Film Review: Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years

Ron Howard is a master cinematic storyteller, for sure, but not someone with much interest in complexity or ambiguity. Which can be good for storytelling, but for me usually comes up wanting. I like the messy, the complicated, the things that make you say oh.

screenshot-2016-10-04-23-04-32I was curious about this picture, but would have let it slide, or ride, but friends invited me and my daughter wanted to go. So we went to Greenwich Village for some fine wood-fired brick oven Neapolitan pizza and Ron Howard’s joint, plus the promise of the whole Beatles at Shea Stadium film, remastered visually and auditorily using all the modern tricks.

The movie is a gas. The camera is up close on the Beatles and their fans through the 28 Days Later rush of Beatlemania, during the charge of concerts around the globe, and headlong up to the show at Shea Stadium. These guys, when they were young, ambitious and full of energy, were terrific cutups. And then it stays up close through the despair that followed the exhaustion that came after, when cutups transformed into turnoffs.

As I had expected, I felt as if I’d seen most of this footage before, but all of it was delightful, looked fantastic, and there are some revelations (for me anyway):

Early footage of some English shows in 1963 are fantastic and transforming. This wasn’t just a group of clever songwriters and melody makers, with winning personalities, but a hard rocking band. Ringo pounds on his kit, and the Beatles deliver with equal and transformative energy. Great songs, but also tight and terrific arrangements and wickedly and aggressively good playing.

McCartney, mostly, and Lennon, too, from old interviews, talk about their songwriting, and the need to hew to a schedule to put out a new single every three months, and an album every six months. The studio footage and tales, plus the clips from all the live shows they’re doing, and movies they’re making, really dial up the grueling nature of it all.

At one point Lennon talks about how silly the lyrics are in those early albums, really just placeholders while they worked on the music. Which seems like a throwaway, since so many are so clever and perfect to the form, until, later, he and McCartney talk about the personal content that John weaves into the lyrics of Help!, a song that to me has always seemed a novelty tied to the movie of the same name. But of course not!

I always forget what a cutup George was, even when I consider the hilarity of his film producing career. I mean, Withnail and I? This movie confirms he’s funny and serious, too.

I assume there will be a follow up, a sequel. Maybe Blue Jay Way: The Studio Years, but more likely Strawberry Fields Forever: The Studio Years, which will go further into the making of the last five elpees. That will no doubt be an equal treat. But the takeaway here is that the Beatles were really great, in a way that has no match, and we would be fools to forget about even a part of that greatness.

Ron Howard’s movie is a crowd pleaser, and lives up to that not modest ambition. Go and enjoy.

Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard Linklater made a movie called Dazed and Confused, after the Led Zeppelin song, about high school kids partying on the last day of school. His new movie is called Everybody Wants Some!!, after the Van Halen song, about college kids partying on the first day of school.

Like most Linklater films there is lots of chatter. In this case the bros in the movie are members of the best collegiate baseball team in Texas, and they talk about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, as well as much else, as they compete in everything they do.

I haven’t seen Dazed and Confused in a long time, so I won’t compare the two movies. What I can say for sure is that Everybody Wants Some!! is warm and funny and exuberant, brilliant and surprisingly deep in an offhanded and precise way (with beer and a bong). Highly recommended.

Plus, it got me to hear My Sharona with fresh ears. Not bad.

Funny: Crazy Keyboards

It is crazy draft season in the Fantasy Baseball world, which I guess my mates and I have been preoccupied with, meaning less rock’n’roll verbiage, I am sorry to say.

I had been thinking about a handful of songs to post about, but this morning I was getting my teeth cleaned and some lovely early 20th Century English classical music–a la Ralph Vaughn-Williams–came on. It was pretty soothing, but was followed by some pretty frantic piano concertos by Chopin.

Julie, who was cleaning my choppers, noted the change was not so gentle, but when I think of classical pianists, my brain goes elsewhere.

I am sure that though my parents did drag me to to the symphony and opera way too early (I was five my first symphony) my first real conscious memory of classical music comes from the great early Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies that often employed great classical pieces when telling a story.

However, the first such images that popped into my aging head were from films, first, out of the great Robert Zemeckis’ film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which somehow manages to merge animation with action, with film noir and said Looney Tunes.

The great late Bob Hoskins plays the shamus Eddie Valliant, who tries to unravel the mystery of cartoon death and conspiracy, and his work takes the detective to the “Ink and Paint Club,” where this fantastic sequence takes place (it features one of the best one-liners ever with Daffy Duck making a definitive statement about working with the disabled).

But, the other piano craw that sticks is always Chico Marx. Groucho and Harpo were much more screen hogs than Chico, but Chico was a wicked punster and straight man, and like Harpo could play the harp, and Groucho the guitar and ukelele, Chico could tinkle the 88’s.

As in check this out. Brilliant. Funny. Wonderful.

 

 

For Gene

At Foley’s Saturday night, Gene remarked that it’s too bad no one ever did a rockin’ cover of Hippy Hippy Shake. I was shocked that he had somehow bypassed the Georgia Satellites doing that very thing in 1988.

Was gonna just send it to Gene but, what the heck, why not post it since we’re not exactly swimming in content lately (especially from me)?

Wiki tells me the song has also been covered by others, including The Beatles and Mud.

Here’s the video, which I now recall was a feature of that lame-o 80’s classic Cocktail. Lots of hot 80’s chicks in high-waisted jeans who are probably looking pretty rough these days.

Cool points for clocking in at less than two minutes.

Mastodon, Blood and Thunder

I don’t listen to that much metal, of any type. It would have suited my 15 year old head, but didn’t exist them (as far as I knew). Deep Purple filled that space a year or two later.

So, I saw the movie the Big Short today. It’s a fun and energetic telling of the story of the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown, with goofy period costumes (a la American Hustle), and lots of music, a la Scorcese and his imitators.

It also has Christian Bale playing an autistic genius MD with a thirst for metal. And a need to drum when things go bad. Almost all the writing and acting in the movie is on the mark, but Bale (as he often does) is above and beyond, not only chewing the scenery but making you (me) believe it needs to be chewed. That is, unostentatious ostentation.

I don’t listen to much metal, but one of the metal bands I like is called Mastodon, and they’re in the movie. Which is a good excuse to revisit this one. (And go see the movie. It is actually fun, and if you aren’t mad about the financial industry and government, you should be, with blood and thunder!)

 

Rubble Kings: a movie

Gene and I lived in New York in the late 70s, and I can say I was shaped by the decay and civil breakdown of that time. Ford to City Drop Dead made loyalists of us all. I’m reading Garth Risk Hallberg’s massive novel, City on Fire, which takes place in New York in 1977. So far–I’m only 250 pages in–the punk scene is his focus, but in those years, in the Bronx, another Do It Yourself movement was taking shape. Today we call it Hip Hop.

This bit about a movie called Rubble Kings makes the case that the gang summit in The Warriors was a real event, and the peace that followed (in the real world) is what created the culture that helped Hip Hop grow.

I don’t know about that history, I was downtown, but what I do know is that the music coming out of the South Bronx was as captivating as that percolating in the East Village. Here’s a trailer for the movie Rubble Kings, which surely looks like its worth a peak.

Los Punks, a trailer

Los Punks, We Are All We Have is a film about the punk rock scene in the Hispanic communities of East and South LA.

No judgement on the music, I haven’t heard it yet, but what interests me is the language of community and shared support for the outcasts, which turned out to be a serious message of the original punks (though I’m pretty sure none of them set out to promote that). But it happened. (Maybe in the second wave, and the one after that.)

Movies: Josh White, “You Won’t Let Me Go”

I don’t really have nearly as much of a familiarity with the blues–at least their origins–as I do Brit Pop, and New Wave, and 60’s pop and a lot of other musical categories that would be nothing without Robert Johnson and the Reverend Gary Davis.

And, I am a serious TCM junkie, in addition to my dependencies on just about everything else in life, and I have been watching Westerns a lot lately, for what reason I do not know other than I like them. Westerns do seem to speak to a simpler time, though I am surely not suggesting we turn back the clock on much of anything.

But, the exploration and development of the West was indeed the romantic period of America’s bloodline like King Arthur is to England, Samurai are to Japan, and Star Wars is, for example, to space movies.

Well, the other day, as I was surfing through the channels and on the Western channel, the film The Walking Hills was on.

Unfortunately, it was about 40 minutes into the film, and what grabbed my attention was the motley group gathered around a fire ring in the desert, when suddenly Josh White broke into a great song, playing guitar and singing.

I did not know who Josh White was, and I had never heard of The Walking Hills, so I went to the IMDB and looked up the film, and discovered a boatload of good shit.

Like:

  • Directed by John Sturges, in 1949. Sturges was the son of Preston Sturges, and also directed The Magnificent Seven (which is a riff on The Seven Samurai), Bad Day at Black Rock, and The Great Escape, among others.
  • The Walking Hills is considered to be the only “noir western.”
  • Preston Sturges was the king of the screwball comedies, having made Sullivan’s TravelsThe Lady Eve, and Remember the Night, among others, and was among the first screenwriters to use his skill to move into direction, and then control of his films during the heyday of the Hollywood system.
  • The Walking Hills featured a ton of folks who were great character actors during those golden Hollywood years, but that most of us grew to know via television. Among them:
    • Edgar Buchanan: Uncle Joe in Petticoat Junction, Shane, and The Talk of the Town.
    • John Ireland: Spartacus, Red River, and Day of the Nightmare.
    • Arthur Kennedy: Was in a zillion movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Elmer Gantry, High Sierra, and Emmanuel on Taboo Island (I guess even actors have to eat?).
    • Randolf Scott: Big western star in the 40’s and 50’s, was in Sam Pekinpah’s Ride the High Country, Santa Fe, and My Favorite Wife.
    • Ella Raines: OK, I had never heard of Ms. Raines, but man was she hot in this film. Swear.
    • Josh White: A blues musician who recorded with Leadbelly, among others, and who made me search hither and yon in for the song White sang at the campfire, but I couldn’t. I had never heard of White either, and the beauty of the campfire scene is White really focused as much on playing guitar as singing. And, he could really play.  Anyway, this is what I could find to share that gives you an idea: