Wednesday, May 30, 2007

American Pluck

The Fall of the American Empire Gets a Rise

The 2007 Miss Universe contest results are in and Riyo Mori, Miss Japan, is the winner - and rightly so, as Japanese women are the most beautiful and desirable in the world (am I giving away too much of my own personal obsessions here?). (Though Miss Korea wasn't exactly chopped liver, either!) Miss Mori is the second Japanese Miss Universe in 48 years (the first was Akiko Kojima in 1959).

But the show wasn't without controversy, as the Mexico City audiences showed their displeasure with El Jefe Grande George Dubya and The Bush Administration's immigration policies by booing Miss America, Rachel Smith. (Ah Jorge Dubya - making America loved the world over!) To further muddle things, Miss America fell flat on her ass during the evening gown competition (showing once again the absurdity of wearing high heels that accentuate a woman's buttocks for the visual consumption of hungry-eyed men but are impossible to walk in). But, to give Miss Smith her due, she handled her fall from grace with great aplomb and all-American grit as she picked herself up and acted as if nothing happened.

Runway Glasnost: The New Openness

It wasn't the worst mishap in competition history. Consider this flapdoodle, when a Miss Universe contestant lost her dress! You can't script foul-ups like this, the perfect fodder for idle eyes on YouTube.

The Return of the Japanese Empire

Okay, back to my Japanese are the 2007 Miss Japan finalists. They are very distracting.

Riyo Mori, the future Miss Universe 2007 is featured, as is last year's runner-up Kurara Chibana. Also note finalist Yuko Ishizaka, who apparently did some risque (albeit artsy) photos with Rikki Kasso of Tokyo Undressed. Wow, and this is a loser?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rust Never Sleeps

A Musical Journey Through the Past at the Ottobar

Chelsea Graveyard: Like a Rolling Tombstone

Saturday, May 26 I got an e-mail from Dave Wilcox - perhaps best known to mere mortals as Steptoe T. Magnificent, the legendary Marble Bar rock and roll frontman and current driving force behind vintage rockers Chelsea Graveyard and the Screams at Midnight (pictured above) - asking me to videotape that evening's show at The Ottobar, which also included headliners The Slickee Boys and an ensemble I had never heard off, The Howling Mad.

It was Steptoe's birthday (the number isn't important - let's just say that he more than qualifies for AARP benefits), and he wanted the Memorial Weekend moment memorialized - not just for him, but for all Geminis, whose ranks were filled that night(including, word had it, the singer of the Howling Mad). I had taped Chelsea Graveyard at the Mark Harp Memorial two years earlier and I guess Steptoe liked what he saw, so I said OK. Besides, my girlfriend Amy (Mark Harp's ex-wife) was excited when I told her about it. "Oh cool," she said. "It'll be old people there - our peeps!"

Setting the Controls on the Wayback Machine

Our last few experiences at the Ottobar seeing Youth Culture bands like Deerhoof had given us a kind of culture shock, so Amy was up for what promised to be the closest thing to a Marble Bar seniors event. Like Chelsea Graveyard (whose members trace their thinning/graying roots to such Congress Hotel combos as The Alcoholics, Pooba, Rock Hard Peter, Problem Pets, and Thee Katatonix), the Slickee Boys were an electric anachronism whose glory days were the vinyl-friendly late 70s/early 80s. As, it turned out, were the Howling Mad. But the Slickees sound never aged and neither did Steptoe's charisma - tall, confident, and well-liked by his fellow musicians, he was perhaps the consumate showman of Baltimore's nascent punk scene and unofficial mentor to the next generation of Young Turks (including my old bandmate Adolf Kowlaksi).

Old Farts At Play

Walking in a 9:30 p.m., I saw the usual suspects for this musical fast forward into the past: Richard Taylor (Zehn Archer, Richard Taylor & The Ravers) was front and center with his fancy video camera, no doubt recording footage for an upcoming episode of Richard Taylor TV or perhaps his long awaited Marble Bar documentary. (Richard's Internet TV podcasts are pretty good and I'm glad he's filmming these shows, as I'm always impressed by anyone who takes home more than just smokey clothes and a hangover from rock shows - Some Product Carry On, as Malcolm McLaren would say.) Jack Nicholson lookalike (circa Five Easy Pieces) Mike Maxwell(brother of infamous Marble Bar "character" Tommy Vacant) was there with his wife Gail, filling me in on what I missed the night before at the Belvedere Square Friday Night Happy Hour (apparently, thousands of yuppies milling about with their well-bred dogs and privileged progeny). Looking around the room I also spied my ex-wife (and former bandmate in Thee Katatonix) Katie Katatonic and her hubby, Chelsea Grayeyard guitarist Steevee Squeegee (yet another former bandmate in Thee Katatonix), as well as Katie's brother Tom Glancy (another Gemini celebrating his birthday that night!) and his wife Char and daughter Sarah. Later I saw Big Dave Cawley (King of Men & Hater of All Things Clash, Zappa and Cilantro) with his young protege Jason Fritsch.

"What are you doing here?" I asked young Jason. "This is for old people!"

Jason explained that, on Big Dave Cawley (King of Men & Hater of All Things Clash, Zappa & Cilantro)'s advice, he wanted to see The Slickee Boys at least once before he (or more likely) they died. Fair enough! His musical mentor Big DC had previously exposed Jayce to the Buzzcocks, Jam and all things Mod, so it was a good call in the lad's education.

Also spotted were former Altered Legion chanteuse Lisa and some guy with round John Lennon specs and a leather cap who looked like - but wasn't! - former OHO/Food For Worms/BLAMMO keyboardist Mark O'Connor. I wasn't the only fool who stopped this guy and said, "Hey Mark!"

Fast Forward Into the Past

I'm at the age where the familiar is pleasant, so Chelsea Graveyard's set was enjoyably nostalgic, making me feel the vibe of Marble Bar nights past. Though it's kind of strange to see 40something and 50something musicians dressed up like they just visited Hot Topics at the mall, I guess it's part of the virtual Marble Bar Experience to see rock dudes in rock duds that harken back to the glory days of Commander Salamander or Looking Glass (anybody remember this New Wavey boutique that used to be on the 2nd floor of the H&H Building on Paca and Franklin back in the late 70's?) And I liked that Steptoe sent a shout out to my girlfriend's ex, Mark Harp (aka "Harpo," who played bass with Chelsea Graveyard in his final days and died at age 47 on December 24, 2004) and former Marble Bar impressario Roger Anderson (who played guitar with Steptoe's old combo The Alcoholics before suffering a heart attack at age 37 on April 26, 1984) as he introduced "Fall Away," a paen to "missing in action" musicians no longer playing the mortal plain circuit. I hadn't seen Chelsea Graveyard almost two years, and I noticed guitar player Steve "Spectre" Case had also fallen away from the line-up in that time, replaced by a relatively young looking string plucker identified on the band's MySpace page as Trixy McVicar.

But the time-tested setlist stood steadfast and all the fave ditties were played: "Cheap Thrill," "Photograph," and "Top of the Pops" (not be to be confused with the Rezillos song of the same title), to name but a few.

Midway through the set, Steptoe was joined onstage by a middle-aged babe who dueted on "Candy," a song Steptoe said was "by my good friend Jimmy Osterberg." Afterwards, introducing the Rock Hard Peter chestnut "Fuck Me Shoes," Steptoe said, "Now it's back to songs inspired by you young sluts." There were quite a few in attendance in the front row looking like devotees of the much younger Fishnet Stalkers fanbase and, while I found their scantily clad appendages worthy of visual consumption, I couldn't refrain from grimacing when I noticed how so many had devalued their booty with ill-advised tattoos. I'm sure it's a generation thing, but I just don't get it and cringe when I see nice "skin jobs" (to use Bladerunner terminology) soiled by the crass patina of tat parlor ink.

Gettin' Razzed

After Chelsea Graveyard's opening set, I found myself talking with my ex-wife about pop music while off in the corner Big Dave Cawley (King of Men & Hater Of All Things Clash, Zappa & Cilantro) was embroiled in a pointless discussion with Steevee Squeegee about how The Clash truly sucked (Clash fan Squeege gave no quarter and The Great Ottobar Clash Symposium remained a draw). I was pretty naive musically until I met Katie Katatonic in 1978; from that point on, she was responsible for all my subsequent musical discoveries, from punk to the Bay City Rollers, especially turning me on to any and everything British. She had championed Fountains of Wayne before anybody, and (as a recent FOW convert) I was complimenting her on her Power Pop credentials when she returned the compliment by saying, "But you turned me on to Razz and Tommy Keene. I give you that one."

The Re-Form Party

In fact, we had caught The Razz's farewell Baltimore appearance, opening for The Ramones, at Martin's East back in 1979. Anyway, Katie confided that the next act, Howling Mad, was "the best band playing tonight." Strong stuff, especially coming from the wife of the opening act.And then Katie pointed out that, coincidentally, not only was Howling Mad not just some nobody band that I could ignore while waiting for The Slickee Boys to come on, but that Howling Mad was comprised of most of The Razz - the legendary mid-to-late 70s DC pop band whose ranks once included my all-time fave singer- songwriter Tommy Keene. (While I appreciated Katie's bon mots about my turning her on to The Razz, all props for learning about them and Tommy Keene actually go to my good buddy Tom Lehr, a native of the District who later turned up as yet another Katatonix bandmate, playing bass under the nom de stage of Archie Android; Tom had been following The Razz since 1974 and the Slickees dating back to 1976 when Martha Hull sang and Howard Wuelfing was the bassist).

I've Been Abaad Boy

Though their sound was a far cry from The Razz, lead singer Michael Reidy - one of the greatest frontmen to emerge from the D.C. area - was unmistakable, joined onstage by former Razz drummer Doug Tull and original Razz guitarist Abaad Behram, a manic strummer with all the Guitar Hero Moves who looked like a slimed down version of Chris "The Plumber" Jensen - I kept expecting him to bend over and show off his butt-crack, Jensen-style. I had never seen the pre-Keene Razz, so this was a treat, being my first exposure to Abaad Behram. Later, when I got home and Googled his name, I found a great interview in Diminished 7th in which he slammed CBGBs, heckling the bands after a recent tip there, and uttering the notable quotable, "Never tell someone you’ll kick his ass. You just do it." I liked him even more now.

Abaad not only predated Tommy Keene in The Razz, but co-wrote and played guitar on the first single, C. Redux/70's Anomie (O'Rourke Records, 1977) - alongside second guitarist Bill Craig (later of Junior & The Recliners and the United States Postal Service) and the other original Razzer, bassist Ted Nicely - before leaving in May 1978 to start his own band Johnny Bombay and The Reactions and play briefly in power poppers Artful Dodger. The last gig Abaad played with Razz was a show at College park where the opening act was Tommy Keene's outfit, The Rage. It was a fortuitous coincidence, as Tommy took over Abaad's guitar slot in The Razz shortly thereafter.

The remaining, non-Razz Howling Mad player was the bassist, who clearly was not the always hidden-behind-dark-shades Ted Nicely, this guy looking more like Paul Shaeffer of The David Letterman Show, only taller and with hair.

Well, Razz factor aside, the first couple of Howling Mad numbers blew me away - they were tight and different and Abaad's manic guitar playing was off the hook, being slippery, unpredictable and slightly unhinged. And I could see why they were nominated for four Wammies (Washington Area Music Awards), including Best Modern Rock Group, Best New Artist of the Year, Best Modern Rock Vocalist of the Year (Michael Reidy), and Best Modern Rock Instrumentalist of the Year (Abaad Behram). But as the set wore on, I kind of lost interest, longing for some of the old melodic pop of the Razz.

And then I remembered why Tommy Keene quit - he and Reidy had different ideas on musical direction, Keene opting for more traditional British Invasion-influenced jingly-jangly pop, while Reidy preferred to push the envelope with his more experimental beats and lyrical forays. I remember seeing one of his post-Razz ensembles at the Marble Bar (MWWW?) in the early 80s and it was some Red Room/Normal's type act, Reidy on vocals backed only by bass and drums, like a local funk-lite version of James Chance and The Contortions. I don't recall it being fun or memorable.

Or, as Joe Goldsborough (never one to mince words) commented to Big Dave Cawley (King of Men & Hater of All Things Clash, Zappa & Cilantro) following two successive long bass-drum jam-outs, "That was the second turd of the night."

Though the Razz reformed for several encore performances in the 90s - including two shows opening for the Monkees in 1997 at D.C.'s 9:30 Club - the best way to rekindle their memory is to dig out their old singles on O'Rourke Records. At least that's what I take from Abaad Behram's mission statement to the Washington City Paper: "This band is just Reidy and I deciding that we could maybe write songs in the present moment. We’re not relying on the stuff we’ve done before." Alas, the only Razz around today is the card game (a form of stud poker that is normally played for ace-to-five low).

Hello Baltimore!

"We've always loved Baltimore," Mark Noone shouted out to the crowd after the Slickees first number, "Escalator 66". "We played our first Baltimore show at some place called The Oddfellow's Hall in 1980."

I should know - my old band Thee Katatonix (Towson's first-ever punk combo) opened for them at Towson's Oddfellows Hall on Valentine's Day 1980 (I even recall we were debuting Adolf Kowalski's new timely song, "(I Didn't Get Laid On) Valentine's Day"); it was not a match made in heaven as first dates go. I remember that the Slickees never played there again, no doubt incensed that we split the door Even Steven that night, despite the disparity in talent between the top of the pops Slickees and the bottom of the barrel Katatonix, still trying to learn more than two chords in those fledgling days. That the Katatonix should be level with the Slickees on any level was surely the greatest injustice since Jean Valjean did time in the slammer for nicking some bread.

After all, The Slickee Boys were the best local band of my era, influencing a whole generation of garage rock and psychedelic-indebted post-punk bands. And, like The Tubes, they were one of those bands who were always better live than on record. Slickee Boys live were, in George Tenet parlance, always a "slam dunk" affair. I think that's because not only were they top-notch musicians and well-versed students of the history of garage and psychedelic rock as preached by Nuggets and the record bins of Skip Groff's Yesterday and Today Records in Olney, MD, but they were FUN. F-U-N. They had a certain rock club cache, an aural aplomb, especially when Mark Noone came aboard. People instinctly started dancing when the Slickees hit the stage. It was happening tonight - as I looked at the floorboards quaking, there was Amy shaking every which way but especially loose as the Slickees knocked out their hits: "When I Go to the Beach," "Gotta tell Me Why," "Here To Stay," "Forbidden Alliance," and "Life of the Party."

The Slickees just made you feel good and guaranteed a good time by one and all. I can still recall going to see one of their Christmas or New Year's shows at Baltimore's 8x10 Club (whose owner Giles was now their long-established drummer), all nervous because I was on a first date with the prettiest girl I ever knew, Lady Jane. By the end of the night, the Slickees had worked their magic and, well, let's just say it was a match made in heaven as first dates go.

Admittedly, Kim Kane started the group, came up with the name, designed their record sleeves and had his deserved following - but the heart and soul of the Slickees was always the Glimmer Twins nucleus of singer Mark Noone and guitarist Marshall Keith. In my household, there was an even closer following for the Cult of Mark Noone; my ex had an understandable crush on the charismatic Mark Noone, and at shows Mark would often dedicate "Jailbait Janet" (a ditty dating from their Afrika Corp days) to "little jailbait Katie Katatonic."

And the covers! From Nuggets to Pebbles, they covered the history of obscure garage gems: Balloon Farm's "A Question of Temperature," The Downliner Sect's "Glendora" ( a song the Slickees made their own), Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchsticks Men," The Chocolate Watch Band's "Are You Gonna be There (At the Love-In Tonight)"?

Later, long after the Slickees had wound down their set with "This Party Sucks" and the obligatory encores, Amy and I listened to the Slickees' 1983 Cybernetic Dreams of Pi CD and Amy pointed out how similar sounding Mark Noone's voice was to Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. It's really striking how much they sing in the same key and octave! Q: Are we not Slickees? A: We are Devo. And both are legendary.

Related Links:
Chelsea Graveyard's MySpace Page
Howling Mad Official Site
Slickee Boys (Twintone Records)
Slickee Boys (Wikipedia)
Slickee Boys: Garage Rock That Didn't Suck (Earcandy Mag)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend

I was telling a friend about my second favorite film of all time, EVEN HITLER HAD A GIRLFRIEND, when I ran across Joe Bobb Briggs' online review. Joe Bob gives the low-down about this film - which tells the story of how one overweight loser spent his entire life savings on call girls in less than two weeks - better than I ever could. (Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend also spawned a tribute song by the punk band The Mr. T Experience and a comic book adaptation by Draculina Publishing.) Anyway, here it is, Joe Bobb's pick as best film of 1992!

Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend

By Joe Bob Briggs
Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas

We're in that time of the year that's EXTREMELY dangerous for lonely guys, the time right after it turns spring when all your hormones start doing the Watusi but every time you approach a woman they act like they suddenly have to wash their hair, do their laundry, and clean their furnace.

You consider a blind date.

DON'T DO IT! Never forget WHY they're "blind" in the first place--because ONLY a blind man would date em AFTER he saw em.

You drink eight Old Milwaukee Tall Boys and start considering a 900 number.

DON'T DO IT! Never forget WHY they're called 900 numbers--because you can't make a phone call without spending at least 900 bucks.

You consider a singles bar.

DON'T DO IT! Never forget the kind of guys who go to singles bars--guys like YOU! And never forget the kind of GALS who go to singles bars--gals who DON'T MIND being bird-dogged all night by 97 guys EXACTLY LIKE YOU.

You have experiences in those places that can depress you for months.

You consider a hooker.

There you go. Now you're TALKING. It's safe. It's a lot less pathetic than 900 numbers. Sometimes the women have actual personalities. And, unlike every other kind of male-female relationship, you always know the TOTAL PRICE upfront.

That's why I wanna make sure you guys that are feeling like three-legged toad frogs this year, and are likely to get into some kind of hooker-client relationship that tomorrow morning you'll act like you didn't get into because in your mind you've convinced yourself that you didn't do it even though we all know you did, including you--I want all you guys to clip out this article and carry it in your wallet everywhere. Because the following are the ten rules you can NEVER FORGET when dealing with a lady of the Professionalis Aardvarkus persuasion.

1. When you say "How much?" the answer should never be "How much do you want to spend?"

2. When you say "How much?" and she gives you prices for more than 15 different varieties of recreation, and you don't recognize at least half of them, politely ask to be excused. You could DIE here.

3. No matter what happens, never apologize. Act like that's what you MEANT to do.

4. Never call her a hooker. She'll think you mean she LOOKS or ACTS like a hooker. And every woman who looks and acts like a hooker, EVEN THE ONES WHO ARE HOOKERS, do NOT consider themselves hookers. It's a female thing. Trust me.

5. When she says "Are you a cop?" imagine you're going through the metal detector at the airport. Jokes will only get you in trouble.

6. If you ARE a cop, tell the truth. She'll never believe you.

7. More than 74,000 times a year, lonely pathetic guys like us pay additional money AFTER we're finished. It's that guilt thing. Hookers know this. You know it's coming when they say "Don't you have ANYTHING else?" If you fall for this, don't tell anybody.

8. Ask her if she's a cop.

9. If she comes to your house, when you open the door, say "Susan, it's so good to see you--is your mom all right?" This is because EVERYBODY is watching her. All the people you THINK are watching, ARE watching--and if you don't say this, you'll know how pitiful you are.

10. After it's over, when you REALIZE how pitiful you are, console yourself with the knowledge that men have been doing this for MILLIONS of years. Hookers know this, too.

And speaking of lonely pathetic existences, the best drive-in movie of 1992 is "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend," the latest from Denver's one-man film industry, independent director Ronnie Cramer. Watch a chubby Omaha security guard in a lumpy golf shirt spend his entire life savings on call girls in less than two weeks!

Andren Scott is the actor who plays Marcus Templeton, a guy so depressed that he sits in his bathtub for hours with the phone sitting on the commode, trying to think of somebody to call. He eats frozen dinners and Slim Jims, watches porno strippers on cable in his underwear, buys a jar of "Reduce-o-cream" ("as safe as any garden vegetable") to make himself more attractive to women, tries to talk to women who are repulsed by him, considers a "Wonder Corset," wonders if someday he'll become a serial killer or whether he's currently insane, goes to the library to research the subject, and calls girls up for dates with opening lines like "We could go to lunch. There's a Sinclair station near your house that has sandwiches on sale for $1.49."

I think you can tell where this is leading--straight to the Yellow Pages section marked "Escort Services." Marcus gets so deep into hookeritis that pretty soon he's tape-recording his sessions, and about eight hookers down the road, he makes his fatal mistake: he buys a video camera.

How many times have I told you guys? It SOUNDS like a good idea, but talk to Rob Lowe first. Uh-uh. I don't think so.

Here's the real scary part. Ronnie claims that this movie is "99 per cent true."

This is one of the funniest goldurn movies I've ever watched, but it's probly not available in video stores or theaters, so if you want to order one from Ronnie, send me an SASE and I'll send you the order form: Joe Bob, P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.

We're talking 28 breasts. Six strippers. Eight hookers. Aardvarking. Brain in a jar. Butt tattoo. Frequent indigestion. Gratuitous Pee Wee Herman doll. Crab Fu. Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Ronnie Cramer, the genius who previously directed the violent drug drama "Back Street Jane"; and Andren Scott, as Marcus Templeton, for saying "My heart is bound to explode if I keep eating like this" and "I could go buy something at the store--those people HAVE to talk to you" and "I wish I could safely pull out my heart and massage it" and "That chin is being swallowed up by the abyss once known as my neck" and "At least this is better than my last job, changing those aromatic urinal cakes" and "Am I going insane? I hope I'm just drunk" and "This is kind of expensive, but it'll be worth it to go out on a date" and "I should eat at home and save my money for call girls" and "Can I feel those?"

Four stars.

Joe Bob says check it out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The 2007 Maryland Film Festival

Due to work and other distractions, I only saw three films at the 9th annual Maryland Film Festival (May 3-6), which is a shame. But, as John Waters says in the festival's online promo trailer, the festival is about more than just watching films - "It's a great social thing in Baltimore," too. So, while the festival went by in a blur, like a quick flip through a flipbook, I enjoyed just hanging out and running into old friends and new acquaintances alike. And, as always, I was amused by the shennanigans of all the fringe "players" working the crowd with their bottled water and cellphones, trying to blend in with genuine auteurs via name-dropping and vapid come-ons (has anyone noticed that "I'd like you to take a look at my script" is the new "Would you like to come over and see my etchings?" pick-up line with scam artists working the Club Charles?)

Trouser Press

Plus, I had to try out my new "Producer Pants" from Express to see if they really lived up to the hype on their tag, which read:
"Hollywood power player with his finger on the pulse. Known throughout the industry as the guy who knows the guy who knew the guy when he was nobody. Knows star power when he sees it. Can make or break a career with a single phone call. His name is on every list. It gets him into every door. The Express Producer Pant - The clothes that make the man."

Alas, my pants failed me; they didn't give me a leg up on the competition. I was especially de-pleated On Sunday when I was shut out of the sold-out closing night screening and after party, a crushing blow to a former member in good standing of the local press. (Maybe I need to network more with Michael "All Access Pass" Rabineau, who managed to schmooze his way into the post-screen gala.)

Friday On My Mind

But let's start at the beginning...I skipped Thursday night's opening screening and gala at MICA's Brown Center because I couldn't afford to shell out $35 for a ticket, deciding instead to catch John Waters' annual film pick presentation on Friday night at The Charles Theatre. I came alone straight from work, but as a film geek (not to mention a former Man About Town), I was bound to run into someone I knew, and I did, almost immediately. Namely, Kelly Conway, Baltimore's answer to Edie Sedgwick, who under her alias "Stella Gambino" was an erstwhile Atomic TV star, former Cafe Hon hon queen (you can see her in character at the Hon Fest in Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker's documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America), and the MFF's 2003 "Uncommon Exposures" poster gal (as shown below):

I hadn't seen Kelly in about a year; in fact, the last time I saw her was probably at last year's film festival! In that time she had gotten married and divorced to some guy named Jose, who subsequently got deported back to Honduras following a domestic dispute in which Kelly called the police to charge Jose with biting her. Like Edie Sedgwick, Kelly leads an adventurous life - with an emphasis on misadventure. (Case in point: Kelly traveled to NYC to attend the world premiere of the aforementioned documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America in NYC - on September 11, 2001! - and was stuck there all week.)

But with my girlfriend both sick and mad at me, I needed a movie date and Kelly (pictured left, with ubiquitous coffee-in-hand & always ready for her close-up) was kind enough to sub - plus she gave me a free pass to the film John Waters was presenting, Bobcat Goldthwait's 2006 "sleeper" Sleeping Dogs Lie. I had read mixed reviews about Bobcat's controversial romantic comedy ("My least favorite genre," as John Waters said later during his introduction, which, as always, was alone worth the price of admission), but it turned out to be a great little film, professionally shot (Bobcat an auteur? Who knew?), and with a witty script. I guess the subject matter hurt it at the box office - it's a movie about how a woman's world falls apart when she reluctantly reveals a past "indiscretion" to her fiancee: namely, that she blew her dog when she was in college. That T.M.I. admission blows her financee's mind, opening the door to a dark comedy about the complexities of honesty and a philosophical rumination on how maybe we should check certain secrets at the dog park and carry them (in a plastic bag) to the grave. (At least until some sort of Girls Gone Wildebeest bestiality kick becomes the latest college craze. By the way, the sappy John Cusack romantic comedy Must Love Dogs has nothing to do with bestiality - which is too bad, because some inter-species erotica might have added some much needed spice to that vanilla-bland romantic comedy.)

