Archive for the MUSIC Category

Day & Night

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on April 23, 2014 by dcairns

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Titles by the great Pablo Ferro.

Hal Ashby’s LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER, a Stones concert film, suffers a bit from being ’80s product, a period probably nobody would say was the Rolling Stones’ finest. When I see old footage of Mick et al on Ready Steady Go, the air of danger and rebellion is so strong, the message is so clear — I can hardly imagine how transgressive they must have seemed. Conversely, in Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT, the message is “We’re still here. We do this.” But what is the meaning of this 1982 performance I see, with Mick’s leggings and jacket and sock-filled crotch bulge and Keith’s eyeshadow and fag and all the balloons?

Never mind. The arrangement of the songs, slathered in saxophone, isn’t too great either, though one can’t fault the marathon-like energy the band apply to them.

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The film’s biggest filmic plus is that it’s an open-air stadium concert that starts in the last minutes of daylight and progresses into night, allowing for an ever-changing quality of light that creates a visual progression — something I believe all concert movies need. The masterpiece of the genre, Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE, achieved this by having the Talking Heads emerge gradually, one by one, building from David Byrne solo with guitar and drum track on a tape deck, to the full quartet plus backing musicians and backing vocalists — plus an elaborate and ever-changing lighting plan. Almost everything else I’ve seen throws the kitchen sink in right away, pyrotechnics and lights and inflatable pigs and dancing girls and diminishing returns.

Here, the diurnal structure helps, as do the nice colours, ’80s pastels of course but deepening as the sunlight goes orange then fades.

Ashby also is happy to throw away the first number on longshots, robbing us of Mick’s facial exertions and just showing off the remarkable space, a telefoto face-scape, an oscillating pointillist constellation of flesh dots, a great wall of the many-headed arrayed before us, spread flat on the screen by long lens distortion.

I want to say that Mick Jagger’s face is a panopticon. In the sense that a person standing anywhere on it would be able to perceive every other feature. Perched on the cro-magnon brow, he could observe the craggy gully of the mouth, blue in the distance, whereas from the promontory of a lip, he could gaze into those nasal caverns, on to the deep-shadowed hollows of the cheeks, the shimmering, glassy eyeballs, and the steep incline of the forehead, vanishing in a forest of sweaty locks.

Attendant Woes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2014 by dcairns

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Cinema will learn to talk soon, I promise, but for now I’m still mulling over films seen at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema.

THE LAST LAUGH is one I’d seen a few times but probably not, in its entirety, as often as I should’ve. It’s the kind of film which wouldn’t necessarily compel me to make the trip (which is rather difficult, the bus service being singularly erratic) by itself, but in combination with a bunch of other films I fancied, it made for a delightful extra, if delightful is really the word for F.W. Murnau’s desperate vision.

One smart person with a beard suggested that the film, in which hotel doorman Emil Jannings is robbed of his uniform and its concomitant status when he gets too old to lug suitcases without breaking his wind, could be read as a metaphor for Germany’s post-war enforced demilitarisation*, but I’m afraid my mind was on other things, such as Jannings’ putty forehead, which looks quite real on home video (though the shading in his cheekbones is recognizably kohl, not natural hollows) and becomes a big part of his performance.

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Also, I located the movie in the supernatural tradition of German film (NOSFERATU was just two years before) — when Jannings turns up to work and finds another man wearing his uniform, we seem to be in the doppelganger genre first seen in THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE. Seeing one’s double is meant to be a portent of death, and in this case it’s the death of Jannings’ hopes, career, dignity. It’s perfect that he sees the younger version as they both pass through the Atlantic Hotel’s revolving door, so that the new guy seems like a reflection of the old.

When Jannings’ family face him knowing that he’s now a lowly toilet attendant, they react not with pity but horror, and I was reminded of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which Samsa’s transfiguration provokes only the faintest hint of sympathy from his loved ones, who are more concerned with the practical problems entailed. Jannings doesn’t actually get an apple stuck in his back, but it’s a close thing. (Given his love of wallowing in humiliating scenarios, I’m posi-sure that if Murnau had produced a golden delicious and proposed ramming it under his shoulder-blade, Jannings would’ve shrugged off his undershirt and gotten down on bended knee in a twinkling.)

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The film seems, on the face of it, bracingly anti-capitalist, with Russian-style dialectical montage contrasting the rich patrons slurping down oysters while poor old Emil eats his toilet soup in the men’s room. It’s not even HOT toilet soup, as Murnau mercilessly photographs the steam escaping as Jannings is forced to attend to an untimely urinator who arrives during his break.

This is undercut in some ways by the conclusion, a bit of proto-Bokononism in which the film debunks its own happy ending. Jannings inherits a fortune from an eccentric American who expires, offscreen, in his arms, in the loo (the Atlantic takes away but it also gives). With his new-found wealth, Jannings becomes a guest himself, gorging himself suicidally and treating his friend, the sympathetic night watchman (whose kindness has hitherto only made the world seem bleaker) to an equally painful looking repast. Ignoring his disappointing family, Jannings heads off into the city with the watchman. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, but it doesn’t feel like an indictment of social inequality, exactly. On the other hand, we’ve been told in no uncertain terms that this ending is not the kind we get in real life (the Atlantic gives but it also takes away).

The BFI’s rather wash-out print was compensated for magnificently by a new arrangement of the original score, performed by Sabrina Zimmerman on violin and doorman’s whistle and Mark Pogolski on piano, who created between them a very rich soundscape, one of those accompaniments that really helps you climb inside the film and smell its pungent air.

*The film’s opening title card (absent from the BFI print) gives some support to this theory. “Today you are the first, respected by everyone, a minister, a general, maybe even a prince — Do you know what you’ll be tomorrow?”

A Hard Day’s Thing

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , on March 18, 2014 by dcairns

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This. I have some involvement, I am delighted to report. I can say no more.

Pre-order: A Hard Day’s Night [Blu-ray]

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