Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer Songs

Some favorite songs about Summer

Summer Song by Chad and Jeremey

Girls In Their Summer Clothes by Bruce Springsteen

The Other Side of Summer by Elvis Costello

Summer In Hell by Fred Schneider

The End of Summer by Dar Williams

Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer by Joan Baez

Summertime by Sharon Robinson

Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Night of the Living Dead

Forty Five years ago this month marks the world premiere of Night of the Living Dead

The film is significant for a variety of reasons. It marked the feature film debut of George A. Romero, who would go on to be the most critically acclaimed director of the horror genre; it was an indie movie before the term even existed, and taught future film entrepreneurs as much what to do, as not to do when getting their film into distribution.

But mostly it may be the most significant horror movie of the latter half of the 20th century -both for the social message found here, and in the rest of the films of Romero's Dead series, but also in the impact that its had on the movies and television shows that followed.

Without Night of the Living Dead there would be no Walking Dead, no World War Z no Shaun of the Dead no 28 Days Later or any of the remakes of the original Romero trilogy.

The movie was not an overnight success. Its legend built slowly on midnight showings around the country. Because the film was an indy without major studio financing, there were a limited number of prints of the film to be shown in various locations. Worse yet, because all involved were new at the motion picture business, the movie was not properly copy written, and went into the public domain much sooner than it should have, greatly reducing the profits that all involved should have seen once the VCR revolution occurred in the decades that followed.

Much has been written over the last forty-five years about this movie. Some find its poor acting ludicrous and campy to the point that it can't really be taken seriously. Some have found its being shot in black and white making it inaccessible. For myself, I've always felt that these attributes added to the film's nightmare feel. Without the polish and shine of a typical hollywood fright film, the viewer is left with a movie that looks like someone's home movie of the apocalypse. For my money, it stands up with the best of Ingmar Bergman's psychological dramas of the 50's and 60's.

So without further adieu, here is Night of the Living Dead

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The October Country

We have entered the October Country. So what is the October Country? In his short story anthology of the same name, Ray Bradbury described it thus:

“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

Its also the month of October, where we start gearing up for Halloween! And just as there are Christmas specials in advance of that holiday to get us in the holiday spirit, what better way to get us in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve than horror stories from movies, TV and books. So for the next 31 days I intend to point out (and post when possible) stories that have left an impression on me over the years. Maybe they're stories you know, or maybe its something new to you. Hopefully you'll find something here that is worth your while.

So...I come from a family that likes scary movie and TV shows. I come by it honestly. My earliest memories are of my parents getting together with my aunts and uncles on a Friday or Saturday night, and having popcorn and coke while we all watched something scary on one of their black and white TVs. This was the early 60's. There were no DVRs, DVDs, VHS, Beta Max, Blue Rays,Cable, Internet, Satellite or even UHF. What we had here in Kansas City were three stations, 4 (WDAF/NBC) 5(KCMO/CBS) and 9(KMBC/ABC.) They showed their programs, and viewers tuned in to watch.There was no way to record anything and watch at your earliest convenience, as we have now. Then, if you wanted to see a program, you had to be there in real time -and often time that meant with lots of other people: family and friends, who made time to see it too.

Despite all the technical advances we've made in the last 50 years, its hard to think we haven't lost something in the way we view TV. What used to be weekly events for the whole family have now become private viewing sessions on laptops, cell phones, DVD players and DVRs.

In my family and in my extended family, scary movies and TV shows were must see TV, long before NBC ever coined that phrase. NO other kind of entertainment brought everyone together like a good (or even crummy) horror movie or TV show like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Dads liked their sports; the Moms liked their variety shows and the kids liked their cartoons. But everyone grabbed a place around the old Motorola when it was a scary movie, armed with a bowl of popcorn, popped over a stove, and a glass of soda poured from a 16 ounce bottle that came in eight-packs.

I've posted these links before, but for those who haven't seen it, please don't post any spoilers. What follows are links to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode of "The Jar" which aired February 14th, 1964 when I was 4.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

This was one of the many shows I remember viewing with my extended family when I was a little boy and it scared the crap out of me to the point that almost half a century later, I still remember it. What is striking about this is the great dramatic performances by Pat Buttram (Mr Haney of Green Acres fame) and a supporting role by George "Goober" Lindsay. Also in the cast is William Marshall, who went on to play "Blacula." I found this creepy and disturbing as a four year old -especially Lindsay's monologue about drowning kittens.

This episode, "The Jar" was based on a story of the same name by Ray Bradbury, and can be found in his book "The October Country."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Favorites from 2012

These are my favorites from the past year. They're not necessarily books, movies, tv shows or music that were created in 2012, but this past year is when I discovered them for myself!

Books
Remnants of the Storm by Charles T. Sellmeyer
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Ender's War by Orson Scott Card
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

As I mentioned before, these are works I enjoyed over the past year. Most of them were written prior to 2012, so what was new to me, may not necessarily be new!

My list of favorite books from this past year leads off with my brother-in-law Chuck Sellmeyers historical action/suspense novel Remnants of the Storm. Taking place during the Civil War, it’s the story of a legendary treasure being sought after and fought over by a Union soldier, a Confederate scout and the Femme Fatale niece of Napoleon. It’s fast moving, action packed and I would be recommending it even if I hadn’t known the author for over thirty years now.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin is the sequel to his book The Passage. Taking place both in the near future and several centuries into a post-apocalyptic America, the book picks up the story from the last book, with humanity’s struggle to survive a Vampire-like epidemic. It has a tighter plot and is a more focused read than its predecessor, which is good and bad news. The Passage may be the most literary horror novel I have ever read. Missing from The Twelve are the kinds of literary passages in the first book that set it apart from being just another genre offering. The Twelve is a good sequel, but not as good as the first book.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell can be read as a collection of interwoven short stories or a treatise on reincarnation. The book’s multi-layered approach to the subject matter, actually benefits from the movie version, which brings the themes from the various stories into sharper focus than Mitchell’s prose. Read the book, and then see the movie.

Old Man’s War and Redshirts are both by the new dean of hard science fiction, John Scalzi. What sets his books apart from many in the genre are their humor, humanity and at times poignancy. Scalzi creates characters the reader cares about, and inserts them in worlds with deviously clever technology. He writes like a cross between Robert Heinlein and Harlan Ellison, yet always with an original voice.

It’s interesting to contrast Scalzi’s Old Man’s War against Orson Scott Cards Enders Game or Suzanne Collins Hunger Games Trilogy. The latter two are about sending children into battle, where as true to its name Old Man’s War is about sending the elderly off to fight an intergalactic war.

Even more interesting is to contrast the fictional cruelties of The Hunger Games or Enders Games with the very real and tragic plights of the children written about in The Children’s Blizzard. In January 1888, a blizzard took the northern Midwest by surprise. What began as an unseasonably warm day quickly deteriorated into one of the worst snow storms of the decade. Even worse, many children returning home from school were caught in its wake –often without coats. Over the course of storm over 258 died –mostly school children. Just a grim reminder of what those who settled this land before us endured and sacrificed to make their mark here.

Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber was the 1977 winner of the world fantasy award. Leiber was a career Fantasy author who coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery.” His series of stories involving Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are considered some of the best of that genre. Here, he writes a horror novel about an author living in San Francisco’s Castro district, who realizes he may have stumbled onto the remnants of an ancient occult society. The book has some nice creepy moments, but since its publication, horror masters such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker have all upped the ante of what is expected in contemporary horror fiction. Still, if you’re in the mood for an old school occult fantasy that reads like an updated H.P. Lovecraft novel Our Lady of Darkness is a good read.

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz is a surreal, funny and dark novel about an affable young man, Jimmy Tock, whose life is inexplicably intertwined from birth with a family of evil circus clowns; Konrad Beezo and his son, Punchinello. Jimmy Tock’s grandfather warns through a death bed prophesy of five dates which change Jimmy’s life, and the book tells how the Tock family face these dates, and the events that subsequently occur. Dean Koontz has written some of the scariest books I’ve ever come across –but this isn’t one of them. Still, it reads like a wild ride, where you have no clue what is about to occur next. It may not be high art, but it is a lot of fun. And strangely enough, it has a lot of heart and observations on the nature of family.

