Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sweet Sixteen

It's not a good book. I'm telling you that right now.

But dig...that...outfit. I can't get over it. White socks and penny loafers. What appears to be a goldenrod onesie. The hair.

I want it, and I want it bad.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tobe Hooper

Watched Eaten Alive (1977) today-- nerve wracking, but worth it.

The trailer makes allusions to the movie being a crocodile Jaws...not quite. Eaten Alive manages to jam characters and plotlines all up next to each other, connected mostly by tour de force gore and Hooper-tastic moments of creepiness.

I was worried right out of the gate, as the movie didn't begin well. The first ten minutes reminded me of that godawful Grindhouse Experience dvd I got duped into buying in the height of a Tarantino fever... poor costuming, barely adequate framing, sets made out of what appear to be corrugated cardboard, etc, etc. Read something on the imdb page about Hooper having problems with the producers and someone else having to shoot additional scenes, maybe that had something to do with it. HOWEVER-- about the eleven minute mark, things start getting weird, and boy do they just stay weird.

Tobe Hooper has a knack for making dementedly dimwitted characters put you so on edge it's hard to watch. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a movie I simultaneously like and don't like, the black comedy of the one character (in the scene in the radio station?) touching the hot wire to the metal plate in his head and the sizzling noise is undercut by how unbearably uncomfortable you feel watching him do it. LOTS of scenes like that in this one. Also, a man-eating crocodile which, in spite of the viewer being almost insistently visually reminded that it's made of foam rubber by poor special effects, works.

Need to track down more from the Hooper oeuvre (outside of TCSM, Salem's Lot, and Poltergeist, which were fine, fine pics), more to come.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Joe Bussard

Stumbled across a copy of Desperate Man Blues at the library the other day-- a documentray about Joe Bussard, 78-collector and general blues aficionado, class "extra-or-dinaire". Have read about him before, or maybe I had a cd with some things from his collection-- it seems pretty likely, as he has something like 25,000 of rare and one-of-a-kind 78s. To BE this man.

I started listening to reissues of twenties and thirties blues recordings in early high school, when, again at the library, I picked up a copy of Barbecue Bob (Robert Hicks)'s Chocolate to the Bone. Liner notes were infuriating-- not much known about the life of RH, lots of heavy breathing about chord progressions and technique which didn't mean anything to me. The back of the cd told me two things-- one, that a group called "Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society" had donated it (props); two, that the peacock-logo'd label Yazoo was specifically in the business of tuning my ear to the beautiful sounds of heretofore rare Delta blues. The thrill of listening to music original and distinct as a fingerprint. I'd never heard anything like it before. Joe Bussard had the same epiphany canvassing neighborhoods door to door in the 50's and 60's, digging through basements and sheds and dusty back rooms looking for 78 rpm gold. He estimated on camera that 85% of the music currently in his holdings would probably have been destroyed, or badly damaged, had a collector such as himself not come and scooped the (now priceless) discs up from obscurity and into a climate controlled, lovingly archived setting in suburban Maryland.

Remember the character of Seymour in Ghost World? Like that, except real. Which makes a big difference.

Desperate Man Blues takes you along with Bussard into his basement of sound, where one entire wall is cover to cover blues records in manila sleeves. Wiry, fresh looking old man-- he kept jogging his knee and slapping his thighs while listening to his recordings. I couldn't get over the fact that he kept playing them-- obviously, a record's no good without that it's listened to, but when you hold in your hands the only link between some long dead blues man and the present day, and I mean the ONLY EXTANT COPY, I'd probably get too squeamish to breathe on the grooves, much less set them to needle.

Everything he played was excellent. Everything. After fifty some years of recording, you probably get to where your taste is as sharp as your teeth. And he KNOWS, Lord, does he know everything about everything. Where it was recorded. Why. When. How many copies there still are. Great, great stuff in that head of his.

The thing that blew *my* brain right out of my ears, though-- a clip of Son House playing "Death Letter Blues". I don't know what television show it was from, under what circumstances it was recorded, but it made the space under my fingernails tingle.

Look at how he uses his fingers! Just look! Towards the end, it's like he's trying, at great personal expense, to catch the notes before they get away. And that grim, solemn, upwards glance at the camera. Just a perfect clip.

It got me thinking of an interesting thing someone said once (I think having to do with Margaret Mitchell's accent on a recording of the premiere of GWTW) about accents before the proliferation of radio waves and sets. Before there was a standard "newscaster" voice, the only shaping your speaking voice and accent would have was the world around you. If you spent your whole life within one block of where you were born, and so did your parents, and so did their parents, your accent would be essentially the same as other accents had been in that area for a hundred years. And that accent would be as different, in some instances, from one a hundred miles north of you, as night and day. Post-radio, "the norm" starts to creep in. The weird inflections and phrasings of a specific cultural and geographic area begin to fade. People from hundreds of miles, thousands of miles, continents away, could influence the way people spoke, and did, so that eventually, everyone pretty much comes out sounding alike in the end. Regional accents, sure, but everyone knows what "normal" sounds like, and that's the guy on the evening news.

Now, apply that records, and music, and the way Son House strums those strings. He learned how to play in a time unconstrained by "this is how it's done", and "you don't put your fingers there, they go here", and "hold that note!". He taught himself or he picked up things from other players, but no one told him what was right and wrong. He just had how he did it. And what he got down wasn't lavishly produced, wasn't carefully plotted out ahead of time-- it's just the heart. No use messing around with the rest of it.

I like to think about all those twenty five thousand records down in Bussard's basement being like that-- the product of a time in which each of those recordings was representative of one, individual person and his relationship to his instrument and his music. His life.

Wrote down a couple leads on new things to listen to from this, suggest you do the same.

Joe Bussard's official site
(looks a little down in the mouth right now, but I'm sure he'll update eventually)

NPR profile of Bussard (atta boy)

Ghost World (2001) (a gateway drug to 78 collecting...not perfect, but what is?)

Yazoo Records
(Nothing bad every seems to come from this label)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Information, Please

Routine-- something I've taken to doing every morning instead of bolting out of bed and into a dress and shoes five minutes before critical departure time (like the beginning of a Little Lulu cartoon)--

1)Make coffee
2)Stagger around in housecoat trying to locate keys, wallet, ID badge.
3)Drink coffee
4)Prepare omelette (God, I miss Special K, or any and all carbs for that mattter)
5)Drink more coffee, eat omelet
6)Try to beat (or at least keep up with) the panel on Information Please.

Information Please
is a radio quiz program that from from '38 to '48. Ran across it accidentally while trying to find out more about early, unbearded Orson Welles (more later).

Panelists on the show range from "egghead" to "confirmed egghead", yet manage to slip in RAZOR sharp barbs and quips in between answering (more than usually with accuracy) trivia questions. There are three regulars and a guest or two, and the format of the show runs like this:

Listeners send in impossibly to possibly hard questions...

---->"Make a poker full house [two pairs and three of a kind] with nursery rhyme characters..." e.g. Jack Be Nimble and Little Jack Horner would make a pair.
---->"Name five book titles that contain a article of women's clothing or accessories in them" e.g. The Green Hat by Michael Arlen, Lady Windemere's Fan by Wilde well as asking for direct quotations/identifications...

----> The host reads the last line of a poem, the panelists tell the first line and the author
----> The in house pianist plays a portion of a famous (and usually obscure) piece of music, the panelists name the composer and the title (including key)

Welles popped up on an episode in 1942 when he was all of 26 years old. OW gave the most answers, insisting upon correcting any gray areas in both the questions being submitted and the answering of them. INSISTING. That, plus a happy, cackling, little giggle of a laugh only served to endear the great man even more to this small heart of mine.

