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

Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby¬†mise-en-sc√®ne…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power: ¬†music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of¬†Seymour: ¬†An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career ūüôā

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-PD

Sommaren med Monika [1953)

This film hits a depth like no other.

Summer with Monika.

I should have said, nothing is more persistent than love.

There.

And the ups and downs of love are painted by Ingmar Bergman in their greatest glory and most miserable despair.

Two kids rebelling.

Such freedom.

There are moments which presage Pierrot le fou.

On the beach.

In the most carefree sense. And also in the Neil Young sense.

Two characters attracted to one another.

One freewheeling.  The other a more reserved being.

Several dreams interwoven.

Security.  Tenderness.  Camaraderie.  Courage.

Harriet Andersson is the star.  Shining bright.

Ice.

Pursuit of the elements.

“Slip inside my sleeping bag” as ZZ Top sang.

Two kids against the world.

Such a sparse recounting.

Quitting jobs.

The stress.

The harassment.

Bergman showing the unique pressures of young women.

But everything is so sweet.

With a girl not afraid.

To take the role of the man.

Not let life pass by.

This film made an immense impression on me when I first saw it.

Almost like Tropic of Cancer shuffled with Tropic of Capricorn and compressed to a pamphlet.

But it feels epic.

Film does that.

We can feel everything in an hour and a half.

We can shake our asses in three minutes.

Get the message in 30 seconds.

But life intervenes.

And we have to make some ugly choices.

We must pawn our scant comforts.

And aspire to one day again achieve “augmented survival”.

Debord again.

Monika wants nothing to do with it.

Her Henry Miller streak is longer.

And it’s pretty ugly.

Though she played the most beautiful hippie before beatniks even snapped.

Up and down.

Gives you the bends.

Few films capture the razor’s edge of pleasure and pain…the excruciating detail of ecstasy and sad panic.

Bergman was a master.  Along with Wild Strawberries, this is his true winner.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 10 [1976)

“…I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know…”

Ah, Bill Withers.¬† A lyrical genius.¬† And though I kid, I mean it.¬† This section of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of the most tense portions of pop music ever laid down on tape.¬† In case you’re wondering, there’s 26 “I know”s.

And indeed, the powerful Mr. Withers performed this very song on SNL backed up by Howard Shore’s band to amazing dramatic effect.

Now, if you have been following along with my clinically-insane review of the entire Saturday Night Live oeuvre (or canon, if you will) you will know that the musical guests thus far had been:

Billy Preston, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow, Esther Philips , ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil Scott-Heron, and Anne Murray.¬† [Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone out.]

I mention them again because almost all of them (with the notable exception of Simon & Garfunkel) were pushing product.¬† To use the terminology which Kurt Cobain so presciently keyed in on, they were attempting to be “radio friendly unit shifters”.¬† Shift those units.¬† Move that product.

This is significant when viewing Bill Withers’ performance.¬† “Ain’t No Sunshine” was from his 1971 album Just As I Am (that’s five years before this broadcast).¬† He’d had at least four albums come out since 1971.¬† He would have a fifth released in 1976.¬† And though he only got to perform one song, he went back to his big hit.

It makes me wonder whose idea that was.¬† Lorne Michaels?¬† Perhaps even a wily A&R man trying a counterintuitive tactic.¬† Kinda like, “Hey…I’m Bill Withers.¬† Remember me?”

All…that…having…been…said:

this is a fantastic episode!!!

I must admit I had no idea who Buck Henry was upon viewing this.

Pierre Henry?  Of course.  But Buck Henry?  No way.

Sure, I’d seen The Graduate, but paying attention to who the screenwriter was had to be the last thing on my mind as the credits rolled.

I like films without scripts.  Godard.

The only script I can honestly say I’ve ever read out of admiration for the film (and writing) is Ernest Lehman’s fantastic North by Northwest (brought to the screen, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock).

To make a short story long, Buck Henry is an amazing actor.

I don’t know to what extent he was involved in the writing of skits for this episode, but I can confidently say that this show surpasses all the others before it.

What is more, Buck Henry is ten times the actor that is Elliott Gould (the previous week’s host).

So, there.¬† Buck Henry is great.¬† From his role in John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen to his part as Gerald Ford’s aide in the Oval Office.

Speaking of these two skits, they are certainly among the highlights (if not the outright best two).

Belushi was improving with every episode.  From Samurai Hotel came Samurai Delicatessen.  It is an artful role on par with the talent of Peter Sellers.

The extra portion Belushi brought to the table was his singing (yes, singing).¬† We heard him earlier in the debut season doing a send-up of Joe Cocker.¬† In the episode under consideration, Belushi and Dan Aykroyd debut a proto version of The Blues Brothers…in bee costumes!

I must say that their performance of “I’m a King Bee” is infused with the punk spirit which was then coursing through the veins of New York City.¬† Belushi takes his breaks from singing as opportunities to do ridiculous, stumbling cartwheels around the stage.

This is one thing for which you have to give the Not Ready for Prime Time Players credit:  they would do anything for a laugh.

The precedent had been set early on by Chevy Chase.  No one could fall quite like Chevy, and thus it was natural for him to portray the unlucky Gerald Ford.

One of Chevy’s real miracles was a failed attempt (as Ford) to put the star on a 15-foot Christmas tree.¬† I don’t know if Chase had stunt training, but his falls are impressively wild.

But again, in this episode we see Chase developing his comic timing and humorous subtleties which he would later parlay into a successful movie career.¬† Chase’s portrayal of Ford is particularly smooth (peppered, of course, with appropriately clunky dementia).

Two more bits bear mentioning.¬† Michael O’Donoghue’s anti-impression illustrates all that was good about the early days of SNL.¬† It’s flailing about, but it is such a refreshing flailing.

And finally, I must mention that Toni Basil returned to the show (after making an appearance earlier in the season with the dance troupe The Lockers).¬† This time Basil does some great scat singing (and, of course, dancing) on the old tune “Wham”…(re bop boom bam).

It’s an impressive performance with a touch of Cyd Charisse in the choreography.

Bravo SNL!

 

-PD