2021 November 26 • Friday

Here's a way too obvious Meta Marquee moment that doesn't even involve a marquee but we've expanded our original survey to include whatever we want and it's also the day after Thanksgiving and we're sleepy so whatever.

At the end of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Cary Grant, in character as Blandings, is shown reading the book from which the movie was adapted.

This is fairly lazy stuff and we are just as lazily including it here.

What isn't lazy about this movie is James Wong Howe's brilliant cinematography, particularly one long, unbroken tracking shot in the beginning of the film that's at least as impressive as the famous opening shot of Touch of Evil, while being quiet and confined to a very small interior space and involving some very tricky choreography.


2021 November 24 • Wednesday

This isn't a prime Meta Marquee example but it's close enough for miscellaneous more or less meta marquee.

There's a foot chase in the middle of The President's Analyst that shows James Coburn running past a cinema marquee advertising showings of and Breathless.

The Fellini movie is perhaps not relevant but Jean-Paul Belmondo races through the Godard movie, always pursued, until at the very end he's "out of breath" (probably a better translation of the original French title).

It's a bit of a stretch and we might not bother to mention it but there's an amusing and stronger "meta" marquee just a few moments later as James Coburn, still running as fast as he can and still being chased by foes, dashes by the Garrick Theatre, whose marquee clearly reads "NO RUNNING".


2021 November 22 • Monday

André Previn Plays Music of the Young Hollywood Composers is our 701st Soundtrack of the Week.

What a great record. Previn shares arranging credits with another young jazz pianist who's making a name for himself as an arranger and composer: "Johnny" Williams.

It gets started with a swinging piece from Williams's Checkmate music, "A Million Bucks", an irresistible West Coasty jazz soundtrack number.

Then we hear a couple of Previn tunes, the romantic "You're Gonna Hear From Me" from Inside Daisy Clover and the breezy and swinging "Livin' Alone" from The Moving Target. Both of these are credited to André Previn and Dory Previn.

After this comes Henry Mancini's main theme for Soldier in the Rain. How come this isn't better known? It's a Mancini score for a Blake Edwards production. So much has been restored, released, recovered, re-recorded. Shouldn't every note of Mancini's be available?

This is perhaps a good time to mention that what we're dealing with is mostly a jazz piano trio with strings. No clues about the musicians, except for one tune having a trombone solo by Dick Nash. The drummer, who isn't on every piece, doesn't sound like Shelly Manne to me but it's somebody in that zone. The string arrangements are very nice and Mancini-ish.

The sequencing of this record is very good. Once you're softened up by Soldier in the Rain Previn drops the devastatingly gorgeous Elmer Bernstein To Kill a Mockingbird theme. The listener doesn't stand a chance.

The last tune on the A side insures you'll flip to hear more. Of course they do Mancini's theme from The Pink Panther. Previn deploys some interesting and ear-catching harmonic ideas in his piano part and also inserts an "interpretation of 'Chloe'", a song by Gus Kahn and Neil Moret, according to the fine print, but I didn't notice it.

Side B starts with another Previn piece from Inside Daisy Clover, the hauntingly beautiful, restrained, romantic and slightly menacing "Daisy".

This gets followed by the Johnny Mandel/Johnny Merder theme for "Emily" from The Americanization of Emily. This is the tune with the aforementioned trombone solo by Dick Nash but starts out with flute and orchestra before Previn comes in on the piano. The trombone playing is exquisite.

Good old Johnny Williams gets another turn as a featured composer with "Tuesday's Theme" from the movie Bachelor Flat. It starts out sounding like John Barry's theme from Follow Me but then settles into that kind of golden hour, heart-stirring, lush sonority for which Mr. Williams has been celebrated these last fifty years or so. In 1965, when this record came out, people might have been a bit surprised by it.

"Nevermore" is a surprise. It's written by the actor Jack Lemmon, for the movie Fire Down Below. In the liner notes Previn remarks that Lemmon "writes more good tunes than most people who spend their entire working day at it". It starts out sending very soundtracky in a somewhat generic way, but when the song itself gets going, it's very nice jazz lounge number.

After this we move on to "I Will Wait for You" from Michel LeGrand and Norman Gimbel's score for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It's a very romantic piece and starts out with just piano alone for a while before the strings come in.

And then the record concludes with a third André Previn and Dory Previn cue from Inside Daisy Clover, "A Happy Song". And it is happy! It's a sprightly and cheerful waltz.

The whole record is great.


2021 November 19 • Wednesday

Stephen Graham Jones is someone who's written a lot of books, apparently all or at least mostly in the horror genre. They look interesting. Several times I've looked with curiousity at the Stephen Graham Jones section in Buckt o' Blood, where he actually has a bit of a display all his own.

