music friday

Dave Mason, Oakland Coliseum, August 1975. This was a Day on the Green, headlined by Robin Trower. Mason was second-billed, even though Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton were also on the bill. I loved (and continue to love) his solo debut, Alone Together, but his output since then has been hit or miss. Here he is in 1974 ... this set includes his version of "All Along the Watertower".

The Sex Pistols, Winterland, January 14 1978. What more can I say about this show that I haven't already written? It was the band's last concert with Sid Vicious, and in fact their last concert until much later, when they started played reunion shows. Here is the whole show:

John Hiatt, Warfield, May 1982. Hiatt has never quite made it as high as his fans think he deserves. At this show, he was opening for Graham Parker. Hiatt may be best known for the songs he wrote which were recorded by others, most notably Bonnie Raitt with "Thing Called Love" from her breakthrough album Nick of Time. Hiatt was featured once on the late-great TV series, Treme.

John Prine, Concord Pavilion, October 1991. Speaking of Bonnie Raitt, she and John Prine had a nice partnership over the years, with their duet on Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" being most memorable. Prine opened for Raitt at this show, which turned out to be the only time I saw him. One of the greats in my book. His most recent album in 1991 was the excellent Grammy-award winning The Missing Years. Here he is in 1992, performing the title song:

And why not:

the sunshine makers (cosmo feilding-mellen, 2015)

Amanda Feilding, aka Lady Neidpath, is a long-time advocate of drug reform in England. In 2018, Wired said that "If LSD is having its renaissance, Feilding is its Michelangelo." Feilding is now 78 years old, and still on the job.

She is the mother of Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, who directed and co-wrote The Sunshine Makers, about two men who in the 1960s were the creators of Orange Sunshine acid. The film takes you back ... if you lived through those times, you'll suffer a large hit of nostalgia. And I learned a little about those two men, Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, who are not as famous as Leary and Kesey (not to mention Owsley Stanley, who was so famous, his name was synonymous with high-quality LSD). All of this makes The Sunshine Makers sound right up my alley.

But the movie feels like a missed opportunity. It's hard to know just how much Feilding-Mellen had to work with. He fills his movie with a collage of modern-day interviews, footage from the 60s, and what seems to be home movies that Sand and Scully took. Honestly, it's possible the only "real" thing in the movie is the interviews ... a lot of the scenes of drug busts and the like feel more like the kinds of re-creations you see on reality crime shows than they look like actual footage. To some extent, this fit with what the film is presenting, not a history of the times as much as a look at Sand and Scully. As I say, I learned something about them, and Orange Sunshine was a big deal. But, as someone who not only lived through this time but also lived in the area where much of the story takes place, I think the focus on Orange Sunshine may misrepresent the times. Yes, there was "brand-name" LSD, but by the time I joined the party (which admittedly was in 1969-72, which was just after the heyday of Sunshine), you could get acid that you were told was "Owsley" or "Orange Sunshine", but the actual product, even if it started in those forms, was usually cut with other ingredients, especially speed.

What I really wanted from Orange Sunshine was a sociological look at drug culture in the 60s. But that's not the movie we get. The center of the story is the friendship and partnership of Sand and Scully ... the ambience is secondary. What Feilding-Mellen gives us is not without interest. It just wasn't what I wanted to see.

I kept thinking of Magic Trip, the documentary from Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, who took the endless footage of the Merry Pranksters' famous bus trip to New York and back and somehow gave it some coherence without losing the anarchic spirit of the film the Pranksters shot. Like Feilding-Mellen, they were working with less-than-ideal resources, but they miraculously turned it into a movie that not only told the story of the bus trip but hinted at the larger meaning of the Pranksters. It's far from a perfect movie, but I fear it's what I hoped to get out of The Sunshine Makers. I was probably expecting the wrong thing.

A bit from Magic Trip:

after the rehearsal (ingmar bergman, 1984)

This is the twenty-first 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 21 is called "Shot by Sven Week".

Sven Nykvist is one of the most well renowned and critically acclaimed cinematographers of all time. Though he's often associated with his films shot with Ingmar Bergman, he's worked with a number of high profile directors on almost 100 films. If you're unfamiliar with his imagery, its time to take a look.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film with cinematography by Sven Nykvist film.

Watching After the Rehearsal in 2021 carries the reality of the pandemic. The film, made for television, is a chamber piece with one set and three characters, the kind of structure that is a bit more prevalent right now, when it is so difficult to be expansive with film making. Of course, Bergman wasn't thinking about pandemics when he made this film (unlike The Seventh Seal, which takes place during a plague pandemic). The three characters are Henrik Vogler (Erland Josephson), who is directing a new version of Strindberg's A Dream Play; Rakel Egerman (Ingrid Thulin), a middle-aged actor who worked with Vogler in the past; and Rakel's daughter Anna (Lena Olin), who is starring in the current production.

