National Lampoon’s Vacation [1983)

Hello, dear friends ūüôā

Perhaps you thought I was dead?

I certainly FELT dead…off and on.

And so hopefully this is a true return.

Many months.

Stops and starts.

I was reminded just tonight of the appendectomy I had one year ago.

What a blessing to have received urgent medical care.

But I never would have known at that particular time (upon my first and only self-directed trip to an emergency room) that my appendix needed attention had it not been for my anxiety.

Horrible anxiety.

Debilitating.

I sought medical help for extraordinarily high anxiety.

And the prognosis?

“You need to have your appendix removed.” ūüôā

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.

But I made it through.

My first and only surgery.

Praise God.

And I powered through.

If you will remember, it was a mere three weeks before my graduation with an MBA.

Three more weeks I had to push.

Fresh out of the hospital.

I had to hunker down each day and research.

Study.

Write.

Churn out papers.

PowerPoint presentations.

Research solar power.

Water purification.

The Maghreb.

Sert√£o.

Sanhedrin.

Sahara.

MENA.

Middle East and North Africa.

Not to be confused with Mena, Arkansas (sniffy woe).

Presentations.

Transhumanism.

Ivan Raszl (well, not yet).

How Hillary ripped off her campaign insignia:

transhumanism

Neither here nor there.

But suffice to say Ray Kurzweil.  Jeremy Rifkin.  Zoltan Istvan.

Bad dudes.

And by this calculus a commodius vicus back to Elon Musk and environs.

Yes, I am back.

Back to that blabbering drivel.

That dithering dithyrambic style you know and love.

And I am fighting.

Not just anxiety, but drug addiction.

Prescription medicine.

It’s what happens when we max out our dosages.

We take as prescribed (more or less).

We take the right amount.

But the “as needed” turns into “needed all the time”.

And so I have been blessed to recently receive psychological help.

For anxiety.

Not my first time (big surprise), but the first time I’ve had a real counselor.

Someone who cares.

Someone who’s qualified.

Someone who gives a shit.

Someone with the chops to help me attack anxiety.

My cousin died.

It scared the shit out of me.

43.

Heart attack.

Three years older than me.

Fuck.

Yeah…

And then I magically was prescribed heart medicine.

On top of cholesterol medicine.

Real fucking fun.

All of this shit freaked me out pretty heavily.

The death of my cousin was a supremely shocking occurrence.

Was I next?

Was I going to wake up and find myself dead???

Well, fear not, dear friends.

Yes.

During the course of my therapy, my shrink deduced that I was indeed addicted to multiple medications.

I didn’t really realize my addiction for what it was.

I knew I was tethered to my medicines, but I had no perspective on the matter.

And so we started slow.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout not taking that third of a sleeping pill to relax…hours before bedtime, fuckface?

Ok.

And hey. ¬†How ’bout you get to bedtime and maybe you only take half a sleeping pill?

Sleep.

Sleep was the first fix.

You gotta have a bedtime.

Be your own army sergeant.

Pick your time.

A “lights out” time.

And stick to it.

Every damn night.

Midnight.

Lights out.

It took awhile.

I wanted to remain with the world.

Wanted to stay up-to-date.

On the off chance that some kind word would make my soul bloom.

And set an alarm, you lazy moron ūüôā

8 a.m.

Ok.

Better than TWO P.M. ūüôā

Set that fucking thing.

And WAKE UP.

You’re tired?

Too fucking bad.

Now what???

You stay awake for the next 16 hours, that’s what!

So when midnight rolls around again, you’re pretty tired.

But you get a second wind.

So you push it.

And you gradually rack up weeks of 6 hours.

6 1/2 hours.

On average.

But the goal is 8.

Not 7.  Not 9.

8.

After WEEKS of this shit, this finally settled into a cradle.

A groove.

The string settled on the nut.

Or the bridge.

Notch.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  Exercise.

The “holy trinity” of psychological health.

I had been an insomniac for decades.

A pro musician.

Starting gigs at 1 a.m. in New Orleans.

Fucking crazy.

But now I have an MBA.

And I need to straighten the fuck up.

Sleep came.

Slowly.

Tired as fuck.

Torturous.

But you gotta FORCE YOURSELF to stay awake.

Every damn day.

Finally, these past few days I am getting 8 hours.

Was it a month of sleep deprivation?

Six weeks?

Probably.

But it was worth it.

A hard-earned victory.

Nutrition.

Fine.

Eat boring.

Eat country vittles.

Be good.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Don’t go for the dozen glazed donuts.

Or raspberry jelly donuts.

I know you can eat a whole dozen glazed by yourself.

But don’t fucking do it.

It’s nasty.

Disgusting.

You don’t need to be in that mindset.

And exercise.

First thing in the morning.

Walk.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout you double your exercise amount, dipshit?

Ok.

Walk in the evening too.

Twice a day.

And how ’bout STANDING UP when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Yeah, that’s right: ¬†get out of bed.

Get on your feet.

Don’t ball up into the fetal position.

Don’t hide your head under the covers.

Don’t wait for the panic attack to pass.

No more being a bitch to benzodiazepines.

Time to breathe.

Big breath in.

Throw back those shoulders.

Chest out.

Tighten the butt.

Lower back.

Stand up straight.

Hold it.

For God.  For country.

Like a Marine.

Salute.

At attention.

Pop that breastbone.

Tension.

Pops sternum.

I’m not dead.

I’m a crazy motherfucker, but I’m not dead.

And my crazy?  A lust for life.

A return.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Yeah.

It is sheer folly to try.

But it is “life or no life”.

I am blowing the harp.

I am singing.

I am playing the country blues.

I become real acquainted with Robert Johnson.

‘Cept I already tried to sell my soul.

Years ago.

And God forgave me.

Because Jesus short-circuits the wrath of God.

So now I am onto an opioid drawdown.

Tapering.

Returning to a dosage I last mastered 7 years ago (and no time since).

So it soothed my brain to go back to this movie.

A sheer masterpiece:

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Dana Barron makes me happy ūüôā

Reminds me of love.

When we were in high school.

And the rare God miracle of falling in love with a girl from a couple streets over.

That miracle.

Those tie-dyed times.

Long since dusty and moth-eaten.

Let’s start with the aw-kward Family Truckster.

Metallic pea ūüôā

The green latrine.

Not an auspicious start.

vacation1

“You’re gonna see a sign that says, ‘Rib Tips'” ūüôā

This was Trump era.

Think Melania.

Christie Brinkley.

But nothing is better than Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie ūüôā

Quaid owns this role.

Drives it into the ground.

Slam dunks it.

The laconic redneck.

Piss-perfect.

“Vicki, can I help you with that Kool-Aid…please.”

“REAL…tomato ketchup, Eddie???”

And the white shoes which act as time machine and talisman.

Future past.

From another century.

Something that’s crossed over.

Houellebecq.

But I got new respect for law enforcement.

And I got huge respect for American military.

Military City USA.

San Antonio.

Here we are.

And these crazy times of FBI.

Las Vegas.

What do you want to believe?

I have turned off the medium which slapped me daily with the message.

I don’t give a fuck about the FBI.

I don’t give a fuck about the CIA.

A useful bit of wisdom at times.

Nay, I am not even really following politics at the moment.

Fuck it.

Fuck these people.

A bunch of losers.

But, regardless: ¬†I don’t have the extra capacity…the patience.

I gotta get myself healthy.

So fuck it.

FBI, do your job.

CIA, stop being such bastards.

I don’t know.

Is that fair?

Which is to say, I’m a nobody. ¬†A nothing.

But at least I know that.

And I can crawl from beneath my rock and give thanks to God.

I can give thanks that nobody has whacked me.

“50 yards…”

Aunt Edna on the roof ūüôā

In the fucking rain.

Yep.

That is a rich scenario.

“I thought you were going to tell me your were in the CIA.”

“What, me??? ¬†No…not anymore. ¬†A long time ago. ¬†I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Beverly D’Angelo is really good.

Anthony Michael Hall is solid.

But Chevy Chase really ties the room together ūüôā

AND RANDY QUAID.

God…

Harold Ramis directed a rather perfect picture here.

No shame.

This is fine filmmaking indeed.

 

-PD

 

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

For the Love of a Man [2015)

What a film!

Sometimes I end with that sentiment, but I want to make sure that you take away that message.

This fantastic documentary takes a look at the cult of personality surrounding the biggest star of Tamil cinema:  Rajinikanth.

To paraphrase from one of my favorite films (Genghis Blues), Rajinikanth is like Michael Jordan, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one.

If you live in the state of Tamil Nadu.

India.

Yes, we recently touched on Rajasthan, but let’s find Tamil Nadu on a map.

Very southern tip of India.

On the east side.

And here’s where we find Chennai.

[Which seems to be pronounced Chin-ay]

And, of course, Chennai used to be called Madras.

Now that we are caught up on geography, let’s get back to this amazing figure known as Rajini (short for Rajinikanth).

If we are to compare him to other international cinema stars, we might look to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

That great lip-rubbing outlaw of À bout de souffle.

Definitely a smoker.

Smoking those thick-tar Boyards cigarettes.

[Or so I imagine]

And sunglasses.

Rajini must always have his sunglasses.

Cigarettes and sunglasses.

Sounds like a ZZ Top song.

But for Rajinikanth, you need a big, thick mustache.

And you need a certain finesse with those props (the smokes and the shades).

Like Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video.

Yeah!

This is India, man!

There’s dancing in the films!

The stars dance!!

And sing!!!

[Of course, don’t tell the generations of voiceover singers that]

But it is well-known.

Mohammed Rafi.  Lata Mangeshkar.

But did Rafi ever sing in Tamil?  Not that I know of.

And Lata? ¬†I have no idea. ¬†But it wasn’t her main language.

So let’s take a step back here…

Tamil.

By “native speakers” (70 million), Tamil is the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Turkish, Italian, and Thai (just to name a few).

By “total number of speakers” (74 million), Tamil is still the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese (to name just three).

But what about Tamil cinema?

I’m sure it goes without saying that this is my first venture into writing about this unique slice of the world pie.

Indeed, it’s my first time even really contemplating it to a serious degree.

But back to this Rajinikanth fellow…

He’s ostensibly been the biggest star in Tamil cinema…since the 1970s!

He debuted in 1975.

His first film was in Tamil.

In 1976, he was in four films (only one of which was in Tamil).

In 1977, he was in 15 (!) films (eight being in Tamil).

In 1978, he was in 21 (!!) films (16 in Tamil).

Funny enough, Rajinikanth was not born in Tamil Nadu.

No, rather, he was born in the state of Mysore.

However, this state no longer exists under that name.

And being born in the city of Bangalore (a.k.a. Bengaluru), Rajinikanth would have been born in what is now the state of Karnataka.

65% of Kannadigas (those who live in Karnataka) speak Kannada (not to be confused with Canada).

Oddly, Rajinikanth was born to a Marathi family.

As in, people who speak the Marathi language.

So how does he become the biggest star of the Tamil people?

He indeed spoke Marathi (and Kannada) as a child.

It was only when Rajinikanth came to the Madras Film Institute (well into life) that he finally learned Tamil.

He was 25 when he acted in his first film (a Tamil production).

But I must say, Rajinikanth is a very charismatic figure.

I never finished comparing him to other actors.

Part of me wants to say James Dean, but I think Bruce Lee might be even more apt.

Rajinikanth kicks butt.  But with style!

He has moxie!

And most importantly, he stands up for the little guys.

Having been a bus conductor himself, he has played roles such as that of an auto-rickshaw driver.

And by dint of his sheer magnetism (and an almost Soviet, Trotskyist atmosphere in Tamil Nadu), he has spawned a legion of fans who await his film premieres with what can only be compared to the manic thrall of Beatlemania.

His fans literally scream their lungs out on opening nights…so happy to see their hero in a new picture.

And Rajinikanth makes but one movie every three years now.

If all of this sounds remotely interesting to you, then you absolutely must see For the Love of a Man (which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.).

Director Rinku Kalsy proves herself worlds above many of her contemporaries with this penetrating documentary.

Producer Joyojeet Pal seems to have played a very “hands-on” role as well (as a researcher for this picture).

It’s not always clear where the action is occurring in our film, but it seems that some of it (at least) was filmed in Sholinghur (which is about 67 miles inland from the coastal Chennai).

Then again, we do catch one glimpse of the actual Rajinikanth in the film…and it is in front of his residence in Chennai.

Which is to say, For the Love of a Man is very much about fandom.

And it reminds me of my own devotion to my heroes: ¬†Jean-Luc Godard, Mercury Rev, Bob Dylan…

So I very much identified with the cross-section of Tamil society surveyed in this documentary.

Their devotion to their “leader” is very touching.

Not least, Rajinikanth seems like a very spiritual and magnanimous person.

A really generous human being.

And THAT is what really cements the devotion of his fans.

Any film publication that ripped this movie (Hollywood Reporter) must not have its head on straight.

Anyone in Venice who pooh-poohed this film needs a good spanking.

For the Love of a Man is a masterpiece.

-PD

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000)

This is a damn fine film.

Maybe yesterday I would have spoke as much with a mouthful of tobacco.

But today I take a more measured approach.

And still I must proclaim:  this film has aged like a fine wine.

I can find little fault with it.

No film will express all that we hold inside…exactly as we’d express it.

And so this is as close as we get to serendipity on a Tuesday night ūüôā

Yes sir…let me tell you ’bout it.

I write to stay alive.

[now I’m telling you about me…or the film…by way of me]

We come from a long/short tradition.

Film critics.

Critics.

All the way back to the earliest Homer in the Greek.

Rage.

I owe Nick Tosches a debt of gratitude for pointing that out.

My favorite living writer.

This film [we’re back to the film] could have gone off the rails early on.

Like some errant Ken Burns pablum on PBS.

But the Coen brothers are of the most deft cinematic touch.

I have delved very little into their oeuvre.

Most recently I broached the subject with¬†Fargo¬†(a fine film), but¬†Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?¬†is a¬†bona fide ūüėČ masterpiece.

You see, you must be conversant in na√Įvet√© as much as in erudition.

You must run the gamut from Delmar to Ulysses in order to evoke an appropriately universal sampling of the human condition.

Blind on a Pullman.  Nay.  Blind Sheriff Murnau.  Closer.

Blind but now I see.

Precisely.

Bill Moyers couldn’t get to Shakespeare in the recessed library.

Only God could move fate.

To see beauty.

For a moment to dream of a better life.

Saved from cancer.

I know not.

We feel it’s Isaiah. ¬†Or the Oracle of Delphi.

Pythia.  As in pithy.

Icy.

You don’t get credit for half a master’s degree.

Ain’t no one in the world impressed by that.

Even if they should.

People like awards.  Bob Dylan said.

Grammys.  Nobels.

Sells records.  Books.  DVDs.  Tickets for admission.  Memorabilia.

But I doff my hat to Tosches and Quintilian.

We are all excursus.  As Céline was all ellipses.

[…]

The Sheriff is Cooley.  As in Spade.

A mean son of a bitch.

But we don’t care none about these transgressors no more.

The electorate has spoken.

50 states.

From the words Tommy Johnson.

It’s just a cool drink of water from Robert.

And we won’t even get into Lonnie.

We hear the devil is white.

Go to any American university and you will hear the same.

Indeed, our film only falters when it attempts to be too heavy-handed.

We uncloak what is cloaked in ourselves.

And this is the curse of critics.

No critic is writing about their subject.

In reality.

The underlying gist is always autobiography.

To admit as much should be refreshing.

But that is for you to decide.

Just sing into the can.

Voice your opinion.

On shellac.

For generations to plunder in treasure hunts of old South junk stores.

Searching for the Sugar Man/Soggy Bottom…Robert Johnson already dead when he became ¬† sought after.

A prophet in his own land.

All is dream.  And religion comes to the silver screen.

The common man can relate.  And so can I.

With my Bible on my nightstand.

I ain’t ashamed to say.

I depend on God.

See Messiaen if you need abstraction.

Because Debussy gave the clouds first…and the sirens last.

And feasts or parties in between.

Night swimming.  Nocturnes.  Campfires.  Skip James.

Pulled from routine.

We were nearly eaten alive.

And we would have dived into that abyss out of desperation.

Yet the hand of the Lord was upon us.

Not for any deed which had ingratiated ourselves to Him.

But for grace.

Mercy.

Love.

No horror here.  Just a toad.  And Mark Twain.

And how to keep tobacco dry on a Mississippi River boat.

Uncle Sweetheart smells blood.

Years before Masked and Anonymous.

So be careful not to fall in love with your own reflection.

She said he was hit by a train.

And she looked good in a bikini.

To three pathetic roustabouts with no prospects.

Chewed up and spit out by both Tropics to wade in the water of possibility.

Nerds can box.

Maybe know an arcane martial art.

Don’t fuck with us.

But protagonists of epic poetry need something more than a couple of jabs and pinches.

Circumstances must have placed them in a true imbroglio…the mother of all situations.

The Gordian knot.

Ulysses is a lying bastard.  A mad man.  Advertising.  Op side coin propaganda.

But these are skills.  For gainful employment.  And we hover to ethics for guidance.

On how to wield words in the age of microblogging and memes.

He needed a story.

Chained together.

An inspiration.

Because we’re (for all intents and purposes) inseparable.

We can dream of $500,000 ($400,000)…as the “major D”…even the¬†m√Ęitre’d…if we’re feeling saucy.

Dream of land.

But what was Everett’s dream?

We know only later.

To spend 84 years in jail.

Released:  1987.

Incarcerated at age 3?

Not counting on these two to do the taxes.

The KKK took his baby away. ¬†–Joey Ramone

Seems very Bohemian Grove.

But we don’t know these things.

We only know what we’ve gleaned from D.W. Griffith.

These synchronized David Dukes are meant to evoke a temple of doom.

It is the hinge (brisure) in the whole film (if we are doing a deconstructionist reading à la Derrida).

And thus auteur theory is vindicated.

Joel Coen had something to get off his chest regarding the treatment of blacks, JEWS, Catholics, etc.

We could deconstruct from there.

It’s easy.

Top psychiatrist Steve Pieczenik does it breezily when he traces Jill Stein back to her Jewish Chicago roots which give her the privilege to run as an agnostic.

But the Coen brothers are timeless artists here.

They have found the trick.

Hillary’s coven must have been on hiatus for the past few weeks.

Demoralized.

But it’s hard to fight back the tears as they get in front of that lozenge mic I’d associate with RCA…

As the Soggy Bottom Boys emerge from obscurity.

And they have a fan base (constituents).

And these mythical performers were not even confirmed to exist.

In the flesh.

Ah, but public relations…

He was proto- “drain the swamp” with his little man and broom.

But the planets shifted.

And he’s on a hot mic inserting both feet into his mouth, one at a time, very slowly, with each succeeding word.

The way politics works.

In Mississippi.  Louisiana.  Texas.

Suck on a cigar.  Think it over.  Maybe some cognac or brandy.

And seize upon an opportunity.

To hire the best.

The best who have appeared on this stage at this moment for this very reason.

Three years after Titanic and the Coen brothers wanted a weightless freak show of inanimate objects floating as Japanese melange symbolism.

I am the man with the can.  Not Dapper Dan.  And no record-cutting lathe.

Just a tin of tobacco. ¬†My floating life. ¬†And all we’ve been through.

Memory soup.

We pull up to the aquarium to peer into the mysteries of other realities.

And, by so doing, try to make sense out of our own.

-PD

Riso Amaro [1949)

Robert Bresson said, “I believe in cinema.”

In English?¬† Like that?¬† I don’t know.

But it is truly the thought which counts here.

Because I believe in cinema.

Cinema.

Maybe it’s my favorite word.

My religion.

The great omnist hymn of all lands.

Of all the hands which have pitched in to turn the wheels of the mind.

And so this film, Bitter Rice, is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Not because it is flowery and seductive. [It’s not flowery.]

