Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Vincent Price!

34 years ago today, Johnny Rotten wrote "God Save the Queen". 89 years ago, Hammer/Amicus horror mainstay - and star of Horror Of Dracula - Christopher Lee was born. And today is also the 100th birthday of Vincent Price.

While I don't have a clip of Vincent, the master of chilling character roles, singing "Anarchy In The U.K." with The Sex Pistols or cracking jokes on the set with Christopher Lee, unfortunately, this blog presents the next best thing: the following inspired animated tribute by soon-to-be feature film director Tim Burton, who would feature Vincent Price ten years later in the splendid film Edward Scissorhands.

The ten-day Vincentennial festival presented by Cinema St. Louis has been offering a veritable Plethora O' Price.

The bonanza for Missouri movie mavens includes such classic Vincent Price chillers as The Fly, House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum, The Raven, The Tomb Of Ligeia, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Theatre Of Blood.

Quite a few intrepid bloggers have penned scholarly tributes to the post-Lon-Boris-Bela classic horror movie king. Particularly noteworthy are:

I personally enjoyed the following deftly edited compendium of chiller-diller Vincent Price moments a great deal.

And I can't resist the clip from The Monster Club (1980) of Vincent, a few years before his soliloquy in Michael Jackson's Thriller, waxing poetic about the foibles of humanity and then singing "The Monster Mash."

Also can't resist the inevitable freakin' slew of trailers from Vincent Price's AIP backlog, ranging from William Castle chillers to (the very Outer Limits-like) The Last Man On Earth to his roles as evil incarnate in The Masque Of The Red Death and The Witchfinder General - and ultra-campy comedies!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yet More Cool Classic Movie Events In The San Francisco Bay Area

To call San Francisco Bay Area a hospitable locale for classic film buffs craving big screen fun is quite the understatement. The schedules of the Castro Theatre, the Pacific Film Archive, the Stanford Theatre and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum are jam-packed with excellent screenings 52 weeks a year.

I could devote this blog entirely to announcing upcoming classic movie events, but don't - alas, time to write this isn't all that plentiful.

I am, however, happy to give a quick shout-out to various upcoming shows this summer.

I Wake Up Screaming is a splendid annual two-week Film Noir Festival that curator extraordinaire Elliot Lavine programs for The Roxie Theatre.

Tomorrow night, this year's cornucopia of hard-boiled pulp cinema closes with Robert Aldrich's 1955 piece-de-resistance, the incredible Kiss Me Deadly.

In June, the Roxie hosts the Horror Society's fifteen days of 21st century Grand Guignol movie mayhem, the Another Hole On The Head festival: while not my personal cup of tea, this will absolutely be the cat's expensive designer pajamas for aficionados of (quite literal) cutting-edge contemporary indie cinema. On a somewhat more sedate level, the Pacific Film Archive will pay tribute to prolific director Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde, Little Big Man) from June 10-29.

Two silent movie retrospectives will present big screen rarities of the first order this summer. On June 24-26, Niles' Broncho Billy Film Festival will screen rare nuggets from The Mack Sennett Studio, where Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, Edgar Kennedy and many more started their careers in celluloid funmaking. The Castro Theatre will host the 16th San Francisco Silent Film Festival from July 14-17. Both festivals will draw international historians, archivists and diehard classic film buffs like the most powerful of mega-magnets.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Released 45 Years Ago Today: Pet Sounds By The Beach Boys

I regard 1966 as something of a watershed year in 20th century music, across the genres. The sheer number of legendary figures from rock, blues, soul, old-school country, jazz (and those musicians who bravely cut across the genres) still at the top of their game in 1966 and recording great albums boggles the mind.

Smack dab in the middle of this feverish period of creative experimentation, on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds, the acknowledged piece-de-resistance of Brian Wilson And The Beach Boys, was officially released by Capitol Records.

While the average teenage record consumer of the time may well have not known what to make of Pet Sounds, the music community - and especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney - knew that Brian's "orchestral pop" had set a new and most ambitious bar line.

Although Pet Sounds now stands comfortably atop this blogger's short list of absolute favorite pop albums, I must confess that the intricacy, beauty and creativity of the vocal and instrumental arrangements by maestro Brian Wilson were pretty much lost on me in my guitar hero and prog rock-obsessed youth. Perhaps influenced by the rampant over-exposure and saturation of The Beach Boys' numerous Top 40 hits, I didn't "get" Pet Sounds (and such later Beach Boys masterpieces as Sunflower) at the time for a good reason: I didn't actually sit down and listen to the album in its entirety until many years later.

It took repeated listenings to Brian Wilson's music, decades later, sparked by an inspirational viewing of Don Was' 1995 documentary I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, to convince me.

This blogger/music lover's mind was seriously blown by the following YouTube clips about the making of Pet Sounds, which illuminate Brian Wilson's role as producer-arranger-conductor-mastermind.

In 2011, I am still listening to Pet Sounds and finding sonic nuances I had never perceived before.

I still love all that amazing mid-1960's music, from the ever-tuneful Beatles and Beach Boys to the soulful blues and propulsive hard bop, right through to the audacious avantgardists (Zappa, Beefheart, Ayler, Ornette), but will always have a soft spot for the following favorite songs from Pet Sounds:

Brian Wilson produced the "Good Vibrations" single later in 1966 and had planned his "and now for something completely different" followup, SMILE, which departed even from The Beach Boys pop hitmaking formula than Pet Sounds.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Zombies and The Small Faces for the sin of omission, my brief "desert island" list of pop masterpieces that never fail to be satisfying listening, preferably with headphones and without any interruptions, includes:

Of 1950's pop, the recordings that rival the aforementioned psychedelic era chestnuts for profound, sublime artistry - and I never tire of listening to these, either - would be the ultra-atmospheric Frank Sinatra studio masterpieces (Songs For Swingin' Lovers, In The Wee Small Hours, Only The Lonely), many featuring the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. And those ravishingly beautiful albums will be grist for another blog entry.

To Brian, the boys and intrepid Hollywood Studio aces The Wrecking Crew, thanks a million for the music and the memories.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection

This blog's friend and colleague Will The Thrill Viharo has been on fire writing 21st century noir tales for quite some time now. Here's the coming attractions trailer that offers a glimpse of Will's intriguing literary world:

I'm (uncharacteristically) at a loss for words to describe Will's fiction: to term it an original, improvisational, at some times harrowing, at others quite funny "James Cain meets Robert Rodriguez meets Sam Fuller's Naked Kiss meets infinitity" blend is an oversimplication. I look forward to Will's next book, which no doubt will be completely different than all the others and cause me to eat my words with a judicious dose of searingly hot Thai chili sauce.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tonight At The Historic Bal Theatre: The Rock And Roll Horror Show

TONIGHT at 7:00 p.m. at The Historic BAL Theatre
14808 East 14th Street, San Leandro, CA 94578

Bay Area Film Events (Godzilla Fest, Bob Wilkins Tribute, Creature Features At The Giants Game, Beatles Film Festival) and KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival co-founder Sci Fi Bob have joined forces to produce The Rock And Roll Horror Show.

This evening of schlocky big screen fun features The Cave Girls and surf-rockers The Deadlies from the late-night series Creepy KOFY Movietime.

After The Deadlies conjure the rockin' spirit of the late, great Link Wray, archivist Sci Fi Bob will present a screening of spine-chilling 1950's commercials, Frankenstein trailers, vintage rock clips and monstrous cartoons.

Cringe in abject terror AND rock out at the historic Bal Theatre!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday, Willie Mays!

The 80th birthday Willie Mays is a big deal for your correspondent, a San Francisco Giants fan since he was old enough to comprehend the sport.

Willie celebrated his 80th birthday in style, with a luncheon bash, followed by the pre-game ceremony at the opener of the weekend series between the Giants and the Colorado Rockies.

Standing beside Mr. Mays at the festivities were fellow Hall Of Famers Willie "Stretch" McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Orlando "The Baby Bull" Cepeda, as well as two gentlemen who played with Willie on The Birmingham Black Barons in the 1940's! The game that followed turned out to be a thrilling come-from-behind walkoff 4-3 victory over the formidable Rockies.

Mr. Mays is unsurpassed in baseball legend, but arguably equaled by George Herman "Babe" Ruth, who only tore up the American League with 714 dingers, 2213 RBIS and a .342 average after a career as a dominant pitcher.

There have been great hitters (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds), paragons of consistency in the excellence of their all-around game (Henry Aaron, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio), baserunning daredevils (Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Ricky Henderson) who changed the nature of baseball, guys who inspired with clutch hits, amazing throws from the warning track and sheer swagger (Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente), but none combined all of the above quite like Willie Mays.

Willie was also known as a singularly brilliant baseball strategist, a coach on the field, often trusted by managers to relay the latest and greatest signs to his teammates from his roving outfield post. Chris Haft of penned a superlative tribute focusing on Willie's Jedi Master or chess champion baseball mind.

Any discussion of the Say Hey Kid and Sunday sermon in the hallowed halls of the Holy Temple Of Major League Baseball, first and foremost, begins with viewing of a certain play Willie made in the far Siberian depths of center field at New York's Polo Grounds.

If that the catch and throw of the screaming line drive off the bat of the Cleveland Indians' Vic Wertz did not impress the living daylights out of you, dear reader, consider that the game-winning play took place in the freakin' 1954 World Series and emphatically took the oxygen out of the Giants' opponents.

The website of Psychotronic Paul favorite The Daily Show features an interview of The Say Hey Kid by witty comedian and rabid baseball fan Jon Stewart. Even better among the various interviews with Willie available on YouTube are the following splendid two-parter:

Thankfully, Willie, a frequent visitor to the Giants' clubhouse, got to relish the first San Francisco Giants World Series victory in 2010, take the trophy to New York, visit the elementary school he attended and share baseball lore with East Coast baseball fans, some of whom were there for the Giants' upset of the mighty 111-43 Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

In the city of San Francisco, May 6 is officially Willie Mays Day. SAY HEY!

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Jazz Guitar Genius Of Eddie Lang

Before Django, before Oscar Alemán, before Charlie Christian, there was Eddie Lang.

Trained as a violinist, the Philadelphia-born Lang switched to banjo and guitar and, after a prominent role in the popular Mound City Blue Blowers, ultimately became New York City's studio ace with the OKeh, Columbia and Victor record labels - in a role not dissimilar from fellow "house guitarists" Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis at Norman Granz' Verve Records a quarter century later - working with recording artists of diverse styles and persuasions.

Using the nom-de-plume Blind Willie Dunn in those 1920's days of segregation, Eddie played guitar with Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson and many more jazz and blues innovators.

When the guitarist joined the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, which also featured Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, he met Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. The trio soon got down to business recording such Roaring Twenties classics as the following:

Arguably, Lang's best known musical partnership was with violinist Joe Venuti.

Here's a brief clip of the inspired Venuti/Lang duo - without a doubt, an enormous influence on The Hot Club Of France - from the "meet the band" segment of Universal Pictures' 1930 musical (and tribute to Whiteman), The King Of Jazz:

The following bit of Fun On The Frets features Eddie performing a beautifully arranged duo with another superb early jazz guitarist, Carl Kress.

Eddie, like The Boswell Sisters, had a guest shot in The Big Broadcast Of 1932. He plays his customary stellar guitar and shares the screen with Bing Crosby:

Unfortunately, in one of those pointless tragedies, Eddie Lang passed away on March 26, 1933 as a result of a botched tonsillectomy. Music fans are very lucky that he recorded prolifically.

This blog extends 21st century bravos and huzzahs to this trailblazer of jazz guitar.

If this piques your swingin' heart's interest, by all means read Sally-Ann Worsfold's excellent and comprehensive liner notes from The Quintessential Eddie Lang CD - and we thank those who create the Red Hot Jazz website for posting them.