On my last visit to that venerable shop, I took action. I bought one of his books. It's called Night of the Mannequins and it's crazy, funny, horrific and wildly imaginative.

It's one of those books that's very hard to talk about without ruining the story. The story is told in the first person by a teenaged narrator and is about his struggle to save his small town from a murderous mannequin that's come to life. Sort of.

The writing is actually kind of exhilarating in its very clear voice and you figure out pretty quickly that there's some very impressive authorial sleight of hand going on. Page 55, for example, has one of the best reveals I've ever encountered in a book.

So I'll definitely pick up something else by Stephen Graham Jones next time I'm at Bucket o' Blood, which will be the next time I'm in Chicago.

The first line is "So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we'd play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I'm really starting to feel kind of guilty about it all".


2021 November 17 • Wednesday

Here's a book I expected to like more than I did: Rafael Bernal's The Mongolian Conspiracy.

Sometimes when people recommend a book to me that's, like, literature, I have to tell them, somewhat sheepishly, that it's really hard for me to read a book that isn't about bank robbers or monsters from outer space and like that.

So The Mongolian Conspiracy should have been just fine. It's about a thug and a killer who works for the police in Mexico City, the third act of his life, following a brutal childhood and coming of age learning the coarse arts of killing during the Mexican Revolution.

The story of the book concerns this man, Filiberto García, as he's asked to cooperate with both a Soviet and an American agent to investigate and prevent a conspiracy to assassinate the president of the United States or the president of Mexico or both.

So far, so good. But nothing much actually happens in this book. The book is mostly told in the first person and García's internal monologue is frequently amusing but also somewhat monotonous. He tends to say and think the same things in the same over and over. Bernal slides between first and third person narration with admirable elegance and this is an unusual and pleasing maneuver to find in a novel, but there doesn't seem to be much point to it.

There doesn't have to be, of course, but there doesn't seem to be much point to anything else.

One of the blurbs on the back of the book describes it as "The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City", but this seems unlikely to me, as I didn't get much impression of Mexico City at all and the action of the book seems like it could be easily relocated to any city with a coffeeshop and a bar.

There is, of course, a love interest thrown in here as well, which is, like the other strands of plot, curiously static and undeveloped. It also plods down the road to a predictable and trite conclusion.

The introduction to this edition describes the love story as "one of the most moving and unlikely in Mexican literature—and, without a doubt, the saddest". If this is true, it doesn't say much for Mexican literature.

Perhaps I just didn't understand what this book was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it. It didn't come into focus for me and it was never exciting or more than mildly interesting. García was a character with potential to be like a Mexican Continental Op but the writing and the ideas never come close to Hammett's level.

Of course, this is also a novel I read in translation. While I'm always interested to read books from other places and times, English translation doesn't always capture the sensuality or just plain greatness of a work's original language. The English prose here seemed good enough, not stilted or clunky in any way, but maybe there are nuances in Spanish that aren't observable here.

The first line is "At six o'clock in the evening he got up from bed and put on his shoes and a tie".


2021 November 15 • Monday

Continuing this month's theme of jazz interpretations of soundtrack music is Eddie Costa’s album Guys and Dolls Like Vibes, the 700th Soundtrack of the Week.

It opens with “Guys and Dolls” done in a very swinging and breezy feel with a great piano solo. Costa also takes a nice turn on the vibes, as you’d expect.

Solo piano begins “Adelaide” in a romantic and neo-classical mood and when the band comes in it’s with a smoky, late-night, slow-dancing, brushes on snare atmosphere. There’s lovely interplay between the vibes and piano and both take wonderful solos with a great bass solo in between. The tempo picks up at the end for a surprising shift in energy.

“If I Were a Bell” starts with Costa doing very reasonable bell impressions on the vibes, after which he starts tearing it up over lean and brisk support from the other musicians. Then another great solo and the band drops out so Costa can have a little bell time before everyone jumps back in for the ending.

A driving and unusual, perhaps slightly exotic 12/8 rhythmic pulse kicks off “Luck Be a Lady”, giving this already swinging number a lot more swing in addition to syncopation and a delightful tension, alternatingly created and dispelled by going back and forth between the 12/8 and a fast jazz 4/4 walking bass groove. Costa really stretches out on this one for a long and creative solo, followed by an equally impressive turn from the pianist.

Another romantic piano intro kicks off “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”, a delicately beautiful number played at a medium but unhurried tempo. The piano covers the melody with clarity and restraint and there are tasteful solos from the vibes and piano. Halfway through, everything changes and it becomes a bright, perky swing tune, full of energy.

Then the record ends with “l’ll Know”, a relaxed and easygoing piece that has a valedictory feel to it. As usual, the piano and vibes solos are impeccable.
2021 November 12 • Friday

Who would have thought there was anything left to say about Star Trek's first incarnation, the original TV series? Well, it turns out that there's a whole, large, mind-blowing book about it and it's become an absolute favorite around here, particularly since I'm the sort of person who likes looking for this and that little thing in the backgrounds of scenes in movies and television shows.

Authors Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire are officially the tops in the field when it comes to that sort of thing and the result of their efforts and observations is this beautiful book, Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier; How Midcentury Modernism Shaped Our View of the Future.

As Spock used to say, it's fascinating. Who knew that the surgical scalpels used in the Enterprise sick bay were actually salt and pepper shakers? Or that Kirk's command chair was a modified lounge chair designed by Arthur Umanoff while the other chairs on the bridge were only slightly tweaked (and sometimes completely unmodified) chairs by Maurice Burke that anybody could just go out and buy?

Chavkin and McGuire are the best detectives of whatever the hell this activity is and every page of their book is a delight.

And they are thorough. Check out these examples.

Starting with some easy ones, sure, those are definitely normal-looking chairs. But who ever paid them any attention? And this next thing is hiding in plain sight:

It wouldn't have occurred to me that that was a lamp a person could just go out and get in the late 1960s. But there it is.

And here's a great one: the Saurian brandy decanter. It's a Dickel!

And then there was the episode where Captain Kirk brought out one of his most prized possessions: Mick Jagger's microphone, a priceless antique from 20th century Earth.

The geniuses who wrote this book don't miss a trick. They cover locations as well.

And they aren't going to overlook paintings that might be by midcentury artists I've never heard of.

I really can't say enough about this wonderful volume. I wish there more books like it but it's hard to imagine a book that could be better.


2021 November 10 • Wednesday

A recent visit to Chicago's wonderful Bucket o' Blood book/video/record shop increased our reading list by several titles. We're working on it. We did the Lisa Tuttle and the Elizabeth Engstrom and now we've finished Pat Cadigan's novelization of William Gibson's unproduced first-draft screenplay for Alien³.

This was a fun read though I don't think it would have made a great movie. The pacing is fine for a book but too uneven for a movie.

Also fine for a book but not so much for a movie is how much of the story is relayed through thought instead of speech or, even better, action.

So what's the story? The ship with Ripley and Newt and Hicks and Bishop drifts into restricted space that's very much the territory of a sort of quasi-Soviet space community called the Union of Progressive Peoples.

They take the upper half of Bishop to loot whatever data he's stored and, after a nasty encounter with a face-hugger, send the ship on its way.

It eventually ends up at a space station called Anchorpoint, where more aliens cause mayhem upon arrival.

Hicks and Bishop—who's given the first name of Lance here, presumably as a tribute to Lance Henriksen, one of about a million references to Aliens within these pages (although I think Bishop might be a stronger presence without a first name)—are more or less the main characters. Ripley never regains consciousness and she and Newt are both sent away on ships so they don't have to live through another xenomorph nightmare.

This time around the aliens are shown to have upped both their reproduction and adaptation games. They can infect hosts like a virus and just appear in a werewolf-like transformation with no forewarning, apparently from airborne spores or some such thing.

They can also retain attributes of some of their hosts. One chilling scene, in an artifical Madagascar, makes very effective use of this idea.

There's a lot of talking, a lot of characters, a lot of Hicks's remembering things people said and did from Aliens—I remembered them too and came to find it slightly annoying to be reminded so often of the previous story—and aliens popping out of all sorts of places, people and other creatures.

While Hicks is the main character here, I found Bishop's to be the most appealing voice. After copying all of the information they can get from him, the UPP return him to Anchorpoint with a new pair of legs. Their technology isn't exactly cutting edge, so Bishop has to deal with "cheap polycarbon knees" whose shortcomings are a serious problem in the last chunk of the book.

Anchorpoint also has a mall and Cadigan (and presumably Gibson) mine this for humor, always an essential component for horror. (It also adds a bit of a Dawn of the Dead element.) In general, the book is actually quite witty. Occasionally the comic note falls a bit flat but overall it's a breezy and fun ride, as far as gruesome survival horror can be breezy and fun.

One set piece, with the aliens and humans actually out in space, facing off in zero gravity on the exterior of the space station, would be excellent in a movie, especially if it involved more action than there is in the book.

Has this been in a movie? We're not really up to speed on Alien movies anymore. Some seen, fewer remembered.

It ends with a very clear path to a sequel or sequels, which was almost certainly a requisite as part of whatever deal Gibson signed with the studio.

The first line is "Homo sapiens had been gazing up at the stars for about three hundred millennia before they finally managed to launch themselves off the planet of their origin toward those countless points of light".
2021 November 08 • Monday

Next in the November series of jazz interpretations of soundtrack music is Ray Bryant’s record Hollywood Jazz Beat, the 699th Soundtrack of the Week.

The personnel is basically Ray Bryant’s trio with some strings and horns thrown in. Is it the same bass player and drummer from other records? It doesn't say on the album.

It starts with the very often played standard “On Green Dolphin Street”, which Bryant takes at a mid-tempo pace but with a lot of energy. There’s some subtle Freddie Green-like guitar comping in there as well.

Bryant starts “Ruby” by himself, his hands dancing on the keyboard as they create light runs and hopping chords. The accompaniment for this one is mostly sparer, with the strings swelling only at about the halfway mark and the oboe also adding considerably to the texture.

Strings, horns and timpani start off “Invitation”, creating a lush and dramatic atmosphere that vanished for Bryant to start the melody solo. Then the rest of the instruments come back in and there’s some strong support from the flute.

“Secret Love” has always been a favorite song around here and the sprightly and sparkling version of it here is a delight.

The orchestral introduction to “An Affair To Remember” ends on a high note for the violins, a bowed harmonic, a bit surprising. Then the trio comes in swinging and the strings change to pizzicato after a bit more bowing, for this lovely tune that’s a bit similar to “It’s Almost Like Being in Love”.

Soaring and swirling orchestral patterns provide an apt introduction to “The High and the Mighty”, an inspiring and cheerful melody, similar to Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train”. There’s a flute solo and the drummer plays especially well on this one.

The very well known main theme from Exodus then gets an interesting interpretation. It’s only two minutes and almost a quarter of it goes by before Bryant starts playing. But this is great, really driving and up-tempo with Bryant racing around the keys with ease. And there are bongos and pounding timpani! The only criticism here is that it fades out instead of having an ending.

After that you might want to catch your breath and here’s an opportunity to do so. Everyone knows “Laura”, I’m sure, but Bryant makes it sound new here, with impressive sensitivity and musicality. The string backing starts unobtrusively with just single long tones before developing into something with a bit more weight but still using a lot of space and maintaining simple harmonies.

And after that we’re still taking it essy with the slow and relaxed “Three Coins in a Fountain”, which gives the orchestra more of a chance to shine than usual. Is that a glockenspiel I hear?

Some “exotica” modalities are up next for the love theme from El Cid. This is another short one and another one which allows the orchestra to handle some more of the heavy lifting with Bryant playing less a soloist than as part of the orchestra.

Everyone probably knows “Tonight” from West Side Story but I’ve never heard it done in this syncopated, swinging, breezy way. The gravity and sobriety of the original are here replaced by pleasure and joy.

“True Love” is a relaxed waltz whose melody is first handled by reeds and strings before Bryant takes over with some lovely intervallic lines.

There are several great Ray Bryant records out there and this is definitely one of them. He doesn’t need strings and horns but this kind of thing is quite nice when you’re in the right mood.
2021 November 05 • Friday

Speaking of Lola Albright's Dreamsville record, here's a contemporary review from Rogue magazine, one of a handful of efforts to siphon off some of Playboy's readership. Lenny Bruce had a regular column in it for a while and several other familiar names—Harlan Ellison, for example— were attached to pieces therein.

Listening to Dreamsville in 2020 and 2021 was delightful. Nobody makes records like this anymore and the Peter Gunn music itself is woefully underplayed.

But in real time, whoever reviewed it for Rogue wasn't so impressed. And to be fair, at that time, records like these were probably not that big a deal.

Without the stimulating sight of her, Miss Lola Albright (that Gunn man's chief target) comes across on Dreamsville (Columbia CL 1327) as merely an attractive young lady with a very average set of pipes. The sound boys have broken a leg covering her: tone-deepening artificially, echo chamber, orchestra surrounding, everything, in fact, save dubbing in Julie London as Miss Albright's voice. She manages to hit somewhere close to the notes desired, which makes for a mildly wingy sort of melancholic sound, and on the title song a bit of Mancini-orchestrated plushsound makes the melan even more solidly cholic. Also note the tune and lyrics on "Brief and Breezy." But essentially, this is for the set that will buy "Charlie Weaver Sings For His People," of which we, fortunately are not one.

I agree that "Brief and Breezy" is a highlight of the record but otherwise the review seems overly harsh to me. There is certainly quite a bit of reverb on Albright's voice but I don't think that's the same thing as an "echo chamber". And "orchestra surrounding" would just be the usual approach for a record like this. Also for a Julie London record.

Not sure what artifical tone-deepening would have consisted of in 1959-1960 and I also had to look up who Charlie Weaver was.

But nonetheless an interesting bit of ephemera.


2021 November 03 • Wednesday

Speaking of the music from Peter Gunn, here's an interesting record: Dreamsville by Lola Albright.

Lola Albright was a series regular on Peter Gunn, playing nightclub singer Edie Hart. Since she was a singer on the show and the show's music was really popular, and the show itself was also really popular, it made sense to put out a Lola Albright record.

Dreamsville is a must for Mancini admirers. Mancini himself conducts the orchestra and presumably arranged the tunes as well. (There's very little info on the record itself.)

Half of the dozen tunes are Mancini's music from Peter Gunn and of course they've been given lyrics for the occasion.

While I'd heard the lyrics to the song "Dreamsville" before, on the Sarah Vaughan Sings the Mancini Songbook record—she also does the Peter Gunn theme with lyrics!—Albright's album adds words to "Brief and Breezy", "Soft Sounds", "Slow and Easy", "Straight to Baby" and "Sorta Blue".

The other six tracks are mostly famliar jazz standards: "Two Sleepy People", "We Kiss in a Shadow", "You're Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)", "They Didn't Believe Me", "It's Always You" and "Just You, Just Me".

Albright's voice is relaxed and pleasant, not so powerful but soothing, pretty and laid back.

The arrangements of the Gunn tunes don't have much in the way of surprises but the musicianship is impeccable and always swinging.

The Peter Gunn music in general deserves more attention than it receives. Nobody should every remake the show but the music should be incldued in jazz's lingua franca.


2021 November 01 • Monday

For November we’re doing a month of jazz interpretations of soundtrack music. First up: trumpet player Joe Wilder’s record Jazz from “Peter Gunn”, the 671st Soundtrack of the Week.

It’s a great quartet, with Hank Jones on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and John Cresci, Jr. on drums. While Shelly Manne has made some excellent small group recordings of Henry Mancini’s hugely influential music from the Peter Gunn TV show, I didn’t know that anyone else had taken a shot at it.

This particular take on Gunn is astoundingly good. It makes it seem baffling that there are so few records like this. The compositions are perfect for several groupings of instruments. You could do anything with them. Mancini was a person of several geniuses and his relaxed brilliance with the post-bop jazz idiom is dazzling here.

John Cresci, Jr., kicks off the record with an energetic and percolating drum figure for “Not From Dixie”, joined by Hinton, then Jones, then Wilder on the melody, which Hinton plays with him while Jones comes up with a counter melody, a descending line against the ascending line. Then Cresci switches to the ride cymbal and everyone swings like crazy.

“A Quiet Gass” is a classic Mancini ballad but the Wilder quartet gets it started almost as an operatic flourish or call to arms before taking a sharp turn into the dreamsville mood of the piece.

Next is one of my favorite tunes from this repertoire, the straight jazz “Brief and Breezy”, which was also given lyrics at some point. Everybody plays great all the time on this record but the Hank Jones solo on this one really stands out.

Then it’s another ballad, “Joanna”, with a very interesting arrangement. In the beginning just drums and trumpet give it kind of an otherworldly or exotica sort of sound. When the band comes in and it finds a more familiar groove, Wilder’s plaintive trumpet sound continues this incredibly lonely feel.

“The Floater” is another great straight jazz time, somewhat similar to “Brief and Breezy” but a bit more laidback.

The quartet then digs in and puts a bit of bite into their playing for the lean and angular “A Profound Gass”. Everything is impeccable as always but special credit to the trumpet and piano for their soloing.

For the next piece, “Slow and Easy”, which is exactly what the name promises, they get even slower than the original, really savoring each note and giving the listener an opportunity to bask in this deep, unhurried groove.

Then there’s the lilting “Brother’s Go to Mother’s”, another relaxed and easily swinging piece with Wilder muting his trumpet.

Interestingly, the famous “Peter Gunn Theme” doesn’t get a run through by this superb quartet but “Fallout” has some suggestions of what it might have been like and, well, it would have been awesome. “Fallout” is not the theme but it has some of the elements of menace and mystery that work so effectively in the theme and Hank Jones takes an amazing solo.

Finally there’s “Blues for Mother’s”, which takes on a Gershwin-like quality in this recording, something that didn’t strike me in the original version. The descending line of the harmony provide significant opportunities for creative invention and Wilder and Jones, particularly Jones, are on it!

Really a great record. I wish I could get another ten or twenty or a hundred like this.