Movies:
John Carter
Prometheus
Hunger Games
Cloud Atlas
Klovn
Dogtooth
Super 8
The Girl On the Bridge
The Fall
Antichrist
Melancholia
La Horde
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

It took Disney nearly 100 years to bring Edgar Rice Burrough's 1912 Science Fantasy "A Princess of Mars" to the big screen, and it seems my nephew Bill and I were the only ones excited about seeing it. The film, which was actually quite good, seemed to have the world's worst PR going for it. For reasons no one understands, the initial title John Carter of Mars was shortened to just John Carter. Because Burrough's series appealed primarily to middle-aged men (and their nephews!)its plausible to think that perhaps most young people in the ticket-buying demographic had no idea who John Carter was, or that his adventures occurred primarily on Mars.

I'm glad to hear the film actually turned a profit on the international market, but here in the states, it certainly was no Hunger Games, which came with its own built in audience -and justifiably so. The film, based on Suzanne Collins' successful novel, had a story with all the classic elements of popular science fiction: heroic heroes and heroines, villainous villains, action, adventure and romance. Both The Hunger Games and John Carter had the elements, but only The Hunger Games had immediate name recognition among the all-important tween demographic. Both films represent Science Fiction at its best.

Prometheus may have been the most controversial science fiction film of the year -at least among science fiction fans. The film was director Ridley Scott's follow-up (or rather prequel) to his 1978 classic Alien. Here, what is being examined aren't so much the aliens from the previous films, but rather the race that created them -and possibly humanity. Bringing LOST's Damon Lindelof in as a script doctor, was good news for those of us who enjoyed the puzzle-solving and mystery inherent in the show LOST but bad news for those who wanted straight answers in a one-up story, rather than a possible series.

Cloud Atlas is an epic about souls meeting and reuniting again and again, through various lifetimes, and how each lifetime effects the decisions they make. I've already written about it in the book section, but once again, my advice is to read the book and then go see the movie.

Klovn is a 2010 movie I saw on Netflix. Based on a Danish tv series of the same name, it stars Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, as a pair of bungling former show business types, whose awkward life experiences lead to uncomfortable comedy situations. This particular film finds the friends taking a canoe trip to a rock festival, with Hvam bringing along a child his girlfriend is supposed to be babysitting, so prove that he is "father material." All the while Christensen is trying to have sex with strange women and do drugs -activities that Hvam also enjoys more than he want to admit. The film is gritty and far more extreme than most American raunchy comedies (like the Hangover movies) but in the end, also exhibits quite a bit of heart.

Dogtooth is a Greek movie that I also saw on Netflix. It's about a husband and wife who keep their children ignorant of the world outside their property well into adulthood. The film is surreal and bizarre, with the parents attempting to sabotage any possible life their children might pursue beyond their property by telling them the wrong meanings for words (sea=chair and zombie=small flower)and keeping them cloistered from the outside world.

Super 8 is the 2011 pairing of J.J. Abrams and Stephen Spielberg. The film plays out like a dark version of E.T. Abrams and Spielberg both have long shown their ability to create compelling characters, and this film is no different. Its funny, exciting and poignant. I highly recommend it.

The Girl on the Bridge This 1999 French film centers around a knife thrower and a girl who intends to kill herself by jumping from a bridge. He intervenes to prevent the suicide and persuades her to become the target girl in his knife throwing act. The film is tense and suspenseful.

The Fall This 2006 movie stars Catinca Untaru as a little girl recovering in a Los Angeles hospital who befriends an injured stunt man, in the early days of the motion picture industry. The stunt man begins telling her an epic story as a ruse for getting her to steal enough morphine for him to kill himself. His story and her actions have unforeseen consequences for both. Directed by Indian director Tarsem, this film has location shoots from all over the world, and some of the most striking and beautiful photography ever filmed.

Antichrist and Melancholia are both Danish films by director Lars von Trier. Von Trier may well be the new Ingmar Bergman, for his ability to get into his characters' heads and present their psyches on screen. Both films are profoundly disturbing, with Antichrist the story of a couple seeking healing after the death of a child in a forest cabin, in a forest that may well be haunted. Melancholia is about a young bride, whose wedding is overshadowed by the end of the world. Both films are the cinematic equivelant of an emotional beating, and yet, there is much to be said about how artfully and beautifully both films are done.

La Horde what starts out looking like a gritty, violent French cops and robbers flick, quickly morphs into a gritty, violent zombie flick. Lots of action and copious amounts of gore and blood!

