Miles Davis' Score Elevates Louis Malle's Lift To the Scaffold
Though it's only 26 minutes long, covering 10 sequences in the film, Miles Davis' score for Louis Malle's first non-documentary feature, 1958's Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud (released as Lift to the Scaffold in the UK and Elevator to the Gallows in the USA) is the stuff of legend, with jazz critic Phil Davis describing Davis' soundtrack as "the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep." In other words, it's Kind of Blue, but ultimately kind of very Cool, and by choosing a non-traditional jazz soundtrack, Malle set the template for later New Wave works. (No, Malle didn't review films at Cahiers du Cinema like Godard and Truffaut and company, and his background was upper middle class, but other than that, this looks and sounds like - and has the hopeless lost soul/rebel attitudes of - a New Wave film.)
Backed by Barney Wilen on tenor saxophone, Rene Urtreger on piano, Pierre Michelot on contrabass and Kenny Clarke on drum, Miles recorded the soundtrack in one late night session lasting from 10 at night until 5 in the morning, while female lead Jeanne Moreau (whose face graces the cover of the soundtrack album) stuck around to discuss the film with the musicians and staff an improvised bar in the recording studio. Davis later recalled the experience as described below:
...I went to Paris again to play as a guest soloist for a few weeks. And it was during this trip that I met French filmaker Louis Malle through Juliette Greco. He told me he had always loved my music and that he wanted me to write the musical score for his new film, L'Ascenseur pour l'echafaud. I agreed to do it and it was a great learning experience, because I had never written a music score for a film before. I would look at the rushes of the film and get musical ideas to write down. Since it was about a murder and was supposed to be a suspense movie, I used this old, gloomy, dark building where I had the musicians play. I thought it would give the music atmosphere, and it did. - Miles Davis
Bassist Pierre Michelot, in the liner notes to the Verve Records soundtrack album, agrees:
The session took place after the European tour, so we were used to playing together. We arrived at the Poste Parisien around ten, Jeanne Moreau was there, and we had a drink together.
Miles was very relaxed, as if the music he was playing wasn't that important. It was only later that I leaned he'd already been to a screening, and that he'd known about the project for several weeks. So he knew exactly what he wanted, and he also knew what he wanted from us, which is very much to his credit.
What was typical of this session was the absence of a specific theme. This was new for the period, especially with the soundtrack for a film. -Pierre Michelot, from the liner notes of Ascenseur pour L'échafaud
Indeed, it was one of the very few film scores that was completely improvised. In his 2002 book A History of the French New Wave Cinema, Richard Neupart describes this night as follows:
During this one-night improvisation, December 4, 1957, Malle projected a loop of each of the ten sequences to be scored, and Davis gave the musicians a couple of chords and a tempo to follow. Richard Williams, a Miles Davis biographer, writes, "Of the ten separate tracks that were eventually used, nine are based on the same two chords, D minor and C7; the tenth is a variation on the harmonic sequence of 'Sweet Georgia Brown.' But the nine provided evidence of perhaps the most profound and remarkable of the changes that Miles Davis would impose on his music: the paring down of harmonic material practically to nothing...As a result, the soundtrack of Ascenseur pour L'échafaud took on a completely novel flavor, one that Davis would spend years exploring.
According to Davis biographer Richard Williams, Davis was deeply affected by the images Malle projected:
Davis created an unsually graphic mood; listening tothe soundtrack...the listener has little difficulty summoning fugitive images of rain-washed Paris streets at dawn, or empty nightclubs, of lonely figures prowling the shadows...Never had Davis' music been so poised and assured, so stark and so spare; and the starker and sparer it became, the more power it exerted...Miles Davis had discovered his true characteristics - tragic, solitary, impertinent. - Richard Davis, Miles Davis
And Malle, in the opinion of Richard Neupert, received in return a soundtrack whose loose jazz music fit the structure of his loose narrative. Neupert argues that by using a lively, often discordant jazz score, Malle influenced subsequent New Wave directors to "move beyond contemporary popular music to jazz, which lent dangerous and hip connotations to images of Paris rather than allow it to remain majestic and traditional. The music showed that something was afoot. The new music fit the new generation, and it was an appropriate accompaniment for Elevator to the Gallows, with its young, streetwise punk Louis, who seems as chaotic and jarring as the Miles Davis soundtrack."
The Criterion Collection DVD of Elevator to the Gallows is worth seeking out, as it includes footage of Miles Davis and Louis Malle during the soundtrack recording and a film about the score with music critic Gary Giddins and jazz musician Jon Faddis.
By the way, there are two versions of the soundtrack available on CD, the 10-track, 26-minute one that goes for about $10 and an extended 26-track version that includes alternate takes and sells for about $14.
Operation Orange Cone is Mayor Sheila Dixon's grandiose plan to simultaneously screw up every north/south/east/west street in Baltimore and add at least half an hour to everyone's daily commute, all under the guise of improving the quality of Baltimore's roads and, thus, our commuter lives. Or, in City Gov-speak, "This effort represents the most significant capital improvement season in years and the most substantial increase of milling and paving projects ever." Yes, the City's Department of Transportation proudly announced that it has already paved 88 lane miles with an additional 57 lane miles under construction for a total of approximately 150 lane miles by year's end. And it has been a unanimous success, as all downtown Baltimore roads now lead to either gridlock or ruin. Mission accomplished!
The litany of streets undergoing rehab includes Cathedral from Madison to Saratoga Streets, Charles from Lombard to Conway, Eutaw from Fayette to Centre, Fayette from MLK Blvd to Paca, Fayette from St. Paul to President, Franklin from Park Avenue to Greene, Guilford Avenue from Franklin to Lexington, Hopkins Place from Lombard to Fayette, Park Avenue from Madison to Saratoga, and on and on it goes. The full affected street name list might rival the number of names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
But it's OK, because any annoyance and inconvenience the operation has caused is offset by the cute logo associated with the traffic jam project. The little anthropomorphic feller even has a name, Oppie - you know like Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, only urban and with repaved "street cred." Rumor has it that it was desgned by Wham City!'s own Dan Deacon, which, if so, is another reason to hate artists (collaborators!).
"I Brake for Operation Orange Cone!"
Anyway, be sure to check the site Get Around Downtown for news about road "improvements" (code word for road delays and lane closings). And enjoy the delays and aggravation. My advice is to turn adversity into adventure. I've started listening to audiobooks to try and maximize my time stuck in traffic and it hasn't made me cut back on my visual reading; in fact, I've now read virtually every bumper sticker on every car ahead of me during my daily commute (but I'm still waiting to see one that says "I Brake for Operation Orange Cone"). And I'm looking forward to even more road repavement after the coming Winter season's salt trucks tear up our newly improved streets. Repeat as necessary?
I think Scott "Unpainted" Huffines would agree with me that USA Network's '80s series Night Flight (1981-1988) was probably the greatest inspiration and influence on our late '90s public access show Atomic TV (the show even had a regular Cold War Scare Films segment called "Atomic TV"!). Not that we ever ascended the lofty programming heights of that storied program. Bootleg copies of individual shows have popped up on the Internet over the years, but now comes word that on October 11, 2007, television producer - and Night Flight creator - Stuart S. Shapiro acquired the Night Flight library, copyrights and trademarks, and that he is preparing for a relaunch of the show both online and on television. That's great news because Night Flight really created the template for innumerable pop culture TV variety shows and Web broadcasts, a template that in many cases is still being used today. For example, Night Flight played music videos before MTV and played "bad movies" with voiceover wisecracks decades before the Mystery Science Theatre franchise. (They also parodied good movies, like George Melies A Trip to the Moon.)
I don't today's high tech generation - with the Internet, YouTube, Video Streaming, Podcasts, iPods, Nanos, Cell Phones that play music and video, Bit Torrent Downloads, TiVo, Hi-Def TVs and On Demand Everything - can truly appreciate how important this show was in the nascent days of video. Those of us who lived in the '80s remember all too well how video-challenged we were because MTV didn't hit the scene until 1981, VCRs weren't mass-produced until the mid-'70s (and were very expensive, like Hi-Def TVs today, when they did hit the shelves), and CDs weren't even invented until 1979 (becoming available only many years later). Back then Night Flight was a show you literally had to stay up to watch in the wee small houys because there was no TiVo and only Gerry Todd video geeks or industry professionals could afford to buy VCRs. But people like Scott and I did stay up bleary-eyed, because it was well worth it. If only to see gems like Dynaman (forerunner of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers),
DYNAMAN - "LUCKY PIERRE"
...or Diane Lane as a teenage punk rock sexpot in a see-through fishnet top in Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains (which also featured bit roles by Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick of The Tubes and, as "The Professionals," Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook and Clash bassist Paul Simenon backing up frontman Ray Winstone!),
...or to be amazed by the incredibly strange cartoons and shorts like Russian stop-motion genius Wladyslaw Starewicz's "Devil's Ball" segment from his 1934 film Fetiche - the latter an obvious influence on the Quay Brothers work decades later.
News about the possible resurfacing of the show comes from Wikipedia, and the entry there provides as good a description of the Night Flight phenomenon as any:
Night Flight was a ground breaking television program on the USA Network from 1981-1988 which ran for four hours on Friday and Saturday nights then repeated into the wee hours of the morning. USA's Up All Night starring Rhonda Shear (and, later, Gilbert Gottfried) would replace it in 1988. It was later revived through syndication in 1990, with a single season of new episodes before the format was changed to "best of" shows from the USA years with host Tom Juarez. These shows were seen as late as 1996 on local TV stations.
Night Flight was one of the first places to see films and shorts not generally aired on broadcast television or on the pay-per movie channels such as HBO. It was the first place many Americans were able to see music documentaries like Another State of Mind, The Grateful Dead Movie, and Word, Sound and Power. Night Flight was also one of the first American television shows to display the music video as an art form, rather than purely as a promotional tool for the artists. And, with the freedom had by them on early (and late-night) cable television, they would at times show portions of videos that were censored (or in some cases, banned) by MTV and other outlets.
In the original format of the show, there was no formal host. Voice-over introductions were made by Pat Prescott before segments started.
There were a number of recurring segments on the show, but my faves were the Bela Lugosi Monogram movies, Dynaman (an English-dubbed parody of six episodes of the Super Sentai series Kagaku Sentai: Dynaman - you know this series because footage was later used on The Power Rangers!), Love That Bob (Church of the Sub-Genius) (a serialized presentation of the Sub-Genius video Arise!), Peter Ivers LA-punk centered New Wave Theatre (Ivers, who penned "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" for David Lynch's Eraserhead, was later found bludgeoned to death in his Los Angeles apartment in 1983), the even better late-'80s Brit alternative music show Snub TV (featuring music by unknown bands and directed by former Rough Trade Records employee and video director Peter Fowler), and cult movies like (the still out-of-print) Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, Frank Hennelotter's Frankenhooker (1990), Fantastic Planet (the 1973 animated sci-fi film by René Laloux) and (the also out-of-print) Dr. Caligari (directed by Stephen Sayadian, aka as Rinse Dream, the director such X-rated art films as Cafe Flesh (1982), Night Dreams (1981) and my personal favorite, Party Doll a Go-Go (1991) - the latter a major editing influence on Baltimore's Atomic TV).
Fave Night Flight Videos on YouTube:
EARLIEST "NIGHT FLIGHT" BROADCAST (pre-flying logo and theme song)
LATER "NIGHT FLIGHT" THEME
ARISE! THE SUBGENIUS VIDEO - LIFE OF "BOB"
This one feature's Baltimore own "St. tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE"
MICHAEL NESMITH'S "ELEPHANT PARTS"
THE REAGANS SPEAK OUT ON DRUGS
"NIGHT TRIPPIN' TO THE MOON" (GEORGE MELIES "A TRIP TO THE MOON)
This morning I was shivering as I stopped by the Gallery Cafe to get my morning fix of Pumpkin Spice coffee.
"Man, it's cold outside!" I said to Gallery co-owner Dave as I plopped my coingage down on the counter.
"Man up, Tom!" Dave replied. "It's Fall, it's rainy and windy, be a man and embrace it!"
He was right. Despite my metrosexual tendencies (loving ballet, one-handed tennis backhands and Sweet & Low sugar substitute), I was, chromosonically speaking, a Man (full disclosure: I was born with a penis).
"Is that like Cowboy Up?" I asked Dave.
"Yeah, Cowboy Up, Tom. I like that term better," he concluded. "Cowboy Up, Tom!"
It's funny, I had never heard the term "Cowboy Up" until the Red Sox won the World Series a few years ago, when it was their official clubhouse slogan that season. I thought they had invented it (Red Sox Nationalists insist former Bosox first baseman Kevin Millar coined the phrase in 2003 and it became their mantra when the Sox rallied from that 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS), but apparently it's been around for years, though anything "Cowboy" the last few years under the Cowboy Diplomacy of the Bush Administration, tends to have negative connotations (thank you, George Dubya!).
According to UrbanDictionary.com, "Cowboy Up" means "when things are getting tough you have to get back up, dust yourself off and keep trying" or "quit your bitching and be a man" (definition 2) - though I suppose the Annie Oakleys and Calamity Janes out there can also "Cowgal Up."
And, according to cowboyup.com (yes, Virginia, there is a cowboyup.com), it means "tuff-up, get back on yer horse, don't back down, don't give up, and do the best you can with the hand you're dealt."
Tim, the brains behind Mother Tongue Annoyances, a weblog on English communications, reports that the term is now (unsurprisngly) copyrighted (this being capitalist/litigious America, what isn't copyrighted today?):
Both Semantics etc. and Legal Spring report that a company out of Jackson, Wyoming called Wyoming West Designs owns the trademark on the phrase Cowboy up. Evidently Wyoming West Designs produces and distributes an extensive line of T-shirts, stickers, magnets—you name it—containing the phrases Cowboy up, Cowgirl up, et cetera, ad nauseam. I wonder if they have a sticker that says Cowborg up? Anyway, read Andrew Sinclair's blog for more infos.
As far as etymology of Cowboy up is concerned, the best online source I could find was an archived linguistlist.org LISTSERV posting that cites a 1975 usage of the phrase:
1975 _Reno Evening Gazette_ (Nev.) 4 Jan. 9/4 "It hurts," he exclaimed, putting on a pantomime of a clobbered cowboy dragging a game leg away from a bull wreck. "You're crying. You're bleeding. You're screaming. And there's Gay [sc. rodeo instructor Don Gay] right behind you saying, 'Cowboy up. Get tough. Get tough.'"
"Cowboy Up!": The Movie Anyway, I'm curious about the term because the name of the new film by my friend Laurence Arcadias (who teaches experimental animation at Maryland Institute, College of Art) is "Dust Off and Cowboy Up!" The 4-minute short film questions the different meanings of the Cowboy image in our culture by presenting a collage of cut-outs from popular Hollywood Westerns. Part of the fun in watching this film is trying to figure out all the movies she samples clip from (I could name Red River, High Noon and Calamity Jane, but all the John Ford westerns get mangled in my head).
You can see "Dust Off and Cowboy Up" at digichannel.net; click here to watch.
By the way, seeing the footage of "High Noon" in Laurence Arcadias' film made me think back to my second favorite cowboy short (after "Dust Off and Cowboy Up!", of course, and ahead of my #3 fave, the 1971 Lenny Bruce animated short "Thank You, Mask Man" and my #4 fave, the Santa Claus/Western spoof "The Great Toy Robbery"), "High Tech Noon" by Darryl Gold (founder of "Darryl's Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival" and the mind behind "My Name Is Jack Valenti" and "Death Star Repairmen"). I remember airing it on Atomic TV years ago, but the version available on YouTube is much better quality. You can "High Tech Up" and watch it below:
Saw this great film last night during TCM's Louis Malle birthday celebration (Monsieur Malle, who left us in 1995, would have been 75!). The zany pace, diverse film techniques, irreverent slapstick humor (right out out the silent film genre) and surreal narrative structure is very 60s and the cinematography is brilliant, as brightly colored as any acid trip I can no longer remember. It made me think of The Beatles Help! or The Monkees' Head crossed with Willie Wonka. And, for being based on a children's book (by Raymond Queneau), it has some rather mature, or should I say "French" attitudes to certain subject matters. Like Zazie asking her uncle if he's a "homosessual" or playing the romantic endeavors of a lech (the wonderful Vittoria Caprioli) for comic effect (Caprioli is charming but he is initially chasing after an 8-year-old jeune fille, after all!). But my favorite moment is when one French woman confides to another that she's getting married, only to be asked, "Why, are you pregnant?". That is just sooooo French. As if, why would you bother if you didn't have to get hitched? Tres continental and very chic, that's Zazie in a nutshell.
Following is a review from World Film's About.com:
ZAZIE DANS LE METRO Directed by Louis Malle Screenplay: Raymond Queneau and Louis Malle Starring Philippe Noiret, Catherine Demongeot, Vittorio Caprioli, Carla Marlier. France, 1960.
Louis Malle's fourth film is an absurdist wonder to behold. If you enjoy madcap urban screwball comedy, anything between, say, After Hours and Run Lola Run, you owe it to yourself to check out Zazie.
