I'm showing my age ... it took me 17 albums to reach the 80s.
I've chosen Dirty Minds for my Prince album. Others might be better ... Purple Rain, Sign 'o the Times ... but this is when I discovered him, and so here it is. Every song is at least good, some are great, "When You Were Mine" is a classic. As great as this album is, Prince's talents were so diverse that Dirty Mind only begins to suggest future directions. And, oh yeah, there's a lot of sex on this album. As Christgau said, "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."
Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley, 2015). I asked myself a couple of questions as I watched this movie. Would I have bothered to watch it if the subject was any actor other than Brando? (Probably not.) Would someone with no knowledge or interest in Brando find this movie worthwhile? (Definitely yes for actors, not sure for others.) It's an innovative documentary that makes use of hundreds of hours of audio tapes Brando made to allow the actor to, in effect, tell his own story. It's like an autobiography made after the fact. This is partly a trick ... Riley had the cooperation of the Brando estate, but Marlon Brando has nothing to do with the making of the film, so despite its autobiographical trappings, Riley is the one who pieces it all together. He is far more than a mere ghostwriter. It's not clear if Brando made these tapes for posterity, intended them to be public, but we have them now. He is very honest about his life, and comes pretty close to telling an unvarnished version of that life. (There are things that are left out, but what is included feels real, and he doesn't flinch from the implications of his actions.) Since Brando was the greatest screen actor of his generation, what he says about the acting process is fascinating. His comparison of the fighting style of Jersey Joe Walcott to the art of acting is a perfect description of Brando on the screen: "He'd be boxing and he'd follow some punches and boom! He'd have his fist into somebody's face. You'd think it was going to come out of the southwest and, there, it comes out of the northeast. He would never let you know where he was gonna hit you. Never let the audience know how it's going to come out. Get them on your time." So many of his finest moments as an actor came when the slightest gesture or facial expression surprised you into believing the character was real. To top the film off, Brando once had his head "digitized" ... "I made a lot of faces and smiled and, and, made a sad face. So they've got it all on digital. And actors are not going to be real. They're going to be inside a computer!" Riley occasionally syncs Brando's ramblings to a video of the digitized actor. It's creepy and marvelous at the same time.
Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933). Featuring Brando's second wife (not at the time, he was 9 years old at the time). I watched it, I liked it, but I'm mostly just cleaning house here ... this has been sitting around for a few days while I buried myself in the World Cup, and I don't have a lot to say now. The first movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they are the sidekicks in this one. They have good chemistry, and it's fun to see them outside of the fairly narrow framework of their starring movies. Ginger is more the wiseacre that she was early in her career, and it's fun to see. It's also one of the last of the pre-Code movies, so there's see-through outfits and lots of double-entendre dialogue. And there's the impossibly beautiful Dolores del Rio. The big dance number ("The Carioca") goes on forever, and only features a little of Fred and Ginger. There's a loony number on the wings of airplanes. Nothing is taken seriously. Lacks the emotional resonance of the "real" Fred and Ginger movies, but watchable.
Saint Etienne, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". Neil Young, covered by an indie dance band. The band's singer, Sarah Cracknell, hadn't joined yet, so the vocals are by Moira Lambert. Lambert refused to be in the video, so a third singer, Lucy Golden, lip syncs Lambert's vocals in the video. (I think ... this gets complicated.)
Happy Mondays, "Kinky Afro". #1 in the U.S., and a key song from the Manchester music scene.
Madonna, "Justify My Love".The Immaculate Collection is one of the best albums of all time.
Public Enemy, "Welcome to the Terrordome". There is a lot of hip-hop on this 1990 list, which makes sense. The four tracks also demonstrate the variety of music being made at the time within the genre. A Tribe Called Quest doesn't sound like Digital Underground, who don't sound like LL Cool J, who didn't sound like Public Enemy.
In honor of the World Cup, here is how the United States made it to the 1990 tournament in Italy:
Favorites lists are by definition personal. Many of the albums I've chosen made room for me to climb inside, which led to a lifetime of connections. London Calling worked the opposite way: it climbed inside of me. I always had an odd relationship to punk ... steelworker, married with two kids, a fairly mundane life. But it mattered to me, and none of the punk bands mattered as much as The Clash. The ambition behind London Calling was life-affirming, that a genre that was so simple originally could expand so effectively in such a short time. The Ramones were simpler than most, and they mostly just worked at getting better at simplicity. The Clash took on the world. Perhaps no song demonstrated this better than "The Right Profile", "about" Montgomery Clift. Some songs spoke to my soul as an unhappy factory worker ... "Clampdown", obviously, and "Death or Glory".