The movie, starring newcomer Melinda Page Hamilton (who plays a nun on TV's Desperate Housewives, but more importantly is pictured at left with moi) as the dog lover and Bryce Johnson (a dead ringer for former Berserk and current Texas Sapphires guitarist Brent Malkus) as the fiancee, was released in Britain as Stay, where its "indiscretion" was downplayed and the dog reference taken out of its title. In fact, Waters commented that he would have probably called the film Sit Happens, after the name of a pet store he saw in the Midwest. Despite the controversy surrounding its subject matter, Sleeping Dogs Lie was nominated for three awards: Melinda Page Hamilton's performance was nominated for the Gotham Film Festival's Breakthrough Award, and Bobcat's direction was nominated for both the San Sebastian International Film Festival's Golden Seashell and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Anyway, be sure to check out the Website for this "new breed" of romantic comedy here:

Bobcat was supposed to attend his MFF screening, but Waters reported that he hurt his back fooling around with his wife. This was a letdown for fans like myself who brought along their DVD copies of the Shakes the Clown ("The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies") to get autographed. But it did force Melinda Page Hamilton (no relation to the band Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds - who remain best known for their 1971 creampie hit, "Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me Baby") to get up in front of the audience and read a note from Bobcat that started: "'My balls ache. No, not really, I justed wanted to make Melinda say that in front of you all.'" Oh that Bobcat!

Afterwards, the crowd spilled out into the Charles lobby and the sidewalk in front of the Tapas restaurant, where Ms. Hamilton was kind enough to pose for photos with admiring fans, like Kelly (pictured right, still holding her ubiquitous coffee, still ready for her close-up).

The Usual Suspects

Out in the lobby, Kelly and I ran into Jay Berg - Baltimore civil servant by day, film fest fanatic by night - who recently added another title to his resume, courtesy of Aint It Cool News, namely: "King of Sundance." Le Roi Jay de Berg was handing out capsule reviews of films he "screened" (watched) at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (that's Jay pictured at left, looking like Roy Schneider as Bob Fosse in All That Jazz, surrounded by his adoring movie minions). For the record, Sleeping Dogs Lie was JB's 2nd fave film at this year's Sundance (after the Maggie Gyllanhall rehab pic Sherrybaby). Jay attends all the big film fests - Telluride, Sundance, New York, though he hasn't made it to Cannes - yet. Jay is the son of another local media maven, Manny Berg. Manny was an acclaimed Maryland horse jockey in the 30s and 40s who, when he retired, opened Baltimore's first downtown sports bar with TV (pictured below):

Jay says the bar was frequented by many famous celebrities and politicians of the day. The ad pictured above is from Playboy Magazine: This Week In Baltimore, an events-about-town publication dating back to the 40s.

My Dinner With Rabineau

Eventually, Kelly and I made our way across the street to get something to eat at The Zodiac, which was packed with hungry cineastes like Charles Theatre impressario John Standiford and his talented filmmaker wife Karen, Gabe & Trin Wardell, MFF head honco Jed Dietz and his cast party crew of John Waters and Melinda Paige Hamilton, and so on. After eating our delicious portabello sandwiches (a mere $10 - the Economy Plan Diet is the only option for wage slave workers like Kell and I), Mr. Waters stopped by to invite us to go bar hopping with his entourage at the Holiday House in Hamilton. But Kelly was two weeks into her Quit Smoking campaign, and figured hanging out in a raucous Hamilton bar might push her over the edge of temptation, so we decided to bail.

But just as we were getting up to leave, in strolled Michael Rabineau with his B-list cast party, a confused looking woman and a middle-aged guy in a biker's jacket who was missing more than just a few teeth. They proceeded to take over our table. Apparently Rabineau had just hooked up with these folks at the free outdoor screening of a Don Dohler movie next door in the Filmmaker's Tent parking lot and was bringing them into the Zodiac to network. I never follow entirely what Michael is talking about, but I gathered that the woman was a French actress (she spoke very little English, that's for sure) who had worked with Dohler and the guy was some local Northeast Bawmer burnout named Larry who also had something to do with a Dohler production. Anyway, we paid our tab and left the table to Rabineau's posse. As we left, I remember hearing the waiter say, "Look, you can't sit here if you're not ordering anything to eat or drink." Given MR's ficsal conservatism, I wonder how long his crew stayed there.

Later, the next night, Scott "Unpainted" Huffines told me he ran into Rabineau, who said that he "had dined with Tom Warner and Kelly Conway" the previous evening! Wow, perception is everything. I now have a new name for Michael: Michael Rashoman.

Saturday Matinee: A Triple D-light

Saturday at Noon, Baltimore Sun film critic Chris Kaltenbach presented a great dual projection polarized 3-D print of the Man in the Dark, starring Edmund O'Brien and Audrey Totter. Though Chris apologized to the audience for its lack of "comin' at ya" 3-D effects, I thought Man in the Dark stood on its own as as a pretty good film noir, with or without 3-D. I especially liked its hard-boiled dialog. Like when one cop asks "Where'd you have lunch?" another replies "I'd tell you if you weren't a friend of mine," rubbing his stomach and grimacing. Or when the great Audrey Totter, who normally played a hard-edged femme fatale (who can forget her seductive Adrienne Fromsett in The Lady in the Lake or perhaps her best bad girl role as Mrs. Claire Quimby in Tension?) but here plays a romantic softie underneath her tough veneer, is described as "A blonde, 5 foot six, something you wouldn't be ashamed to be seen walking down the street with."

Besides its fanous roller coaster scene (filmed at Ocean Park in Santa Monica and actually shot in 2-D with rear projection giving the look of 3-D), Man in the Dark is probably best known for being the film that beat Warner Brothers' highly touted House of Wax's release by two days - Columbia Pictures rushing its release so it could claim to be "the first feature produced by a major studio in 3-D." I sat enthralled with Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) - who correctly pointed out that the hood named Cookie was the same guy (Nick Dennis) who played Mike Hammer's mechanic Nick ("Varoom varoom!") in Kiss Me Deadly - and Scott Wallace Brown, as pictured below in the three 3-D glasses pics. (That's' me making a plea to give peace a chance, followed by Big Dave holding his big Bladder Buster Iced Coffee and SWB playing peek-a-boo with his 2-D and 3-D specs)

Alas, choosing the 3-D film meant I had to miss the Avant-garde Shorts program going on at the same time, which I regretted because I really wanted to see Allen Moore's short 4 x 8, which the program guide described as "two abstract studies of light, using double 8mm film projected as 16mm, with all in-camera editing." I know what you're thinking, but Allen Moore is not to be confused with the legendary graphic novelist Allan Moore, though Allen is legendary in his own right as a cinematographer and filmmaker. The Maryland Institute College of Art film instructor does a lot of cinematography for public television documentary series (if you watch The American Experience, you've probably seen his work), especially for the Burns brothers (Ken and Rick). He's even been nominated, along with Buddy Squires, for two Emmys - one for Ric Burns' New York: A Documentary Film (1999) and one for Ken Burns' Baseball (1995). When not shooting someone else's work, Allen makes his own films, like his experimental 4 x 8, in which he wanted to divide the screen into four separate images, kind of like what Mike Figgis did in Timecode (2000). I met Allen through my job; he often stops by Pratt Central to check out 16mm films to show his students. Pratt even owns one of his films, a short he made for kids called Food On Hand (look for it on Picture Start's 1986 video collection Supershorts for Kids).

I also missed Suzan Pitt's beautifully animated Mexican fantasy El Doctor (2006), but that's OK because I had previously screened it in March at Pratt as part of a "Queens of Animation" film program. I was just glad that it played the festival. I remember e-mailing Suzan about my library program and asking her if she was going to submit El Doctor to the upcoming Maryland Film Festival. When she asked what that was, I put her in touch with MFF programmer Skizz Cyzyk, a huge Suzan Pitt fan, dating back to her mind-blowingly suureal magnum opus, Asparagus (1979), which Skizz used to screen at The Mansion Theatre. The rest, as they say, is history.

Zine Scene

After the movie, Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) and I hung out at the Atomic Books kiosk, where Benn Ray had a number of book and zine authors in tow to sign merchandise and glad-hand fans. There I met Don Salemi of Brutarian Magazine and Records, as well as Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg and Andrew Hershberger (pictured below), co-authors of the wonderful book Zombiemania: 80 Films To Die For, which was an essential purchase for my burgeoning film reference library.

Later, I ran into erstwhile Maryland Film Festival programmer Gabe Wardell (now running the Atlanta Film Festival), Mike White (Cashiers du Cinemart and Cashiers du Cinemart Online publishing mogul) and MFF head programmer Skizz Cyzyk (who, with the tragic death of James Brown, R.I.P., is now officially "The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz"), and Scott Wallace Brown representin' on the pavement (pictured right). Gabe was engaged in conversation with a middle-aged woman who wanted to know if one could ask someone if they were gay and, if not, how to tell if they were. Gabe explained the concept of the new playing field of metrosexuals and (being from Hotlanta) people "on the down-low" who fly under the gaydar, but ended up suggesting this less subtle lithmus test: offer the person in question their choice of tickets to see either Barbara Streisand or the Baltimore Ravens. It's a no-brainer! (Everyone knows all football fans are gay - case closed!)

Saturday Night Massacre

Saturday night I made the ill-advised decision to drag my friend Caprice (Saturday night's Designated Movie Date) to see Murder Party. She didn't seem to mind because a) we went out for a great meal at the Korean restuarant up the street (Nak Won) and b) her ticket was free (courtesy of patron of the arts Scott Wallace Brown, whose entourage we met up with at the screening). But it was a pretty dumb film, taking narrative elements of Hitchcock's Rope and Terry Zewigoff's Art School Confidential without any of their imagination or artistry in this unnecessary tale of arrogant Brooklyn, NY artist manquees who plan to kill for art - and thus also get the perks of fame, sex and grant money. The only cool thing about this movie were the costumes: the victim dork guy was dressed up like the Sir Spamalot knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail, a girl was dressed up like Daryl Hannah's Pris character in Bladerunner, and some guy's baseball get-up remidned me of the rollerblade thugs from The Warriors. Beyond that, nothing. I did spy Mr. Waters in the front row of the screening, sitting with Kelly Conway. I wonder what he thought. Hmmm.

Most of the cast turned up afterwards across the street to schmooze and follow John Waters around like doting puppies.

Out in the Charles Theatre after the film, the Charles Theatre Lobby-ists were working their magic. I spotted former Traden, Burden & Charles adman turned screenwriter Carey, a Kelsey Grammar lookalike who showed us his highly annotated schedule of all the screenwriting workshops and seminars he was attending in the Filmmaker's Tent across the street (and I do mean all literally - he was attending everything! - his program guide looking like a cross between a game of Tic-Tac-Doe and a Periodic Table). Caprice pointed out that he managed to mention that he was single, a script writer and a filmmaker all in his opening flirtatious parry. "Pretty fast-paced exposition there," I said, wondering whether that was something they taught at the screenwriting workshops ("Establishing Your Character's Characteristics in the First 30 Seconds") or at Speed Dating.

Off in the corner I spied my previous evening's Movie Date, Kelly Conway, sitting at a table flanked by John Waters and Michael "Rappin'" Rabineau. What an amazing example of seredipity and yet another example of the Smalltimore Factor: it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before The Pope of Trash met The Mouth That Roared. I checked quickly to see if Rabineau was wearing those Express Producer Pants, but they looked too well-worn and thrifty. What is his secret?

Inevitably, the theatre crowd makes it way across the street for a drink at the Club Charles, and that's where Caprice, Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) and I wended our way. I saw Scott "Unpainted" Huffines, Chris Campbell and their women folk at the bar, but we had to scurry up the steps to avoid one of the regulars. Ever the romantics, Scott and Chris had managed to score a table for their ladies with a breathtaking view of that night's lunar landscape, as shown below (that's Chris and his missus Dawn trying hard to refrain gazing at the man in the moon):

Like Hampden's Rocket To Venus, The Club Chuck is a who's who of hipsters of every stripe. Guess I'm getting old, but the more outre the clothes, make-up and hairstyles of CC's regulars, the less shocked I am. Same old dogs, just sporting variations on their old tricks. Check your Hipster Bingo Card: at the bar were two Louise Brooks clones, sitting next to The Narcisistic Hot Asian Guy who gets up every 15 minutes to saunter up and down the steps to the men's room like a supermodel working the runway (just in case any chicks missed him), who passes by the Shampoo-era Warren Beatty Man-Whore slowly batting his booze-dulled eyelids at one, two, three barstool slags (visions of multiple partner orgies no doubt dancing in his empty head).

Meanwhile, down at the bar, CC regular John Swift had secured strategic bar positioning for the Club Charles' latest gimmick, Nicolette Le Fay's Trapeze Act. Nicky is a local quasi-celebrity and CC bartender who periodically climbs over the bar to get the crowd into the swing of things. This was my first time experiencing her show, and helped Caprice's earlier query, "Why is that chick wearing that get-up? Half her ass is hanging out!" Nicky's show has even been posted to YouTube, as shown below:

And here's somebody's Dio-sweetened mix of Ms. LeFaye's act set to "Rainbow in the Dark" that uses every cheesy digital editing effect in the Jerry Todd Playbook:

I gotta admit, I wanted to dislike Ms. LeFaye, but couldn't do it after I checked her MySpace page. She doesn't fit the traditional hipster paradigm. She lives in very unhip Towson, for one thing (I thought all hipsters had to live in Hampden or Charles Village, by law) and she likes Hall & Oates - unironically!

Show over, Caprice and I finished up her Blue Moon Belgian beers and headed outside to air out our clothes from the smoke.

Closing Night: Mission Accomplished

In the Charles Theatre lobby Sunday night, I ran into Chris the Plumber's sis Patty Jensen and her boyfriend Adolf Kowalksi, my former bandmate in Thee Katatonix Version 1.0 (the late 70s/early 80s pre-vinyl, pre-talent edition). The last time I had seen Adolf at The Charles was about five years ago when we caught John Cameron Mitchell's transexual punk rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch there. But Patty was an extra in that evening's featured screening of Rocket Science, which was filmed in and around Baltimore, and scored passes for it. I told Adolf it was weird that I ran into him because I had just passed a flyer down the street announcing CD releases of vintage vinyl by "the legendary" Katatonix, namely the Divine Mission album (first released on vinyl in 1984) and the All Sold Out EP (originally released in 1988).

"That was me," Patty laughed. Mission accomplished. I took a photo of the Katatonic Kouple (who first met All Those Years Ago when Patty tended the Marble Bar bar and Adolf was usually passed out under it) with Adolf quipping that he was probably too fat to fit in frame. "You'll be even fatter after the movie when you chow down on the barbecue at the closing night party," I told him, eying the spare ribs being grilled across the street.

And that's all the fat I care to chew about the 2007 Maryland Film Festival.

Star Trek Cribs

How Did I Miss This?

I was researching an upcoming film program here at my work crib, and came across this great Star Trek spoof on YouTube. Tune in and prosper, yo:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Film as a Subversive Art

Film as a Subversive Art is the best book ever written about film and certainly the best illustrated (seeing stills for some of the rare films it discussed spurred me on to track down these films and in some cases the stills provided the only information available anywhere about certain films). First published in 1974 (the same year as another milestone tome, P. Adams Sitney's Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde), this film guide wrapped inside a philosophical treatise was long out of print until a recent second publishing in 2005. My advice to film geeks: Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore to buy this book!

Other than a forward by film scholar Scott MacDonald, the only new thing in the 2005 edition is the preface by its author, Cinema 16 and New York Film Festival founder Amos Vogel, but it is so spot-on in its sentiments about the current state of the medium that I had to regurgitate it here for Net surfers. By the way, in 2003 Paul Cronin directed an hour-long British documentary called Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16. Alas, it is not available stateside. If it were, it would serve - like its companion book - as a reminder to cinephiles everywhere that the arthouse/independent films and film festivals we take for granted today would not have existed without the efforts of people like Amos Vogel.

Amos Vogel

Contemporary America - a late capitalist colossus owned by corporations while parading as a democracy and dominated by rabid commercialism and consumerism - is attempting to dominate the world via transnationals, Hollywood cinema and television, the export of American cultural "values," the Disneyfication of the globe. It is not the dinosaurs and extra-terrestrials that the rest of the world ought to be afraid of, it is the commodification of all spheres of human existence, the seemingly unstoppable commercialization of human life and society, the growing international blight of the theme parks, the all-pervasive malling of the world. Our fate seems to be the homogenization of culture: a universal leveling down, an anesthetizing, pernicious blandness.

The space in which this infantilization of the human race is most clearly revealed is in the monstrous structures of American television. For the first time in history, the most powerful mass medium of a society is totally controlled and dominated by advertisers and the market, totally driven by commercial imperatives, saturated by ubiquitous commercials that deliver audiences to advertisers (not programs to audiences), and an ever larger spectrum of channels delivering primarily garbage 365 days a year. Thus has the marvelous potential of this medium been betrayed. And the American cinema - today the most powerful in the world - is not far behind in its successful stultification of audiences. We are inundated by meretricious stories, a failure to explore the marvelous aesthetic potential of this medium, a pandering to the lowest common denominator, a truly horrifying concentration on the most cruel violence, a smirking perversion of sex hobbled by hoary prohibitions. This is topped by an obscene (profit-driven) blockbuster obsession leading to more and more films in the 100 million dollar range.

For those who still have resources of personal identity - an increasingly difficult and perilous endeavor - there exists no more important obligation than to attempt to counteract these tendencies. Otherwise, future generations my accuse us of having been "good Germans" all over again, cooperating with evil not by our deeds but by our silence. Silence, under such circumstances, is complicity.

There were moments in the last blood-drenched century when there seemed to be hope: the egalitarian impulses behind the 1917 Russian revolution (perverted within less than ten years), the Kibbutz movement's attempts in Israel to establish socialist communes (today they exploit Arab/Third World labor), the promise of the 1960s (eventuating in the current world situation). Now several years into the Millenium, these humanist impulses seem behind us.

And yet, everything in past human history teaches that these attempts to transform us into humans will inevitably continue. In terms of cinema, this explains the very large importance of independent showcases and independent festivals. It explains the "exceptions" (from the Hollywood drivel), both those that constitute the content of this book as well as, even more importantly, those that continue to me made today. Not those fake "independent" films whose makers only aspire to be the next Hollywood stars, but those true iconoclasts and independents - feature,avant-garde or documentary filmmakers - who even under today's bleak circumstances audaciously continue to "transgress" (i.e. subvert) narrative modes, themes, structures, and the visual/aural conventions of mainstream cinema.

What pleasure, then, for a man of cinema, to help discover and support these "exceptions." Though I am now in my 80s, my search continues unabated.

Well put, old man!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Baby Face

The Lost and Found Weekend
Working retail hours like I do, it's a rarity to have a full weekend off, so when I actually get a two-day pass, I try to make the most of it. Having a Saturday off is especially rewarding, because it means I can catch whatever Revival Series is playing at Noon at The Charles Theatre. "Film and Free Expression," a collaboration between the Maryland ACLU and The Charles, is the name of the current series there, which takes a retrospective look at the subtle and not-so-subtle intrusions on free expression in the making of films in the US.

Baby, It's You
Today I was lucky to catch the first offering in the series, a wonderful work of Pre-Code Hollywood, 1933's Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck as "material girl" Lily Powers who sleeps her way - literally floor by floor - to the top of a large metropolitan bank. As a bonus, the ACLU sprang for bagels and coffee at the theatre, and got the always excellent Mike Guiliano to lead a pre- and post-film talk. Guiliano is a great guest speaker; physically, he's a gangly study who resembles a young Robert Crumb, but his lightweight physique is more than offset by the weight of his insights. The G Man gave a well-researched, informative talk.

So what's Baby Face about? Here's the capsule review from the Charles' web site:
BABY FACE (1933 Alfred E. Green) Barabra Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Theresa Harris, John Wayne. Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) is encouraged by her friend the Nietzschean cobbler to stop turning tricks for her dad and to “use men to get the things you want.” This is the Library of Congress print of the recently discovered unreleased version that includes footage rejected by the NY State Board of Censors. One of the “pre-code” films that lead to stricter enforcement of the Hays Code. Original story by Darryl Zanuck (as Mark Canfield). 76m. bw.

The studio tagline for Baby Face was "She climbed the ladder of success - wrong by wrong!" and it remains perhaps the best example of Pre-Code Hollywood moviemaking, as well as a reminder of the social effects of the Great Depression. Time Magazine's Richard Corliss, who included Baby Face on Time's All-Time 100 Best Films list, observes that "Even in a version pruned for the New York state censors, Baby Face was the definitive pre-Code statement of how the Depression created a new morality of no morality."

In addition to the pre-release footage rejected by the censors, this print includes three clips at the end that were substituted in the actual censored released version. The best of these is an expositional clip in which the board of directors at the bank where Stanwyck and her husband George Brent once ruled mention that the now bankrupt couple have started life over in Pittsburgh, where erstwhile millionaire playboy Brent is now a humble steelmill worker! By the way, when the Hays organization ordered these changes to Baby Face, it caused a row between studio moguls Darryl Zanuck and Harry Warner, with Zanuck quitting Warners to form Twentieth Century Pictures, Inc.

Chico: A Colorful Role
One of the first things that struck me about Baby Face, and one of the few points not made by Guiliano, was the prominent role given African-American actress Theresa Harris as Stanwyck's more-than-a-maid gal pal Chico. For a film made in 1933, it's unusual for African-American actress to have so many scenes and lines of dialogue. Though her character's profession is subserviant (like most African-American performers working in Hollywood productions in the 30s and 40s, she was limited to servant roles), she is anything but subserviant. In this film she's Lily's best friend, and Stanwyck treats her as more than an equal, standing up for her when Chico is threatened with being fired ("If she goes, I go" Lilly tells her father) and taking her with her wherever she goes. Not only that, but when Lily is flush with minks and jewels from her sugar daddies, she shares the perks with Chico, who is seen cleaning up Lily's love nest apartment decked in her own furs and baubles.

The censors apparently had issues with the too close for comfort relationship between Lily and Chico. observed:

Another trigger point for the morality police was Lily’s comradely relationship with her maid, Chico, played by with subdued intelligence by USC music student Theresa Harris. The Houston-born Harris was featured by director Josef von Sternberg in Thunderbolt, and in a smaller role in Morocco. In 1933 she also had a flashy part in Hold Your Man for MGM co-starring with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. But, by the next year, she would be relegated to dumb maid roles. She didn't mince words when talking to the press, "I never felt the chance to rise above the role of maid in Hollywood movies. My color was against ambitions are to be an actress. Hollywoood had no parts for me" (Bogle). The Production Code would soon not only enforce standards against vice, or as they preferred, “impure love” but against showing people of color in the relatively non-stereotyped way shown in Baby Face.

Reading up about Harris, I realized I had seen this stunning beauty before - she was in Jacques Tourneur's I Walked With a Zombie (1943), playing (once again) a maid. Actually, she was somewhat of a Tourneur regular, also turning up as sassy waitress Minnie in Tourneur's Cat People (1942) and also Out Of The Past (1947). She apparently was also a favorite of Tourneur's frequent collaborator, producer Val Lewton, as well, appearing in a number of RKO productions in the '40s. But she was best known as Josephine, the object of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's affections in the Jack Benny film Buck Benny Rides Again (1940). The Harris and Anderson pairing clicked so well that they were reteamed in the same roles in another Benny comedy, Love Thy Neighbor(1940).

Centemental Journey
The timing of the Baby Face screening was fortuitous, coming at the same time as a major centenary retrospective in New York of Stanwyck's 83-film career (which included four Oscar nominations). Stanwyck was born July 16, 1907, so the approaching 100th anniversary of her birth seemed ample cause for the Brooklyn Academy of Music to pay homage with a short film series starting that started April 25th. BAM's schedule includes Ball of Fire (1941), Sam Fuller's Forty Guns (1957), and three of the four films she made with Fred MacMurray - Remember the Night (1940), Double Indemnity (1944), and There’s Always Tomorrow (1956).

Ruby in the Rough
Coinciding with BAM's centenary celebration of the actress born Ruby Katherine Stevens, Anthony Lane has an excellent profile of Barbara Stanwyck in the April 30, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. Summing up her unique appeal to audiences and leading men alike, Lane observes:
To suggest that Stanwyck never belonged in the first rank of screen beauties would be ungallant but true. To argue, however, that she lacked a ready supply of male victims would be demonstrable nonsense. She had cheekbones of a wicked cut and curve, archable eyebrows, and a nose whose beaky hauteur came in handy when she rose to playing the loftier classes, or, as in “The Lady Eve” (1941), slicing them to shreds. It was a face that launched a thousand inquisitions: the mouth too tight to be rosy, and a voice pitched for slang, all bite and huskiness. When I think of the glory days of American film, at its speediest and most velvety, I think of Barbara Stanwyck.

Richard Corliss concurs. In an excellent 2001 profile for Time Magazine ("That Old Feeling: Ruby in the Rough"), he writes " actor was as tough as Barbara Stanwyck, and no actress used womanly wiles with an intelligence so cool and cutting." Corliss adds,
The Stanwyck woman — and though nine of her films have the word "lady" or "ladies" in the title, she was rarely a lady, always a woman — was a tough cookie, and a smart one. She often treated her men with beguiling degrees of indulgence, pity and contempt. In "Ten Cents a Dance" she snorts, "You're not a man. You're not even a good sample." In any skirmish with the opposite sex, she has the advantage of ruthlessness. Her opponents, corseted by propriety, think they're in for a set of badminton; she's ready for a street brawl.

Sex appeal was a weapon for the Stanwyck character; flirtation was a gambit; conquest was power. It's true that this small, skinny woman with the prominent beak was not conventionally pretty; there are times in her very best films when she looks not just haggard but haggish. But it doesn't matter, because she had the musk of a creature on the prowl and the skill to convince audiences of her beauty. The tension and the comedy of her films derived from the ways men reacted to her: either they thought they could beat her at her game, or they took the fastest way out of the competition and surrendered to the lure of her danger. She was the volcano that men had to parachute into, just to be there when she erupted.

That's Stanwyck in a hard nutshell. Her power over men is even more intriguing when one considers that she was rumored to be a Hollywood closet lesbian - at least that's what Boze Hadleigh alleges in his interview book Hollywood Lesbians. She gives a feisty interview in Hadleigh's book; he certainly wasn't going to get an easy answer from Stanwyck.