Tuesday, August 30, 2011

50 Docs To See Before You Die: The Final Countdown

As the final episode of the five-part series 50 Documentaries To See Before You Die airs tonight on Current TV (the cable network chaired by Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth ranks #8 on the list) the nifty fifty countdown concludes with the Top 10 docs to see - as well as the Number 1 doc, Steve James' Hoop Dreams (1994). Host Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, #5) carefully avoids the implication that the selected titles represent the best 50 documentaries ever made; rather, these are the 50 best "modern" documentaries made in the last 25 years. (Actually, Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line, from 1988, is the oldest "modern" doc on the list.) The choices were made by a panel that included Michael Renov (University of Southern California film professor), Eddie Schmidt (president of the International Documentary Association) and Brian Graden (former president of programming for MTV Networks). (I guess that takes care of any conflict-of-interest contentions about Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth being on the list.)

As New York Times critic Mike Hale comments, "This focus on 'the modern documentary' goes hand in hand with a relentless preference for the story-based or issue-based films that people now seem to think define the documentary field. It’s hard to imagine a more abstract or idea-based filmmaker like Andy Warhol or Chris Marker in this company." Fair enough, but whatcha gonna do about it? Your have to draw the line somewhere, and in this case the line drawn is Morris's Thin Blue Line.

My take? It's a pretty good series that can only spur further discussion about a dynamically growing film genre - a discussion that hopefully inspires more people to watch more films about the world and people around them (and maybe a little less mindless cineplex fodder).

The complete list, from bottom-to-top, follows:

50. Spellbound (2002)
49. Truth or Dare (1991)
48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
47. One Day in September (1999)
46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
44. Burma VJ (2008)
43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
42. Catfish (2010)
41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
40. When We Were Kings (1996)
39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
38. March of the Penguins (2005)
37. Inside Job (2010)
36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
33. Tongues Untied (1989)
32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
31. Jesus Camp (2006)
30. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
29. Man on Wire (2008)
28. Gasland (2010)
27. Tarnation (2003)
26. Murderball (2005)
25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
19. Touching the Void (2003)
18. Food, Inc. (2008)
17. Street Fight (2005)
16. Bus 174 (2002)
15. Crumb (1994)
14. Dark Days (2000)
13. The Fog of War (2003)
12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
10. Grizzly Man (2005)
9. Trouble the Water (2008)
8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
6. The War Room (1993)
5. Supersize Me (2004)
4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
3. Roger & Me (1989)
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Skinny and Fatty

Blast from the past of "The CBS Children's Film Festival"

Skinny and Fatty (Chibideka monogatari)
Directed by N. Terao; written by Mitsuo Wakasugi and Seiya Yoshida
Cast: H. Sha (Kenkichi Komatsu), Y. Kataoke (Yuso Oyama)
(Japan, 1958, 46 minutes)
Watch entire film

Thanks go to Video Americain manager Scott Wallace Brown for tracking down a DVD-R version of this beloved chestnut from bygone days. Skinny and Fatty was easily my favorite movie from the CBS Children's Film Festival series, a 1967 television series hosted by the puppets 'n' puppeteer team of Kookla, Fran & Ollie. This 1958 children's film tells the story of chubby new-kid-in-school Oyama ("Fatty"), who is teased and ostracized until befriended by popular schoolmate Komatsu ("Skinny"), who shows him that he has to believe in himself and always try to do his best - even if he fails.

Skinny (Komatsu) and Fatty (Oyama)

Komatsu's attempt to help Oyama master the rope climb in gym class is particularly poignant, though not exactly tear-inducing this time around, viewing it 40 some years later.

Give 'em enough rope: "Don't quit!" Skinny implores Fatty

Like any good Baby Boomer, I was reared on KFO during the latter end of their original 1947-1957 run on NBC and ABC, probably first watching them in syndication in the early '60s (my childhood memory timeline really didn't start until JFK's assassination in November 1963 when I was 6 years old). But I really started to appreciate them when they moved to CBS to host this series featuring "films from all over the world especially for kids."

Behaving parents can watch, too!

As hosted by the "Kuklapolitan Players" - puppets Kukla ("doll" in Russian) and Ollie (aka Oliver J. Dragon), created and performed by Burr Tillstrom, and Fran Allison (who had been working together as early as 1948, with the original puppet pair appearing even earlier in 1939) - this hour-long program featured dubbed, edited versions of foreign films that were suitable for children. And that's what made it so special to the pre-Globalization know-nothing nudniks of my generation, raised as we were on a map of the world that still listed almost half of Africa as "West French Africa."

The Puppeteer Team: Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison

The Kuklapolitan Players: Kookla, Ollie and Fran Allison

Sure, I was in elementary school by then, but I've always been visually oriented, and maps and books and National Geographic magazines were no substitute for seeing live-action kids from all over the globe eating, playing and studying in their native lands - kids who didn't look like me and who seemed to dress funny and eat weird stuff. I can safely say that everything I learned about foreign lands and cultures really started here (just as my friend Dave Cawley's lifelong fascination/obsession with All Things Japanese began with his exposure to '60s TV imports like Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Astroboy, Marine Boy, Gigantor, Tobor the 8th Man,and Speed Racer); in fact, Skinny and Fatty was probably the first foreign film I ever saw, and certainly the first Japanese movie. (And this is probably where we all first saw The Red Balloon, a film everyone from my generation knows!)

