Friday, December 18, 2009

I Only Have Eyes For You

Another one for the romantics...

'I Only Have Eyes For You' by The Flamingos (featuring several of Natalie Wood's great film moments.)

This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

Home... it's where the fun is. 

Here's a little video I made for one of my favorite Talking Heads songs. Enjoy :-)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Retro Active Critique #15

Directed by Herbert Ross, scripted by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, 'The Last of Sheila' is a snappy whodunit that's fun from the get-go. Each moment has bite and the teeth belong to the splendid cast, stand-outs being the brilliantly dry James Mason as the burnt-out director, the crackling and buzzing Dyan Cannon as a loud-mouth Hollywood agent, the dour yet dapper Richard Benjamin as a defeated screenwriter and the irrepressible James Coburn as the wild man, Clinton, who pulls all the strings for his little marionettes.

Rounding out the bunch (beautifully) are Racquel Welch, Ian McShane and Joan Hackett. The film is about several friends, their Hollywood trappings, a murder, a colossal yacht, a sadistic host and one heck of a game –– but it's all in good fun. Or so Clinton tells them.
'The Last of Sheila' is so refreshing and it boasts enormous talent, in terms of its writing, direction and performances. Yet it remains rather unknown. Of course, it is from 1973, which explains its being reviewed here 'Retro-Active'ly. A mystery about a mystery –– within a mystery. What a film! 

For me, this is one of the best –– perhaps because it matches my personal preferences on so many levels. But I recommend this gem to anyone who can find a copy (and fortunately, this one is available on DVD, unlike some previous Retro Active recommendations I've made :-))
Indeed, who doesn't love a good mystery? Particularly one that's this tautly-written with a good, healthy dose of psychology mixed in. Each character is fully fleshed out. But what's more, the story is immensely fun and engaging. Interactive, if you will. In other words, if you like to THINK, you'll be sure to enjoy yourself. 

As if that's not enticing enough, you'll also feel as if you are going along for the ride, having a mischievous time on board the yacht. The entire film is a mass of jovial entertainment, but it's worth watching if only to see the masterful James Mason in the final scene. And Dyan Cannon gives a strong performance, particularly in one scene after she nearly drowns and is brought back onto the boat.

I could rave about this one to no end. But I am not just being a cheerleader. I already feel the urge to revisit 'The Last of Sheila' again, as I write this, despite having watched it only a few days ago. That is how much I love it. 'The Last of Sheila' could be one of the most entertaining films you've never seen –– or heard about –– before.

Here is a preliminary viewing to get you started, made with several clips & the song 'Winds of Barcelona' by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jim & Pam ('Peace Frog')

Long before the TV Jim & Pam coupling came about in an office sitcom, there was the real-life (read, 'larger-than-life') Jim & Pam union in a rock & roll universe. (Didn't you know?)

"Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding. Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile egg-shell mind."

Here's a video I made for 'Peace Frog'. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tighten Up

Time to get your party boots on and tighten up!

Here's a video I made, with love, for the peppy hit by Archie Bell & The Drells.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rear Window - Grace Kelly & James Stewart for Halloween 2009

We dressed up as James Stewart (L.B. Jefferies) & Grace Kelly (Lisa Fremont) in a classic scene from 'Rear Window'.

Maybe Hitch would have been pleased with our efforts. We certainly had a lot of fun with this character-driven homage to 'Rear Window' for Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sci-Fi Classics! "Destination Moon", "La Decima Vittima" and "Fahrenheit 451"

Here is a blog post I contributed to Ultra Swank, an essential location for your retro adventures.

So check out Ultra Swank for more retro-inspired fun.

Destination Moon (1950)

– The next rocket we build is going to the moon.
– Let’s go to lunch.
– I’m serious, Jim.

– No, you can’t be. It’s too fantastic! The moon?? Hmph! Impossible!

It is a fun jolt to see a film in which this dialogue is spoken without the slightest hint of sarcasm. “Destination Moon” was pure science fiction when it was released, and the first of its genre to be produced in the United States. Now it’s practically pre-historic, and certainly not as much about fiction. But that is what makes it so charming and a kitschy to watch. Pull out your old space suit and get ready for a trip! Anyhow, these gentlemen set about trying to get investors on board to build their outlandish and unheard of rocket ship to the moon. Their instructional film, within the film (a cartoon starring Woody Woodpecker, of all things!) is nothing short of awesome. It teaches in simplified terms how a rocket can indeed get to the moon with far less effort than perceived – for all the skeptics.

This film was released in 1950 and man’s first steps on the moon’s surface were taken in 1969 and that is why “Destination Moon” is a film that instantly reminds us of the science-fiction genre’s ability in, and reputation for, foreseeing the future. If it is a bright look, such as the idea of going to the moon, it is a welcome trait. (Disaster films that cloud the science fiction genre are deplorable, but that’s another topic.) Our imaginations can create our future and it’s important to realize the strength of our storytelling. “Destination Moon” also gives one a feeling of nostalgia for a time when science was all about the possibility of what is to come… as opposed to now, with our having to look rather far back in our history to find those peak moments of scientific achievement and excitement. If you’re in the mood for a little space travel, “Destination Moon” is definitely the retro sci-fi pick for you.

The Tenth Victim (La Decima Vittima) (1965)

Who doesn’t love watching a stylized, madcap, bachelor-pad-beat–filled sci-fi flick… in Italian? In the society depicted in “La Decima Vittima”, or “The Tenth Victim”, those with a violent nature have the chance to quench their tendencies by way of legalized murder. It’s a dangerous game - one is the hunter and the other the hunted, there are murderers and murderesses running amok with licenses to kill one another. Oh, but it’s all very organized and acceptable. Practically civilized. There are location scouts for where the big hunt’s finale will take place, contracts to consider, and so on… The public, similarly, can be entertained by this indulgent arrangement by way of broadcasts, as they anticipate and bet on who will win. Sound a little familiar? Its subject is far ahead of its time. You essentially have a look at what reality programs are today, but this was four decades in advance. Rather impressive!

Without “La Decima Vittima”, there would not have been a “Running Man” or any number of other films of this variety. (There is even a primo scene with Ursula Andress that inspired the Austin Powers bullet-bra wielding ladies.) This film is essential 1960’s viewing, as are the mod wardrobes. And, of course, there are the film’s leads - Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress and Elsa Martinelli. All of whom are easy on the eyes. The Tenth Victim is a funny, stylish and exciting sci-fi romp… Italian style.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Farhenheit 451”, directed by Francois Truffaut and based on Ray Bradbury’s classic tale, is a slightly odd one to watch in that it takes the viewer through several dismal emotions, such as alienation and loneliness. In this sci-fi thriller, firemen do not put out fires, but create them. Their main objective is to burn books, since books are perceived to be dangerous. The government has determined to ban each and every work of literature because they can separate people and make them ‘unhappy’.
People are told it’s best for their well being to be uniform in their thinking. The story’s protagonist is Guy Montag, a dutiful fireman moving up in the ranks. Consequently, the situation is seen from the perspective of enforcer rather those who are the subjects of this rigid discipline. Montag’s wife, Linda, is also abiding in her endeavors, as she takes her calming pills and watches her TV ‘family’ or ‘cousins’ on their wall screen at home. Early on, Montag befriends a woman who opens his eyes to how he and his colleagues are perceived, and she is a major catalyst in his personal conflict. Montag is motivated to do well at his job, but begins to question his duties and starts to secretively and obsessively read the banned books he was meant to destroy. He finally tires of watching as his wife is brainwashed day after day with her pills and television, while he destroys all that really connects people to humanity and to their past.
“Fahrenheit 451” is a sad and forlorn portrait of what the world could be without books, and it makes you glad to have the option to read (though of course not many even do!) Ray Bradbury has said he was inspired by numerous book burnings and even the turn of the century witch-hunts to write this sci-fi classic. Truffaut’s stark film version stars Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. This is one of those films that’s perfect to watch a cold and rainy afternoon - and you’ll want to pick up a good book right after!

If The Love Fits Wear It, Baby

Another video I made recently... featuring the great Astaire dancing with three of his ladies, some swans, love, fun - and lots of pink:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Must Be the Season of (Bewitched)

Here is a video I made for Donovan's "Season of the Witch", starring two episodes of Bewitched. Another one for Halloween. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Werewolves of London

Here's a Halloween montage for werewolf aficionados, set to Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves of London' –– and, for the most part, the excellent John Landis film 'An American Werewolf in London'.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

History of Claudine Longet: Demure Entrance, All Too Dramatic Exit

Gentle Claudine, who sings in a lilting whisper. (She did what?!)
I first learned about the incident from someone when discussing "The Party" back in 2001. He said, "You know the songbird in it, Sellers' love interest, killed someone in real life?" I couldn't believe it. After that, I gathered whatever info I could about Claudine Longet. It occurred to me this could be a fascinating biopic to write, after investigating it a bit. And to think what today's tabloids would have done with her back then. Being a fan of "The Party" and quickly becoming a fan of her recordings –– and out of respect for her 'victim'/then-boyfriend, the skier Spider Sabich –– I couldn't bring myself to want to do it. I'd want it to be a first-hand account, if anything. Not some skewed perspective from what little information there is about it. 
What I know is this: Claudine Longet started out as a showgirl and became a rather demure chanteuse and actress who married Andy Williams, had kids with him and sang lullaby cover versions of pop songs in the 1960's. She later broke off their marriage to live in Aspen with celebrated Olympic skier Sabich. This was the 1970's, and drugs were definitely involved. One day, she 'accidentally' shot him. Tragically, he died. The trial must have been rough but she was exonerated for the most part. People have and always will suspect her of a drug-infused measure of foul play although she claims that the gun went off by mistake. Ever since, she's disappeared and still living on in Aspen -- not alone, but with the man who was her defense attorney for the trial... which amounts to a bit of good fortune for her, I would think, since she was considered a social leper after the incident and still today. A dramatic story, indeed.
Personally, I have been satisfied to leave it alone and listen to her sweet songs. I'm already considering taking down this post. Does anyone need to know about this really? I actually like Claudine Longet and her music a great deal, so I wanted to write about her -- and this is what happened. Maybe I'll do another post focusing on her albums.

One of my favorite cinematic moments, from Blake Edwards' "The Party" -- here's Claudine singing Mancini's "Nothing To Lose", while Sellers' Hrundi Bakshi desperately waits to relieve himself...! :-)
My friend Rebecca shared this next wonderful video with me. Fits with this, as well as one of my earlier posts, Please Don't Stop The Moog Or The Modness.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Gil Scott Heron - King of Mortal Conscience

What can I say about this man? The very thought of him is enough to make me feel a certain zeal for mankind, for being able to claim him as ours, somehow. He's the flawed, fallible hero who sinks to depths others have yet to accept –– if only to rise above them and relay his findings. And his story is our country's collective, sometimes forgotten, and all-too-often ignored one.

This gifted, educated man might have been told by his surroundings and experiences that he's not meant to be the one who will embrace the ghetto, but he adopted and held it like his own child. He took the responsibility others would have resisted. He'd denounce its weaknesses while he lived them. He became addicted to its drugs, but this is a man I would excuse even the greatest weakness because he is honest. A king of conscience who has lived in such a raw state of acute consciousness, it is understandable he'd require some level of escape. Because he's always so present and aware.

I have nothing at all to do with the experiences he's put forth in his music, but Gil Scott Heron is my hero.

And he's still definitely got it. I was lucky to see GSH perform for my birthday this year. Here he is in San Francisco. He was his witty, inspiring self and the entire audience was smitten and mesmerized. It felt like good company. This video was shot on my small digital camera, and I couldn't help but dance –– so it doesn't do the experience justice. But he sounds great, so enjoy :-)

The Shrimp & The Big Day

The inspiration
Wedding day 
The look that inspired my recent wedding was inevitably that of Jean Shrimpton. I had bought the film "Privilege" years ago - and in it, discovered my 'wedding look'. It was one of Jean's dresses, a perfect, simple, strikingly beautiful long-sleeved mini her character wears in a party scene.
Look I was originally going for from 'Privilege'
When my actual wedding day approached, I came across this other look of hers in a photo (shown above) and was struck - yet again. I worked it out in my own way. Seems I would have been inspired by The Shrimp on my big day no matter what, and regardless!

And here is a little video I made, sort of to capture the mood I was going for on our simple wedding day - and in our life together so far. Without footage of our own, I used some people I like. Enjoy :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wisdom, Beyond Their Years

Some songs (and performers) transcend others to live eternally in a place of wondrous depth, capturing the essence of the human experience in such a way that one might expect the lyrics to have been conceived by someone decades older. But youth, in some instances, holds greater wisdom.

"Dream On" was released by Aerosmith when Steven Tyler was 25 years old. So he presumably wrote the song, as they are his lyrics, before the 25th year of his life. In it, he sounds weathered. His voice carries immense weight and pathos and the lyrics could belong to a man nearing the end of his journey. This was the first hit for a band that would perform for decades, and many of their lyrics would get progressively lighter. "Dream On" never ceases to impress. It's epic and flawless in its wisdom.
"Both Sides Now" was released in 1968, shortly after Joni Mitchell wrote it. She, too, was 25 years old. She explains at first, by using the image of clouds, that she has seen clouds from both sides, now. From below, she has seen them looking puffy and attractive, only to find they can also grow sinister and rain on her parade. Later they might be seen from above, as she'll fly over the clouds in a plane. She ends the beautiful tune with having seen life from both sides now, finding out that, "I really don't know life at all." And nothing holds more wisdom than that sentiment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Retro Active Feeling: Airport Music

Certain songs, when I hear them, create this vague notion in my mind that "this is 'airport music.'" Sort of like 'elevator music' (a concept I wish I could have actually experienced - love muzak! - when it existed, in elevators.) But I had to ponder where this notion came from.

First, here are examples of songs that give me this feeling, and make me think of airports and traveling. At the moment, this mood seems solely Carpenters-ccentric (for good reason - and I'll elaborate, below) but I may add to the list soon.

For travelers today, and for quite some time now, the journey is no longer an exciting jaunt. Rather, it is a practicality - akin to a dreary and mundane chore. Arriving is the sole reward. And we can only hope to do so in relative comfort. There is no romance in shuffling through security lines. The allure of traveling as sport or luxury has been minimized by the years of public trepidation, for countless valid reasons. Our collective culture of traveling has grown wise and weary. And many generations, including mine, barely had a glimpse of how it was a thing to be admired. The concept of "jet-setting" is a relic, put to rest by the realities of our lives and our world.

Perhaps the songs that give me this cloudy and impressionistic feeling I refer to as 'airport music' are merely ones recorded in the period when the concept of traveling - airports, planes and all - was considered most luxurious, but still attainable. And the performers recording those songs carried that feeling with them in their daily lives. Certainly The Carpenters did - as they were known for their endless travels, taking them frequently as far as Japan and Australia in a time when young people from California, like themselves, were not as apt to do so.

* * * * * * * * * *
That these sounds from the 70's evoke such a particular feeling for me might also be more personal. As a child in the 80's, simply going to an airport offered excitement. It felt magical just to be in a place that suggested the possibility of traveling far away. And maybe the residue of the experiences of those who traveled in the 70's still remained within the confines of those airports.

For the official video of this song, Richard and Karen are actually shown traveling & mocking their lonely, jet-set lifestyle.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

Retro Active Critique #14

"And so does Gertrude Stein." Apparently, it's because Alice B. Toklas had a particularly groovy brownie recipe. As does the hippie girl, played by Leigh Taylor-Young.

Overall, the film is entertaining, though I imagine it seems a bit dated now... But for me, in particular, having watched it in Venice Beach for the first time, where much of the action takes place, and seeing the alley right below my apartment in one shot, (so that I was sitting right above the scene, in a way, watching the scene - talk about surreal), I always have a fond memory of this classic comedy.

Peter Sellers plays uptight Harold Fine who is set to marry his very appropriate fiance. He happens upon an intriguing hippie chick named Nancy, who sports a butterfly tattoo, and soon he drops everything he's ever been accustomed to in order to 'find himself', chill out and adopt a new life as a hippie. Of course this leads to hilarious moments. What else could one expect from Sellers? One delivery that comes to mind here is while he is in the midst of a raging party at his digs with Nancy, he finally starts to get back to reality to some extent and things begin to seem out of his control - and he exclaims (while in disagreement with a group of kids), "I'm so hip... it hurts!"

And in this scene from their groovy party, Harold gains a newfound perspective on his extreme behavior - just before he resolves to find a happy balance between being too careful, and utterly carefree.

And if you're wondering where the brownie-loving downfall (upfall?) began, here it is.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Retro Active Critique #13

Sparse and distinctive. Not much goes on here, only three drifters driving a car on a road to nowhere.

Hot rods and racing. There's a male-driven feel to the film, in more ways than one. But the two-lane blacktop is a playground, and the race is the game of life. They are simply focused enough to admit that not much else matters to them.

A 1955 Chevy Bel-Air on Route 66. Dennis Wilson is The Mechanic & James Taylor, The Driver. And there's The Girl they pick up along the way who won't leave. There's a looseness to the film and its plot that's appealing and striking -- a sort of freedom and 'we'll do as we please' rebellion. But there's a sense of tragedy sitting quietly in the passenger seat.

I love 'Two-Lane Blacktop'. If ever there was a vagabond & car-centric film, it's this one. Highly recommended, this one is an existential masterpiece and there's no other flick quite like it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Retro Active Appreciation: Renaissance Woman ––Jody Watley

Jody Watley... singer, songwriter, dancer & producer. She has won countless awards for her music and videos, was a pop culture fixture in the late 1980's and early 1990's and went on to start her own record company. She is also a style icon, a rather under-appreciated one at that.

She started out as a dancer on Soul Train at 14, quickly becaming one of the trend setters at that time. Look at this video and you'll see why I think Jody Watley happens to be one of the most stylish women of all time. She never makes a single mistake when it comes to putting herself together. She epitomizes the word 'fierce' with her bold, strong and feminine looks – while always managing to have a sense of the adorable with her playfulness.

And in this video, you can see how effortlessly talented she was in her freestyle dancing days, whether choreographed or calculated, her style and moves (along with her friend Jeffrey Daniel) looked fresh then and still do today.
Then came the days of Shalamar, a band consisting of her fellow dancer and friend, Jeffrey Daniel. In the first video that follows, you'll be utterly amazed, as I was, to see that The Moonwalk was performed by Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar in 1982... before Michael Jackson made it his signature move - in 1983!! That blows my mind. And I can't stop staring at Ms. Watley's adorable outfit here. Makes me long for my grade school/junior high school days when I truly played with clothes and experimented with my outfits (it's also fun recalling that I was voted 'best dressed' for several years, which was never a surprise since I was fearless and knew how to play with clothes.)
As a young girl in Portland, Oregon, I was rarely enthralled enough by pop stars to dress like them. But in 1987, Ms. Watley won me over. She had a confident style. There was something edgy but sophisticated about her. I'd wear big hoop earrings, skirts with leggings, sling back flats & accessories, courtesy of Brass Plum, to emulate that. Her lyrics, song beats and street style seemed empowering. I was too young to grasp why anyone would be "Looking For A New Love" but her "hasta la vista... baby" delivery sounded as cool as it gets. That song became an inspirational beat in my mind if it was ever time to move on from a relationship. "My love was true, still you threw it all away... (Now other guys will have me they'll appreciate my love, tell me, how does it feel?)"

In this clip, she's seen performing again with Shalamar - and later accepting her first Grammy award as a solo artist.
Long before the style and lyric challenged antics of pop stars today, this was Jody Watley... the real, authentic deal: