Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Musical Watch: Show Boat (1951)



Show Boat (1951) is one of those movies you see classic movie buffs referencing a lot, but which I'd never seen and didn't know anything about.  Except that it stars Ava Gardner (bonus!) who doesn't do her own singing (...yeah...).

It is, indeed, about a big paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi that acts as stage and home to a troop of river-bound performers in a sort of vaudeville show, and the story of the Hawks family that runs the show.

Familiar faces include the aforementioned Ava Gardner, Agnes Moorehead playing a tightly wound matronly figure (shocking, I know), Joe E. Brown as the ship's owner and stage producer, and Kathryn Grayson as the daughter of Moorehead and Brown, who wants to be a performer herself.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Musical Watch: Oklahoma!



The first time I saw Oklahoma! (1955) was in Spring of 1994.  I was sitting on my bed/ couch (it's hard to explain, but anyone who ever lived in Jester at UT understands), when my roommate, Peabo, burst in through the door.
"Oklahoma! is on TV!  Right now!"
"Y'okay."
And we turned it on and watched the whole thing, complete with commercial breaks.

I don't know that I saw it again for a few years, but I saw a rendition of the stage play at the Paramount in Austin circa 2000, and we own the DVD and have seen it at least twice.  

Jamie's actually from Oklahoma (the state, not the musical), and her mom was a big fan of the show, so when Jamie arrived, part of the package was a baked-in enthusiasm for the music from the Rodgers & Hammerstein production.  

Tuesday night Jamie and I hit The Paramount Film Series for the first time this summer (along with Cousin Sue) to see the movie on the big screen.

Whether you've seen Oklahoma! or not, it's a bit like Westside Story or other big musicals - you've heard the big hits whether you know that's where they came from or not.  And in the case of Oklahoma!, the big hits are nigh every song in the show.  So, even as bits in a commercial or co-opted elsewhere, you've heard 'em.  The album has been a #1 record in both the US and the UK (circa 1957), certified multi-platinum and is consistently in production.  If you don't know the music, I assure you - your parents do.

A lot of it's pretty damn catchy.

What's weirdest to me about Oklahoma! is the utter disparity between the sunshiney image of the movie - complete with upbeat music, sweetly naive bumpkin characters, hokey imagery - and the really pretty dark story at the middle of the play, as well as some pretty adult content.  In short, you absolutely could not perform this play in a middle school without a lot of cutting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ann Miller Watch: On the Town (1949)



I watched On the Town (1949) just last year at The State Theater downtown, so there was no good reason to watch the movie again.  But, Ann Miller.  Sometimes these things happen.

Here's my write up from last time.

best not to think on it too much



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Talking Heads Watch: True Stories (1986)



I've written here and there about my love of the Talking Heads.  I don't know exactly when I decided I liked them, but my interest in them goes back to middle school, and I started picking up an album here or there in high school, really becoming interested my Senior Year when Sand in the Vaseline hit the shelves and gave me more of an overview of their "greatest hits".   I've seen both Byrne solo and "The Heads".

My first memory of the existence of True Stories was a subway poster for the film I saw hanging in a deli in Dallas while on a church youth retreat when I was 15, but I never came across a copy of the film (kids, there was a time in the long, long ago when all media was not instantly available just because you thought about it).  But circa 1996, I located and rented True Stories (1986) and gave it a whirl on the ol' VHS player I shared with my two roommates at the time.

Living in a place, sometimes you have a hard time knowing what it is that makes that place unique or special.  It can be the outsiders perspective, what they see as the difference that can really resonate in its own peculiar way.  I don't think a non-local could have made Slacker and captured the particulars of Austin in summer in the late 1980's, but it's hard to imagine anyone local to Texas seeing Texas in the light True Stories captures - a ridiculous cartoon of a film that still, somehow, seem absolutely true.



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Weimar Watch: Threepenny Opera (1931)



Obviously near-post-silent German film isn't my usual deal, nor Brechtian musical comedy.  The closest I'll get to that is a fondness for Fosse's Cabaret and that I have all of the albums by The Dresden Dolls.  And, you know, Tom Waits and others have carried through the spirit of the movement through to the modern era.

I haven't seen much in the way of G.W. Pabst's directorial efforts, although I'm well aware, from film school, he's one of those names you're supposed to be able to drop.  He was a giant of German cinema in the pre-Nazi days, and brought Louise Brooks out of Hollywood and over to Weimar Germany, and I've seen Pandora's Box.  A contemporary of Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, going to the pictures in Germany back in the day must have been something.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Rey's Theme from The Force Awakens (2015)



There were many things I enjoyed in the Star Wars prequels, but the parts could never quite match the whole of what I was hoping for.  Among the bits I enjoyed - Williams' scores stayed up to snuff.  But I figured when Disney picked up the franchise, he'd be retired.  Little did I know.

I was delighted that, in his 80's, he was willing to come back to Star Wars.  He's not a kid, and we should be quite grateful that he's not just alive, but still, if the Force Awakens score is any indication, still as good as ever.

I loved Rey's theme.

It's difficult to talk about, as I lack the vocabulary for discussing music properly, but it has a Williams-ian adventure hook, but it's also got some lighter bit in the woodwinds, "feminine", lighter, more "humble" than anything.  She's a - as the track is called on the soundtrack "Scavenger".  She's one of these desert people scraping by.  She doesn't even have an Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and pleasantly domestic existence - but she also can't leave, even if she doesn't entirely understand why.  Luke sought the great expanse beyond his twin suns.  Rey wants someone to come to her, but, instead, she has to go.

The music goes from simple woodwinds to orchestral sweeps, just as she goes out upon her adventure.  It's a complex piece, to my ear, as Rey is perhaps a more complex character than Luke was before her - at least at the beginning of her story in comparison to his own in Episode IV.  There's a lot more going on there for her here in Episode VII, with 6 movies of history preceding her, and a history that's taken place between those films.

As Luke's theme was what we think of as "The Force" theme, Rey's theme merges with The Force, and the next part of the Star Wars saga begins in earnest.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Did I Do This? Watch: Can't Stop the Music (1980)



"I can't believe you haven't seen this movie," my boss said to me.  "It's terrible."
And, me, never one to shirk from a challenge, saw that it was, indeed, free on Amazon Prime.
Sigh.
Hubris is always punished, my friends.

To complain about a movie that convinced a group of people to found The Razzies is a somewhat pointless endeavor.  But, yeah, you can absolutely see how this movie would have convinced someone to make sure the ineptitude of the filmmaking got its own special notice.  It's a movie so bad, you kind of feel like maybe you'd go crazy if forced to watch it two or three times in a row - a designation I reserve for a very few films of the Manos: The Hands of Fate variety.

In some ways, it feels like a 1940's Mickey Rooney/ Judy Garland film, as a songwriter (Steve f-ing Guttenberg) and former model (Valerie Perrine) put together an act and put on a show, recruiting their upstairs neighbor (who happens to always dress as a a Native American stereotype) and some guys they know from the disco (a portion of what is to become The Village People).  The old-timey tone may make sense when you find out it was directed by Rosie, the Bounty Towel pitch-lady/ Rhoda's mom/ comedienne who appeared with Mickey Rooney in films, Nancy Walker.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince Merges With The Infinite


According to media reports, legendary musician and iconoclast, Prince, is dead at 57.

Oh, man.

Purple Rain hit the radio and movie theaters when I was still in elementary school.  We were Top 40 listeners, and I have firm memories of sitting in the back seat of my Mom's 1983 Honda Accord and listening to Prince on the radio.  In particular, I remember my mind being blown by my first listen to "Let's Go Crazy" as we were headed to take my brother for allergy shots.  Not exactly what Prince had in mind for reaching an audience, but there it is.

I liked Michael Jackson.  I loved Michael Jackson, but Michael was talking to me where I lived as a suburban kid.  Prince was a streetwise ladies man talking about being a complicated man in a complicated world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Finale)



You're gonna need to block out fifteen minutes for this one.  Sorry.

A few years ago The Alamo Drafthouse was running a series based on a local radio show, "Film Score Focus", where the host of the show came, talked a bit about the score for the movie you were about to see, and I think maybe again afterwards.  The screening we attended was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It's a fascinating score, one that saves a movie that could have been terrifying and turns it into a work of wonder.  After all, it's a movie about communicating with beings from another world/ plane/ what-have-you, via the power of music.  We may not have a similar written or spoken language, or other form of communication, but we can peacefully share notes back and forth to show our good intentions.

Host of Film Score Focus, Brian Satterwhite, rightfully pointed out that - if one listens - the score is constantly blending a few things.  Yes, that child-like piano riff we all think of with Close Encounters, but also Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star", which makes itself heard fully at around the 10:50 mark of this clip.

It's a nice bit of work, that.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Jaws



Ah, the primordial terror of the theme to Jaws. That low sound of the monstrous heartbeat quickening, joining with strings and woodwinds and horns like the sound of alarm over the whole thing, and giving way to Williams' fanfare of adventure for Roy Scheider.

As a kid, this was among the first songs I knew that wasn't a nursery rhyme, disco hit or the Star Wars Theme, or Queen (I don't know why, but we had some Queen in the house).  It was also the one you could plunk out on the family's upright if you messed around long enough to find the right combo of keys.

Yeah, this is the one you can find people shouting at each other about - "did Williams steal from Dvorak?" - and I don't doubt there's influence there.  You can do worse than to borrow concepts from a famed composer, and it seems disingenuous to suggest someone with Williams' background wasn't familiar with Dvorak and it's all a coincidence.  But, they are two different pieces in the same way everything out of Nashville for the past two decades has been essentially the same three songs, but nobody seems to mind much.*

Anyway, it's maybe the first Williams score that I'm aware of that became cultural shorthand around the planet, that you can still hum in a swimming pool to produce an unwarranted sense of danger.


*seriously - how can you even listen to New Country?  Bleh.  I am judging you, Country Music fans.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Jurassic Park (1993)



The best thing about this is that when I was picking a clip to use, Jamie added in her own brontosaur calls from the other couch at pretty much exactly when they appear against the music in the movie.

It was kind of amazing.

I love me some Jurassic Park, and the theme to the movie is filled with the sense of wonder I think we all felt the first time we saw those dinosaurs rambling into view, sharing in Dr.'s Grant and Sattler sense of awe and amazement.  As impactful as we all found the visuals, Williams soundtrack captured and amplified that sensation, the majesty of nature and science giving birth to astounding life - and whether you mean cloned dinosaurs or what CGI accomplished, either way, it works.

Friday, April 15, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Star Wars - The Force Theme



One of the curious things about watching all 16 hours of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle of operas was realizing (a) Williams may have had some idea how he could pull this thing off by looking at an old pro dealing with a multi-generational story, magical themes and heroic quests and (b) how themes and motifs can really work to convey story in ways both overt and subliminally.  In short - the music tells the story.

That's not a knock on Williams.  Too few composers have applied this hard won knowledge effectively in the world of film.  In fact, I think we should be quite satisfied with applying the term "Space Opera" when it comes to Star Wars.

"The Force Theme" is not the fanfare of the titles or the finale awards ceremony.  "The Force Theme", to me, rings with a certain melancholy, maybe that same look that's all over Luke's face there at the end of The Force Awakens.  There's greatness there, but it comes with a sense of tragedy, perhaps derived from the weight of responsibility and the gift's inherent "otherness" that will set you apart now.  There's a swelling undercurrent in the music, a ring of promise that comes after the opening bars, but it's muted, expressing something beyond joy or anger or sorrow.

It's a hell of a piece, and it's the tear jerker of the Star Wars music for nostalgic reasons, sure, but there's something there that hits you dead center as it pushes the story along.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Indiana Jones Theme



Today we post the Indiana Jones theme, a rousing tune that, in my book, is what the call to high adventure sounds like.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Theme to "Superman" - 1978



Yesterday I way overslept and slid into my desk at 9:26 AM.  I was panicky, because Nathan Cone was DJing the Spring telethon for Texas Public Radio out of San Antonio, and he'd promised he'd play the Superman theme just for on my B-Day at 9:30 AM sharp.  I fired up the website, and in a couple of minutes, I got to hear Nathan give me (and the site!) a shout out, and then he played selections from the score to Superman: The Movie (1978).

As much as the movie defines Superman for me in a multitude of ways, I'll never get over the score.  It's got all the drama and adventure and fun of a Superman comic at its best built right in.  And for that, we need to thank John Williams.

We all love John Williams.  He provided the score to our film-going lives and is, arguably, the most important composer of the age.  He's certainly taken up more of my headspace than nearly any other composer, and I've bought more of his work than nearly any other musician.

So, we're going to start posting some of Williams' work here for a bit.  Nothing to overwhelm you, just something to listen to and enjoy yourself.

And, yes, I re-upped my membership with Texas Public Radio.  Nathan is diabolical that way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On the Event of My 41st

Innocent When You Dream
Tom Waits



The bats are in the belfry
The dew is on the moor
Where are the arms that held me?
And pledged her love before?
And pledged her love before?

It's such a sad old feeling
The hills are soft and green
It's memories that I'm stealing
But you're innocent when you dream
When you dream
You're innocent when you dream
When you dream, you're innocent when you dream

I made a golden promise
That we would never part
I gave my love a locket
And then I broke her heart
And then I broke her heart

It's such a sad old feeling
The fields are soft and green
It's memories that I'm stealing
But you're innocent when you dream
When you dream
You're innocent when you dream
Innocent when you dream

Running through the graveyard
We laughed my, friends and I
We swore we'd be together
Until the day we died
Until the day we died

It's such a sad old feeling
The fields are soft and green
It's memories that I'm stealing
But you're innocent when you dream
When you dream
You're innocent when you dream
When you dream




Saturday, March 12, 2016

Doc Watch: David Bowie - Five Years (2013)


This week I recorded David Bowie: Five Years (2013) off PBS and gave it a whirl after Jamie retired for the evening.

If I have one complaint about the doc, it's that the whole "Five Years" bit gets away from itself as the documentary tries to claim its about five specific years in Bowie's career, but really spans better than a decade between 1971 and 1983, and while they try to stick to five years of those twelve...  it's sort of distracting.  Just call it "Golden Years" and get on with it.

But, if you get past that minor hurdle, it's a pretty good doc, giving a history of a transformative period in Bowie's career from Hunky Dory to the Let's Dance era.  It's a great mix of interviews with producers, musicians and the occasional pundit (Camille Paglia) talking about the period, so if you want to see Eno talk Low, Robert Fripp talk about working on Heroes, this is your doc.  Nile Rodgers talk about China Girl?  Tune in.

The doc, released in 2013, wondered aloud about the sudden arrival of The Next Day and seemed to have Bowie's participation, not showing his face, but using audio and visual interviews from the past to piece together the story.  And, sadly, this version contained a very quick coda with birth and death dates for Mr. Bowie.

The primary concern of the doc is tracing the musical evolution/ transformations of Bowie, tagged to his personas associated with each album from Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke - but none of that really takes into account the personal changes going on aside from fame and drug use.  Bowie had children, a wife, a movie career and a lot else going on, but remains laser focused on the music, which is narrow, but an acceptable angle to approach.  It keeps Bowie at that arm's length he always seems (to me), but it leaves massive gaps in a narrative of Bowie's life writ large.

Still, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it for fans looking for a bit of what went into the albums of the era, hearing from the collaborators who were putting in blood, sweat and tears alongside the man.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Musical Watch: Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

I take exception with the promise of this poster's tagline

My Sophomore year of high school I had participated in some stuff in the drama department at my high school.  By the end of the year they were doing the Spring musical, which, that year, was Bye Bye Birdie.  As I'm not a single-threat, let alone a triple one, I wasn't planning to participate.  But, as I am extremely good at happening to be just standing there, someone came by and grabbed me to work crew on the show.  And, because I believed there was no "I" in "team", I somehow wound up as the guy in the "fly booth".  Which is a small box above the stage with a few cranks where I'd wrangle the signs, "flying" them in and out of view of the stage.

So, for three showings of Bye Bye Birdie in the Spring of 1991 (and lord knows how many rehearsals) I sat in a black box thirty-something feet above the stage and pondered the imponderables of high school while my classmates danced, sang and "acted" their way to glory.*

Consequently, I know the play of Bye Bye Birdie fairly well.  Or did, I guess.  And, for a while, I was really over my fear of heights.

I think I've seen the movie version before, but it was a long time ago, and, frankly, I didn't remember it at all.  I've also seen part of a televised newish version, but I doubt we made it very far through that one.