A staggering conceptual debut for singer/saxophonist Clark Perry, "Each Wins All" was released under his solo nom de plume Governor of Gibraltar. Recorded with an unnamed gypsy klezmer band Perry encountered during a stay at an East Berlin drug rehabilitation clinic, "Each Wins All" is a jazzy, surrealistic portrait of a 1920s German cabaret singer who poisons her devoted nightclub audience before committing suicide onstage. Critically drubbed upon its 1986 release, the album has since received public nods of admiration from David Bowie, Johnny Cash and Luciano Pavarotti.
Here's a sharp and cogent conversation at The House Next Door about a movie that really didn't make sense to me until I moved here: David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.
This surrealistic noir captures an eerie something about this place no other film does. Lynch's work is almost always creepy in some way, but this one gets under my skin because the terrain, both physical and emotional, is at once alien and uneasily familiar. Whenever I think about the city and the people driven to be here, these sharply contrasting images of Naomi Watts always come to mind.
I don't know what was worse during last Sunday's otherwise fun presentation of the Oscars: the omission of so many artists from the In Memoriam tribute, or the ridiculous swooping camera work that made the segment almost completely unwatchable. I'm glad it's been posted to YouTube where we can actually see the faces and names.
I don't get worked up over the Oscars. The Academy votes however they wanna vote. Sometimes they like the stuff I like, sometimes they don't. Whatever. Just give me an entertaining host who whisks things along, and Hugh Jackman was pretty good at that.
But anyone can print a list of people who died over the past year: actors, directors, writers, designers, producers and others. And while I understand that you can't include everybody in such a tribute, this year's omissions are staggering.
And this comes one year after the Academy failed to recognize the late Brad Renfro, a talented young actor whose oft-publicized struggle with drug addiction ended in a fatal overdose. His death was eerily similar to that of Heath Ledger's ... except that Renfro hadn't delivered a haunting performance as a super villain in an eagerly-anticipated blockbuster.
Sometimes I worry that this blog reads like an obituary column. But I'd rather say too much about someone whose life and work have influenced me than let their passing go unnoticed. I wish the Academy felt the same way.
Michael Mann's first theatrical feature, Thief, is one of my favorite crime movies. The fierce visual style we'd later see in Mann films like Manhunter and Heat was somehow already honed in this thrilling tale of a safecracker (James Caan, never better) who goes up against the mob that hired him.
The original movie poster explodes with bright sparks and dark shadows, just like the film. Tangerine Dream's moody soundtrack LP, featuring the same artwork, is proudly framed on my wall.
I'm glad this neo-noir classic is available on a DVD spiffy enough to include a commentary by Mann and Caan. But MGM's marketing staff should be imprisoned for the awful Photoshop disaster of a cover they've slapped on the DVD cover. The lighting on Caan doesn't even match the metal girder backdrop they've pasted it against. This looks like artwork from some forgettable straight-to-VHS movie, not one of the best crime dramas from the 1980s.
Studio sales departments will tell you that DVDs occupy miniscule amounts of shelf space and that's why they've got to use eye-catching graphics to attract consumers. I understand that and, honestly, some movie posters are crap anyway. If you want a great example of DVD artwork that eschews the original poster art, pick up any disc from Criterion.
But I dare anyone to tell me that the artwork below draws them in more than the poster above. It's sad and frustrating to see such incredible original movie artwork discarded like this. This lousy DVD cover cheapens a great movie.
I love these faux designs for movie novelizations from the artist known as Spacesick. They capture that minimalist school of art you'd see from publishers in the 1960s. Spacesick even scuffs and nicks the covers so they look like authentic used bookstore finds. I would snap these up if they actually existed, no matter what the price.
I love that Spacesick and Olly created these series as exercises for themselves. As far as I can tell, these aren't for sale and weren't commissioned by any client. I also admire that they willingly imposed restrictions upon themselves: Spacesick stuck to a specific format while Olly really pared down the color palette. Often artists are more innovative when they are forced to work with limited resources.
It's time for me to focus on creating my own art this week. Having been inspired by these two artists, I'm gonna deny myself the luxury of warming up the writing muscles with the usual early morning blog entry. Back when I'm done.
It's hard for me to admit this about my childhood, but the 1970s was a pretty crappy decade for sci-fi TV and movies. As much I like some of the stuff -- the good stuff -- I can't pretend that much of it was representative of the genre at its finest.
In the pivotal summer of 1977, I bounced straight from the pinball escapism of George Lucas' Star Wars to the dead-serious galactic combat of Joe Haldeman's Vietnam-influenced novel The Forever War. My imagination was stretched like saltwater taffy between those two aesthetic extremes and it was not always a pleasant feeling. I spent part of that summer on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama, reading and writing and making Super 8mm home movies with spaceships on strings and thinking about these things until my head hurt as if from an ice cream headache. I was suddenly and painfully aware that some of the stuff I liked wasn't nearly as good as some of the other stuff I liked. But dang it, I still liked the crappy stuff!
This huge panorama by artist Dusty Abell captures some of that decade's biggest and silliest characters. You've got master thespian Reb Brown as Captain America, that awful original incarnation of Battlestar Galactica (and yes, it was downright awful, no matter what idiots like Dirk Benedict think), and Cathy Lee Crosby horribly miscast as Wonder Woman.
But you also got the perfectly cast Lynda Carter in the same role. You got Robin Williams at his manic best as the alien Mork. And you even saw veteran actors like Martin Landau wearing bright orange space suits.
Landau's show, Space:1999, was based on a ludicrous premise -- the moon is blasted out of Earth's orbit and its helpless moonbase pioneers careen through space at the speed of light to encounter aliens and black holes. As an avid subscriber to the magazine Starlog, which covered every TV show and movie no matter how terrible or laudable, I was exposed to essayists like Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov who, heads shaking, informed a nation of prepubescent young nerds that any explosion capable of blasting the moon out of orbit would certainly shatter said moon and probably send the remaining chunks raining down on a soon-to-perish Earth (and we won't even discuss the stupid light-speed thing). But that show did sport some incredible special effects courtesy of Brian Johnson, who would later work on Alien and The Empire Strikes Back. This show also had one of the coolest, most believable spaceships ever seen: the Eagle.
This workaholic short-range spaceship was the main reason I tuned in each week. Gritty and modular but also sleek and eye-catching, the Eagle had more compelling detail and built-in backstory than any of the show's wooden characters. Maybe it was a little too neat and tidy on the inside, but outside it was as grimy and utilitarian as a tow truck. It looked like a believable, near-future NASA vehicle that had seen some blue collar action. Yes, I had the model kit and yes, it hung above my bed in mid-flight, somewhere between the lame TV show and the better, more fantastic world of my dreams. Today I might roll my eyes at Space:1999, but I still love this damn ship.
All of this stuff -- The Man From Atlantis, Salvage One, Quark, Buck Rogers -- was formative in my appreciation of not just a genre but storytelling altogether. Some of it makes me wince and shake my head (but yes, we can learn from the bad stuff, too). Sometimes while channel surfing, I'll accidentally land on a rerun and watch, cringing and laughing. But deep inside, there's a young teenager totally bowled over by the gosh-wow sensa-wonder of it all. Yes, even the crappy stuff. Dusty Abell's wonderful artwork perfectly captures how perfect and shiny and fun it all seemed to me back then.