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Archive for the ‘At the Movies’ Category

 

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Fear’s a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust

Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust

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Very late getting around so I don’t have time to say much. How much do I really ever say anyhow? But I had this song in my head that seemed to be setting the tone for my day and maybe my week. Maybe my month. I thought I’d share it.

The song is Devils & Dust from Bruce Springsteen‘s 2005 album with the same title. It’s a song that wasn’t really a hit but received some critical acclaim including several Grammy nominations. Even so, I believe it’s a song and album that I think is very much underrated in the Springsteen canon. It’s an adult album, as it should be, from a man forty years removed from the youthful exuberance and anthemic nature of his early work.

I always pay attention to this song when it comes on my playlist and it never fails to bring on a few moments of quiet rumination. A tone for this moment, as I said.

Give a listen. For you keen eyed readers, the image at the top is the dining room of Mrs. Haversham from the great David Lean adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, a book and film that is very much a favorite of mine.

Have a good day.

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It’s fitting that on the day of the annual Academy Awards that this week’s Sunday morning musical selection be taken from a movie, a scene from a film directed by the great Stanley Donen, who died yesterday at the age of 94.

Unless you’re a big fan of films you might not know the name but you most likely know his work. It started back in 1949 with his direction of the musical On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He went on to direct some of the greatest musicals of the 1950’s– Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees and Royal Wedding, the film that had Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling of a room. I note this because Donen  directed Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling video 35 years later with many of the same effects.

In a long and interesting career, he also directed non-musical films that I have really enjoyed over the years, films like Indiscreet, The Grass is Greener, Charade, Arabesque and Two For the Road. He even directed one of my favorites, the 1967 cult classic Bedazzled with Dudley Moore as the hapless fool who strikes a deal ( and is constantly baffled by his end of the deal) with the devil played brilliantly by Peter Cook.

But more than any other film, Donen is known for his direction of Singin’ in the Rain from 1952, often called the greatest movie musical of all time. It’s a film I could watch time and time again, always finding something new to focus on- the fantastic dancing, memorable songs, fast paced comedy, and beautiful production with those saturated MGM colors that always excite my artistic senses. I am showing two clips from the film both from a fantasy segment, Broadway Melody, featuring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

The first, Gotta Dance, has the up and coming Kelly running into and immediately falling for gangster’s moll Cyd Charisse. I love this scene for the rough set design and color employed with the dark reds of the backdrop making Charisse’s brilliant green dress shoot off the screen. That and the sensual dancing between her and Kelly. Just a great scene.

The second is the Broadway Melody Ballet. Kelly after earlier encountering Charisse has gone on to stardom and comes across her and her gangster boyfriend again. It transitions into a dreamlike ballet sequence with a surreal set design that has always fascinated me. It has steps that are camouflaged with colors that appears as soft strips that converge in a vast soft pastel desert. I actually used the concept and color in a few early pieces. Also notable is Charisse’s transition from the hardened moll into a softer dream figure in the sequence.

Take a look if you like. Sadly, you won’t see this kind of thing again but thanks to Mr. Donen and others this great work is still there to be enjoyed.

Have a good Sunday.


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Before nodding off last night, I began watching the 1942 movie Casablanca for what might be the the nine hundred and fifty first time. It’s one of those films that is easy to jump in and out of because there is always something to relish at any given moment– a memorable scene, shot, line or piece of music. It is chock full of small pleasures that totally add to a greater whole.

Perhaps the greatest of these pleasures is the performance of Dooley Wilson who plays Sam, the star performer at Rick’s Cafe Americain. His musical performances light up the screen, most notably the song As Time Goes By which has taken on legendary status.

Watching and listening to it last night made me think about how it was a fitting song for the end of the year, a wistful looking back as the clock marches on.

The song was written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a Broadway show, Everybody’s Welcome, that had a short run. It went on to have modest success as recording by a number of record labels and orchestras. Herman Hupfeld was a minor songwriter of the era who you wouldn’t think would be the composer of a song that would turn out to be one of the great classics of the American songbook. He wrote some popular songs of the time that have long faded into the dustbin of history. I’ve included one at the bottom just to give you a taste.

As Time Goes By almost didn’t make it into the movie. The musical director, Max Steiner, was opposed to its inclusion but was overruled by the movie’s producers. Then in post-production they considered dropping it but because star Ingrid Bergman had already cut her hair for another part, they couldn’t possibly reshoot the scenes that already contained the song. So, it remained and became one of the most memorable parts of a true classic.

I wonder how the the film would have felt without it.

So, for this New Year’s Eve day, here’s the original along with that other Herman Hupfeld classic, , When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba. Have a good New Year’s eve.


