Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hitchcock features and other goodies hidden among the public domain clips

I'm fascinated by what people upload in the way of classic cinema on YouTube, and am particularly interested by people uploading entire features, particularly ones that are copyrighted and could come tumbling down at any time. Thus, I humbly submit a few links to a person who's uploaded some public domain features, and has also thrown in a classic Roger Corman (featuring the best acting job by William Shatner, pre-Tiberius Kirk), the entire 1962 feature The Intruder aka "Shame."

The same person has put up the entirety of Hitchcock's Stage Fright, which is not primo Hitch, but does contain one of his few attempts to film a musical number (albeit one occurring on a stage) and an admitted "cheat," wherein we see a falsified flashback.

More importantly, he (I know, I know, I keep assuming these posters are men, since I know that guys have infinite patience for fanboy activity) has uploaded all of the much better Shadow of a Doubt, which contains a wonderfully creepy performance by the great Joseph Cotten. The coolest part in the entire movie (which is a classic Hitch construction, filled with doubling and identification with the killer figure) occurs at 3:00-4:30 point of this segment. “Are they?” Joe Cotten kicks ass.

The same poster has put up the only Elia Kazan noir, the "neo-Realist" noir Panic in the Streets, some fan-made music videos for songs by the horror-movie obsessed Texas psych legend Roky Erickson and a Here’s Lucy production number featuring the always sexy-as-anything Ann Margret. Also, this rather lonely and downbeat PSA featuring the young Billy Mumy (I’d swear the voice of the narrator is that of young Dick Cavett). Television is sanctified for kid's protection — that's why he's so depressed!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

'70s one-hit wonders: cinematic wonderment

I was super-thrilled to reconnect with this 1979 ditty, which has been playing in my mental jukebox now for the past three decades. The promo clip (that's what they used to call videos) is pretty ridiculously dippy, but the song still kicks ass, and features the best movie-music interlude I've heard in rock outside the work of the great Alice Cooper Group, as produced by Bob Ezrin. This single had it all: the filtered voice, a call-and-response chorus, a mega-dramatic melody, and lyrics that ya just can't forget. "I just been down to New York town/done my time in hell...!"

In researching the guys who recorded this, who named themselves (in a flash of sheer prescience) Flash & the Pan, I discovered that they were the Australian duo, Harry Vanda and George Young, who were behind the PERFECTLY immortal "Friday on My Mind" as the Easybeats back in 1966. Worthy of a major Funhouse salute.

'70s one-hit wonders: some travelin' music, please...

The band had a gimmicky name, the music had that pure-pop drive, and the song had a major hook (in fact some interwoven hooks, best kind) that wouldn't quit. I give you the British band Sniff 'n' the Tears' 1978 hit "Driver's Seat":

'70s one-hit wonders: nothin' matters but the weekend

I'll stretch the time-delineation here by one year, and include a 1980 one-hitter. The Kings doing their mighty "Switchin' to Glide," which is a neat, slick bit of electrified pop-rock. The song appears here combined with another—"Switchin'" starts at the 3:12 mark. I have no idea what the hell the title means, but I wish it had entered the lingo to mean something or other.

And as a bonus, let me throw a 1977 hook-driven gem, Jay Ferguson's "Thunder Island." Ferguson was a vocalist for the great band Spirit, who gave us (among others) two all-time classic tracks, "I Got a Line on You" and "Nature's Way."

Oh, okay, let me get carried away and point you to this godawful vid for yet another super-hooky tune by a guy who left a major band (in this case Fleetwood Mac). Bob Welch actually had his one big hit with "Sentimental Lady," but here's "Ebony Eyes":

'70s one-hit wonders: the peak of pop

There are certain high points in the art of the '70s one-hit, but I'm going to avoid ”Billy Don't Be a Hero” (although it would be VERY interesting to hear a song like this on today's pop charts--it really is a stupid-ass maneuver to volunteer to fight in a war of choice!). Instead, I have to focus on the British band Paper Lace's mega-classic "Night Chicago Died" (1974). Yes, indeed they are not represented on YouTube, except in one TV performance, performing "Billy" (which they had the original version of, and a big hit with, in Europe). Thus, we have fan-created vids for the song, such as this one:

And I just gotta include this "banda" version of the song in Spanish--check out "Senor Al Capone." Killer...

And another sublime bit of one-hit wonderhood, "Skyhigh" by Jigsaw, a song written for The Man From Hong Kong(1975), one of the post-Bond vehicles for George Lazenby. Oh man, the AM memories....

Special kudos to this nonsensical anime homage to the song.

'70s one-hit wonders, the first: catchy rhymin'

I am glad that our local NYC oldies station, WCBS-FM, returned a few months back, but man, oh man, is there ever a lack of Seventies one-hit wonders on the station. I revel in this kind of pure-pop Tin Pan tunesmithing for "the rock era," as it was when I first started indulging heavily in the drug that was then AM radio. Some of the most superb music of the '70s never made the Top 40 (including genius singer-songwriters and nearly all punk/new wave), but in amongst the stuff that did, there were some severely catchy, hook-ridden melodies, and those are what I bow in homage to for this short series of posts.

Some of the songs have very straightforward presentations on YT because the copyright owners of whatever TV-rockshow footage that exists have removed the best TV performances of the songs. Thus we have these poster-created vids for these two seminal one-hits:

Oh yes, the mellow rock sounds of the Sanford Townsend Band, and their catchy-as-fuck hook "Your Eyes Had a Mist/From the Smoke/of a Distant Fire" (1977). This video is just some random STB images and nature stuff, but it's the song that holds the attention (truly, YT can function like the radio we should be gettin' for free sometimes—just let it run as you do other things):

The KILLER "The Rapper" by The Jaggerz, 1970 one-hit bliss. The lead singer on this track went on to sing on "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. I have absolutely no interest in the visual here (from some stupid-ass horror teen comedy), but dig that chorus.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The limits of free speech: joking about Presidential assassination

YouTube has become a clearing house for just about every public statement people want to make — witness the ”YouTube divorce woman” who recently posted a video complaining about her mondo-rich husband kicking her out of their Park Avenue apartment.

There are limits, however, to free speech — ones that dwell somewhere in the “yelling fire in a crowded theater” area (or the “every single joke about the head of state is investigated, especially under a Republican presidency”). Some enterprising soul decided to do a video featuring a kid threatening to kill the President. The vid went down from YouTube, but can be found below. The kid makes his best bid to make the threat sound serious, and it is a particularly damaged bit of play-acting (one commenter in the comments field on the original website notes that the kid has “played too much Grand Theft Auto”). It also gets to be both creepy and boring, as the kid rambles on and on, saying he will kill himself after offing Bush, plus will take out the First Family.

It’s the most extreme form of political humor, and not funny, but interesting to note that it can indeed exist at least in one corner of the Internet. I can’t conceive of a single newspaper (and that includes the “alternative press”), radio station, or television paper that would let this kind of stuff through the filter.

In no way do I advocate what this kid is saying (okay, watchdogs?), but I am certainly interested to observe its appearance (and most likely imminent disappearance) in the public eye:

UPDATE: The video has indeed been taken down, and probably won't be posted anywhere soon, unless the videographer wants to put it on his own website. Here are some blog items about the video. They seem to take the opinion that Bush is generally an okay guy. I think he's an apathetic and genuinely repellent war criminal, but I think the kid's solution is rather grim: since the Pres seems to still be connected to his past drug/alcohol use (either by current "slips" or just the brain-damage they caused), maybe a nice straitjacket would fit the bill.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Marxist wisdom: Grouch rarities

This week’s show is a Consumer Guide episode that once again unites the sources of fascination for many a counterculturalist in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Marx and Lennon (yes, the Firesign album does make an appearance). To augment the former part of that equation, I offer up some clips from various You Bet Your Life episodes that didn’t make it onto the two wonderfully crafted boxes that were released by Shout! Factory.

First, Groucho doing his quizmaster shtick on the Jack Benny Program (one of Grouch’s own faves):

The most likeable of the pop-idol pop-rockers who followed in the wake of the first R’n’R revolution, Mr. Beach Party himself, Frankie Avalon, seen here in 1961:

Exercise master Jack La Lanne (did dig his old b&w show when I was kid, now that’s some minimalist television!). Here Jack is 44, but he’s currently still kicking (and pressing, and I’m sure sitting up and crunching) at ninety-friggin’-three! The most interesting thing besides Jack is that the duck was dispensed with for a while, and the “secret word” award is given by a babe in cage!

There are men who are big, and men who are giant. And then there was the mighty Tor!!!!

Chuckling, smoking & dominating the conversation: Tom Snyder's gender-bending guests

This week’s episode features my review of the DVD release John, Paul, Tom & Ringo, which features solo Beatle interviews from Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show. Instead of offering up Beatle links, though, I wanted to salute the boorish but thoroughly absorbing Mr. Snyder. So, let me send you flying into some vintage items from the Disco Era, the scary depths of the Seventies.

Here’s a show that’s a good kind of drag: the immortal Divine and living legend (still out there performing) Holly Woodlawn, and their stage director Ron Link in 1979:

A cheat here: not a Tomorrow clip, but Snyder hosting a segment on a newsmagazine show in the same year, ’79, talking about the Rocky Horror Picture Show cult, focusing on its showings at the Eighth Street Playhouse. That chick playing Frankie was adorable, I saw her do her shtick a few times back in prehistory.

And to continue the gender-bending with Tom (who was the straightest, most overwhelming conversation-dominator you ever did see), here’s Alice Cooper in one of his leaner moments (seriously lean) in his oddest stage outfit, a weird look that can only be summed up as “leather geisha.” Alice looks seriously ill, but he later chalked it all up to living exclusively on liquor.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

And in local news: congestion pricing shot down, no money for the MTA :)

Regular viewers of the show will know that the one issue I never shy away from injecting into the flow of pop-culture and high-art bliss is the torture that comprises taking the NYC subway system on a daily basis. As a lifelong subway rider who knows all too well how wildly, incredibly corrupt the MTA is (and it will never ever change), I was delighted to see our billionaire mayor’s “congestion pricing plan” for Manhattan go down in flames yesterday. The focus on “quality of life” problems has been one that insipid-voiced businessman/rich fuck “Mayor Mike” took over from his evil predecessor, the petty, vendetta-minded wraith of evil that is Guliani. Some have praised Bloomie and his concern for NYCers’ health. Let’s be honest and just note that man is a billionaire, he doesn’t care about you, me, any of us (and is one of the single most-boring speakers on today’s political scene). His latest scam, this congestion-pricing business, was simply a way to generate more cash, make life easier (again) for his wealthier compadres, and play the “quality of life” card once more.

Thus I salute the dogmatic Sheldon Silver, head of the NY State Assembly, just as I saluted those who opposed Guiliani’s acts of petty tyranny. A few years ago Silver helped to shoot down Bloomberg’s nightmarish idea to erect a stadium on the Upper West Side which was, simply put, a billionaire’s wet dream, but a notion that would have utterly destroyed Manhattan’s traffic patterns (so much for Mike’s concern for traffic — doesn’t anyone remember these things?) and imposed upon every Manhattanite’s daily life. Congestion pricing was another rich man’s fantasy: charge folks more money to enter the city, so as to reduce traffic, so that life can become deliriously happy and everyone will just ride the subways and buses instead. They all run so well … and, hey, they’ll be getting some of that big government money we’ll grab!

Bloomberg pouted today when he found out that he wouldn’t be getting that million-dollar grab. He had noted that part of that money would be given to the MTA to better the service (which would now be filled with people who had to ditch their cars). NOTHING additional should ever be given to that corrupt organization, as they have a history of juggling the books (read HERE: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/apr03/042303.htm) and just recently imposed a fare-hike on NYCers that was supposed to result in better service (that’s all we want, just have the trains RUN!), and oh-so-shortly thereafter claimed that the mortgage crisis in America means they can’t use the extra revenue to attend to service problems. Tough luck, New Yorkers, fuck the public, sez our beloved MTA yet again.

Of course Bloomberg makes a public show most days of taking the subway to “work” — the secret (revealed in the NYT) that has not been spoken about enough is how he is driven to the next subway stop up from his (86th instead of 77th) so he can get an express downtown and put on his little daily show of being a “commoner.” God forbid the billionaire actually experience a real subway ride, replete with the lovely endless walk that comprises a journey from the “sides” of town over to trains-that-run-when-they-feel-like-it.

