Blondie’s New York [2014)

Man…

So much I could say about this one.

But it’s one of the few times where I can say, “I worked with that person.”

Clem Burke.

Probably wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire.

Now.

Because I’m a Trump supporter.

But he was the best drummer I was ever in the same room with.

And drumming was the longest “career” I ever had.

I’ve played drums since I was a kid.

All of them.

The set.

“Traps” ūüôā

Orchestral snare drum.

Marimba.

The whole 4-mallet thing.

Jazz vibraphone.

But when I worked with Clem, I was a bass player.

That day.

That year.

For awhile.

It was the bass that took me to England.

To Scotland.

And to Spain.

And it was the bass that first took me to Los Angeles.

But this is about Blondie.

The band.

And what a band!

Based on my own experiences just mentioned, I can attest to the extremely high musicianship of Clem Burke.

And watching this relatively-short documentary (an hour) convinces me of just how special each of the band members were/are.

But perhaps my favorite part is seeing Mike Chapman work.

The record producer.

What a talent!

It was my dream to be a record producer.

Didn’t really work out ūüôā

Tough business.

Maybe you fuck up.

Or maybe no one helps you.

Or maybe you get one chance.  And only one chance.

But that’s ok.

Because life goes on.

Marilyn Monroe aged.

Lou Reed sang about it on the Velvets’ “New Age”.

And Godard wrote about it.

The aging of Marilyn Monroe must have been a traumatic phenomenon for the first generation of movie goers.

The first generation with that color reality.

And with the television buttress.

And Marilyn…

Even Elton John, a homosexual man, was in love with Marilyn…in a sort of way.

“Candle in the Wind”

Which brings us to Debbie Harry.

The former cocktail waitress from Max’s Kansas City.

Chickpeas and lobster.

Park Avenue South.

And brings us to the album Parallel Lines.

This documentary is almost strictly about that album.

About Blondie’s breakthrough into the mainstream.

Yeah, they were punk…

Had the street cred.

But they transcended.

Mostly due to musicianship.

A bit like the Talking Heads.

The other bands were hopelessly arty.

Of this scene.

My favorite, Suicide.

[R.I.P. Alan Vega]

I met Alan once.

Changed my life.

But Suicide never really had a hit.

[Nooo…you don’t say?!?]

Yeah.

The name.

Whoa mama!

But that was punk.

And my whole mission is a bit of a punk mission.

Pauly Deathwish.

Uh huh.

Not a name I came up with.

But given to me.

I remember that day.

And the personages.

But my mission is also a bit like the mission of Greil Marcus.

And Lipstick Traces.

Now I’d just prefer to read Debord.

Or read Len Bracken on the Situationists.

But Greil tries (valiantly!) to pull it all together.

And I’m a bit like that kind of wanker.

Just hoping to SOUND like I know it all.

And someday have Harvard written on my spine.

But we’ve hardly discussed Blondie.

Or this excellent little film.

Which is currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

Again Kino Lorber’s marketing team (?) seems to be absent behind this release.

There’s no Wikipedia page.

And the iMDB page lists the title of this made-for-TV-affair as¬†Blondie’s New York and the Making of Parallel Lines.

Ok, so it’s not¬†Citizen Kane.

But it’s well worth watching!

Directed by Alan Ravenscroft.

He does a fine job here.

It really is a magical story.

Punk.

New York City.

CBGB-OMFUG.

The Fugs! ūüôā

New York, a magical place.

Hell, even mayor Ed Koch is in this.

And he’s much easier to stomach than Bill Clinton.

I don’t care…liberal, conservative…whatever.

Just don’t be a dick!

And if you’re a dick, have the schtick down!!

Like Trump.

He has the schtick down.

He’s learned to lie.

In his many years.

“The babies, the beautiful babies…the innocent babies”…

There were no babies, my friends.

There was no chemical attack.

That footage was in the can for some time.

But it’s a white lie in the world of geopolitics.

It’s like telling your kids that Santa Claus delivered the presents.

There’s no way to explain, “I’ve gotta bomb Syria to make an impression on China. ¬†And the bombing has to happen almost simultaneously with dinner…at Mar-a-Lago.”

And McMaster must be lying too.

That’s ok.

Just don’t make a habit of it.

Because then you’re CIA.

And that’s a dark road.

To get wrapped up in lies.

But the white lies are synthetic terror where nobody dies.

Even the Russian/Syrian body count.

Likely false.

Especially the “four kids” detail.

Pithy.

Icy.

