Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How about some *non*-Xmas music?

This should take you out of the Yuletide mindset. Pure pop for now people, from the terrific Lou Christie, the man who gave us "Lightnin' Strikes," the catchiest ode to the sexiest double standard ever (*impossible* to ever forget that one). Here he is doing one of his hookier tunes, one of my all-time faves, "I'm Gonna Make You Mine." The video is a lip-synch deal, but what a lip-synch! By a pool in Florida, with two dancing babes, and a maybe not-so-wise decision to go with the shirtless/vest thing that was big for a while in the Swinging Sixties. Anyway, it's a damn hooky song.

UPDATE: reader Sandy noted that the original publicity film for this song is even more bizarre, as it features Lou in a scene reminiscent of the Geraldine Chaplin bit in Nashville (or any of several Godard flicks from the late '60s) where he walks through a junkyard filled with compacted cars singing his ode to unflappable romantic obsession. Truly he is a *wreck* because this babe won't date him....

Friday, December 19, 2008

Marco Ferreri on the Funhouse, all boxed up

My 1996 talk with the man who gave the world some of the strangest, craziest, funniest allegories about sex, politics, religion, and (his fave) the end of civilization can now be found subtitled as a supplement in The Marco Ferreri Collection from Koch Lorber. I’ve posted a few clips from it on YouTube. The video resolution isn’t as pristine as that of the original VHS, but you do have yellow subtitles (I for one am a fan of yellow subs) giving precise translations of Signore Ferreri’s sometimes cryptic and often evasive but always fascinating answers — and how incredibly beautiful is it to hear him say the English phrase “Bye Bye… [he pauses dramatically, to consider] Monkey”? I love this man’s work and was glad to be a small part of this ambitious box. Denying his characters are obsessive (I have so many clips from the films themselves that counter his answer…)


On the politics in his films:


And yes, discussing our Funhouse favorite, Bye Bye Monkey:

Have yourself a noir little Christmas

Go ahead, "Baby Boy Frankie Bono," revisit the Blast of Silence I put up on YT earlier this year as part of a review of the Criterion release.

Allen Baron's film was shot on location in NYC, and its Christmas sequence in Rockefeller Center gives a gorgeous portrait of what the city looked like in the early Sixties — and also offers a terrific opportunity for our hitman anti-hero (played by Baron) to feel even more isolated from the rest of humanity. The awesomely hardboiled voice delivering the second-person narration is that of the late, great Lionel Stander.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"I'm gonna make him penetrate, I'm gonna make him be a girl..."

It seems like a century ago. I listened to the radio on my way to high school, a Catholic high school, a Catholic all-boys high school (if you need to diagnose any of my ailments, please begin there), since there was no better way than to start the day with rebellious rock n’ roll emanating from a small portable radio.

And lest you think the rock was not rebellious, or at least packaged to sound so, let me just me mention that the station being listened to on this particular morning was WHBI-FM, a local oddity that used to rent itself out to foreign programmers, but also had two “punk” programs that played the best and weirdest punk and new wave records — the two featured DJs (a guy named Phil Barry and a Brit called "Scratchy") were clearly into freaking out the listener, and I remember hearing the beloved Barnes and Barnes’ “Cemetery Girls” (their snappy ode to necrophilia) as well as a truly creepy story-song about kids picking on a fat girl at school (all this in the late-evening hours, listening on a transistor, or on my way to prison… er, school).

The morning I remember in particular the song below was playing. Yes, the video you’re about to watch is hopelessly silly, the performer looks ridiculous — plus I was stunned and amused to see his song punctuated with wonderfully cheesy German “saucy” comedy.

Just imagine, though, the song hitting a teenager, back then on a crappy little radio. The melody (actually, the backing track, if I’m not mistaken) stolen from the greatest French “New Wave” tune of all time, actually a tongue-in-cheek punk parody of sorts, the immortal Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi” which can be seen and heard here.

This rip-off English song had a nasty little homoerotic lyric that absolutely freaked the shit out of my mother when she heard it come out of the radio (she loved William B. Williams, as I did, but hey, a kid’s gotta grow up some time). She told me I should turn it off, but much to her credit, didn’t shut the radio off herself (plus the song was already just about over by the time she registered how “dirty” it was).

I know this entire event reeks of a past time before teens were all-knowing and exposed to just about everything under the sun. I guess I’m happy to have lived through those innocent moments, and to have experienced, through WHBI’s “punk” music programs and WBAI’s amazing, still radical free-form shows, a time when regular old commercial radio could be challenging, weird, upsetting, and yes, just plain “dirty” for its era. What followed thereafter (Stern, “O&A,” and the rest…) was all pathetic compared to some insane dude singing about getting head from another guy during the breakfast hour….

Still "unabideable": the slippery streets of the city

I wrote a blog entry when I had health insurance from my job, and now I have none, so it’s even more relevant. It involves the increasingly slippery sidewalks of NYC, and it can be found here

Since my last rant-post mentioned Queens, I will now evoke Brooklyn and say that I’m freelancing (ah, the life of instability, how it molds the modern man…) a block away from the shopping area laughingly called the “Fulton Mall.” It’s a commercial area filled with crappy clothing stores blasting awful music (although it does have cheesy low-rent emporia that fascinate me like the one in the pic), but it also has one of my chief banes, one that can only get worse when it rains (rhyme unintentional, but inevitable): the new-model pavement that appears in so many commercial and upscale areas of the Five Boroughs. It's not quite the marbleized nightmare that rules Park Avenue and other upscale districts in Manhattan, but it also isn't the old traditional gray, drab, reliable kind (read: it's wretched to navigate during a downpour). In other words, if you’re uninsured, or old, or unsteady on your pins, you just know you’re going to take a tumble. The only solution, besides wearing rubbers or rubber-soled shoes everywhere, alla time, is to take baby-steps and proceed with ever so much care when the torrents are upon the city. No, we don’t need no national healthcare, not at all, ever….

Friday, December 12, 2008

The cineaste that time forgot: Marco Ferreri

This week on the show I’m happy to reach back and air segments from an interview I did back in 1996 with Italian filmmaker Marco Ferreri. The twist to this episode is that it’s not a rerun: that interview was licensed for use in the new Marco Ferreri Collection, released by Koch Lorber. Thus I'm showing the interview, now with English subtitles, rather than its former on-site translation (which was good, but way too polite). The Ferreri box in which the interview appears includes eight movies, five of which have never been on DVD before, and two of which had never reached these shores, even through the mail-order VHS channels I’ve been monitoring for so long.

On the episode I run through the themes common to Ferreri’s cinema: allegories about the ends or beginnings of civilizations; absurdist, dark humor; parables about the birth of feminism in the Seventies; and the inevitable sight of major French and Italian stars in embarrassing and bizarre situations. I am devoted to Ferreri’s work, and have had to scramble around to find copies of his films on VHS over the years. As for DVD, there were three Image releases of titles that appear in this box, but nothing else has seen release until this Koch box. To celebrate this, I thought I’d do a survey-post showing the little of Ferreri that has cropped up on YouTube. I plan on uploading scenes from my interview, but for the instant, these clips are your best immediate fix for Marco-mania.

The rare Italian video documentary Marco Ferrreri: The Director Who Came From the Future, included in the box, is excerpted here with English subs. It is the best (and I believe only) introduction to Ferreri on video.

Here is an extremely groovy trailer for Dillinger is Dead, which has been restored and is rumored to be a candidate for a Criterion release in the near future:

This appears to be a handmade trailer for La Cagna, aka Liza, which finds Marcello Mastroianni on an island with Catherine Deneuve and his dog. In the film’s most memorable series of scenes, Catherine kills the dog, and takes its place (wearing a collar, heeling, fetching sticks). Only Ferreri got major European stars to tackle this sort of weirdness:

Ferreri’s only arthouse hit in America was La Grande Bouffe(1973), the tale of four jaded middle-aged men deciding to eat and fuck themselves to death. Here’s a suitably odd moment from the beginning of the proceeedings:

A scene from the same film, that I didn’t have time to include in this week’s episode. The distinguished Michel Piccoli suffers death by farting. The way this clip is cut on YT you miss the opening, where he plays the piano while expelling gas at a good clip:

There are no subtitles for this clip from the amazing Don’t Touch the White Woman(1974), Ferreri’s tripped-out Seventies Western satire, but you won’t need them to understand Marcello as a ridiculous Custer and Michel Piccoli as a puffed-up Buffalo Bill (speaking French with a pronounced American accent):

There are a few clips on YouTube that come from the films that are just simply impossible to get in the U.S. In fact there’s one whole film, The Banquet, that is offered (sans English titles) on the site. Here’s a totally comprehensible, unsubbed bit from The Future is Woman showing Hanna Schygulla and the perfect Ornella Muti enjoying themselves at a tacky Italian nightclub (for those who dig Eighties cheese, this is it):

During my film-fan years, the only Ferreri film that got major distribution was Tales of Ordinary Madness, his 1981 Bukowski adaptation that featured the super-cool Ben Gazzara as Bukowski’s fictional alter-ego. Gazzara was the perfect envisionment of the Bukowski hero, with the best-ever voice to recite his poetry:

And how could I resist the urge to end with one of the stranger but more compelling Marco fever-dreams, Bye Bye Monkey (1978). These are clips I uploaded to YT when I began doing this blog some months ago:

Unabideables: Xmas music, everywhere!

I think even those who do delight in the seasonal insanity that is Christmas would admit that Xmas music is played to fucking death. Since I do a program that more often than not takes a “nostalgic” look at pop culture, I’m of course more interested in the way that old music shows up around the holidays. I was walking on the main street in Astoria Queens (Steinway) today, and heard some lesser-known Christmas tune by the Supremes being piped in all along the length of the street. This started several years ago, major streets and thoroughfares having Xmas music piped in to encourage folks to buy things. Of course, I think that kind of attempted brainwash backfires, as those who are going to buy will buy anyway, and those who don’t have the dough, or have other modes of buying things, or simply have no one to buy anything for, are just going to run for cover every time another one of those fucking tunes starts up over the loudspeaker.

I love vintage American music, “popular standards,” old singles, novelty tunes, and any old kinda crap that has a killer hook to it. What I find so overwhelming and obnoxious about the Xmas-music overload is that it’s the one time of the year that radio (yes, I still listen to commercial radio, for better or worse — mostly talk) plays old music. When else would you hear Gene Autry or Burl Ives but during the Christmas season? Burl and Gene might’ve gotten a spin on good old Joe Franklin’s now-defunct show here in NYC (I remember Joe playing an extremely maudlin Autry tune about children visiting their mother’s grave as a Mom’s Day song one year), but the best older music, the things written by the big guys (Gershwin, Porter, Kern, all those dead men) will never see the light of day on NY radio again — but during the holidays, we hear “Rudolph” and “Frosty” and “Silver Bells” and five to six dozen tunes that form the “canon” of Xmas music (that extends to “Run, Run, Rudolph” and, gak, “Last Christmas” by George Michael). So, old music is indeed out there, you might enjoy it, but no, that’s a horribly narrow demographic, that stuff can’t be played on the radio — unless, of course, if it can foster pretend dreams of a Norman Rockwell world that never existed, even when these songs were gracing the top 40 for the first time. Some of the songs are actually wonderful, some of the cornball renditions by such unrepentantly uncool performers like the Mitch Miller singers or Johnny Mathis or Der Bingle, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, do have their charms. But as they assault the senses in stores and on sidewalks, they are as horrible to encounter as the oldies I love so dearly being trussed up and thrown out on oldies stations, or the “classic rock” that actually does still have the power to stir it up — but not on classic-rock radio.

All self-evident to most of the people who would choose to read these words, but as I stand in the drug store listening to some hoary old number for the umpteenth time, I wonder if the folks who run the Duane Reade chain (or Rite Aid or CVS) actually think that assaulting the senses with the feeblest of nostalgic tunes (or the most touching, like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” run into the ground until it no longer has any resonance) inspires added commerce. Or if it’s as most of us suspect: that the multitude of holiday shoppers (say, the ones who killed that guy at Walmart on Long Island on Black Friday by trampling on him to get to the big-screen TVs) will spend themselves into poverty no matter what is playing on the loudspeaker, and the overload of holiday music is just another game engaged in by our beloved capitalist society. One more reason that I completely resist the arrival of the holiday season… but then, due to not ever having that idyllic never-was, never-will-be Yuletide, completely miss it once it’s actually over….

Saturday, December 6, 2008

RIP 4E: Deceased Artiste Forrest J. Ackerman

...or Uncle Forry, as he was known to a few generations of fanboys and fangirls over the past five decades. Forry's influence on fandom was, well, monstrously important (that one's for you, Sir): from his pioneering photo-gathering and pun-smithing chores on Famous Monsters of Filmland; to his appearances at fancons from the VERY first ones in the 1930s to the modern-day gatherings that take up entire cities; to his appearances in movies by Dante, Landis, Olen Ray, et al; to his utter childlike worship of Boris, Bela, Price, and of course, Lon Sr. — not forgetting the one monster that reduced three wonderful senior citizens (Forry, Ray Bradbury, and Ray Harryhausen) into little boys again on several occasions, King Kong (I hope I can be that young at their age, truly). He had a good bit of fun in his life from all directions (the Bill Landis bio of Kenneth Anger gets into the "sex-magick rituals" that used to be held at the Ackermansion, yowzah), and he will be missed by us all. He and the two Rays were the first generation of fanboys, and as such they deserve our admiration, respect, and love.

First I will direct you to Richard Corliss's wonderful obit for the man.

Then I will send you flying into "Music for Robots" an album credited to Forry, posted at the 36 15 blogspot.

Then, I must pass on this trove of the COVERS of FM, which should stir the soul of any proud fan-person. The first issue I had is on the right, but all the original covers can be found here. Go now!

Then I note that I am indeed extremely proud I got to interview the gent, and got the full tour of the Ackermansion. Here are the two clips I posted from our talk on YouTube. On Bela:

On early sci-fi fandom:

He tossed off at some point that he would like to have a good home for his awesomely beautiful collection of memorabilia (a lot of which was liquidated when his medical bills became too high a few years back, a tragedy), when he had gone "to that big sci-fi convention in the sky." He surely isn't standing in line, and is the first boy racing to the tables right now....

Friday, December 5, 2008

Oliver Reed: great actor, unforgettable talk show guest

This week I’m presenting the first part of my Ken Russell interview on the show. We discuss Oliver Reed, who starred in six of Mr. Russell’s films, and, interestingly, Ken says he doesn’t think Oliver was much of an actor, didn’t have much range. I would agree that he walked through a number of films, but he is exceptionally good in Russell’s work (perhaps because of the “system” they worked out — see the show to find out about it). You can currently view the entirety of Russell’s masterpiece, The Devils online. I’m not really sure how it has stayed up there, since YouTube is run by Americans, and thus is petrified by the very notion of nudity. Anyway, the film is a must-see (although it really needs to be viewed on at least a TV screen):

I would recommend heavily that you see Reed’s other works with Russell: The Debussy Film, Dante’s Inferno (where his readings of Rossetti's poems are sublime), and naturally enough, Tommy (Ollie’s scream-singing is quite something). Reed also starred in Russell’s Women in Love, where he participated in a scene that will NEVER be on YouTube — I’m talking, of course, about the insane naked wrestling scene with Alan Bates that pops into the film almost out of nowhere.

Over in the U.S., we did see Mr. Reed quite a lot on the big screen, but he also made an indelible impression on TV. He was one of several stars (I remember Robert Blake being one of the others) who invariably came on talk shows roaring drunk (his problem with booze ended his life prematurely at 62). I have assembled a little “round-up” of Ollie drunk on talk shows here and in England and, let me assure you, these are quite entertaining clips.

There is a full documentary about Reed that is available here. But I will start off the survey with this fascinating example of Reed stone-cold sober. He’s on The Tonight Show in 1975 with Shelley Winters, who is a major-league pain in the ass. In the third part of the interview, Ollie talks back to the never-quiet Shelley Winters, and makes a sexist remark that causes her to throw a drink in his face. It gets good about 2:30 in:

Here he is doing an insane American accent on the NBC Letterman. I think it should be entered into the record that everybody’s fave friendly host Dave was always an absolutely SHITTY straight man as a talk-show host, and seemed openly aggravated by many of his guests during the NBC years. He never, ever could play along with them, especially with comedians doing a character, like Pee-Wee, Andy Kaufman, or Bobcat. He in fact loved to show them up. Let me put this plainly: He sucked! Oliver, on the other hand, rocked:

Here he looks very worse for the wear, on a British show called After Dark, where he seems to be puzzling the other guests. Amazing television. This is actually a pretty interesting debate on violence, with Ollie in the middle.

On the British show The Word. He sings “Wild Thing” with the band Ned’s Atomic Dustbin!

Here he’s on another chat programme, making Serge Gainsbourg and Klaus Kinski seem like sober citizens. Wow!

Context for the preceding outburst can be found here. Now, would you rather watch Leno, or Letterman, or Kimmel, or Conan, or Craig letting someone pitch their latest bad movie, or bad sitcom, or bad CD, or would you rather have seen Ollie?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Here's to you, 2008

As the seasonal music begins to fill the air, I'd just like to add one more tune, dedicated to this wretched annum. Aside from the elation of the Presidential election and maybe like one other personal accomplishment, I would have to say the whole year needs to be over... NOW!

Thus the patron saints of my home borough of Queens. Bless you, boys: