music friday: winterland, january 28, 1973

This was the second of two nights for this gig. Opening was The Bar-Kays, who were Otis Redding's backup band when he died in a plane crash that also took the lives of most of the Bar-Kays. In 1972, they appeared at Wattstax:

Next up was local band Tower of Power, out of Oakland. They had already released two albums, which featured songs like "Back on the Streets Again", "Down to the Nightclub", and "You're Still a Young Man". John Wasserman wrote about the Winterland shows in the San Francisco Chronicle. He described Tower of Power (making reference to the "temporary absence of lead singer Rick Stevens," who actually had left the band by then.

Tower of Power’s set was good T of P but not vintage, mainly due to the temporary absence of lead singer Rick Stevens. Good Tower of Power means tight, funky, grinding, pushing, shoving, unrelenting street-corner soul rock with no wasted motion.... In the absence of freedom to dance, however, they are also too even, in terms of sameness of sound, of grinding (the word is more applicable than any other) rhythm section punctured and harassed by horns. “Didn’t they just play that one?” inquired a non-veteran observer as the band cranked into a new song.

You can hear their set at Wolfgang's. Here they are in 1973:

Headlining was Curtis Mayfield. Wasserman again:

Sunday afternoon he received a proclamation from the city of Berkeley and Mayor Warren Widener declared the day as Curtis Mayfield Day. The Rainbow Sign, the Berkeley black art and culture center, stated that “Curtis Mayfield exerts the strongest influence on black youth of any performer in the country today.”

The Sunday night set, which went over an hour and was greeted with great enthusiasm, opened with a soft, sweet “Gimme Some Love” and then marched on through the likes of “Superfly” (gold single), “Love Child,” “Stone Junkie,” “Pusher Man,” “Sure is Funky,” “Stare and Stare” and “Freddie’s Dead” (gold single); a set dominated, obviously by songs from “Superfly,” — songs which discuss the ugly reality of drugs in the ghetto with neither shrill moralizing nor smug acceptance. It is not a life I must live and I don’t relate to it in the manner of those who do. But the descriptions and emotions are plainly valid and perceptive.

Here is Mayfield on Midnight Special in 1973:

And an interview on Soul Train from the same year:

grand piano (eugenio mira, 2013)

This is the nineteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 19 is called "Dee-lightful Week":

One of my favorite running weekly challenges. No real connection between these four artists other than the surface level name they partially share. At least you'll have plenty to choose from!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film starring and/or directed by Dee ReesDee WallaceRuby Dee. or Billy Dee Williams.

A goofy challenge. Last year it was "Ray, Ray, Ray, or Wray Week" (I watched Aparajito), while the year before that it was "Leigh, Leigh, Leigh, or Leigh Week" (I watched Welcome to Me). I had intended to watch the Dee Rees film Bessie, but my recording kept skipping, so I switched to a Dee Wallace movie. Which is a bit of a misnomer. I spent the entire movie looking for the E.T. star and never recognized her. Turns out she had one scene as an interviewer speaking on a phone, so her face never appeared.

Grand Piano is a compact (90 minutes, including 12-minute closing credits) thriller that offers nothing new but is effective nonetheless. Elijah Wood plays a famed concert pianist who comes out of retirement and finds trouble during his concert. It's in the tradition of Phone Booth, another movie with an unseen sniper keeping the hero in place. While he doesn't show his face until the climax, the voice of the sniper is recognizable as John Cusack. (It's an offbeat moment of humor when the two characters finally meet ... Cusack's 6'2" frame towers over Wood's 5'6".) I'm unfamiliar with the Spanish director Eugenio Mira ... he gets the job done here. Screenwriter Damien Chazelle wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane and Whiplash, two good but problematic movies. Everyone is fine here, if you don't kind the lack of ambition to do anything out of the ordinary. As a fan of Halt and Catch Fire, I am always glad to see Kerry Bishé. Grand Piano does its business and goes home, which is sometimes just what is needed.

night in the city (jules dassin, 1950)

Classic film noir, and a high point in the career of Jules Dassin. The oft-told story is that Dassin was about to be blacklisted, and Darryl F. Zanuck sent him to England to make Night in the City, unencumbered by the blacklist. It is now seen as one of his best films, second only to Rififi. There are two versions of the movie ... I saw the "American" version.

The very title of the movie suggests film noir ... "Night and the City" could be the title of an essay on noir. Jo Eisinger's screenplay is taut, and the cinematography of Mutz Greenbaum is appropriate. At times, the London underworld seems like Paris in the French New Wave, with the love of the city that the New Wave often demonstrated. Richard Widmark plays Harry Fabian, a low-level con man with big dreams. You know from the start that his dreams will be thwarted, and Widmark is brilliant as a man who sees his future fall apart even as he is living it. Gene Tierney plays the closest thing to a sympathetic character. Googie Withers steals most of her scenes.

I don't know how it played with audiences in 1950, but Harry's big scheme, to take over the pro wrestling world in London, seems a bit absurd. It's all treated quite seriously, with a subplot where a classic "real" wrestler played by "real" wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko (he was 50) takes umbrage at the new, "sports entertainment" angle represented by Mike Mazurki (who also wrestled professionally). There is a terrific ring battle between the two, but nonetheless, I couldn't quit thinking it was silly (and I like pro rassling).

But that's a minor quibble. Widmark grabs the screen, the atmosphere is suitably ominous, and Night and the City is as good as people say it is.