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skin: a history of nudity in the movies (danny wolf, 2020)

I intended to spend five minutes checking out this movie ... hard to resist what looked to be 130 minutes of naked actors. Mick LaSalle turned up right away as a talking head, discussing pre-Code pictures, and I stuck around a bit more. Next thing I knew, there was only half-an-hour to go, and no reason not to finish.

Skin is more than an easy way for voyeurs to check out nude celebrities. It is actually a decent overview of the topic. It stretches itself a bit thin in the attempt to cover everything from the late-19th century to today, but it might inspire someone to study the subject in a more detailed fashion. (It seems to be impossible to avoid double entendre here.) As far as I could tell, the history is accurate, and I learned a few things.

But ultimately, Skin is pretty much what I expected in the beginning: a chance to show a lot of naked actors. The presence of Mr. Skin (aka Jim McBride) in the credits as an executive producer is telling. The movie doesn't offer much more than the Mr. Skin website, although again, the history is accurate enough. But the history is there to excuse the nudity. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

There is an attempt to address #MeToo that doesn't leer, and that's welcomed. And the list of talking heads goes beyond what you'd expect, not only such stars of film nudity as Linda Blair, Pam Grier, and Malcolm McDowell, but also directors like Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl) and Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Skins ends up being a little better than I expected.

geezer cinema: samson and delilah (cecil b. demille, 1949)

This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 12 is called And the Winner is Edith Head Week:

When people think costume design in film, there's one name that seems to be synonymous with the craft, that being the incomparable Edith Head. With close to 400 credits as costume designer under her belt (pun intended), Edith has shaped the look of some of film's most classic characters, and we're gonna take a look at the times that the Academy gave her the prize.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film for which Edith Head wins an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

I don't usually notice costumes ... well, you can't watch a movie without noticing the costumes, so better to say I don't know what makes for a Best Costume Design. I can tell you that the Oscar for Best Costume Design went to five people, only one of whom was named Edith Head (Dorothy Jeakins, Elois Jenssen, Gile Steele, Gwen Wakeling). I can also tell you that Samson and Delilah won the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color. Probably most important, though, was that it was a huge box-office success.

Samson and Delilah never surprises. Once you know that Cecil B. DeMille has directed another Bible extravaganza, and that Victor Mature is Samson and Hedy Lamarr is Delilah, you pretty much know what is coming, and you are correct, it is coming. Mature shows off his beefcake, Lamarr does nothing to suggest she didn't deserve to be called "The World's Most Beautiful Woman". Her beauty is distracting ... Mature's beefcake is standard issue, he's not the World's Most of anything, but Lamarr is exquisite, and given what we know about her now (she helped invent technology that led to Bluetooth, among other things), you can pass the time imagining her watching the DeMille silliness and thinking "I wonder when Bluetooth will be in wide usage". She's actually pretty good in Samson and Delilah. Granted, her competition is Victor Mature, but there have been plenty of worse performances by stunning beauties. Neither of the stars detracts from our enjoyment ... in fact, they are key reasons why the movie is entertaining.

Plenty of others turn up: George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, a young Russ Tamblyn. And the narrative is reasonably close to the Bible's ... Samson kicks a thousand men's butts using the jawbone of an ass, Delilah seduces Samson to learn the secret of his strength, she cuts off his hair, he is blinded and forced into slavery (is it a spoiler if the plot comes from more than 2500 years ago?). And then, it's a bit like watching a movie that features an earthquake. You know it's coming, you wait for it, even when you are watching something good, part of you holds back until you get to see that earthquake. In Samson and Delilah, we wait for most of two hours just to get to the big finale where Samson destroys the temple. DeMille doesn't spare the expense ... that finale is pretty damned impressive.

So yeah, it's junk, but it's good junk. It's worth at least one watch, if not repeated viewings.

music friday

A couple from the 1970s, and a couple from the 2000s. Every one of these were opening acts.

Ike and Tina Turner, 1971. Opened for B.B. King. Quite the double bill!

Derringer, 1977. Opened for Led Zeppelin. Rick Derringer got his start with The McCoys, who had a hit with "Hang on Sloopy" when he was 16. He then hooked up with first Johnny Winter, and then Edgar Winter. In the 70s, he was best known for this one:

Awesome Color, 2009. Confession: even though these next two are the most recent, I can't remember anything about them. This band opened for Sonic Youth:

Grass Widow, 2010. And they opened for Wild Flag.

hanna (joe wright, 2011)

I needed some escapist fare, and my wife had seen and liked this one, so I went for it. Joe Wright has directed several films I've seen ... I liked the first one (Pride & Prejudice) the best, was less impressed with Anna Karenina. In all of his films, Wright is a busy director, prone to showing off. Hey, it worked for Orson Welles.

Hanna is just as visually complicated as the others, and Saoirse Ronan as the title character is the best thing about the movie. Ultimately, though, the film is much ado about nothing, which in fairness was just what I was looking for. Cate Blanchett as the villain and Eric Bana as Hanna's father/trainer are good. The soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers has won praise ... I confess I didn't notice it.

Strong action scenes, solid performances, an excellent star turn for Ronan ... who could ask for anything more? No one, if you're looking for escapist fare. I couldn't shake the notion, though, that Wright was up to something greater, something I never found. There are elements of fairy tales that are intriguing ... there's certainly more than enough here to pass a couple of hours. Later a TV series with Esme Creed-Miles.

the dirties (matt johnson, 2013)

This is the eleventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 11 is called YMS Recommendations Week:

Adam Johnston, AKA YourMovieSucks on YouTube, is a big factor in my appreciation of films. However you feel about his work, it can't be denied that YMS recommends a large amount of obscure and foreign cinema from the past couple decades. As my small tribute to him, this week we're taking a look at the films on his Top 10 lists, though they're usually somewhere in the 20s or 30s. If you aren't familiar, check out some of his videos (including the Top 10s) here.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film recommended in one of YMS' Top 10 videos. You can find lists of these films here.

Can't say I've ever heard of Adam Johnston, but his lists were interesting. Can't say I'd heard of The Dirties, either, and it was also interesting. The primary force behind the film is Matt Johnson, who directed, wrote, and starred. The Dirties is filled with clever touches, made on the cheap and not hiding the fact. Johnston stars as Matt, who with his friend Owen (Owen Williams), is making a low-budget movie. Matt and Owen are in high school, and they share a love of movies. They are also both victims of school bullies, and the movie they are making (yes, it's called The Dirties) is about two high school guys being bullied. It's all quite circular, and for an hour or so, it's hard to take seriously ... in fact, Johnson doesn't seem very serious himself, and it's a low-key affair with just enough entertainment to keep us involved. The movie then takes a dark turn that felt a bit abrupt to me. Johnson suddenly gets very serious, and I think we're supposed to believe this darkness makes something more of The Dirties than just a low-budget romp. It accomplishes this, but The Dirties is never a great movie. I don't think it can hold all of the suggestive meaning Johnson wants to offer.

The film uses a found-footage format which is OK if you don't think about it too much (it's unclear how much we are meant to believe in the format, since at the least there is an unmentioned cameraperson at work). Like I say, it's clever ... the character of Matt would like this movie, and not just because he is the star. It's effectively nerdy, and it carries an anti-bullying message, although that message goes awry about the time Matt starts reading up on Columbine.

Among the other choices people made for the Challenge were 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Caché. I couldn't pick them since they don't qualify as "previously unseen", but in the end, I probably would have better spent my time rewatching 4 Months.

music friday

(Acts that we saw from the mid-70s to 1980.)

Flora Purim, 1970s. Purim is a jazz singer from Brazil. In the 70s, we went to several shows at the annual Concord Jazz Festival (Robin's dad would give us tix). When we saw her, she played with Airto, her husband and a noted percussionist. 

Mink DeVille, 1977 or so. At one point in the early 70s, they were Billy de Sade and the Marquis. They moved to New York just in time for the CBGB explosion, and were put in the same genre as the other NYC punk bands, but they were soul and R&B. We saw them at the Old Waldorf, capacity 600, when they toured behind their first album. Here he is in 1982, by which time Willy DeVille was the only remaining original member. 

George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1977. George is probably best known for "Bad to the Bone", which became iconic over the years ... just ask Al Bundy fans. We saw him at the Keystone Berkeley, a tiny club on University that was the home of more than 200 Jerry Garcia Band gigs. Robin was pregnant with Sara, notably so. We were at a small table next to the stage, and at one point, George climbed on our table while taking a guitar solo. This video is from 1980. 

Sector 27, 1981. This was Tom Robinson's first band after TRB broke up. We saw them at Keystone Palo Alto, another of the "Stone" venues. The guitar work by Stevie B was in marked contrast to the more rock-ish work of the great Danny Kustow in the Tom Robinson Band. If memory serves, Robinson had laryngitis at this show and could barely sing. 

The lights of home are burning low
And time ran out a little time ago
The ranks are closing and the lines are drawn
They call for surrender but it's almost dawn
I'm not ready, I'm not ready

borat: cultural learnings of america for make benefit glorious nation of kazakhstan (larry charles, 2006)

Coming at this 14 years after its release, when everyone knows the joke (yes, I meant singular, not plural) and there's even a recent sequel ... my experience will be nothing like that of those who love Borat. And given my lack of feel for modern comedy, it's clear from the start I won't like this as much as its fans.

There are plenty of funny parts, of course. People are constantly exposed as morons, but hey, they are morons, at least as presented in this movie. They fell for the joke, they look bad, and it's no one's fault but there own.

I don't know which of these statements is more telling: that many of the people who participated sued once they saw themselves in the movie, or that their suits were inevitably dismissed. As Sasha Baron Cohen said of one lawsuit, "Some of the letters I get are quite unusual, like the one where the lawyer informed me I'm about to be sued for $100,000 and at the end says, 'P.S. Loved the movie. Can you sign a poster for my son Jeremy?'"

Simply put, Borat is a mean-spirited movie. Nothing wrong with that, and Baron Cohen isn't making any claims to being kind. #117 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

geezer cinema: the night of the hunter (charles laughton, 1955)

Internet was down most of the day, which among other things meant the movie I'd chosen for this week's Geezer Cinema was unavailable. So I fell back on an old favorite, The Night of the Hunter, which way back when was #31 on my Facebook Fifty Faves list. I'm only just now back online, so I'll cut and paste from my original comments.

The Night of the Hunter is a collaborative work; all films are, but I feel like in this case, people tend to focus on the fact that it’s the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, and thus assume the film’s idiosyncrasies are his alone. Recent research has demonstrated the importance of Davis Grubb, who wrote the novel, James Agee, who wrote the screenplay, and Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer. I won’t pretend to know exactly who did what. But I can describe the results. Visually, the movie is a cross of D.W. Griffith and the German Expressionists. These influences come from silent film, and add to the feeling that Night of the Hunter is somehow timeless. (The presence of Lillian Gish doesn’t hurt, either). It has elements of the horror film; at times, Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell is shot so that he resembles the monster in the Karloff versions of Frankenstein. It’s noirish, but noir as told through the eyes of children. It is, at times, pretty funny, which is unexpected. And Robert Mitchum’s performance is one of cinema’s greatest.

The movie also features several set pieces that are remarkable, and in many cases, unique. The children’s long trip down the river is the most obvious example, full of interesting choices by Laughton/Agee/Cortez/whoever. The image of Shelley Winters sitting in a car at the bottom of the river, her hair flowing like it had belonged underwater all along, is unforgettable, and you’d like to congratulate Laughton (or whoever), except the novel’s author, Davis Grubb, submitted some early drawings to Laughton that include one which looks almost exactly like what we see on the screen, so send your congrats to Grubb for that one.

If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat, but the best time to see it for your first time is when you are young. You’ll be scared shitless, but you’ll never forget it. I suppose some parents would think this film to be exactly the kind of thing their kids should be protected from, but those parents are wrong. The Night of the Hunter works at the same elemental level as a good fairy tale. It is certainly better and more memorable than whatever tripe Disney is selling this year.

The Night of the Hunter was a notorious flop; no one went to see it, critical response was tepid, and it was soon forgotten as an inexpensive stylized piece by Laughton, who never directed again. But its status has increased over the years. It regularly appears on best-of lists, and is one of the films honored in the National Film Registry.

(#43 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.)

wrexham and me

Lots of this stuff I've written about on this blog, but time to put it in one place. Don't want to bury the lead, though, so first:

"'Deadpool' star Ryan Reynolds completes Wrexham takeover with Hollywood's Rob McElhenney"

Wrexham A.F.C. are a Welsh soccer club that plays in the English soccer system. They are not a big club ... they currently play in the fifth level of the English system ... but they are an old club, the third-oldest in the world.

In the buildup to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, I read a book called Twenty Two Foreigners in Funny Shorts by Peter Davies. It was written for the American market, a way to introduce us to the world's game. Davies broke his story into three basic parts: a history of the sport, and two ongoing sagas, one of European soccer at the time, and one of his local club. He wanted the reader to get a sense of the scope of soccer, from the top to the bottom, so he included that local club, which was in the fourth tier, telling the events of the 1992-1993 season, which saw the club winning promotion to the third tier. That club was Wrexham.

In those days, there wasn't much soccer on U.S. TV after the World Cup had ended, and the Internet as we now know it was a much smaller affair. So it was hard to keep up ... our own league, MLS, didn't start until 1996. I did my best on the old CompuServe sports forum, and because they were as available to me as the biggest clubs in Europe, all things considered, I adopted Wrexham, feeling I knew the players after reading Davies' book. I asked around, and a man named Rhys Gwynllyw was kind enough to update me on Wrexham (he later founded The Webbed Robin, and I believe he is now a Math Professor). I started an email list with his help. Here is something Gareth Collins wrote about that list in 2018:

Rhys and Steven were the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's of their time. I can still remember being totally overjoyed when I first came across The Webbed Robin, I seem to remember Rhys used to type up (or perhaps OCR?) Wrexham news articles from the Evening Leader and Daily Post that I think his Dad used to mail him. This is in the days before either of those publications had a web site. So if you lived say 100 miles from Wrexham at that time you'd get no detailed news and would have to rely on 2 sentences on Teletext. The Webbed Robin was amazing in its day. Tons of detailed match reports and detailed news stories all lovingly curated. The Webbed Robin and the ISFA e-mail list were like going from the stone age to the electric age in one massive leap for fan-kind.

I have followed Wrexham from afar for more than 25 years now. Saw them on TV a couple of times, and these days, even small clubs have an Internet presence, so I can watch highlights and interviews of them. And that game I mentioned last week, Football Manager? Every year, I try my hand at running Wrexham. (Confession: I have always sucked at FM.)

The most famous match in Wrexham history is probably their FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1992. The previous season, Arsenal had won the championship, while Wrexham finished last in the lowest division. The match was sure to be a blowout. In an amazing example of what you can find online in 2020, here is the entire match from 1992:

If you don't have two hours to spare, here are the highlights:

music friday

Can't stop, won't stop with artists I've seen live.

Arthur Lee and Love, 1974. Opening at Winterland for Lou Reed on the Sally Can't Dance tour. Love, an L.A. band that had released its first albums in 1966, was by 1974 essentially an Arthur Lee solo act. "Be Thankful for What You Got" was a hit for William DeVaughn early in 1974 ... Lee included it on the last album under the Love handle.

Hootie and the Blowfish, 1995. They were artists (there were a few) who I saw only because they appeared on a bill with lots of other acts, in this case the Bridge School Benefit in 1995, which I attended because Bruce Springsteen was there. I know they were popular, I know the singer's name was Darius Rucker who later became a country artist, and that's about it. In 1995, they were still riding the huge success of their first album. "Only Wanna Be with You" was one of several hits from that album ... here, they sing it at Farm Aid in '95:

Daniel Lanois, 1995. Lanois was at that same show, playing with Emmylou Harris. I confess I'm never quite certain what Lanois does in his production work, but that's just me. I've always liked Emmylou. Here they are on Letterman in 1995:

Kid Cut Up, 2018, 2019. We saw him DJ at two Pink concerts, and he was a joy to listen to. I wrote at the time, "He does a great job of bringing the crowd into his sets, even when the people aren't there to see him in the first place. His blend of current and older music appeals to an interesting cross-section ... at least, he knows what Pink fans want, from 8 to 80. My wife (65) isn't much of a fan of opening acts, but she likes KidCutUp, and it's fun to see her as she sings along to things like 'Just a Friend'." Here he is in the studio: