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Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008
Multiculturalism is fun! Familial tensions, not so much...
Summer Hours (L’ Heure d’été) (dir. Olivier Assayas, 2008, France)

I couldn’t wait to spend an afternoon watching a film crafted by one of our most exciting contemporary directors, Olivier Assayas that featured a triad of top-notch French performers: Jeremy Renier, Charles Berling, and the virtually incandescent Juliette Binoche.


At turns elegiac, radiantly warm, and infinitely relatable, Summer Hours finds Assayas visiting the at once similar, yet wildly divergent territories he passed through and conquered with his marvelous studies in cross-cultural communications, Demonlover, Irma Vep, and the brilliant Clean, both of which starred his ex-wife, the brilliant Maggie Cheung.


With a penchant for magnanimously-detailed story telling, the bright director is one of the heroes of modern cinematic innovation, and one who is constantly questioning the concept of “home”. Assayas’ perception of “home” in all of his films reflects a newly-emergent sensibility that “home” for many people nowadays is not the place they grew up, or even necessarily the place of their choosing. “Home” may be devoid of wistfulness, but that’s exactly what the director has in mind when telling the elegant tale of the Berthier clan. Is home confined by international borders? Is home something that no longer exists when older generations die or when younger generations leave? Assayas is unafraid to explore these topics with the eye (and heart) of a true visionary artist, from his singular viewpoint.


Summer Hours immediately begins fresh and intriguing and with a sense of energy and a combination of fluid movement and contemplative stillness that has come to be expected from Assayas’ camera. There is a feeling of intimacy established from the get-go, as the camera focuses on children running in the country sunlight, carefree and lost in their innocent games, you can almost smell the fragrances emanating from the stately gardens. This is a less hard-edged, less overtly globalist perspective than the director usually traffics in, but the sweetness is perfectly ripe, never fettered by syrupy sentiment or cliché.


His previous films shrewdly explored modernity and the growing sense that international borders are becoming just lines on a map, and that more than ever, human beings are truly becoming citizens of the planet or cultural hybrids, rather than staying tied to one particular spot their entire lives. In other words: nostalgia is dead. Move on. But the miracle of this particular film is that it isn’t as bleak as it sounds, and Assayas makes the potentially maudlin concept of familial struggles with property in the wake of death surprisingly tender, and, at times, even a joyous cause for celebration.


Originally, the script for Summer Hours was commissioned by The Musee d’Orsay and conceived as a four-part series of short films, which the director abandoned because of what he called “technical reasons”. The foundation of the film, which he says was built around the connections shared by the work and the museum and between the patron and the objects, resulted in something universal, but also uniquely specific.


Summer Hours is fundamentally about relationships: between siblings, between parents and children, between the old and the young, between art and money, but most of all, between possessions and their owner. What do we hold on to? Why do we cling to it? “Ancient forms of the family are transfiguring,” said Assayas. “It is no longer a question of fighting to possess family heritage, but rather knowing how to get rid of it. How does this past, which no longer represents much, all of a sudden jump on us from behind? What do we do with it?”


Opening at a country manse on a glorious, sunny afternoon, the elliptical, brisk images glide by, reminiscent of fleeting recollections of childhood memories, a distinct joi de vivre, and the vitality and excitement of faded youth that is replaced with responsibility and often turmoil. It is a light, pure feeling that invokes a basic instinct, and that immediately seduces the viewer into the story that follows.


Helene (a smart, moving performance by Edith Scob, who establishes her character brilliantly in a short amount of time) is celebrating her birthday surrounded by her entire family, children and grandchildren, everyone in good spirits. Frederic (Berlinger) and Jeremie (Renier) have brought their wives and children, while Adrienne (Binoche) has traveled from NYC to reconnect with the family on this important day. The vivid, lived-in dialogue in this crucial opening sequence, as well as the exuberant pace, sets the tone: the Berthiers are a charming and genuinely affectionate family despite the geographical distance between them. The viewer gets a sense that the family is full of traditions, memories and special rituals specific to only them. It is an intimate feeling.


Helene, in a private moment, takes Frederic aside to discuss another tradition: the passing of possessions from one generation to the next. She feels as though her life is coming to a close, and since the family has amassed a grand private collection of historic, important French artifacts, Helene decides to have the necessary conversation that everyone dreads having to hear from their parents: who gets what? How will her possessions be divided?


The inevitability of possessions causing grief, in a time of grief, to those who inherit them, is something the woman wants to avoid. She wants the history of the art collection to end with her; she does not want this family legacy to burden her modern family, who visit France but once a year or so. As she ascends a tree-lined stone staircase, while watching her family leave her once again, Assayas is able to communicate volumes on the loneliness of the empty nest with just a single elegant shot. This will be the last time anyone sees her.


This is fundamentally a moving tale of loss and grief, but also, largely, about nationalism and globalization. The themes are packed into the film, but it never feels fat, Assayas’ touch makes it lean. The intuitive, neatly-paced little details, like the secret handshake the brothers share, or the way everyone cracks up when Adrienne announces her engagement, make the family dynamics seem warm and believable -– there is a whole sense of familial history in these performances.


Known for pushing the envelope a bit in his other works, Assayas employs a more classical, less experimental feeling, but the overall effect is no less fresh and thematically rich. Summer Hours feels like a poised, polished culmination of all of the things the director does best. There is a fraught mood of anxiety when strangers enter the estate and begin to catalogue the goods, and assess each rare item’s value for an impending auction and for sale to a museum. When the family’s long-time housekeeper Eloise (Isabelle Sadoyan) returns in the end, we are offered yet another perspective –- how do you dismiss someone who has spent their life serving you? Do you simply give them a vase and some money and that’s it?


These are the delicate questions that the filmmaker faces with candor, and in the end, possessions ultimately only mean something to those who have lived with them forever . To others, they are simply found objects. This highlights that letting go is the hardest thing to do, but in the end it will unshackle you. We can almost let go of people (like Eloise) more easily than our “things”.


Eventually, when homes are not filled with these lives and objects, they are but empty shells that offer comfort no more.


Rachel Getting Married (dir. Jonathan Demme, 2008, USA)

Thanks to a malfunctioning streetcar (insert “Matt Mazur/Blanche Dubois” joke here), I ended up getting to the screening of Jonathan Demme’s new Rachel Getting Married much later than I planned, but just in time for it to start pouring rain whilst I stood in a line several blocks long without an umbrella. Where was my corporate sugar daddy Visa or my freshly-dipped bon bons today when I really needed them? I guess having a Visa card wasn’t as special as I thought yesterday.


Since Demme has not made an original dramatic feature in ten years, I had to catch this. It was my number one pick for the entire festival. His dabbling in documentaries (the excellent 2003 film The Agronomist is a must see) and remakes (like 2004’s Manchurian Candidate) has made me long for the days of easy, dare I say, quirky comedies he once cranked out with spirit.


All of the reviews I had read up until this screening indicated that Rachel was his return to form, that it harkened back to the time when Melanie Griffith was still a good actress (check out Something Wild if you don’t believe me!), and his actors were winning pre-Silence of the Lambs Oscars (Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard). Films like those, and Married to the Mob, made him the premiere director of offbeat mélanges of drama and comedy that could turn on a dime in the span of seconds. All of this “return to form” business is a little off, honestly – Rachel is a much different film than he has done in the past, refreshingly so, showing another color of a director who already paints with so many tones and techniques. It is a pivotal, substantial film for the director and a step forward.


Demme’s scant work in the 90s after his Best Director win for Silence did not yield many fruitful endeavors, though, in my humble opinion, his adaptation of Beloved is one of the great underrated gems of the entire decade. After that high profile film was widely and unfairly dismissed as a failure by audiences and critics, Demme’s glory days began to fade from memory.


Written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney and granddaughter of Lena Horne), Rachel explores the relationship between the titular character (Rosemarie DeWitt) with her black sheep sister Kym (Anne Hathaway in a breakout performance) on the eve of her (you guessed it!) wedding. Kym is being released from rehab especially for the occasion.


I am all for films that explore sisterly relations, family relations and the chaos that surrounds a wedding, but there are moments of this film, that, while very good, seem to be borrowing heavily from another film I loved from TIFF 07, Noah Baumbach’s far superior Margot at the Wedding. Wealthy, privileged East Coast family? Check. Hand-held, grainy camera movements following people from behind to big, gloomy houses? Check. Bitchy snipes aplenty? Check. Lots of picking off of festering sibling scabs? It’s all here. This is a slight gripe as the two films do have major differences, but since this one has a more light tone, and more likable characters, it is bound to (unfairly) be received better.


One of the nicest things Lumet treats us to with her energetic script is a cast of completely multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-talented character actors and musicians. This is one of the recurring themes this year at the fest, and in my opinion, the film that wins the contest is the one that features on of my favorite performers, Anna Deveare Smith, who gets a nice chance to grab screen time as the girls’ step mother, while Bill Irwin plays their music industry papa perfectly.


Rachel is marrying Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio) in an elaborate Hindu ceremony at their family estate, and as her dad is in the biz, the place is filled with creative types, who are constantly playing live music throughout, which jangles Kym’s nerves, having been away at rehab for nine months and seeing her family for the first time has her understandably anxious.


Hathaway, who I have never really been partial to, deserves every scrap of Oscar buzz she has netted from here in Toronto, and also from the film’s recent premiere at Venice. She is a spoiled, snappish little slip of a thing who is in a desperate state of transition, and whom no one trusts. They all have good reason for that, too: Kym, who must always be the center of attention, is responsible for an unspeakable family tragedy due to her drug addiction and general petulance.


Kym’s scenes in Narcotic’s Anonymous and her dealings with rehab, and the legal system (and of their condescending bureaucracy) are well-handled by the proficient young actress.  People who have been through these things in real life will appreciate Demme and Hathaway’s insistence on properly detailing the meetings, the probation officers and the people in charge who just think of the sardonic Kym as a stupid, screwed up little girl will find a particular realism and hopefully some resonance. These are very tiny details, but they are the kind of attentive pieces of a character puzzle that add up to a large pay-off.


Her family doesn’t really know what to do anymore, or how to behave around her, which causes Kym even more stress. The way that familial bonds and wounds are gauged in Rachel, and the way these obstacles are overcome, are the most interesting component of the film. Why do we allow those closest to us to hurt us the most? Why is it ok for someone in your family to apologize over and over, to maybe not even mean it, but to continually get away with behaving badly? Rachel would like everyone to forget about Kym for just one day and focus on her wedding, but even she wants to know when her responsibility for her sister will come to an end. She doesn’t even really want a happy medium, she just wants one day.


Abby (Debra Winger, roaring back, thank God!) is the girl’s distant mother, and almost instantly, you can see why her daughters have turned out slightly screwy. Winger instantly embodies a character she hasn’t tried to tackle before –- the uptight, socially proper type who would never want anyone to know what a terrible mother she actually is. During a particular train wreck of a rehearsal dinner, where Kym derails publicly, Abby looks as though she is about to crawl out of her skin.


This is a Stepford-y, unsentimental turn from one of the greats of the business who just walked out of her career, and one can surmise it is much like the way she walks out of her fictional daughter’s life. She plays her few scenes with an aristocratic aloofness that helps add up to a performance. It’s “the mother” role, but a new take: her life no longer revolves around her children, and she likes being away from them. If Ruby Dee, Vanessa Redgrave, and countless others who have turned virtual cameos into Oscar nominations in the past, then Winger should merit the same year-end consideration for her return.


Even Abby, though, must eventually face up to some of the glaring problems that she has passed on to both Rachel and Kym, and in her final scene, Demme wisely chooses to go with his gut and give true realism, rather than sloppily pandering to the audience’s emotions – the three actresses share a single beautiful, moving moment together where nothing is really resolved, but there is a fleeting feeling of comfort for but a second.


The dance sequence that ends the film, filled with booming music, is terrifically-shot and overall, Rachel has many qualities to admire, and is filled with some appealing, if not fully explored themes. It is mainly worthy to bear witness to Hathaway’s one-woman wrecking crew of a star turn plow through everything with a complexity she hasn’t really been afforded the chance to explore onscreen as of yet. As a performer, she hints at a fine dramatic maturity that will surely lead her to her first Oscar nomination.


“Maturity” is a good word for Demme’s style here as well –- it has evolved from his maverick indie-king days but still feels special and home-made, if not as overtly curious as his older films. He heartily walks the trapeze of drama versus comedy without a net, and he does it better than most. His Rachel is robust, brimming with life, and a joyous reason to celebrate: Demme’s back and he’s brought out the best in Hathaway!


Tomorrow, it’s time to bring out the men folk: co-writers/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden follow up Half Nelson with the surprisingly strong Sugar, while Stephen Soderbergh gives us four and a half ponderous Terrence Malick-esque hours of Che starring Benecio Del Toro, while Darren Aronofsky turns in his career-best, The Wrestler, featuring Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, and, in the performance of a lifetime, Mickey Rourke. I’m not even kidding in the slightest. I can’t even believe I am saying this, but Rourke is literally on the fast track to an Oscar with his magisterial portrayal of a professional wrestler fallen from grace.


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Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008

The LP Cover Lover blog is always worth checking out, but today’s post, a scan of the front and back of a children’s record from Mao-era China called I Am a Sunflower, is exceptional. All along, I’ve struggled through my life without realizing my childhood was bereft of such sing-alongs as “Little Red Guards Attend a Repudiation Meeting” and “Criticize Lin Piao and Discredit Him Completely”.


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Monday, Sep 8, 2008
What game would we put on a satellite to be seen by alien life someday?

On September 9th, 2008 the United Nations announced they would be launching a probe into outer-space. Its main goal would be to take photos of several of Jupiter’s moons, do a closer fly-by of Pluto, and eventually launch itself into the heliosphere that lies on the outskirts of our solar system. As with the original Voyager satellites, several discs and storage devices would be equipped on it so that anyone who found it could gain a better understanding of our species. Thanks to advances in data storage, several terabytes worth of data could now be stored on the Satellite that would be christened ‘Cheng Ho One’ after the famous Chinese explorer. In addition to the thousands of songs, photos, movies, and books being stored on the satellite, it has been decided by the committee that a video game should be stored on it. As with all the other media on the satellite, public internet forums were opened in all great nations so that the entire global community could decide which game would be placed on the satellite. The following is various excerpts from the transcript of those debates.


 


12:24:32


PudgePacket : Firsties! And Call of Duty 4 is defenetly what we shuld put on there!


DukeMa : I don’t see why we should have to do just one game. Some games I love: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Mass Effect, Psychonauts, and Final Fantasy should definitely all be on there!


PudgePacket : wtf, no one has ever heard of those games and even if they do they suck becuase no one has heard of them


Frank D : I think we should remember that this is the game by which an alien species is going to judge our entire race. How do we even explain the nature of a game to another species? How do we explain that violence as recreation is not the same thing as actual war? We don’t want to gi- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT


DukeMa : @ PudgePacket  
They’re all great games and would definitely be great if an alien species saw them. They’re all perfect classics and just because they’re old doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good picks for going into Cheng Ho.


JoeBlow : @ DukeMa  
Good God, those games are considered old? What about Duke Nukem, Populous, or just plain old Super Mario Brothers? We also can’t rule out something like the original SpaceWar! It was the first video game after all.


Frank D : Actually, SpaceWar wasn’t necessarily the first game ever made. If we look at the pure ludological and anthropological history of games then we ca- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT


4:15:54


MegaMagi224 : Look, I’m not saying Halo 3 is a bad game. But you yourself said I wouldn’t truly appreciate the game unless I played the entire trilogy, read all the backstory, and the thrown-away screenplays.


PudgePacket : Screw the fanboys! And did someone up there say Tomb Raider? Rolling on floor. Laughing my ass off. 


Frank D : Pudge, Tomb Raider may be a bit ridiculous in terms of Lara’s physical proportions but she’s also a strong, independent woman in a sea of games about saving the Princess.


PudgePacket : COMMENT DELETED DUE TO PROFANITY


xxgirltankxx Hey, I’m a girl and I don’t think that! I think we should put Fallout on there. Their the best RPG’s around because you could do anything you wanted!


Megator99 @ xxgirltankxx  
A game about how we nuked ourselves into oblivion and then kept fighting and nuking ourselves anyways? I’m not really sure that’s what we want on a satellite that an alien species might pick up. I’m with whoever up above said Halo.


JoeBlow9943 : Oh right, a video game about our war with the first alien species we ever met. That’d be great. Dumbass. These are some of my favorite games: Ico, Road Rage, Pain Killer, and definitely Psychonauts.


10:19:04


Frank D : Look, I’m sure we all appreciate the suggestion of PacMan. But sockpuppeting the forums and voting for it over and over again isn’t getting us anywhere.


CrapTalk33 : Has anyone said Shadow of the Colossus yet? Because that game is amazing.


xxgirltankxx : Dude, most of the people who play that game who are human don’t understand what the Hell is going on, why would a space alien? I think it should be Psychonauts.


Frank D : OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! IT’S JUST A QUIRKY AND INTERESTING GAME. The necessity of an acrimonious army of fans supporting it can’t change that fact. It’s just the gaming equivalent of the wacky B movie. We need something that is representative of the entire glo- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT


TechMachek : Maybe we should have the most technologically advanced game? I think Crysis is the best looking game out there.


MegaMagi75 : Yeah right, I doubt even the space aliens have a computer that can run it. Has anyone checked the South Korean forums yet? They all unanimously voted for Starcraft. I don’t really like RTS games though. Has anyone said Call of Duty 4 yet? I think that should go.


Frank D : COMMENT DELETED DUE TO PROFANITY


 


The forums closed after three days of heated debate. The Cheng Ho committee, after reviewing the forums, were unable to conclude which game the video game discussion had selected. Having never played games themselves and no proper understanding of what games were considered good, they instead decided to save space and put the complete collection of Everybody Loves Raymond where the video game would’ve gone. Not wanting the gaming community to be left out, they did include a game that the committee itself selected: the Flying Toaster Screensaver.


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Monday, Sep 8, 2008

Love him or hate him - or perhaps a better means of comparison is ‘revere him or reject him’ - but John Carpenter is much more than his frequently slipshod cinematic cache. Granted, over the last two decades he has yet to match the macabre benchmarks established with such groundbreaking efforts as Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York. But to diminish the man with a “what have you done for me lately” ideal seems silly, especially in light of how classic said previous creepouts have been. In fact, when you broaden your perspective a little and realize just what the man has truly accomplished, you’ll see that such irate instant gratification has no real legitimacy or leverage.


For the most part, film fans fail to remember that Carpenter is more than just an accomplished director. He’s a wonderful writer (he’s scripted at least 20 films and/or TV productions), an accomplished producer, and perhaps most importantly, a fantastic horror/fantasy film scorer. Some of the most memorable music to come out of a Carpenter film is typically created by the man himself. In collaboration with longtime associate Alan Howarth (among others), this rightful figure of renaissance rarity has made as much of an aural imprint on the genre as visual. In fact, many of his themes are so instantly recognizable that the complementary motion picture would feel lost without it (and visa versa).


While some of his later compositions pale in comparison, the years between 1974 and 1987 saw many of his most unforgettable efforts. Drawing direct inspiration from Dario Argento and his work with Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (as well as the compositional kingpin Ennio Morricone), Carpenter’s soundscapes are both unique and referential. There are definite ‘disco’ underpinnings to his approach, as well as a reliance on analog synthesizers that give each effort a kind of cine-schlock b-movie sheen. Some may complain that once you’ve heard Carpenter underscore a film, you’ve heard his entire auditory canon, but true aficionados of his work know better. Here are at least five fine examples of the man making music to support his often outlandish and totally original flights of fear fancy.


Prince of Darkness (1987)
For his last legitimately great film, Carpenter decided to deal with the arrival of the Antichrist - the Devil’s true son. Set in a broken down church and imbued with a highly technical (and talky) take on science vs. philosophy, the director poured more of himself and his ideas into this film than he had in any other previous project. The results are riveting and ripe for post-millennial reexamination. On the sound side, this is one of Carpenter’s most clear cut borrows from Goblin. The throbbing electronic beat supports what sounds like banshees wailing over shrill strings. While the tempo never deviates, the drama inherent in the melody lines suggests something vast and apocalyptic. It couldn’t be more correct.





Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Decades before Quentin Tarantino was quoting (and ripping off) the Shaw Brothers as some kind of newly discovered cinematic standard, Carpenter was manufacturing his own unique revision on the then mostly unknown Hong Kong action movie genre. Thanks to a terrifically quirky script from W.D. Richter (the movie was originally planned as a Western) and a legendary turn by Kurt Russell (no one does clueless heroics better), this remains one of Carpenter’s commercial and cult standouts. It is also the most rock and roll of the filmmaker’s cinematic compositions. The end titles even use a song by the faux combo The Coupe De Villes (actually the director and fellow crewmembers Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace).





Christine (1983)
In what seemed like a match made in horror film heaven, the reigning Don of Dread was earmarked to adapt Stephen King’s killer car bestseller for the big screen. But instead of being completely faithful to the author’s automotive murder ideas, Carpenter decided to make his own hilariously sick satire of the generic John Hughes high school film. Funneling in a little ‘50s JD jive just for fun, he created a unique and undeniably odd effort. Even better, this is one of his most complex compositional undertakings. The score frequently references classic rockabilly with bits of Twin Peaks era Angelo Badalamenti tossed in here and there. Like the movie it supports, this soundtrack remains one of Carpenter’s more criminally underrated.





Escape from New York (1981)
For what is perhaps the ultimate example of an action film as flashpoint allegory of a dystopian society gone sour, Carpenter invented the iconic character of Snake Plissken, had the creative common sense to cast former child star Russell in the role, and the covered everything in a fascinating future shock sensibility. For many, this stands as one of Carpenter’s, and the filmic category’s, best. So is the sensational soundtrack. In what has to be a near perfect marriage of music and mise-en-scene, Carpenter makes every note and every cinematic beat sync up beautifully. Another instance where narrative and noise fuse in such a way as to forever coexist.





Halloween (1978)
This is, without a doubt, Carpenter’s crowning achievement. It represents his love of Hitchcock and all things suspense married to a prickly post-modern view of the everpresent personal boogeyman. Sure, it started the whole slasher genre (much to Black Christmas or Michael Findlay’s chagrin), but revisiting the film some 30 years later illustrated Carpenter’s mastery of filmmaking form and classical composition. So does the score. Like other seminal ‘70s films like Jaws and The Godfather, the aural backdrop here is so identifiable and iconic that it creates its own unique sphere of further influence. Beyond what it did for the fright flick, Halloween re-established that solid scary movies needed their own recognizable soundtrack to really resonate. Don’t believe it? Just ask Friday the 13th, or something as recent as Saw. There is more to fear than the sense of sight. Carpenter is one of the few filmmakers who embrace and exploit audio’s ability to deliver the shivers. That’s why he will always be a master of BOTH mediums.


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Monday, Sep 8, 2008
Beyond World War III is not a lost classic so much as one that was never found—and hopefully that can change.

Party Music for the Apocalypse: Mikey Dread’s Beyond World War III


If Mikey Dread (Michael Campbell) had never decided to pick up the microphone and sing, his status would be secure in reggae history. His groundbreaking weekly show on Jamaican radio, the ingeniously entitled Dread at the Controls not only made him a celebrity, but it brought Jamaican music to the masses, making hometown heroes out of otherwise obscure acts. Notably, many music fans have heard Mikey Dread even if they own zero reggae albums. As the ‘70’s came to a close, two things were difficult to deny: reggae’s golden era was over, and The Clash were, as many people acknowledged, the only band that mattered. Of course, The Clash’s kitchen-sink approach (which reached its apotheosis—for better or worse still a ceaseless debate amongst fans—on their fourth album Sandinista!) included the embrace of reggae, first evidenced in their cover of Junior Murvin’s classic “Police and Thieves” from their first album. It made all the sense in the world for Mikey Dread to enter their world, which he did when he became the opening act on their tour. Shortly after, they hit the studio and collaborated on the single “Bankrobber”. Mikey Dread’s fingerprints (and vocals) were all over the aforementioned Sandinista and at this point, it’s fair to conclude that his street-cred, both in reggae and rock circles, was beyond reproof.


With this experience, and bubbling with confidence, he returned to the studio to work on Beyond World War III. All of the albums in this series have featured vocal trios, and one duo, who represent the highest level of harmonizing skills. Finally, here is a record that features one singer—but not one voice. Mikey Dread, the dub master, multi-tracks himself to create a constant chorus that manages to sound fresh and clean. Unlike the glorious murkiness of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s productions, Dread’s sound is crystalline and unencumbered. Each sound from every instrument, each word (sung, chanted, spoken) is precise and perfect. And that voice! Regrettably, Mikey Dread rarely gets mentioned in discussions of great reggae singers, at least in part because he’s appropriately celebrated for his production skills. Allow me to make a case that his name should enter that conversation, with the most convincing testimonial being Beyond World War III.


This is one of the true lost classics. No, that’s not accurate. It’s more accurate to remember that it was never considered a classic in the first place, so it’s not a matter of it being lost so much as never having been found. And that is unacceptable. Words won’t be minced here: this is an outright masterpiece, as close to sublime in its way as any of the other albums discussed so far. Importantly, like the other albums, this one can, and should, easily appeal to casual fans of reggae music. Indeed, like the others, this one truly is recommended to anyone who listens to music, period.


The style here is heavy dub, with Dread (who, again, already had plenty of experience perfecting mash-ups of reggae hits) applying his considerable production acumen to his own songs. The mood is mostly upbeat, at times festive (“Break Down The Walls”) and at times jovial (“The Jumping Master” which features Dread giving approbatory shout-outs to his bandmates and his young apprentice, Scientist, and even name-dropping original “jumping master” Spiderman). The ebullient “Rocker’s Delight” dates back to the Sandinista! sessions, and the spoken word title track anticipates the concerns about nuclear confrontation that dominated the next decade. The most arresting, and timeless track is “Mental Slavery”, which catalogs some of the societal inhumanity that was about to fester in the ‘80s—and beyond:


How can we survive in times like these
When prices rise and wages freeze?


Mikey was around to see things get worse, and the more things remain the same, the more compelling his message becomes. He left us, way too soon, this past year. His legacy is not in dispute, but his legend is still underappreciated. Beyond World War III is his greatest gift, and it’s one that keeps giving.


Tagged as: dub, mikey dread, reggae
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