Not because there are perfumed stars in diamonds. [There’s no perfume.]

But because it is real.

As real as cinema gets.

Not the hyperreal of Harmony Korine’s Gummo.

Not even the transparent real of documentary footage.

But a real which is uniquely Italian.

To say neorealism is to cheapen the whole creation.

This is a masterpiece by director Giuseppe De Santis.

You must live through the rain to understand it.

You must have had no hope to fathom the slop.

You must wade in de water.

Because you are seeing Italian opera.

There’s no speech in the field.

No talking.

Workers are in the prison of labor.

Same kinds of rules.

But if you sing, that’s tolerated.

And so it all must be sung.  In the fields.

Puccini famously bragged about his facility.

Give him a grocery list, he said.

And Willie Sutton had his hygiene and motivators covered.

Even if he never uttered the famous phrase.

He ENJOYED robbing banks.

And, yes, that was where the money was.

And so the field workers not only display humanism.

Not only embody feminism.

But engage in a little triage worthy of Sutton’s law.

Taking the poor girl to the embankment.

[They’re all poor.¬† This is 1949 Italy.]

It’s not psychotic fugue, but psychogenic fugue.

Fugue state.

Thuringia.

The Axis Powers played a very bad game of chess.

Stretto was the shit hitting the fan.

“Ride of the Valkyries” mixed with heavy artillery mixed with vocalizations of agony.

Ristretto is what you get at Starbucks.

But, dear friends, don’t stop after the first half.

Let it finish.

Let it bleed.

Shine a light.

For Silvana Mangano.

Sylvania.¬† Someone has etched the word “hope” into the light bulb’s socket.

In the Schwarzwald.

The deep eerie mystery of the woods.¬† And Hitler’s aerie.

[Godwin golden mean]

34 21 13 8

almost Fibonacci but ending

aND nothing more Italian that an actress named Doris Dowling.

But that’s the way it went.

Direct descendent of opera verismo.

Our old favorites Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

But Netflix hasn’t gotten at the heart of what this means.

“Strong female lead” or some such rubbish.

Nice try…

But Riso Amaro blows all those venal pigeonholing strategies out of the water.

Cinema is not my God.

Cinema is my religion.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 19 [1976)

The show was really rolling by this point.

The sets are more elaborate.

The budget seems to have increased.

And the humor is worth it.

The cold opening (I’ve avoided that term for the first 18 episodes) is a killer.

Chevy Chase (of course) as Ronald Reagan…prefiguring the stilted-hip of Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall by a decade and change.

What we learn…Chevy can actually play the organ.¬† Some nice B-3 licks.

But the killer is Garrett Morris’ priceless contribution.

Like a silent film actor, Morris takes each condescending, racist jab from Reagan and grows more and more outraged…in such a believable Miles Davis kind of way (if we ignore the alto sax he’s holding).

What a start to a great episode!

Morris is in another high-art bit of humor later…for the fake donation solicitation Fondue Pots For Namibia.¬† Yes, it sounds like the title of a Zappa song (or perhaps Captain Beefheart), yet it is Saturday night variety show humor from 1976 at its best.¬† Bloody genius!

Some of the more elaborate skits are guest host Madeline Kahn as the “bride of Frankenstein” singing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.¬† Howard Shore and band are great in this skit (especially pianist/vocalist Paul Schaffer…of future Letterman fame).

Another amazing skit involves Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon.  Rounding out this bizarre, vast set piece is John Belushi as Henry Kissinger.

Now for the bad.¬† Carly Simon is godawful in her first prerecorded number “Half a Chance”.¬† I mean, really godawful.

What is apparent over the course of the show is that Madeline Kahn was a much better singer than Carly.

At least Simon somewhat redeems herself on the ubiquitous “You’re So Vain”.¬† It’s obvious Carly had talent.¬† She has a great, soulful voice.¬† Not sure what the problem was on “Half a Chance”.¬† Perhaps it was the cheesy, out-of-tune, canned backing vocals.¬† Also, the song is a clunker.

Alternately, I could listen to the line “…clouds in my coffee” from now till eternity.¬† It has that 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle vibe to it which is truly profound…the transcendental moment of spotting a microcosm in the mundane.

As The Mighty Favog said, “Talk to me…”

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 12 [1976)

Wikipedia generally gives a nice overview of some of these early Saturday Night Live episodes, but not in this case.

Even so, that’s alright.

We’ll make do.

It might be enough to focus on the divide between droll host Dick Cavett (his pitch for “his” Nebraska Pimp book as part of “Looks on Books” kinda sums it up) and impassioned musical guest Jimmy Cliff.

Cavett is that sort of personality that everyone likes.  Always a warm smile.  A wry smile, perhaps.  A smart guy, but not too smart.  Cavett was, in some ways, in the exact middle of the cultural road.

He was just hip enough to be marginally “with it” in a revolutionary era (witness the Weekend Update attempts to cover “war-torn” Luanda, Angola) steaming with frustration.

And so the natural way to play off his image is to have him do risqu√© things.¬† For example, the skit “Our Town” substitutes New York City for the Grover’s Corners of playwright Thornton Wilder.

Cavett describes the more prurient details of NYC.  At one point, it is fairly obvious that he is describing the old Times Square full of sex shops and massage parlors.  As always, the exercise of watching this show gives us an opportunity to reflect on days gone by.  For example, this must have been around the time of a sanitation workers strike in the Big Apple.

[Speaking of Big Apple, the home movie sent in by someone (whose name I have forgotten) makes nice use of apples (and plums) as actors in a stop-motion Super-8 experiment.]

But yes…Dick Cavett is kind of like a bathroom sanitizer.¬† You’re glad he’s there (when the place is sullied), but he is generally harmless and flavorless.

What is staggering about this episode is that I remember a friend from college who (on second thought) reminds me quite a bit of Cavett.  The craziest part is that Jimmy Cliff does a song in this episode which played a part in my college days (funny enough, in relation to the aforementioned gentleman).

It’s funny how the mundane can make us sentimental.¬† However, Jimmy Cliff is not at all himself mundane on the song in question:¬† “Many Rivers to Cross”.

Jimmy Cliff couldn’t be more different in persona from Dick Cavett.¬† Cliff delivers the first great, desperate performance in SNL history.¬† Sure, Simon & Garfunkel were great in the early season, but they were pretty…composed…easily poised.

On “Many Rivers to Cross” Jimmy Cliff sings like his life depends on it.¬† The guitars are out of tune.¬† The drummer is barely in control of the song.¬† A bongo player (who alternates on timbales…with brushes) adds a bit of flavor.¬† The SNL horns (Howard Shore’s band) add some nice stabs and swells of excitement.

But it is Jimmy Cliff.  Singing right in tune.  Dead serious.  Pinging each note in absolute perfection.

Closing his eyes.¬† Lifting his head back.¬† Singing so the veins bulge out in his neck.¬† …ending the performance out of breath.

Cliff absolutely deserved to perform the three songs he did on this episode.¬† However, neither of the other two match the intensity of “Many Rivers to Cross”.

And so it takes me back.

These memories I mentioned.¬† They’re important to me.

If I’d only chosen to have my taxes done by H. & L. Brock…I coulda been a contenda.

How do we become losers?

Is it from the very first hand we’re dealt?

Some things feel like a lost cause.

Life is unkind.  Sometimes.

But what I want to know is…will it pay off?

Jimmy Cliff was ready when the opportunity arose.

How significant was this performance for the acceptance of reggae in America?

It doesn’t matter.

Those questions don’t matter.

What matters is what each one of us feels…in little moments of reflection.

I’d like to think that I’d belt it out just like Jimmy Cliff.

That’s when you give it all you have.

It’s when your passion raises you head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s a passion.¬† A hunger.¬† Of going from nothing to something.

I think quite a few of us feel like nothings.

It’s all we ever get to be.

We’re behind.

I can only speak for myself.

No wife.  No kids.

In school for the millionth time.

And my dreams seem light years away…in the rearview mirror.

Will I find them again down the road?

Is this a loop?  A mere episode?

 

-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