Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Beware of a Holy Whore

The last 4 years I've worked on sets for production--movies, TV, commercials--and it's the best place I could ever want to work. Of all the movies about movies, the more experience I have the more I get out of watching the ones that depict the process of production itself.

So what do we have? Both The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, Vincente Minnelli) and its sequel Two Weeks in Another Town (1962, Minnelli), Le mépris (1963, Jean-Luc Godard), Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte (1971, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), La nuit américaine (1973, François Truffaut), and Living in Oblivion (1995, Tom DiCillo). I figured there would be more. Of course, there are other movies I'm not including because they only contain some sequences on set.

These films always involve bickering, creative conflict, affairs, and to some degree substance abuse. And my first reaction is hey it's not that bad, but then when I think about it, my only conclusion is oh yeah, that's right, all of that has happened even to me at some point. But it's still a lot of fun.

Initially I deliberated going to see Der Stand der Dinge (1982, Wim Wenders) because Robby Müller didn't shoot it, I had never heard of it, and because the log line I read was a film crew on location in Lisbon runs out of film and waits for funds to resume shooting, which sounded boring.

But having watched Hammett (1982, Wenders) the night before Der Stand der Dinge was to be screened in a theater, I said fuck it, I'm all in now. Restored from its original 35mm negative in 4K by the Wim Wenders Stiftung, the AFS Wim Wenders retrospective screened Der Stand der Dinge last night at the Marchesa theater and I went. And I was punching myself in the face for almost thinking about skipping it.

I don't know what happened with Hammett, but Der Stand der Dinge has the singular quality of the greatness Wim Wenders cultivates in Alice in den Städten (1974), Falsche Bewegung (1975), Im Lauf der Zeit (1976) into Der amerikanische Freund (1977). I've gotta start with the cinematography. Henri Alekan, best known for La belle et la bête (1946, Jean Cocteau), achieves photographic images that made me forget I was watching a movie and feel like I was in an art gallery discovering work that made me stop thinking and just enjoy the spectacle of viewing beauty. Der Stand der Dinge opens with sounds of wind, in a rocky barren landscape, on a post-apocalyptic figure wearing a particle-mask, oversized safety glasses, and a backpack, who carries a small handheld video camera. The black and white cinematography has a grainy, gauzed or greasy diffusion to it that gives the images a soft, classic, otherworldly German silent expressionist that probably never existed feel to it. And this phenomenal imagery doesn't stop until the end of the movie.

Wenders returns to his sparse dialogue, lyrical pacing, bypassing plot, focusing on authentic human nuances, punctuated by irreverent spontaneous humor, and casts an overall fatal, ominous sense of longing and loss in Der Stand der Dinge. The coastal Portugal resort where most of the film takes place provides endlessly gorgeous textures with the ever present beach waves serving as the aesthetically sublime dominion of black and white western European art films.

The opening movie-within-a-movie sci-fi piece uses a sinister Carpenter-like synthesizer score, which after a long gap, creeps into the world the characters inhabit outside the movie they're making.

Sam Fuller is back for his third consecutive Wenders film acting as director of photography JOE CORBY (wordplay on Hammett's DP, Joseph Biroc). Fuller is on-screen quite a bit this time and he's terrific: funny, seemingly ad-libbing, salty, world weary, cynical, and always puffing on his trademark cigar--he brings Joe Corby to life and makes this crew believable. One of Joe's complaints in a bar involves him lamenting the curse of the telephone, as he calls it: "good news, bad news, hypocritical news, news you never hoped for," and this is just one instance of a subtext of the impending fear of technology in the film. There's a later scene when DENNIS the screenwriter shows the director the movie they're shooting's assets on an Apple II computer. It's a prophetic warning: computers are going to devour the process of filmmaking.

The first two-thirds of the narrative show the humanity of the crew in a vacuum, or to be precise, placed on a will notify status--that's what the call sheet says the day before you are to show up for work when they don't officially guarantee what time you'll be starting, if at all. I can relate to the financial anxiety of the crew around this part of the movie. But the final act follows the director FRIEDRICH MUNRO (Patrick Bauchau) to LA where he's going straight to the source for finishing funds. King of the road Wenders again captures the location perfectly both tonally and photographically. Friedrich (or as the American crew call him, "fried rice") rents a large convertible, sun pouring down on him in an empty parking lot, and blasts X's "Los Angeles," cruising with the wind in his hair as Exene belts her furious anthem.

As fried rice passes a marquee what else but John Ford's The Searchers (1956) is being advertised.

Friedrich finally confronts the elusive producer GORDON (Allen Garfield) in an RV. While the mobile home drives all night, the two men discuss aesthetics, old Hollywood road movies, the economics of filmmaking and digress into other general ranting and raving as Gordon lounges with his dachshund while the aim of Der Stand der Dinge coalesces, and reinforces the bleak, hopeless demise of individual filmmaking. But oh so beautifully.

Aside from maybe the best black and white cinematography I've ever seen (as Joe Corby says: "life is in color, but black and white is more realistic"), it's the insightful musings on the process of filmmaking and entertaining glimpses into the restless crew, their hang-ups, and the little reflections and jokes that go far in delivering the most entertaining aspects of the film. Like the funny scene when the script supervisor (played by Viva) comments on the exclusion of females in the framing of the Polaroid shots her adolescent daughter takes on set; or what seems like an awkward scene where that girl and another child hear her mom in bed with another man but she says "do you think they're fucking"; or when the Geoffrey Carey played character has the hilarious moment with the child as he's hanging laundry, remembering his awkward characteristics as a teen in LA, from Clearasil, to braces, to stuttering to "wait, what was the last one, oh yeah, cancer." I hate to spoil these scenes though, the unexpected is part of the essence of why they're funny.

Der Stand der Dinge is way better than I could have imagined. Wenders at his most, eccentric and insightful. Beautiful. Very funny.


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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Orphans of the Storm

As long as I can remember being obsessed with movies I've compiled my own lists. Sure it's fine and dandy when a critic focuses on a film and provides insight into what we are seeing up there. But what about the opposite?

Sometimes there are interesting elements of a movie that aren't up there on the screen as we watch it. How often have you heard someone asking, "have you seen the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now? it's actually better than the movie itself." I'd never go that far. But, that's just me. I worship Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Coppola).

There are tons of rumors and gossip like this. I'm not as drawn to that as I am to the confounding instances of a movie being disowned by its director. And this seems to always involve an up and coming auteur battling with a studio, and a large budget at stake. We'll never see Orson Welles' original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); David Lynch wants his name off of Dune (1984), produced by Dino De Laurentiis; producers hijacked Backtrack (1990, Dennis Hopper Alan Smithee), which I learned about from Fat who shared this article; David Fincher says he lost creative control of Alien³ (1992) to 20th Century Fox; the producers taking Wild Side (1995) out of Donald Cammell's hands allegedly precipitated his suicide; Terry Gilliam didn't entirely get to craft his vision as he wanted on The Brothers Grimm (2005) because of the Weinsteins. I wish I had a list of these kinds of movies.

It is annoying to enjoy the work of a director and find out one of his or her movies ended up in a form that he or she wishes to ignore. But for me I still watch these orphaned movies, fascinated, stubborn, unwilling to skip over them. Admittedly, I've always been compulsively enamored with directors above all else.

The Wim Wenders retrospective is about halfway through and I am very into it. Chronologically the program is at the point where Hammett (1982, Wim Wenders) was released. The 4K restorations of all of the theatrical exhibitions so far have been released thanks to Wim Wenders Stiftung, and the foundation's website lists every title in his filmography except Hammett.

Last night for the first time I watched Hammett and it wasn't shown in a theater. I watched it on DVD at my home. Yeah, shitty, I know, tell me about it.

I'd first heard about Hammett a while back watching a documentary about filmmaking, or Hollywood, or directors, or Coppola, or American Zoetrope, I can't remember exactly. But on at least one occasion I know it was spoken of with a negative connotation, and even in the context of contributing or exemplifying some of the factors leading up to the demise of Zoetrope Studios along with One from the Heart (Coppola) released the same year.

I love thinking of the film school brats of the 1970s as an American professional sports league, and fans having their favorite teams, remaining loyal to them through thick and thin. From 1970-1984 I'm a Coppola fan all the way. But Carpenter during the same period is just as impressive to go back to, hell often more impressive.

So despite the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders, wait a minute because of the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders I was endeared by its trainwreck of creative conflict and other odd characteristics.

Throwing out my or anyone's sensible criteria for appreciating a movie, I couldn't get enough of the artificial look the sets and lighting give off. What I mean is the sources of the lights are hard and not as diffuse as other less distracting methods of lighting--but I like this effect. Having been shot at Zoetrope Studios plays into Hammett as a throwback to 1940s Hollywood studio filmmaking. Wenders' early films shot by Robby Müller are striking because Müller sculpts light like an artist, and the locations are pre-existing spaces not studio sets. And around 1982 no one wants movies to look fake like the 40s movies do now to us, but I do because I'm into nostalgia, especially for this time in film history.

Also Wenders' earlier films are as sparse with dialogue as his desolate landscapes are void of civilization. Even though that's one of the greatest strengths of those films, Hammett is a non-stop bombardment of machine-gun fire period pulp slang dialogue. It doesn't at all feel like Wenders but it works.

Finally, since I'm slowly now beginning to actually say something about Hammett itself, the casting from Frederic Forest as HAMMETT down to several supporting characters fits in and nails the homage of the 40s noir films this is modeled on. Forest is also one of Coppola's best collaborators going back to The Conversation (1974, Coppola), and Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola). David Patrick Kelley plays a hoarse whispered gunsel worthy of Elisha Cook, Jr.'s turn as the counterpart goon in The Maltese Falcon (1941, Huston), which is funny because Elisha Cook, Jr. also stars in Hammett. And Roy Kinnear channels Sydney Greenstreet's heavy from The Maltese Falcon just as accurately.

Who knew Jack Nance would turn up in this thing as a sex-trafficking blackmailer? Hammett boasts a formidable array of cult character actors and Nance seems to be the clincher. Director Sam Fuller also shows up again in a Wenders movie after his noir appearance in Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders).

In a case of history repeating itself, this rare instance of a movie about a writer unwittingly becoming a character in one of their own type of tales happens again with The Brothers Grimm, and in both cases it sound like the director started with their first choice of cinematographer only to see them fired during production--Robby Müller and Nicola Pecorini, respectively. Anyway initially I thought the premise of a writer stumbling into one of their own stories sounded unappealing to say the least, but afterwards I've found that in these two cases I really like these movies.


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Monday, February 01, 2016

Strangers on a Train

The fourth film in the AFS Wim Wenders retrospective that I went to.

Unlike the previous films directed by Wim Wenders, each released annually and assembled together in his road movie trilogy (1974-1976), Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders) emerges with a tightly structured plot, is steeped significantly in the noir genre, and floats lyrically in cinematic gravitas.

The tone of Der amerikanische Freund is one of foreboding. Like some of the most melodramatic pulp noir crafted by Nick Ray or Sam Fuller the protag is a virtuous everyman who falls onto the slippery path of crime and finds himself doomed to a pitfall of inescapable consequences.

In the opening scene Nicholas Ray plays a counterfeiter colluding in a rooftop rendezvous with TOM RIPLEY (Dennis Hopper), an American business associate on a stopover from his Hamburg home to tie up some loose ends in NYC. Anytime Hopper's on-screen his magnetic effortless cool cowboy-hatted grifter project that there's a lot more to this guy we're gonna find out and boy is he funny and fun to watch.

Next back in Hamburg we meet JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN (Bruno Ganz) in an auction of a painting that places these characters in a fortuitous crossing of each others' paths. We'll learn that Zimmerman plies his trade constructing frames, and may not have much longer to live due to a leukemia diagnosis, putting him in the dilemma of how to deal with its effect on his wife and young son. With Wenders ready to be flexible combining genres in Der amerikanische Freund, all of this dark heavy subject matter gets established only to have a buddy comedy element thrown in. And it all works. Very original too.

Zimmerman is the deadpan straight man foil to Ripley's eccentric loner and the chemistry is enjoyable on a variety of levels. Thus far from what I've seen Wenders' greatest strength is character. And there's so much detail going on with Zimmerman, like his fondness for antique film/photographic novelties, passion for rock 'n' roll, and all of the different choices he makes involving his escalating high stakes embroilment in the film's straightforward plot that empathizing with him is easy and the pith of the story.

And like the best pulp crime Wenders' characters here don't feel unrelatable or like caricature, they feel like people you've met or could meet any night out. He has this humble way of expressing human objectives.

The train sequence in the third act is the high mark suspense-wise of an all around taught narrative. But somehow all still bears the brand of Wenders offbeat humor and appreciation for the requisite spontaneous aspects of life.

Robby Müller finds his compositions in urban jungles this time. The overhead angle on Zimmerman running down the escalators in Hamburg gave me vertigo. And the scenes of Zimmerman sprinting down the tunnel motorway in desperation is as good as noir imagery as evers  been done. Müller also seems as though around this time he's becoming keen on the green spike certain film stocks exhibit when photographing green flo tubes (the lamp on top of Ripley's pool table is the best example) as aesthetic device. But the red curtains and sheets in Ripley's apartment are pretty far out too. And the boat yard outside Zimmerman's Hamburg flat is perfect for the extreme long shot vistas Müller revels in.

The climax sequence of the Cad ambulance and VW bug trip also finds one of Müller's greatest examples of his style and talent.

Der amerikanische Freund is highly enjoyable even though wrought with some darkly fatal quality to it, and even though I can't say why exactly, the maniacal Hopper as Ripley writhing in spasms of release while taking selfies of himself with a Polaroid remind me of the magic of movies.


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Friday, January 29, 2016

Epistle to the Apostate

Hey, Yago --

Read your article. It's interesting, and it needs a response. I hope there will be better ones coming, but here is one.

Note: my disagreements with you are in no way meant to be arguing with your feelings -- as an explication of your reaction to the Warriors circa 2016, your piece is illuminating, and you are, of course, allowed to have the judgments you have. But I think your judgments and mine, when contrasted, might point out some interesting differences in how and why to watch basketball. So that is my intent here: to highlight some contrasts in our judgments so that we can both maybe learn something interesting about how / why to watch basketball. Please take my comments in that spirit!

If I can begin by attempting to summarize some of your objections, this may help.
1. Steph Curry receives adulation in arguably excessive measure and for extremely suspect reasons: he's not a plucky underdog, he's a rich kid who grew up with a lot of advantages; he's not really a small man, but he's a little baby-faced, light-skinned, etc., and just in general is a kid who seems to have been genetically engineered to be non-threatening; also there's this weird xian crap around him, which, yuck
2. The Warriors are winning excessively and excessively easily, and this removes some of the compelling nature of the games
3. Their style may prove detrimental, as other teams attempt to copy-cat them
4. Their style may prove detrimental, as it may come from an excessive focus on the quantitative aspects of the game and "efficiency" in general

I actually agree with more than a little of all this. Let's go bottom to top.

I personally don't perceive an excessive focus on efficiency / quantitative approaches to the game in the Warriors' game. Doesn't mean it's not there, just means that I'm not perceiving it, because what I'm perceiving is one magnificent player (Curry), and some remarkably versatile supporters (Dray, Iggy) along with a lot of role players (Klay, Bogut, etc.) execute a style that shouldn't work as well as it does at such a high level that most teams can't compete with it. On a raw personnel level, this team doesn't seem to me like it should be that great. On an efficiency level, the paragon is James Harden: get fouled or get a 3, play no D so you get the ball back, lather, rinse (or stir the tea), repeat. This team shoots a lot of threes, but that's because Steph is peerless at it and Klay is streaky but competent there. But there's not the overwhelming focus on threes or free throws that you'd expect to see if they were truly an efficiency-minded team.

As for (3), well, I'd rather see teams try to play like the Warriors than like James Harden. For one thing, the Warriors play defense, and they run beautifully. (Their gang-rebounding and cherry-picking is one of my favorite things about them -- at any given time, anybody might get the rebound that triggers a break, and almost anybody might be able to bring the ball up the court. THAT is the ball I love, building on the great versatility of the players they have.)

I think we may differ most here on (2): as long as the style is appealing to me, the wins and losses are less important. (I think I learned this from growing up watching the Nuggets -- I knew they weren't gonna win anything, so I learned to root for and appreciate the way they played.) And since I'm not a die-hard Warriors fan, I also don't have a huge amount of investment in their wins or losses... Obviously there's a continuum: maybe you're a 60/40 wins/style guy, maybe I'm a 60/40 style/wins guy. (I mean, it's not just an exhibition: it's not actually the ballet, tho my appreciation for basketball and ballet actually works more or less the same. I do care about the wins. Just not to the exclusion of other stuff. This is what I take Shoals to have championed with "liberated fandom", for what it's worth -- watching and appreciating the game without deferring to a rooting interest...)

And as for inevitability, I think that's an overstatement. They've lost to two sub-.500 teams. (If I hadn't retired as a Nuggets fan, that win would have made my year, I bet.) The Grizzlies and Cavs both had long stretches where they looked like they'd completely solved the Warriors -- and, as I said: this roster doesn't actually strike me as that great, beyond Curry. Take him out, or reduce his effectiveness, or do the same for Green, and this is not an extraordinarily good team. Put it this way: if they have to rely on Klay and Barnes for extended stretches, their opponents will be very satisfied...

With respect to (1), I agree with all of your assessments. That said, I find myself able to watch without thinking about any of those externalities. I enjoy watching him because he is a lights-out shooter, a phenomenal finisher, and possibly the best ball-handler I have ever seen. When I see these things, I am not moved to consider the discourse surrounding him -- as a once-failed, now-retired sportswriter, I have that luxury! ;)

That discourse matters: I am not telling you to ignore it or pretend it does not exist. But I'm mostly going to!

Another mind I respect deeply on basketball belongs to Tom Scharpling, and he has a similar read on Curry: for Scharpling, Curry now feels like a rich bully.

I understand and appreciate this point without agreeing with it.

Honestly, the thing about the narrative about Curry that drives me the most nuts is about "athleticism". It's the same idiotic thing people said about Steve Nash: "he's not 'athletic'", evidently because he doesn't jump high enough? But eye-hand coordination is an athletic ability, and Curry and Nash are both off the charts there. Speed and quickness are athletic abilities, and they were both exceptional there. Endurance is an athletic ability, and both have that. Both are enormously talented athletes, and anyone who downplays this is a fool -- or, perhaps, trying to advance a pernicious agenda.
Anyway. I don't expect I've changed your mind -- nor was I trying to! But I think you differently value wins and losses than I do, and I think you're more embedded in game-external conversations than I am, and those are both...malleable. You might like the game better from where I'm sitting. You'd definitely like Curry better.

Your pal, Fat / Collision / Etc.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Schwarz und Weiß

The third film in AFS's Wim Wenders retrospective I've attended was also the third and final installment of his road movie trilogy.

But sadly I still have only a vague idea of what that label means to me, or specifically how the road movie genre is defined exactly. Apart from these three Wenders movies the only other examples I can think of are Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman) Scarecrow (1973, Jerry Schatzberg), Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick) Wild at Heart (1990, David Lynch), My Own Private Idaho (1991, Gus Van Sant), Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam), The Brown Bunny (2003, Vincent Gallo) and Prince Avalanche (2012, David Gordon Green).

Although I do love the variety of life experiences the genre's loose structure allows, the beautiful nature, rural and urban scenes photographed, and for the most part lack of a burdensome sense of plot getting in the way of the feeling of freestyle filmmaking. And the cool music.

Im Lauf der Zeit (1976, Wim Wenders) opens with intertitles telling us, in German, that the film was shot in black and white, at 1.66:1, and uses production sound. Last night I again, after last Friday's Falsche Bewegung (1975, Wenders) found myself spending Friday night watching a slow paced, Robby Müller shot, Wenders Road Movie and lost myself in another world. Except this time the movie was 3 hours, but no seriously it flew by.

Like Alice in den Städten (1974, Wenders) and Falsche Bewegung, the film stars Rüdiger Vogler. Vogler as the main character for the third time really has sealed my love of his work as an actor in these. This time he drives a bus that houses his mobile film mechanic shop, stopping in German towns to repair projectors in theaters. Vogler plays a character called BRUNO WINTER and encounters ROBERT LANDER (Hanns Zischler) at the beginning of the film in a sequence that builds up parallel editing of shots of Bruno parked in his bus out in the countryside getting ready to shave with shots of Robert speeding recklessly through city streets in his VW bug. Their first meeting is a wonderful collision both visually and figuratively.

Robby Müller's cinematography is again the highlight of the show. Shot on Orwo black and white 35mm, wide panning epic vistas of beautiful countryside, wonderful textures of paint chipped structures, and elegant gradients of shadows and light playing on the subjects are everywhere. And plenty of driving shots. The night exterior tracking the motorcycle through the country roads as we see a lightning bolt striking beyond in the horizon had me smiling.

Of all the trilogy Im Lauf der Zeit is the one that had me laughing out loud. Mostly it was shock laughter, as there are a few gags that arise out of graphic depictions of some bodily functions I'm definitely not used to seeing in a movie. Or when Bruno at the bumper cars ticket gate and a woman played by Lisa Kreuzer (Alice's mom in Alice in den Städten) shows up and asks for a light for her Hitler head candle completely deadpan.

Im Lauf der Zeit is really relaxing. It just feels like as long as you're in for the ride who cares about the usual priorities like plot, and an over arching theme. It's all character development and like being on vacation.

Among the later stops the duo make, the abandoned GI post recalls the candle light shack scene in The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford) that Gregg Toland shot. In Alice in den Städten there was a scene in the motel the Vogler character stops in where he watches a scene from Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, Ford) along with a scene towards the end where the same character clips an obituary column of Ford titled "Lost World." And Im Lauf der Zeit has another scene where Bruno is on his truck and clips a photo from a film journal showing Ford on the set of Mogambo (1953, Ford) it looks like. So what's to be made of all this? What's the link, the reason for these references? People of the earth? Slower paced, tales set in the countryside with vast horizons and big skies? The black and white film?

Paper Moon was made by Peter Bogdanovich and released in 1973, the year before Alice in den Städten and has a shot where Ryan and Tatum O'Neil play characters eating in a diner where outside through the window a marquee can be seen that advertises Steamboat Round the Bend (1935, Ford) as its featured attraction. And Paper Moon is also shot in black and white and mostly rural. I don't know what point I'm trying to make with this, but it's impossible not to think of ADDIE when you see ALICE. I mean I'm not trying to imply anything negative about this link, if you can even call it that. Just speculating. Maybe I'm just trying to show off my memory or observation skills?

But okay, since I've already started down this road, there's also a moment in Im Lauf der Zeit when Bruno and Robert are talking about passing through the towns of Powerless and Peaceless. They mention that in between both towns is a mountain called Dead Man. Robby Müller went on to shoot Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch). And Dead Man feels like a road movie for sure; also there's a shot in Im Lauf der Zeit of a symmetric 1 point perspective down a town's thoroughfare with a large tall building weighing the center in the background, just like the shot in Dead Man of the city of Machine with the smokestack; also there's a CU of the van's wheel spinning in Im Lauf der Zeit that looks and feel like the CUs of the train's wheels in Dead Man.

Apologies if anyone was expecting anything in-depth but this time here I just felt like writing a journal entry of a movie I really loved.


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Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Blue Őyster Cult Song for Every Episode of I Don't Even Own a Television, a Podcast About Bad Books

As promised, or maybe threatened, here is a comprehensive compendium collecting the collated correspondences between the I Don't Even Own a Television podcast and the works of Blue Öyster Cult. This document will be maintained, so please do check back often.

w/ Jeb Lund

Coming soon! One issue with trying to cross-reference IDEOTVPOD and BŐC is that BŐC is kind of short on songs pertaining to romance-gone-wrong topics—and romance doesn't go much more wrong than in IDEOTVPOD's kickoff episode, Pregnesia. But I'm working on it.

w/ Dave Stattler

For a book about the virtues of willing yourself to power, about selfishness raised to the level of moral imperative, no song is better than the leering, sneering ode to the 70s, This Ain't the Summer of Love.

3—The Dirt
w/ Jackson O'Brien

I mentioned earlier that BŐC's catalog doesn't give a person a lot of options when it comes to songs about love and romance. If it's time to talk about talking about being a rock star, however, nobody did it better (or funnier) than these guys. The weirdness and romantic power of people playing loud music in front of people was a fixation for this band and their songwriters, and maybe their best statement on the topic was 1977's robotic stomper, R.U. Ready to Rock.

Some of the band's best harmonies shine over a deliberately held-in-check riff and Eric Bloom gets to declaim about the stations of night, about living only to be born again, and those "countdown blues". None of it makes a whole lot of linear sense, but there's a lot of menace, making it a perfect fit for a hazy melange of overlapping, sometimes contradictory stories from some of the 80s/90s biggest, and most violent, rock stars.

4—The Rules
w/ Rachel Millman

A book by the aggressive Jersey Shore star J-Woww!? Demands nothing less than Dragon Lady:

Out of the flames of a man's desire
A hair-raising voice from an evil choir
Raining down like a freezing fire
Dragon Lady

She appears mysteriously
You don't take her seriously
Until you're under her spell

5—Princess of Mars w/ Centa Schumacher
Coming soon!

6—Michelle Remembers
w/ Poncho Martinez

For Michelle Remembers, a harrowing tale of ritual satanic abuse and repressed memory, a harrowing Richard Meltzer lyric about horror and the failures of memory, a thing called Veins:

I open my eyes
From a dreamless night
With a sense of dread
You could cut with a knife
So I'm thinking that
Maybe I killed somebody
You never know—you never know when
You might have killed somebody

7—Let Me Tell You Something
w/ Amanda Brand

For Let Me Tell You Something, a book by a Real Housewife of New Jersey, I have to confess: I don't speak Jersey. For me, this book is written in an Unknown Tongue for sure.

8—Backwards Masking Unmasked
w/ David Thorpe

A book about satanic panic? Count me in! As long as I still get to listen to this rewritten and extended jam, all piano flourishes and choruses built to intimidate. If you're going to name a song after your band, and write yourself into a conspiracy theory about history, you might as well do it this well.

9—Veeck As in Wreck
w/ Tim Harrison

Get fired up for baseball! Don't hold back! Let Go!

10—Ready Player One
w/ Mike Sacco

A book that's a pandering pastiche of popular culture has the benefit of being at least easy to sit through. No matter how bad it gets, at least you can think about things you actually used to like! So for the dumb quest story / awful artifact Ready Player One, I propose the little-known BŐC quest epic The Vigil, a multi-part ride that's every bit as enjoyable as the few good bits in RPO with the added bonus that it's definitely not trying to get an elbow into your ribs to remind you of something you used to like.

11—Left Behind
w/ Leeman Kessler

When the rapture comes and all the good people are harping it up in the infinite, I for one plan to be singing along loudly to this Patti Smith lyric about the aliens or UFOs or whoever the hell it was that "took my baby...took my baby away" Man do I like this song. Fire of Unknown Origin.

12—Dude You're Going to Be a Dad
w/ Klopfenpop

Coming soon!

13—Those Who Trespass
w/ Jeb Lund

Don't Turn Your Back is a good message for anybody dealing with revenge-taker Bill O'Reilly.

14—Chariots of the Gods
w/ Centa Schumacher

Chariots of the Gods posits that aliens did a lot for us poor humans. And noplace does BŐC handle that theme more interestingly and funly than in the concept record Imaginos and in that record's title track.

15—Stranger in a Strange Land
w/ Adam Marler

Stranger in a Strange Land is about a telepathic alien who founds a church and such, written by a pal and a confidante of L. Ron Hubbard, who founded a church based on aliens and telepathy in order to make a huge pile of money. Flaming Telepaths tells a parallel story—and tells you, again and again, that the joke's on you.

16—Covert Conception
w/ Mara Wilson

Coming soon!

17—A Spell for Chameleon
w/ Jesse Dangerously

Piers Anthony's ode to despising a woman in multiple ways deserves nothing less than this Cars parody that was never supposed to make it onto record You're Not the One (I Was Looking For). The other joke about this song is that it was legendarily directed at the man who produced it, who understood roughly nothing about what BŐC was good at/for.

18—Super Sad True Love Story
w/ Poncho Martinez

Coming soon!

19—Voodoo Child
w/ Eugene Violet

Voodoo-themed graphic novel? Song written for a segment of Heavy Metal (the movie) that, unfortunately, couldn't be used, because the song did in like 5 minutes what it took the segment like 20 to convey. Oops. Vengeance (The Pact)

w/ Chris Collision

Screams, a Doors-lite spooky number, goes well with the first episode I was ever on, the Cold War James-Bond-with-psychic-powers-against-Soviet-vampires (yes, really) horror/thriller/whatever book, Necroscope.

21—The Eye of Argon
w/ K. Thor Jensen

Not 100% sure on this, but I feel basically okay assigning a personal fave tune, with lyrics from legendary British fantasy/SF writer Michael Moorcock, to the legendarily bad self-published Eye of Argon. I guess my position is that a tribute to Conan deserves a parody of Conan, so here's the great live version of Black Blade that introduced me to Moorcock.

22—Real Men Don't Eat Quiche
w/ Centa Schumacher

In the 70s, we evidently cared a lot about what Men did and did not do. Something that goes really well with panicking about what Men can and can not eat is ratcheting up the camp levels and getting all biker-gangy, but with voices raised in song, and singing, oh, singing, of the Golden Age of Leather.

23—Scar Tissue
w/ Ben Firke

Red Hot Chili Peppers are the worst band of all time; Anthony Kiedis is the worst lyricist of all time; without reading it, I assume this book is the worst book of all time. In "honor" of this, I present BŐC's weird parody of "becoming a rock star" songs, The Marshall Plan. Weirdest/best part of the parody is that it predated Juke Box Hero, Summer of '69, etc. I guess some parodies create the conditions of existence for the thing they will eventually be parodies of. I guess some bands who could really use a hit should maybe play it straight instead of mocking the entire enterprise they're involved with.

24—The Actuator: Fractured Earth
w/ Alexander Hinman

Not gonna lie: this episode made this book sound incredibly dumb, but more than a little fun. Which is about how I'd describe this song, one of the cheesiest (and more successful) attempts at rocking this band ever put together: Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria. What can I say, maybe I just like bad Dio impressions...

25—On the Brink
w/ Jeb Lund & Rocky Swift

One wildly dumb fear-mongering piece of tripe from the 70s deserves another, so...a Jimmy Carter-loathing screed by anti-abortion fanatic and former Nixon toady Ben Stein gets matched with the 'bring-it-on' message BŐC semi-explicably sent to the Ayatollah, a fairly dull number called Divine Wind.

26—Treacherous Love
w/ Mara Wilson

A high-school girl running away with her teacher? That's not just Treacherous Love, that's Sinful Love.

w/ Bill Hanstock

A workplace drama about bad people doing bad things? Sounds like a Career of Evil.

The central premise of Pines is what if a bunch of dumb shit you once liked was tossed in a blender and served up to you, panderingly what if a dipshit with no personality wanted to try to escape a place—so the amazing parody We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is perfect, as the entire band channels their inner robot and singer Eric Bloom tries out the persona "evil singer of heavy rock who cannot convincingly convey the sentiment 'little girl, you're so young and pretty'". It's basically perfect.

29—Wild Animus
w/ Tim Faust

Wild Animus is an insane / inane depiction of one man's quest to get in touch with his version of the animal we all most hope lurks within us: a mighty, majestic...sheep. Blue Őyster Cult's Born to Be Wild is a slightly sad illustration of one band's quest to throw something into their set list that's guaranteed to get a pop from the crowd.

30—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Like most middle-aged men, BŐC and the author of Zen and blah blah blah who fucking cares have an evident fixation on motörcycles. On literally every level I prefer BŐC's Shadow of California to this "novel". Arguably a failed attempt at a multi-part epic, the song still works for me, including its weird lurches from more or less catchy rock parts to a truly disorienting time-signature lurch where the vocals are no longer tethered rhythmically to the music. Sure, everything on The Revölution by Night has some faddish and absurd-sounding drums, but the remainder of the production is appealing and the best songs, of which this is one, are all at least interesting, though not always as crafted as the band's best. Plus, the menace of the perspective, including "might makes right" and the great title, work beautifully for this particular Californian who finds no little darkness in the state.

Literally none of these things are true of the novel.

31—The Curse of Jezebel
w/ Centa Schumacher

Fallen Angel is about as close as I can come to appropriate about this Bible-based romance / fanfic that really only comes to life when it's discussing troop movements or something. I warned you earlier about this: BŐC isn't at their most robust when it comes to matters of lust. But I really like the vocal on this one, and would love to hear a version with the (admittedly delicious) keyboards and bass slightly lower and the guitars a little (a lot) louder. Similarly, I'd like to read a version of The Curse of Jezebel with about 230 pages removed.

32—Killing Floor
Goin' Through the Motions is an actually pretty funny meta-song, co-written by the greatest meta-songwriter of all time, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter. Killing Floor is more an example of going through the motions without commenting on it—though I do think it's entirely possible that it was a deliberate act to write it in a fully half-assed fashion, this would have represented a husbanding of resources, not a commentary on genre mediocrity. Anyway, everything Ian Hunter does is worth attending to.

33—Candy Girl
w/ Lemon

BŐC may never have been better than when they were throwing their previous lead singer under the bus with the non-sequitur She's As Beautiful As a Foot, originally written to make him look like an asshole for singing something dumb. I would like to make the writer of Candy Girl look like an asshole for writing this dumb book.

Sadly, the dull rehash of an earlier work (itself a dull rehash of other people's earlier works) Armada sparks thoughts in me mostly of one of my favorite songs by anybody, E.T.I.. Because...I dunno, both have aliens. But only one has scintillating harmonies and maybe Buck Dharma's most transcendent guitar solo and BŐC's most breakdancing-robots riff and rhythms ever. So: BŐC 1, Ernest Cline 0.

Books about rock and roll and its attendant lifestyles are always a little tricky. Readers want prurient details and salacious gossip, but the standard rules of narrative still apply, and spending novel-length periods of time with the truly debauched is a wretched experience. Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll is also a little tricky, especially in this version: one of the band's signature numbers, this performance was taped immediately after they'd booted the song's architect, singer and drummer Al Bouchard. So it's still a great song, on some level, but the details feel wrong, and it's nowhere near the experience it could have been. Or was.

Not much going on here: a book about an airport shut down in a blizzard, planes th their wings covered in ice and snow gets Wings Wetted Down, a song about...wings...wetted...down.

Actually I have no idea what this song is about. But it's got a good sound to it, you know?

37—Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead
w/ Poncho Martinez

In Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead, we read of a soldier shooting his way into and through hell. It's mostly ridiculous and only intermittently entertaining. In Hot Rails to Hell, we listen to a guy freak out about being on a scary New York City subway, which plausibly could have been rattletrapping its way to the netherworld, and it's thoroughly excellent. (Early BŐC was a fairly deliberate affair, and their first three albums are mainly concerned with sketching various depictions of hell. As a tactic for a band whose creative brief was explicitly "American Black Sabbath", it's pretty canny, and the results are mostly satisfying, and almost always interesting. This one is more satisfying than interesting, which is a good first approximation to a description of rock and roll itself.)

38—Flowers in the Attic
w/ Centa Schumacher & Amanda Brand

I still think Flowers in the Attic is more interesting than not, especially as a portrait of the female experience in America. Mirrors is kind of similar: an unintentionally mean picture of the same thing, from a different point of view.

A mirror is a negative space with a frame
And a place for your face it reveals
What the rest of us see
It conceals
What you'd like it to be

Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away
Pretty girls can't look away

39—Shadow Moon
w/ Tricia Ellis

The repetitive and incomprehensible but rocking Teen Archer goes nicely with the repetitive and incomprehensible but infuriating Shadow Moon, perhaps the most ineptly crafted artifact IDEOTVPOD ever suffered through.

40—Kitchen Confidential
Not much going on here. A book about a bunch of immature id-beasts chasing booze, drugs, and women gets a song called Hungry Boys. shrug Shit, man: you try doing this fifty times.

Not sure which song I want to use here. There are two obvious possibilities, based on how cynical I'm feeling about this book at any given time. Check back soon. I'll probably make a decision someday.

42—Casino Royale
w/ Lauren Parker

Arguably a reach, but the prototype version of James Bond we find in Casino Royale reminds me a lot of the dry run of classic BŐC banger "The Red and the Black" I'm on the Lamb but I Ain't No Sheep. The initial Bond is a sniffing, amoral middle manager with impossibly specific tastes and a distinct penchant for sadism; the debut "Red and Black" is a friendly shuffle that doesn't seem to have noticed it's about whips and pursuit. Both would be refined considerably by their creators.

43—The Alchemist
Workshop of the Telescopes is one of my favorite songs that I don't understand at all. But it is definitely about alchemy, which makes it a good fit for The Alchemist. Bonus (maybe): the song is absolutely an early example of what would come to be called steampunk, and, as such, provides a nice pointer towards a version of same which doesn't aggressively blow.

44—Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
A book about boring people saying boring things and inflicting their feelings semi-consensually on any/everybody in the vicinity? Sounds "naked, exposed, like live rock and roll" to me, which means it sounds like True Confessions.

45—Snow Crash
Snow Crash? about...Baby Ice Dog?

46—The 50th Law
w/ Centa Shumacher

When it comes to this bizarre money grab by sociopathic Hollywood climber Robert "money is" Greene and New York rapper / entrepreneur Fifty Cent, there's only one song that fits, this off-kilter ode to alienation and suspicious acts. So please enjoy Cagey Cretins!

It's so lonely, baby, in the state of Maine!

An undercooked attempt at guru-ing like Illusions merits only the overblown (but, to me, delightful) Magna of Illusion, a tale of piracy and doom.

But, then, aren't they all tales of piracy and doom.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Did I Just Watch?

Continuing the Wim Wenders series, the second entry in his road movie trilogy.

Shot on color 35mm by the amazing Robby Müller and restored at 4K in 2015 on DCP,  (1975, Wim Wenders) is droll and unpredictable throughout. It's odd.

Falsche Bewegung opens with some helicopter shots of a German town that progresses into the window of one of the houses where the film's star Rüdiger Vogler, who I'm really beginning to appreciate since Alice in den Städten (1974, Wenders), obsessively keeps playing a Troggs record then punches through windows with each of his fists. He lives with his mother and wants to be a writer, so he ventures out into the country on a train in search of inspiration.

None of this movie made any sense to me whatsoever. Yet watching it Friday night I would not have rather watched anything else. I'm still only beginning to really become familiar with the road movie as a genre. But Falsche Bewegung seems to be the best example I've seen of leaving your usual surroundings and encountering different people, who don't necessarily teach you anything although that in itself causes you to live.

Didactic film practices always rely on cause and effect. What's great about Falsche Bewegung is that it's never important where these characters came from or where they're going. So the first character the writer encounters is a girl called MIGNON played by 13 year old Nastassja Kinski (in her first movie and she's credited here as Nastassja Nakszynski). Mignon is really pretty, never speaks a word and is a magician acrobat performer who street hustles with her companion, an old man with a shady WWII Nazi past who plays a harmonica.

On a train across from them an actress played by Hannah Schygulla is drawn into the group. The final member of the group will be a poet played by Peter Kern. I'll always remember Kern as FATTY in Faustrecht der Freiheit (1975, Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Schygulla is easily one of cinemas greatest actresses who had a symbiotic chemistry with a director, in her case Fassbinder, that lasted through several films: Von Sternberg/Dietrich, Fellini/Masina, Cassavetes/Rowlands, Waters/Divine. Okay so I know I don't have a strong point to make here, but having watched dozens of Fassbinder movies and loving them so so so much I was absorbed by the nuanced creativity of Falsche Bewegung just because it used some of the same actors from Fassbinder's films, was made around the same places during the same years and is so far from resembling most mainstream more well known movies or all of the garbage on Netflix and cable TV.

Falsche Bewegung is mostly a couple of characters talking at any given time, but it's not dialogue driven. It's all about the people, but it's not character driven. I boil film down to a formula, I've always believed if a movie can nail just one aspect out of plot, dialogue, character, setting, or genre then it can fail at the other four and still work. Falsche Bewegung is a formidable example of the road movie genre and an unforgettable escape.

And again Robby Müller's cinematography painted gorgeous locations on canvasses both rural and urban, highlighted by green fluorescent sources in the nightwork, autumn foliage, sweeping valleys, giant snowy mountains in the day work.

Watching Falsche Bewegung in the theater last night was one of the rare instances I lost complete sense of time at some point during the movie. I can't wait to see where Wenders goes next.


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