December was a great month for gigs. First there were the Reverend Screaming Fingers gigs. Here are some photos of me performing at the first one.
It was really cool, one of my favorite gigs. If you missed it, you can buy the studio recording here.
The Two Boots gig with Chris Cawthray and Simeon Abbott was also a lot of fun, and was the debut of my new amp, an Ampeg Reverbojet from 1967 or 1968.
You can see a couple of videos from that gig here.
The 197th Soundtrack of the Week is 99 & 44/100% Dead! by Henry Mancini.
The "Main Title" is a '70s action stomp with blaring horns. "Hangin' Out" is a feature for whistler. "Easy Baby" is a kind of schmaltzy song with lyrics by Marilyn & Alan Bergman. I'm not sure who sings it.
"New Shoes" is a pensive, suspense type of piece and "Buffy" sounds like Mancini's "Slow, Hot Wind" revamped for the '70s with wah-wah guitar.
There are several electric keyboard sounds on the record and two of the tracks, "Up Yer ARP" and "Down Yer ARP" are workouts for the ARP Synthesizer.
There are three source music tunes for a carousel, "Man on the Flying Trapeze", "Over the Waves" and "Listen to the Mockingbird".
Shelly Manne is on drums and sounds great throughout. There's great sax playing on "Dolly's Place" and "A Soft Shade of Red"—I thought it was Plas Johnson but he's apparently not on this record.
Female has a story that's familiar from any number of old movies and romance comics: a woman's success in a man's world must be punished by her own misery. But Female has a few surprises. Ruth Chatterton is so appealing in her role that no audience would really want her to end up unhappy. She's also an excellent businesswoman who does a great job of running her automobile factory.
The problem is that women are meant to get married and have children. Chatterton's factory is shown to have taken the place of her maternal duty in the first few shots of the film, which show cars, instead of people, being conceived, developing in utero and being born.
Miss Drake has all the sex she wants, though. She selects any handsome guy she wants from her staff and brings him home to her art deco mansion where she gets him loaded on vodka and has her way with him. The next day she's all business again and if he can't handle it she has him transferred to her Montreal factory.
Art deco mansions are pretty common in movies from the 1930s, but Miss Drake's is something special. I don't think I've seen one with an actual organist mounted on the wall before.
Sid Hickox has a lot of fun with the photography, using circles to suggest, it seems to me, that Miss Drake needs to trade the two balls of the boardroom for the single circle of the womb.
Here she is with her happily married friend Harriet, who is content inside her wifely circle while Drake exercises outside of it.
Then there's this one shot, which probably doesn't mean anything but reminded me of a joke from High Anxiety (the glass coffee table scene). The camera sees Drake in the mirrored table, pans over to the gramophone, pans back to the table and then has the view obliterated by a tray.
So of course Miss Drake falls in love with some guy who won't be bossed around and at the end of the movie she breaks down in a moment of crisis and screams that she can't run the company because she's only a woman.
Most stories would have ended it there but in Female, Drake snaps out of it right away, becomes the tough businesswoman again and makes an appointment with a bank in New York to save the company. Only instead of going to New York, she chases after the guy she's in love with. (He had proposed to her and she turned him down.)
Drake is still in charge, though. Rushing to her car she tells the chauffeur to move over and let her take the wheel because "We're going to go faster than you know how to drive".
And when she finally catches up with the guy and tells him she loves him he declares that nobody is going to take the company away from her and arranges for her to fly to New York for the vital meeting with the bank.
It still ends with her saying that her new husband will run the company while she has "nine children" but this is still more advanced than most treatments of this kind of story.
Any movie photographed by John Alton is worth watching, but The Amazing Mr. X is a special case. It's from the same year as the Nightmare Alley movie and also involves phony psychics and seances. This is probably not a coincidence.
John Alton appears to have responded to the story's dependence on magic and the occult and been more explicit than usual with his own magic tricks.
Christine is a wealthy widow who thinks she's being haunted by the ghost of her dead husband Paul. She hears his voice calling to her at night. Her sister suggests that she heard a fog horn or some other such noise.
But Christine says no, it sounded just like—
Christine goes to see a phony psychic played by Turhan Bey. He explains the gaudy appearance of his quarters by saying that it benefits some of his clients by creating—
If Turhan Bey's character were on the level, would we ever see him like this?
John Alton really surprised me with this next shot, which I always think of as a "film school" shot, the kind of thing you see a lot in TV commercials, weird points of view that are there just to grab your attention. I don't associate it with movies from 1948.
Christine and her sister have a whole scene talking while the camera shoots them from inside the sink. The water is running, as you can see, and Christine turns it on and off while we watch, so you know it's a real sink.
Alton gives us a couple more of these sorts of shots, first at Christine's first visit to Turhan Bey's place.
And later during a seance.
The photography is gorgeous throughout and the movie's success depends on it.
Theater of Blood by Michael J. Lewis is the 196th Soundtrack of the Week.
This was an amusing movie that starred Vincent Price as an actor who murders his critics. Each killing is inspired by a Shakespeare play. Diana Rigg plays Price's accomplice.
Lewis's score begins with a beautiful main title theme, a lush, romantic and slightly melancholy waltz.
After this comes music for the killings: "Ides of March", "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," Cymbeline", etc. Strings and percussion do most of the work, with effective martial snare drum and menacing low double bass.
"Sexy Lips and Swinging Hips" is a Muzak-like lounge cue that segues into the creepy "A Pound of Flesh/To Be Or Not To Be/Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent".
"Partita of Blood" is a harpsichord version of the main title music that takes off in a flourish of virtuoso flash before a transition to the uptempo and dramatic "Alive in Triumph".
"I'm So Glad You've Come" also begins with the main title music before settling down into an ethereal groove that gets supplanted by tense strings and heraldic horns.
"Edwina's Theme" is a very tender and lyrical piece, a love theme for Diana Rigg's character, I think.
The last cue, "He Did Know How To Make an Exit", is a richly orchestrated version of the main title waltz. It's really a beautiful melody.
There were a couple of other interesting things about Witness to Murder.
The most significant is that it was photographed by John Alton, the ultimate film noir cinematographer.
The other interesting thing was this.
There's also that MERCURY NEW X-RAY SOURCE, TWO SCIENTISTS REPORT again.
In Witness to Murder Barbara Stanwyck looks out the window and sees her neighbor George Sanders murder a woman.
It came out the same year as Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Is that a coincidence?
It's been noted that the murderer's window in Rear Window looks like a movie screen. The murderer's window in Witness to Murder is like a theatre stage, with a curtain.
The murder scene begins with the dramatic parting of those curtains.
Unlike Barbara Stanwyck in Witness to Murder, James Stewart doesn't actually witness the murder in Rear Window. The plots of the two movies don't have much in common other than the window.
Witness to Murder is practically a remake of The Window (1949), which, like Rear Window, was based on a Cornell Woolrich story. (The Window was directed by Ted Tetzlaff, who was the director of photography for Hitchcock's Notorious.)
But Witness to Murder also reminded me of some Hitchcock movies that were yet to come, such as Vertigo.
North by Northwest also came to mind.
Vertigo also has a scene like that, near the beginning, and perhaps that's more like the scene in Witness to Murder since it also takes place in a city. James Stewart is hanging onto a gutter which is about to buckle. Stanwyck in this scene is perched on a precarious wooden platform that's about to tear itself loose from the wall.
Witness to Murder made me think of Psycho, too, and not just because George Sanders convinces the police that Barbara Stanwyck is crazy and gets her committed to an insane asylum. When Stanwyck gets doped up by her doctors, there's a whirlpool effect that reminded me of another whirlpool.
And like Jason Leigh in Psycho, Barbara Stanwyck in Witness to Murder is freaking out in her car and has to deal with the sudden appearance of a police car that pulls alongside her.
The 195th Soundtrack of the Week is Manhunter, with music mostly by The Reds and Michel Rubini.
The first track is the song "Strong As I Am" by The Prime Movers. "Strong as I am / There's something about this thing that scares me / Strong as I am / There's something about this thing that dares me." Like most of the music on the CD, it's very eighties but I like it a lot. Great melody, great production. The singer has a really good voice.
Next is Shriekback's "Coelocanth", a very cool ambient instrumental. This is followed by "The Big Hush", another Shriekback piece, this one a song that has some similarities to "Coelocanth". "This is a breathless silence / A moment out of time / I see your face in the shadows / The telltale signs are in your eyes." This is my favorite piece on the CD, melodic and mysterious with a laid-back groove.
"Graham's Theme" is a synth-heavy piece by Michel Rubini which conveys the darkness and despair that threaten to overwhelm the main character.
Shriekback returns with "Evaporation", another trippy song, this one with a female vocalist and kind of a dub feel.
Red 7 is next with the Peter Gabriel-like "Heartbeat".
Following that are three pieces by The Reds. "Lector's Cell" is an atmospheric and effective instrumental featuring the synth. "Jogger's Stakeout" is a slow, ominous rocker, similar to some of Angelo Badalamenti's music. Then there's "Leed's House", another synth-dominated piece, this one mostly about suspense and dramatic tension.
And finally, the CD ends with the movie edit of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". I'm glad Intrada included this. It's a big part of the movie! Great song but doesn't it have one of the world's worst guitar sounds? Maybe that's part of its charm.
This diagram, from the Wikipedia entry on the 180º rule in filmmaking, shows the line that the camera is not supposed to cross, not unless you really know what you're doing.
Luchino Visconti really knew what he was doing. In Ludwig he crosses the line without crossing the line, breaking this rule in an interesting way.
In this scene Ludwig is having dinner with an actress. It follows a pattern he's established of initiating intense relationships with people motivated almost entirely by self-interest. Notice how Ludwig is can barely be seen half the time.
Then Visconti breaks the rule, not by crossing the line but by turning the camera around to look at the scene in a mirror that's on the camera's side of the line.
It's rather startling when this happens but it's not just for show; there's a reason for it. The actress leaves the table, approaches the mirror, takes off her hat and prepares herself for seduction or whatever is going to happen after dinner.
That's from the same shot, after the camera has slowly moved in on the mirror and the focus changes to favor only the actress.
Happy 4th birthday, Dexter Bierhorst Price!
The 194th Soundtrack of the Week is Elmer Bernstein's Rampage.
It starts with the groovy "exotica" song "Big Cat", a nod to the success songs like "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Day-O" were enjoying at the time. It's wonderfully catchy. The singer's lines are about the big cat who killed his father and brother. The chorus repeats "Oh man, the leopard wait for you" over and over. The bulk of the music is provided by voice and percussion, though you'll hear bass, flute and string section. The theme returns in several other cues.
This is followed by the sweeping, beautiful and romantic orchestral piece "Hi Fi #1". "Hi Fi #2" is more subdued and sounds more like a love theme. Then there's "Hi Fi #3", which sounds like gentle dance music, a bit simillar to some of Mancini's work.
"Anna (Hi Fi #4) sounds like the same melody as "Hi Fi #2" but in an airier, more lilting arrangement. (This melody is a bit similar to "Blue Moon".)
Among the other highlights is "Kuala Lumpur", which begins in a pensive mood but moves onto an orchestral suggestion of the natural beauty of the jungle.
Then there are "Dance #1", "Dance #2" and "Dance #3/Nightcall". The first one is a lightly swaying piece that features the piano. The second one is more sprightly with more action from the percussion. Number three is uptempo and swings pretty hard at first before the band abruptly disappears so that harp and flute can create a quiet space. The rest of the orchestra comes in with dramatic underscore that is alternatingly wistful, suspenseful and romantic. Anna's theme is reprised and there's some action music near the end.
"Jungle" revisits the music for "Big Cat" but without the vocals this time. (Wind instruments take the place of the singers.)
"Chep" has an unusual rhythmic figure that sounds like it's played on electric piano or electric guitar. A melodic line near the end is similar to "The Breeze and I".
There are several tense action cues, such as "Harry and Cat", "Fight" and "Loose Cat".
Two tracks of hand percussion, "Drums #1" and "Drums #2", stand out, as does the alternate main title song "Rampage", which is much more rhythmically intense and actually has the name of the movie as part of the lyrics. (It also has a vocal bit that's very "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".) "The hunter walks in the jungle still / The hunter stalks in the jungle still / The jungle knows that he's there to kill / Rampage!"
The movie itself is a great one for Robert Mitchum fans.
There are all sorts of things wrong with it. It's sexist, racist and stupid. But it's got that 1950s matinee adventure movie atmosphere and Mitchum is almost absurdly powerful and charismatic in it. He's a tough guy and a stud but a very gentle, considerate and reasonable tough guy/stud, which is a rather impressive balancinc act. I can't imagine any other actor puling it off as well as he did.
2011 December 02 • Friday
No NEW TAX BILL MAY BE NEEDED in The Mob, but there's our old friend LIMITED FARM BILL FAVORED (and 3 NAMED TO FIX LIABILITY COSTS).