Monday, February 28, 2011

The Attack Of Les Fleetwood-Mac

Must digress from this blog's February 2011 obsession with classic cartoons, hard-boiled film noir (as if anybody ever made a soft-boiled noir) and "finger pickin' good" sounds by gifted Chicago bluesman Magic Sam to indulge another shamelessly guitar-related addiction (not Jane's Addiction, Perry Farrell's hard rock-metal-folk ensemble, this time around).

And that would be the early incarnations of Psychotronic Paul's favorite British rockers, that most unpredictable of 20th Century rock n' roll and pop music ensembles, Fleetwood Mac.



Guitarist Peter Green formed the band in 1967, naming it after rhythm section mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie while the latter was still keeping his day job in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Bob Brunning played bass on the first Fleetwood Mac appearances, until McVie left Mayall.




The Fleetwood Mac lineup I personally, like Stuart Smalley, require a conscientious 12-step group to stop listening to is Version 2, together from 1968 through May 25, 1970 (the date of their last gig at London's Roundhouse): the quintessential, incomparable British blues-rockabilly-garage-punk-classic rock-vaudeville-misterioso-psychedelic jam band, featuring three virtuoso blues-rock guitarists (each unique and markedly stylistically different from the other two): Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer.



The Three Faces Of Mac (version 2.0)

Peter Green


A.K.A. "Greeny" or "The Green God", Peter still plays music and sings with a rough-hewn blues voice he didn't have in his Mayall and Fleetwood Mac days; he does not make live appearances frequently but can be seen playing the blues in venues in England. He was one ferocious rocker back in the day.









Danny Kirwan


Danny Kirwan joined the band in 1968 and wrote quite a bit of original material, ranging from ethereal instrumentals to sprightly McCartney-esque rockers, for all the Mac albums from "Then Play On" (1969) through "Bare Trees" (1972).






Danny's recording of "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues", the B-side of Mac's "Santo And Johnny" tribute Albatross, is a wonderfully original and melodic piece.

It's the only song I've ever heard that merges the 1960's British Invasion sound with the phraseology of Hot Club Of France swing guitar genius Django Reinhardt; it (and some of the retro-style pop tunes on Danny's 1970's solo albums) explains why Greeny nicknamed him "Ragtime Cowboy Joe". Here it is:




And, speaking of McCartney-esque rockers, here's "Only You", a frequent centerpiece of the 1969-1970 Fleetwood Mac set list.



Jeremy Spencer



The third of los tres guitarristas, class clown, Elmore James lovin' slide specialist, rockabilly, Elvis impersonator, vaudevillian and salacious, crazed rocker Jeremy Spencer. Has lived literally all over the world in the four decades since leaving Fleetwood Mac and periodically plays concerts and festivals, adding his signature slide guitar to his current band of enthusiastic blues aficionados from Norway.







After Peter Green's departure, Kirwan and Spencer co-led the 1970-1971 lineup. Green was not replaced, but bassist John McVie recruited his wife Christine, a key member and driving force of popular 1960's English blues band Chicken Shack, to Fleetwood Mac. Christine, who contributed piano to several studio recordings of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, brought her considerable talents as a pianist and vocalist, as well as a pronounced flair for pop songcraft, to the mix.



The Fleetwood Mac lineup (version 3) that recorded the Kiln House album was a wonderfully loopy blend of Spencer's blues/rockabilly with Kirwan's rocking romanticism and Christine McVie's formidable songwriting.




One could argue that "early Fleetwood Mac" ended either with Peter Green leaving the band or the sudden, impromptu February 1971 departure of Jeremy Spencer during the tour promoting the Kiln House album (note: live recordings from said 1970-1971 tour can be found on the Madison Blues double CD). . . or trace the end to Danny Kirwan's subsequent meltdown during the 1972 Bare Trees tour, involving a backstage altercation, the destruction of his beloved black Les Paul and his walking out on the band during a gig. He was, not surprisingly, canned and the tour came to a screeching halt.



Save a handful of performances in England and three indie solo albums in the 1970's, that meltdown was the end of Danny Kirwan's musical career. At the end of the day, this gifted songwriter/guitarist, like Peter Green, was capable of creating loving, healing music but unable to heal the pain within himself.


Christine McVie and songwriter-guitarist Bob Welch picked up the pieces and co-led a more pop-oriented, jazzy and under-appreciated Mac lineup in 1972-1974; while receiving little attention at the time, this ensemble created very good albums featuring strong songwriting and musicianship, with Christine's vocals (not surprisingly) a standout.



As if the band had not gone through enough turmoil: an affair between new guitarist Bob Weston and the boss' wife blew up Mac version 6, the Mystery To Me tour was abruptly cancelled AND manager Clifford Davis hired five unknown musicians to play the tour's remaining dates as a bogus Fleetwood Mac. Seems Davis figured that, as far as the real band members were concerned, "no one would be the wiser" and the early 70's audience would be too stoned to know the difference; yes, they may well have been loaded to the gills, but not so much so as to not notice the absence of both Mick Fleetwood and John McVie!

No doubt weary of the unending drama, Bob Welch bailed at the end of 1974, after the Heroes Are Hard To Find tour. Songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came on board for version 8, bringing the pop sensibility and signature three part harmonies of Southern California folk-rock (along with an uncanny gift for writing amazingly catchy hummable hooks) to the band, thus completing Fleetwood Mac's chameleonic transformation from scruffy English rockers to gazillion-selling American popsters.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tex Avery



Today's posting recalls a line from The Last Hurrah, the Spencer Tracy vehicle directed by John Ford: "how do you thank a guy for a million laughs?"

You can't, really, but one of those I would thank first is the great Tex Avery.

A year ago, I wrote, "Whatever modest snippet of humanity reads this blog very likely not only knows the legend of innovative and outrageous animator Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery, born in Taylor, Texas on February 26, 1908, but owns DVD copies of every cartoon he directed for Warner Brothers and MGM."



Tex passed on in 1980, and would have been very uncomfortable with anyone calling him a comic genius, but that's exactly what he was. In live-action comedy, only Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Charley Chase and Ernie Kovacs could go toe-to-toe with Tex in consistently writing brilliant, original sight gags.

Tex Avery was, among other things - rescuer of various members of the Warner Bros. cartoon staff during a ski trip mishap, blind in one eye (due to a prank gone terribly wrong at the Walter Lantz studio), a descendant of Judge Roy Bean - the guy who brought the cartoon biz out of post-Production Code of 1934 (and Disney envy) doldrums by joining the Warner Brothers cartoon studio in 1935.

Here is one of the Oswald The Lucky Rabbit cartoons Tex animated on at Lantz, back in the "rubber hose animation" era of 1933; whether Tex was personally responsible for some of the Pre-Code "bad taste" jokes here, we'll never know!



Tex had helmed a couple of Ozzie cartoons, but had not headed up his own unit when he presented himself to producer Leon Schlesinger as a director of Looney Tunes.

Tex joined Warner Brothers' cartoon outfit at a time when the Schlesinger Studio had only been in operational for less than two years, Disney reigned supreme, Fleischer was still both competitive and original with their gritty Popeye cartoons - and everyone else in the cartoon biz was racking their brains and pencils trying to figure out a way just to keep up.

The fledgling Leon Schlesinger studio had been producing passable but far from scintillating "Buddy" cartoons and even less scintillating Merrie Melodies for Vitaphone release.



The Merrie Melodies series, while now in color, hit a serious rut and were infinitely less peppy than the entries cranked out by former producers Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising just a few years earlier in 1931-1932.



The series had become so weak that in the trade ads, only the characters who succeeded Buddy and Bosko in WB's Looney Tunes (including the early, grotesque version of Porky Pig) were seen in the 1935 trade ads.



Tex' opportunity to direct at Schlesinger's arose as a result of the sudden departures of former Disney staffers turned Looney Tunes directors Earl Duval and Tom Palmer in 1934.



The "Termite Terrace" boys in the summer of 1935: (from left) Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett


Schlesinger assigned veteran animators Sid Sutherland and Virgil Ross, along with young troublemakers Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett, to Tex Avery's new Looney Tunes unit and made sure this band of wackos was separate from Friz Freleng's Merrie Melodies group. The result: Termite Terrace, where Tex challenged the gospel according to Disney and started making damn funny cartoons pretty darn quickly.


After seven years at Warners, Tex moved on to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. One of the most hilarious of the Tex Avery's MGM cartoons is the following delirious 1940's-style spin on Robert Service's macho Yukon saloon poem The Shooting Of Dan McGrew, featuring classic jokes (I especially like the "drinks are on the house" bit), Droopy, Red Hot Riding Hood and the ever-lascivious Wolf.


Monday, February 21, 2011

For The Last Day Of The Film Preservation Blogathon: A Recipe For Film Noir And Musings On Its Predecessors by Paul F. Etcheverry



(Note: there are general, if not specific, spoilers in this post, if you have not seen all the films referenced)

Today is the last day of the For The Love Of Film (Noir) blogathon, in support of the Film Noir Foundation. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog tips the Jimmie Hatlo top hat to hostesses with the mostest Marilyn Ferdinand of
Ferdy On Films and the Self-Styled Siren, Farran Smith Nehme. And Greg Ferrara, who designed the Maltese Falcon logo and cool promotional trailer.

The blogathon's extended wave of scholarly and thoughtful writing has me pondering how the heck one defines the genre, once establishing that the 1970 Florence Henderson vehicle
The Song Of Norway



. . . is definitely not a film noir.

While positively reeking of that distinctive dark, foreboding sensibility, the genre's stylistic predecessors, German Expressionism (usual suspects: Lang, Murnau, Pabst and von Sternberg) and gritty American pre-code movies lack that 1941-1956 period flavor and hovering influence of pulp fiction icons James Cain, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and thus, aren't quite film noir.



Noir predecessors include both the silent-era futurist/surreal brand of Expressionism (Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis) and tough early talkies (The Threepenny Opera and the still disturbing M) from Ufa Studios and, also from the mean streets, various European and American melodramas involving obsession/sexual addiction that propels beautiful babes, dirty young men and dirty old men on what punk rocker Iggy Pop termed a "Death Trip". The symbiotic relationship between entrapment and wanton self-destruction seen in film noir are fully evident in both the Weimar Republic and Hollywood takes on this scenario.



Among these racy and often corrosive films that blasted a searing light on sexual politics and social mores: G.W. Pabst's now iconic Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl, Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich humiliating the crap out of perennial "poor sap" Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel and fever-pitched American pre-codes Three On A Match, Baby Face and The Story Of Temple Drake.



Film noir is also a direct outgrowth of cynical urban crime stories, fast-talking newsroom tales and provocative social dramas, many from WB-Vitaphone-First National: The Public Enemy, Two Seconds, Five Star Final, The Mouthpiece, I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Heat Lightning, Blessed Event, The Front Page, Heroes For Sale and the aforementioned Baby Face are uncompromising dispatches from the cheatin' heart of The Great Depression.



What are some essential ingredients in the recipe for a well-prepared film noir?


  • City, preferably naked, dirty and tawdry

  • Handsome but messed-up anti-hero

  • Not-so-handsome but dogged protagonist




  • Hard-boiled private dick

  • Wiseguy who knows all the angles

  • Femme fatale

  • Adultery, followed by murder of oafish "lousy lay" spouse




  • Alcoholism (private dick, wiseguy and screenwriter)

  • Escaped convicts and/or killers on the lam

  • Fedoras, preferably battered (not beer-battered)




  • Struggling men, down on their luck, preferably battered

  • Out-of-left-field plot twists

  • Lethal accidents

  • Kidnappings




  • Sleazy hoodlums

  • Sleazier cops

  • Handguns

  • Greasy diner food, washed down with crappy coffee

  • Bicarbonate of soda for chronic indigestion

Directions: Hire an ambitious director, creative cinematographer who adores shooting fast black and white film with dramatic lighting and (preferably) a blacklisted screenwriter. Bake all actors, extras and production staff with a short, brutal, taxing shooting schedule. Mix well but don't take too long. Do not exceed limited budget or use moralism, sweet butter or cheese!



The blogathon extends through today, so there's still time to make a donation. Need motivation? Imagine sitting in your favorite movie palace seeing
The Sound Of Fury in restored 35mm glory! Then envision seeing Cy Endfield's 1950 noir on the big screen again, at the late show!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Burt Bacharach Day

Since I started doing this blog, I've set aside a day a month as Burt Bacharach Day. Why? Because I like his harmonies, melodies, piano and arrangements - and I think he's wrongly shoehorned into the bloodless, tepid "easy listening" category by many (some of whom don't know better). And I've only forgotten to set aside the 20th of a given month for Burt two or three times!

Now, if I could continue this week's noir theme, the best course would be to find a clip of the great Mel Tormé singing Burt Bacharach and Hal David's truly Spillane-ish art song The Desperate Hours, a promotional piece for William Wyler's 1955 noir of the same name. Alas, I can't seem to find a single clip along these lines among the numerous uploads by Burt, Mel, Wyler and noir fans, so I'll go with another clip, this one of the Australian instrumental ensemble Sex On Toast (white, whole wheat or pumpernickel, I wonder?) performing Burt's ballad "Nikki".



More clips of this top-notch group performing can be found on their YouTube channel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Celebrates Its 10 Year Anniversary



Big time congrats to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, one of the few places on the planet that screens amazing vintage silent-era movies every weekend, on their first decade of stellar contributions to the South Bay cultural landscape.

As the poster notes, there will be a screening of Lilac Time, co-starring silver screen icon Gary "Coop" Cooper with the winsome Colleen Moore, a week from today, February 26, at 7:30 p.m., at the museum's Edison Theatre. Dr. Jon Mirsalis, who, among countless appearances accompanying silents, performed an exceptional, rousing original score for Wild Bill Wellman's epic Wings at the museum, will be waxing poetic on the Kurzweil.

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536-2949

Friday, February 18, 2011

Classic Cartoon Companions To Film Noir

"Even in the best film noir, isn't there always a moment when you ask yourself "what the hell is going on?" Trish, author of the entertaining and well-written I Wake Up Screaming film noir blog

Animation historian and prolific author Jerry Beck recently curated a program as part of his Tuesday night animation series at Hollywood's Silent Movie Theatre titled Cartoon Noir. Enjoy the following splendid promotional trailer, chock full of animated variations on noir essentials.



What's the Psychotronic Paul pick as the classic cartoon most in tune with the tension-inducing yet dreamlike visual milieu - the lighting, use of black and white, claustrophobic camera compositions - and underlying confusion-paranoia of film noir? The following Columbia Phantasy, The Vitamin G-Man, courtesy of the much maligned and ever-twisted Screen Gems Studio:



For the exact same reasons many historians absolutely loathe Columbia cartoons - its randomness and complete disregard for anything remotely resembling the fundamentals of story/sight gag construction (even as loosely practiced in animated cartoons) - I love this.

In second place by a molecule is Duck Pimples, an uncharacteristically wacky Disney cartoon, helmed by the studio's best comedy director, the criminally underrated Jack Kinney - with story by Dick Shaw and VIP Partch.



The only reason Flora, a very funny sendup of film noir directed by Alex Lovy for the Screen Gems Studio, as well as such hilarious whodunit spoofs as Bob Clampett's The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (starring "Duck Twacy") and Tex Avery's Who Killed Who? receive a mere honorable mention is because they're in color, not my preference for noir visual styling!

Comedy writer Merrill Markoe has pulled a "What's Up, Tiger Lily" with a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and in so doing created a recent attempt at Cartoon Noir; it strikes me as much more along the lines of a European (Western or Eastern) existentialist road picture than a noir, but did make me laugh - and the Peter Lorre voice is a hoot. And besides, there are no Quick Draw McGraw cartoons that I know of involving alcoholism, mistaken identities, the urban jungle, chain-smoking, gangsters, psycho killers, impending doom or equine Joan Bennetts.




Reading the scholarly prose of many talented contributors to the For The Love Of Film (Noir) Blogathon - including David Robson's fascinating review of the recent anime noir by the creator of the Cowboy Bebop TV series - got me pondering yet again whether there actually such a thing as "cartoon noir"?

I'm not so sure that there actually is such a thing as a pure "cartoon noir", all the animated goodies referenced here notwithstanding. Cartoon characters, unlike the doomed denizens of noir, can only be killed or maimed for a gag; if an animated Gloria Grahame gets viciously blasted in the face with scalding coffee by a Lee Marvin caricature, she's back in the next scene, 100% healed - leaving Lee's jaw to drop to the floor and his bloodshot bad guy eyeballs to fall out of their sockets in utter disbelief.


Once conceding the obvious, that Tex Avery and Fritz Lang possessed wild, unfettered imaginations and totally opposite sensibilities - at that point, one forgets all about such comparisons and watches a DVD of My Name Is Julia Ross, just one masterpiece by B-movie and noir auteur Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo).

That is, after donating to the Film Noir Foundation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Film Noir Blogathon



The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy On Films co-host the Film Preservation Blogathon, A.K.A. For The Love Of Film (Noir) Blogathon, which started yesterday and extends through February 21.



Hopefully, the blogathon will raise 1947 vintage Brinks trunks full of do-re-me for the cause of film preservation. The fundraiser is not only inspiring terrific writing, but even has its own promotional trailer, created by Greg Ferrara!



Here's a link to the Pay Pal page for the fundraiser, which also has a Facebook group.

The Film Noir Foundation has been instrumental in the re-evaluation and preservation of the fascinating dark corners of American post-WW2 cinema. The latest vintage film noir targeted for restoration by the UCLA Film And Television Archive: Cy Endfield's hard-hitting drama The Sound Of Fury.

Although American genre films were acclaimed as early as the mid-1950's by Cahiers du cinéma filmmaker-critics Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, it took decades and the persistent efforts of historians for film noir to get respect - and for the following taut, provocative thrillers to make the transition from overlooked programmers to celebrated classic movies.











And. . . to indirectly continue the blues thread from yesterday's posting, but tie it into the For The Love Of Film (Noir) Blogathon, listen to the following smoky, bluesy, most atmospheric "noir jazz" pieces by the great Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. If these compositions don't conjure visions of a messed-up looking Robert Mitchum, face down underneath a barstool and pondering why his magic carpet ride has become an inexorable, screaming toboggan to Hell on the Death Spiral Express, nothing will.




Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day? It's Magic Sam's Birthday!

In my (not humble) opinion, Valentine's Day, even though I wrote a rambling, unwieldy posting about it three years ago, is, without a doubt, the SUCKIEST of holidays.

Now, I'm as romantic as the next guy (and very likely more so), but this is a consumerist and selective holiday, designed specifically to sell stuff. While the non-religious can celebrate Christmas and folks who would be emphatically barred from serving in the military can gleefully barbeque meats on July 4 and Veterans Day, can people without partners celebrate Valentine's Day?

By definition, good ol' VD Day harshly divides everyone into haves and have-nots, as if we need more of that. As they used to say at county fairs, what a crock!

So forget the sucky holiday ever existed and enjoy the outstanding music of Chicago blues master Samuel Maghett, a.k.a. Magic Sam, born on February 14, 1937.



Sadly, Sam has long since left this music and healing hungry planet, but the remastered West Side Soul, fortunately for music lovers, has been reissued by the wonderful Delmark Records (the same label that re-issued Hawk Squat by another Chicago guitar genius, J.B. Hutto) and remains in print.



Here's Sam, making magic with the personal axe of another under-recorded treasure, slide guitarist Earl Hooker.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

This Sputtering Blog


Your correspondent, post-oyster consumption

And now for something completely different - a rare moment with the writer of "Way Too Damn Lazy To Write" this blog, which appears to be running out of steam after 460 motley entries.

Largely due to ongoing and pesky (as well as very Food Network unfriendly) health issues, I find that my will to continue posting is at least half-diminished, if not as diminished as a Django Reinhardt uber-riff-flourish running the entire fretboard of his beloved Macaferri.



The links section here spotlights a fair number of bloggers who
not only post frequently, but direct a tremendous amount of time, effort and writing chutzpah into their blogs.

Today, instead of actually writing a blog entry, I'll just pick one from the aforementioned links to recommend with The Psychotronic Paul Seal Of Approval: John McElwee's Greenbriar Picture Shows, just one among many amazing sources of enthusiastic, thoughtful and well-researched information about classic films.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

R.I.P. Mary Cleere Haran and Tura Satana


Songstress Mary Cleere Haran (1952-2011)

Still getting over frequent losses from the world of music - numerous jazz artists, rock guitar guru Ron Asheton, both Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel of the wonderful Big Star, and the truth teller, the preacher of soul, Mr. Solomon Burke - I prefer not to post about recently passed luminaries most of the time. I detest being "The R.I.P. Blog".

Alas, here's yet another untimely loss, just a week after the passing of legendary film and television composer John Barry: that of sprightly vocalist
Mary Cleere Heran.

Ms. Haran
was much loved by aficionados of Broadway singing, the swinging Sinatra style and intimate cabaret performance for her stage presence and distinctive approach to classic standards.



The girl could, like Julie London, really put a song over in a unique style.





And now for something completely different. . .



Tura Satana
, martial arts-trained exotic beauty and larger-than-life queen of cult movies, passed away at 72 on February 4.



It would be an understatement to say that she made quite an impact in her screen and television appearances! Before Pam Grier, before Kill Bill, before Kick-Ass, there was Tura.



Just why no one tried to make a "Green Hornet" sendup in 1970 featuring the rough-and-ready Tura as Kato, I don't know.



Indeed, an R-rated "Green Hornet", like an action-packed Kung Fu extravaganza starring Tura as the ultimate ass-kicking powerhouse, would have been fabulous and enduring entertainment, stretching from the drive-ins and grindhouse movie palaces to 21st century Blu-Ray players around the world.




San Francisco Bay Area pulp fiction author and columnist Will The Thrill Viharo has penned an excellent tribute to Tura.



These queens of Broadway and B-movies will be much missed.