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop This behind the scenes "warts and all" documentary on O'Brien's national tour after being banned from the air by NBC after his quitting the network, made me a Jay Leno fan, after years of being a loyal follower of Camp Coco. Here we see O'Brien whine about the public always wanting autographs, and his back-up singers families who want to have a meet and greet with him after a show. The usually affable O'Brien comes across as yet another petty, ungrateful prima donna that the American public has unfortunately raised to celebrity status. I've never found him funny since seeing this film.

Podcasts
The Kevin Pollak Chat Show
WTF with Marc Maron
The Nerdist Podcast
The Pod F. Tomcast
The Tobolowsky Files
Doug Loves Movies
Rob Has A Podcast
Coast to Coast AM

Podcasts are fun to listen to if you own an iPod or some other kind of MP3 player and get tired of hearing music. They're like radio shows designed to be listened to at your convenience. In fact, some actually are radio shows.

The Kevin Pollack Chat Show features working comedian and character actor Kevin Pollak in lengthy discussions with show business types. Of the current crop of comic podcasters, Pollak most represents the "old school" of show business, being a favorite of the former godfather of late night, Johnny Carson. His show is slick, fast paced and funny.

WTF with Marc Maron Maron also has an interview show, which he tapes in his garage. As a former Air America personality, as well as colleague of the late Sam Kennison, Maron's show is grittier and edgier than Pollak's, asking tough questions Pollak would probably avoid like calling Carlos Mencia on stealing material, or asking Weird Al Yankovich about the death of his parents. If Pollak's show is like the Tonight Show of the 1960's, Marc Maron's is possibly most like Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show of the 1970's.

Likewise, Chris Hardwick and his crew at The Nerdist Podcast might well be compared to Dick Cavette's Show, being by far the hippest and most up to date on current trends, as Cavette was in his day too.

The Pod F. Tomcast is a monthly variety show by comic Paul F. Tomkins. Tomkins does stream of consciousness monologues set to piano accompaniment, phone conversations with his friend comic Jen Kirkman, sketches with special guests from his live shows, and a continuing sketch called "The Undiscovered Project" in which he imitates John Lithgow, Ice T, Garry Marshall, John C Reilly, The Cake Boss and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber working on a musical together.

On The Tobolowsky Files character actor Stephen Tobolowski shares a series of short stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry. Tobolowski has appeared in such films as Memento, Groundhog Day, and recently on the TV series Glee. His stories are self-effacing and profound.

Doug Loves Movies features comic Doug Benson (of Super High Me fame) playing what he calls The Leonard Maltin Game with a panel of comedians and celebrities. The game play is similar to Name That Tune where contestants bid to guess a film using the fewest number of names from Leonard Maltin's film directory.

Rob Has a Podcast features former Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino as he leads discussions and interviews for all topics related to Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and many other reality-based game shows. Cesternino's infectious good humor makes the podcast addictive.

Coast to Coast AM Of all the podcasts listed, this is the only pay podcast, and the only one which is created as a radio show, before being recorded and sold as a podcast. At $54 a year (or 15 cents a day,) you get three hours worth of programming daily, dealing with everything from UFOs, Ghosts, the Occult, Urban Myths, Conspiracy theories. The stories here are fascinating, though I make no claims towards their truthfulness or accuracy.

TV Shows
Breaking Bad
Game of Thrones
Veep
Sons of Anarchy
Walking Dead
Dexter
Homeland
Shameless
Mad Men
Arrested Development
Survivor
Big Brother

If you own a TV, you know what these shows are. If you don't, there is no sense telling you about them!

Music
Big Station by Alejandro Escovedo
Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan by Various Artists
Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen
Live At Billy Bob's by Billy Joe Shaver
Tempest by Bob Dylan
Mystic Pinball by John Hiatt
In the Time of the Gods by Dar Williams
4th Street Feeling by Melissa Etheridge
Heroes by Willie Nelson
A Different Kind of Truth by Van Halen
Flying Colors by Flying Colors (Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater.)

If there is an underlying theme to the first nine on the list, its that all of these recordings are the work of singer/songwriters (with the exception of "Chimes of Freedom" which is a salute to a singer/songwriter.) Whether they fall into the category of Folk/Rock like Dylan, Cohen, Williams or Etheridge; Country like Billy Joe Shaver or Willie Nelson, or adult contemporary like Hiatt or Escoveda, my favorite recordings have always been of singers who wrote their own songs.