Two things I noticed right off the bat watching the film again was how trend-setting Japanese school kids were, toting their books around in little messenger bags that today have become, along with mp3 players and cell phones, de rigeur accessories for all young people. The other was a scene where Fatty tries to squeeze through a fence to catch up to Skinny, but gets stuck, to comic effect. The very same scene would be reenacted years later by Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and his pudgy pal Larry Mondello in American TV's Leave It To Beaver program. I also noticed, in the scene where Komatsu's family is moving to a new home, that the Japanese pack their belongings in straw, instead of boxes. So many little, incidental details - the taking off of shoes when the children visit one another's houses; the everyday tea ceremonies; the communal bathing in which two unrelated boys cleanse each other - unfold in the film's 45 minutes to be stored away in viewer's cross-cultural memories. The film also touched lightly on the class system, for while the two boys may attend the same school, the well-fed Oyama is obviously from a wealthy family, while Komatsu's family is poor and must move away at picture's end to find work in the far-away mountain region.

The film uses athletic achievement as a narrative arc to show how Oyama's growing confidence under Komatsu's friendship and tutelege helps him achieve newfound popularity and belief in himself. At first, Oyama humiliates himself climbing the rope, but by year's end he is able to team up with his skinny friend to win accolades at the annual sports and games competition festival.

When Oyama pouts "I can't!"...

Komatsu says "Just do it, Oyama!"

The following clip highlights Oyama's progression from failure to success in competitive sports.

And, as the blogger at everydayfamily.com observed, not only does Komatsu teach Oyama the values of courage, friendship, self-pride and risk along the way, but "with the subject of bullying so up front these days, Skinny and Fatty addresses the issue with subtly and beauty."

By film's end, Oyama has learned to stand on his own two feet and runs to the hills to shout his thanks to his friend who's now physically far away but still near and dear to his heart.

The Climatic Finale: "Komatsu! Thank you!"

According to Pop-Cult.com, "The CBS Children's Film Festival was an hour-long program appearing sporadically beginning in 1967, until it joined the early-Saturday- afteroon schedule in 1971...The show ran in this format until 1977, when it was reduced to the half-hour CBS Saturday Film Festival, without the charming hosts. It continued to air irregularly until 1984."

(Trivial aside: Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson cited the CBS Children's Film Festival as one of his inspirations for creating the concept of MST. "It was just one of those shows from my childhood that prepared me for fully appreciating the greatness of MST in the future. You got to see a lot of goofy films from other lands." Even the framework - with a human host and two non-human sidekicks (with MST's Crow and Tom Servo filling in for Kukla and Ollie) introducing the films and then later talking about them and performing little skits - was similar to MST.)

Pop-Cult.com and other sites believe the titles that follow represent a complete listing of all of the films and programs shown during the Film Festival's run:

Adventure in Golden Bay - Czech, 1956
Adventure in the Hopfields - British, 1954
The Angel and Big Joe - American, 1975
Anoop and the Elephant - British, 1972
Bag on Bag - Russian, ?
A Bird of Africa - Japanese, ?
Birds Come Flying To Us - Bulgarian, 1971
Black Mountain - Soviet, 1970
The Blind Bird - Soviet, 1963
The Boy and the Airplane - ?
The Boy Who Wore Spectacles - Soviet, ?
The Boy With Glasses - Japanese, 1962
Bunnie - Polish, 1973
The Camerons - Australian, 1974
Captain Korda - Czech, 1970
Captain Mikula, the Kid - Yugoslavian, 1974
Charlie the Rascal - Swedish, ?
Chipmates - British, ?
The Chiffy Kids - British, 1976
Circus Adventure - Dutch, ?
Circus Angel - French, 1965
Clown - Spanish, 1969
Cold Pizza - Canadian, 1972
Countdown to Danger - British, 1967
Cry Wolf - British, 1968
Carole, I Love You - French, ?
Danger Point - British, 1971
Death of a Gaudy Dancer - Canadian, ?
Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World - British, 1973
Doggie and Three - Czech, 1955
Egghead's Robot - British, 1970
Elephant River - Ceylon, 1956
Felipa: North of the Border - American, 1971
The Firefighters - British, 1975
Flash the Sheepdog - British, 1966
Flay Away Dove - American, 1982
The Flying Sorcerer - British, 1973
For Boys Only is For Girls, Too - Czech, ?
A Friend - Italian, 1967
Friend or Foe - British, ?
Friends For Life - Soviet, 1971
Funny Stories - Soviet, 1962
Geronimo Jones - American, 1970
Get Used To It - ?
Ghost of a Chance - British, 1968
Giamador - ?
The Giant Eel - Czech, 1971
The Goalkeeper Also Lives on Our Street - Czech, 1957
The Golden Fish - French, 1959
Gosha the Bear - Soviet, 1971
Hand in Hand - British, 1960
Headline Hunters - British, 1967
Heidi - German/Austrian, 1965
Joey - American, 1964?
John and Julie - British, 1954
The Johnstown Monster - British, 1971
Jumping Over Puddles - Czech, 1970
The Legend of John Henry - ?
The Legend of Paul Bunyon - ?
Lionheart - British, 1968
The Little Bearkeepers - Czech, 1957
The Little Ones - British, 1965
Little Pig - Chinese, ?
The Little Wooden Horse - ?
Lone Wolf - Yugoslavian, 1972
Lost in Pajamas - Czech, 1966
Lucy and the Miracles - Czech, 1970
The Magnificent 6-1/2 - British, 1967
Mauro the Gypsy - British, ?
Me and You, Kangaroo - Australian, 1974
A Member of the Family - British, 1971
Miguel's Navidad - Mexico, ? Miguel: Up From Puerto Rico - American, 1970
Mischief - British, 1968
Mr . Horatio Knibbles - British, 1971
My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson - Jamaican, ?
My Main Man - ?
Nikkolina - Canadian, ?
Nina and the Street Kids - Swedish, ?
Nunu and the Zebra - South African, ?
On Snow White - Czech, 1972
The Orange Watering Cart - Hungarian, ?
Paddle to the Sea - Canadian, 1966
Paganini Strikes Again - British, 1974
Pero and His Companions - ?
The Promise - ?
The Ransome of Red Chief - Soviet, 1963
The Red Balloon - French, 1956
Soapbox Derby - Canadian, ?
Scramble - British, 1969
A Seafaring Dog - Soviet, ?
The Secret - ?
The Seven Ravens - German, 1937
Shok and Sher - Soviet, ?
Shopping Bag Lady - American, 1975
The Show Must Go On - Soviet, ?
Six Bears and a Clown - Czech, 1972
Sirius - Czech, 1974
Skinny and Fatty - Japanese, 1959
Stowaway in the Sky - French, 1959
Strange Holiday - Australian, 1969
That's My Name, Don't Wear it Out - British, ?
Three Nuts for Cinderella - Czech, 1973
Thunderstorm - French, ?
Ticko - Swedish, ?
Tiko and the Shark - Italian/French, 1965
Tjorven, Batsman, and Moses - Swedish, 1964
Tony and the Tick-Tock Dragon - Hungarian, ?
Turniphead - Italian, 1965
Tymancha's Friend - Soviet, 1970
Up in the Air - British, 1969
The Violin - Canadian, 1974
What Next? - British, 1974
Where's Johnny? - British, 1974
White Mane - Frenche, 1952
Winter of the Witch - British, 1969
The Yellow Slippers - Polish, 1961

The best site for detailed information about these films, as well as sample video clips, is the Kuklapolitan Website's CBS Children's Film Festival page at kukla.tv/cbs.html.

Watch "Skinny and Fatty" in its entirety (46:32)

Related links:
CBS Children's Film Festival (The Kuklapolitan Website)
CBS Children's Film Festival film listings (Pop-cult.com)
CBS Children's Film Festival (Wikipedia)
1967 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)
1972 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shakin' All Over, East Coast Style

A Shake, Rattle & Rollcall

"If it bleeds, it leads," goes the time-tested axiom about news headlines, to which I would add, "If it quakes, it also rates." Yesterday's 5.8-scale earthquake at approximately 1:51 p.m. was a shock, to be sure, but mainly because we just don't expect these sort of things to happen on the East Coast.

When I felt the tremors and saw the Enoch Pratt Central Library's walls shake, I was sure it had something to do with all the downtown infrastructure construction going on (especially on torn-up Franklin Street), thinking maybe workers had hit a gasline that exploded. Only later, upon closer inspection, would I learn the full impact of the quake on the library - several videos were knocked off their vertical axis and fell to the horizontal plain (as shown below)!

"Roots" was uprooted by the quake!

Up in Towson, my girlfriend Amy freaked out, thinking she was gonna die.

"I'm freaking out here!!!"

As at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, her building was evacuated and no one was allowed back in until inspectors could survey the building for structural damage. (Poor Amy had left her apartment and car keys inside, so it was a traumatic day for her, to say the least; she tried calling me, but it seems everybody was on their cell phones, resulting in connection problems for most people. See "Cell Phones Useless During East Coast Quake.")

Unable to reach my girlfriend, I called to see how my dad was holding up at Blakehurst retirement home in Towson. My dad reported that when he noticed his coveted silver service set start rattling and moving about, he immediately called housekeeping - he thought mice had gotten into the apartment and were using his silver service as a habit trail!

Pratt Library sent everybody home and as I drove home, heading north on Howard Street, I encountered a wild, reckless force of nature infinitely more dangerous and unpredictable than any earthquake: dirt-bike kids.

Unsafe at any speed

These are feral urban "wild childs" like something out of Lord of the Flies or a post-Apocalyptic sci-fi novel...they remind me of Sierra Leone's "Child Warriors" in that they obey no laws (traffic or societal) and have no respect for the lives of others. They basically took over Howard Street around the light rail stop near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., two cycles side-swiping my car while others weaved recklessly between cars and lanes, racing through red lights and causing both pedestrians and vehicles to stop in their tracks. Wearing expensive, gaudy Polo shirts, some riders (many looked like they were between 10 and 12 years old) popped wheelies, while others defiantly shook their fists in the air at (terrified) motorists. These gangs (with names like The 12 O'clock Boyz, Wheelie Boyz, B-More Outlawz) make Marlon Brando's "Black Motorcycle Club" gang look like well-respected pillars of the local community. What they rebelling against? Whaddya got? I hereby pledge my support to any Baltimore City mayoral candidate who introduces "Dirt Bike: Shoot on Sight" legislation. (OK, I'm being facetious here.)

Before I arrived home, I made a pit stop at the Roland Park Video Americain store, half-expecting to see manager Scott Wallace Brown reshelving scattered DVD and video cases. But instead, a non-plussed Scott (who's no stranger to 'quakes, having lived in Alaska for many years) said he barely noticed the earthquake. When I asked him what impact the 5.8 quake had on his stock, Scott said, "Oh, maybe four DVD boxes fell off the shelf. So you could rate this earthquake as a four-boxer." OK, a new video store scale (5.8 quake = 4-boxer damage). Scott commented that former Video Americain co-owner Michael Bradley had already called to see what effect the quake had on the store's stock. Ah, you can take the Video Americainers out of Video Americain, but you can't take Video Americain out of their hearts!

And speaking of videos, some people were quick to capitalize on the day's events, with Evil Angel rushing out the new DVD title Earthquake Booty 3:

An Inconvenient Truth: For the record, no scientific evidence links yesterday's earthquake with any surge in big booty activity.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Spider and the Fly

"My my my," said the spider to the fly, "Jump right ahead in my web."

OK, I'm flipping through cable channels Sunday night and I stop on HBO's Entourage. It's a show I've never seen (because I never had HBO until just recently), but I've heard a lot of good things about it. I think it's in its final season (I'm always late to the party!) Anyway, I noticed that practically every woman on screen was extremely fit and dressed to the nines - or what my fellow male vulgarians commonly term "hotties" - so naturally I obeyed my hard-wired biological impulses and kept watching. I noticed that there's a lot of sex (and sexual innuendo) in Entourage; apparently all people seem to do in LA is have sex, at least in between making deals and eating in fancy restaurants. But what really hooked me on the Entourage vibe was its "God is in the details" aspect - namely, the end credits.

"Prey, what have we here?"

The episode I watched featured a guy being duped into sleeping with a woman who was using him as a "revenge fuck" - you know, like an unsuspecting fly caught in the spider's web. And then the credits rolled with the perfect soundtrack: the Rolling Stones' "The Spider and the Fly," a song about sexual prey.
"Sittin' thinkin' sinkin' drinkin'; Wondering what I'd do when I'm through tonight; Smokin', mopin', maybe just hopin'; Some little girl will pass on by; Don't wanna be alone but I love my girl at home; I remember what she said; She said "My, my, my don't tell lies, keep fidelity in your head; My, my, my, don't tell lie, when you're done you should go to bed; Don't say Hi, like a spider to a fly; Jump right ahead and you're dead"

A lumbering Chicago blues-style song with "weaving guitar" interplay between Brian Jones and Keith Richards, it was penned by Mick Jagger (who blows the harmonica) and Keith Richards (writing as "Nanker, Phelge") and was first released on the US version of their 1965 album Out of Our Heads. In the UK, "The Spider and the Fly" was the B-side to their "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" single on Decca.

Satisfaction/The Spider and the Fly
(Decca 7", 1965)

"I wasn't really that mad about it," Jagger would reflect years later, "but when you listen to it on record, it still holds up quite interestingly as a blues song. It's a Jimmy Reed blues with British pop-group words, which is an interesting combination: a song somewhat stuck in a time warp."

Ah, but that's where I beg to differ with Mick because I am stuck in that time warp. I'm not a big Stones fan except for the early Brian Jones-era songs, and "The Spider and the Fly" is one of my favorites, and one of the reasons I picked up the Stone's Singles Collection: The London Years compilation that's heavy on that period.

Rolling through the London Years

Listen to the Stones' "Spider and the Fly."

I especially like the following lines that make me think of '60s Brit "Kitchen Sink Drama" films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning:
She was common, flirty, she looked about thirty
I would have run away but I was on my own
She told me later she's a machine operator
She said she liked the way I held the microphone
I said "My, my, my" like the spider to a fly
"Jump right ahead in my web"

She was common, flirty, looked about thirty

Interestingly, the Stones dropped by to see that "about thirty" machine operator on their 1995 live album Stripped, wherein they updated her age from thirty to fifty (no doubt a nod at the Stones' own advancing ages).

Watch the "mature" Stones tout the "nifty 50" machine operator.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Deconstructing Archie Meets KISS

The Archies Unmasked at Balto-Con!

At this weekend's Baltimore Comic Con at the downtown Convention Center, I spotted Dan Parent selling this poster for the upcoming Archie Meets Kiss comic (slated for November 2011 release) written by Alex Segura and illustrated by Parent. This mash-up between America's Favorite Teenagers and the Knights In the Service of Satan was just too cool to pass up, so I bought copies for both my Archies-fanatic-friend Scott Wallace Brown and my KISS-fanatic-friend Scott "Unpainted" Huffines.

As Alex Segura explains, "The idea of having KISS come to Riverdale is the perfect mix of fun and off-the-wall. It's two pieces of Americana coming together for the first time, which should be fun and entertaining for readers of Archie and members of the KISS Army." While the pairing of the wholesome redhead with the Twitter # sign permanently embedded in his scalp with the oft-unsavory KISS crew may seem an unlikely teamup, it's certainly not without precedent, as Casey Seijas points out in his "Six bizarre music/comic book mashups" blog post (which profiles historic teamings between Lois Lane and Pat Boone, Eminem and The Punisher, Springsteen and the Transformers, New Kids on the Block and Richie Rich, the cast of Saturday Night Live and Spider-Man, and Dethklok with The Goon).

Too Marvel-ous for words: The Boss' alter-ego "Brick Springhorn" meets The Transformers

But while Archie is obviously taking on the Gene Simmons role (his tongue hanging out and his orange locks tied in a Kabuki-style knot), there's more than meets the eye to this poster. Upon closer inspection, comics-and-KISS otaku "Big" Dave Cawley corrected Scott Wallace Brown and I when we mistakenly assumed Jughead was fulfilling the Peter Criss role on drums.

"No way!" Dave exclaimed excitedly (a redundant adjective when it comes to the natural-caffeinated Mr. Cawley), "Look at his face - that's Ace Frehley's Spaceman makeup. Trust me, I know my KISS!"

He was right! How unobservant we were. And Veronica, incongruously playing keyboards instead of guitar, was donning Paul Stanley's solo eye star makeup. I started to see Dave's point that there was more thought put into comic covers than meets the casual glance: for wasn't flakey Jughead really a "Space case" (like Space Ace)?; wasn't girl-crazy Archie a natural fit to fill Simmons' devilishly horny big boots?; and wasn't Veronica the true band leader (like Paul Stanley) who holds it all together with her flexible keyboards (able to play both rhythm and lead riffs) adding the melodic hooks to what would otherwise be a bass-and-drums ensemble? At least Betty was thematically linked to the original KISS percussionist by bang-shang-a-langing her tambourine in Criss' Catman-'do face paint.

That Dave Cawley: always an OCD-ish eye for comics-and-music detail! No wonder Kevin Keller, the openly gay Archie character (who just got his own spin-off comics line) goes for Dave's anally-compulsive type - not to mention the open-minded Scott, as shown below:

Kev's type is partial to the Davids and Scotts of the world

Related Links:
KISS meets Archie? Six bizarre music/comic book mashups

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Barcelona's Cup Continues to Runneth Over!

Messi Seals Deal in 3-2 win over Real Madrid for 2011 Super Cup

Mouriho adds a new twist to El Super Classico

There was only one game in town last night; in fact only one sportswatching option in the entire world to watch - and no, it wasn't the WPS playoff between Boston and MagicJack (yes, corporate sponsorship is so blatant these days that teams have dispensed with city/region names in place of brand names - can future teams named The JiffyLube, JiffyPop USA, or iPhone4G FC be far behind?). No, it was the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup at the Camp Nou, where FC Barcelona picked up where they left off last season, beating Real Madrid 3-2 (5-4 on aggregate) - thanks to Lionel's Messi's second goal in the 88th minute - to pick up their first silverware of the 2011-2012 season. Newly signed Cesc Fabregas was involved in the build-up to the winning goal (just six minutes after Karim Benzema provided the equalizer for Real), coming on as a late substitute to supply Adriano, who then crossed to Messi for the sliding effort.

Watch Messi' game-winner.

Andres Iniesta opened the scoring for Barcelona in the 15th minute (assisted by Messi) and Cristiano Ronaldo leveled the match five minutes later before Messi scored his first goal late in the opening half on a back-heel pass in the box from Gerard Pique.

Watch Messi's first goal.

It's not for nothing that games between these two teams are called "El Super Classico," for Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is the greatest sports rivalry in the world, bar none. Barca played Real Madrid four times in 18 days last spring and after a lax off-season of promotional touring and meaningless friendlies the clearly still-rusty defending champions of Spanish and European football started their heavy lifting with back-to-back games against their arch-rivals; they tied Los Blancos 2-2 in last Wednesday's first leg match at the Bernabeu in Madrid before last night's victory at the Camp Nou. And, like all their previous encounters with los Madristas this year, this prequel to the 2011-2012 Spanish League campaign was a hard-fought battle throughout the 90+ minutes, with every touch contested and the usual and testosterone-fueled violence and childish behavior at the end. It was a true "Super Classico" with great, intense play, stunning goals (epecially from the newly beefed-up Messi and Andreas Iniesta's cheeky chip shot over Iker Casillas), and the usual tactical and mental one-upmanship between the coaches. Moreover, it hammered home the point that Barcelona (yes, even now at about 70% fitness-level) and Real Madrid are clearly the two best teams not just in La Liga (where this year's title chase will be closer than ever) but in the world - and feature the two best (and most dangerous) club players in the world in Lionel Messi (183 goals and 75 assists in 273 appearances at Barca, including 103 goals in his last 110 games) and Cristiano Ronaldo (87 goals in 91 appearances since arriving at Madrid in 2009). As a Barca supporter, I'm scared; Madrid already had a super team, now they've bulked up even more and have more depth than any team in the world - former World Player of the Year Kaka can't even break into the starting lineup!

But the game ended in chaos after Real Madrid’s Marcelo was sent off for taking down Fabregas from behind in a hard, reckless challenge in front of the benches. This seemed to follow what has become the standard script for all Super Classicos beween the two teams since Mourinho arrived in Madrid. Subsequent red cards were issued to Madrid's Mezut Ozil and Barca's David Villa after a benches-clearing melee, but as expected Jose Mourinho had to upstage a bravura performance by his new-look Gallacticos with boorish, juvenile behavior that included dissing the world's best player (with a "you stink!" gesture on the sidelines), stepping on Cesc Fabregas' head, and either twisting the ear or poking the eye (depending on which video clip angle you see) of Barcelona coach Titi Vilanova at game's end.

Men Behaving Badly
Here are the telling clips of the game:

Watch Mourhinho make his "You made a Messi" stink face.

Watch Marcello's match-ending tackle & subsequent melee.

Watch Mourinho's eye-gouge.

Let's Talk About Cesc
Oh, and what about the new boy at Camp Nou? GOLTV Commentator Ray Hudson put it best when he said, "Cesc Fabregas spent eight seasons at Arsenal without so much as a wooden spoon to show for it and now he's lifting his first trophy after playing 10 minutes with Barcelona." As usual, Hudson was slightly off in his details (Fabregas did lift one trophy with Arsenal - the 2005 FA Cup), but his overall gist was spot-on. And people wonder why the former Gunner golden boy wanted to return home to the Camp Nou? It's called European football, folks - like all great footballers, Cesc wanted to compete for (and win) trophies. That should have been the storyline of this game, but instead Mourinho spoiled the party with his spotlight-stealing antics. Apparently, it's his world; we just live in it.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baltimore Hostel's Free Fall Film Series

Select Thursdays @ 7:30 p.m.
HI-Baltimore Hostel
17 W. Mulberry Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Contact: ehgage@gmail.com

Since arriving in Baltimore early this spring, cineaste extraordinaire Eliot Gage has presented a number of interesting free film screenings at the HI-Baltimore Hostel, located across from the Enoch Pratt Central Library on the corner of Mulberry and Cathedral streets.

