the sunshine makers (cosmo feilding-mellen, 2015)

Amanda Feilding, aka Lady Neidpath, is a long-time advocate of drug reform in England. In 2018, Wired said that "If LSD is having its renaissance, Feilding is its Michelangelo." Feilding is now 78 years old, and still on the job.

She is the mother of Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, who directed and co-wrote The Sunshine Makers, about two men who in the 1960s were the creators of Orange Sunshine acid. The film takes you back ... if you lived through those times, you'll suffer a large hit of nostalgia. And I learned a little about those two men, Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, who are not as famous as Leary and Kesey (not to mention Owsley Stanley, who was so famous, his name was synonymous with high-quality LSD). All of this makes The Sunshine Makers sound right up my alley.

But the movie feels like a missed opportunity. It's hard to know just how much Feilding-Mellen had to work with. He fills his movie with a collage of modern-day interviews, footage from the 60s, and what seems to be home movies that Sand and Scully took. Honestly, it's possible the only "real" thing in the movie is the interviews ... a lot of the scenes of drug busts and the like feel more like the kinds of re-creations you see on reality crime shows than they look like actual footage. To some extent, this fit with what the film is presenting, not a history of the times as much as a look at Sand and Scully. As I say, I learned something about them, and Orange Sunshine was a big deal. But, as someone who not only lived through this time but also lived in the area where much of the story takes place, I think the focus on Orange Sunshine may misrepresent the times. Yes, there was "brand-name" LSD, but by the time I joined the party (which admittedly was in 1969-72, which was just after the heyday of Sunshine), you could get acid that you were told was "Owsley" or "Orange Sunshine", but the actual product, even if it started in those forms, was usually cut with other ingredients, especially speed.

What I really wanted from Orange Sunshine was a sociological look at drug culture in the 60s. But that's not the movie we get. The center of the story is the friendship and partnership of Sand and Scully ... the ambience is secondary. What Feilding-Mellen gives us is not without interest. It just wasn't what I wanted to see.

I kept thinking of Magic Trip, the documentary from Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, who took the endless footage of the Merry Pranksters' famous bus trip to New York and back and somehow gave it some coherence without losing the anarchic spirit of the film the Pranksters shot. Like Feilding-Mellen, they were working with less-than-ideal resources, but they miraculously turned it into a movie that not only told the story of the bus trip but hinted at the larger meaning of the Pranksters. It's far from a perfect movie, but I fear it's what I hoped to get out of The Sunshine Makers. I was probably expecting the wrong thing.

A bit from Magic Trip:


music friday: fleetwood mac, 1968; 1975

Fleetwood Mac, Fillmore West, July 1968; Oakland Coliseum, August 1975. I saw them twice, once in each of their most notable permutations: the Peter Green band of the 60s, and the Buckingham/Nicks version of the 70s and beyond. It is hard to imagine two more different groups.

The Fillmore West show saw the band opening for Paul Butterfield and Ten Years After. My memories of the show, 50+ years later, are mostly about Alvin Lee, and the potty mouth of Jeremy Spencer. Here's a clean version of one of Spencer's spotlight numbers:

"Oh Well" was a popular Peter Green song that originally had two parts. The second part, beautiful as it is, rarely turns up. But the newer versions of Fleetwood Mac still trot it out.

"Albatross" was another Green composition, with that same "Part 2" feel to it:

Finally, Green was a masterful blues guitarist, someone who impressed the likes of B.B. King. Here is my choice for his best blues:

The second time I saw the band was with the musicians we all know and love today. They were touring behind their first album with Nicks and Buckingham, which had come out shortly before my concert. This was another Day on the Green special, and Fleetwood Mac were fourth-billed on a five-band show (Robin Trower, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Gary Wright). I used to think of Stevie Nicks as a weak link, but I was wrong.

HAIM is often compared to Fleetwood Mac, which refers to the pop sounds of their records. So I find it ironic that one of their big covers in concert was this:


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.
 


music friday: fillmore west 1968

On July 9-11, 1968, the Fillmore West had a "Blues Bash". Opening was Freddie King. King had a big hit with "Hide Away" in 1960. He was influential on many guitarists, including Eric Clapton, who recorded "Hide Away" early in his career with John Mayall. King is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here he is in 1972:

Buddy Guy was and is even more influential than King, and he is still with us and still playing live shows (King died at an early age). He, too, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and while playing at the White House in 2012, he convinced President Obama to sing a bit of "Sweet Home Chicago". Here he is from a 1969 movie, Supershow, playing with Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles:

Headlining was The Electric Flag, which was formed by Mike Bloomfield (who died at an early age), who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The band, which combined rock and blues and soul, with a horn section, also featuring the aforementioned Buddy Miles. Here is the first song from their first-ever concert, at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967:

And here is the song of theirs that I love the most ... it always takes me back to 1968:


my letterboxd season challenge 2019-20

I finished "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." I began with Shadows in Paradise last September, and 8 months later, I finished with A Town Called Panic. In between were 31 new-to-me movies. It was a great way to be introduced to films that might be outside of my usual choices. Some stats:

Earliest movie: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1920.

Most recent movie: The Shape of Water, 2017.

Longest movie: Empire of the Sun, 153 minutes.

Shortest movie: Lessons of Darkness, 54 minutes.

Highest rating: The Shape of Water, French Cancan, 9/10.

Lowest rating: The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1/10.

Looking forward to next year!


music friday: tim buckley

On the final episode of The Monkees TV show, Tim Buckley was invited to sing.

Here are a couple of my favorite Tim Buckley songs. First, from my favorite of his albums, Goodbye and Hello:

From Happy Sad:

And, from 1974, a cover of Fred Neil's "Dolphins":


music friday: steve miller

[Edited to add: it's Chuck Berry's birthday!]
 
Steve Miller has a new box set out, Welcome to the Vault. It includes plenty of rarities, and is a fine package for fans.
 
This isn't the first such effort from Miller. In 1994, he released a box set so inclusive it had a conversation between a 5-year-old Miller and Les Paul.
 
But despite the kitchen sink approach to these two anthologies, one track has yet to make the cut: "Your Old Lady" from the soundtrack to Revolution. Since some of us believe that song features Miller's all-time greatest geetar blast, its absence is odd.
 
When I complained about this on Twitter, my brother noted that one live track, "Super Shuffle", included many of the hottest licks from Miller's "Your Old Lady" solos. "Super Shuffle is taken from Monterey Pop. You can see an excerpt here (not sure it will play if you aren't a subscriber to the Criterion site):
 
 
Looking around, I found a couple of promo videos from 1968, apparently connected to the band's first single. The A-side is "Roll with It" from Children of the Future:

The B-side was "Sittin' in Circles", written by Barry Goldberg, perhaps most famous for playing in Bob Dylan's backup band for the infamous "Dylan Goes Electric" performance at the Newport Folk Festival. Goldberg and Miller first met up in Chicago in the mid-60s. Goldberg was also a member of The Electric Flag. Goldberg recorded this song himself at least once, and it was on the first Electric Flag album.

Finally, the version of "It Hurts Me Too" on Welcome to the Vault is from Chuck Berry Live at Fillmore Auditorium. I've had that album for a long time ... it was re-released with a few extra tracks awhile back. They're all on Spotify. While I can't specify the date ... that album was recorded during a long stand by Berry with Miller's band as backup, and I can't remember which of the shows we saw, nor am I sure which ones ended up on that album.

Bonus: for the billionth time, I'll add "Your Old Lady" to this blog:


top three of each year

I've been spending a little time at the Letterboxd website ... this is what happens when you're retired, I guess. A couple of fellows from Germany uploaded a list of their top three films of each year, and I got inspired enough to create my own list. It starts in 1924 and goes through 2018. Two years (1926 and 1929) only got two movies, so the entire list is comprised of 283 movies. The thing that interested me the most was the recent films, because when I make Top 50 lists or whatever, I always end up with lots of old movies and not enough new ones. By forcing myself to pick three from each year, I was able to give recent years some space. So, to take a couple of years at random, from 2018, Black Panther, Roma, and Springsteen on Broadway made the list, while 2005 offered A History of Violence, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Top three from 1924? Sherlock, Jr., Greed, and The Navigator (lots of Buster Keaton in the silent years).

You can check out the list here:

Top 3 of each year, 1924-2018


music friday: b.b. king, 1968

On June 6-8, 1968, The Mothers of Invention headlined shows at the Fillmore (first night) and Winterland (next two nights). The supporting acts were B.B. King and Booker T. and the M.G.'s. It's a good example of the kinds of diverse shows Bill Graham would put on in those days. The Mothers were experimental rock, King was blues, Booker and the M.G.'s were R&B. All are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jazz Casual was a TV show out of KQED in San Francisco that ran occasionally from 1960-1968, shown on NET (which later became PBS). The host was critic Ralph J. Gleason. A look at Gleason's guest list boggles the mind: Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Carmen McRae, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Mel Tormé, Count Basie, and many more. In May of 1968, the guest was B.B. King. It gives an example of what B.B.'s music was like at the time. The band is B.B. King (Guitar), Sonny Freeman (Drums), Jim Toney (Organ), Mose Thomas (Trumpet), and Lee Gatling (Saxophone).


political films

Another list. This time, we were asked to name our favorite political films, leaving us to define "political". There was a complicated point system that allowed for different numbers of movies in a response. In my case, I voted for ten movies, with points totaling 100 and no film getting more than 30 points. Here is my ballot, with points and a link to my reviews:

The Sorrow and the Pity 30 points
The Rules of the Game 20
The Passion of Joan of Arc 15
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 14
The Lives of Others 13
The Battle of Chile (Parts 1 & 2) 3
Harlan County, USA 2
The Leopard 1
The Battle of Algiers 1
Wild in the Streets 1 (Oddly, I've never written about this movie, although I assigned it once in a class)

Here are the top ten in the final poll, with links when relevant:

  1. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  2. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  3. Election (1999)
  4. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  5. Nashville (1975)
  6. All the President’s Men (1976)
  7. Paths of Glory (1957)
  8. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)
  10. Do the Right Thing (1989)