Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) is a disturbing film to watch. With its unresolved, horrific ending, it’s possibly one of the most depressing films ever made [SPOILER]. [more inside]
... [Sarah Orne] Jewett's gifts have always been recognized by a select few, and continue to be. [The Country of the] Pointed Firs, especially, was immediately recognized as a major achievement. Henry James called it, perfectly, “a beautiful little quantum of achievement.” Willa Cather listed it as one of her three great American novels...
Both an ingeniously choreographed crime film and a moral drama influenced by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Pickpocket marks the apotheosis of Bresson's stripped-down style. There’s little or no psychological realism or conventional drama at work in Martin La Salle’s portrayal of a master thief who plies his trade at the Gare de Lyon and easily outwits the cops who seek to ensnare him. See it once to appreciate the spare elegance of the pickpocketing scenes, and then a second time to appreciate how subtly Bresson accomplishes the story of a man’s self-willed corruption, his liberation through imprisonment and his redemption through love, all in less than 80 minutes.
Welcome to the testing room of the Parallax Corporation's Division of Human Engineering. [more inside]
One of the more famous suppressed films of recent years is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, an early work by writer/director Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven). Filmed in 1987, the short film -- which relates the rise and fall of Karen Carpenter with a cast of Barbie dolls -- barely got a year's worth of festival time in 1989 before the twin iron boots of A&M Records and Richard Carpenter came down on Haynes.
* [more inside]
Aspirants to the role of painter-as-poet are many. Giorgio Morandi was the real thing. [more inside]
The concept of Used Cars originated with writer-director-producer John Milius, who pitched the idea to scribes Zemeckis and Gale while they were still hard at work on what would become 1941. ... Zemeckis shot Cars in a breakneck 28 days at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Mesa, Ariz. ... Despite its low profile, the film received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the notoriously finicky Pauline Kael…who described Cars as “a classic screwball fantasy — a neglected modern comedy that’s like a more restless and visually high-spirited version of the W.C. Fields pictures.”
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In Do the Right Thing, the subject is not simply a race riot, but the tragic dynamic of racism, racial tension, and miscommunication, seen in microcosm. The film is a virtuoso act of creation, a movie at once realistic and symbolic, lighthearted and tragic, funny and savage... I have written here more about Lee’s ideas than about his style. To an unusual degree, you could not have one without the other: style is the magician’s left hand, distracting and entertaining us while the right hand produces the rabbit from the hat. It’s not what Lee does that makes his film so devastating, but how he does it. Do the Right Thing is one of the best-directed, best-made films of our time, a film in which the technical credits, the acting, and Lee’s brazenly fresh visual style all work together to make a statement about race in America that is all the more powerful because it blindsides us. - Roger Ebert (SPOILER) [more inside]
Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation — like Kleist’s, like Kierkegaard’s — was Simone Weil’s. - Susan Sontag [more inside]
No one living can say whether the original, ten-hour version of Erich von Stroheim's most famous movie was the epic masterpiece it was touted to be. The 140-minute version is all that remains, and while it's only a quarter of the film it was meant to be, it's still one of the greatest accomplishments (SPOILER) of the silent film era. [more inside]
Maggie and Terre Roche started performing professionally in the late '60s, just a little late for the folkie boom but also a bit too distinctive to blend easily with the singer-songwriters of the early '70s, even when they became acolytes of Paul Simon and recorded backup vocals on There Goes Rhymin' Simon. By 1975, they had their own album on CBS, with tracks produced by Simon (and backed by the Oak Ridge Boys and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith... Seductive Reasoning is not completely a folk nor a country album, which no doubt hurt its commercial potential... Songs such as "West Virginia", "Down the Dream", and "The Mountain People" touch on early joy and disillusionment/disappointment, while "Jill of All Trades" and "The Burden of Proof" reflect a few more years of life under one's belt and the smoothing out that can come with them. "Underneath the Moon" and "Wigglin' Man"... are more straightforward getting-laid songs, funny as hell... while several of their albums have been as good as Seductive Reasoning, none were better. Nor did they have to be. - Todd Mason (previously) [more inside]
Don Van Vliet is self-taught. He neither expects allowances for the amateur’s lack of dexterity nor permits any technical deficiency on his own part to limit his scope. Nobody's understanding or forbearance sets limits to what he does - any more than does the fear of going wrong. The lacerations, transgressions, and awkward moments that he introduces are unpredictable, as is their duration; when he takes the figures that confront him and tugs them out of shape, he simultaneously tugs himself out of shape - and out of his own limitations. - Roberto Ohrt
[Absolute Beginners] has a glossy immediacy, and you can feel the flash and determination that went into it. What you don't feel is the tormented romanticism that made English adolescents in the 70s swear by the novel the way American kids had earlier sworn by The Catcher in the Rye. - Pauline Kael [more inside]
Until the End of the World was conceived over most of the ’80s, filmed on four continents (including video smuggled out of China), and foresaw a future abetted by such diversions as mobile viewing devices, proto-GPS and a highly sought-after contraption that records images for the blind. Starring William Hurt, Sam Neill, Solveig Dommartin, Jeanne Moreau and Max von Sydow among an international ensemble of actors, the film also skyrocketed to a $23 million budget and found its distributors — including Warner Bros. in the United States — requiring cuts that reduced it to barely a quarter of Wenders’s original vision. Later locked in at just under five hours, it’s the type of material that today would be a shoo-in for a cable miniseries that could probably win Emmys for everyone involved. Twenty years on, however, it’s relatively lost to the mainstream, with Wenders’s directors cut as yet unreleased outside two territories in Europe.
Combining the architectural grace of Bach with the sprightly melodicism of Mozart, the 555 keyboard sonatas (3 MB PDF) of Domenico Scarlatti are a cornucopia of exquisite music
*. The first musician to record all of them was the colorful Scott Ross - who died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 38. Here he performs one of the masterpieces, K.209, in Le Château de Maisons-Laffitte on a harpsichord built by David Ley. [more inside]
(MAJOR SPOILERS EVERYWHERE) [Michael Tolkin's The Rapture] is one of the most radical, infuriating, engrossing, challenging movies I've ever seen. There are people who love it and many who hate it, but few who can remain on the sidelines. ... Movies are often so timid. They try so little, and are content with small achievements. "The Rapture" is an imperfect and sometimes enraging film, but it challenges us with the biggest idea it can think of, the notion that our individual human lives do have actual meaning on the plane of the infinite. - Roger Ebert
Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books" (NSFW) is not a movie in the sense that we usually employ the word. It's an experiment in form and content. ... The books, their typography, calligraphy and illustrations, are photographed in voluptuous detail. ... "Prospero's Books" really exists outside criticism. ... It is simply a work of original art, which Greenaway asks us to accept or reject on his own terms. - Roger Ebert
As a historical document the book is exhaustive and valuable. But I did not come away feeling that I knew or understood Hüsker Dü — the musicians themselves, their music, or any of the people around them — any more intimately than I already did. Earles’ writing is at once densely opinionated and emotionless. He expertly follows the chronology of the band’s tours and releases, but he never makes it understandable why some of us look back on this band so reverently, or why it would be worth somebody’s time to discover Hüsker Dü today. (previously)
Using his "file card" technique to create the title piece "Spillane" (whereby musical ideas written on note cards form the basis for discreet sound blocks arranged by way of a unifying theme), John Zorn forges an impressionistic narrative out of stretches of live-music jazz, blues, country, lounge, thrash, etc., and a variety of samples and spoken dialogue inspired by Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer detective novels (recited by John Lurie). - AllMusic [more inside]
One afternoon in September 1958, a beautiful, distinguished and mysterious woman arrived at the door of number 46 rue Hippolyte Maindron. This was the Paris studio where Alberto Giacometti had been working since 1926, having arrived in the city four years earlier. [more inside]
Reading Blaise Cendrars is like stepping into another universe. His fiction is unlike anything else I've ever read. His poetry influenced the mighty Guillaume Apollinaire and helped shape the face of modernism. But it is his mockery of biographical detail and the very notion of literature that fascinates me the most. If, like me, you're not a fan of autobiography, then Blaise Cendrars is the memoirist for you.
On July 26, 1965, at the Antibes Jazz Festival, the John Coltrane Quartet made its only public performance of A Love Supreme. (previously) [more inside]
Yet by 1944 the IRS named Barbara Stanwyck the highest-paid woman in America. From 1930-57, she did a minimum of two pictures a year, sometimes even four or five. Yet it wasn't workaholism, according to the actress: "I was afraid they'd get somebody better, frankly. I never really thought I had any clout. For a lot of years I was free-lancing, by choice, but I think discipline stays with you. It's this fear that maybe somebody can come in and take over. Maybe a Redford or a Streep can take the luxury of a year off, but I never thought I could. Of course, we were more workable in those days. And they make more money now. Anyway, I never had self-assurance about leaving."
In 1986,[Vladimir] Horowitz announced that he would return to the Soviet Union for the first time since 1925 to give recitals in Moscow and Leningrad. In the new atmosphere of communication and understanding between the USSR and the USA, these concerts were seen as events of political, as well as musical, significance. [more inside]
Despite appearing early in his career, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is for me the quintessential Herzog movie. ... It deals with possibly the most obsessed group of people in history, the Spanish conquistadors, and their desperate hunt for the most magic of all Grails, the elusive golden land of El Dorado – leaving destruction and death to millions in their wake. A few lines in an old chronicle is all that remains of the historical facts, thus leaving plenty of room for Herzog to employ his imagination and re-arrange the facts. In short: an ideal topic for a visionary director, tackled with just the right crew, and on a location guaranteed to make the shooting an ordeal in itself.
Although [Michael] Mann has said he was inspired by a true story from Chicago in the late 1960s, the film is no gritty realist number about desperate thievery. Rather, HEAT is a high-gloss creature of its time, utilizing the classic "duel between cop and robber"... to thematize lifestyle issues in the mid-1990s. Specifically I argue that, for all its slickness and emphasis on style and personality, HEAT is a film about work and its increasing personal costs. For the characters in HEAT, work provides excitement* and challenge, but it ultimately excludes any emotional life outside of the demands of the job. *That's the shootout scene
In 95 years of life, Carl Ruggles composed only 84 minutes of music - including his masterpiece for orchestra, "Sun-Treader". Charles Seeger called it "dissonant counterpoint". Charles Ives called it simply "strong, masculine music". In 1980, Michael Tilson Thomas recorded all of it for a long-out-of-print 2 LP set that has never been reissued on CD. Today, with almost none of the music from this significant American composer commercially available in any form, the Internet Archive has performed a valuable cultural service by hosting a 24-bit lossless rip of the Tilson Thomas set. It is powerful stuff.
For decades Dawn Powell was always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion. But despite the work of such dedicated cultists as Edmund Wilson and Matthew Josephson, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, Dawn Powell never became the popular writer that she ought to have been. In those days, with a bit of luck, a good writer eventually attracted voluntary readers and became popular. Today, of course, "popular" means bad writing that is widely read while good writing is that which is taught to involuntary readers. Powell failed on both counts. She needs no interpretation and in her lifetime she should have been as widely read as, say, Hemingway or the early Fitzgerald or the mid O'Hara or even the late, far too late, Katherine Anne Porter. But Powell was that unthinkable monster, a witty woman who felt no obligation to make a single, much less a final, down payment on Love or The Family; she saw life with a bright Petronian neutrality, and every host at life's feast was a potential Trimalchio to be sent up. - Gore Vidal
Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender. (previously)
The most vivid figure in Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields's End of the Century was the least articulate and most archetypal of the Ramones: Johnny, the right-wing prole whose hard-ass sense of style the others nutballed and softened and accelerated and above all imitated. ... Exciting and absolutely right though their '70s sets always were, the film establishes that they kept the faith live till the end, lifted by Joey's goofy dedication and powered by the chords Johnny thrashed out like they were why he was alive. As unyielding in his aesthetic principles as he was in everything else, this reactionary was an avant-gardist in spite of himself. - Robert Christgau
"Ornette in '59" - a BBC documentary segment about Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. [more inside]
After 25 years I revisited To Live and Die In L.A. (1985), William Friedkin's cynical, fatalistic, hardboiled and high-energy crime noir about corruption and survival in the city of no angels. The script is literate, the characters are believable, the performances are brutally honest, the unpredictable twists keep coming, the action never stops, and the car chase is shot for real without any fake process. (spoilers)
Alex Cox: REPO MAN was made as a "negative pickup" by Universal at the time when Bob Rehme was head of the studio. At the time, the big deal over there was STREETS OF FIRE, and nobody really noticed our film [8 MB PDF] at all. Which was lucky for us, since Bob Rehme had "green-lighted" a film which was quite unusual by studio standards. (previously)
[Arvo] Pärt’s mature style was inaugurated in 1976 with a small piano piece, “Für Alina”, that remains one of his best-known works. It is governed by the compositional system that he called “tintinnabuli,” derived from the Latin word for “bells.” The tintinnabuli method pairs each note of the melody with a note that comes from a harmonizing chord, so they ring together with bell-like resonance. [more inside]
What is the only professional, modern dance company to grow directly out of a college modern dance class? ... What is the only professional modern dance company directed by not a singular choreographer, but rather a group collaboration, using improvisational techniques? The answer to... those questions is the world famous dance company, Pilobolus. (links nsfw - previously) [more inside]
Artur Schnabel was the first pianist to record all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. He would not be the last. [more inside]
The familiar '70s query, "Is it art or porn?," took on a whole new dimension with The Night Porter (NSFW), a stylish and astoundingly seamy fusion of erotica and stark concentration camp trauma. While many subsequent films, mostly Italian, took the Nazi sexploitation route to unbelievably tastless levels, Liliana Cavani's treatment remains more problematic. More concerned with mood and characterization than cheap thrills, the film is nevertheless extremely kinky and shocking enough to prove that its R rating is the product of a ratings system far different than the one we have now. [more inside]
Under the stewardship of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Cannon Films was responsible for many of the worst - and a few of the best - movies of the 1980s. Along the way it won an Academy Award and enriched the language. (previously) [more inside]
DJ Zhao brings contemporary and classic dance music together from all five continents, with focus on Africa. While his DJ sets reach from culture centers to remote areas of the globe, and from now back through the ages, DJ Zhao’s remix and mashup work directly connects “East” and “West”, acoustic and electronic, traditional and hyper-modern. Equal parts ethno-musicologist and booty shaker, Zhao is an ambassador of boom not only talking about, but demonstrating through raw sound experience, the underlying unity of all earth cultures and peoples. [more inside]
There is no questioning Syd Dale's [mid-60s UK NSFW] place amongst the legends of library music. ... his lavish big band inspired compositions were quickly brought to the public's attention through their use in countless t.v. shows and advertisements. Much of his work could be as classed as easy listening however Dale was also adept at incorporating elements of funk and spy jazz.
* [The music of the 1967 Spider-Man animated TV series - to which he so memorably contributed - has been discussed previously.] [more inside]
[Arthur Penn's Night Moves] does belong to a traditional, indeed obsolescent genre, but the distance it keeps from it (not an ironic or critical distance, just a distance) is such that genre-related expectations become irrelevant. Most of the time, the story line seems to meander aimlessly, taking in extraneous material, doubling back, going round in circles (the aimless is deceptive, a smoke screen obfuscating the complex, rigorous organization of an exceptionally well-structured script). The "mystery" aspect of the plot is dealt with in the most peculiar, topsy-turvy manner, withholding not the solution of the problem but the problem itself until the very end, when, in a dazzling visual tour de force, both are conjured up almost simultaneously. - Jean Pierre Coursodon [more inside]