The Democrats are really (I mean it, unfortunately) exceptionally dumb.

They only sense the general outline of the conspiracy.

Russia’s faux indignation.

But they don’t understand that their infantile foreign policy made such machinations necessary.

Blondie ūüôā

And Quintilian.

See the documentary.

Forget about North Korea for a moment.

By all means, don’t watch inferior propaganda.

The Propaganda Game?

Great film.

Songs from the North?

Cinematic equivalent of toilet paper.

The Cinémathèque Française knew the value of propaganda films.

Henri Langlois.

Back when they were educating “the five” (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, and Rohmer).

And Godard understood the importance of “good”, well-crafted, persuasive propaganda.

As Jacques Ellul wrote in 1962, “Ineffective propaganda is no propaganda.”

In other words, it has no business calling itself propaganda.

It’s less-than-worthless.

But kick back with some Machiavelli.

And The Art of the Deal.

And remember the unholy marriage of art and commerce that is and was Blondie.

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 13 [1976)

Peter Boyle had an unmistakable face.

The name might have been unfamiliar to most, but run that clip of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein and you have a strange bit of film immortality.

Mr. Boyle was, of course, the tap-dancing Frankenstein monster who so gracefully delivered his one and only (repeated) singing line at sporadic intervals [“puttin’ on the riiiiiiiitttttzzzzzzz…”].

Irving Berlin, the song’s composer, published it barely more than a month after the stock market crash of 1929.¬† Aw hell…I don’t often do this, but it’s important you see this laugh-out-loud clip if you’re unfamiliar with the “super dooper” Mel Brooks moment:

Now then…

That’s Peter Boyle.¬† I suppose he had TWO lines in actuality.

Well, he’s here as the host of Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1976.

Ah, Valentine’s…or as the beautiful, genius Sophie Crumb (30 years later) called it “valentine-wanna-kill-myself-day!”¬† Yeah…

Sometimes it feels about like that.

So this episode of SNL has an occasionally sappy, lazy, wrist-slitting sentimentality to it.¬† Ok, I admit:¬† the¬†Gary Weis film is cute.¬† But God…that Simon & Garfunkel music…¬† It’s such a tearjerker.

Really, it peeves me when SNL recycles footage.¬† I mean, hello!¬† We’re only 13 episodes into this thing.¬† First season!¬† Are they really out of material?¬† Hell, we’d seen ’em do it earlier with an Albert Brooks film.

At least the repeated faux commercials are usually funny.¬† And they’re tolerable because they’re 30 seconds long (I’m guessing) [give or take].

So, yeah…

This episode has some good parts.  Samurai Divorce Court is pretty good (mainly due to John Belushi and Jane Curtin).

Really, this episode is pretty strong until the back half.

Al Jarreau is surprisingly good as the musical guest.¬† I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff (just his name), but he really is a musical freak!¬† The guy really nails it on both of his performances…going from a simmering Valentine’s romantic tone to savant bebop scatting.

Wikipedia has a very sparse sketch of the events in this episode.

Some, admittedly, aren’t really worth mentioning.

The wrestling skit with The Bees and The W.A.S.P.s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is pretty underwhelming.

Really, the most-improved (and continually improving) portion of the show was the Weekend Update with Chevy Chase.  The writing was pretty free and wild.  And think of all the great cultural references we get.

The description of Dorothy Hamill’s Olympic routine is frankly hilarious.¬† Also, by this time George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.¬† One particularly funny question posed by the show’s writers was, “Is America a front for the CIA?”

Such humor evinces politically-aware writers.  We must remember that the Church Committee had just met the previous year (1975).  It was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that the American intelligence community came under any sort of actual scrutiny by Congress (and, by extension, the American people).

CIA, NSA, FBI…no one was completely spared from this investigation occasioned by Watergate.

Which reminds me.  Perhaps the most classic bit in this episode is Dan Aykroyd doing a Nixon impersonation in a rubber monkey mask.  The surreal act of breathing (which causes the entire mask to be sucked in and, alternately, blown back out) perfectly sums up the bizarre nature of American politics at that time.

It was a time when Reagan was but a former “fascist” governor (and yet to be President).¬† Yes, Weekend Update uses the word “fascist”.¬† (!)¬† How far SNL has sunk now.

But, to be fair, SNL was projecting the humor of the American liberal movement.¬† At least that’s the impression I get.

One final note.¬† The trial of Patricia (Patty) Hearst was also big news about this time.¬† Obviously, her case captured national attention for quite a while.¬† [An earlier episode with Lily Tomlin involved a fictional sorority sister [Tomlin] writing a letter to the imprisoned Hearst while, in an aside, asking another sister to return her Carpenters records.¬† Ahh, the 70s…]

Perhaps the greatest coup of the episode under consideration is the montage of art photos which purport to be an “Artist Rendering” of the Hearst trial.¬† From Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to ¬†Dal√≠’s La persistencia de la memoria, the effect is both highbrow and ridiculous.

And it is for nuggets just such as these that we continue to be enthralled with America’s most storied variety show.

 

-PD

M [1931)

Perhaps we pay too much attention to the story.

We all love a good story.

But the mark of the genius filmmaker may be found in their method of narrative.  The art of how they tell their stories.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t thrilled to return to this Fritz Lang masterpiece, but I’m glad I did.

It is very much how I feel about Hitchcock’s Psycho.¬† It is a wonderful film, but it’s not something I want to throw on once a week during the course of kicking back.

M, like Psycho, is a supremely tense film.¬† Nowadays, when we think of Hitchcock, we might reflect on his tastefulness.¬† Think about it (says Jerry Lee).¬† In Hitchcock’s day (a long, productive “day”), things which are now shown with impunity were positively disallowed for a Hollywood filmmaker.¬† Blood and guts…no.¬† Hitchcock was forced to artfully suggest.

The strictures guiding Fritz Lang (29 years earlier) were even more conservative.  But even so, M is a genuinely terrifying movie.

Terrifying films are rarely relaxing.  They are not meant to be.

But as I had seen this one before, I was able to focus more on the method employed by Lang.  The truth is, M is a masterpiece.  It really is the treatment of a brute subject (murder) with incredible subtlety.

What is most radical about M is its counterintuitive take on crime.

Within this film, crime is divided into capital and noncapital offenses.

In M, a band of criminals exists which seeks to put a serial killer out of business.  It may seem a strange turn of phrase, but this killer is bad for the business of other criminals (mainly thieves and such).

A town in terrorized.¬† The police regularly raid establishments. ¬†You must have your “papers” with you at all times.

And so those who survive on crime are so desperate as to adopt (temporarily) the same goal as the police:  catch the killer.

It is not giving much away to tell you that Peter Lorre is the killer.¬† This is not a whodunit.¬† It’s a “what’s gonna happen”.¬† That I will leave to your viewing pleasure.

While I am on the subject of Lorre, let me just say that this is one of the finest, weirdest performances in cinema history.  The final scene is one of absolutely raw nerves.  Lorre is not the cute, vaguely-foreign character he would become in The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.  Lorre is stark-raving mad.

His attacks of psychosis are chilling to observe.¬† But really, it is his final outburst which tops any bit of lunacy I’ve ever seen filmed.

Today there would likely be plenty of actors ready to play such a macabre role, but in 1931 this was a potential death wish.

That Lorre put his soul into it tells us something important about him.¬† First, he was capable of being more than a “sidekick” (as he was in the previously-mentioned Bogart films).¬† Second, he was dedicated to the art of acting.¬† Lorre was not “mailing it in”.¬† Playing such a role can’t be particularly healthy for one’s mental state.

But there’s a further thing.¬† His final monologue is filled with such angst.¬† Let us consider the year:¬† 1931.¬† In the midst of the Great Depression.

But also we must consider the country:¬† Germany.¬† These were the waning years of the Weimar Republic.¬† Three important dates would end this democratic republic:¬† Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (Jan. 30, 1933), 9/11 the Reichstag fire (Feb. 27, 1933), and the Enabling Act (Mar. 23, 1933).

The era of M (1931) was the era of Heinrich Br√ľning’s “deflationary” monetary policy as German Chancellor.¬† I put deflationary in quotation marks because Wikipedia’s current description might better be termed contractionary monetary policy.

As Wikipedia would tell it, Br√ľning was essentially instating fiscal austerity (that hot-button term of recent times) concomitantly with the aforementioned monetary approach.¬† This was, of course, the failure which paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take control of Germany.

And so we find that the historian Webster Tarpley is right when he refers to certain modern-day policy makers as austerity “ghouls”.¬† Either conservative/fascist leaders across the globe have no grasp of history, or they are looking forward with anticipation to the next Hitler or Mussolini.

It should be noted that Tarpley is coming from a socialist perspective rooted in the Democratic Party of FDR.  His opposition, therefore, would likely brand him as liberal/communist and through slippery-slope logic see the policies he espouses as paving the way for the next Stalin or Mao.

And so goes the political circus…ad nauseam.

Returning to film, we must at least consider this situation in Germany.  The country was still paying war reparations from WWI (though this was becoming impossible because of the internal economic woes).

What is perhaps most astonishing is how much Peter Lorre’s character prefigures the Hitler caricature which has come down to us from history.

War-based societies have a compulsion to kill.¬† Germany found out the hard way that this is not a healthy default.¬† Sadly, today’s Germany has not checked the most warmongering modern country on Earth (the United States) enough to make any difference.

The United States has, for a long time now, been breathing…seething for a war.¬† The “masters of war” are all wearing suits.¬† Only suits want to go to war.¬† A true warrior does not want war.¬† Only those who will go unscathed actively invite war.

But there is an insanity in suits.¬† A compulsion.¬† Don’t let the suit fool you.¬† A suit is, for us grown-ups, the equivalent of a piece of candy…or an apple…or a balloon for a child.¬† A suit advocating war is saying, “Keep your eyes on my suit.¬† I know best.¬† Trust in me.¬† Look at my impressive degree.”

The suits like places such as Raven Rock Mountain.¬† The suits won’t be on the battlefield.¬† And don’t let the 10% who actually fought in a war fool you:¬† they were in non-combat operations.¬† Their daddies made sure of it.

So keep your eyes open for the M of American cinema.¬† Who is the next fascist to take the stage?¬† Hitler had a Charlie Chaplin moustache.¬† How dangerous could he be?¬† Trump has a ginger comb-over.¬† Surely he’s harmless, right?

 

-PD

 

Sudden Impact [1983)

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for cops.¬† That’s too bad.

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for the FBI.¬† That’s unfortunate.

Not a popular time to champion the CIA.  Pity that.

No love for the NSA.¬† Shame…

We get one version of events.  So much so that we chase after an alternative version.  Which is credible?

Police have a very sacred trust.¬† Once upon a time it was phrased as “to protect and serve.”

Abuse of power disgusts us.  The pendulum swings to the other end.

Jingoism breeds contempt.

détournement

There are several wars on in the world.  The U.S. is involved widely.

It’s not a popular time to say something kind about the military.¬† Bummer.

What is at issue in all of these parallel phrases?  Justice and compassion.

Efficacy.  Human rights.

Right and left.  Conservative and liberal.  Even the widely disparaged neoconservative movement.

I have been quick to find fault with the so-called neocons.  But there is an interesting fundamental point about them that perhaps few know:  they used to be liberals.

I am reminded of Realpolitik.  Kissinger.

The tendency creeps in to apologize for the shameless.

An apologist, after all, works in myriad ways.

It is good that all of these thoughts come to the surface upon viewing what many “serious” film critics would consider to be sub-par pulp.

Let me start (continue) by saying that Sudden Impact is a brilliant film.

There are moments when the balance between directing and starring (acting) seem to be too much for Eastwood, but those few moments are mostly on the front end of this picture.

Though it be, perhaps, sacrilege to suggest such, this is probably the best Dirty Harry movie.

The reason is directly attributable to Eastwood’s auteurish guidance.

Though the setting of San Paulo somewhat mirrors Bodega Bay from Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is mostly the same director’s Vertigo which provides a wellspring from which Eastwood draws liberally for the symbol-laden mood of this affair.

Sondra Locke is formidable as the Kim Novak character.¬† Though Callahan himself never succumbs to catatonia, Locke’s sister in the film does.¬† It reminds us of Jimmy Stewart’s incapacitation after seeing Madeleine “die” the first time (again with the Vertigo references).¬† Of particular note is the camera work which follows Locke’s first killing in Sudden Impact.¬† The circular, woozy pattern makes us think of Novak’s plunge into San Francisco Bay.

And that’s just it:¬† Eastwood had the balls and brains to drag Hitchcock into the Dirty Harry series (itself set in San Francisco).

What this film achieves is imparting humility to armchair DCIs (like myself) who think we have it all figured out.¬† Sometimes distance is good…for planning.¬† Sometimes you need to hear a few bullets buzz past your ears to realize that a hot war is on.¬† It’s not always easy to know who’s shooting…and from where.

There are multiple fronts.¬† I often ponder my own mental weakness.¬† Ultimately, no one has died in vain.¬† The challenge is for us as a nation and a world to get better…quickly.¬† It ends up sounding meaningless, but it’s about all one can say about this spinning globe of chaos on which we live.

-PD