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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

Just in from the New York Times:


Ira Levin, a mild-mannered playwright and novelist who liked nothing better than to give people the creeps — and who did so repeatedly, with best-selling novels like Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil—died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.



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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007


Damn but the late Doris Wishman was a cinematic saint. She can entertain with a random shot of feet, or whisk us away on clouds of craziness with just a moment of badly processed post-production dubbing. In a motion-picture oeuvre that contained such breathless exploitation classics as Bad Girls Go to Hell, Another Day, Another Man, Gentleman Prefer Nature Girls, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, Nude on the Moon, Double Agent 73, and Deadly Weapons, she never once established a single shred of celluloid logic. Her efforts frequently felt like fever dreams produced by too many Rob Roys, an excess of butt steaks, and untold hours sniffing sweat-accented Jean Nate. With stories centering around taboos and their imminent busting together with copious amounts of carnality, Wishman forged a name for herself in a realm where gals were typically given nothing more than a chauvinistic smack on the can. Later on, she would explore the outer reaches of the risqué, dominating the violence-tinged “Roughie” before heading into full-blown hardcore porno mode. But there was always an innocence in what this grindhouse pioneer proposed, a subtext that suggested that, no matter the circumstances, our heroines were genuinely good girls corrupted by the pasty, paternalistic forces of the male-dominated universe. In many ways, Wishman wasn’t just the first feminist—she was Bella Abzug with a Bolex.


It’s a typical sunny day in a pre-‘60s Miami. Duke, a dastardly criminal with robbery on his mind, cons his less than felonious brother Steve into holding up a local banking institution. They argue about it a lot while on the way. The heist goes off without a hitch, but their planned rendezvous to retrieve another getaway car ends in engine trouble. Desperate, they carjack dishy dame Dorothy. Duke wants a ride to somewhere safe while he works out travel arrangement to Cuba with a bewildered boat captain. Steve is more interested in something soft and sensual. When they arrive at Dorothy’s Country Club, it turns out to be a nudist colony. The thugs are initially horrified. Crime is one thing, but bare bodies??? While Duke stays in the room and frets like a ferret, Steve is invited to become one of the many sun-worshippers enjoying the clean living and healthy lifestyle. As numerous naked people frolic and gad about, our potential paramours become much, much closer. Of course, big brother just wants his trip to pre-Castro country, and is brandishing a gun to get it. But when love blooms, especially in a place where wholesomeness and natural beauty thrive, evil cannot win. This is one Hideout in the Sun that may end one goon’s larcenous career - and save another one’s soul.


Hideout in the Sun, the director’s first-ever film (and in color at that), is definitely a throwback to her goody-two-shoes days. Lacking anything remotely randy and giving equal time to both the actual nudists and the professional models hired to play topless, this is early raincoat-crowd fodder at its most tame and blameless. With the Supreme Court ruling that the inherent medical nature of the lifestyle lifted the otherwise solid smut tag, Hideout plays like baby steps into the brazen. It was Wishman’s debut, and yet the recognizable mise-en-mess that would symbolize her cinema is firmly in place. We get shots of shoes, dialogue delivered by individuals off-screen, carefully placed towels and beach balls, as well as numerous sequences of unclothed honeys sitting around, posing. Hideout amplifies some of these soon-to-be clichés as Wishman places lead Dolores Carlos in a fountain setting and lets delightfully dancing waters give her figure a noticeable dowsing. Of course, where there are nudists, there’s volleyball and swimming, and the obvious lack of athleticism is laughable. The guys cavort like girls, and the girls resemble infants just learning to lift their heads. It’s all part of the genre’s ditzy dynamic, and it’s a certifiable scream.

The lawless on the lam narrative, however, is less than successful. Duke is so highly and tightly wound he gives off metaphysical five o’clock shadow sparks. Steve, on the other hand, is like a rump roast reanimated with Brylcream. Even in a watery setting, his slicked-back barber hair is an Exxon Valdez waiting to happen. When actor Earl Bauer turns on his heartlight, however, he’s about as suave as a kidney stone. He should be playing a strip-club owner, not a wussed-out armed robbery wannabe with a penchant to acquiesce to his brother’s every wish. The laughable Cuban subplot, featuring non-Hispanic actors in full Jose Jimenez mode, will prickle your PC penchants, and the general lack of looks among the performers and local color will have you wondering what granddad saw in such shoddy sexuality. Of course, it’s important to remember the role exploitation played in cinema’s coming of age. Without films like Hideout in the Sun, movies made to challenge the status quo when it came to potential subject matter, we wouldn’t have had the ‘70s post-modern explosion in film. They took the lumps while Hollywood and its independent cousins reaped the lax rules rewards. Doris Wishman was doubly important in that she proved a woman’s commercial viability among a very male-eccentric marketplace. While Hideout in the Sun may seem docile by today’s standard, it was positively shocking in 1960, for reasons both in front of and behind the camera.


