Archive for the MUSIC Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Blackmail and Female

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2021 by dcairns

Pordenone Festival of Silent Film has started, and we’re attending virtually, which means we don’t get Lubitsch’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN, but I guess that’s OK as I’ve seen it. We do get the very interesting JOKEREN/JOKER, from 1928, a Danish production from Nordisk with a German director, Georg Jacoby (known for his Nazi era operetta-films) and multinational stars including Brits Henry Edwards and favourite Shadowplayer Miles Mander, the human knitting needle.

The intertitles are a bit blah, and they’re also modern reconstructions with no attempt at period style. The dialogue is stuff like “I was in love with a young woman, but she left me for the rich Sir Herbert,” while the narrational titles just describe what we’re about to see, which is shockingly primitive for a 1928 film.

A shame, but a minor one, because the film itself is very sophisticated, even louche. Set in Nice at carnival time, apropos of Jean Vigo, it benefits greatly from the colourful, somewhat surreal location, with tragic scenes enacted by men in pantaloons and false noses.

Miles Mander is the whole show in my opinion, an actor you can really HEAR in silent films, whether you’ve heard him in talkies or not. Ideally cast here as a skeezy lawyer who’s bankrupted himself over an unfaithful mistress and now resorts to extortion to square the bills, he’s also quite smellable as he awakens in dirty shirt and braces, sprawled over his desk in a cat-infested office. Anyone who brings such sensory overload to a soundless film is aces in my book.

Of course it’s not really soundless because multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne provides marvelous accompaniment.

In the title role, Henry Edwards cuts a dashing figure, so unlike Joaquin Phoenix. IMDb has bifurcating him, attributing this sole credit to a separate Mr. Edwards from the rest of his filmography, which is British — he turned up in films from the teens to the fifties — OLIVER TWIST, GREEN FOR DANGER, good things like that. Here, in his youth, he’s what I’d call a proper matinee idol, while at the same time his bony, beaky features do suggest the titular playing card, or perhaps Mr. Punch. If that sounds not quite attractive, he’s a British leading man of the early twentieth century, what do you expect? His performance emerges from under a glistening pomaded carapace. But he can do soulful.

This was my first Jacoby film, I think — he doesn’t move the camera* but his shots are lovely. Without the ability to screen-grab from Pordenone’s streaming platform, I can’t show you any though. I’m keen to see Jacoby’s silent QUO VADIS with Emil Jannings as Nero, and I should check out his Hitlerian musical output sometime.

Pordenone is superb value, whether in-person (impossible for me at the start of the new teaching year) or online — check it out!

  • STOP PRESS – Jacoby does do some simple but elegant walk-and-talk shots.
  • Gabriel Gabrio, a kind of tuxedo breeze-block, is Sir Herbert Powder, his physique suggesting that he must be quite a convincing Jean Valjean in Henri Fescourt’s LES MISERABLES.
  • Elga Brink, another victim of IMDb bifurcation, is an elegant and sympathetic heroine.


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on October 2, 2021 by dcairns

Watched Lisa Rovner’s SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS which is very good. A documentary history of women pioneers of electronic music. They’ve got such great archive — even the tape damage, or the cracks on an old polaroid, add atmosphere. Watched a few music docs lately and this one did the best job of integrating the music and giving it the right amount of prominence while keeping a narrative flowing — probably helped that the music doesn’t tend to depend on lyrics so it’s extremely suited to underscoring interviews.

Wendy Carlos turns up, and is the only one to get a negative review from another artist (all the interviews are audio-only, so we can enjoy more archive film and tape) — the suggestion is that recreating Bach etc was a retrograde move, where electronica should be about finding new forms.

But no mention is made of the fact that Wendy Carlos started as Walter Carlos, though in the film clip she has sideburns. This seems strange, almost squeamish. The story is an interesting one, and the fact of Carlos’ inclusion should obviate any suggestion of transphobia: a trans woman is being featured in a doc about women in electronic music. You could get all TERF-y and argue that Carlos enjoyed popular success as a man and so didn’t suffer under the handicap of starting out as a woman in a patriarchal society, but after all she had to battle through life with gender dysmorphia and survive publicly transitioning in a world even more hostile to trans people than to women, and continued her career under a new name. I guess addressing any of this would make the critique of her work as a step backwards seem awkward — but if I had the choice I’d rather pay tribute to Carlos than slam her, and I’d rather acknowledge her particular specialness than ignore it.

Of course I’m always overjoyed to get any Delia Derbyshire content — here I learned new stuff, like about her working-class origins and her studying mathematics at Cambridge. And I heard it in her own weirdly cut-glass voice, now perceptibly an overlay on top of less posh speech patterns. And she talks about being drawn to the air-raid siren and the all-clear signal as heard during her Coventry childhood (a city almost bombed flat in the war) — “that’s a sound that you hear, and you don’t know the source of it… as a young child… it’s an abstract sound… and it’s meaningful.”

Reaction Shots

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on September 24, 2021 by dcairns

Help! I am addicted to YouTube reaction videos. While there’s a sub-genre dealing with films, which can be fun to skip through — watching someone react afresh to favourite bits in a movie you know well has a distinct pleasure, a bit like being in a new relationship, it’s the song ones I’m hooked on. Probably the reason they;re so addictive is that they’re so rarely satisfying.

The overall premise of the genre is “I love music but I’ve absolutely never heard any, watch me make discoveries.” I occasionally check out songs I don’t know, but the real impulse is to find a song I like and see someone’s face light up in amazement. But then you want them to make a meaningful observation about what they’ve heard, and that rarely happens. Part of the problem is that a very first listening to a song isn’t necessarily the time you’ll have the deepest things to say about it. Still, sometimes just seeing people’s faces is a joy in itself. I like these guys, Jay and Amber:

One thing that happens quite often is a song with definite gay resonance gets heteronormalized because it’s being watched without context. Or the listeners aren’t catching the lyrics — there’s at least one very embarrassing misreading/unreading of the Kinks’ Lola out there.

The above video is joyous, not for the critical insights but for the sheer pleasure displayed.

Some reactors do go deeper, and it helps if they’re musically inclined. JP is a drummer, and he does cool stuff like reading the lyrics and checking Wiki in real time, to give a better grounding in context. Like most reactors, he’s eclectic, but prog, glam and punk feature prominently on his channel.

Some of the more successful channels are quite aesthetically pleasing, in a simple way.

I told my mum about this phenomenon and she immediately said, “And do some of them maybe pretend they’re reacting more strongly than they really are?” DEFINITELY. There’s a whole genre of Black music fans reacting in astonishment to the Righteous Brothers or the Bee-Gees — having thought, from the artists’ voices voices, that they must be Black, or women. This gets a little dodgy at times — pandering to a white audience, with lots of Mantan Moreland acting. And it can also feel like some strange sequel to the “Blacks without soul” skit in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON.

But a lot of this stuff is perfectly sincere. I like Jayy, who doesn’t get into chin-stroking analyses but whose very visceral reactions are always highly visible and who can put what she’s feeling into precise words :

The overall impression is that the younger generations (though there are some good older vloggers too) have abandoned musical compartmentalisation and have an open attitude to music quite different to the kids in my day, who used very specific musical genre choices to define themselves, and were often violently hostile to anything outside their chosen niche. This might encourage a more superficial investigation of songs and artists, but it’s still perfectly possible to go deeper, and it’s kind of the approach I favour with film viewing, which might be part of why I respond to it.