Friday, September 28, 2007


Against my better judgment, I sat through Across the Universe, knowing full well that my personal mythology that these songs soundtrack would withstand whatever was flung onto the silver screen, but I really didn't expect such revulsion at the finished product. How can an already-delusional generation grow any higher on its own fumes?
About the only thing I can be grateful for is that they didn't concoct a Yoko Ono character that lets out a scream and ruins "the dream" for everybody else. To this day, there's no finer way to pick a fight in mixed company (short of admitting that you can't stand Neutral Milk Hotel) than to state that you love Yoko Ono's music or consider what she did 'music' (speaking of, there's an illuminating and slightly daft interview with Ms. Ono in the now-revitalized Arthur Magazine). And yet, for those who take the Beatles myth as gospel, Yoko is crucial. Cast her as Kali or Mary Magdalene or the Wicked Witch, but she is the underlying reality to that Fab Four religion and the vitriol against her remains undiminished. Just read the comments that accompany her devastating "Cut Piece," which anticipates such anonymous (and festering) hatred within the very piece.

Monday, September 24, 2007

beta mix tapes

For whatever reason, over the years peeps have been cowed when it comes to cooking up mixes for me. I love the act of making them, from track flow to wtf? pic to the withholding of info until the mix has been auditioned. Yet rarely if ever do I get them in return. Which I don't understand, as I have considerable gaps in my musical knowledge (which perhaps is otherwise formidable?) and love the handmade intimacy of a mix like anyone else. Thankfully my recent birthday was excuse enough for two to be made in my honor (by music critics, natch) and I've enjoyed them a great deal, both musically and in pondering why each song was selected so as to contribute to the aesthetic whole.

The first one I received has written in purple crayon: "Betasm: Sexy Inna Drink" surrounding a pic of a naked man swimming near a waterfall. Not sure what that's all about, but it features a slew of older stuff: Yellowman, Stetsasonic, Coasters, Comus, Del-Vikings, Lora Logic, Linda Perhacs, as well as new indie rock stuff that --if it dropped through the mail slot-- I might've just trashed on sight: Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, Marnie Stern, Big A little a.

My favorite song here is by High Places, a winning slice of bedroom exotica, if something made in my own neighborhood can be deemed "exotic." There's a tinge of African highlife to the guitar tones throughout (DP, VW, LL, then made explicit on the Franco song), though the languid touch arising from Mother Africa is replaced here by Brooklynites who perhaps down too much espresso (or forget their anti-anxiety meds). Brittle, bumpy, yet strangely assuaging, the adenoidal indie songs here work in small doses, making for a mix of little pleasures.

The second disc has writ across it "Dance to the Beta/ 'Who is Cerrone?'/ Hopeful Rarities," though a better subtitle might be "The Secret Life of Stevie in Disco," in that there number disco versions of Stevie Wonder songs (a stellar cover of "Love Having You Around" by First Choice), a track by his ex-wife, Syreeta ("Can't Shake Your Love"), and innumerable instances of jittery electric keyboard skittering atop the deep funk. The mix deals strictly in disco edits and edicts, the texture of prototype synths slowly giving way to hand percussion textures as the mix progresses. Some of it I knew well, like a Dinosaur L number, as well as The Winners "Get Ready for the Future," from that crucial David Mancuso Presents The Loft comp from '99 (which first introduced me to the world of Arthur Russell).

Much of the mix is revelatory though: Fern Kinney's "Baby Let Me Kiss You"; Two Man Sound's "Que Tal America"; Kirk Franklin's "Looking For You (Track Bandits Edit)." That Franklin cut is so ridiculously potent that it first converted me over to Judaism, then made me go all "Jews for Jesus." I then found myself watching Creflo Dollar last Sunday, but if Kanye can blipster over to Keane, then why not the other way around?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

heep see

As Ratatouille helped me realize, America loves rats. I all but forgot how much I loved them myself as a child, until this clip helped me remember my favorite game, "Who Can Spank Chuck E.?":

Second acts in life are tough. Take my first job out of college, selling cell phones in the mall, before becoming an internationally-renowned music critic (where, in the last days of the Voice, I did indeed play "Who Can Spank Chuck Eddy?"). But even I was shocked to see the renaissance of Pol Pot on Today. Apparently, the Cambodian dictator had been keeping a low profile as a cell phone salesman before the UK's most zealous crate digger Simon Cowell re-discovered the Khmer Rouge superstar (as well as his old partner, Nuon Chea) and brought him onto Britain's Got Talent:

OJ, struggling now with his third act, surely had enough time to watch Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob Le Flambeur and realize that heists at casinos are bad news, even if you employ an electroacoustic composer as safe-cracker:

Friday, September 14, 2007

heep see

Perhaps to flush Chris Crocker's peroxide out of my eyes, I found myself instead watching old Bobbie Gentry appearances on The Smothers Brothers Show and on The Johnny Cash Show, singing "Ode to Billie Joe" and her other hits. On the notes to the recent Jim Ford reissue Sounds of Our Time, he takes credit for co-writing "Ode," which sounds like idle boasting. But as the man can also boast of being that offay hick on the back cover of There's A Riot Goin' On, he may be right. At the very least, Gentry also covers his "Niki Hoeky." While I'm marveling Bobbie's candy-colored polyester pantsuits and 'do throughout, dig her shy alternation between standing and steppin' on "Fancy."

Since YouTube is all about rabbit holes (and office cubicles) I couldn't help posting these Delaney & Bonnie clips, even though one will appear at Idolator later today. Christgau once estimated that D&B "nail such pieties as the joy of music-making and the pleasure of the groove," which you'll see here. And dig Delaney's Mexican tuxedo (though Northerners will call it a Canadian tuxedo)! An appraisal of D&B is part of my new column over there, VHS or Beta?, wherein I talk about movies and their soundtracks. Hopefully, I will soon get to topics like Toru Takemistu & Hiroshi Teshigahara, Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Forbidden Planet, The Andromeda Strain, Performance, Cassavetes's Faces, and Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

heep see

The Naked Kiss dir. Samuel Fuller

Leave it to punch-drunk Fuller to film my favorite opening sequence in forever. Godard deemed it "cinema-fist" and your eyes immediately open to the sight of a call girl wailing on her audience and her john, sending the camera reeling. She kicks the ass-whup up a notch when he yanks off her wig then puts on her face over the opening credits. It's pretty much down hill from there, at least until the doe-eyed crippled children's choir comes in to cut their latest hit. Tearjerker seems too placid an action to apply to Fuller; it's instead kin to taking a pair of needlenose pliers to the tear ducts.

La Jetee/ Sans Soleil dir. Chris Marker

I liked that when I screened 1983's Sans Soleil for some friends, half of them fell asleep within the first half-hour, their slumbering forms mirroring those of the commuters captured early on in the film. Perhaps being asleep is the best way to process the dreamlike logic that Marker follows, or, as his narrator puts it: "Not understanding adds to the pleasure." Between this and the recent picture book of his photography, 2007 has given us the most tenable grasp of the man in a good number of decades. How it makes me long to see his 48 other films of his that are impossible to track down save as bootlegs (Le Joli mai is on the way to me as I type). Already, he wanes just like his beloved Cheshire Cat.

The Lady Vanishes dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Marker's mid-movie meditation on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and that Sisyphean search for perfect memory led me back to the man. I've been grappling the past couple days about why I loved Hitchcock so much as a child. At first I thought it had something to do with the Alfred Hitchcock Presents Nick at Nite reruns that I saw as a child, that iconic silhouette and weird lumbering music intro to his show, his droll, black liquorice humor. That didn't seem quite right though, and then I remembered that I had a complete set of Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators juvenile detective novel series. Could he have been responsible for both reading and movie-watching? And is there any director working today to have that sort of ubiquity to where he is a fictional brand-name, much less a recognizable portrait? Scorsese's Dead End Kids? Wes Anderson's Effete Wilting Flowers?

Despite that childhood fascination with Hitchcock, I have barely built on it as an adult. And I had definitely never seen any of Hitchcock's UK work. With its toy-like opening, The Lady Vanishes evoked the miniatures of childhood, but it still almost lost my roommate and me in the first half-hour, displaying his peculiar brand of humor that makes the movie seem like the grandmother to 1955's The Trouble with Harry. By the last third though, it swerves into some crackling espionage.

Lola dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Will I be able to stand the nine hours plus change of the forthcoming DVD set of Berlin Alexanderplatz? As I seem to be drawn to women who work far too much, surely I can get with a man who his friends deem died of overwork, releasing some sixty films in thirty years.

While a staple of my Existential college courses, I hadn't revisited Fassbinder since then. I have Despair (still unavailable on DVD) and am curious to revisit that, but watched Lola first, a part of Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy. His theatre roots and obsessing over Douglas Sirk comes through in his gels, the characters wading through rooms and courtyards drenched in amber and plum, character faces awash in clammy blues and flustered, almost feverish pinks. What startles me in the commentary (yet explains how he worked so fast) is that Fassbinder insisted on first takes and also emphasised not explaining character motivations to his actors. He believed that just as we move through this farce of a life not quite sure what we're doing or why, so should his actors.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

beta's night in paris

So I came this close (imagine me squeezing my sore thumb and pointy finger together) to being flown to Paris for a cover story on Wes Anderson. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but who wants to go to Paris in August, much less interview Wes Anderson, whose most brilliant and penetrating work remains a self-mocking two-minute spot for American Express?

Regardless, I rewatched what I deemed my favorite movie of his, Rushmore, as research, only to be reminded that I find Anderson's very act of storytelling to be loathsome. Cute, over-stylized, precious, detail-obsessed to the point of being emotionally circumscribed, I remain unable to put my thumb exactly on what shuts me down whenever someone in mixed company gushes about how The Royal Tennenbaums changed their life. Call it the "IAAOTS" effect.

As consolation prize for not taking that transatlantic trip, I instead went to an afternoon screening of The Darjeeling Limited. The story of three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman) on a continental train through India, it won't soon get mistaken for Jean Renoir's The River, much less A Passage to India, but Anderson has never been about outer landscapes. And for all his hinting at inner landscape (dashed when his characters suddenly state exactly how they're feeling), he hasn't been really about that topography either.

Yet Darjeeling surprisingly is his most emotionally resonant effort, despite his seeming intention to dash that at almost every turn with his over-reliance on soundtrack (synched to sloooow-mooootion movements), meticulous set dec, and too-clever dialogue. Which he does, opting out of a low-key soundtrack of music cues from Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar so as to inject some klassic Kinks and Stones back into the characters' iPods. Even the movie's most emotional and hard-fought scene in India threatens to get dashed completely when Anderson inserts a slapstick flashback. And aside from perhaps a contractual obligation to Ms. Natalie Portman (for getting buck-ass naked for her one scene in a Paris hotel, which was then edited from the film), I still cannot fathom why you have to watch it as a separate mini-movie before the real movie even starts.

When the movie excels is when Anderson slackens the reigns and allows things like gesture and silence to accrue between the brothers. “Maybe we could express ourselves more fully without words” is the suggestion made by Owen Wilson's character. Thankfully, it's then followed. Acting through a thick swaddling of gauze and padding throughout, Wilson at one point unfurls this mask, revealing some truly hideous gashes. Staring into the mirror, unable to deny the truth of his injuries, he then carefully re-wraps his open wounds and mumbles "I've got some more healing to do." The psychoanalysts at US Weekly are gonna have a field day with that scene.

Invoking paparazzi (what's beta blog coming to?), a painter friend recently went out to LA, where he found himself not only at the dinner table with that other Paris, but subjected to the surreal strobe light gauntlet of flashing bulbs as they then made their way to some party. "So what's she really like?" I asked. He remarked that she was in complete control of the circus, expertly playing her part. So as to not post both a video link to YouTube and in one entry, you can look for his potato-head popping up here. He says that the clip does not adequately convey the hallucinatory gauntlet of popping bulbs that accompanied their every step, making for a strange trip down the block.