There are many interpretations of the line "London is drowning, and I live by the river". To me, it signified the ways living by the river meant we were always in danger of drowning, but when the whole city is drowning, well, welcome to our world. It reminds me of "River's Gonna Rise" by David and David.
Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018). Another entry in the "Movie That Is Praised for What It Isn't" category. Hereditary is getting great reviews, and a common thread is that it's not like Saw and its ilk. Richard Roeper: "'Hereditary' is one of those rare and treasured horror films that does not rely on 'Gotcha!' music stings, or rhythmic knocks on the door in the dead of night, or the cat jumping into frame during a tense moment." Justin Chang: "There are none of the gratuitous jump scares or pointless fakeouts that have reduced mainstream horror cinema to so much self-defeating gimmickry." Hereditary is more than just the absence of gratuitous gotchas, and there is a long, fine tradition of horror movies that affect us more by their emotional creepiness than by the standard tricks of the trade. Aster wants to be in their company, but Hereditary isn't up to the likes of Don't Look Now or Rosemary's Baby. Still, I admire his intentions, and I prefer to say the movie is reminiscent of Don't Look Now than to say the movie isn't Saw. There is much to admire in Hereditary, and Toni Collette's performance is impossible to ignore ... some people will think she's over the top, but no more than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I was reminded of Drag Me to Hell, or rather, I wished I was watching Drag Me to Hell. That movie has fun with the common tropes. There is nothing fun about Hereditary. A better comparison would be The Babadook, and if you get one thing from this review, it should be that you need to watch The Babadook if you haven't already. Hereditary turns grief and family life into a horror show, and that's a pretty good trick. But if you go in expecting Drag Me to Hell, you'll be disappointed.
Tarzan and His Mate (Cedric Gibbons, 1934). Said by the ever-accurate Wikipedia to be "The first major instance of censorship under the Production Code" thanks to a nude swimming scene by Maureen O'Sullivan's body double. The scene didn't use a body double because O'Sullivan was shy ... rather, the double was Josephine McKim, like Johnny Weissmuller an Olympic Gold Medal winner in swimming, thus able to better handle the swimming "ballet". The real raciness comes not from the swim, but from the flimsy outfit O'Sullivan wears through most of the film (the closest thing I can think of to that outfit would be Jenny Agutter's in Logan's Run). There are topless "native" women early in the movie ... there is Weissmuller himself, a strapping, gorgeous athlete who wears even less than O'Sullivan ... there is the matter-of-fact way we understand that Tarzan and Jane sleep together. But what makes your jaw drop, even in 2018, is Jane's damn outfit. It certainly got someone's attention ... the next Tarzan movie, which was definitely post-Code, featured O'Sullivan in a much more modest outfit. Besides O'Sullivan, Tarzan and His Mate offers reasonable action scenes and a cringe-worthy treatment of the jungle natives. It's not as cheesy as most of the future films in the series, which is something.
When I posted a video of a Rolling Stones song earlier in this series, I said there was someone in the video who would turn up later on my list. Phil Dellio correctly guessed Marianne Faithfull. Hers is one of the great comeback stories in rock and roll. So good, in fact, that she had more than one comeback, I guess. Anyway, Faithfull was inextricably linked to the Stones, so there was some irony when Broken English came out a year after Some Girls. Some Girls was the last great Stones album. They never again produced anything as good as ... well, as Broken English. The title track was classic, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" fit right into Thelma and Louise, her "Working Class Hero" was definitive, and "Why'd Ya Do It" ... well ...
The Stone Roses, "Fools Gold". My knowledge of Stone Roses begins and ends with "Love Spreads". This is not that song.
De La Soul, "Me Myself and I". Their debut album finished first in that year's Pazz and Jop poll. Counting anthologies, they've reached double digits in albums released.
Janet Jackson, "Rhythm Nation".Wikipedia: "It is the only album in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart to have seven commercial singles peak within the top five positions. It is also the only album to produce number one hits on the chart in three separate calendar years (1989–1991)."
Electronic, "Getting Away with It". They're a supergroup, but I prefer my Bernard Sumner New-Order Style.
Tone-Lōc, "Funky Cold Medina". So catchy, I never really paid attention to the lyrics, which wander into date rape territory.
Queen Latifah, "Ladies First". The title sums up Latifah's debut ... well, the album title does that even better (All Hail the Queen).
Lou Reed, "Dirty Blvd". This marked the last of many times I saw Lou in concert.
I'm gradually waking up the World Cup blog. I've posted a few things recently, including one from today that ranks the competing nations by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". Check it out to see the results: