Sunday, October 24, 2010

No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

Discovered by Scott Huffines during his Atomic Books tape-trading days, this is easily the strangest stop-motion animation clip we've ever seen - or aired. Yes, it was originally included as an extra on Atomic TV's "1997 East Coast Video Show" episode.

Does anybody know who created this? I think I saw it years ago at one of the MicroCineFest animated shorts programs and recently saw it at a comic book convention on a compilation DVD called F**ked Up Cartoon Party.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy
Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood
UK, 2009, 98 minutes
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Anne-Mare Duff, Kristen Scott Thomas, Thomas Brodie Sangster
Music by: Alison Goldfrapp

Capsule: Beatles/Lennon fans, see this movie!!! It's required viewing.

As diehard Beatles fans, Amy and I rushed out to catch this biopic (based on the memoirs of John Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird, The Private John Lennon) of the young John Lennon when it opened yesterday at The Charles. We were not disappointed - it's a great drama that (full disclosure) moved us to tears several times. Which is to say, it's a totally emo experience and an acting showcase for Anne-Marie Duff (Shameless), the always excellent Kristen Scott Thomas, and "newcomer" Aaron Johnson (who's been acting since age 6 but didn't make a blip on the stateside radar until this year's Kick-Ass), though most of the buzz surrounding this film centered on the Johnson lad's affair with - and impregnation of - his married-with-children director, the noted photographer/conceptual artist/(two-time) cancer survivor Sam Taylor-Wood. (The couple have a daughter named Wylda Rae.) All I know is, the timing was perfect, with the film opening in the U.S. the week of what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday (October 9, 1940).

All He Needs Is Love
And I also know that I have to disagree with Geoff Berkshire who, in that day's b free daily, rightly called the film "an admirably executed history lesson for Beatles/Lennon fans" but wrongly added "Unfortunately, it zeroes in on the time that's usually the dullest - a celebrity's life pre-fame." Au contraire, mon frere! The whole Beatlemania rise to fame and acclaim bit's been done - and done to death, at that. Everything any Beatles fan needs to know about John Lennon comes from this formative period, especially how his sarcastic/abrasive personality was spawned by the impact on his life of the two dominant females in his childhood – his Aunt Mimi (Mimi Smith, née Stanley, played here by Kristen Scott Thomas) and the mother who abandoned him, Julia (Julia Stanley, played by Anne-Marie Duff). Once he had achieved fame with the Beatles, Lennon famously called Mimi every week of his life, while his mother is directly or indirectly referenced in numerous Beatles songs, from the lovely "Julia" (perhaps the most beautiful song John ever wrote) to the therapeutic "Mother" (with its telling lines, "You had me, but I never had you/I wanted you, but you didn't want me"). John's first son, Julian, was even named for Julia, whose memory haunted him his whole life. So, to call this period dull is to be dull-witted.

Berkshire also thought Johnson's performance as Lennon was a case of sending a boy to do a man's job, but again I disagree. I thought he was spot-on. Amy's only criticism was that Aunt Mimi's famous line about John's career choice wasn't included: "Music's all right John, but you'll never make a living out of it." (Yeah, right - tell that to professional widow/business manager Yoko!)

Aunt Mimi and John Lennon

Rock Around the Clock
I read that Taylor-Wood had an initial panic attack when he was asked to helm her debut feature film about such a larger-than-life figure as the iconic Lennon.
Sam Taylor Wood: "I thought, 'I'm in too deep and if I mess this up I'm just never gonna make a film again,' and I went into a panic. I got into the car and said, 'I just have to call these producers and pull out. I got into the car and I put the key into the ignition and Lennon's voice came straight out of the radio and it was [the Lennon song] "Starting Over." It was one of those moments where I thought it was a sign: 'OK I'm gonna do it.'"

Amy later remarked that there were a number of moments that day of similar synchronicity and serendipity. Immediately after the movie, we sat in a Fell's Point bar and the first song we heard was "Daytripper," followed by Amy's titular theme song "Amy" by Pure Prairie League (alas, we both share name songs we detest; mine is, of course, The Who's "Tommy," though Twinkle did a bad-boy "Tommy" song I love!) Then, reading about director Sam Taylor-Wood, we learned that she was a Buzzcocks fan who had previously directed the short film Love You More (2007), written by playwright and Arsenal football supporter Patrick Marber (whose screenplays include Closer, Asylum, and the Oscar-nominated Notes On a Scandal) - which makes sense because Marber also penned the story "Peter Shelley," which is included in Speaking With the Angel, a short story collection edited by fellow writer, music lover, and Gunners supporter Nick Hornby. (Love You More features a cameo by Buzzcocks founder Pete Shelley!)

It all tied together! Amy liked the Buzzcocks connection, as she's currently added the Mancunian punk rockers to her Completist Short List of bands she must obsessively collect everything by (a list that also includes Elvis Costello, Queen, and XTC). Oh, and here's another rock royalty connection: Nowhere Boy lost out at Britain's BAFTA awards to a film by another director with rock 'n' roll connections - Moon by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie).

Watch Love You More clip:

Boy, You Have To Carry That Weight
After the screening, Charles Theater manager David asked us what we thought of the film. We gave him the two thumbs up sign, and he then asked how we thought it stacked up against the other fictionalised Beatles movies. "Right at the top," I told him. I haven't seen everything, but of the seven films considered Beatles biopics - the Dick Clark-produced Birth of the Beatles (1979), the Broadway musical adaptation Beatlemania (1981), the Stu Sutcliffe-focused Backbeat (1994, starring Stephen Dorf as Stu and Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kircherr), The Hours and Times (from 1991 and focusing on Lennon's possibly homo-erotic relationship with Beatles manager Brian Epstein), Two of Us (the speculative 2000 "what if" made-for-TV movie helmed by Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg that imagined Aidan Quinn's McCartney making peace with Jared Harris' Lennon in the post-Beatles 1970s), and Lennon Naked (a 2010 made-for-BBC TV film that hasn't hit these shores yet) - I'd say it sets the standard. But then again, I missed The Hours and Times when it played The Charles, so must reserve judgement on that film.

Further Reading:
Nowhere Boy inspired me to finally pick up and read Bob Spitz's mammoth, double-telephone-directory-length history of the Fab Four-and-More, The Beatles: The Biography, which Amy says is the best-ever Beatles bio. It's been sitting in my sprawling In Bin for several years now and, well, this movie reminded me that the time is right.

Related Links:
Sam Taylor-Wood(Wikipedia)
Nowhere Boy (Wikipedia)
Private John Lennon: The Untold Story from His Sister (Julia Baird)
Nowhere Boy trailer (YouTube)

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rock and Roll Cage Match

Rock and Roll Cage Match: Music's Greatest Rivalries, Decided
Edited by Sean Manning
Three Rivers Press (2008)

Boxers vs. briefs? Coke vs. Pepsi? DVD vs. Blu-ray? Pfffft! In life, you have to choose which battles are really worth fighting for. And these water cooler spats are mere trifles compared to the contents of this book. No, as Rob Sheffield (Love Is a Mix Tape, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran) observes in his forward to this collection, "These writers have made the tough calls, and I am in awe, even when I think they are full of crap."

Tough calls like R.E.M. vs. U2, Phil Spector vs. Timbaland, The Smiths vs, The Cure, Whitney Houston vs. Mariah Carey, The Rolling Stones vs. The Velvet Underground, Jay-Z vs. Naz, Band Aid vs. USA for Africa, , Guided By Voices vs. Pavement, Phil Collins vs. Sting, Hall & Oates vs. Simon & Garfunkle, Blur vs. Oasis, Bernard Hermann vs. Ennio Morricone, Led Zeppelin vs. Black Sabbath, Abba vs. The Bee Gees, Radio vs. Coldplay, Van Halen vs. Van Hager, Patsy Kline vs. Kitty Wells, Bob Dylan vs. Bob Marley, Elton John vs. Billy Joel, The Four Tops vs. The temptations, Trent Reznor vs. Marilyn manson, Bruce Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi, Parliament vs. Funkadelic, John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney, Nirvana vs. Metallica, N.W.A. vs. Wu-Tang Clan, Devo vs. Kraftwerk, Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson vs. Prince, even The Album vs. The Single. No wonder Sheffield concludes that "The music will never die because pointless and ridiculous arguments like these help keep it alive."

As Chris Estey explained in his KEXP Radio blog, the genesis of this anthology can be traced to the “Band Vs. Band” Internet phenomenon of a few years back that was kick-started by Dan Kois’ “R.E.M. vs. U2″ posting on Slate in November 9, 2006 in reference to “Who Was The Best Rock Band of the 80s?” It appears here as the Ur cage match, the battle that “launched a thousand blog comments.” Actually, the whole cage match idea makes me think back to MTV's Celebrity Death Match series from the tail end of the '90s (am I dating myself with this archaic, pre-Millenial reference?)

I haven't read all the articles, but I'm enjoying what I've read so far - especially Michael Showalter's hilarious "Hall & Oates vs. Simon & Garfunkel." H & O win what Showalter says isn't even a "battle of the bands" but rather a battle of band vs. klatch; below are some excerpts that highlight what a fun read this non-essential time-killer truly is:

Klatch vs. Band
"Can we even call Simon & Garfunkel a 'band'? To me they are more of a 'team' or a 'pair' or perhaps a 'klatch.' They are a glee club minus the glee. Garfunkel doesn't even play any instruments! He sings harmonies and wears vests."

"Hey, Paul Simon! You're not off the hook, bub! Unless you're Ry Cooder, experimenting with third-world 'rhythms' is the absolute mark of having lost the thread...To me, 'inspired by tribal rhythms' is a euphemism for 'really rich and out of ideas."

The Kick-Ass Factor
"Now, obviously, if it were a fistfight, Hall & Oates would win in a landslide. Paul Simon is a hobbit and Garfunkel never takes his hands out of his pockets (so he would have to fight with his feet, but you can't hurt anyone by kicking them when you're wearing Wallabees). In fairness, Garfunkel could fight with his Afro, but Oates could defend against Garfunkel's Afro with his Afro, and counterpunch with his mustache. Garfunkel would have no defense against Oates's mustache."

The Graduate
"The Graduate was cool once, but so were trucker hats. Hall & Oates were never cool. That's the beauty of it.

Final Thoughts
"I will always remember Simon & Garfunkel as those dudes in black turtlenecks, pouting for the camera, trying so hard to look 'deep'; I will always remember Hall & Oates as the soundtrack of my youth. I will always remember Simon & Garfunkel for how good they thought they were; I will always remember Hall & Oates for how good I thought they were."

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Amy & The Art of the Steal

Killer Queen of the Thrift Store Score

Amy Linthicum's shopping bag is always full of goodies
Life is a never-ending treasure hunt, and if you like what you dig up and it's cheap enough, buy it. - Al Hoff's ThriftSCORE Philosophy

My girlfriend Amy Linthicum and I were off recently for vacation and, since Amy likes to shop and is a bargain hunter of mythic prowess, that means we tended to shop at bargain bins, consigment shops, and used goods stores like Goodwill and Value Village. Now whereas my judgement is inherently flawed and everything I touch (except Amy) tends to turn to shite or garbage, Amy is the polar opposite. She knows shite from shinola and has the Midas Touch when it comes to the art of thrift store scores. This is a gal who can rummage through the women's racks at Rugged Wearhouse and find such curios as an "I Heart Vaginas" t-shirt - for her ever-grateful boyfriend!

Take her recent trip to the Perry Hall Goodwill, where she scored an out-of-print 2-disc Ultimate Ventures CD (and booklet!) for $3! Looking it up later on Amazon, she discovered to her delight that used copies of said disc were going for $69.99 dollars and up. When I went back the next day to glom some leftover scores from her discoveries: nada. Some Christian Mother Goose records and Kenny G.

Then a few days later up in Rehoboth Beach, DE during the seaside town's annual Sidewalk Sale, Amy scored again when she found a bunch of $1 CDs that included a shrink-wrapped Bjork CD she didn't own, plus one by her newfound loves, the Buzzcocks-loving US band The Adored (who not only love Buzzcocks but have recorded a song with founding 'cock Pete Shelley). Earlier, she found a complete Chinese Commie Workers Outfit - y'know, the drab green peasant jacket with matching Chairman Mao cap - at the Buddhas and Beads boutique for the marked-down price of $20. Oh, and later at the Tangiers Square Old Navy outlet, she scored a $40 hipster jacket for (drumroll please) $10! Naturally, both outfits fit like they were custom-made for her.

Then, on an excursion to Towson's Ukazoo Books to see her college friend's artwork, and armed with two Free Used Book coupons, Amy scored Yet Another Elvis Costello Biography - Tony Clayton-Lea's out-of-print Elvis Costello: A Biography (amazingly one that had escaped her 24/7 Costello Media Watch!) AND Speaking With the Angel, a short story collection edited by Nick Hornby that included the Patrick Marber short story "Peter Shelley" (which Amy had been obsessing over ever since she heard about it on the Buzzcocks fan site, Secret Public.) By the way, Patrick Marber also penned the screenplay for Sam Taylor-Wood (Nowhere Boy)'s Buzzcocks-themed short film Love You More (2007), which I'm sure Amy will also score some day, some way.

But Amy's greatest score of late has to be spotting a used copy of the ultra-rare 1980 XTC live recording, the BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (Windsong International, 1992), for $5.99 in the used bins of Sound Garden in Fell's Point.

Set list:
Life Begins At The Hop (Moulding)
Burning With Optimism's Flame
Love At First Sight (Moulding)
Respectable Street
No Language In Our Lungs
This Is Pop
Scissor Man
Towers Of London
Battery Brides
Living Through Another Cuba
Generals and Majors (Moulding)
Making Plans For Nigel (Moulding)
Are You Receiving Me?

Sure, this masterfully recorded show featuring Messrs Chambers, Gregory, Moulding and Partridge performing at London's Hammersmith Palais on December 22, 1980 is also available on the four-CD Transistor Blast: The Best of the BBC Sessions (Cooking Vinyl, 1998), but that box set is rather pricey at $25 (at least that's the price it was going for used at Towson's Record & Tape Trader store - where Amy also just scored a hitherto unheard of Buzzcocks live double-CD called Small Songs with Big Hearts/Beating Hearts containing two separate shows recorded at Manchester's Apollo in 1978 and London's Rainbow in 1979) - even more so new. No, what makes the single XTC live CD so wonderful is it's a time capsule capturing what is arguably XTC's peak period, the songs from around the tip-top form of Black Sea (1980). I was particularly struck by how similar-sounding Moulding and Partridge's singing voices were (I have trouble telling them apart - guess they speak the same Swindon patois).

On the XTC fan site, Partridge recalled the night of the Hammersmith recording, thusly:
"It was a few days before Christmas and I was laden with a cold/flu virus that made me feel like death warmed over (with chestnut stuffing!). One of Santa's jolly little helpers in the shape of photographer Herbie Yamaguchi instructed me to take my shoes and socks off, and preceded, in the midst of the gladatorial gloom that was our pre-gig dressing room, to give me an unbelievable foot massage.

In ten minutes I went from that four day old glass of cider and cigarette ash sensation to feeling on top of the world (North Pole up my arse and all!). There were thousands of baying punters out there, and we were the band who were going to cure them of leprosy tonight!

It's an interesting cocktail, that mixture of fear, defiance, Casanova cockiness and decibels that washes over you up there on stage. Guitar/Gun/Penis in hand, you simultaneously struggle to kiss and kill everyone in that room. Not an easy task . . ."

Looking back at these spirited live versions, Colin Moulding has opined that a few even surpass the studio album originals, while Andy Partridge reflected that "Hearing these sessions made me guffaw out loud at early XTC's friendly fire. The epileptic kick boxer bursts of Colin and Terry's rhythm section. Barry's gothic Liberace piano style, or his truly dangerous organ playing. Electrician from Edwards' funfair attempts to mend damaged saturnian dishwasher motor."

In a word: XTC!

Just another notch on Amy's thrift scorecard. No wonder she reads Consumer Reports and Shop Smart. She's one discerning consumer!

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