That said, new ones by Van Halen and Flying Colors are fresh collaborations by bands of perennial favorites that should not be missed.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Katniss Everdeen of District 12 Triumphed Over John Carter of Mars


Frontispiece from the first edition of The Gods Of Mars


As the month of March draws to a close, the dust is settling on the film versions of two beloved science fiction books. Leading off the month on March 9 was John Carter -the long awaited adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough's "A Princess of Mars."


Following two weeks later was the movie version of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games."


By now everyone knows the story: The Hunger Games had one of the most successful openings in motion picture history. John Carter failed to find an audience to earn back what it cost to make.

Were we to judge the two films simply by the money earned on their release, we could surmise that The Hunger Games was literally one of the greatest stories ever told, and John Carter was one of the worst films ever made.

But neither is true.

Both are top notch science fiction tales, and I predict that both will be considered classics by future generations of science fiction fans.

But in the present, I'm intrigued at how one rose to the top of the charts, and the other flounders.

If ever there was a cursed movie project, John Carter may be it. Based on the 1912 book by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first attempt to make the movie was by animator Bob Clampett who collaborated with Burrough's son in the 1930's.



Had the two found studio backing to produce the movie, it would have preceeded Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as the first full length animation film. However, the only interested studios wanted a musical comedy telling of the story. Burroughs and Clampett shelved the project.

Its only been recently with modern advances in computer generated images that a live action film version of the story could be attempted (although a very cheesy direct to DVD version was made with Tracy Lords and Antonia Sabate Jr.)


As cheesy as this version was, the film makers at least had the forethought to invoke Edgar Rice Burroughs by name and the novel on which their film was based in the trailer for it.

Over the last decade, one director after another seemed destined to fail at making a major motion picture version of it. Paramount pictures had optioned the script and Robert Rodgriguez was set to direct -until he ran afoul of the Director's Guild over allowing Frank Miller a "co-directing" credit for Sin City and was replaced by Kerry Conran of the movie "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." He, in turn, was replaced by Jon Favreau, and the whole project was shelved, when Paramount decided it needed a Star Trek reboot in 2009.

That's when Disney picked up the film and assigned it to director Andrew Stanton.

Despite the fact that Burrough's Martian Series is largely lost to modern readers, it was highly influential in its time. Such movies and books as Star Wars, Avatar, Buck Rogers, and Dune have all been influenced by those books. Authors Ray Bradbudy, Robert Heinlein, Michael Chrichton and Frank Herbert have all listed Burroughs as a major influence on their bodies of work. Over the years, Marvel, DC and Gold Key comics all ran John Carter of Mars lines at various times, and Burrough's son John Coleman Burroughs had a daily Martian newspaper strip in the funnies in the 1940's.

Yet, to the modern science fiction reader, The Martian Series is ancient history. Its primary appeal is to readers of my generation and older who read it as youngsters.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand is a four year old novel that as a property, couldn't be much hotter. Based on the young adult novel of the same name, The Hunger Games had a ready-made youth audience which the film makers were eager to please.

Whereas John Carter of Burrough's Martian series needed to be reintroduced into the pop culture, Katniss Everdeen of Collin's Hunger Games needed no introduction to the masses of young people, who flocked to see the story created for the silver screen.

Having seen both movies, I can attest both have weaknesses and strengths -but both are worth seeing. The greatest sin of John Carter is that it was written a century ago, and its most loyal fans fall outside the youthful demographic required to make such an expensive movie a blockbuster. But to those of us who are students of where science fiction has been in the past and where it is heading in the future, both movies should be on our must-see list.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hair



Like so many record collectors I've known over the years, family life put a serious dent in my mom's ability to collect music. As a young single women, she and my aunt amassed a wonderful collection of 50's era 45's that I remember listening to when I was a small child, as my mom did household chores around the house.

Still, new releases would find their way into the house over the years from time to time -often times gifts from my dad to my mom: The Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" album, the soundtrack to "The Graduate" with all of those wonderful Simon and Garfunkel songs, and the soundtrack from the Broadway musical "Hair." Because fewer recordings were coming into the house, any new ones got played and played and played, until everyone in the household was quite familiar with all the songs.

Unlike the two preceding albums, by artists whose work I have collected over the years, I had largely forgotten the soundtrack to Hair, until I happened upon a showing of the 1979 movie version, directed by Milos Forman (who also did "One Flew OVer The Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus.")

Also, unlike the two the preceding albums, I realized that there were songs from Hair that mom never played on the family hi-fi.

As I watched "Hair" on Thanksgiving night, a couple of things struck me about it. First off, the music, whose new arrangements had been done by the show's composer Galt MacDermot seemed lackluster and dull. The music in this version of the original rock musical no longer rocked. What had sounded vibrant and exciting on the soundtrack album, now sounded like music from a variety show.

Secondly, the portrayals of the main characters seemed menacing and obnoxious as opposed to charismatic, lovable and freewheeling, which was the vibe I picked up from the music years ago. Having never seen the play, or even knowing what it was about, I presumed the movie was a faithful retelling of the play.

As it turns out, it wasn't.

From what I can gather, the play "Hair" was less a plot-driven piece, than a theme driven meditation on a variety of 60's issues: the peace movement ("Aquarius,") race relations ("Colored Spade,""White Boys" and "Black Boys") free love ("Sodomy,") drug use,("Hashish") the enviromnment ("Air") and the hippie movement ("Hair.")

Many of the songs were simply lists of terms: Colored Spade was comprised of racial epithets, Sodomy is a list of sexual proclivities, Air is a list of chemicals in the air, Hashish is a list of drugs and true to its name, Initials is a list of initials.

There are also silly, funny songs used to introduce the various characters: Berger's opening song "Donna" is about returning from San Francisco looking for "a sixteen year old virgin" and "psychedelic urchin" who was "busted for her beauty"

His buddy Claude's introductory song "Manchester England" shows him as a poser from Flushing Queens, talking in a fake English accent, and claiming to be a "genius genius" from "Manchester England England"

What plot there is to the show involves Claude's moral dilemma, whether or not to report for the draft for the Viet Nam war. Eventually he does, and we learn in the finale, that he was killed in action.

The movie switches things up considerably. Claude (played by John Savage) is a country bumpkin from Oklahoma, making the long bus ride to New York City to be drafted (which, in itself makes no sense.) Once in town, he encounters Berger (Treat Williams) and the others panhandling for money.

Williams is a fine actor, but in this role, he comes across more like a Manson-era bully than one of the Fabulous Freak Brothers (which is closer to the spirit of the original characters.) Inexplicably, Berger sings "Donna" while Claude is chasing a woman he's just seen in the park (Beverly D'Angelo) while both are on horseback.

Later, Treat Williams as Berger steals Claude's introductory song, and sings "Manchester England" as a way of introducing Claude to the group, before Claude himself takes the lead and finished it himself.

Through a series of plot contrivances, Claude becomes angry with the group after a practical joke and he reports for active duty and is sent to Nevada for basic training. Once the group hears from him, they steal a car from Beverly D'Angelo's boyfriend and drives there. Berger sneaks on base dressed like an officer, and swaps places with Claude, so he can drive off base and visit his hippie pals. While he is gone, Claude's unit gets called up for Viet Nam, and Berger has to go in his place.

What should be tragic, comes off as funny, given how obnoxious Berger has behaved up to his point. Getting sent into combat serves his lazy, non-conformist ass right. The film ends with the gang standing around a grave marker with Berger's name (shouldn't that be Claude's name since he was pretending to be him?) and then there is a big peace rally in front of the White House. The End.

The biggest tragedy though about the movie version is this: in our culture, the motion picture seems to be the final word on anything: novels, plays, short stories, even tv shows. By creating a lackluster version of an otherwise dynamic musical experience, the majority of those who see the film will presume what I initially did -that it was a faithful adaptation of the play, but one need only compare the movie's production of the title song to that of the 2009 version of the play to see how ineptly the movie was handled:

Movie


2009 Play


Gotta say, the movie version looks like it primarily appeals to aficionados of shampoo commercials and really lame prison riots. The play looks like a lot of fun. The next time a touring company comes through town, I hope to be there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Music My Dad Shared With Me

A lot of fathers and sons connect over sporting events or favorite teams. Unfortunately, sports never resonated with me (beyond loafing on the couch for a couple of hours, eating snacks!) What we did connect over was music, movies and books. Dad passed on to me his love for the esoteric, eclectic and out of the ordinary. 

In this post, I'd like to share a few songs Dad opened my eyes to.

Dad was a life long fan of Opera and Classical music. Before you skip over this video, take a quick peak at opera hottie Julie Migenes singing "La Habanera" from the movie version of Georges Bizet's Carmen. This is from one of my Dad's favorite operas, and one of mine too.




Long before the Doors recorded "The Alabama Song" it was a well known tune on my parents hi-fi, in the basement of our old house on 91st Street. A fan of the post modern German operas by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht, Dad took a fancy to this song he thought was ludicrous in a funny kind of way.

Rather than revisit the Doors version, which most people know, here is David Bowie's which is much closer to the original:


While we're visiting the works of Weill and Brecht, let's hear the original "Mack the Knife" or (as it was originally known)"Die Moritat Von Mackie Messer" Here is a literal translation....note how much darker the original was, than Bobby Darin or Louis Armstong's American version:

And the shark, he’s got teeth
And he keeps them in his face,
And MacHeath, he’s got a knife,
But not in such an obvious place.

On a beautiful blue Sunday
Lies a dead man on the beach.
And a person goes around the corner
Whom they call Mack the Knife.

And Schmul Meyer still is missing,
And such a great, rich man,
And Mack the Knife has his money.
No one can prove anything on him.

Jenny Fowler was found
With a knife in her breast,
And on the waterfront goes Mack the Knife,
Who knows nothing about anything.

Where is Alfons Glite, the chauffeur?
Does it come to the light of day?
Who could ever have known?
Mack doesn’t know.

And the big fire in Soho—
Seven children and an old man.
In the crowd is Mack the Knife,
Whom no one questions and who knows nothing.

And the child bride on her wedding night,
Whose name everyone knows,
Woke up and was raped.
Mack, what was your price?

And fish, they disappear
But to the sorrow of being eaten.
Someone appoints an end to the shark,
But the shark knows nothing of it.

And he can’t remember himself
And no one can recognize him.
For a shark is not a shark
When no one cam prove anything.



My first exposure to Jimi Hendrix was from my dad, who back in the early 70's was NOT a countercultural type, up to date on hard rock music trends, but rather as an open minded eclectic who had seen the movie "Woodstock" at the University of Oklahoma, where his employer, The Post Office had sent him to study computers. I'd fallen asleep in front of the set, when Dad woke me up to see Jimi on a late night rock show. He told me "Watch this guy, Robbie. He's going to play guitar with his teeth and then set his guitar on fire." I thought Dad was yanking my chain, but sure enough, that's exactly what the guy did. From that moment on, I was a fan of Jimi Hendrix and hard rock:


The only person Dad was more impressed with in the Woodstock movie than Hendrix was Richie Havens. He liked the way he played guitar and how one guy with an acoustic guitar could mesmerize a million or so people all at the same time. In 1972, when my folks gave me my first eight track player, there were tapes by both Jimi an Richie there for me:


Dad was a big fan of Buddy Holly, and particularly this song, "Everyday." He was drafted and sent to Germany less than six months after marrying my Mom, and this song, specifically, is one that became anthemic with him, as everyday, his return home came a little closer:


Dad was also a big fan of French chanteuse Edith Piaf. In the year before his stroke, he and I went to the Manor Square Movie House to see the biopic "La Vie En Rose" about Edith Piaf. I'm not sure if it was during his time in Europe in the 50's with the Army, or prior to that that he became a fan of her music, but her music was some of his favorite, right up to the end.


Being of Scotish heritage, Dad was always a fan of bagpipe music, and the song that sticks out most in my memory is "Scotland the Brave" performed here by The Pipes & Drums of The Royal Tank Regiment:


A group that Dad and I saw in concert three times is Riders In The Sky, a modern group of virtuoso musicians re-creating some of the goofiest Cowboy Movie music from the 30's and 40's.


Lastly, here is the Gene Autry version of the classic, "I'm Heading for the Last Round Up" a song Dad once said he wanted played at his funeral. Given contemporary Catholic liturgical norms being what they are, I doubt that's in the repertoire of his home parish, but here it is for our listening pleasure, as my Dad heads for the last round up: