billie eilish, h.e.r., and adele

On Saturday, Billie Eilish performed a live-streaming concert. It was amazing ... Eilish was in fine form, but the thing that got people's attention was the special-effects production. While Eilish, Phineas, and their drummer spent the entire show on one stage (this wasn't apparent at first), a group of effects wizards transformed the visuals with every song. I don't know how they did it ... I was halfway through the show before I realized Billie wasn't going anywhere, that there was really only one trick, to make the stage look like something other than what it was, but there was a new version of the trick for each tune. It was an imaginative way to accept that a virtual live-stream concert is not the same as a live show with an excited audience.

There was nothing unusual about the setlist:

Bury A Friend / You Should See Me In A Crown / My Strange Addiction / Ocean Eyes / Xanny / I Love You / ilomilo / No Time To Die / When The Party’s Over / All The Good Girls Go To Hell / Everything I Wanted / My Future / Bad Guy

Eilish was good enough, the show would have worked fine without the effects, and "No Time to Die" remains a killer. It wasn't entirely "live" ... there were backing tracks, but that kind of added to the artificial presentation. She also pushed a message of "VOTE!", and via effects had a couple of songs where fans on the stream were shown on big video screens singing along. For much of what remained of Saturday, Eilish was a topic of discussion, pretty much all of it positive. It would be great to offer some video examples, but as of this writing, they are all being taken down as quickly as they go up.

Later, on Saturday Night Live, Adele appeared as the host. Adele hadn't been on American TV since 2017, and her last album came out in 2015. But she's been missed ... as Rolling Stone said, "Adele Reminds the World Why We Need Her More Than Ever". When Adele sings, she doesn't need special effects ... her voice is her special effect. (Billie Eilish, a different kind of singer, startles us when she hits the high note in "No Time to Die", but Adele hits those notes regularly. Neither is better, but different.)

She insisted in her monologue that she was only hosting, that she wouldn't be singing. There was a musical guest for that, H.E.R., and she was great:

But SNL and Adele got sneaky during one skit, and it got more admiring chatter than even Eilish's remarkable show.

The winner was the audience, entertained and more by three vital women artists.


the king of marvin gardens (bob rafelson, 1972)

Some years ago, Criterion released a box set of films from BBS Productions. BBS stood for Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Stephen Blauner. They were part of the emerging "New Hollywood". The films included in the box set give a sense of what BBS was about: Head, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Drive He Said, The Last Picture Show, A Safe Place, and The King of Marvin Gardens.

I saw The King of Marvin Gardens when it came out, and didn't think it was the equal of Five Easy Pieces, also directed by Rafelson and starring Nicholson. It seemed that Nicholson was miscast as an introvert who hosts a radio show where he tells stories. Bruce Dern played the "Nicholson" part, the extrovert with dreams. Looking back, I'd say that Dern was always capable of a variety of roles, and he isn't out of place here. And Nicholson has gotten some praise for his performance here, although I remain mostly unimpressed. For one thing, the long monologues that his character gives are boring and obscure. It's hard to believe any radio station would play his show. Also, I think he gets praised too much for not being "Jack Nicholson".

Ellen Burstyn gives everything she has to her part as an aging prostitute, but as Kael noted, "Ellen Burstyn works valiantly, but her role is a series of florid gestures", which isn't the fault of the actress.  Julia Anne Robinson rounds out the main cast ... she was just getting started in her career, and she sadly died soon after the film was made in a fire. Scatman Crothers livens things up when he appears. And director of photography László Kovács does his usual job of making a movie look great, whether the movie is good or not.

I wrote of A Safe Place, "It does make me nostalgic for that period of American movies, and its experimental nature is worth praising. But I could barely stay awake when I had to actually watch it." Much the same can be said for The King of Marvin Gardens, although I had no trouble staying awake, and thought it was OK where I really disliked A Safe Place.


music friday

Feeling the need to change things around to keep my attention, I'm going to turn Music Friday into a random look at concerts I've attended over the years. Might last one week, might last one year, who knows? Obviously, I'll repeat myself at times ... been writing here for 18 years, I've probably told these stories more than once. Here are four artists to start it off.

The J. Geils Band. I think I saw them four times. They were a big favorite of mine in my factory years ... saw them once a year from 1975-1977, then added one more show in 1982. This video is from the show I attended in 1977:

The Clash. Saw them five times, including their first-ever show in the USA. Those shows were from 1979-1984, with the last one being what I think of as the Faux Clash after Mick Jones was kicked out of the band. The night after that first U.S. show, they played a show in San Francisco with little advance notice. I wasn't there, but I was there the night before, so this is as close as I can get to my own experience seeing them for the first time.

The Blasters. Saw them once. This is one where memory serves me poorly. As I recall, it was early on, and they played at Slim's in San Francisco. But Slim's didn't open until 1988, by which time The Blasters had effectively broken up. So I don't know when I saw them, I don't know where I saw them, but I saw them. Once you've seen Phil Alvin's facial grimaces, you don't forget them, no matter how bad your memory gets.

Finally, here's another one where I was actually at the show on the video. This was at the first Bridge Concert, an annual charity show put on by Neil Young and his wife Pegi. While these shows went on for 30 years and took place at a venue close to us, I only went to two ... the ones Bruce Springsteen played at. One thing about these multi-act shows is you see people you might have missed otherwise, which is how I was able to add Don Henley to my list of musicians I've seen, even though I never much liked Don Henley.


bloodsucking bastards (brian james o’connell, 2015)

This is the seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 7 is called Vampires of the New Millennium Week:

These creatures are immortal, both in life and in film. Sure they've been around forever, but what have they been up to lately? Maybe you'd like to find out.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen vampire film released in 2000 or later.

Bloodsucking Bastards has some similarities with Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley's remarkable directing debut from 2018. The comparisons, though, are almost all in favor of the later film.

Both movies show contemporary office work environments that are boring and repetitious. Both feature supernatural angles. And that's where things go downhill for Bloodsucking Bastards.

Riley's fantasy/farce is filled with pointed social commentary that doesn't get in the way of the film. Bloodsucking Bastards has little subtext at all ... it's a vampire movie in an office setting, and that's about it. Which means the vampire story better be good. And, I regret to say, it's not. Sorry to Bother You is also loony, usually in a good way, but in any event, Riley was willing to try anything. Brian James O'Connell's film was much more straightforward. He makes ingenious use of his low budget, and attracts actors who fit their roles and do well by them. But the slow buildup is more slow than buildup, and the revelations of the plot aren't all that unusual for a vampire movie.

Part of me thinks it's unfair to compare the two movies. But as I was watching Bloodsucking Bastards, I kept thinking of Sorry to Bother You, and I never thought I was seeing a better movie. Oh, and it's a comedy. Among the other possible choices for this week's challenge were Let the Right One In, a favorite of mine, and Only Lovers Left Alive, which I also preferred to the one I ended up with.


geezer cinema: the trial of the chicago 7 (aaron sorkin, 2020)

This is a trivia note that amazes me: The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the 13th movie I've seen with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (A River Runs Through It, The Lookout, The Brothers Bloom, (500) Days of Summer, Inception, Premium Rush, Looper, Lincoln, The Interview, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Knives Out, Project Power, The Trial of the Chicago 7).

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is simultaneously excellent and disappointing. Aaron Sorkin's magic touch with dialogue turns up here, which is always a good thing. He knows how to construct a courtroom drama. Some of the casting is inspired (Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman). It's an important story, and it has relevance today.

Some of the best writing I've seen about the film comes from Rennie Davis, one of the 7, on his Facebook page. He wrote enough that it took three posts to get it all out.

He begins by thanking the creators. "Any support we can give to today’s generation standing up to self-serving government authority is my reason for promoting this film." But he thinks that other than Hoffman, Sorkin doesn't really get the characters right. "I encourage all my FB friends to see the movie for its remarkable impact, but I can still wish the producers had realized the best movie possible could only be made by conveying the story just as it happened. Creating fictional characters that never existed to create a drama that moves apart from the actual event will always fall short of the real humor, inspiration and courage of the Chicago 8 defendants." And he adds:

Understanding that the Sorkin film was never intended to be a replica of the actual trial is a good way to watch the Trial of the Chicago 7. That way you feel no need to knit pick its inaccuracies. Netflix told me I should think of the movie as a painting rather than a picture. Okay. That's another way to see it.
 
I write these three posts so my FB friends can remember what actually happened in Chicago and that putting government on trial is needed again today.
Sorkin foregrounds some characters at the expense of others. My wife pointed out that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were the ones most of us knew at the time, along with Bobby Seale. But even if that is true, all of the defendants were important. John Froines and Lee Wiener were barely in the film. Tom Hayden was presented as the one who contested the ideas of the others, to the extent that he comes across in a negative way compared to them. He rises to the occasion in the end, but it's puzzling why he was shown this way in the first place.
 
As the film ends, we get an update on what happened to the real people in the trial. Following that, we learn about the eventual future lives of the people. We read about Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Tom Hayden. But the others apparently weren't important enough for even that little part of their story.
 
So yes, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is gripping, and the overall presentation is close enough to make the events matter to those who weren't alive, while allowing older viewers a nostalgic look at their past. It's not a replica. I was engrossed from beginning to end, but yeah, I could have used a bit more replica.