After the Rehearsal is itself something of a dream play. Roger Ebert wrote of the confusion people seemed to have with the film:

Reading the earlier reviews of the film, I discover that one critic realized only belatedly that the younger actress, Anna, was onstage the whole time the older actress, Rakel, poured out her heart. Strange, and yet another critic thought the whole scene with Rakel was the director's own dream. Yet another suggested that Anna represents not only herself but also Rakel's absent daughter. And another theory is that Anna is the daughter of the director and Rakel, and is brought into being by the residual love between them, as a sort of theatrical Holy Spirit. The age of Anna has been variously reported as ranging from twelve to twenty, with one critic reporting that both ages of the character are represented.

The film has a supernatural feel, even though Bergman uses no obvious tricks. When the film opens, Vogler is alone in the theater after the day's rehearsal ... as we see him, he is waking up, commenting on how things look strange. Anna appears, they interact ... Anna reveals her hatred of her mother. The mother appears, despite the fact that she is dead ... a younger Anna (played by Nadja Palmstjerna-Weiss) observes it all, unnoticed by the other two. The mother leaves, Olin-as-Anna returns. It is entirely possible that After the Rehearsal comes out of Vogler's head, perhaps in a dream. Bergman doesn't press this point (hence the confusion Ebert mentions). Thus, he creates something supernatural that could just as easily be a straightforward recounting of a night in a theater.

The scene between Vogler and Rakel is especially intense compared to the two scenes with Anna and Vogler, which is perhaps inevitable, given that Ingrid Thulin is one of the most intense actors ever. (Bergman writes of one scene, "[I]n this film she couldn't distance herself from her part. When she would say the line 'Do you think that my instrument is destroyed forever?' she would begin to cry. I told her, 'Please don't sentimentalize!' To me, it seemed natural for her to say the line with cool observance. Instead she burst out crying every time. Finally I gave up.") Lena Olin holds her own in this company, no small achievement considering the abilities of Josephson and Thulin.

Ultimately, After the Rehearsal is as much a family drama as it is a commentary on the theater. As for Sven Nykvist, he doesn't have any vast panoramas to play with in this one-set movie. He uses a lot of close-ups, and overall, he suggests the smallness of the setting without our noticing. It's not as expansive as the work that earned him two Oscars (for Cries & Whispers and Fanny and Alexander), but it perfectly suits what is needed here.

The opening of the film:

news of the world (paul greengrass, 2020)

I run hot (Bloody Sunday) and cold (The Theory of Flight, United 93) with Paul Greengrass. News of the World lands somewhere in the middle. The subject is interesting (in 1870, a man travels from town to town reading newspapers to people), Tom Hanks gives his usual fine performance, and new-to-me German pre-teen Helena Zengel makes me want to watch more movies with her. The cast includes all-time "that guys" Ray McKinnon and Bill Camp. The film looks great (Dariusz Wolski is the Director of Cinematography). If you don't count the Toy Story franchise, the is the first Western for Hanks. So why does News of the World ultimately seem so inconsequential?

Everybody likes Tom Hanks. We especially like him around here because he grew up about 15 miles from where I did. And no one denies his acting chops, although his Oscars came in lesser films. He has played astronaut Jim Lovell, Walt Disney, Sully Sullenberger, Ben Bradlee, and Mister Rogers. Sometimes I wonder if Hanks wouldn't like to play a bad guy, like Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Point is, you see Tom Hanks, you're already on his character's side.

But News of the World might have benefitted from a bit more darkness. Admittedly, the entire situation surrounding the young German girl is ominous, and it shows on her face ... she really is the best thing about the movie. But Greengrass, screenwriter Luke Davies, and Hanks never go the extra step, which is another way of saying, this film is very carefully rated PG-13.

Doesn't really matter ... it's a good movie with Oscar bait for Hanks (and, if there is any justice, for Zengel).

music friday: fleetwood mac, 1968; 1975

Fleetwood Mac, Fillmore West, July 1968; Oakland Coliseum, August 1975. I saw them twice, once in each of their most notable permutations: the Peter Green band of the 60s, and the Buckingham/Nicks version of the 70s and beyond. It is hard to imagine two more different groups.

The Fillmore West show saw the band opening for Paul Butterfield and Ten Years After. My memories of the show, 50+ years later, are mostly about Alvin Lee, and the potty mouth of Jeremy Spencer. Here's a clean version of one of Spencer's spotlight numbers:

"Oh Well" was a popular Peter Green song that originally had two parts. The second part, beautiful as it is, rarely turns up. But the newer versions of Fleetwood Mac still trot it out.

"Albatross" was another Green composition, with that same "Part 2" feel to it:

Finally, Green was a masterful blues guitarist, someone who impressed the likes of B.B. King. Here is my choice for his best blues:

The second time I saw the band was with the musicians we all know and love today. They were touring behind their first album with Nicks and Buckingham, which had come out shortly before my concert. This was another Day on the Green special, and Fleetwood Mac were fourth-billed on a five-band show (Robin Trower, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Gary Wright). I used to think of Stevie Nicks as a weak link, but I was wrong.

HAIM is often compared to Fleetwood Mac, which refers to the pop sounds of their records. So I find it ironic that one of their big covers in concert was this:

geezer cinema/film fatales #107: shirley (josephine decker, 2020)

This was my introduction to the work of Josephine Decker. Well, that's not quite true ... researching her credits, I saw that she directed an episode of the TV series Dare Me. The IMDB lists 18 credits for her as an actor, 16 as a director, 10 each as writer and editor, 4 as producer, 2 as cinematographer, and half-a-dozen more. So I'm embarrassed I didn't know her work, and I can't compare Shirley to what Decker has done in the past.

Shirley has an interesting premise. The title character is famed writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), and the film takes place after her most remembered story, "The Lottery", was published. Michael Stuhlbarg co-stars as Jackson's real-life husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. As the film begins, Jackson is working on a new novel, Hangsaman (a real book). Hangsaman, as told in Shirley, is a fictionalized version of a true-life story about a college student who disappeared. Similarly, Shirley is a fictionalized version of Jackson's story. This is not one of those "based on a true story" movies ... the entire plot is built out of thin air by author Susan Scarf Merrell, who wrote the novel from which the film is drawn. Shirley adds a young couple who move in with Jackson and Hyman, and as Shirley-the-character obsesses about the missing student, she seems to feel a connection between the student and her new housemate. The young couple are inventions who never existed in real life.

Like I say, an interesting premise. And what Decker (and screenwriter Sarah Gubbins, who I know from Better Things) do is less about telling the story of an author and her work, and more to do with dragging the audience into Jackson's perspective. Things are often a little off, a bit unsettling, and I kept waiting for a full-out horror movie, although that never really happened. What we do get is like a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for a new generation, as Jackson and Hyman squabble for the benefit of their guests.

It's more an interesting premise than an actually interesting movie. But the acting, especially from Moss and Odessa Young as the woman in the young couple, is excellent. Moss has the Oscar-bait role, but I thought Young was even better ... she couldn't fall back on the possible insanity of her character, but instead let us understand the depths of the woman gradually.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies]

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

goodbye, captain pissgums

I had just finished reading "Transgression: An Elegy" by Laura Kipnis, when word arrived that S. Clay Wilson had died.

Wilson was always my favorite of the "underground/Zap comix" writers. A little more than 12 years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and suffered for the rest of his life. His wife, Lorraine Chamberlain, has been steadfast at his side all of those years, and her dedication to him has been awe-inspiring. In a time of transgressing, Wilson was pre-eminent.

Kipnis concluded her essay:

We used to know what transgression was, but that’s not plausible anymore. Maybe violating boundaries was a more meaningful enterprise when bourgeois norms reigned, when liberal democracy seemed like something that would always endure. The ethos of transgression presumed a stable moral order, the disruption of which would prove beneficial. But why bother trying to disrupt things when disruption is the new norm, and permanence ever more of a receding illusion?

In my years in the factory, I had one co-worker, good man, a Jehovah's Witness who took his religion seriously. One day I brought in a Zap Comic that featured Wilson. My friend checked it out ... as I recall, it was Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates that made him laugh. ("They came from every crud-crusted corner of the globe, these lice-infested losers. Some were sadists ... some were masochists ... some just licked stinky ol' boots. And the captain settled for having his crew whiz into his mouth while others looked on delighted.") The prose told the story, but it was in the drawings that Wilson's genius was expressed. And transgression? Even now, I hesitate to put a sample of his drawing here. (Check him in Google Images if you'd like, or click on the "Captain Pissgums" link above.)

Anyway, my religious friend thought Pissgums was funny. But then he turned the page to the next story, which featured perhaps Wilson's most famous creation, the Checkered Demon. Wikipedia describes him:

A portly, shirtless being generally seen wearing checkered pants, the Demon emerged from Wilson's experience of watching Federico Fellini's 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits while on LSD. The Checkered Demon's gap-toothed grin was inspired by Mad magazine's mascot Alfred E. Neuman. It is also rumored that Wilson's inspiration for the Checkered Demon was artist and friend Alfredo Arreguin.

The Checkered Demon is frequently called upon to kill the various demented bikers, pirates, and rapists who populate Wilson's universe. The Demon is unbeatable in combat, but prefers to copulate with rapacious women—such as Star-Eyed Stella, Ruby the Dyke, or Lady Coozette—or to sit around drinking Tree Frog beer. He has no concern for human life.

When my friend saw the Demon, he threw the comic in the air and jumped back, shouting. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. You see, my friend's religious training took special interest in representations of the devil ... at least that's how it seemed. Whatever, the same person who had laughed at pirates chopping off limbs and fucking and drinking and biting each other's cranks was disgusted, even frightened, at the sight of the Checkered Demon.

Which shows that transgression has many faces.

what i watched

The Shooting (Monte Hellman, 1966).

This is the twentieth 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 20 is called "Acid Western Week".

Its subgenre time once again. We're all familiar with the tropes and traditions of the Western drama. So much so, we could recite them while drunk. Or on...acid? A contortion of the themes and ideas that reside in traditional Westerns, acid westerns offer the audience fresh twists to make way for their own cynical perspectives on the genre. I would've called them "peyote westerns", but what do I know?

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Acid Western film.

I had a nice little writeup on this film, but then TypePad crashed and I lost what I'd written. For some reason, this feels appropriate for a piece about a low-budget Roger Corman movie that is more like Antonioni than like John Ford. Among the talent working on the picture, besides director Hellman, were actors Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson, Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank), and Will Hutchins (TV's Sugarfoot). The latter two are annoying, but Oates is his usual fine self. Carole Eastman wrote the script using the same pseudonym (Adrien Joyce) she later used for Five Easy Pieces. Special props to cinematographer Gregory Sandor, who makes The Shooting look like L'Avventura. Hellman refuses to coddle the audience, which for a variety of reasons was mostly nonexistent until it inevitably became a cult favorite.

Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017).

Quick, before TypePad crashes again. This is the second movie in the "Monsterverse", following the 2014 version of Godzilla and preceding Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong. It's an entertaining re-introduction to Kong ... there are homages a plenty to the 1933 original, but this isn't a sequel or a remake, it's a reboot (a word we've come to know all too well in recent years). The characters aren't exact matches to 1933, but Vogt-Roberts calls on some interesting influences: Apocalypse Now, Princess Mononoke. The characters are stereotypes, although the actors fit their parts: Sam Jackson as a hardened Colonel, Tom Hiddleston as a handsome, moody chap, Brie Larson in that mixture of action figure and sex symbol that she sometimes trots out.

This Kong is more pro-active than the original. He doesn't just stand around waiting for the copters like he does with the planes in the original:

Skull Island is as believable as a movie about a hidden island with monsters from another world can be. The action scenes are very good, and the picture moves along at a nice clip (perhaps because it was originally more than three hours long before it was cut down to the more focused two hours we get). To some extent, you already know if you want to watch this film. And if you think you'll like it, you'll probably find out you were right.

bruce, jeep, super bowl

Today, Jeep released their Super Bowl ad for 2021. It features Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce had never done an ad before this. It helps that he isn't hurting for money ... he hasn't had to pick up the extra dough. But now, something changed.

I think it's depressing that he did a commercial.

Nobody is perfect. If you look up to someone, you don't expect perfection, but it is good to feel as if that someone represents our better selves, even when they, like all of us, fuck up.
Call me naïve, but the fact that Bruce Springsteen did a Jeep commercial for the Super Bowl is extremely dispiriting.
He doesn't need the money, he doesn't need the exposure. It is rare, if ever, that he could be accused of selling out, which makes this all the more depressing.
I do not have much issue with what Bruce says in the commercial. I am uninterested in coming together with the middle, but that's not the problem. The problem is that the one artist who has held out against the use of his work as fodder for advertising has broken the faith. He has many outlets for his message, and there's not much new in what he says in the ad. I just really wish he hadn't decided to do it in a Jeep commercial.

geezer cinema: the dig (simon stone, 2021)

The Dig has a fine cast in the leading roles (Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James) and a solid cast of English actors that I didn't recognize but which are probably "Hey, it's that guy" to Brits. It tells a based-on-fact story of an archeological find in Suffolk in the time just before England entered WWII against Germany. It never trumpets its excellence ... instead, director Simon Stone and screenwriter Moira Buffini guide us gently through the story, which has class differences between characters and various examples of subtle will-they won't-they potential romance. I write all of the above knowing that for some people, movies like The Dig are why they love movies. And it is engrossing, rarely dragging (one of those romances is a bit boring), and even informative in the ways of archaeological excavation.

To say that The Dig is understated is not to imply boredom. It's true that it feels good for you in the way British historical dramas often do, but as with everything else in the film, Stone and Buffini never beat us over the head. They allow their audience to demonstrate our intelligence ... they reward us for being smart. And that's nice of them. I also appreciated that all of the characters had some depth, and no one was exactly a villain. They, like us in the audience, are respected.

I don't mean to belittle The Dig with faint praise. In fact, I recommend it. But its pleasures are subtle, such that I'm not ready to immediately watch it again.