:
Part 22

I recently
the follow-
ing film for
Video Lib-
, and
thought the results were worth sharing.

THE OATH [***1/2]
(Laura Poitras, US, 2010, 90 mins.)

I read a lot of DeLillo while I was in Yemen. The anti-hero and ter-
rorism themes in his work were appropriate company. During ed-
iting, I saw a retrospective of the Dardenne brothers at the FSLC,
which reminded me to trust the intelligence of the audience.

-- Laura Poitras to indieWIRE

In 2006's Oscar-nominated documentary My Country, My Count-
, director Laura Poitras spent time with a Sunni physician in
Baghdad. In The Oath, she focuses on a taxi driver in Yemen.

An affable, open-faced family man, Abu Jandal (née Nasser
al-Bahri) served as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard from 19-
97-2000, during which time he recruited his brother-in-
law, Salim Hamdan, who became bin Laden's driver.

The title comes from the fact that Jandal pledged a loyalty oath
to the al-Qaeda leader. As it transpires, he later pledged a contra-
dictory oath to the government of Yemen. In conversation with a
young acolyte, he describes bin Laden as a "father figure" while
drinking a Coca Cola (he admits he can't resist Western goods).

From 2001-2009, Hamdan was based at Guantánamo Bay;
in 2006, he became plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which
led to the first trial under the Military Commissions Act.
"Thinking about him," Sandal says, "wrenches my heart."

While Poitras films Jandal, she represents Hamdan's thoughts
through the letters he sends to relatives and the statements of
Lt. Commander Brian Mizer, his military lawyer, who denies that
his client engaged in terrorist activities, describing his case as one
of "guilt by association." He fears the tribunal won't be fair. The
courtroom prohibits cameras, but Poitras covers the aftermath.

Considering that the filmmaker hails from the States, it seems
surprising that Jandal would speak with her so openly, but he's
also shared his thoughts with The New York Times and appear-
ed on 60 Minutes. Whatever his reasons, he's a fascinating sub-
ject. Hamdan, who never appears on screen, remains an intri-
guing enigma. The special feature offers additional footage
and extended interviews. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 21: The Way We Get By

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Click
here for my review of My Country, My Country. Image
from indieWIRE (link leads to an interview with Poitras).

Monday, November 01, 2010

November Reviews 

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

Amazon Theatricals: Love & Other Drugs (Edward Zwick directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway) and The King's Speech (Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter). 

Amazon/Armchair Commentary: Best Movies & TV of 2010 - The Best of Art House & International

Hollywood Reporter: No, I don't contribute to the Reporter, but I was happy to offer a few quotes for this post.


Seattle Film Blog: Olivier Assayas' Carlos (click here for Summer Hours). 

Video Librarian: Legend of the Seeker - The Complete Second and Final Season [five-disc set], NY Export - Opus Jazz, Disneynature - Oceans, Exit Through the Gift Shop, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, Garbage Dreams, Gender Redesigner, Harp Dreams, The Line, Swimming With Lesbians, Everyone Else, A Mother's Courage - Talking Back to Autism, Lady Gaga - One Sequin at a Time, Marina of the Zabbaleen, The Time Is Right for Mee, and Wired for Sex, Lies and Power Trips - It's a a Teen's World.  

Endnote: Image from Living in Cinema.