Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Wonder Of 1950's Technology #14 - The Edsel!

The Edsel remains one of the most enduringly fascinating of product failures.

Here's just one of many wonderful vintage print ads from the Old Car Advertising and Old Car Blog websites.

Tons of late 1950's money was spent promoting the Edsel, including half hour sales films, and tons of commercials like this one:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Seven Great Music Documentaries

How many movies about 20th century music can your blogmeister watch? Too many. No, make that way too many. The following Psychotronic Paul favorites run the gamut from cool jazz to early 1960's pop to avant-garde to funk to headbanging heavy metal.

Photographer Bruce Weber profiles the enigmatic "cool school" trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker, whose brilliant musical talent was only surpassed by his ongoing problems with substance abuse, in Let's Get Lost. Curiously, no matter what opiates-fueled train wreck was going on in Chet's personal life, he continued to perform and record wonderful jazz right up to his death in 1988.

Since the mere mention of The Kinks, The Zombies, The Who, The Small Faces and expecially The Beatles brings a big smile to my face, the BBC's Rock Family Trees remains an all-time favorite television program. This episode examines how the early British Invasion sound, what was known as The Mersey Beat, evolved in the 1950's and early 1960's.

Anyone who read my February 2011 Fleetwood Mac blog posting knows that Peter Green is, far and away, my favorite of all 1960's rock-blues-psychedelia guitarists. The soulfulness of Peter's playing in 1969-1970 has seldom been equaled and never surpassed, even by Peter himself. While the story of what happened to this gifted musician after his departure from the band he founded has its harrowing stretches, Peter survived and got the last laugh on everyone by returning from the ashes in the 1990's and re-asserting himself as England's finest interpreter of the blues (and of Robert Johnson in particular).

Since your blogmeister has been enjoying an extended binge of 1968-1972 James Brown concert recordings recently, so much so that he actually formed a Facebook Group celebrating the Godfather Of Soul, it is fitting that next on the cue is James Brown, Mr. Dynamite. This documentary is one of the few to get beyond his showbiz persona and get acquainted with James Brown the man. James comes across as thoughtful, serious, socially and politically aware.

At the BBC, the late, great John Peel was responsible for outstanding music programming, both on radio and later in documentaries. One of the best, The Artist Known As Captain Beefheart, delves into the musical career of iconoclast and abstract expressionist Don Van Vliet, who established the farthest frontiers of avant-garde rock/jazz with various lineups of The Magic Band before returning to his first love, painting.

AND . . . while the phrases abstract expressionist and avant-garde remain minty fresh in my short-attention span brain, here is another BBC documentary. The subject: the cosmic and intergalactic pianist-composer-bandleader Sun Ra. Nobody could draw upon different music eras with encyclopedic, genre-busting facility while presenting the complex history of African-Americans in 20th century entertainment through a multi-dimensional funhouse mirror = and swinging like mad - quite like Mr. Ra (plebian earthling name, Herman Blount).

Last on the cue is Wendy O. Williams, arguably the single most incendiary performer in rock n' roll history. What "Godfather Of Punk" Iggy Pop started with The Stooges in the 1960's, Wendy and The Plasmatics did tenfold in the 1970's. The Plasmatics merged performance art with ear-splitting yet virtuosic hard rock, inventing speed metal along the way. Before she retired in 1989, Wendy blazed quite an international trail, leaving smashed television sets, singed ballroom roofs, blown-up El Dorados, smoke-filled arenas, damaged eardrums and countless happy fans in her wake. The documentary does not explore who Wendy was offstage, or just why she, like 1960's free jazz provocateur/shit disturber Albert Ayler, ended her own life, but does feature plenty of Plasmatics clips and interviews with her principal collaborators.

Do I need to join a 12-step group for music documentaries? Affirmative. Is there a place to go for a meeting of such a group? Yes, indeedy - the splendid Starigrad Paklenica Film Festival.

A film festival devoted to music documentaries, rockin' the house in Croatia. Yes!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Burt Bacharach Day

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog randomly designates the 20th of a given month as a day to post Burt Bacharach related material. Why? I like his songs - love 'em!

Although I've missed the 20th of several consecutive months, I will rectify that oversight by posting some great Bacharach songs today.

I especially like "The Look Of Love".


Friday, May 18, 2012

Film Preservation Blogathon Bravos, Kudos And Torn Curtain Calls

Another great classic movie blogathon has come to a close and your correspondent (not foreign) at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog was more than happy to participate.

While the writing has been prolific and fantastic, better than ever, donations are substantially less than last year's thus far.

If you haven't done so already, you know what to do!

Big time thanks again to the organizers of the For The Love Of FIlm Blogathon, author-historians Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy On Films, Roderick Heath of This Island Rod and the Self-Styled Siren herself, Farran Smith Nehme.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Boy, Were Those Smiths Rich And Strange by Paul F. Etcheverry

"Hitchcock, already famous for his regard of actors as cattle, arrived on set one day to find a makeshift corral erected, in which were penned a trio of heifers bearing nameplates for Lombard, Montgomery and Raymond." Jay S. Steinberg, Turner Classic Movies website.

Today, proudly participating in the 2012 Film Preservation Blogathon, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog takes a wayward glance at two of the most un-prototypical movies by Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Both cover topics one doesn't tend to associate with The Master Of Suspense: marriage, relationships and intimacy.

Please note: yes, Virginia (Mayo), this is a fundraiser - and that means, Friends, Romans, Countrymen and Film Buffs, by all means put your money where your mouth is and contribute to the National Film Preservation Foundation -  DONATE HERE.


One fact surprises the living daylights out of all but the most diehard classic film buffs; before Norman Bates discovered the joys of dowdy women's clothing and fine cutlery, Hitchcock directed movies in a variety of genres.  While not Howard Hawks in the "jack of all genres" department, Hitch spent much of his first 35 years of filmmaking, both in England and America, alternating whodunits and thrillers with lighter fare.

Most stunning, even to the "seen everything twice and want you to know it crowd", is the fact that Hitchcock made a romantic comedy. Repeat, stop the presses, a romantic comedy. Katie, bar the door, get the smelling salts - and make it a double.

Said light romantic comedy is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, NOT the 2005 espionage thriller with current movie star glamourpusses Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but Sir Alfred's 1941 entry in the screwball comedy genre. It was Hitchcock's fourth American film, and, unfortunately, the second-to-last movie by one of the finest comediennes ever to make 'em laugh and swoon, the fabulous Carole Lombard - who asked him to helm this film. It is also unusual in that, the Hitchcock stamp is more in visual presentation than in the storyline. Hitchcock deferred entirely to writer-collaborator Norman Krasna on the screenplay.

For the male lead in this Park Avenue tale of false marriage certificates and childlike jealousy snits, the first choice of Hitchcock and Lombard, Mr. Cary Grant, was not available. So the patented "suaveness punctuated by periodic stumbling and bumbling" combo in the role of Mr. Smith went to smooth MGM leading man Robert Montgomery. He does a creditable job, works well with Lombard, and brings a certain wit, subdued rakishness and bemusement to the table.

Alas, for film buffs who are conversant with Sir Alfred's long career and having the benefit of hindsight as 1941 audiences could not, the temptation to imagine Grant or Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith is overwhelming. So, if you're a Hitchcock aficionado, PLEASE, repeat after me, "Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart are not in this movie. They will not be making cameo appearances like Bing Crosby in The Princess And The Pirate."  The thought "how would Jimmy Stewart handle this scene?" comes up, although, boy, would this be a different Mr. Smith than the character Jimmy played in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Of course, all eyes are on Ms. Lombard throughout. While it's arguably unfair for any actor to share the screen with such a presence, she is never a selfish scene stealer - and nobody makes a false statement hoping to convince herself of its truth onscreen quite like Carole Lombard. In this and the subsequent Ernst Lubitsch masterpiece To Be Or Not To Be, she gets subtly and fully into the role, not necessarily in a "method acting" sense but unerringly remaining true to the character. It's a prime ingredient in her magic. We'll never know what Carole would have thought about how, 70 years after her death, she would still be regarded as the Queen Of Screwball Comedy, but one imagines the very thought would have given her a huge laugh, soon followed by a ribald story.

There is a fine supporting cast featuring wisecracking Jack Carson, Gene Raymond (whose titular lead in the 1933 RKO musical Flying Down To Rio was stolen by supporting players Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as Smith's goody two shoes partner, to this movie what Ralph Bellamy is to His Girl Friday. Betty Compson, legendary silent movie star and lead in both Hitchcock's The White Shadow and Josef von Sternberg's classic Docks Of New York, has a great small role in one of the film's funniest sequences.

All the basic screwball ingredients are there in a "boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy enjoys alternating between fervent quarrels and makeup sex with girl, boy finds out he's not married to girl and uses this as a weapon, girl breaks up with boy and dates his earnest but dull-as-dishwater law practice partner" scenario. In other words, when the Smiths learn - individually - that, due to a zoning technicality in the town they were married in, their wedding was never legal and they're not legally married, Mrs. wants Mr. to ask her to marry him in a gallant and romantic way. When he's a jerk about it and doesn't do this, hurts her feelings but wants to continue making whoopee, the fur and story complications fly. Hitchcock serves it all up with dry wit, subtle visual flourishes, as well as a measured pace more along the lines of Cukor than the frenzy of Sturges or the fast-talking zaniness of LaCava.

What it's really all about is guys being insensitive jerks and not paying attention to their wives, and what this obliviousness can do to trust between the partners, reducing both to a game of neener-neener-neener.

The social mores of 1941 and post-1934 enforcement of the Production Code are in a tug-of-war with the sophisticated screwball sex farce Hitchcock and Krasna want very much to make here. Many of the essential plot points don't hold up all these decades later, although not quite as badly as in such incredibly dated 1940's comedies as The More The Merrier and Woman Of The Year. In one scene, Mrs. Smith, now single and using her maiden name, Annie Krausheimer, is fired from her department store clerk job, because Mr. Smith barges into the store, insisting he's her husband - and married women were NOT allowed to take retail jobs then. The virtuous law partner of Mr. Smith, played by Gene Raymond, semi-pursues the now footloose and fancy free Miss Krausheimer and thinks about sex rather than bounding into her bedroom and proclaiming "OH - BABY!" Well, it was 1941, after all and Gene's part was "gentleman and a squire" - and some of the best parts of the film are the exchanges between him and his "upper class twit of the year" parents.

For me, the essential deal with Hitchcock, his mojo, is not the genre per se (suspense, noir, drama, thriller) but OBSESSION - and that's something that is missing in action in this entertaining, quirky, witty and often quite funny film, the luminescence of Lombard notwithstanding. Just how one incorporates obsession and danger, even subtly, into a light romantic comedy is another matter, but Hitchcock is much to be admired for the moments in Mr. And Mrs. Smith, delivered via creative camera movements, editing and framing, as well as both subtle gestures and searing glares by Ms. Lombard, when he pulls that feat off.

Now the screwball comedy genre is meant to be light entertainment, so one isn't seeking delirious insanity, fever pitch intensity, violence and mayhem there, but you get a bit of that in Rich And Strange, Hitchcock's fourth talkie. It also starts with a couple in trouble, but in careening between wry drama, sex comedy and go-for-broke adventure, delves a tad more into the territory of dangerous passion, albeit in a very British way. It is witty, nuanced and visually in some ways reminiscent of a late silent, even utilizing titles.

The basic premise is: working class young couple in a rut gets a you-know-what load of money via inheritance and escapes the hoi polloi doing what rich folks - at least those not wiped out by the crash of '29 - did, going on a world cruise.  It opens with a visually stylish montage of British working class life, and the inevitable throngs of office workers hitting the train stations at quitting time and leaving their unending monolithic office structures reminiscent of King Vidor's The Crowd. Henry Kendall and Joan Barry star as the young couple.

As loss of trust and insensitivity is the core issue behind the comedy in Mr And Mrs. Smith, the center of Rich And Strange, driving the storyline, is not the working class couple landing unexpected riches, but their fundamental loss of intimacy. The couple are seen sleeping in separate beds and clearly appear to be living uninspired, sleepwalking zombie-like through their humdrum existences even as they embark upon the cruise. Only after they find the adventure and release they sought, break up with each other for awhile - and then get more excitement than they bargained for when they hop a crummy cargo boat to return home - does even a tentative intimacy and caring start to assert itself between the pair.

Rich And Strange definitely has aspects of a pre-Code, but keeps a certain amount of British stiff upper-lip in the proceedings. Although body parts other than the upper lip become stiff when a rich gent falls for the young wife and the hubby goes gaga over a slinky gold-digging dame who claims to be a princess, the principals are not exactly enjoying all this as "free souls" do in randy Norma Shearer or Joan Crawford movies of the same era. There's always at least a hint of remorse following them around, no matter how much naughty fun they are having in those shipboard affairs.

Rich and Strange then shifts gears dramatically from swinging-philandering wife-swapping pre-Code comedy to stark adventure. The couple end up humiliated, penniless and eventually shipwrecked, only saved when a Chinese junk finds them. One Hitchcock touch involves the rescuers serving up the ship's pet cat as dinner time's main dish. The abrupt but effective transition from comedy to drama makes one wonder if Preston Sturges saw this film before writing Sullivan's Travels.

This being a Hitchcock film, after all, the fade out of the young couple returning to their modest New York digs leaves one with a strong impression that the very toxic relationship patterns that sent these two into doldrums in the first place will return but quick. This wasn't a bit hit with 1931 movie audiences.

The artistic dilemma problem in these two films is one Hitchcock faced throughout his career, a bit differently every time out: how do you make a non-thriller while tossing just a bit of that obsession, madness and danger into the mix?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon Starts TODAY

It's GAME ON for the 2012 For The Love Of Film Preservation Blogathon.

For more. . . and there will be more, LOTS more, check out postings on. . .

To make a contribution to the National Film Preservation Foundation, donate HERE or on the Hitch icon directly below.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

KFJC Pays Tribute To The Firesign Theatre

The Firesign Theatre were nonpareil dry wits, the last of the thinking man's audio-based comics, and among the first to cast a jaundiced, satiric look at 20th century popular culture. KFJC will be devoting, as part of their annual Month Of Mayhem, the better part of two days of programming to the original comedy of Phil Proctor, David Ossman, Phil Austin and the late Peter Bergman, A.K.A. Firesign Theatre.

From 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday and Monday from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, KFJC will be spotlighting the recordings and radio show rarities of Firesign Theatre. There are jokes within jokes, subtleties within complexities and parodies within all of the above that make the quartet's comedy hold up to repeated listenings. For more, in the immortal words of Eddie Harris, listen here.