african-american directors series: symbiopsychotaxiplasm: take one (willliam greaves, 1968)

This film is as hard to describe as it is to pronounce its title. Letterboxd and the IMDB classify it as a documentary. Writer/director William Greaves produced more than 200 documentaries, and in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm he is the on-screen director and writer of the film, as himself. The actors all appear as themselves ... the only one you might recognize is Susan Anspach, two years before Five Easy Pieces. In the film, Greaves is making a movie with the actors ... the crew also appear in the film, and we see the process of filmmaking. We see the same scene over and over ... it seems to serve as a screen test for the various actors. The best equivalent I can come up with is Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up.

There is no real narrative thrust to the film, and the cinéma vérité appearance adds to the documentary feel. But I don't know ... sometimes it feels about as "real" as Curb Your Enthusiasm. Wikipedia describes it thusly: "Greaves creates a circular meta-documentary about a documentary, a documentary about a documentary and a documentary documenting a documentary about a documentary."

You can't make this stuff up. The IMDB tells us that "William Greaves believed that he had made a masterpiece, and that the only place to première it was the Cannes Film Festival. So he carried the print to France himself, where it was screened for programmers. However, the projectionist made the mistake of showing the reels out of order. The film was turned down. Greaves came home, figured he had made a mistake, and put the film in his closet." It appears to have mostly stayed in that closet until the early 90s, when it was shown once or twice. Steve Buscemi saw it and loved it ... Steven Soderberg soon joined the list of admirers. The film was finally re-released in 2005. It was named to the Slate Black Film Canon, and is #627 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

music friday: more from dj x

I woke up to the following tunes, chosen by Spotify's AI DJ, "X". First, a song from Quicksilver Messenger Service's debut album in 1968, written by Dino Valenti, who was in prison at the time:

From 1965, a song that needs no introduction:

Also from 1965, the first single by The Yardbirds after Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton:

Amidst a bunch of 60s songs by bands of white guys, a 1989 track from a band of white guys:

Spooky Tooth, with Gary Wright, and a guitarist who later joined Mott the Hoople, from 1968, covering a Dylan song from the Basement Tapes era:

music friday: david crosby

My favorite Byrds song was "Eight Miles High", and Crosby was still with the band at the time ... he received a songwriter's credit, although he may not have added much. There was a version the band preferred that wasn't used by the record label, but it became available long after the fact:

Here's the official version, with drums by Sina:

"Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills & Nash (written by Stills) was one of the only songs I ever sang on stage. Three of us played an acoustic set as an opening act for a metal band ... don't ask. "Helplessly Hoping" was one of our songs, and while my job mostly was to play bass while my friends sang real purty, "Helplessly Hoping" needed a third for harmonies. So there I was. Problem is, when I sing that song to myself, I end up doing the lead, and I kept coming in on the wrong note when we were together. So, even though we didn't have a bass in our version, as we began, I found my first harmony note on my bass and played it very quietly over and over until the singing began, at which point I sang the note from the bass and was able to continue with that harmony part of the rest of the song. (I didn't play that bass note after that.)

I saw CSN&Y once in 1974, and saw CS&N once in 1984 after a Giants game ... they played at second base.

"Love Work Out" was far and away my favorite song by Crosby & Nash. As I said on Facebook, "They are thankful for Danny Kortchmar and David Lindley on this track, as am I."

Finally, here is Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane doing right by one of Crosby's songs, "Triad":

music friday: killers three

Why do I have the trailer for a crappy Bonnie and Clyde ripoff? It's not because of the involvement of Dick Clark, although he was quite involved indeed: co-writer, co-producer, co-star. No, it's because Merle Haggard played a sheriff in the movie (spoiler alert: can you believe it, Dick Clark kills Hag in the picture!) Haggard is all over the soundtrack, which features a song he had only recently recorded, a song that became one of his most famous tunes: "Mama Tried".

The song has been covered by a large number of artists, including the Grateful Dead, who played it over 300 times live, including at Woodstock:

ten best movies i watched this year

I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2021. All of them get my highest 10/10 rating. Sorted by release date:


film fatales #120: the sit-in: harry belafonte hosts the tonight show (yoruba richen, 2020)

Several times during The Sit-In, we are reminded that the week when Harry Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show was largely buried in the history of television. Yoruba Richen, who directed and co-wrote the documentary, emphasizes this because she believes Belafonte's hosting stint was an important moment in television ... she wants to ensure that it is forgotten no longer. She succeeds ... The Sit-In will be there for anyone who wants to discover (or rediscover) the week that was. It's a noble, even necessary, endeavor.

And Richen does what she can with the existing material. But here she is let down, which is unfortunate for her audience. First, she explains that in the 1960s, networks like NBC regularly recorded over tapes, so that, in the case of Belafonte on The Tonight Show, only segments from two of his five episodes exist today. So a look at the guest lists for his episodes is impressive, but we only get a handful of those guests. The truncated list remains impressive ... The Sit-In features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who tells a joke!), Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nipsey Russell, and others. But a lot of the brief (75 minutes) running time of The Sit-In consists of interviews with people who express surprise that these episodes existed at all. I'm always glad to hear from Questlove and Whoopi Goldberg, but their contributions to The Sit-In are extended beyond usefulness. Understandably, given the absence of much footage from the event, but it becomes a bit repetitious.

Richen does a good job of placing the episodes in the context of 1968, and ultimately, The Sit-In is a helpful, if incomplete, addition to our understanding of our history. It's not a classic, but you take what you can get.

geezer cinema: medium cool (haskell wexler, 1969)

Medium Cool is legendary for a reason. Haskell Wexler used documentary techniques to tell a fictional story, and knew where to go and what to do with the camera. He may not have been able to predict just how crazy it would get in Chicago in August of 1968, but he knew it was a place to be, and that something could happen.

Robert Forster plays a news cameraperson, John Cassellis, who ends up on the streets of Chicago and learns something about how the people on those streets perceive the work he and his fellow journalists do. Part of him maintains a distance from the story, but he's too smart to avoid some of the implications. It's a key moment for John when he finds out his network lets the cops and the FBI see his footage.

Meanwhile, the entire Medium Cool project confronts the boundaries between fiction and documentary. Verna Bloom, a professional actor from New England in her first movie, is so convincing as a woman who has moved to Chicago from West Virginia that some people thought she was an amateur. Bloom has talked about the odd dual nature of her performance ... Wexler had her walking around during the police riots on the streets, and Bloom is both doing her job as an actor and experiencing the violence in reality. It is these documentary-style scenes that lift Medium Cool above the norm, as the plot is serviceable but no more, and some of the larger political points are muddled. But as the riots take hold, Medium Cool is gripping in ways that surpass the usual film.

The ending is weak ... it feels out of place, like something out of a more traditional Hollywood movie. But the last shot, of Wexler pointing a camera at us as the crowd chants "The whole world's watching!" is the perfect summation.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

what they said: stanley kubrick

It took Phil Dellio, Scott Woods and I several Zooms to get through all of Stanley Kubrick.

Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus

Lolita, Dr. Strangelove (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

2001: A Space Odyssey

A Clockwork Orange

Barry Lyndon

The Shining

Full Metal Jacket

Eyes Wide Shut