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music friday: back in the day

For the past 300 days, I have posted a Facebook link for my cousin Jonathan that goes to a video for a song from the past (almost entirely 1960s). Here are the 300 songs, with as many links as I could grab again on short notice (and, if possible, matching the links from the original posts). I'll continue to update this post over the next week or so until all of the songs have videos.

1 Hot Tuna - Mann's Fate
2 Muddy Waters - I'll Put a Tiger in Your Tank
3 Mother Earth - I Need Your Love So Bad
4 Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young - Deja Vu
5 Janis Joplin - Kozmic Blues
6 Otis Redding - Shake
7 Ramblin' Jack Elliott - 912 Greens
8 Buffy Sainte-Marie - 97 Men in This Here Town
9 Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Stranger Blues
10 The Mothers of Invention - Hungry Freaks, Daddy
11 Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi
12 Howlin' Wolf - Killing Floor
13 Jefferson Airplane - Greasy Heart
14 Country Joe and the Fish - Section 43
15 Skip James - Devil Got My Woman
16 Traffic - Dear Mr. Fantasy
17 Cold Blood - If You Will
18 Bobby "Blue" Bland - Turn on Your Love Light
19 Phil Ochs - Outside of a Small Circle of Friends
20 Taj Mahal - Take a Giant Step
21 Judy Collins - In My Life
22 Cream - I'm So Glad
23 Sonny Boy Williamson II - Help Me
24 Joan Baez - There But for Fortune
25 The Rolling Stones - No Expectations
26 Little Walter - Juke
27 Big Brother and the Holding Company - Ball and Chain
28 Boz Scaggs - Loan Me a Dime
29 Richie Havens - Freedom
30 Nico - It Was a Pleasure Then
31 The Firesign Theatre - The Further Adventures of Nick Danger
32 Karen Dalton - It Hurts Me Too
33 Love - Seven and Seven Is
34 Creedence Clearwater Revival - Keep on Chooglin'
35 Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind
36 Van Morrison - Cypress Avenue
37 Slim Harpo - Baby Scratch My Back
38 The Youngbloods - Darkness, Darkness
39 Peter, Paul and Mary - If I Had My Way
40 Ten Years After - Woodchopper's Ball
41 Robert Johnson - Love in Vain
42 Joy of Cooking - Brownsville/Mockingbird
43 Bob Dylan - Freight Train Blues
44 The Mamas and the Papas - Creeque Alley
45 Sam and Dave - When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
46 Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You
47 Elmore James - Shake Your Money Maker
48 Delaney & Bonnie - Groupie (Superstar)
49 The Beatles - Revolution
50 Ian & Sylvia - You Were on My Mind
51 Buddy Miles - Them Changes
52 John Fahey - Red Pony
53 The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Foxey Lady
54 Richard and Mimi Farina - Pack Up Your Sorrows
55 The Velvet Underground - Heroin
56 Fairport Convention - Who Knows Where the Time Goes
57 Junior Wells - Stop Breaking Down
58 The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog
59 Tower of Power - Back on the Streets Again
60 Margo Guryan - Someone I Know
61 The Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 - Song of Everything
62 The GTO's - I Have a Paintbrush in My Hand to Color a Triangle
63 Magic Sam - Sweet Home Chicago
64 Them - Gloria
65 Albert King - Blues Power
66 Malvina Reynolds - Little Boxes
67 The International Submarine Band - Luxury Liner
68 Sly and the Family Stone - I Want to Take You Higher
69 Laura Nyro - Save the Country
70 Leonard Cohen - So Long, Marianne
71 Yma Sumac - Ataypura
72 Johnny Jenkins - Down Along the Cove
73 Leon Russell - Delta Lady
74 Jimmy Reed - Oh John
75 Mary Hopkin - Those Were the Days
76 Mose Allison - New Parchman
77 Billy Preston - That's the Way God Planned It
78 Melanie - Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)
79 Cat Stevens - Miles from Nowhere
80 T-Bone Walker - Call It Stormy Monday
81 The Great Society - Somebody to Love
82 Grateful Dead - Cold Rain and Snow
83 Albert Collins - Frosty
84 Aretha Franklin - The Weight
85 Ken Nordine - Beige
86 Reign Ghost - Breadbox
87 B.B. King - You're Mean
88 Pretty Things - S.F. Sorrow Is Born
89 Lightnin' Hopkins - Take It Easy
90 Vashti Bunyan - Just Another Diamond Day
91 John Mayall - Room to Move
92 Wilbert Harrison - Let's Work Together
93 Blackburn and Snow - Stranger in a Strange Land
94 Grand Funk Railroad - Mean Mistreater
95 Willie Bobo - Spanish Grease
96 The Jim Kweskin Jug Band - The Sheik of Araby
97 The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation - Tuesday's Blues
98 Little Milton - We're Gonna Make It
99 Pentangle - Pentangling
100 The Who - A Quick One While He's Away
101 Lamb - Barbara's Soul II
102 Otis Redding - Try a Little Tenderness
103 George Harrison - Beware of Darkness
104 Junior Wells - I Wish I Knew What I Know Now
105 Fotheringay - The Sea
106 The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along the Watchtower
107 The Beau Brummels - The Keeper of Time
108 Bessie Smith - Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
109 Rotary Connection - I Took a Ride
110 July - Dandelion Seeds
111 Bob Dylan - If Dogs Run Free
112 Cream - Badge
113 Jean Ritchie - Barbary Allen
114 Ravi Shankar - Dhun (Dadra and Fast Teental)
115 The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - East/West
116 James Cotton - Turn on Your Lovelight
117 Jackie DeShannon - Laurel Canyon
118 Big Brother and the Holding Company - Turtle Blues
119 The 13th Floor Elevators - Roller Coaster
120 John Lee Hooker - She's Long, She's Tall (She Weeps Like a Willow Tree)
121 Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
122 B.B. King - Chains and Things
123 Carole King - Spaceship Races
124 Ananda Shankar - Light My Fire
125 Laura Nyro - Up on the Roof
126 King Curtis - Soul Serenade
127 Jimmie Rodgers - Waiting for a Train
128 Wilbert Harrison - Soul Rattler
129 Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity - Season of the Witch
130 Beach Boys - Sloop John B
131 Etta James - Money (That's What I Want)
132 Arthur Alexander - Anna (Go to Him)
133 Ultimate Spinach - Happiness Child
134 Willie Dixon - I Ain't Superstitious
135 Koko Taylor - Wang Dang Doodle
136 The Kinks - David Watts
137 Janis Joplin - Work Me, Lord
138 Muddy Waters - I Got My Brand on You
139 Country Joe and the Fish - Flying High
140 Buffy Sainte-Marie - God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot
141 The Last Poets - Two Little Boys
142 Richard & Mimi Fariña - House un-American Blues Activity Dream
143 Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks - Waiting for the "103"
144 Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
145 Tim Buckley - Once I Was
146 Joan Baez - One Day at a Time
147 Lafayette Thomas - Claim on You
148 Country Weather - Carry a Spare
149 Love - Alone Again Or
150 Merry Clayton - Gimmie Shelter
151 The Band - King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
152 Karen Dalton - I Love You More Than Words Can Say
153 Buddy Guy - When My Left Eye Jumps
154 Jefferson Airplane - Embryonic Journey
155 Lonnie Brooks - One Sunny Day
156 The City - That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)
157 The Broadside Singers - Carry It On
158 Richie Havens - I Can't Make It Anymore
159 It's a Beautiful Day - White Bird
160 Charlie Musselwhite - Christo Redemptor
161 Delaney & Bonnie - Comin' Home
162 K.C. Douglas - Mercury Blues
163 F.J. McMahon - The Spirit of the Golden Juice
164 Swamp Dogg - Synthetic World
165 Jackie DeShannon - Put a Little Love in Your Heart
166 Tim Buckley - I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain
167 Loading Zone - Can I Dedicate
168 Holy Modal Rounders - Euphoria
169 Quicksilver Messenger Service - Pride of Man
170 Sly and the Family Stone - Dance to the Music
171 The Staple Singers - Move Along Train
172 Tom Rush - Urge for Going
173 Margo Guryan - Sun
174 Jesse Fuller - San Francisco Bay Blues
175 Sam and Dave - Soul Man
176 Yes - Every Little Thing
177 Ace of Cups - Simplicity
178 Santana - Soul Sacrifice
179 The Beatles - We Can Work It Out
180 Odetta - Take This Hammer
181 Elizabeth Cotten - Shake Sugaree
182 The Moody Blues - Never Comes the Day
183 The Chambers Brothers - I Can't Stand It
184 Woody Guthrie - I Ain't Got No Home
185 Pharoah Sanders - The Creator Has a Master Plan
186 Pentangle - Turn Your Money Green
187 The Rolling Stones - The Spider and the Fly
188 Geoff & Maria Muldaur - Me and My Chauffeur Blues
189 Mance Lipscomb - Sugar Babe
190 The Velvet Underground - The Black Angel's Death Song
191 Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man
192 Big Bill Broonzy - This Train
193 John Mayall - Snowy Wood
194 John Handy - Three in One
195 Fanny - Badge
196 The Mothers of Invention - Jelly Roll Gum Drop
197 Chuck Berry - It Hurts Me Too
198 Chicken Shack - I'd Rather Go Blind
199 Jimmy Rogers - That's All Right
200 The Allman Brothers Band - Whipping Post
201 Peter, Paul, and Mary - Moments of Soft Persuasion
202 Robert Johnson - Hellhound on My Trail
203 The Rolling Stones - Jumpin' Jack Flash
204 Ike and Tina Turner - River Deep Mountain High
205 The Blues Project - I Can't Keep from Crying Sometimes
206 Love - Signed D.C.
207 Lamb - Adventures of the Incredible Mr. Sandman
208 Jesse Fuller - How Long Blues
209 The Beatles - A Day in the Life
210 The Edwin Hawkins Singers - Oh Happy Day
211 Howlin' Wolf - How Many More Years
212 Kaleidoscope - Please
213 Joan Baez - Wildwood Flower
214 Donovan - Josie
215 Taj Mahal - Cluck Old Hen
216 Judy Collins - Someday Soon
217 The Cyrkle - Turn-Down Day
218 Junior Wells - Shake It Baby
219 Joni Mitchell - Night in the City
220 The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer in the City
221 The Staple Singers - Freedom Highway
222 The Grateful Dead - Turn on Your Love Light
223 Humble Pie - Take Me Back
224 Richie Havens - Handsome Johnny
225 Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity - Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)
226 Velvet Underground - Run Run Run
227 Nico - These Days
228 Fats Domino - Lady Madonna
229 Jefferson Airplane - Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon
230 Skip James - Look at the People Standing at the Judgement
231 Simon and Garfunkel - I Am a Rock
232 The Band - Stage Fright
233 Etta James - Seven Day Fool
234 Kilby Snow - Flop-Eared Mule
235 Peter, Paul, and Mary - The Great Mandella (The Wheel of Life)
236 Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising
237 Sun Ra - Spontaneous Simplicity
238 John Lennon - Remember
239 Yma Sumac - Tumpa (Earthquake)
240 Buffalo Springfield - Out of My Mind
241 Judy Collins - Early Morning Rain
242 Joe Cocker - Delta Lady
243 Blind Willie Johnson - Lord I Can't Just Keep from Crying
244 Love Sculpture - Sabre Dance
245 Otis Rush - Double Trouble
246 Fotheringay - Too Much of Nothing
247 The Doors - Light My Fire
248 T-Bone Walker - Shake It Baby
249 Buffy Sainte-Marie - The Vampire
250 Siegel-Schwall - Bring It With You When You Come
251 Laura Nyro - Eli's Comin'
252 Earl Hooker - Two Bugs and a Roach
253 The Mamas and the Papas - Dedicated to the One I Love
254 Leonard Cohen - Sisters of Mercy
255 John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillun
256 The Byrds - My Back Pages
257 Sly and the Family Stone - M'Lady
258 Mother Earth - What Are You Trying to Do?
259 The Moody Blues - Legend of a Mind
260 Nico - Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
261 Clarence Carter - The Road of Love
262 Bob Dylan - Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
263 Chuck Berry - Around and Around
264 The Stone Poneys - Different Drum
265 Creedence Clearwater Revival - Lookin' Out My Back Door
266 Buddy Guy - Keep It to Myself
267 Gale Garnett - Our Time to Shine
268 The Nice - America
269 Jimmy Reed - Good Lover
270 Joni Mitchell - For Free
271 Jethro Tull - My Sunday Feeling
272 B.B. King - Paying the Cost to Be the Boss
273 Melanie - Mr. Tambourine Man
274 The Mothers of Invention - You Didn't Try to Call Me
275 Rotary Connection - Turn Me On
276 Charles Lloyd - Forest Flower (Sunrise/Sunset)
277 Harry Nilsson - One
278 Slim Harpo - I'm a King Bee
279 Staple Singers - When Will We Be Paid?
280 The Everly Brothers - Illinois
281 Janis Joplin - Little Girl Blue
282 Little Walter - Boom Boom Out Goes the Light
283 Fleetwood Mac - Love That Burns
284 Rev. Pearly Brown - Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
285 Denise and Company - Boy, What'll You Do Then
286 Albert King - Crosscut Saw
287 Taj Mahal - The Celebrated Walking Blues
288 The Stone Poneys - Different Drum
289 The Fugs - The Belle of Avenue A
290 The GTO's - Miss Pamela and Miss Sparky Discuss Stuffed Bras and Some of Their Early Gym Class Experiences
291 Wilbert Harrison - Tropical Shakedown
292 Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Sure 'Nuff 'n' Yes, I Do
293 Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
294 Cold Blood - Funky on My Back
295 Van Morrison - The Way Young Lovers Do
296 Karen Dalton - How Did the Feeling Feel to You
297 Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - (I'm a) Road Runner
298 Kaleidoscope - Oh Death
299 Jackie DeShannon - Ooh, You Did It Again!
300 Mississippi John Hurt - Richland Woman Blues

throwback to 1980

I wrote about this 12 years ago ... thought I'd just cut-and-paste for Throwback Thursday:

25 years ago today [ed. note: now 37 years], I attended a double-header at Candlestick Park that shows the way sports works its way into our lives not only in large ways but also in small ones.

1980 was a nondescript season for the Giants. They got off to a slow start, and by June 29, they were already 11 games out and well on their way to a fifth-place finish in a six-team division. On offense, they had Jack Clark, Darrell Evans and very little else ... the pitching was a bit better, with Vida Blue and Ed Whitson having decent years (and making the All-Star team) and the bullpen pitching well.

Anyway, a bunch of us decided to take in the double-header, which was against the hated Dodgers. My then-brother-in-law Randy came with us, and my then-sister-in-law [ed. note: actually she's my niece] Julie (lotta "thens" in this story) ... Julie was attending her first-ever baseball game (I guess she was also attending her second-ever baseball game). I don't remember who else went. The only thing going on for the Giants was the impending retirement of Willie McCovey, who was closing down a Hall of Fame career, and would be leaving the game at the All-Star break, which was a little more than a week away.

McCovey wasn't in the starting lineup for the first game. That spot belonged to Rich Murray, a 22-year-old pheenom who had just come up to the majors earlier in the month. (Murray's tenure as McCovey's replacement didn't last long ... he only played 57 games in the majors, and is mostly known now as Eddie Murray's brother.) The game was to-and-fro, Bob Knepper dueling with Don Sutton, and as the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied 3-3. (It should be noted that the prospect of extra innings at a double-header wasn't quite so frightening in those days ... the game I am currently describing, for instance, only lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes.) The Dodgers brought in Bobby Castillo to relieve the tiring Sutton, and after a leadoff single by Rennie Stennett, Castillo retired the next two hitters, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup.

And pinch-hitting for Bob Knepper was Willie McCovey.

There were 50,000 people at the park that day, and this was what we'd come to see: our old hero taking one last shot at our archrivals to the south. McCovey had managed only one homerun all season, the 521st of his career, but I think we can be forgiven for thinking hoping begging praying that he had #522 somewhere in that tired body.

And Castillo pitched to McCovey, and he got ahold of one. It went flying towards the right-centerfield fence, and 50,000 of us leapt into the air while Rennie Stennett circled the bases towards home. And then, since this is real life and not a made-up story, the ball fell just short of a homer, bouncing off the fence for a double that won the game for the Giants.

And I remember that game to this day.

Everything after that was anti-climactic. The Giants were shutout by Burt Hooton in the second game, and McCovey did not make an appearance. The most legendary occurrence in that second game was that Randy, who's gotta be like 6'5", fell asleep, which is hard enough with 50,000 people making noise, and even harder when you can barely fit into the seat in the first place. I've never let him forget that little nap.

The next Thursday, McCovey played his last game at Candlestick, and I played a little hooky to be there. In the third inning, with Jack Clark on third, Mac dribbled a ball past Dan Driessen at firstbase for a single and an RBI, his last at Candlestick. In the top of the 8th inning, McCovey went out to his position, and then, while everyone stood and cheered, Pheenom Murray came out to replace him. (There were 26,000 of us, not bad for a midweek day game.) Stretch McCovey was gone.

McCovey had one last shot in him, it turned out. On Sunday in Los Angeles, in his last game ever, he pinch-hit late in a tie game and lifted a sacrifice fly that gave the Giants the lead. It was his last major-league at-bat.

le samouraï (jean-pierre melville, 1967)

The title character is a contract assassin, impossibly good looking, well-dressed and stylish ... he even has a pet bird in a cage.

I'm not talking about Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer ... this is Alain Delon in Le Samouraï. But John Woo has often expressed his debt to Melville:

Melville is God to me. ...

My characters, like Melville’s, are sad and lonely, almost disconnected from reality; they always die in the end. But despite his heroes’ tragic fate, I don’t think that Melville was a pessimist. Although they look cool and self-contained, his characters are passionate and care about each other. The great thing about friendship is that you can really love someone without feeling the need to let him know; you just do what you can do for him. Even if you die in loneliness, and no one knows about it, it doesn’t matter–you have done what you had to do. Melville’s characters behave like that, and I believe that he was a man who always cared for others. ...

I’ve always tried to imitate Melville. ... 

It was when I got a chance to do A Better Tomorrow, in 1986, that I was really able to use Melville’s style and technique, since it fit with the film’s genre, a contemporary urban thriller. I based Chow Yun-fat’s performance, his style, his look, even the way he walked, on Delon in Le Samouraï. In Hong Kong, you never saw people wearing raincoats, so it was a surprise to see Chow Yun-fat in this kind of outfit. It was all part of the Melville allusions throughout the film.

It is a sign of the excellence of both directors that The Killer has obvious roots in Le Samouraï, but the films are not close to identical, each reflecting the vision of their director.

It's always interesting to come at an old classic through the experience of the films it influenced. It is as if time has flip-flopped, as if Woo's film came before Melville's, because that's the order in which I saw them. The same goes for all of Melville's work, for I have only recently begun to watch his movies. I am not alone in this ... his classic Army of Shadows, made in 1969 directly after Le Samouraï, wasn't fully released in the U.S. until 2006, more than 30 years after Melville's death, when it promptly made the Ten Best of the Year lists of several critics.

Le Samouraï is almost austere, in tone certainly, in the cinematography as well. Like The Killer, it is a reflective examination of Cool, not by dialogue but by example. (No words are spoken in the first ten minutes.) Like The Killer, it is a look at the passing of an era, featuring main characters who know the future is now and there is no place for their kind of life. Unlike The Killer, the "hero" is a loner ... there is no friend who understands. And Delon is perfect for this. It is hard to imagine Chow Yun-Fat going through life friendless ... he is the Cary Grant of HK films. But Delon's acting, such as it is, depends on detachment. This makes Le Samouraï abstract, with little connection to real life.

Ultimately, we do not want to become assassins after seeing Le Samouraï. We want to become Alain Delon. #191 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.  9/10.

music friday: sun records

I'm reading Peter Guralnick's biography of Sam Phillips (Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll), and thought I'd turn Music Friday into a Sun Records special.

Here is the first record actually released by Phillips on Sun, Johnny London, "Drivin' Slow" b/w "Flat Tire", from 1952:

From 1953, Rufus Thomas with an "answer record" to "Hound Dog", this one called "Bear Cat" (Joe Hill Louis on guitar). Phillips tried to claim this was a separate song, but he ended up settling, with Leiber/Stoller getting writing credit:

Next, "Mystery Train" by "Little Junior's Blue Flames" (Little Junior Parker), also from 1953 ... this would later be covered by Elvis:

And speaking of Elvis, his first single, from 1954, "That's All Right" b/w "Blue Moon of Kentucky":

train to busan (yeon sang-ho, 2016)

Genre fare often offers implicit commentary on the state of social affairs (sometimes it's explicit). This can be illuminating when you are familiar with the social context, but I feel I am missing something when I watch films from other countries. So I know that Train to Busan is seen by some as an allegory for Korean politics, but I don't know enough about the topic to be able to identify the allegory. It's not that the allegory is missing, it's that I am missing the allegory.

Which thus leaves me to react to Train to Busan on its genre elements. And on that level, this is a terrific movie. Wikipedia calls it a "zombie apocalypse action thriller", and that pretty much gets it. The zombies are of the fast-moving variety. One article by Ezra Klein suggests that such zombies  are "too fast to be truly scary", and a case can be made that the slower version of zombies have a better chance of taking over the world. But the fast ones are indeed scary in the immediate sense, especially when there are lots of them. This was the case in World War Z, but the huge budget for that movie seemed to make it more a special-effects extravaganza than a character-driven thriller.

Train to Busan is constructed like a classic thriller. Right from the start, there are intimations of the horrors to come, but they are only intimations. Still, the suspense is serious (after all, we know the zombies are coming). And once the zombies arrive (fairly quickly), the suspense is replaced with open-jawed thrills.

Two things in particular make Train to Busan impressive. First, there is a dedication to the characters, who are painted in quick scenes but who always feel slightly more than stock from the genre's closet. We care about the characters, which isn't a necessary component to a zombie thriller, but it does lift this movie a bit above the rest. Second, the zombies really are impressive. It's not just that they are fast, it's that they feel real. I don't know how much, if any, CGI Yeon used, but it's very old-school in its presentation, as if instead of going straight to the computer, they actually hired a bunch of extras. Yeon's previous work was in animation, and the zombies have the kind of physics-defying qualities you'll see in cartoons.

The tension is mostly non-stop, with little time to take a breath. I don't suppose Train to Busan will appeal to people who don't like zombie movies, but it certainly ranks high within the genre.


what i watched last week

By request: I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016).

Nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar (it lost to O.J.: Made in America), I Am Not Your Negro reminds those of us who remember James Baldwin how important he was (and hopefully introduces him to younger viewers). I remember reading The Fire Next Time when I was 10 or 11, and it turned on many lights for me, growing up as I did in a town with no black people. I don’t know that Baldwin’s fame has had the staying power of King, or Malcolm, or the Panthers, perhaps because while he was a vocal advocate, he was primarily a writer, not a speech giver. His autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain was still being taught when I was in college. Perhaps I’m wrong, and Baldwin is still remembered as an important figure. In any event, I Am Not Your Negro does a solid job of bringing Baldwin to our attention, using film clips and voice-over narration of his words read by Samuel L. Jackson, who effectively buries himself in the role (it took me awhile to realize it was an actor reading those lines). This is an efficient documentary that speaks to us today, as well as serving as a history lesson. #723 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Film Fatales #28: Jesus’ Son (Alison Maclean, 1999). Billy Crudup heads an impressive cast in a film based on a series of short stories by Denis Johnson. There is a casual realism to the tale of junkies and lo-fi criminals, partly due to the presence of so many characters who are neither junkies nor criminals. It’s a slice-of-life with no apparent agenda. It could use a little more spice ... this isn’t Sid and Nancy. Crudup’s character is named “Fuckhead”, and by his actions and his voice-over narration, I thought “FH” was a bit slow, which I don’t think was the intention. Among the supporting cast, many in what amounts to cameos, are Samantha Morton, “Mike” Shannon, Denis Leary (not as obnoxious as usual), Jack Black, Will Patton, Miranda July, Dennis Hopper, Kevin Carroll from The Leftovers, and Holly Hunter. Maclean deserves credit for a production that clearly had appeal to a lot of actors (this was only her second feature ... she has done a lot of work in television). I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. (Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951). Revisiting a favorite. There is a long-standing discussion about whether Nyby actually directed The Thing (an editor, this was his first credited director’s job). Howard Hawks produced ... Nyby had worked with Hawks many times, and when people pointed out how Hawksian The Thing was, Nyby reportedly said that of course Hawks rubbed off on him from all their work together. The film makes an impressive example of the auteur theory as it applied to the studio system ... everyone thinks Hawks directed it because it’s recognizably a lot like many other movies he directed. You can enjoy The Thing without knowing this stuff ... it’s compact, manages to make individual characters out of the stock cast, and is more horror than sci-fi. It’s hardly worth comparing it to the John Carpenter remake ... they are quite different.

As we watched it, my wife said the following has always been one of her favorite movie scenes:

music friday: i think it's daily mix 3

The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Christine’s Tune (Devil in Disguise).”

Jerry Jeff Walker, “I’m Gonna Tell on You.”

Arlo Guthrie, “Every Hand in the Land.”

John Hiatt, “Feels Like Rain.”

Karen Dalton, “Down on the Street (Don’t You Follow Me Down).”

Nick Drake, “River Man.”

Mary Gauthier, “Falling Out of Love.”

Kevin Ayers, “Girl on a Swing.”

Judy Collins, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.”

Steve Earle, “This City.”

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]

joel selvin, altamont: the rolling stones, the hells angels, and the inside story of rock's darkest day, and gimme shelter (albert maysles, david maysles, charlotte zwerin, 1970)

I just finished Joel Selvin's book on Altamont, and then watched Gimme Shelter again. The concluding section of the book discusses Gimme Shelter. Selvin is less interested in assigning blame than in getting to the details behind the legend ... by the time we get to the movie, we've come to know many of the people who turn up in that movie, and have a better understanding of where they were coming from.

First, a few words about Selvin’s book, since I’ve written a lot about Gimme Shelter in the past. The book is long, detailed, and seems to be well-researched. Selvin was well-placed to write the book, being a Bay Area native who has had a long career as a music critic, and is an author of several books on music. In his afterword, he notes that “I knew better than to go to Altamont”, then offers the observations of friends who did attend (“[M]y friends knew nothing about what had really gone on. They had a good time ...”). This mirrors my own experience ... I had friends who went, and they returned speaking joyfully about “Woodstock West”. (In later years, they talked about how awful it was ... the vagaries of memory.) The book works in part as a warm-up for the movie, filling in what was largely left unreported in the film. But the movie is never far from Selvin’s mind:

That movie became the accepted account of the day, the official record of history, despite the fact that the Rolling Stones themselves were partners in the film’s production.... The story needed to be told, as fully and completely as possible. The tangled threads of the movie and the concert needed to be unbraided.

Selvin may be up to more than handing out blame, but he does make himself clear. “[W]hen all the facts are presented, it’s hard to see true responsibility lying with anyone but the Rolling Stones.” And he connects this to Gimme Shelter:

[W]hy did the Rolling Stones go through with the concert? That crucial decision – and the underlying determination that went into it – made the difference in everything that happened at Altamont. There is only one plausible reason: the final scene to the concert movie. There is no other good explanation for why Jagger and company proceeded with this concert in the days before the show as it unraveled in front of their eyes.... It is simply not true that this free concert was some magnanimous, beneficent gesture. The Stones wanted something out of the deal, and what they wanted was a big finish for their epochal movie that they hoped would document their magnificent return to glory.

What the book Altamont does is place the above in context. He doesn’t absolve everyone other than the Stones, but “The Hells Angels needed to be portrayed as they were – real people with names who were placed in a treacherous, untenable situation – not cardboard cutout villains. The role of the Grateful Dead and their ultimate betrayal by the Stones needed to be detailed.... The massive use of toxic drugs was not examined.”

So, Gimme Shelter. I have huge emotional reactions to the film every time I see it. Over the years, I have a more solid appreciation for the techniques and vision of the Maysles. But maybe "appreciation" is the wrong word, as is my reference to "Maysles". For on this watching, I decided the true artist was editor Charlotte Zwerin.

My friend Charlie Bertsch wrote a strong piece on the movie a few years ago. A big portion of that essay is devoted to refuting Pauline Kael’s take. She resisted the pull of “direct cinema”, emphasizing the “manipulative possibilities of filmmaking”. Charlie responds, “[T]he Maysles’ approach ... demands witnessing events without knowing how they will turn out”, as if this precludes the possibility of manipulation.

But Charlie also points us in the direction of what is really happening in Gimme Shelter when he rightfully praises the work of editor Charlotte Zwerin, “who earned co-director billing for the brilliant editing she did after filming was complete” [emphasis added]. He singles out scenes of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts looking at footage from the film, which he calls “a brilliant idea for which Charlotte Zwerin gets the credit”. But if the Maysles want to fall back on "we don't stage stuff", those scenes would seem to contradict that idea. Jagger and Watts were invited, and filmed, by the filmmakers to watch the footage, which didn’t happen “naturally”.

Ultimately, the truest statement in Charlie’s piece is this: "The finished product’s success depends entirely on how the raw footage is edited together." No matter what the circumstances under which the Maysles worked, the film is made when Zwerin gets her talented hands on it. And film editing is as crucial, and as vulnerable to manipulation, as the shooting of the original footage. The Maysles may not have had a preformed idea of what they wanted the events to show, but Gimme Shelter requires that someone edit the footage. Charlotte Zwerin, whether working on her own or with the direction of the Maysles, manipulates the raw footage into the movie we see today. We can argue what Gimme Shelter is saying, but we can’t argue about the role the filmmakers had in making that statement. Michael Sragow, who Charlie quotes, is half right when he says “Gimme Shelter is not about manipulating events – it’s about letting events get away from you.” The latter part is true, which is one reason I find the movie so disturbing. But the first part is false.

music friday: from the modern rock charts for the week of june 8, 1996

#39: Primitive Radio Gods: “Standing Outside of a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand.” I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met.

#19: Oasis, “Champagne Supernova.” Where were you while we were getting high?

#17: Jewel, “Who Will Save Your Soul? After all the lies you told.

#10: Butthole Surfers, “Pepper.” Flipper died a natural death.

#1: Tracy Bonham, “Mother Mother.” Everything’s fine.