Estella Hung isn’t too keen on Muse’s new album The Resistance, but she did like the lead track, which the band played last night on the VMAs. “‘Uprising’, easily the best track on the album, is a terrific hacking away at the theme from Dr Who by a Glitter stomp powered by quasars galore. Like the faintly Beck-like ‘Supermassive Black Holes’ on Blackholes and Revelations, it’s the album’s one pleasant surprise.”
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Here’s a bespectacled Luke LaLonde of Born Ruffians sitting at a bar with an acoustic guitar, playing Bruce Springsteen’s steamy 1985 single, “I’m on Fire”. LaLonde, with his mild mannerisms and bipolar vocals, is plaintive where Springsteen is assertive. The original version is insistent, as though the Boss doth protest too much, and this cover almost seems to lament his entranced desire. Check out the video below.
The Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 34th year, is a massive media gongshow that takes place in my hometown, right around the corner from my house. I get to bike to my first screening in the morning. I take lunch breaks and meet my wife and son for little walks between movies. I don’t have to sleep in some weird sterile hotel room, staying up late because I get to watch TV in bed which, for some reason, I always seem compelled to do. I don’t have to eat every meal at fast food joints (which means I don’t yet feel like a bag of dump, though all I have done for three full days now is sit in a dark room). And, finally, I can share in the whole, admittedly intoxicating, irrepressible thrill of seeing stars as they walk down my streets, the streets I’ve been walking along past nobodies and whocareses for my whole life. I mean, if I saw a celeb in New York, would that be weird? But, when George Clooney or Jennifer Connolly comes sliding by, all graceful and elegant and not-quite-human, I dunno. It just feels, electrifying. Is that lame? Probably.
Truth is: I haven’t actually seen celeb one this year. (Last year, I did way better. I even chatted with Tim Robbins. Well, the truth is that I actually had an astoundingly unnecessary conversation with him since the poor guy was just trying to get a drink and I accosted him, all 5’8” of me, and he, who is much closer to 18 or 19 feet tall, had to lean down so far he was basically assuming “the position” and looking for all the world like a big storky bird bending over to pluck up a teeny worm (me), and all so that he could be polite to this random dude who felt the unstoppable urge to waylay him. Also, I bumped into a guy I recognized from a car commercial.) Instead of star-annoying, I have actually been watching films this year. As I sat down to write this, your first instalment of a five-part series of reviews and randomness from your humble(ish) correspondent, I had already sat through 12. By the end of the ten day festival I will have seen about 30. Dear God.
Eminem - “White America”
Written by Marshall Mathers, Jeff Bass, L. Resto, and Steve King
From The Eminem Show (Aftermath, 2002)
I’ll just say it right out front: I didn’t learn to appreciate Eminem until 2002, a-thousand-in-hip-hop years after his commercial breakthrough. It would be dishonest to state or imply that I “slept” on him at first. The fact is, I actively avoided Eminem’s work from the beginning. I figured that I, a funkafied, culturally-savvy mixed-race Californian musician old enough to have original Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five 12-inch singles in the crates, needn’t pay heed to this perceived imposter from the heartland who, as far as I knew, was just party-crashing the most important musical development of the late 20th century. I had also heard horrible things about his rampant homophobia and other questionable philosophical positions. I changed the channel when his videos came on TV, and closed my ears when folks tried to tell me he possessed skills. Then one day, shortly after the release of The Eminem Show, I heard “White America”, and had to take a closer look.
Songs that deal with race and racism in American pop music can usually be traced to a handful of specific traditions. There’s a protest/socially conscious tradition, which typically laments the current race relations climate, and sets eyes on a future where things will be better for all (e.g., Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child”). There’s a more confrontational tradition, which aims for revealing uncomfortable and previously unexpressed truths about race relations, often addressing institutional power (e.g. Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”, the work of Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, and Oakland hip-hop artist Paris). There is also a more observational and/or metaphorical tradition, which aims to teach about the perils of racism through a story, observation, or ironic narration (e.g., Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is”, Kid Creole’s “Consequently”. Lastly, there’s a kind of transcendent tradition, which aims to transcend racial (and other societal) barriers by refusing to acknowledge or believe in the barriers in the first place (e.g., Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”, Prince’s “Uptown”, any song with the phrase “black, white, red, yellow, or brown” in it).
That audible gasp you heard last week was film geek society struggling to come to grips with what they just heard. After years of being marginalized as the man who produced more bad b-movie dung than any other independent maverick, after decades balancing unbelievably bad schlock with a cadre of novices who turned into industry giants, Roger Corman was getting an honorary Oscar. Yes, you heard right - the man who made the original Little Shop of Horrors, who helmed a series of spectacular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for his American International Pictures was picking up the film biz’s biggest tribute, an award that many far more famous and talented have never received.
Granted, it’s nothing more than career-retrospective recognition, and when you’ve got a list of names you helped shepherd into cinema like Corman does (just a few of the names include Coppola, Scorsese, Howard, Bogdanovich, Demme, and Cameron), such a nod was inevitable. And since the Academy of Arts and Sciences is looking for ways to remain relevant in the instant access and opinion platitudes of the Web World, giving Corman one of those coveted gold statues is a guaranteed way to get the normally jaded celluloid know-it-all to sit up and take notice. One imagines the decision had less to do with such crass commercial matters and actually stemmed from Corman’s contribution to film.
Still, it will be pretty amazing to watch the man responsible for such tacky ‘50s terrors as Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent and Teenage Cave Man get his just rewards. Heck, the video overview alone will be worth tuning in for. Corman, like the exploitation pioneers who copied his go for broke approach, rewrote the rules of post Golden Age filmmaking, tackling genre titles and favored commercial categories (the Western, the War movie) with slavish shoestring abandon. He once bragged that he could make a Roman Empire epic with “two extras and a bush”, but he was much more proficient than that. Indeed, Corman gave voice to hundreds of otherwise ignored actors, actresses, writers, directors, and production crew, using his skinflint style to minimize returns while maximizing results.
His honorary Oscar, however well deserved, does break new ground for the formerly stodgy society, introducing the possibility of having other outsider mavericks make their way up the stairs to the Kodak Theater. If SE&L may be so bold, perhaps we could champion a few choices for future ballots. After all, if the guy who gave us a plethora of pathetic horror hackdom in the ‘70s and ‘80s can win your ultimate approval, we think these five people deserve a similar statement of artform significance. Each one has given in ways that are undeniable in the annals of film and to leave them out while letting Corman in seems, well, criminal, starting with the man responsible for the continuing commercial appeal of the gross out comedy:
Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe)
K. Gordon Murray