Oddly enough, this title is not released by longtime Wishman supporters, Something Weird Video. Instead, Retro Seduction Cinema, apart of Pop Cinema, is handling the release, and they do a damn fine job. Offered up in a two disc Deluxe edition, we get two different versions of the film (1.33:1 full screen - the proper OAR - and a newly cropped 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition), and it looks very good, even if there are abundant age defects and edit issues. One has to remember that a limited number of prints were struck of these demographically specific movies, and to find one in pristine shape is next to impossible. After traveling around the country for years, suffering the snips and clips of various community standards, that a copy exists÷period - is pretty amazing. Thanks to a digital revamp, the colors are bright, the details deliberate, and the skin tones nice and pasty. It definitely recalls flesh peddling of the early exploitation era.


Sadly, the sonic situation is the same as well. The Dolby Digital Mono is maintained expertly, the title song a hilarious mishmash of jerkwad jazz and lounge lizarding. As for bonus features, we get a commentary with Wishman biographer Michael Bowen (good, if a tad to centered on the man himself), an audio-only interview with the director herself (classic!) and a talk with grindhouse producer extraordinaire David F. Friedman (too short, but sensational nonetheless). Along with postcards from a nudist colony, a 1960 newsreel, a Retro-Seduction Cinema trailer vault, and a wonderful booklet containing articles and Q&A, this is an excellent digital package.


One day, Doris Wishman will be celebrated as the evocative, experimental, avant-garde directorial diva she clearly was. Until then, those of us already in the know can settle in with a selection of her notorious No Wave classics. Thanks to DVD, we can now add Hideout in the Sun to her legacy’s list. It’s a solid sunbathing enchantment.


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Carbon/Silicon —"What the Fuck"
From The Last Post on Caroline Records
     


Filled with top-notch songwriting, propulsive energy and artfully biting lyrics, The Last Post is the rollicking debut uniting punk rock icons Mick Jones (Clash, Big Audio Dynamite) and Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik). Friends since 1975, Jones and James began writing together in 2002, the same year Mick produced The Libertines’ groundbreaking debut. With the addition of Leo ‘E-zee-Kill’Williams (Big Audio Dynamite, Dreadzone) on bass and Dominic Greensmith (Reef) on drums, the band gave away a few MP3s on their website, released a few singles and started gigging around. Produced by Mick and Tony and mixed by the legendary Bill Price (Clash, Sex Pistols, Pretenders), The Last Post is a roaring, unruly and infectious return to form that will please and excite fans old and new.


The Radishes —"Good Machine"
From Good Machine
     


The Radishes are a San Francisco/Los Angeles based band with a sound that has been described as Nirvana meets Motorhead. Other influences include such high-energy units as The White Stripes, The Stooges, Ministry, The Hives, Arctic Monkeys, Scratch Acid, and NIN, with hooky, angular guitar lines, ferocious vocals, and a unique, darkly ironic approach to songwriting.


Saturday Looks Good To Me —"Make A Plan"
From Fill Up the Room on K Records
     


Saturday Looks Good To Me is the songs and experiments of Michigan-born songwriter and producer Fred Thomas. Without ever straying from the goal of making perfect pop songs, this record draws deeper into a vault of personal feelings and intimate musical expressions, taking risks and trying to be as honest as possible. All the sounds are warm and urgent, joyful and kind of nervous, like an eerie celebration that starts right after something really horrible has happened. Lush string sections and electric piano lines dance with washed-out samples and bits of tape collages. Bouncy Smiths-like guitar lines stop abruptly and give way to white album-esque melodies. Wordless voices rise up at once then fall away; everything has its place.


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

The AV Club’s recent report on the worst book-to-film adaptations has led to some pretty fierce discussion at my house. Happy as we are to see The Grinch get a ribbing, we’re not so sure The Hours, Bee Season, or the remake of All the King’s Men deserve such scorn. I remember all of those as engaging, even gripping in the case of The Hours, which I watched days after finishing the novel.