The best regular on the show---> Oscar Levant (above), a contemporary and close friend of George Gershwin, who's just as sharp as a kitchen knife and droll, droll, droll. An accomplished pianist in real life, he was more famous for his film and radio appearances than his compositions (a crankier, New England version of Hoagy Carmichael). His wisecracks and spot-on responses are a major part of what builds the show's sense of high competition and high laughs.

Below are some hot spots for checking out Information Please, which, I'll tell you, as said before, go great with morning ham and egg omelettes:

Internet Archive entry for Information Please

Information Please on OTR.Network's entry on Information Please (scroll past the order blank for a history of the show)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Andrew Wyeth

Went to a *great* lecture on Andrew Wyeth last night at Cheekwood as given by his granddaughter Victoria Wyeth. VW appeared at 6 on the button in a black mini dress and teeteringly high heels, behaving in general like a living exclamation point. Continued exclaiming for the entire 90 minute presentation(to be fair, 10 minutes were probably comprised of those low, ironic tones that wind up to an exclamation). Audience delighted. Not a single member under the age of 30... I'd planted myself inadvertantly behind the reserved seats, which were claimed by the slickest of septo-plus-genarians. Wafts of perfume, coiffed talcum white hair, etc, etc. Had planned on taking notes in my comp book, but was afraid I would be mistaken for an undergrad whose attendance was compulsory or somehow rewarded by extra credit. Nix on both.

Usually the term "hyper" as applied to a girl with Jean Seberg hair in my book counts as a negative, but I think she honestly *is* as carbonated in real life as she appeared during the discussion. Crackled like a literal live wire. The only grandchild of a great 20th century painter, her insights into the backstory of the AW paintings done during her lifetime were as upbeat, quirky, and deeply interesting as the family itself seems to be. Reminded me of the "yar"ness of Katharine Hepburn and her family background. Is there just something *to* being born in New England to a gaggle of talented eccentrics? A work-ethic, free-spirit, scrubbed cheek, cold shower, cable knit kind of thing? And if so, let's buy our tickets North sooner rather than later.

"Wind From the Sea" (above) is an example of the meticulous detail AW put into his work...the lace and the grass look touchable. One aspect of his style that I'd never considered was that the white in his paintings reflect negative space-- meaning all the white that you see is the white of the paper, with all the paint applied around it to create a highlighting light. This touch, combined with the egg tempera paint choice, lends to the illusion that the painting is giving off its "own light". "Night Haul" (in which painter and subject were actually arrested for pulling in another fisherman's traps by the moonlight) is a beautiful example.

Definitely much more to investigate on the Wyeths.

LA Times Article about Victoria Wyeth

Museum Syndicate entry on Andrew Wyeth, lots of great scans

"Photographing Andrew Wyeth" from National Geographic

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jack Palance

Was looking up this elegantly flat faced man on wikipedia the other's really, really bad to have a lot of free time on your hands, a chain habit with biographies, and wikipedia...

Things I already knew and liked about him:

1)His appearance in Companeros (1966), with the weird relationship with his pet falcon. Also, most perfect theme song ("Vamos a matar, Vamos a matar, COMPANNNEEEEERRRROOOOS....")

2)Appearance in Sudden Fear (1952), my second favorite of the "later Joan Crawford" movies (after Possessed (1947))-- a really great thriller and one of only three movies I can think of off the top of my head in which dictaphone plays a major role (also Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Double Indemnity (1944)...god, I want a dictaphone).

3) Shane (1953) (obviously). Looks more like a skull than any other villain ever you've seen. Apparently told the casting person he knew how to ride a horse, got the job, showed up to the set, and admitted he very definitely did not know how to ride a horse. I am told this is why his character walks the horse into town, which is somehow creepier?

3) Ripleys Believe it Or Not television show, which used to come on Sci-Fi channel way, way long ago. LOVED IT.

4) Mighty Sparrow's song "Jack Palance"...about overaged prostitutes making their living via drunk Yanqui patronage in his native West Indies.

"Still they walk in bold at night with a face like Jack Palance..."

Thank you, Lord, for Mighty Sparrow.


What I found out from Wikipedia that I got a kick out of:

1) Daughter Brooke Palance married Michael Wilding Jr (son of MW Sr. and Elizabeth Taylor), they have three children together...what a pedigree! I've just gotten to the section of the book-on-cd on Taylor where she married MW and this child is born, coincidence?

2)"Palance's rugged face, which took many beatings in the boxing ring, was disfigured when he bailed out of a burning B-24 Liberator bomber while on a training flight over southern Arizona, where he was a student pilot. Plastic surgeons repaired the damage as best they could, but he was left with a distinctive, somewhat gaunt, look."---> Jeez, Louise!! Jeez. No more talking about his flat face.

3) His real name is Volodymyr Palahniuk... same surname as Chuck. His parents were of Ukranian origin. Say "Volodymyr" outloud twice, it's like blowing into a coke bottle. A name with "gravitas". I like that Palance keeps some traces of his original name in it. Also, that it sounds a little like "paladin", a great, great word. I guess he would've gotten confused with the guy from Have Gun Will Travel, though, as he does not appear very dissimilar from JP in Shane (see above).

4) At his estate sale, you could buy things priced from $5 to $5,000. Devoted estate-sale-ist that I am, that's just too cool. I mean, I honestly would pay $5 for, I dunno, a sock of his. Wouldn't it be great to have a framed Jack Palance sock, unopened package of cotton balls, etc, etc, in your home as a conversation piece? Yes, it would.

God speed, ye olde Jack Palance.

Warner Bros Break Downs and Blow Ups

Found this video while nosing around looking for Rita Hayworth radio shows... it's a banner day indeed when I learn something I didn't know about WB studios in the 30s and 40s!

Apparently, the Warner Club was a group made up of stars and staff that would assemble for Christmas parties every year, the HIGHLIGHT of which are these "blooper" reels. You can see why.

It's so strange to see Hays Code era movie stars using foul language. IT IS SO STRANGE. I think the phrase "nuts!" as an exclamation needs to make a comeback. Also, hadn't remarked before upon the speed with which a lot of this dialogue is delivered-- it's such a "style" that you forget people are actually having to *say* the words at a clip speed. Edward G Robinson gets my vote for best sport.

Some stars that appear:

"Eddie Acuff, Eddie Albert, Mary Astor, Ralph Bellamy, Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, George Brent, Sheila Bromley, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Dick Foran, Kay Francis, John Garfield, Bonita Granville, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Herbert, Ian Hunter, Isabel Jeans, Paul Kelly, Patric Knowles, Margaret Lindsay, Gene Lockhart, Carole Lombard, Paul Muni, Pat O'Brien, Hugh O'Connell, Nat Pendleton, Mary Philips, Dick Powell, Dick Purcell, George Raft, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Reagan, George Reeves, Addison Richards, Edward G. Robinson, Rosalind Russell, Ann Sheridan, Sylvia Sidney, James Stewart, Rudy Vallee, Sammy White, Jane Wyman, Walter Young"

Noticed myself cuts from The Petrified Forest and The Big Sleep, those are the only that come to mind right now... classic.


Working as a substitute for my own father today. Doesn't that sound like some kind of a complex?

Last night we were one of two trivia teams, out of twenty-nine teams, that correctly identified lost lyrics as being from"Heart and Soul" by Huey Lewis and the News...I think the other people were using their cell phones. Had a salmon wrap that was terrible. Probably the salmon's and not the establishment's fault.

Woke up this morning six hours after having fallen asleep to "The Black Museum" with Orson Welles on my iPod. Wish there were more episodes of Vincent Price's "The Price of Fear" available on the internet, but I haven't found them yet.

Black tights have small, clear nail polish mended run in them. Hope no one notices.


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