Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 16 [1976)

I started writing about TV ostensibly as reportage on this medium relative to cinema.

With this particular episode of Saturday Night Live, the two converge in a unique way.

The host is Anthony Perkins.

Cinephiles will probably know him as Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s indispensable Psycho (1960).

Really, this is a remarkable installment of SNL.

Perkins actually delivers a sort of anti-monologue.

In another unnamed scene, he acts as a psychologist who relies on the power of show tunes (specifically “Hello, Dolly!”) to cure a hopeless case (Jane Curtin).

Perkins is magnificent throughout this odd marriage of the disposable and the timeless.

But we must also mention Chevy Chase.

By this time, Chase was becoming the star of the show.

I almost feel bad for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (not to mention all the other talented players), but Chase lived up to the opportunity.

What is apparent in this particular show is that Chevy Chase was/is as talented an actor as Anthony Perkins.

I know that statement reeks of provocateuring, but I believe it to be true in several ways.

Namely, Chase was able to keep a straight face during some hilarious bits.  Put another way, it’s hard to be serious while evoking laughter.

We see Perkins have more trouble with it.  It’s not easy.  And so Chevy Chase has probably been unjustly maligned as a mediocre actor when the opposite is true.

Witness, for instance, the opening sequence of this March 13th airing.  It is highly-intelligent humor.  I could see Samuel Beckett getting a kick out of it.

And so the writers would get credit.  Yes, it is a brilliant concept.  The show had been toying with more-and-more self-referential humor.  Not to give too much away, but the first skit is the equivalent of writing music ABOUT MUSIC!

I’ve done it.  Truly, it takes a damaged soul to end up at such a twisted place.

And so thank God for Saturday Night Live…these outcasts and miscreants who gave the world a laugh starting in 1975.

They were always surprising.  That’s the key.  Even with the trademark “fall” at the beginning of the show.  Something in each episode is astounding.  Cutting-edge.  Leading-edge.  Bleeding-edge.

This show is no different.  What a masterstroke to pair Anthony Perkins with Betty Carter.

At first, I was thinking Betty Davis.  I mean, come on:  this was 1976!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Betty Carter is magical here (particularly on her first number).

I’ve never been into jazz vocalists.  I know the big names.  Ella Fitzgerald.  Sarah Vaughan.

They never did anything for me.

I hate to admit that.

I can listen to instrumental jazz all day.  It is divine!

Indeed, the only jazz vocalist who mattered to me was Billie Holiday.  Particularly her last album Lady in Satin.

But Betty Carter is something different.

It’s real.  Bebop VOCALS.  Not a bunch of showoff scat singing.

Betty Carter sang like a horn player.

Saxophone…Coltrane.

When she locked down on a note she held it…like it was keyed in her blood.

What breath control!

It’s real stuff.

If you want to hear a little bit of New York in the 70s, here’s a bit of jazz to do any place proud.

Carter was from Flint, Michigan, but she sounds right at home broadcasting from the biggest stage in the world.

There’s TV, and then there’s SNL.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 4 [1975)

Ah, the great Nordic beauty Candice Bergen.

The first female host in SNL history (four episodes in).

This is quite a good episode.

But we start off with the first wholehearted attempt at Gerald Ford klutz (clumsy) humor with Chevy Chase.

Yes, before there was the fumbling, bumbling, broken banjo known as George W. Bush, there was Gerald Ford.

The humor had been leaning this way since the start of the season.

And finally Chevy got to do a proper piece (the start to the show, no less).

We also get the Landshark skit in this era of Spielberg-induced panic.

We must remember that Jaws had come out that summer (a few months prior to this show).

But the overwhelming star of this episode was undoubtedly Andy Kaufman (again).

It is the Foreign Man character (which was parlayed into his Taxi success as Latka).

Andy is a revelation here.  Yes, you need to be a little sick in the head to do comedy like Andy Kaufman.

The whole point, I think, was in how much he could get away with.

It was the game.

How far could he push it.

And so Foreign Man almost starts crying.  It is a miracle moment in television.

All great practical jokers (foremost among them Orson Welles) had this ability to suspend disbelief, but Kaufman was doing it live…out on a limb.

An excursion on a wobbly rail (to quote Cecil Taylor).

And so Candice  was right when she introduced Andy as a genius.

Goddamn…

What could follow that?!?

Well, sadly Esther Phillips starts off with a fast number.

Esther was the musical guest.

A fine singing voice, but the most annoying, lingering vibrato I’ve ever heard…like a WWI fighter plane…a machine-gun at the end of every phrase.

She was, no doubt, imitating the Billie Holiday of Lady in Satin (that last, great album of drugged-out soul).

But the problem is that the Billie Holiday vibrato doesn’t work on fast songs.

Yet, Esther uses it anyway.

And so Esther’s first number comes off as a head-tilting performance art oddity equal to Andy Kaufman (only I don’t think she knew it).

But all sins are forgiven later when Esther does a ballad.

Ahh…that’s the right repertoire.

Albert Brooks regresses to the mean with his film in this episode (a mashup of possible bullpen shows for NBC…including the awful-in-all-ways Black Vet).

All in all, this is a fine show.  Aykroyd is great.  Belushi is great.

In fact, the most touching scene is a talk between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen about femininity/feminism.

Gilda Radner was such a beautiful person…such soul!

What a show!!!

 

-PD

 

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969)

Lazenby.

Not Connery.  Not Moore.

After the bloated disaster of You Only Live Twice, my expectations were not very high.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is perhaps the best Bond movie up to this point in the series.  I know it is blasphemy to say so.  I love Connery.  I adore Moore.  The achievement in question is perhaps best attributed to the director (new to the series in this capacity):  Peter Hunt.

Telly Savalas is masterful as the cat-petting Blofeld.  He adds a depth to the character which was missing in the previous depiction by Donald Pleasence.  It is interesting to note the similarities of Blofeld’s allergy institute (a cover for brainwashing) to the CIA’s dirty program Project MKUltra which was headed by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb.  The ghastly “research” was administrated from 1953 onwards by Dr. Gottlieb.  Blofeld’s methods in this film bear a striking resemblance to those of MKUltra’s head experimenter Dr. Ewen Cameron.  The world can thank CIA agent William Francis Buckley (“Bill”, but not the one of which you’re probably thinking) for blowing the whistle on this dark, dark period in CIA misadventure.  Buckley observed the deplorable results in Montreal at McGill University.

But back to fun stuff 🙂  High-speed chases!  The Bond series from Eon Productions redeems itself with a great ski chase down Piz Gloria (atop which is Blofeld’s “clinic”).  While not as epic as the underwater battle in Thunderball, it is much more entertaining that the autogyro sequence in You Only Live Twice.

I really must compliment Lazenby.  His was no easy task.  It was the right decision for him to not speak in an affected Scottish accent after Connery.  Lazenby could have been a great long-term Bond.  Thankfully he contributed this one fine performance to the annals.

Peter Hunt is to be equally (if not more so) congratulated.  This was a unique ending for a Bond movie.  It was handled deftly and had just the right amount of suspense to keep the incredulous at bay.  I’m speaking of course about 007 getting married.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to find out just how Eon Productions managed to finagle a continuance of the series after this “blow” to the womanizing lead character.  Of course, in today’s world marriage wouldn’t be a hindrance at all in a similar dramatic case.

This film is really an odd duck, but it should stand as an example for the series.  It is a bit humorous to hear John Barry give the famous 007 guitar line to a harpsichord in the opening credits.  The effect is similar to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”  Louis Armstrong even sings a song especially recorded for this film!  He was near the end of his life and it is as touching as Billie Holiday’s album Lady In Satin.  Armstrong never recorded another song (dying two years later from a heart attack).

 

-PD