Stephen King’s The Shining, however, is more out of place than most here, tossed off as “lousy”, with easy dissings of Steven Weber’s acting talents and some TV-grade special effects served up in place of genuine anti-adaptation argument. AV reports:


King never cared for Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance in the earlier film, which he felt tipped off the character’s descent into madness too plainly, but Steven Weber (a.k.a. that guy from Wings) was no one’s idea of an upgrade.


Except, of course, King himself. And anyone who’s read the book and knows Jack Torrance as an everyday family man, something Weber does far more convincingly that schticky Nicholson. The miniseries forgoes scares, true, but Kubrick’s version was hardly frightening and just as laborious. Garris’s film ran four hours, Kubrick’s felt that way.


On the whole, though, AV has it pretty much spot on. Much could be added—perhaps Re:Print will put its own list together. Any suggestions?


 


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

It may be a generational thing, or a my-being-a-Luddite thing, but social networking seems to me to have less to do with being social and more to do with self-marketing. MySpace, when it started, was primarily a place to market your band; it was a means to mounting a commercial website without the HTML knowhow. Once people had personal websites, they could be drawn in with the allure of metrics, the thrill of measuring one’s reach the way a marketer would—how many hits you get, what kind of demographic you are drawing, how successful you are at getting target audiences to interact with your site, what you need to say or how much skin you have to show to attract more attention and things like that. The attention, in this realm, becomes a measurable kind of currency, whereas in the dreary real world, it’s much harder to put a number on it—you can’t really count how often someone looks at you or answers your questions or has a positive thought about the way you have designed yourself.


So social networking is about quantifying the attention we can receive and finding some solace in that; real-world attention is a severely scarce commodity, but online the number of internet users, and the effectiveness of programmed simulacrums, make it seem limitless. It also can invert the sense of scarcity—instead of their not being enough attention out there for us to attract, suddenly it’s the attention that we can give that becomes treasured and scarce, a powerful feeling and one that is continually stoked by marketers in their attempts to flatter us with the attention they pay—“Hey you—yes, you, and only you. I have something I really want to show you. See? See, I knew you would like it. I know you so well!” The internet in general caters to our craving for instant attention—it promises us the precise kind of audience we want at any time, andif that audience proves elusive, it supplies another conduit for the personal attention of last resort, advertising. If one is lonely and looking for recognition, targeted ads are better than nothing, and for the advertisers, nothing could be better than hitting someone when they are down and vulnerable.


It was only a matter of time before social networks became more explicitly about marketing, since they were already about measuring attention and influence and defining oneself as a certain sort of marketing target. This Economist article looks at the recent developments of integrating ads more smoothly with social networking sites, letting advertisers eavesdrop on the conversations among “friends” and interject themselves when it seems appropriate or lucrative. And Facebook itself will take the commercial behavior of its users—buying something, participating in some brand’s Facebook page—and try to spread them across the user’s network as a kind of advertising, mimicking word-of-mouth. It forces you to be a shill, unless you opt out, and it furthers the perception that people shop to be noticed. Shopping may inevitably be a social activity, but social networking sites are trying to make it the cornerstone of friendship. So one can share such momentous decisions as buying shoes online with friends as if were deeply significant personal news and thereby let people get to know you better—since after all, we are what we buy and spending money is the only way we can signify we’re serious about something.


Social-networking technology basically lets brands aspire to be mistaken for actual peers, things people can have relationships with, and it also encourages people not only to see themselves as brands themselves (the metrics component of social networks already encourages this) but also to monetize their personal brand and treat their friend groups as demographics to exploit—as people primarily to market to with word-of-mouth recommendations, or automatically generated web notifications. This would be depressing if the groups on the networks resembled one’s real-life circle of friends (which one presumes is built on trust rather than exploitation). But there may not be enough incentive for people to groom their networks to make them match their real ones, and the colonization of the networks by marketing reduces that incentive further. The article cites Paul Martino, a proprietor of an early social network, who argues that


the interpersonal connections (called the “social graph”) on such networks are also of low quality. Because few people dare to dump former friends or to reject unwanted friend requests from casual acquaintances, “social graphs degenerate to noise in all cases,” he says. If he is right, social-marketing campaigns will descend into visual clutter about the banal doings of increasingly random people, rather than being the next big thing in advertising.


Let’s hope he’s right.


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