The story goes something like this: little Zazie, an 8-year-old foul-mouthed brat is dropped off with her uncle in Paris while her mom sees her lover. For 24 hours, she terrorizes her Uncle (Philippe Noiret), who is a transvestite dancer, a love-lorn flic, a man who may or may not be a child molester, and a polar bear. Complications include a metro strike, an attack by hordes of sex-crazed Skandinavian girls on top of the Eiffel Tower, and some sort of Marxist revolution.
This gut-bustingly funny madcap adventure is based on a novel by freak novelist Raymond Queneau, and to match Queneau's whacky linguistic tricks, Malle didn't hold back on cinematic gimmicks. Zazie is full of camera trickery and sight gags, allusions to everything from Marx Brothers movies and cartoons to The Third Man and Citizen Kane. I'm sure I missed half of it because I was too busy reading the subtitles and cracking up over Zazie's absolutely monstrous insults.
The little girl, played by Catherine Demongeot, is a riot. She's crass, crude, but somehow always cute. You won't find a comparable child anywhere in American movies short of Harmony Korine. Shirley Temple would rather have died before even hinting at some of the stuff Zazie spits out with matter-of-fact deadpan.
No doubt about it: this is one of the silliest movies every made, and I don't mean silly-bad like Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man or silly-dumb like Leslie Nielsen. I'm talking about hold-your-head-in-disbelief-silly, whacked-out-silly, liberating-silly. After you're done laughing, Zazie makes you see the absurd and often despicable world of adults with the eyes of a child again -- a thieving shameless child, but maybe that's the best you can ask for. The movie dances along with infectious lightness. I dare you to watch this and not be splendidly entertained. And if it bends your cerebral cortex out of shape just a bit, I'm sure Malle wouldn't mind.
It's getting near Halloween time, time to dig out the greatest Halloween video ever...Michael Jackson's "Thriller," a production so rightly famous that it's celebrated all over the world, from Hollywood to Bollywood and even the famous exercise yard of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines.
All week I've been glued to the Tennis Channel watching the 2007 Madrid Masters series event. The matches have been top-notch affairs with all the big names and rivalries on display (Federer-Canas, Lopez-Ferrer, Djokovic-Ancic, Federer-Lopez, Nadal-Nalbandian, etc.), but even better than the action on the court is the action on the sidelines. That's where you instantly notice something different about the ballgirls. They're not kids scurrying across the court to scoop up loose balls.
And they exhibit more bounce to the ounce than any freshly opened can of tennis balls. And speaking of things that pop open...
Not only that, they're decked out in hot florescent-pink and babe-y blue outfits designed by tournament sponsor Hugo Boss. That's means they're not just hot - they're fashionably hot.
Yes, here the crowd enjoys watching the ballgirls as much as the stars on the court. That's because, starting in 2004, the Madrid Open organisers teamed up with Hugo Boss to bring in young models to act as ballgirls instead of the usual young volunteer tennis fans. Critics call it an unholy union of sexism and crass commercialism. I call it Marketing Savvy meets Continental European Flair. A win-win for fans and sponsors alike!
As the UK's daily Mail reported, "Despite drawing the ire of Spanish government officials, equality groups and even American hero Andre Agassi, the marketing stunt looks set to stay. Not that this year's testosterone-fuelled male tennis stars seemed to mind."
When his girlfriend isn't looking, Federer applauds the ballgirls
"Me squeeze, please?" Rafa requests two tossers.
No wonder Rafael Nadal got bounced off the court by David Nalbandian in his worst defat in three years (6-1, 6-2) - who can concentrate against that backdrop? (I noticed that he hardly even picked his butt, like he usually does between points.) I mean, c'mon, we're talking about a sport in which players get miffed if someone coughs during a serve (and remember when McEnroe went off at the French Open because a photographer camera click was too loud?) As if the competition between the lines wasn't enough, Madrid models ensure performance anxiety for the sweaty tennis pros who must make sure they look cool in front of the babes on the big stage. Not that I'm complaining. It's quite simply the best new idea in tennis in years. Olé!
Everyone's seen Takeshi Miike's Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1 , 2001), Audition (Odishon, 1999) and Dead or Alive (1999) and, as a result, most people tend to associate him with horror or yakuza films that push the envelope in terms of violence. All of these films were great. But I think the prolific Japanese filmmaker's best work may very well be 1998's quiet arthouse drama Bird People of China (Chûgoku no chôjin). I saw this last night and, well enough of my blather. Let Wikipedia do the work:
The Bird People in China (中国の鳥人 Chûgoku no chôjin) is a Japanese movie directed by Takashi Miike. The film is considerably more mellow in tone than some of the director's other works. The story tells of a Japanese businessman who is sent to assess some gems in a remote Chinese village and a yakuza, who is accompanying him to make sure his organization gets its proper share. The scenery of China is something not usually explored in Japanese Film and this was a massive change of pace for Miike, and a far cry from his oft-called upon violence and sexuality.
The film explores themes of Ecology and Third world vs. First world, it depicts the 'East' as a legendary place having a kind of mystical knowledge not shared by the West (including Japan), but twists its message by inserting the figure of the Grandfather who is a former British pilot. Near the end, the Yakuza soldier decides to kill all foreigners in order to keep the village away from civilisation, but is reminded that in order to get to the village he had to use trains and airplanes. All in all the movie's message is a mixed one, technology is a good thing and a bad thing, tradition is a good thing and a bad thing. Human suffering exists in both, but also human happiness. It is a complex message worthy of Miike, and the film shares the same humanistic message and feel which can be found in most of his output.
It's well worth a look and tops my short-list of the best Miike films, followed by #2 Audition and, taking the bronze at #3, Miike's other against-typecasting masterpiece, Zebraman (2004).
Catch the musical buzz in this Battle of the Bands, Gilligan's Island style.
THE MOSQUITOS - "Live in Concert"
Gilligan and Mary Ann's favorite band, live in concert from the episode "Don't Bug the Mosquitoes." They're a group parodying the Beatles, who are really the group "The Wellingtons", along with Les Brown Jr. Singing "Don't Bug Me" and "He's a Loser", come and check it out!
HONEYBEES - "You Need Us"
From the Gilligan's Island episode "Don't Bug the Mosquitoes"; Ginger, Mary Ann, and Mrs. Howell singing "You Need Us" as the group "The Honeybees." (more)
THE GNATS - Live in Concert
YouTube user comment: "My favorite clip from the best episode of one of the best tv shows, "Don't Bug The Mosquitoes"
Although this episode originally aired in late 1965, before Jefferson airplane became "huge" and Iron Butterfly was even formed, the professor bears a striking resemblance to Doug Ingle of Iron Butterfly, Mr. Howell looks like Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, and Gilligan looks like Roger McGuinn of The Byrds.
But The Skipper is puzzling. I guess he looks a little like an old David Crosby with a derby hat."
I don't know how I stumbled across this site, but The World of Kane - subtitled "Retro Candy for Your Eyes and Ears" - is the blog I want to be. What a great site! Do yourself a favor: stop reading my blog and check out the World of Kane, whose borders know no bounds - with a MySpace and Flickr presence and the auxillary Mondo Kane blog. Better yet, subscribe to Kane's RSS feed.
It's Kane's World: We Just Live In It Unlike myself, an almost hip guy, Will Kane is the real deal, a totally hip guy with great taste in everything (and he's younger than me, damn him!). Maybe I say that because his tastes mirror mine, especially in his fascination with anything from the retro-cool "swinging" 1960s (maybe that's because he, according to his MySpace profile, lives in "Swinging London"). I like everything he likes, right down to his profile tagline - "I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come" - which name-checks my fave pop-punk purveyors, The Buzzcocks. Boing Boing agrees with me, calling Kane's blog is "a regularly updated gallery of mod design in architecture, cinema, furniture, print, etc."
For example, I ran across this post from October 2005 that featured blogging about Mara Bava's 1965 spaghetti sci-fi movie Planet of the Vampires, Serge Gainsbourg, French yeh-yeh, France Gall, unsung French guitar hero Michel Polnareff, designer/animator Ryohei Yanagihara, Brooklyn-based fashion designer Rebecca Turbow, Roman Coppola's cult period film CQ, illustrator Guy Peellaert (he did the cover for the Wizzz! French psychedelic pop music compilation CD), Saul Bass, Brigitte Bardot music videos, children's book author/illustrator Miroslav Sasek (I grew up on this guy's wonderful books, which only recently have come back into print), and my all-time favorite import musicians, Japan's Pizzicato Five. I even found links to Sheila B's (pictured above right) Cha Cha Charming website, another great blog and resource center for all things j-pop, girly pop or 60s retro. Oi vey, so much good stuff, my mind is reeling from taking it all in.
Will Kane even includes this great link to an essential French Pop guide on Amazon.com.
I like the way Kane breaks down his interests into related subject matter links - all of them great - such as Cartoons, Illustrations & Ephemera, La Musique Pop and Retro/Modernism. He even has a link that features clips from a documentary about the Helvetica typeface (how cool is that?). But I think my favorite is the one for Miniskirts.
It's a lot of stuff, so get to work, culture vultures.
What the world needs now is a new Frank Sinatra/So I can get you in bed. - Cracker, "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)"
Of all the nerve! Hacker & Miss Herve
Ran across this YouTube video called "Frank Sinatra" by Berlin-based French disco diva Miss Kittin & The Hacker. As a devout Sinatraphile (Sinatra's the greatest singer of the 20th century. Period.), I don't know how I missed this vid, which I love. Miss Kitten and the Hacker are Caroline Hervé and Michel Amato. Apparently, Miss Kittin played Baltimore's Sonar last year.
"FRANK SINATRA" - MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER (3:52)
Directed by Chester McDougan
Here's an earlier video of Miss Kittin channeling Kraftwerk:
"1982" - MISS KITTIN
Bio: Miss Kittin's (real name: Caroline Herve) interest in music was spurred by her parents' record collections, which covered everything from disco to funk to classical to jazz. The Grenoble, France, native found herself attracted to the rave scene of the early '90s, and within three years of becoming involved, she started performing her own DJ sets. A major break came for the producer/DJ when she received bookings for the ~Dragon Ball events in Southern France. In 1996, she moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and joined the Mental Groove Records posse. A trio of early productions on various-artists compilations were scattered throughout 1996 and 1997. By 1998, she fell in with the International Deejay Gigolos camp, debuting on that label with the Champagne EP. With the Hacker, Miss Kittin released First Album in 2000, which combined clubby production work with new wave pop sensibilities. She has also leant her vocal and remixing skills to several other producers, including Golden Boy and Felix da Housecat. - Andy Kellman, All Music Guide
Kittin, a former French pole dancer, and Hacker, a one-time hardcore headbanger, combine forces in a decidedly sleazy niche, but it does make for disarmingly catchy music. Its simple New Wave synth beats and Kittin's (a.k.a. Caroline Herve) deadpan delivery make it easy to imagine you're lounging in a Eurotrash strip joint, circa 1977, as scantily clad dominatrixes torture willing customers. - Ken Micallef (Amazon user review)
"The reigning queen of the new wave/electro revival, Miss Kittin's debut with partner-in-crime The Hacker, proves to be a Miss who is distinctive enough to take the 80's-influenced genre to innovative levels. Mixer Magazine has included the artist in their top wrap up of 2002. Includes the infamous X-rated single 'Frank Sinatra' plus '1982'. "
"The 1997 single "Frank Sinatra" is more shocking for its spot-on electro atmospherics than for its lyrics, proving that Hacker's punk years were a valuable tutorial for success 2002-style. Throughout, Hacker spins weird little theramin squirms, horror halo tones, and chunky beatbox handclaps, while Kittin discourses about trading sex for cash ("Stock Exchange"), ambitious disco queens ("Nurse"), and, of course, the burlesque life ("Stripper"). First Album is really a one-song affair, but its alluring message is so kitschy, kinked, and campy, the song never sounds the same." - Ken Micallef (Amazon user review)
"Lights, camera, attrition!": Kim Jong-il loves to shoot people
Everybody has at least one redeeming factor, even North Korean despot Kim Jong-Il, whose Orwellian iron-clad grip on the in-name-only "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" has squeezed the life out of this destitute, starving nation. Going by his ubiquitous gray khaki worksuit and oversized 1970s computer programmer glasses that even Elton John wouldn't be caught dead in, it ain't Fashion or Good Looks. And it sure ain't sparkling personality (has the man EVER smiled? I mean, even Dr. Evil smiles!).
No, Fearless Leader is an avid Film Fanatic. Though his people aren't allowed to see Western films (especially not those South Korean films that show their well-off southern brethen driving Hyundais and stuffing their faces with kimchi and soju in middle class bliss), Kim supposedly has a private library of over 10,000 videos and DVDs, including many foreign films (though probably notTeam America!), and is allegedly fond of slasher films and action movies. In the past, Kim's film fanaticism went so far that he even ordered the kidnapping of prominent South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hi, to produce propaganda films for North Korea. One of those films was Pulgasari (1985), described as a "socialist Godzilla movie," which only got international attention because it was executive-produced by Kim Jong-Il (the Aaron Spelling of North Korea) himself! Shin and his wife eventually escaped North Korea in 1986.
I mention this because whatever hopes the two Koreas have of someday being reunified may be tied to motion pictures. At the first North-South summit meeting in Pyongyang in 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung got a hearty response from Kim Jong-Il when he gave the North Korean leader a huge 60-inch-screen TV set and three video tape recorders.
Kim is a Dae-Hard Fan of Lee Young-ae
And at this week's summit talks in Pyongyang, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun gave Kim Jong-il 150 DVDs - including Dae Jang-Geum (Jewel in the Palace, TV series 2003-2004), the insanely popular South Korean historical soap opera depicting the hardships of a female cook in the royal palace during the Joseon Kingdom (from 1392-1910, a period when the two Koreas were one).
Kim's allegedly a fan of Dae Jang-Geum star Lee Young-ae, who also starred in Park Chan-wook's JSA: Joint Security Area (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA , 2000) - a DMZ military murder mystery that Roh also presented to Kim at the summit - and Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi, 2005).
The DVDs reportedly pleased the North Korean dictator, who smiled and told Roh, "You have given me precious pieces" (whether this was a reference to the DVDs themselves or to comely actresses like Lee Young-ae and her ilk is open to interpretation).
(President Roh also gave Kim two Jindogae - dogs indigenous to South Korea's Jindo Island - but these have probably already been eaten.)
Who knew the diplomatic freeze could be thawed by a South Korean soap opera and the allure of Western consumer goods in the form of Pop Culture? After all, the Korean Times reports that, "according to defectors, South Korea's pop culture products, including movies and songs, are getting popular in the reclusive North despite its strict regulations on their inflow."
Can reunification be far behind? The mind boggles at the thought that someday Kim Jong-Il may go shopping for DVDs at a Best Buy in Seoul or open a NetFlix account.
A Journey Down Mammary Lane with My Fave Retired Sex Stars
The Internet truly traverses time, its information shifting effortlessly from the present to the past and the future with a few clicks of a mouse. For example, I've been reading a lot of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's work of late, so I Googled him and, inexplicably, came across the name Suzi Suzuki. Yes, that Suzi Suzuki (aka Cherry Blossom), the now retired Japanese pornstar I met years ago at the 1998 East Coast Video Show (ECVS) when Scott "Unpainted" Huffines and I were in Atlantic City to shoot an episode of our defunct public access TV show, Atomic TV.
1 Degree of Separation: Suzi Suzuki and Kookie Haruki
It's Cherry Blossom Time
Turns out the Tokyo-born Suzi Suzuki has read every one of Murakami's books, so she turns up in a Google search (honest, I wasn't looking up porn when I ran across her name! Well, not this time...). (A Google search also turns up a German music DJ named Suzi Suzuki, which is yet another odd coincidence.) It shouldn't have surprised me that she was familiar with the quirky writer many call a literary David Lynch, as I remember that Suzi was one of the most intelligent and culturally sophisticated women I had ever met (plus both are considered "outsiders," Suzi for being an adult film star and Murakami for being a Westernized pop writer living apart from the Tokyo writers clique). For that reason alone, aside from her "body" (34C-24-36) of work, she is my all-time fave pornstar - and one of the nicest people I've ever met, period.
Let me stand next to your fire: Tom (moi) and Suzi at ECVS '98.
Suzi raises her cups to join me in a toast at Planet Hollywood.
If You Knew Suzi Like I Knew Suzi...
As our cameraman cinematically ogled her, I was discussing the films of Takeshi Kitano and Akira Kurosawa with her, as well as writers Edogawa Rampo and Yukio Mishima and J-Pop bands like Pizzicato Five and Puffy. Yes, the star of such genre films as Asian Trashy Ass, Anal Hanky Panky, Yin Yang Oriental Love Bang, Suzi Bungholee-0 and The Twin Peaks of Mount Fuji, was a surprisingly well-read bookworm with a sophisticated ear for music, a cineaste's eye for quality arthouse movies and a charismatic conversationalist. OK, I did find time to frolic and mug for the camera with her, as well (as pictured below). Yes, I know: most shameful and regrettable behavior on my part.
Nurse Suzi gives a prostate exam (top) while Dr. Tom checks for hemorrhoids (bottom)
Incredibly charismatic, Suzi - the only authentic Japanese woman working in American hardcore at the time - became the unofficial star of our 1998 porn convention episode, an episode that aired on Baltimore public access TV but, to date, has never been released on video or DVD (probably for the best for the reputation of the now-retired Ms. Suzuki, who resides in San Francisco).
Scott, Suzi and Tom at Atlantic City's Planet Hollywood
Motley Crew: Atomic TV's Scott Huffines, cameraman Chris "the Plumber" Jensen, and Tom put the squeeze on Suzi.
Anonymous man (left) also tries to put the squeeze on Suzi, taking advantage of sudden photo op.
This was the year at ECVS that I got violently ill from food poisoning (probably from an ill-advised dining experience at Hooters) and spent an entire night retching into the toilet. The Atomic TV crew joked that had I had intestinal fortitude, I could have had sex with Suzi, who seemed to like me. After all, we hung out with her at the ECVS Planet Hollywood party, where I gave her a foot massage (her feet were sore from walking around all day in her "red f***-me pumps")...
Suzi puts her best foot forward...
and Tom takes the hint, one heel playing footsy with another's
...and she later invited us to an after-hours, invitation-only "insider's" porn party. We escorted her up the Boardwalk to the hotel and...
There we met Ron Jeremy and other adult film industry stars. Many of the female stars there asked me for foot massages on Suzi's recommendation. (Like Suzi, they all had sore feet from walking around in heels all day! Other appendages would get sore later, as the party later turned into a photo/video shoot with the crabby Christy Lake in the adjoining bedroom...but that's another story for another time). Scott likes to remind me that this was my foot fetish phase, well-documented on Atomic TV.
While foot massage trainee Scott Huffines observes, Tom files down an anonymous porn starlet's bunions
"Next!": Another starlet places her foot in the lap of luxury while a line forms to the right.
Tom toes the line for Blondie.
Seeing all the women lining up for foot massages, this copycat decided to horn in on my porn-podiatry business
Anyway, I ended up getting sick, which was probably for the best, because as far as potential romantic liasons with pornstars go, I had a girlfriend at the time and, besides, the Fan Sex (aka "Play Dates") with Suzi Suzuki story has already been written - see Peter Davis' "My Date with Suzi Suzuki" article in 2001 for Salon.com. magazine.
I recall exchanging contact information with her and she gave me a signed copy of her cabaret/jazz torch songs CD, Looking for Louis (1995, F. Stop Four Records), with the dedication: "Tom and Atomic TV, Enjoy my voice, too." Yes, besides her obvious oral skills as an adult film star and as a polylingual tongue-fu master (she's fluent in Japanese, English and German), Suzi also sings. In fact, she's released three albums. She sings mostly in English (or Engrish, as the case may be) on Looking for Louis, whose title I suspect is a reference to Ol' Satchmo, Louis Armstrong.
Front cover of Looking for Louis
Back cover of Looking for Louis
Liner notes for Looking for Louis
According to her liner notes for Looking for Louis, she became a professional singer when she was 18 years old (as Suzi was born on May 3, 1972, this would place her singing debut around 1990), singing in Tokyo night clubs and loving the thrill of singing in front of live audiences. Maybe this is where she got the exhibitionist bug that enabled her later to perform sex acts before a camera crew. Here are her liner notes:
I was born in Tokyo, Japan but I spent my early childhood in Germany. I've always had an interest in many different languages because German was really the first language I had to learn how to speak. I became a professional singer when I was eighteen years old and started to sing in Tokyo clubs. I was working in the clubs that made me love live audiences. I'll do just about anything to be in front of a live audience!
Music expresses every mood the human soul experiences. As a voccalist I interpret songs that contain messages in new or traditional ways. I change the rhythm for impact and sing in more than one language, essentially to encourage and entertain. Sometimes we're blue and sometimes we're happy and sometimes we can change our feelings just by listening to music from blues to happiness.
This album included a cover version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," which I thought was a rather ironic song title choice given her career choice at that time; I think the self-deprecating singer was in on the joke, as she also included versions of "Love For Sale" and "The Lady Is a Tramp." We later used her version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" for Atomic TV's 1999 holiday special episode, "Underdog Battles Satan Claus." "Calypso Shower," which Suzi wrote herself, was later included on the 1999 compilation CD Porn To Rock.
She later sent me a very professional thank you letter thanking Atomic TV for interviewing her, thanking me for "the sexy foot massage," and mentioning that she sometimes visited the East Coast between New York and the Washington, D.C. area and to give her a call (was this a hint to hang out or did she think Atomic TV was an adult film production company she could shoot some scenes for? The mind boggles.). Anyway, I later got postcard and a Christmas card that, in the holiday spirit of giving, also contained some nude pictures of her slipping out of a kimono. The photos were apparently taken by her photog husband, so it was almost like one of those family Christmas cards you get in which people give you a recap of the their year.
Subsequent to writing this piece, I learned how little I really know about Suzi. I learned that not only did Suzi sing and read Murakami novels, but that she has many more interesting hobbies and interests. Like bichon frisé dogs, collecting Navajo Indian rugs and Southwestern art, and creating and selling Japanse dolls made out of wool and cotton.
Suzi retired from the business and shut down her website in 2004, leaving this parting message on her website:
"After a lot of thinking about it I have decided that I want to close my web site for the time being. There are a lot of reasons but the one that is most important is that I made a promise to myself about seven years ago that I would only do the adult business, the video and the pictures, for five years and at the end of the five years I would stop. Well it is now about seven years and I think it is a good time to stop."
As I recalled my experiences with Suzi Suzuki, it got me to thinking about the other adult film stars I had met over the years at the ECVS in Atlantic City. Like Samantha Sterlyng and Stephanie Swift who, like Suzi, were two of the smarter cookies in this biz (maybe it's something to do with porn stars whose initials are "SS," I dunno). Those reminiscences go back a good 8-10 years, which is like counting dog years for a porn stars. Most of the women have retired from the industry (nothing makes you feel older than realizing that the youthful porn stars of yore are retired). I realized how little I really know about these people, who have a depth most of us will never know, perhaps because the very nature of pornography is to objectify and de-personalize to the point of abstractness. I mean, once you start thinking about someone as someone's daughter, or sister, or mother, they become more like what they are - real people - and less like fantasy objects.
I had been thinking about Samantha because one day at Daedelus Books I was thumbing through a photography book called Pornoland- the photos weren't much to write home about but the accompanying essay by novelist Martin Amis was pretty good (especially the interview in which John "Buttman" Stagliano explains the popularity of anal sex in three simple words: "Pussies are bullshit!") - and the last picture in the book was an uncredited Samantha Sterlyng. I instantly remembered she spelled her last name funny, recalling that she spelled it with a Y because, in her words (making an inverted peace sign and then flicking her tongue between it), "That's my favorite place to eat - at the Y."
I remember meeting Samantha several times at the East Coast Video Show in Atlantic City, the last time being in October of 2001, just one month after 9/11. She stood out in my mind because she bore an uncanny resemblance to a Texas blonde I used to work (and have a brief, awkard romantic involvement) with. We were filming an Atomic TV episode focusing on Black Porn Stars - our "Black History Month" episode that aired in February 2002 (also, alas, never released on video or DVD) - and Atomic TV gal reporter Stella Gambino and I were interviewing Chaos, the New Orleans-based star of a video production called Ghetto Booty. Samantha Sterlyng was signing photos and box covers in the booth right next to Chaos, and wandered over to do a station ID for us. When I asked her what was new, she directed the camera to her chest, where she had just had some "fun bags" installed. I recall that she let me feel her new boobies to verify their craftsmanship. I feel stupid now, because I subsequently found out she developed some health problems (more on that shortly) - who knows if the two were related.
When I subsequently Googled her, I found a Wikipepdia entry that informed me of her retirement from the biz in 2004 and how she got her RN in nursing. But what really threw me that was I never realized she was a local yokel - born in Hagerstown, Maryland (April 1, 1978), and presently living in West Virginia. Or that her attempt to reenter the biz has been twarted by endometriosis and ovararian cysts (I wonder if her medical problems were caused by being in the biz in the first place). On her MySpace page, called "Ask Samantha," she's even posted this "Support Sam" announcement to accept donations and emotional support:
Her MySpace blog discusses her illness in detail:
I have debated on whether or not to make a post but I feel that it is something that I want to share with you:
I am having my second surgery on Friday August 10th for ovarian cysts (1 of which has a high possibility of being cancerous and is rare in women under 50) which is also complicated by Endometriosis- a disease of the female reproductive organs which causes pain, painful intercourse and possible infertility all due to scar tissue formation.
I am sharing this with you because it seals my fate and now guarantees my return to the business will be short lived.....Many of you have been asking how you can help so I wanted to post this information for those who were asking:
Paypal donations can be made to email@example.com and Blank Money Orders can be sent to PO Box 657 Shepherdstown Wv 25443.
I want to thank all of you for your support over the past few years. It has been my pleasure to meet some of you! You can also support me with clip purchases or posters...
AVN's 1997 Performer of the Year, Stephanie Swift (born Melody Clark on February 7, 1972 in Louisiana) also retired from the biz in 2004 at the relatively advanced age of 32. A scant two years later, Stephanie was inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame - an old-timer at age 34. A self-proclaimed "mutt" in terms of ethnicity (Cajun, Irish, English, French, Spanish, Filipino and Norwegian), her dark hair and almond eyes gave her a slightly Asian look, enabling her to be marketed to the Asian porn niche. Since she also wears glasses, she also turned up in a lot of the popular girls-in-glasses fetish videos and DVDs. Perhaps because of the glasses and her intelligent demeanor, she was often cast as the good girl bookworm or, as Wikipedia phrased it, the "prim and proper professional woman who goes bad."
A Good Girl goes Bad, Swiftly
Scott and I first saw her in Gregory Dark's 1996 masterpiece Sex Freaks, in which she had sex with a circus clown, and subsequently met her at the 1997 ECVS convention in Atlantic City.
According to her Wikipedia entry, "Despite a lack of new releases, she still has an official website and makes appearances on the exotic dancing circuit as a featured performer, thanks largely to her notoriety and built-in fanbase from her adult film days."
Digging through my old video tapes, I came across an E! Channel trip to the Cannes Film Festival co-hosted by E! darling Jenna Jameson. This must have been sometime between 1996 - the year Jenna won Best New American Starlet at the Hot D'Or Awards in Cannes (the European adult industry's version of the US's AVN Awards and a porn version of both Cannes' Palm D'Or and Hollywood's Academy Awards) - and 1998, when Jenna won Best American Actress for a Wicked Pictures feature about horny fire fighters (I think the latter, because Stacy Valentine - future star of Christine Fugate's doc The Girl Next Door - was also there to pick up Best New American Actress). One of Jenna's gal pals along for the porn celeb junket was Stephanie Swift (Serenity - who also did some E! broadcasting work - was also along for the trip). Stephanie was never mentioned by name, but it looked like they shared the same room and she turned up in a lot of footage with Jenna, especially clubbing and at parties.
She must like to party with celebs, because an animated version of Steph and Cheech Marin smoking a doobie turns up in the YouTube video "Cheech and Steph Sharing One":
Anyway, my memories of Stephanie are of her talking about her love of Scooby Doo (she had a cute Scooby watch on one year) and her hatred of George W. Bush. The latter was far from knee-jerk adult industry liberalism; it was thoughtful and deep-felt. I was impressed by her awareness. Stephanie stood out for possessing a swift mind in an industry not especially known for deep thinking (AIDS? who's gonna get that?). I gotta dig up that footage because a fully clothed Stephanie Swift ranting against the Bush Administration contains more heat and passion than any of her naked hardcore work. Maybe because it's heartfelt and real. Or maybe I've just reached the age when politics turn me on more than scantily clad young women. After all, the brain is the sexiest part of anybody's body.