Last, related note: I think back for a second on how “Mayor Mike” ascended to power, and of course, I remember a confused and feuding Democratic party in NYC (most likely a harbinger of the upcoming Presidential election — we live in a Conservative, petty-minded country, while the left bickers and compromises). Bloomie’s entry into politics had the feel of Citizen Kane’s immortal line “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper,” and the office was handed to him on a silver platter by one Mark Green — who most recently bought and then sold a majority interest in Air America, though making sure his own newly-scheduled boring radio show would remain on the air (“I think it would be fun to run a radio network,” indeed). This is a supposedly “liberal” city that has been run by conservatives now for way too long, and thus I welcome any and all attempts to stopgap the “quality of life” moves that would actually cost average folk dough, and put money into the pockets of the evil bastids that have too much already.

[climbs off soapbox] Let’s go to the movies….

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Farewell, Tommy Udo: Deceased Artiste Richard Widmark

There were two Richard Widmarks: the amazingly sleazy, completely unforgettable presence from film noir (best when he was a villain) and the fully capable and very talented but not entirely memorable actor from a slew of films after the noir cycle was over. Widmark did do excellent work later in his career, but it is his early roles in noir features that made him an icon that will last forever.

It’s kinda hard to imagine that the scene-stealing Widmark was making his big-screen debut as giggling, sadistic bastard Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway’s otherwise procedural noir film Kiss of Death (1947). He had, by the way, had a healthy life as a stage actor and, most profitably, as a radio actor in the years before he scored Kiss (having appeared on many of the most popular shows, including — no surprise here — Gangbusters). It must’ve been evident to the cast and crew as they made the film that Widmark’s character was a helluva lot more interesting than that played by the extremely boring Victor Mature; Widmark wound up being nominated for the Oscar, and the film was promoted on his supporting turn. I was introduced to the great scumbag Tommy Udo through Vernon Zimmerman’s unjustly forgotten movie-buff horror film Fade to Black (1980), in which one of the different personas Dennis Christopher assumes is that of Widmark in Kiss. I had yet to fall completely into the filmgoing bug, and seeing the infamous and eternal scene of Udo pushing an old woman down the stairs in her wheelchair was a revelation to me.

Widmark played in a number of noirs, and always distinguished himself, even as he struggled to get out of his bad-guy parts — once he did, he scored terrific roles like the one of the prosecutor in Judgment at Nuremburg, but that kind of prestige “message” film isn’t anywhere nearly as rewatchable as the potboiler noirs he took part in. For instance, Road House (1948), in which he plays crazy club-owner “Jefty” who menaces the hell out of Celeste Holm, Cornel Wilde (another good-looking dull lead), and the great Ida Lupino. Here he does the Udo laugh and flips out entirely at the movie’s end, making him the one reason not to miss the movie. The other half-dozen noirs he did don’t have him playing outright scum like Udo and Jefty, but he still excelled when playing incredibly sleazy con artists. He’s a good guy in Panic in the Streets (1950) and Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), but he’s most interesting as a racist crook in No Way Out (1950) (making fledgling star Sidney Poitier seem all the more heroic) and as yet another underworld tough in The Street With No Name (1948).

He hit the heights of sympathetic sleaziness in Jules Dassin’s Night and the City (1950)(which I’ll post something from by next week, as Dassin’s death at 96 was just announced yesterday), and Sam Fuller’s wonderful Pickup on South Street (1953). In both films, he’s a sleazy crook antihero who isn’t a cutthroat killer like Tommy Udo, but is still hard to warm up to. Fuller particularly took pride in being able to sum Widmark’s character up in a single line of dialogue in Pickup, when he’s told that he’s not helping his country and responds, “Are you wavin’ the flag at me?”

Widmark did indeed keep acting until the 1990s, but it is as sadistic gangster Tommy Udo, or as sleazy operators Harry Fabian (Night and the City) or Skip McCoy (Pickup on South Street) we’ll always remember him.

NOTE: the quality of these clips is pre-cable TV broadcast. Thus, some are darker than others (much darker) and you might have to crank the sound. This is the way we used to watch ’em, though, kids, in the world before restoration. And they still packed a very solid punch….

Deceased Artiste Anthony Minghella, a true film fan

The news that director Anthony Minghella died last week brought one film and one film only to mind: his brilliantly written big-screen debut Truly Madly Deeply(1990). Minghella of course came out of British television, and had acquired quite a nice resume before making the film, and went on to do a series of big-budget prestige theatrical features that didn’t inspire me to see them, adaptations of period romances like his Oscar pic The English Patient and the Civil War “chick flick” (let’s be honest, that’s what the talented Mr. Minghella wound up making) Cold Mountain. He did a redo of Purple Noon (The Talented Mr. Ripley), which I will get around to some day, but since Truly Madly, he only made one film as a scripter-director that was not taken from a major novel, Breaking and Entering.

But let me get to the point here, and rhapsodize about Truly Madly Deeply. The film received a damning-by-faint-praise label as “the thinking man’s Ghost” because the plots of both films were based around the same premise (woman is visited by the ghost of her dead boyfriend). Putting it plainly, Ghost is a pathetic sentiment-grab (with hokey plot twists and a positively painful cast), whereas Truly Madly is a well-written character study that really does boast a brain and a heart. Its plot is simple: its ghost character, a cranky but charming left-winger (Alan Rickman), comes back to this mortal plane to visit his living girlfriend (Juliet Stevenson, who is perfect in the starring role); she then, in turn, must decide if she'll "continue," so to speak, nursing her love for the spirit of Rickman or move on to a new, seemingly nice and genuine (but I felt way too cutesy) guy. The film presents a beautifully three-dimensional portrait of romantic love (with a whimsical supernatural element informing the whole scenario, of course). It is mostly set indoors and does have the feel of a BBC teleplay, but its writing and acting are incredibly good, so who cares? And when lovers are depicted professing their affection through The Walker Brothers’ gorgeously evocative Spector-esque hit “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” little more need be said.

Of course, there is one aspect of the film that demonstrated Mingehella’s fanboy love of the medium. Rickman’s character is primarily journeying back from the afterlife to love Stevenson once more (and complain, my man!), but he also returns to… watch movies with his pals! Minghella, who scripted and directed, came up with a filmfan’s worst nightmare: an afterlife that doesn’t have movies (or if it does, you can’t have a good old “video night” with friends up there). Thus, Rickman begins to bring his buddies back from the “other side” to check out his video collection… which his girlfriend has not been a perfect caretaker for (for shame!). When I saw the film, I was touched on a number of levels (and had been hoping to see a lot more of this kind of work from Minghella, but alas….). This inclusion of dudes journeying back from Heaven to check out their favorite movies was just too perfect, though, because I and most of my comrades all know we’d pass an astral plane or two to get back to some serious movie-watching.

Stevenson’s character quizzes Rickman about this at one point, asking why he only brings men back from the other side for his post-mortem video nights, and if I remember correctly he doesn’t have a response. We all know the answer, though, don’t we? As much as women can truly, madly, deeply fall in love with a pop phenomenon, more guys per capita can keep that fixation up for the rest of their lives (I can point to no more moving phenom than seeing our Funhouse hero Uncle Forry Ackerman meet up with his old buds Rays Bradbury and Harryhausen to discuss science fiction and the Mighty Kong — never ever were three seniors as young at heart as this inspirational trio of octagenarians). Minghella tapped into something really beautiful about cinemaddiction in Truly Madly…, in addition to all his other conclusions about the eternal power of love, and the need to every so often move on. I salute him for his connection to the fanboy experience, and for the choices thrown out by his back-from-beyond cinephiles (Chaplin, Woody, Rafelson, Herzog, not bad; I’m not a David Lean fan myself, but guys do indeed watch romances, yes they do — esp. if they’re in black and white). I present the clips below with a few stray video-rolls — but that is entirely appropriate.

I can honestly say that Minghella’s depiction of the afterlife was scarier to me than Our Town. Sitting on a chair on a hill (I know, I know, they’re in their graves, symbolically) being bored out of your gourd is one thing, but an afterlife without movies? That truly is a horrifying prospect. I do trust that Anthony was only teasing us movie buffs, presenting a very smart and witty comment on male fandom. If not, I hope he’s prepping a bunch of lads to come back down and commandeer someone’s video collection. I’m up for it. I say Five Easy Pieces first, then Fitzcarraldo, whaddya think?