 

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Another gray, wet, cold Sunday morning here in paradise. The sun lately seems like a stranger who, on those rare occasions when it appears, I have a vague recollection of once seeing. It’s grim and has me gazing out my window, hoping that the ghost of Tom Joad, like he had somehow stepped right out of The Grapes Of Wrath, might emerge out of the darkness set against the distant pines. This weather puts me in that mood, that grim feeling of that we need somebody to stand against the darker forces of this world.

Tom Joad, as dark and ill-fated a character as he seems, still gives me hope that there are still people out there who won’t turn a blind eye to injustice and inequality. People who haven’t been numbed by their own self-interest and comfort. They don’t have to be heroes, just plain people with a sense of decency and an unwillingness to turn their back to the wrongs they witness.

We sure could use some more Tom Joads.

Here’s my Sunday morning music. It is, of course, The Ghost of Tom Joad, from Bruce Springsteen. Have yourself a day– good, bad or indifferent– and if you see Tom Joad, tell him I am looking for him.

 

 

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Once the object has been constructed, I have a tendency to discover in it, transformed and displaced, images, impressions, facts which have deeply moved me.

–Alberto Giacometti

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There is a film out currently called Final Portrait which is about the writer James Lord, played in this film by Armie Hammer, sitting for a portrait with artist Alberto Giacometti, played in the film by Geoffrey Rush.

Taking place in 1964, a couple of years before Giacometti’s death, the sitting is initially supposed to last for a few hours but stretches for weeks as Giacometti agonizes and constantly alters the painting. The movie is based on Lord’s perspective, one that has him confused and frustrated until at last seeing how Giacometti has transformed his image into something beyond what he himself saw in it.

I haven’t seen it but imagine it to be a quiet but intense film. I’ve had some fascination for Giacometti’s work and writings for many years, intrigued by the singularity of his vision and his dedication to bringing it to light. I find myself often nodding in agreement, as I did with the quote here at the top, when reading his words from interviews and his writings.

Here’s a short film that the Christie’s auction house put together several years ago about the painting of this portrait when it came to auction, selling for nearly $21 million. It’s provides the basis for Final Portrait.

 

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I recently came across the blog entry below from back in 2008 when I had just started writing this thing. It’s about the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and how the darker elements in it– George’s angry frustration for example– could make it a much different film than the one we perceive it to be. I’ve watched this film umpteen times but it has been absent from my playlist for awhile now. Seeing this old entry, especially with the short video at the bottom, makes me want to watch it again soon.

From December of 2008:

It’s that time of the year when you hunker down on a cold, snowy night and watch a holiday classic. One of the most beloved is It’s a Wonderful Life from director Frank Capra. It has long been one of my favorites and it would be easy to go on and on about its message and how the final scene with the redemption of George Bailey makes me tear up just thinking about it.

But yesterday a friend wrote in his great blog about how he secretly preferred Potterville, George Bailey’s bizarro world version of his hometown, to the original Bedford Falls. Potterville was a rockin’ town. Strip clubs. Hot music. Bedford Falls was, by contrast, a real snore.

George Bailey Close-upHe cited an article by Wendell  Jamieson in the NY Times that made his case for the same thought. Jamieson even goes so far as to state that George Bailey would be facing prison time for the loss of the 8000 dollars, regardless of restitution.

Just before I had read these two articles I had come across a video entitled Bad Bailey. It’s put together as a movie trailer and using eerie music and a drastic realignment of the movie’s actual scenes make for pretty disturbing viewing, especially for lovers of the movie. It made me realize how much darkness there was in the film which I think may have made it even more powerful. Just shows what a little editing and music can achieve…

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First thing on this Sunday morning, I would like to send out many thanks to Kathy and Joe at the Kada Gallery for hosting my current show as well as to everyone who took the time on a busy Friday evening to come out to attend the opening on Friday evening.

It was good to see and talk with many wonderful folks again and meet many new ones, as well. The response to the work was strong which is gratifying because even though I might feel the show was good that means little unless people react positively to the work.

So, thank you to everyone involved.

This Sunday morning music is a song you most likely haven’t heard from an artist whom you also are probably not aware. It’s titled Pawky and is from the late Dorothy Ashby who was a jazz harpist who is considered one of the most unjustly under loved jazz greats of the 1950’s. I came across her and this track in particular the other day by chance. And it pleased me greatly.

This song has a kind of 50’s jazzy, witchy feeling, like it should have been in the soundtrack of the movie Bell, Book and Candle, the 1958 film about modern day witches in Greenwich Village, starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon. But it was not in the film though I think the title theme poaches elements from this song a bit.

Now, pawky is a British word that means shrewd, tricky or slyly humorous.  I chose the painting here, Pax Domum, that is part of the Kada show not because of the word’s definition but because there is something witchily atmospheric in the sky that reminds me of the sound of this song. Take a look and a listen and see if you agree.

Oh, have a good Sunday.

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