Wednesday, July 30, 2008

John Phillip Law (1937-2008)

John Phillip Law - star of Barbarella (1968), Danger: Diabolik (1968) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming! (1966) - passed away this year after battling cancer. Despite appearing in Hollywood films like United Artist's The Russian Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming! and Columbia Picture's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), Law was always primarily a cult actor, with many of his films still not available on video or DVD (for example, it's doubtful anyone has ever seen his role as Stash, the doe-eyed hippie idealist in Otto Preminger's 1968 oddity Skidoo, which is a shame). Fortunately, my fave cinema blog Cinebeats has an excellent tribute to the tall, impossibly good-looking cult icon. That's where I saw this cool video tribute to the man that looks to be a trailer for something called "The Swinging Lust World of John Phillip Law":


Related Links:
John Phillip Law 1937-2008 (Cinebeats)

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Young and Done?

All Bling, No Zing

For some reason (numbing inertia?), I sat through two sets of dull tennis last night, watching the Tennis Channel's Cincinatti Open first round match between Frenchman Gaels Monfils and USA hopeful Donald Young (picture at left). I had heard a lot about the "promise" of Young (especially from fan John McEnroe), a 19-year-old African-American prospect who, like the Williams sisters, is coached by his dad. He was an unseeded wildcard in this tournament, but as a Yank playing in Cincy, he would have the crowd behind him and hometown advantage had he shown anything. But after watching him lose 6-1, 6-1 to a listless, obviously ailing Monfils, I've concluded that other than being a lefty, there's not much to Young. He just doesn't have any obvious weapons other than his natural athleticism. He lacks a big serve and isn't patient when serving. His forehand has lots of topspin, but no pace and he can't hit it for winners. His backhand is two-handed and strictly defensive. And he's a baseliner who can't hit hard or deep with the big boys and isn't comfortable coming into the net.

Worse, he's chosen to crack the ATP instead of refining his Not Ready For Prime Time act on the Futures or Challenger Circuits (I would question his decision-making as much as I would Michelle Wie, who has floundered playing against men when she probably could have competed well against her female peers). He has a lifetime 8-26 record in the ATP, where - amazingly - he took a set off Novak Djokivic at the 2006 U.S. Open. Even more unbelievable to me is the fact that Young was briefly ranked the #1 junior player in the world in 2005, when he was the youngest male to win a Grand Slam Event, winning the 2005 Australian Open Junior Championships.

But at 19 it's time to get your act together. Michael Chang won the French Open at 17. Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open at 19. But Young is no prodigy in their class. Watching him, I found myself turned off by his immaturity and court attitude. Like a young Agassi, he has the surface bling - both ears studded with earrings, the rope-a-dope necklace, his hat painstakingly angled askew in the current hip-hop fashion - but at least Agassi had game. No one hit groundtstrokes like Andre, even at that age.

My advice to Young: don't dress the part, be the part. Put the bling and accessories away until you've earned the right to be confident and flashy (try winning something!). If ever a match was gift-wrapped for you, it was against Monfils, a clearly superior player but one who looked like he was suffering from a 24-hour bug or food poisoning.(Why is it the fittest-looking players seem to be the ones most plagued with injuries? Monfils has a long list of ailments.) On this night, Monfils was gasping for breath and sweating like he was in a hot yoga class from the first game on. I think the only reason he didn't retire early was because he knew all he had to do was stand on the other side of the net and let Young self-destruct with his poor serving and unforced errors. Not a lot of intense volleying going on, in other words.

Young looks to have a long ways to go before he gets to Monfils level. The only thing the two have is common is the fact that both are former top junors. The 35th-ranked 22-year-old Monfils was world No. 1 junior in 2004 when he won three of the four junior Grand Slam events (Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon) and this year made it to the semifinals at the French Open before losing in four sets to eventual runner-up Roger Federer, 2-6,7-5,3-6,5-7.

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Kraut Funk

Raw Funk (2000)
"Various Artists"
Hotpie & Candy Records

I got this 10-track compilation CD out of the library recently and I've been listening to it while commuting to work ever since. It's easily the blackest, baddest, funkiest, sweetest soul music I've ever heard. But here's a poke at me, I'm a total dummy: it's by the whitest of whitebreads - Germans!

Hotpie & Candy was a small German label (a subsidiary of Soulciety Records) that released a series of singles between 1992-1995. All of these releases were by a band from Munich called The Poets Of Rhythm whose members included the very un-soulful-sounding Teutons Jan Whitefield, Max Whitefield, Boris Geiger, Till Sahm, Malte Müller-Egloff, Wolfgang Schlick, and Michael Voss. This German funk band (consider that oxymoronic term: German Funk!) recorded under various pseudonyms (Bo Baral's Excursionists, Bus People Express, Karl Hector & The Funk-Pilots, Mercy Sluts, The, Mighty Continentals, The, Neo-Hip-Hot-Kiddies Community, New Process, The, Organized Raw Funk, Pan-Atlantics, The, Polyversal Souls, The, Soul Sliders, Soul-Saints Orchestra, Soul-Saints, The, Syrup, Whitefield Brothers, The Woo Woo's), releasing albums in the guise of "compilations" by "Various Artists" between 1992 and 2002. Ha! Don't be fooled like I was. Despite their tighter-than-James-Brown sound, the Poets remained relative unknowns outside of Deutschland until they were discovered by DJ Shadow in 2001; Shadow helped bring them to the attention of London's Ninja Tune records, where their Define Discern release reached a broader Western audience.

Poets of Rhythm

The minute the first track played I realized I owned this CD (and probably still do, though I've since lost it in the pop cultural dumping ground that is my domicile). In fact I used at least two of the tracks, by the Whitefield Bros and The Woo-Hoos, on the first season of Atomic TV. The Whitefield's funk groove provided excellent accompaniment to a classroom scare film about fire safety while The Woo-Hoos riff was used to illustrate the monthly cycle on the Atomic TV menstruation episode, "It's Wonderful Being A Girl!"

This stuff lives more than lives up to its "raw funk" name and passes the colorblind test. Never in a million years would you suspect that rigid Krauts - from the land of clockwork-precision and Kraftwerky robotic rhythms - were kicking out the smooth grooves. After all, Germans aren't exactly known for having natural rhythm, in fact they're more renowned for possessing a Negative Funk Factor - more likely to be found goose-stepping than getting down on the good foot. There go all my musical preconceptions!

Essential in any music library.

Related Links:
Live in Limerick, Ireland (YouTube)

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Baltimore Farmer's Market

Baltimore Farmer's Market video

The Baltimore Farmer's Market under the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga Streets is now one of my favorite places - when I manage to get up early enough (Farmer Hours Style) to venture down there. Also known as the JFX or Fallsway Farmer's Market, the huge outdoor market happens Sunday mornings from the crack of dawn until Noon-ish from May to December. I also like the Saturday morning one in Waverly, but somehow I never manage to make it down there (and when I do I also manage to stop into Normals Books and buy books instead of food!). I also think I prefer the JFX Farmer's Market because of its aesthetic landscape - spread out under the concrete overpass of the JFX, it's like a scene out of one of J.G. Ballard's sci-fi novels (in which architecture and urban landscapes are the main characters), Riddley Scott's Bladerunner in broad daylight, or the visual imagery of John Foxx's Ultravox lyrics.

Ballard would feel at home under the JFX

For the longest time I resisted the Farmer's Market because of the early hours and the simple fact that I don't cook. But lazy bachelors rejoice - you don't have to cook to enjoy the place. Be like me and go down there for a hearty breakfast and people watching! (And there's lot of people to watch - up to 8,000 on a good day and 200,000 annually, according to the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.)

I usually head straight to Zeke's for some great piping hot coffee (yes, even in Summer - the sweat that pours from my forehead manages to cool me off!) - the line for Zeke's coffee is always the longest at the Farmer's Market - or mosey down the corner to get eye-opening Thai Iced Coffee and steamed buns, shrimp dumplings or Pad Thai from the Thai stand.

The Thai Stand has great food

This is probably my favorite spot in the whole market. Run by two cute and hard-working Thai women (Narisa and Neela), with occasional assistance by their farang friend David, they serve up really good Pad Thai and the best steamed buns I've ever had (fillings include chicken, pork, custard, and red beans) and the ladies politely indulge me while I bore them talking about Thai cinema.

Thai Steamed Buns

Having recently screened Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger (aka ฟ้าทะลายโจร, or Fah Talai Jone, 2000) at the Enoch Pratt Library, I asked if they were fans and they told me they were. In fact, I learned that the film was based on a famous Thai novel. One of the ladies was also a fan of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe (aka Ruang rak noi nid mahasan, 2003), probably my favorite Thai film - if only for beautiful actress Sinitta Boonyasak. But that's food for thought. For food for consumption, head on down to the Farmer's Market!

Related Links:
Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts link
List of Farmers and Concessionaires

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Constant Rider Omnibus (****)

Stories from the Public Transportation Front

Constant Rider Omnibus
by Kate Lopresti
Microcosm Publishing, 128 pages, 2007
Cover illustration by Kalah Allen

I came across this book while perusing the Graphic Novels section at Daedalus Books & Music and was instantly intrigued by the its concept: a journal devoted to documenting a woman's adventures riding public transportation in Portland Oregon and other diverse destinations. The woman, Kate Lopresti, mainly travels by bus, but sometimes hops a plane or train, and those journeys are documented as well. This anthology presents issues #1-7 of her zine Constant Rider, in which Kate records her aisle-side observations of "fights, intoxicated passengers, fellow travelers' reading choices, and even impromptu bus stop singers." She also has a website:

I have long been fascinated by people's horror stories about riding various bus routes in Baltimore City, so I picked it up and found it a very good read. Kate never tries too hard to write the be-all social psychology masterpiece: these are just everyday observations of both the plain and the (admittedly more interesting) unusual people and events that she's encountered riding public transportation. I did like her checklist of inappropriate conversation starters on the bus, my favorite being middle-aged men asking young women, "Are you a student?" That's creepy, fellows! Better to keep queries like that to yourselves - or the letters column of Barely Legal magazine!

Now I just wish someone would start a local version about Baltimore bus rides - or even a D.C. zine devoted to riding the Metro. I have many fond memories of being accosted there by hyper-aggro homophobic drunks! (Mental note: never be accosted by this demographic while clutching a Kennedy Center Ballet Playbill!)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Flower Drum Song

Flower Drum Song
USA, 1961, 133 minutes
Directed by Henry Koster
Songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein
Cast: Nancy Kwan (Linda Low), James Shigeta (Wang Ta), Benson Fong (Wang Chi-Yang), Jack Soo ("Sammy" Fong), Juanita Hall (Madame 'Auntie' Liang), Reiko Sato (Helen Chao), Miyoshi Umeki (Mei Li)

I wanted to love this film because it was the first musical with an all-Asian cast specifically aimed at an Asian audience. Never mind that the story, based on a novel by Chinese-American author C.Y. Lee, had a number of Japanese actors portraying Chinese characters - that's because there was a limited pool of Asian or Asian-American actors to choose from in Hollywood, and it still beat seeing Caucasian actors like Boris Karloff (Fu Manchu), Peter Lorre (Mr. Moto) or Myrna Loy portray Asians. But the bottom line is, the songs are pedestrian - "Grant Avenue" is the only halfway decent song - and despite its Asian affiliations, it was still written by white men, lending it an inescapable sense of appropriation and inauthenticity. In other words, even with its Asian source material and cast, it ends up stereoyping. In terms of examining Chinese-American identity, it's a long way from Flower Drum Song to Wayne Wang's Chan Is Missing (1982) - the latter film featuring the superior Pat Suzuki version of "Grant Avenue," by the way. (Suzuki had starred as Linda Low in the 1958 Broadway version of Flower Drum Song before getting passed over in favor of Nancy Kwan for the film adaptation - in which Kwan's voice was dubbed by singer B. J. Baker.)

Still, you get the beautiful Nancy Kwan, fresh off her starring role opposite William Holden in Richard Quine's The World of Suzy Wong (1960) in the first role that put her dancing background (she studied dance with England's Royal Ballet) to use. Unfortunately, she suffered the fate of many ethnic minorities in Hollywood - scarce opportunities for A-list quality roles. That said, Kwan's jiggly-wiggly high heels-and-bath towel dance number "I Enjoy Being A Girl" in front of a dressing mirror remains one of the visual highlights (schwing!) of FDS.

Nancy Kwan enjoys being a girl

And you get Jack Soo (Goro Suzuki, pictured right), the sleepy-eyed character actor best known for his later role as Detective Sgt. Nick Yemana on the 1970s TV sitcom Barney Miller (Soo has the film's best line when, after he flip-flops on his marriage proposal to Nancy Kwan to become engaged to another woman, he tells Kwan, "Baby, nothing's changed." When Kwan responds, "You're getting married to another woman!," he responds "That's the only thing!") Jack Soo got his big break in Flower Drum Song after he was spotted working as an MC at San Francisco's famous Chinese-themed Forbidden City nightclub, which served as the model for the film's Celestial Gardens nightclub. Forbidden City has been called the Asian-American version of Harlem's Cotton Club.

Forbidden City: The Asian Cotton Club

Unfortunately, you also get Academy Award-winning Japanese star Miyoshi Umeki (Best Supporting Actress for 1957's Sayanora) starring in a role that propagates the stereotype of the meek, humble and subservient Asian female, a role she would continue to play as housekeeper Mrs. Livingston in American television's The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969-1972).

Personally, my favorite actress in Flower Drum Song was Reiko Sato as hard-luck "other woman" Helen Chao, the seamtress who secretly pines for male lead James Shigeta (who barely notices her) and gets to sing and dance the surreal, beautifully choreographed "Love Look Away."

Always the Bridesmaid's Seamtress, Never the Bride:
Love looks away from Reiko Sato

And yes, as her name suggests, Sato was yet another Japanese actor playing a Chinese character in Flower Drum Song! Though she later appeared in Marlon Brando's The Ugly American (1963) and had an uncredited appearance (as "Charlie's girl") in Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo (1955), Sato was best known for her roles in Space Giant (Supa Jaiantsu, aka Starman), the Japanese sci-fi film series starring Ken Utsui.

Supa Jaiantsu (aka Super Giant, Starman)

In addition to appearing alongside Brando in The Ugly American, Sato enjoyed a close relationship with the enigmatic American star; though they never married, they were together for 20 years and following her death in 1981, her cremated remains were "spirited away" to Brando's private island.

Flower Drum Song was revived on Broadway in 2002 with a new script by socially conscious playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly).

Related Links:
Flower Drum Song (Wikipedia)
Forbidden City (Media Maxi-Pad review)

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Artscape on "Artmakers"

Pan and Scan: Hsuan-Yu Pan captures Artscape 2008

My very talented friend Hsuan-Yu Pan was in town over the weekend to video highlights from the 2008 Artscape Festival, including the annual Art Car Parade, Dan Van Allen's art car "Annabelle," and the Load of Fun Gallery's Erotic Arts Festival. Hsuan-Yu has an Internet TV show called ARTMAKERS ( that's hosted on Check it out!


Suzannah Gerber, curator of Load of Fun talks about The Baltimore Erotic Arts Festival in Artscape.


Artscape is America's largest free arts festival and Annual Art Car show has been around for 15 years. Artscape happens in Baltimore MD every July.


Visionary artist Daniel Van Allen talks about his art car, "Annabelle," and introduces the Art Car Parade at Artscape 2008.

More Hsuan-Yu Pan Links:
Check out Hsuan-Yu's YouTube Channel: Hypannet

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pratt's 16mm Film Rarities

Some Reels Are Still a Big Deal

I work in the A/V Dept. of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library, which boasts an extraordinary 16mm film collection. According to my unofficial research, I believe it may be the biggest public library collection in the state, with some 2,139 titles; the next largest collections would be Washington D.C.'s MLK Jr. Public Library with 1,825 films and the Hyattsville branch of the Prince Georges County Public Library with 1,817 titles. (I may be wrong on my count of these other library systems' holdings; my filmmaker friend Jeff Krulik claims P.G. County's tally is closer to 3,000 titles, at least according to his YouTube video tribute to Kent Moore, head of the P.G. County's A/V Department based in Hyattsville, MD. Krulik's video is called The House That Kent Built. Let's just say the Pratt collection is considerable.)

Of those 2,139 films in our collection, many are obscure and hard-to-find titles that are not readily available in other media formats. While I've seen only a scant hundred or so, a fellow cineaste co-worker claims to have seen them all (back in the pre-video '70s and '80s when 16mm was the only medium in town) - an amazing (almost unbelievable) feat. In 2005, I posted a listing of what I considered to be the Top 10 16mm film rarities in the Pratt Library collection. But that list has grown smaller as more and more previously rare films have come out as either DVD reissues or uploaded video clips on YouTube.

For example, Suzan Pitt's surreal animated short Asparagus - for years one of Pratt's reel treasures and a staple of local animation screenings - is now available on an official DVD from First Run Pictures, as well as an unauthorized YouTube viral video. Speaking of unauthorized viral videos on YouTube, Chuck Workman's Precious Images - another hitherto hard-to-find Pratt film short - has now been uploaded there as well, along with Workman's later triumph 100 years at the Movies. And just the other day I spotted that rarest of rare film prints, Yukio Mishima's 1966 seppuku how-to short The Rite of Love and Death (aka Yukoku and Patriotism), which was based on his short story "Patriotism" - and eerily anticipated his real-life death in 1970 - on a slick-looking Criterion Collection DVD on the shelves at Video Americain; retitled Patriotism, the release is tied-in with Criterion's DVD reissue of Paul Schrader's 1985 biopic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Before that, I would have called this Pratt's rarest 16mm film; word has it that director Paul Schrader requested it on interlibrary loan decades ago while researching his Mishima film.

Suzan Pitt's ASPARAGUS and Mishima's PATRIOTISM are now on DVD

That said, here's an updated assessment of what's left that I consider fairly rare - not including all our experimental, independent and animated shorts (including Baltimore Film Festival award-winning shorts), which are truly rare and too numerous to mention here. And of those rare "experimental" films, many - including previously hard-to-find prints by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger and Hans Richter - have already been digitally remastered and released on DVD collections such as Kino's Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and 30s and Avant-Garde 2, not to mention all the Norman McLaren shorts that finally came out in 2006 on Homevision's definitive Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition DVD collection. Needless to say, I'm sure I skipped over many other entries worthy of mention, but you have to draw the line somewhere - and a fine line it is!

To see if any of the films listed below are currently available for loan at Pratt Library, click on the catalog link appearing below each title.


Actua-Tilt (1960)
dir. Jean Herman

This experimental short combines live action and animation to capture the emptiness, violence, and depersonalized sexuality of much of modern life by focusing on a group of men in a Parisian bistro. As they wander aimlessly from one pinball machine to another - yawning, drinking, never speaking or looking at each other - the men reveal their boredom, callousness and desire for something – anything - to relieve the tedium of their lives. The director intercuts footage of women in cheesecake poses, violence, and war indicate the men's longings, their fantasies, their idea of "something to do." In French with English subtitles. "Jean Herman" is the pseudonymn of French writer Jean Vautrin. (Jean Herman, 1960, b&w, 12 minutes, 16mm).
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Aquarium, A Different Documentary (1982)
dir. Steve Yeager

Before he achieved national acclaim with his award-winning documentary about John Waters, Divine Trash (Filmmakers Trophy, Sundance Film Festival, 1998), Baltimore native Steve Yeager made this behind-the-scenes look at the daily operations of the then-new National Aquarium in Baltimore, including maintenance of the exhibits and the aquatic animals. (Steve Yeager, 1982, 10 minutes, 16mm)
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Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles (1973)
dir. Charles Braverman

An award-winning history of the Beatles and the 1960's from the flip, exuberant, youthful days to the sober, socially conscious end of the decade is seen in a fast moving collage of still pictures, films clips, works of art, and album covers accompanied by the innovative music of the British quartet. Excerpts from their films are also effectively intercut, presenting the spirit of the Beatles, the spirit of the times and the lasting imprint of life and culture made by this remarkable group of musicians. Awards: Atlanta Film Festival, Academy Award (Oscar).(Charles Braverman, 1973, 17 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Broken Strings (1940)
dir. Bernard B. Ray

Baltimore's own Clarence Muse stars as a musician who, because of an injury, can no longer play the violin. This is an example of a non-Hollywood production made with a black cast for black theater circuits in the days of segregation. (L.C. Borden, 1940, 57 minutes, 16mm)
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Daybreak Express (1953)
dir. D. A. Pennebaker

This is the first film made by cinema verite documentarian D. A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back). Set to the music of Duke Ellington's "Daybreak Express," it records a ride on New York City's 3rd Avenue elevated railway. Pennebaker described the experience of making his first film as follows:
I wanted to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and it’s packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like the New York City paintings of John Sloan, and I wanted it to go with one of my Duke Ellington records, “Daybreak Express.” I didn’t know much about film editing, or in fact about shooting, so I bought a couple of rolls of Kodachrome at the drugstore, and figured that since the record was about three minutes long, by shooting carefully I could fit the whole thing onto one roll of film. Of course that didn’t work since I couldn’t start and stop my hand-wound camera that easily so I ended up shooting both rolls and even a few more before I was through. It took about three days to film, and then sat in a closet for several years until I figured out how to edit it and make a print that I could show on a projector.
This short played prior to the British comedy film The Horse's Mouth (1958) during its theatrical run and is included on the Criterion Collection DVD of that film. (D.A. Pennebaker, 1953, 5 minutes, 16mm)
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De Duva (The Dove) (1968)
dir. George Coe & Anthony Lover

Nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Subject - Live Action) in 1969, this short parodies three of Ingmar Bergman's films - Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, and The Silence. It also marked the first film role of Madeline Kahn. Speaking in mock Swedish, with English subtitles, a retired physicist with a hernia recalls, while sitting in an outhouse, a garden party he attended as a youth. In a game of badminton rather than chess, Death loses his intended victim because of a hilarious obstacle - a dirty pigeon. Director George Coe was one of the original cast members on the first three episodes of Saturday Night Live. And script writer Sid Davis, who also plays the role of Death, is perhaps best known as a director/producer of educational safety films; he was also a long-time body double for John Wayne. (George Coe and Anthony Lover, 1968, 15 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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Deafula (1975)
dir. Peter Weschberg

Deafula was the world's only movie filmed entirely in "Sign-Scope." Director Peter Weschberg stars as Count Dracula in this film made for the deaf and hearing-impaired that is told entirely through sign-language. Long out-of-print, it is available for rental in 16mm film format through Enoch Pratt Free Library's Audio-Visual Department.

See Mike White's review and interview with producer Gary Holstrom in Cashiers du Cinemart. See also Albert Walker's Deafula Recap and Bryan White's review "In Transylvania, No One Hears You Scream." (Peter Weschberg, 1975, 95 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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Falstaff (Chimes At Midnight) (1965)
dir. Orson Welles

Chimes at Midnight (aka Falstaff) is a 1965 Spanish-French-Swiss co-production directed by Orson Welles that is based on the Shakespeare character Sir John Falstaff. The script contains text from five Shakespeare plays: primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The film's narration, spoken by Ralph Richardson, is taken from the chronicler Holinshed. The cast includes Welles himself as Falstaff, Keith Baxter as Hal, Sir John Gielgud as Henry IV, Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, and Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly.

Along with The Trial, Welles considered this his best work, saying "If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that's the one I'd offer up." Many critics, including Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Rosenbaum, consider it Welles's finest work and one of the best-ever Shakespeare film adaptations. The gory Battle of Shrewsbury scene in particular has been widely admired, serving as inspiration for movies like Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. But due to complications concerning the film's ownership, Welles' classic remains unavailable in the United States; it is currently available only as an import DVD from Brazil. Locally, Welles fans can head to Video Americain, where an out-of-print VHS copy holds a place of honor on its shelves (thank God for VA - what would we do without these film fanatics?)

Awards: In 1966, Welles was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival and won that festival's 20th Anniversary Prize and the Technical Grand Prize. In Spain, the film won the 1966 Citizens Writers Circle Award for Best Film and in 1968 Welles was nominated for the UK's BAFTA film award as Best Foreign Actor. (Orson Welles, 1965, Spain-France-Switzerland, 115 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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FILM (1965)
dir. Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett's only foray into the medium of cinema is this 20-minute, almost totally silent film (no dialogue or music one 'shhh!') in which Buster Keaton attempts to evade observation by an all-seeing eye. But, as the film is based around Bishop Berkeley's principle 'esse est percipi' (to be is to be perceived), Keaton's very existence conspires against his efforts. (Samuel Beckett, 1965, 20 minutes, 16mm)
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Four Films by Emile Cohl, 1857-1938
dir. Emile Cohl

Short films utilizing technical innovations that greatly extended the resources of animation: Fantasmagorie (1908); Le Ratelier (The Dentures) (1909); Mobelier fidele (Automatic moving company) (1910); Professor Bonehead is Dead (1912).
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Frank Film (1973)
dir. Frank and Caroline Mouris

Esteemed as "probably the most celebrated American short," Frank Film is a collection of 11,592 collages sequenced to illustrate the chronology of filmmaker Frank Mouris’ life. Accompanied by two continuous narrative sound tracks played simultaneously, it provide a witty comment by a young filmmaker on his growing up in middle-class American society. Spanning the years of 1945-1973, this short film goes beyond the story of one man's existence to become a collective autobiography of our time. 1974 Academy Award winner (Best Short Subject - Animated Films). If you must own it, a VHS copy is available from Direct Cinema - but it's pricey ($95). (Frank and Caroline Mouris, 1973, 9 minutes, color)
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Help! My Snowman's Melting Down (1964)
dir. Carson Davidson

In this Oscar-nominated satire on avant-garde surrealistic films (1965, Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects), a beatnik in a homburg hat sits in a bathtub on a New York pier, typing on toilet paper and later fishing by casting his ring-baited line down the bath drain. When a female hand emerges from the drain, he paints one fingernail and it disappears. When he opens a medicine cabinet, he finds another guy shaving on the other side. Eventually his bathtub sets sail in the harbour, only to encounter a toy sub in the film’s climax. Pratt also owns another Oscar-nominated short by Carson Davidson, 3rd Ave. El. (Carson Davidson, 1964, 10 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Honeymoon Hotel (1971)
dir. Tony Ganz and Rhody Streeter

This humorous short film, originally broadcast on The Great American Dream Machine television program, features interviews with newlyweds staying in an outrageously furnished hotel in America's honeymoon resort capital, The Poconos. The young married couples reveal their sense of values as they extol the gauche pleasures of the hotel - complete with red velvet walls and heart-shaped bathtubs - as a realization of their material fantasies. Not to be confused with 1934 Warner Brothers animated short of the same title. (Tony Ganz and Rhody Streeter, 1971, 4 minutes, 16mm)
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The Hour of the Furnaces (La Hora de los Hornos) (1968)
dir. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino

This monumental three-part documentary comes on three separate reels totaling 260 minutes and is in Spanish with English subtitles. It uses Argentina as a model to describe the anti-colonialist struggles in Latin America. Part I: Neo-Colonialism and Violence (95 minutes) contains historic, geographic, and economic background presented in a prologue and in thirteen separate film essays. Part II: An Act for Liberation (120 minutes) includes two presentations: Chronicle of Peronism, which uses newsreel and historical footage to study the political career of Juan Peron from 1945 to 1955, and Chronicle of Resistance, which follows the Peronist movement after Peron's fall from power. Part III: Violence and Liberation (45 minutes) contains an analysis of violence in mass revolutionary movements in Argentina and presents a call for participation in the national liberation effort there. According to reviewer Brian Whitener, "Long withheld from American audiences, this biting Argentine documentary and founding text of the New Latin American Cinema movement examines and attacks the neo-colonialism of Europe and the United States from a Latin American perspective. It is one of the single most important films from the 1960s and the tradition of critical cinema." Awards: Interfilm Award, Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival, 1968. (Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, Argentina, 1968, 260 minutes, 16mm)
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Jazz Hoofer (1981)
dir. William Hancock

This documentary film short contains the only known footage of legendary black tap dancer and Baltimore native Baby Lawrence (born Laurence Jackson), including sequences shot in New York just before he died in 1974. In addition to performances of his unique style, the film provides a history of tap with demonstrations of the steps used by other great tap dancers (including King Rastus Brown, Bill Robinson and John Bubbles), as well as rare film clips of Charlie Parker and Art Tatum playing the music that inspired Lawrence's tap-dancing style. (William Hancock, 1981, 30 minutes, 16mm)
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The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981)
dir. Peter Rose

Experimental filmmaker Peter Rose (brother of animator Kathy Rose) uses literary, structural, autobiographical, and performance metaphors to construct a series of tableaux that evoke the act of vision, the limits of perception, and the rapture of space. According to the filmmaker's website (, this film features "spectacular moving multiple images; a physical, almost choreographic sense of camera movement; and massive, resonant sound have inspired critics to call it 'stunning' and 'hallucinatory.' The film ranges in subject from a solar eclipse shot off the coast of Africa to a hand-held filmed ascent of the Golden Gate Bridge, and moves, in spirit, from the deeply personal to the mythic." The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough has won awards at numerous festivals, including the Oberhausen, Edinburgh, American, and Sydney Film Festivals, and is in collections at Centre Pompidou in Paris and at Image Forum in Tokyo. Pratt also owns Rose's Secondary Currents (1983, 19 minutes), an imageless film that looks at the nature of language. (Peter Rose, 1981, 33 minutes, 16mm)
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Marine Boy: The Mini Micro Wave (1968 or 1969)
In this rare episode of the late '60s animated TV series, a wacky professor invents a dangerous microwave that makes everything very small. Marine Boy goes to get that wave but is captured by the professor. Finally, some friends - a mermaid, a dolphine, a little boy - rescue him and all of them together destroy the professor and his invention. Marine Boy was known as Kaitei Shonen Marien (Marine The Sea Bottom Boy) in Japan. 78 episodes were produced by Minoru Adachi through K Fujita Associates Inc and released by Japan Tele Cartoons between 1966-1967and Seven Arts Television world-wide between 1968-1969. Marine Boy’s voice was by Corrine Orr, also know for her work on Speed Racer as the voice of Trixie, Spritle and all females on that show. She is also the voice of Snuggle, the fabric softener bear. Peter Fernandez (the voice of Speed and Racer X on Speed Racer) played Marine Boy’s father, as well as many villains on the show. He also wrote the words to the classic theme song “Go, Speed Racer,Go!") (1968 or 1969, 23 minutes, 16mm)
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Music! (1968)
dir. James Archibald

Great Britain’s National Music Council produced this 1968 film as a documentary record of their nation's music and it was later broadcast on American television in 1970 as part of NBC-TV's short-lived Experiment in Televsion series that was aimed at youth culture. It uses quick-cut montage techniques to survey the many and varied roles of the music maker in Britain, including opera singer, street musician, school and military band, electronic musician, jug band, folk singer. But the film is most famous for six minutes of rare footage showing The Beatles rehearsing "Hey Jude" at Abbey Road Studios. The take is preceded by an odd 24-second clip of a printer spewing out a list of Lennon/McCartney song titles. Paul McCartney is first seen scat-singing some Little Richard lyrics with John throwing in a refrain from “Drive My Car," before Paul announces “‘Jude’ in A minor”. Partway through the take, the scene cuts to George Harrison in the booth discussing various forms of music with George Martin. Further takes ensue, with Ringo complaining that he caught his pants in his bass drum pedal and John sarcastically suggesting that Ringo solve the problem by removing them! (James Archibald, 1968, 50 minutes, color, 16mm)
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New Architect In Town (1972)
dir. George Gipe and George Udel

This is an extremely rare film by two Baltimore film legends, George Gipe and George Udel. George Gipe (1933-1986) was a screenwriter most famous for co-writing the Steve Martin comedies Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) and The Man with Two Brains (1983). George Udel (1916-1999) was active in the Baltimore film community, founding the Baltimore Film Forum as well as the "Cinema Sundays" series at the Charles Theatre, where his portrait hangs in the theatre lobby. (You can read his obit in the 11/24/1999 issue of the Baltimore City Paper.) Catalog description of New Architect In Town: "A fresco of sights and sounds recalls the city as it was meant to be - a friendly and attractive place for commerce and social life. This is shattered with scenes of lawlessness and violence and the city's architecture becomes a fortress. Final scenes of forgotten and neglected structures suggest a possible apocalyptic future." (George Gipe and George Udel, 1972, 8 minutes, 16mm)
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Precious Images(1986)
dir. Chuck Workman

In this Academy Award-winning film (Best Short Film, Live Action, 1986), director Chuck Workman presents the greatest scenes from 50 years of film - from Citizen Kane to Star Wars – in six breakneck minutes of skillful editing. The incredible short cuts of roughly a second each push the audience into a kind of trance and take them on a journey into their individual memories of great films of half a century. Workman's annual montages are often the visual highlight of each year's Academy Awards telecast. Precious Images went on to become the most widely-viewed short appearing in schools, museums, film festivals and movie theaters worldwide. Precious Images is one of five Workman films in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Chuck Workman, 1986, 6 minutes, b&w and color, 16mm)
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Rendezvous (1976)
dir. Claude Lelouche

Few films are as steeped in myth as this 9-minute adrenalin-fueled speed race by Claude Lelouche (Un Homme et Une Femme). Mounting a point-of-view camera on the front of the car, Lelouche takes viewers on a wild high-speed drive through the streets of Paris - all filmed without special effects, sped-up film or blocked-off streets. A favorite of the editors of Car & Driver magazine (“better than any chase ever filmed, because it’s real”). Also known as C'etait un Rendez-vous. This film only recently became available on DVD, but at $29.95 is rather pricey for a 9-minute film; you can also watch it for free on YouTube. (Claude Lelouche, 1976, 9 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Replay (1970)
dir. Robert Deugel

This film by Robert Duebel makes the point that history repeats itself and that change is often merely a "replay" of past events. As middle-aged speakers berate the current trends in fashion, dance and entertainment, Duebel uses archival film and photographs of 1920s dance marathons, flapper fashions, early suffragettes, and Pre-Code silent screen stars to point out that the styles and attitudes of yesteryear were just as outlandish and that the Generation Gap may actually be a Generation Link. But what makes this film most memorable is the title song "Replay"; composer Charles Strouse re-used the melody with new lyrics 12 years later as "Tomorrow" in the musical Annie (1982). (Robert Duebel, 1970, 8 minutes, 16mm)
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Report, 1964-1965 (1967)
dir. Bruce Conner

In a work of memory, affection, and grief, filmmaker Bruce Conner uses experimental techniques, such as stop-action newsreel footage, numbered leader, television commercials, and a scene from Frankenstein, to record the assassination of President Kennedy, and to protest the exploitation of his death and the violence of the times in which he lived. Between 1963 and 1967, this film went through seven transformations (Pratt's print is a version from 1967), and in 2005 Conner transferred the film to digital for yet another version.(Bruce Conner, 1965, 13 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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About Bruce Conner:
Conner passed away July 7, 2008. The New York Times printed an excellent obit as well as Manohla Dargis' appreciation article "An Artist of the Cutting-Room Floor."

During the 1960s Conner became an active force in the San Francisco counterculture as a collaborator in light shows for the legendary Family Dog at the Avalon ballroom, and through his intricate black-and-white mandala drawings and elaborate collages made from scraps of 19th-century engravings, all of which remain icons of the period's sensory-based spirituality. In the 70s, he started photographing SF punk bands for Search & Destroy magazine after seeing Devo play there (on a tip from his pal Antonia Christina Basiloti - better known as Tony Basil - who years earlier he filmed dancing naked in 1966's Breakaway). A rarely seen Bruce Conner video for "Mongoloid" appears on the Rhino DVD Devo - The Complete Truth About De-Evolution. Another music video, “America Is Waiting” - a three-minute film he made in collaboration with David Byrne and Brian Eno in 1982 - is one of several Conner films that can be seen on

Stan VanDerBeek Films
Columbia, Maryland-native Stan VanDerBeek was an American experimental filmmaker who ran the University of Maryland Baltimore County'sVisual Arts program until his death in 1984. His early works featured cut-up collage animation techniques that evoked the spirit of surrealism and dadaism, but with an ironic sense of humor more akin to the Beat Generation (they were also a major influence on Terry Gilliam's work with the British comedy troupe Monty Python). By the end of the 1960s, he branched into exploring computer animated films and holographic experiments. VanDerBeek's films are very hard to find. Pratt owns four VanDerBeek films on 16mm.
Breathdeath (1964)
The filmmaker, an early experimenter with collage-animation, cuts up photos and newsreel footage to produce an image that is "a mixture of unexplainable fact ... with inexpicable act. Dedicated to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton." He has created a surrealistic fantasy based on the 15th century woodcuts of the dance of the dead. (Stan VanDerBeek, 1964, 15 minutes, 16mm)
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Euclidean Illusions (1979)
This animated film, made on a computer at the NASA Space Center in Houston, is an abstract exercise in which various geometric shapes turn in space. (Stan VanDerBeek, 1979, 9 minutes, 16mm)
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Mirrored Reason (1983)
A study in paranoia about a woman's vision of herself being replaced by another woman. (Stan VanDerBeek, 1983, 9 minutes, 16mm)
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Science Friction (1959)
In this social satire on rockets, scientists, and the competive mania between nations in the modern world, the filmmaker experiments with animation of cut-out collage figures and objects, and an abstract sound track. You can watch it on YouTube. (Stan VanDerBeek, 1959, 10 minutes, 16mm)
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The Star-Spangled City: Our Baltimore (1978)
dir. Vincent Dantini

This labor of love was directed, produced and narrated by hometown history buff and magician Vincent Dantini (his business card said "Dantini - He Knew Houdini!"), who passed away in 1979. It was the Fells Point resident's fourth and final film and Dantini rented out the 13,500-seat Baltimore Civic Center (what today is the 1st Mariner Arena) for its 1978 premiere. Besides featuring guest appearances by Blaze Starr, City Councilman Mimi DiPietro, and Mayor William Donald Schaefer, it also offered a look at one of the earliest Baltimore City Fairs. There are two print versions in Pratt's archives - a 27-minute one-reeler and an hour-length two-reeler print, the latter managing to capture a fire in the background while Dantini is touring the Inner Harbor! Pratt also has a film about Dantini - whose real name was Vincent Cierkes - Chris Buchman's Dantini the Magnificent (1968); described as a "film poem," the 17-minute film documents a day in the life of the magician as he walks around Fells Point. (Dantini Films, 1978, 27 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Stoned: An Anti-Drug Film (edited version) (1980)
dir. Jack Herzfeld

Scott Baio (Chachi of Happy Days and Charles of Charles In Charge) stars as Jack Melon, a bespectacled, pocket protector-toting high school misfit who is too shy to form any meaningful relationships with his peers in this edited version of the 1980 ABC Afterschool Special. Living in the shadow of his popular jock brother, “Melonhead” Jack starts smoking pot and suddenly turns into a confident alter ego he dubs “Super Jack.” It takes a terrifying brush with tragedy for Super Jack to see the dangers of smoking marijuana. (Jack Herzfeld, 1980, 30 minutes, 16mm film)
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Study in Wet (1964)
dir. Homer Groening

This is a film by Homer Groening, father of Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Unlike the dim-witted Homer depicted in The Simpsons, Matt Groening's real father was a multifaceted artist and filmmaker who specialized in surfing movies. Everything in this film is literally wet, as Groening captures the sounds and pictures of water at rare moments, including views of gigantic waves, Monet-like reflections, a crying girl's tears, goldfish trapped in a diving mask, and of divers and surfers flying into the water. The music, by Maurice Engleman, is made entirely of water sounds from a dripping faucet. Like his famous son, Homer Groening was also a cartoonist, as well as an advertising pioneer, museum founder, filmmaker and war hero. He passed away in March 1995. (Homer Groening, 1964, 7 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Super Artist, Andy Warhol (1967)
dir. Juan Drago & Bruce Torbet

This short documentary - filmed at The Factory at the height of Warhol's popularity - is virtually unknown and rarely seen, though footage from it appears in Ric Burns' 2006 documentary feature film Andy Warhol. Directors Drago and Torbet follow a surprisingly relaxed and open Andy Warhol, at the peak of his powers in 1965 and 1966, around his bustling original "Factory" in midtown Manhattan. Warhol experiments with an early videotape machine, recording Edie Sedgwick - his "superstar" of the moment - for the video portion of Outer and Inner Space, his filmed record of the "live" Sedgwick juxtaposed against her video image on an adjacent monitor. Also captured is a Warhol show at the Leo Castelli gallery, including the famous Mylar "Clouds," as various unnamed art dealers and critics muse in voiceover about the meaning and significance of Warhol's work. Also known as Superartist. (Juan Drago & Bruce Torbet, 1965, 22 minutes, 16mm)
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Time Piece (1965)
dir. Jim Henson

Not available in any other format (VHS, DVD) but this 16mm print. This early live-action film produced by and starring Jim Hensen (of Muppets fame) documents a day in the live of one man in the urban rat race. While he is in a hospital bed, the typical day of a young executive flashes before his eyes. Realistic scenes cut to wild dream sequences that comment on the reality they interpret. Nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Subject – Live Action) in 1966. Produced by Jim Henson, photographed by Ted Nemeth with music by Don Sebesky. (Jim Hensen, 1965, 9 minutes, color, 16mm)
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JIB JAB's "Time for Some Campaignin'"

Saw this last night on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Brilliant.

JIB JAB's"Time for Some Campaignin'" (2008, 2:30)

Monday, July 14, 2008


What Were They Thinking?

Japanese cell phone company EMOBILE recently aired a commercial that caused such a stir that they had to take it off the air. Like Geico's gecko, EMOBILE has an animal mascot as their symbol: the EMOBILE monkey. But the new ad depicts said monkey as none other than Senator Barrack Obama, replete with CHANGE! signs behind him and a CHANGE! motto flashing across the screen. The company claimed naivity about monkeys being racist imagery. And while Japan's population is 98.6% ethnically Japanese with only 1.4% ethnic diversity - what cave have they been living in?

Shock: The Monkey

Here's CNN Report on the Problem:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stranger In A Strange Land

"Stranger In A Strange Land" (David Crosby)
The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn!
Columbia Records, 1965

I've been listening to this extra track on the 20-bit digitally remastered CD reissue of The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! album over and over again all week. It's a really great, hypnotic instrumental to listen to while commuting to work, its soothing 12-string guitars and minor key changes calming down my normal road rage as I navigate downtown's many twists, turns and detours that result from Operation Orange Cone and other annoying municipal initiatives and West Side gentrification projects. But I was surprised to learn that this track wasn't written by Roger McGuinn or Gene Clark but by David Crosby - I didn't think he had it in him.

I've never been much of a Crosby fan (though I liked Bob and Bing Crosby). By most accounts he was almost universally considered a jerk during his Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash and CSN&Y days, even before his much-documented rehab and prison adventures. And how exactly do you manage to be both a coke addict and fat? Did he snort coke up one nostril and Hamburger Helper up the other?

But I give credit where it's due, and it's due on this dandy ditty. Inspired by the Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same title, Crosby's composition originally had lyrics, but no recorded version remains - thank God, as David Crosby lyrics tended to be pretentious hippie-dippy drivel ("Mind Gardens," anyone?) - except as covered by Blackburn and Snow (the male-female San Francisco folk duo of Jeff Blackburn and Sherry Snow - the latter allegedly considered as a replacement for Signe Anderson in Jefferson Airplane in 1966), who released it as a single on Verve Records in 1966. The backing band was We Five and the writing credit was attributed to "Samuel F. Omar."

Behind the Music
For more on the story we turn to Johnny Rogan, author of Timeless Flight: The Definitive Biography of the Byrds (1988) and The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (Rogan House, 1998) - which are both, criminally, out-of-print (and fetching used prices of up to $228 - glad I got mine back in the day for $40!) - who in describing the extra tracks on Turn! Turn! Turn! wrote:
"Finally, there was the mysterious instrumental 'Stranger In A Strange Land,' borrowed and refined from the bootleg Journals. Unfortunately, a vocal version could not be found, but the backing track remains a fascinating and tantalizing piece. David Crosby admitted that the lyrics were a naive attempt to capture the spirit of the Robert Heinlein book of the same title, and that in itself sounds ambitious and interesting. According to Jim Dickson, the song was sold by Tickson Music and tentatively scheduled for a movie soundtrack that never appeared. It was later recorded on a single by the duo Blackburn & Snow..."

"...Even two years on, with the hippie counter culture at its zenith, the song languished in obscurity. 'Stranger In A Strange Land was a very unsophisticated, childish rendering of that ethic,' Crosby confessed with undue modesty. 'I don't think it was a very good song, but I was greatly influenced by Robert Heinlein and always loved science fiction.'"
Indeed, Crosby also borrowed allusions to the same Heinlein novel in his song "Triad" (famously rejected by The Byrds only to be resurrected later in Crosby, Stills & Nash) when the lyrics referred to "sister lovers" and "water brothers." (Hmmm, wonder if Alex Chilton was really referring to Heinlein for his Big Star Third: Sister Lovers album?)

Anyway, further research determines that the bootleg source that Columbia used for the remastered CD was Journals Vol. 6; the song was recorded September 18, 1965.

I know: fascinating!

P.S.: You can listen to "Stranger In A Strange Land" on YouTube.

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