With everybody getting in on the free-outdoor-screenings-of-popular-Hollywood-movies-summer-time-fun-act ("Films on the Pier" in Fells Point, "Films on the Hill" in Federal Hill, Little Italy's outdoor series on High Street, etc.) - a trend supported by the major Hollywood studios as they try to offset the increasing threat of NetFlix and on-demand video streaming by selling affordable umbrella licenses and one-time screening rates for their films through vendors like Movie Licensing USA - I find myself growing weary of the glut of mass pop movie entertainment and yearn for good old obscure arthouse, cult and experimental cinema programming (aka "the few, the proud!"). (Speaking of which, let us thank our lucky stars that John Standiford has returned from Roma to schedule another season of Classic Repertory Cinema at the Charles Theatre!)

Like Miguel Sabagol's bygone "Free Wednesday Night 16mm Film Series" screenings at Station North's Hexagon - which relied almost exclusively on the Enoch Pratt Central Library's 16mm film archives (see my reviews at "In Search of Buried 16mm Treasures," "The Great Ecstacy of the 16mm Film Series," and "The Shepherds of Berneray") - Gage's programming ideas are teeming with endlessly fun and creative permutations. And they're indoors, for the true, diehard, hard-top arthouse cineastas (as opposed to the trendy, picnic-under-the-stars populists). Though his audiences so far have been small, I always say it's the quality not the quantity that matters in life. As the rock and roll myth goes, only 30-40 people may have seen the Sex Pistols play Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 (though now everybody claims "I Swear I Was There"!), but almost everyone in the audience went on to form a band (The Smiths, Joy Division, Simply Red, etc.) or become influential players in the nascent punk rock scene. Less can be more. (Case in point: Artie Bootle, one of the regulars at the screenings, has his own outstanding movie review blog "Moom Pitchers Not To Miss" that examines some of the lesser known films from world cinema.)

Gage recently sent me his tentative autumn 2011 schedule for what he calls "the Free Film Excerpt Series," which is moving from Wednesday nights to select Thursday evenings this fall.

To give you an idea of the type of programming involved, check out my review of Gage's first screening, "Laughter in the Dark" (May 25, 2011).

"Laughter in the Dark" flyer

Following are Gage's program notes for this screening (click on the image to enlarge):

"Laughter in the Dark" program notes, page 1

"Laughter in the Dark" notes, pages 2-3

"Laughter in the Dark" notes, page 4

And here's Gage's own description of his most recent Hostel screening, "Signifying Fade-Ins" (from June 22, 2011).
The beginnings (each roughly 15 minutes) of the four stunning films below advance the graphic art of cinema through mise-en-scène, camera movement, signs, montage, sound and music.

*Love Me Tonight* 1932 Rouben Mamoulian USA
*L’Atalante* 1934 Jean Vigo France
*Le Plaisir* 1952 Max Ophüls France
*Andrei Rublev* 1966 (released 1971) Andrei Tarkovsky USSR

Many great works of cinema art begin with a striking dialogue, monologue or narration to which graphic arts are clearly subservient. For this reason works such as *Apocalypse Now, Contempt, The Cruise, Double Indemnity, Divorce Italian Style, One Two Three, Lolita, My Life to Live, La Ronde, Scarlet Street, The Seventh Seal, *or *Twentieth Century* are not included in this program. The renown beginning of *Citizen Kane* is not included here; nor is *M,* nor *8 1/2*, because each is so well known.

Below are Gage's "Signifying Fade-ins" program notes (click on the image to enlarge):

Signifying Fade-ins flyer, front

Signifying Fade-ins flyer, back

2011 Free Fall Excerpt Series

"Mysteriosos: Eight Film Excerpts with Mysterious Characters
Thursday, September 1 @ 7:30 p.m.

Mysterious characters to include:
Bill Murray
Cary Grant
Hal Holbrook
Katherine Hepburn
Marcel Herrand
Maria Casaros
Rene Navarro
Orson Welles

Here are Gage's program notes for this program (click on an image to enlarge):

Mysteriosos notes, cover

Mysteriosos notes, page 1

Mysteriosos notes, page 2

Mysteriosos notes, page 3

Mysteriosos notes, back page

"Almost Animation"
Thursday, October 6th @ 7:30 p.m.

Possible films include:
George Melies - The Man with the Rubber HeadErnie Gehr - Serene Velocity
Ken Jacobs - Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son
Oscar Fischinger - Composition in Blue
Norman McLaren - Hen Hop
Stan Brakage - Mothlight
Ray Harryhausen - Mother Goose: Little Miss Muffet
Jan Švankmajer - Alice
Lotte Reininger - The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Harry Smith - Heaven and Earth Magic Feature
Max Fleischer - Betty Boop's Rise To Fame
Chuck Jones - Duck Amuck

Oct 15 through Nov 15 - one month for new sprinkler installation at hostel

"Featured Painters"
Thursday, December 1st @ 7:30 p.m.

Painters painting in feature (not documentary) films, including:
Van Gogh, directed by Pialat
Rembrandt, directed by Korda with Charles Laughton and Gertrude Lawrence

"Fast Talkers"
Thursday, December 29 @ 7:30 p.m.

Possible films include:
*One Two Three*, directed by Wilder with James Cagney
*Meet John Doe*, directed by Capra with Barbara Stanwick
*Double Indemnity*, directed by Wilder with Edward G. Robinson
*Twentieth Century*, directed by Hawks, writers included Charles McArthur, Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard
*Rain Man* or *Magnolia* with Tom Cruise

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Michael Dane Star Traveler & the Black Velvet Express

Black Velvet Express
Where the Stars Kiss the Moon
(Flower Records, 2010)

Dane Williams: Vocals, acoustic/electric/slide guitars, Ebow
Michael Fiore: Acoustic/electric guitars
Gerard Moore: Bass guitar
Brian Hughes: Drums, percussion
Glenn Workman: Piano, keyboards

Artwork: Ron Komber
"There once was a note, pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by. There once was a note - listen!" - Pete Townshend, "Pure and Easy"

Black Velvet Express' Michael Dane, Star Traveler is a concept album about the sci-fi adventures of the semi-fictional space-age explorer "Michael Dane" and his quest to bring peace to the universe through the power of music ("the Notes"). I say "semi-fictional" because Michael Dane is actually a conflation of the first names of BVE guitarists Michael Fiore and his longtime friend (and fellow sci-fi enthusiast) Dane Williams, who composed this musical soundtrack to compliment an original story written by Mike Fiore.

BVE's Dane Williams and Michael Fiore

Where the Stars Kiss the Moon came about, Fiore explains, "When I sat down late one night to write a song about one of my favorite sci-fi movies, Forbidden Planet." (The film is one of my personal faves as well, featuring one of the most unusual and sought-after electronic soundtracks of all time.) That song, "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," became the title track for the subsequent CD.

Fiore film fave: Forbidden Planet (1956)

For years his pal Dane Williams - who Fiore met when Dane came to Baltimore to become part of a group called Voices, a concept band consisting of musicians from surrounding cities on the East Coast - had been saying that they should do a CD together and, after writing "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," Fiore thought he had just the right project. A photographer friend suggested that Mike create an alter ego for the name of the band and call it "Michael Dane." Though Fiore had already settled on Black Velvet Express as the band name, he kept the idea in mind when he decided to write a sci-fi story (dedicated to his "beautiful wife Deborah," his family, and friends) to go along with his song. (The BVE CD contains a free digital copy of the story, which can also be viewed at BlackVelvetExpress.com.) More songs came - all written by Fiore save the Fiore-Williams collaboration "Lullaby Dream" - and thus the song "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" and the story "Michael Dane Star Traveler" became a collaborative project between two friends, as well as a concept CD.

Michael Dane's ancestor: Ziggy Stardust

If the idea of a space-rock concept album makes your memory harken back to David Bowie's breakthrough 1972 album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, rest assured - it's no mistake. You see, Fiore and Williams wear their glam rock and melodic Anglo-pop influences on their sleeves, citing Bowie, T Rex, Mott the Hoople, Badfinger, Kinks, Stones, Faces and especially The Beatles (the "four Liverpool lads" name-checked in Fiore's tale as keepers of "The Notes" that once created worldwide peace and harmony) as guiding lights and mentors. "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," which appears twice on the CD (in electric and acoustic versions), is as anthemic a song as Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and its intrepid-but-lonely protagonist Michael Dane recalls the lost-in-space travails of Major Tom "floating in his tin can" in Bowie's "Space Oddity." (Michael Dane even travels with his three dogs, though no mention is made whether, like Bowie's, they are Diamond Dogs.)

Ground Control to Michael Dane (illustration by Ron Komber)

In fact, from the very first note of this (literally) fantastic song, one cannot escape the comparison to Bowie's Ziggy-era sound. The guitar tunings (both acoustic and electric) evoke none other than Mick Ronson...and the pace, the engineering, the production - it all seems like a time capsule from 1972! (And to this glam rock fan, that's a very good thing!) But the CD cover (and accompanying liner note and story illustrations) evoke an even earlier era, with Ron Komber's artwork recalling '40s and '50s sci-fi pulp covers (thematically more in tune with Fiore's original inspiration, 1956's Forbidden Planet).

Ron Komber's pulpish cover art

Okay, let's just to back-pedal a bit...all the way back to the '80s. You see, I hadn't kept up with Mike Fiore (shown below) since the days when he drummed for The Accused, an early '80s New Wave outfit that regularly headlined at The Marble Bar and Baltimore area clubs.

Michael Fiore circa 1980

Under leader David Cawkwell, The Accused were kind of a big deal at the time and were one of the few bands playing the Marble Bar circuit that actually released a record, 1980's acclaimed 4-song EP on E.S.P (shown below).

"The Accused" EP. Clockwise from L-R: Mark Morgan, Kraig Krixer, Mike Fiore, David Cawkwell

Sometime around 1983-1984, I worked with Accused bass player Mark Morgan (who's now a professional photographer) at the Music Liberated record store he managed in the basement of the old Towson Center Mall (where other musicians, like Montgomery Clift-lookalike Mark Renner of Boys In the River, also worked - Mike Fiore may also have worked for Music Liberated at their North Plaza or Saratoga Street locations, but I just can't remember through the lazy haze of memory lapse); that was really the last time I thought about the Accused until the unfortunate passing of original Accused guitarist Kraig Krixer in January of this year.

Batter Up: Kraig Krixer Memorial Mixer pixers

At the memorial get-together that followed Kraig's death, countless friends and musicians who played with him turned up at Perry Hall's Batter's Box on Belair Road (Krixer's favorite watering hole) to pay their respects, including his former bandmates David Cawkwell and Mike Fiore (seen below).

David Cawkwell and Mike Fiore @ Kraig Krixer Memorial

Through the wonder of Facebook, I kept in touch with Mike and he sent me a copy of Where the Star Kiss the Moon to see what I thought. I was surprised to see he wasn't listed as the drummer, but as the guitarist - and that he's pretty good! Who knew? In fact, the whole CD is top-drawer and professionally recorded (kudos to Jason George of Towson's Nice Package Productions). Along with Dane Williams' fluid lead vocals, twin guitar strummers "Michael Dane" are amply supplemented by journeyman area musician Glen Workman (Crack the Sky, Howard Markman)'s atmospheric, ethereal keyboards, Brian Hughes' crisp percussion and Gerard Moore's rock-steady bass backing.

The Songs:

1. Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (M. Fiore)
"Push the button, open the door/Yeah, I know what you're looking for
You've come to this forbidden place/Out here in deep dark space
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon

Please don't take my love from me/It's all I have, can't you see?
There's a monster inside my head/You can't hide in your silver sled
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon

It's been such a long, long time/All alone inside my mind
Way down here in deep dark space/You must leave this forbidden place
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon"

The inspiration behind this song is clear in the line "There's a monster in my mind" for it recalls the "alien monster of the mind" hatched from Dr. Morbius' subconscious that wiped out all life on planet Altair IV in the film Forbidden Planet (itself a sci-fi rumination on Shakespeare's play The Tempest).

"There's a monster in my mind..."

This is a lovely song that deserves to be reprised (which it is later on track 5). And I love the crisp electric guitar solo in the middle eight that is like a restrained Ronson riff.

2. Simple Love Song (M. Fiore)
This mid-tempo rocker with the boss backbeat and plentiful guitar soloing caught my girlfriend's immediate fancy; when she heard me listening to the CD, she asked "Who's this?" When I told her, she replied, "It's really good - I can move my hips to this!" She added she could probably hoop her way through a low-impact aerobics workout to the record!

3. Distant Lights (M. Fiore)
"Running away in the dark/Always afraid of getting lost"

Glenn Workman's keyboards are put to their most effective use on the lilting "Distant Lights" while the standout sitar-ish guitar motif recalls session man Reggie Young's sitar solo in B. J. Thomas' hit "Hooked On a Feeling"! (Oh, in case you're wondering, Young - who worked with Elvis and a long line of country artists, including The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson) - also played the sitar solo on The Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby").

4. When Heaven Comes (M. Fiore)
"When Heaven comes, it's gonna come hard - Bang! Bang! Baby, bang bang!" A straight-ahead 4/4-on-the-floor rocker, and my choice for the "hit single." If "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" is BVE's "Ziggy Stardust," then "When Heaven Comes" is the album's "Suffragette City."

5. Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (acoustic) (M. Fiore)
Reprised because it works just as well acoustically..a slower tempo, more mellow, more reflective feel. Just as "Rock and Roll Suicide" is the calm-after-the-storm following the rock-out of "Suffragette City"'s on Ziggy.

Watch "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic)" (YouTube)

Watch "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" (Acoustic Demo version)" (YouTube)

6. Lullaby Dream
This guitars-only instrumental closes out the song cycle on a peaceful, uplifting note. I like how the guitars interplay and play tag with one another...the second guitar motif reminds me of the start of the Big Star song, "Watch the Sunrise" (from 1972's #1 Record) and I almost expected to hear the ghost voice of Alex Chilton chiming in.

And thus ends the song cycle - and Michael Dane Star Traveler adventure - that is Where the Stars Kiss the Moon.

Be sure to check out BVE's web site (www.BlackVelvetExpress.com), which allows fans to view the lyrics and register for a free cover art print, view the lyrics. The website also provides song samples and the ability to purchase the EP thru CdBaby.com., iTunes Rhapsody, and other digital distributors.

Finally, BVE's web site concludes: We hope that people, dogs and aliens get as big a “Bang Baby” out of this release as we had making it. Join us and take a star filled journey through the “Distant Lights.”


Black Velvet Express Videos:
"Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic)" (YouTube)

"Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic Demo)" (Charles Funk Video)


Other reviews:
"... I love the throbbing groove and spooky slide ... It sounds as if a hybrid of 60’s San Franciso Ballroom Rock and some Pre-Punk Snarl from NYC was tossed into a Spin Cycle with 70’s London Glam..." - Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Magazine

Where The Stars Kiss The Moon is an excellent concept EP/album containing several alternative rock/pop gems. The opening title track is a song of real beauty, a moving story about love and loss "out here in deep, dark space." Based on the classic 1956 Sci-Fi movie Forbidden Planet, it's a perfect marriage of lyrics and music with a haunting melody you won't forget (love the eerie intro!) It's later reprised as an acoustic version with an equally haunting sound and feel. If you love Bowie's "Space Oddity," you should love this one, too.

"Simple Love Song" and "When Heaven Comes" are straight-ahead rockers with blistering guitar solos, throbbing bass lines and pounding drums ("Heaven," especially, has a fierce, driving intensity) while "Distant Lights" has a darker and more pensive mood and feel to it (love the new intro and arrangement on this one, along with the eastern-flavored sitar-like solo).

"Lullaby Dream" is the closing track. It's an instrumental using guitars only which shift back and forth between G and D major, with layered chordal harmonies and a clean, sparkling solo - a pretty gem of a song with an uplifting vibe - a good note to end things on.
- heliumbound


Related Links:
Black Velvet Express (Official site)
Black Velvet Express (Facebook)
Black Velvet Express (MySpace)

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is Glib DJ Kip Larkin My Doppelganger?

DJ Kip Larkin (R): “Hey, Byron Orlok, you really blew my mind.”
Byron Orlok: "Obviously!"

Jon Swift just watched Peter Bogdanovich's cult classic Targets (1968) at today's Central Library film screening and came down to tell me, "Now I know why you love that film so much. It's got your doppelganger in, that hippie DJ guy!"

That would be the uber-glib hippie pothead "Kip Larkin," played by Jewish standup comic Sandy Baron. When Kip Larkin tells Orlok that he's seen so many of his movies that it "blew his mind," Byron Orlok responds with "Obviously!"

When he wasn't cracking jokes, Sandy Baron took time out to pen the lyrics to the Lou Rawls song, "Natural Woman." Baron's wife Geraldine appears in the movie as his space cadet girlfriend.

Now I guess I have to add Kip Larkin to my burgeoning list of dopplegangers. I actually had a George Peppard Banacek-style bang haircut for a while in high school. Very ill-advised, in retrospect!

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