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).
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).
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:
Had a different post ready for today, but made a quick change after hearing of the death of Mac Rebennack, Dr. John, The Night Tripper. This will be quicker than he deserves.
I first heard of Dr. John on his debut album, Gris-Gris, in 1968. I have written at length about the importance of the emergent FM "Underground" Radio on me as a teen. Gris-Gris came out as that radio was coming alive. Like many, I was conversant with New Orleans music because it was such a crucial element of early rock and roll. But I knew nothing of the culture, so when Gris-Gris came out, it was as if someone from Mars had made a record. There were a lot of weird records made in the psychedelic era. Many of them are junk, few of them had a lasting impact, even if I personally still listen to a lot of that music to this day. Gris-Gris may have been the most bizarre album of its time, and that's saying something. It was steeped in New Orleans' musical and cultural traditions. Not really knowing this, I experienced the album as weirder than it really was ... while it's still bizarre, listening to it now makes much more sense, because we can place it within our better knowledge of the traditions, and because we've listened to Dr. John for decades.
Here's a selection of his work. First, the lead track from Gris-Gris:
It was inevitable that the Doctor would turn to "Iko Iko", which he recorded for his excellent 1972 album, Dr. John's Gumbo. I've always been partial to this short video from some years ago which shows off his astounding piano playing:
In 1973, he finally had his hit single:
And in 1976, he turned up at The Last Waltz:
The last track on Gris-Gris was arguably its best: "I Walk on Guilded Splinters". While that entire album impressed me with its to-me other-worldliness, "Guilded Splinters" made for good cover material. One person made a Spotify playlist called "100 Versions" ... the title is a bit of an exaggeration, there are only 22 songs, but still:
Here's one of the tracks on that playlist: Cher's version from 1969.
Finally, Dr. John occasionally turned up on the late, lamented series Treme. "Tryin' to show Ron Carter somethin' on the bass, it's like tryin' to show a whore how to turn a trick. It's unpossible maneuver." (Apologies in advance for my pathetic attempt to translate what the Doctor is saying.)
The question has been asked on Twitter: What 5 albums have you listened to most in your life? Be honest, not trendy. I don't know how to be honest ... I mean, if I ask Last.fm, which has been tracking my Spotify usage for a long time, the album I have listened to the most is Pink's The Truth About Love, which I'm pretty sure doesn't reach the numbers of stuff from the 60s, to begin with. So, keeping all that in mind, here is what I came up with, in no particular order.
To copy what I said at this time in 2015: “A summary, sorted by my ratings. I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Anything I give at least a 9 rating is something I recommend ... might sound obvious, but if someone is actually looking to me for suggestions, that limits the list to 14. So I’ve included links to my comments on those movies.” (Movies in bold in the 9-10 range are ones I was seeing for the first time.)
8: American Honey The Babadook Before Sunrise Day for Night Dressed to Kill First Reformed Gaslight Gertrud The Guilty Gun Crazy The Incredible Shrinking Man India's Daughter Listen to Me Marlon Local Hero Logan The Look of Silence A Matter of Life and Death Memories of Underdevelopment Private Life Sorry to Bother You The Spirit of the Beehive Springsteen on Broadway Supercop The Thin Man Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Widows Yellow Submarine
7: Avengers: Infinity War The Big Sick Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story The Brink Cat People Crazy Rich Asians Creed Darkest Hour Divines El Topo Flying Down to Rio Grand Hotel Hell Is for Heroes Hereditary Hidden Figures Horror of Dracula Icarus If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast Lost City of Z The Magnificent Seven (1960) Man on the Moon The Man Who Fell to Earth The Man Who Knew Infinity The Man Who Knew Too Much Morvern Callar Ms .45 Nothing Sacred On Body and Soul Personal Shopper Set It Off Seven Days in May The Square Syndromes and a Century Tarzan and His Mate The Time Machine Tropical Malady Venom Watchmen Zombieland
6: Atomic Blonde Bo Burnham: what. The Circle Colossal Diamonds Are Forever Dogville The Dressmaker The Equalizer The Equalizer 2 A Girl Like Her Glastonbury Fayre Holiday Inn Hostiles The Lion in Winter Miami Vice Murder on the Orient Express Spring Breakers The Spy Who Dumped Me Star Wars: The Last Jedi Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael
5: Behave Yourself! The Black Scorpion The Day of the Triffids Dishonored Lady Enemy Margot at the Wedding
It's late in the game, but I finally had to change things around on Music Friday, because I had a list of 10 songs from that year and I realized I didn't know a single one of them off the top of my head. So I went to Last.fm and had it sort my listening for the year 2016.
One song got played more than any other, so call this Steven's Top Song of 2016. It actually comes from around 1965:
And, just to pretend to being current, here is a Spotify playlist for the 2016 songs I initially intended to include (the first song was supposed to be "Formation" by Beyoncé, but it wasn't on Spotify):
Two movies that deserve more attention than these short takes will provide.
Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968). From a novel by Edmundo Desnoes, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Alea, this tells a story about Cuba in the time between the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis. The protagonist is a bourgeois writer, Sergio, who stays behind after his family and friends go to Miami. The picture of post-revolution Cuba isn't particularly celebratory, and you might wonder how Alea got the film made at all. Alea appears in the film as a director who is glad to have moved beyond the censorship of the Batista days ... you could say that nothing is celebratory in the film. Sergio is alienated at best, and no advertisement for the bourgeoisie. Alea fragments his narrative, throws in documentary footage, and makes us feel as if "we are there" with Sergio. The film won a few international awards, but it wasn't released in the U.S. until 1973. #274 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
The Guilty (Gustav Möller, 2018). The first feature directed by Möller, this is a compact thriller that takes place entirely within an emergency services center. Jakob Cedergren plays a policeman on desk duty, Asger, awaiting the outcome of an investigation into something that happened when he was on the job. It's safe to say that there is no movie without Cedergren, but it's unfair to say there is nothing to the movie beyond the actor. Möller effectively shows how the claustrophobia we feel reflects the impotence Asger feels as he gets a phone call that is more than just a random drunk. He's a detective, and he can't help but piece together a story about what he is being told on the phone. He wants to save someone, but he's stuck in his office, on his phone. No spoilers here ... suffice to say that you can't guess what direction the narrative will go, it constantly surprises, and over the course of the film, you realize the title is plural, not singular. The Guilty is a genre exercise that achieves all that it sets out to do, and that is far more rare than you'd think.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first kiss between me and my future (and still) wife.
Honestly, I don't know what to say about this. I'm pretty sure if you'd asked me in 1968 if this would be the case, I'd say I doubted I'd even be alive in 50 years, much less married to that girl. I've never been good at seeing into the future ... I've never been good at thinking/knowing the future would even happen.
But here we are. Thank you, Robin.
Here is the song that was Number One that week (for the first time ... it lasted for nine weeks):
And, since this is supposed to be Music Friday 2005, here's a song from an artist we saw that year in a little club called Cafe du Nord. It was just her and a guitarist, and they were having trouble making the electronics work, so the guitarist switched to an acoustic, and she came down off the stage and sang to us without a mic.