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by Tyler Gould

3 Nov 2009

Don’t get too excited, “Heaven Can Wait” is not a cover of the Meat Loaf ballad from Bat Out of Hell, but the wispy voices of Charlotte and Beck over the otherwise chunky, clumsy track from the upcoming IRM (releasing in January) has its own appeal. The album’s title track is also available to download with an e-mail sign-up at Charlotte’s web site.

by Bill Gibron

3 Nov 2009

People like to complain that Disney - or better yet, the mega-multimedia side of the 2009 version of the company - owns the world. What with video, television, movies, music, theatrical productions, theme parks, networks, cable subsidiaries, all manner of merchandising, and a creative catalog that includes such divergent elements as The Muppets and Marvel Comics, the House of Mouse does seem like an omniscient entertainment enterprise. But back before there was such a thing as DSL, digital delivery, the satellite dish, and the coaxial connection, the world that Walt built was an equally influential amusement giant. During the ‘50s, they practically owned the fledgling novelty known as TV. Between The Mickey Mouse Club, the various Disneyland anthologies, and Guy Williams action-packed take on famous pulp character created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, they were as well known then as now.

For many a sullen pre-teen suburbanite, growing up in the Conservative afterglow of two terms with Eisenhower, Zorro was the original superhero, a Robin Hood of the Southwest combining a cavalier attitude with dashing good looks and a full blown mastery of the sword. Along with his mute sidekick Bernardo, Zorro - aka Don Diego de la Vega - protects the people of colonial California from shady cattle barons, corrupt bandits, mean-spirited members of the military, and all others who would take advantage of the poor and disenfranchised for their own immoral gains. Along with his well-meaning nobleman father, Don Alejandro de la Vega, and a fat, friendly magistrate Sergeant Demetrio López García, the local legend rides out into the wilderness, righting wrongs and fighting the good fight.

Like the Lone Ranger, Daniel Boone, and any other number of Wild West folk heroes, Zorro tapped directly into the post-war zeitgeist that saw young people, raised on tales of grandpa and dad’s GI derring-do, yearning for their own place at the champion’s table. While too immature to achieve it themselves, regular TV serials like this gave kids an escape, a way of seeing the triumphant acts they’d only heard about realized in a simple, moralistic manner. While Zorro was fond of a black cape and mask, his actions were indicative of the old school ‘white hat’ sense of justice. As a result, almost every villain was hyper-evil, given over to the kind of hand wringing and moustache twirling that the silent films fostered nearly 50 years earlier. While TV was still nothing more than radio in motion, the chance to move the visual from one’s imagination to “reality” was a great leap forward for many fledgling fans.

Now Disney is offering an opportunity for post-modern munchkins to dig on what the older members of the clan clamored for back five decades ago. As part of the company’s exclusive metal box Walt Disney Treasures collection, Zorro: The Complete First Season (1957-58) and Complete Second Season (1958 - 59) arrive completely remastered, restored, and presented over 12 separate DVDs. In addition, the set also includes the four one hour specials created when rights issues halted production during the height of the series’ popularity. As nostalgia, it’s a knock-out, a wholesome slice of pre-cynic spectacle where the House of Mouse’s patented production value is draped onto a collection of continuing story arcs involving cautionary tale tenets like greed, disloyalty, and underhandedness.

One of the best things about Zorro was its decision to mimic the antiquated matinee serial style that was waning toward the start of the ‘60s. By giving each initial 13 episode span a legitimate linking story, the show guaranteed to have audiences coming back each week for another exciting chapter in the tale. The first narrative dealt with Don Diego de la Vega’s arrival and his ongoing battles with the cruel Commandant Captain Monastario. The next focused on a conspiracy by Magistrado Galindo to rule all of California. The final story in Season One revolved around the identity, and defeat, of The Eagle, a member of the aforementioned criminal cabal. Season Two found the hero falling in love with the lovely Ana Maria and then competing for her favors with an old rival named Ricardo del Amo. Several smaller plotlines involved an attempted assassination on the Governor of California, a visit from Cesar Romero as Diego’s ne’er-do-well uncle, and more backdoor power plays and politics.

As the star, Guy Williams was a perfect choice. Italian by heritage (his real name was Armand Joseph Catalano), his rugged good looks landed him limited work in Hollywood before the chance at playing Zorro came along. Personally interviewed by Walt himself, Williams stepped into shoes previously filled by Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power and more or less made the part his own. With a noticeable twinkle in his eye and the physical prowess to pull off the many high energy fencing scenes (he trained with an Olympic champion), he made both parts of the developing superhero dynamic - champion and chump - into likeable, identifiable figures. Though set many decades before the then modern tenure of the ‘50s, Williams seemed to represent the domineering new male of the era, a well turned out icon that offered up grace, machismo, and a sense of ethics and fairness.

Sure, some of the storylines seem dated, especially when placed alongside the uneven updates featuring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But for all their high tech Tinseltown scope, there is something far more fun about Williams and his merry band of recognizable Disney character actors. Another intriguing aspect of this collection is watching the supposed guest stars wander in and out of Diego’s life, including the fetching Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, Everett Sloane (of Citizen Kane fame) and TV stalwart Richard Anderson. They add an element of familiarity for those of us old enough to remember when Mickey and the Gang’s returned to TV stations in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. There, show-within-shows like Spin and Marty continued the familiar boy’s adventure tale style that Zorro utilized throughout its run. Fifty-two years later, it all comes across as rather fake and freakishly wholesome, but when held up against contemporary examples of same, these terrific tales of frontier justice hold up quite well.

Thanks to Disney’s attention to detail, the desire to preserve their heritage for future generations to enjoy, these limited edition box sets are like stepping back in time and witnessing the series premiere as it originally aired. Film critic and company expert Leonard Maltin is on hand to guide us through the experience (does this man ever age?) and the hour long specials, while padded in places, are solid attempts to keep the Zorro franchise moving forward. Williams would go on to yet another iconic series when Irwin Allen hired him to play John Robinson in his sensational sci-fi schlock-fest Lost in Space. But this is where the actor first found major mainstream success - and for a couple of years, America was indeed mesmerized by his character’s combination of swashbuckling and savoir-faire. Slice a “Z” into a piece of paper (or some other object) nowadays and you’re bound to get more than a few dumbfounded looks. In 1957, however, everyone knew the mark of Zorro. Thankfully, the House of Mouse is giving us a chance to experience this hero’s magic all over again.

by Jennifer Cooke

3 Nov 2009

In honor of the 15th anniversary of its release, Blur’s Parklife has gotten a lot of extra play on my iPod lately. 1990s Britpop comprises an alarming percentage of my life’s all-time hit parade, with the bulk of it emerging from smack in the middle of that decade—Oasis’s What’s the Story (Morning Glory)?; Supergrass’s I Should Coco; Bluetones’s Expecting to Fly; Seahorses’ Do It Yourself. And Parklife is noteworthy for the fact that it is the only Blur CD I love. In fact, it is the only Blur CD I like. If we’re really getting honest here, it is the only Blur CD that doesn’t put me to sleep.

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm, as Parklife remains the band’s best-selling release. It was my first introduction to the band, their two previous discs having somehow eluded me. Lots of people feel partial to their first taste of a favorite band—usually not to the complete exclusion of the rest of their catalogue, however. I really tried!  After Parklife grabbed me and took up permanent residence in my collection, I marched right out and got Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish. Later, I faithfully lined up when The Great Escape and all subsequent releases came out. They all ended up in the resale pile.

Modern Life Is Rubbish is the one that comes closest to Parklife‘s greatness. “Advert” is in the same vein as the exuberantly manic “Bank Holiday”, but just doesn’t take it far enough. Vocalist/lyricist Damon Albarn’s party trick, Songs About Guys with Funny Names, started with Rubbish‘s “Colin Zeal”, and continued on through later releases with “Ernold Same” and “Dan Abnormal”. But it is on Parklife, with “Jubilee” and “Tracy Jacks” (and even Bill Barrett from “Magic America”) that Albarn’s characters are the most fleshed out, the funniest, and the most tragic.

The bottom line is this: what Parklife has that none of Blur’s other records have is balls. I don’t know if the band let up on the weed-smoking or had a brief fling with amphetamines during its recording, but everything else these dudes ever made is a crashing bore to me. Sure, “Song 2” is a crowd-pleaser that will never fail to get me pumped up for the hockey game, but that’s about it. Parklife is like a dream date—it’s smart, it’s funny, it rocks, it’s tender, it gets your blood pumping, and when it’s over, you can’t wait to do it all over again.

by Andrew Martin

3 Nov 2009

This multi-talented beast of a producer offers up his latest project, ...Just Visiting Too, for free. It’s a collection of seven covers that include tracks from Stevie Wonder to Prince. Zo! gets some help from his cohorts in the Foreign Exchange crew, such as Phonte, Yahzarah, Carlitta Durand, and Darien Brockington. If you are looking for a smooth musical boost in the morning, this is just what you need.

by Rob Horning

3 Nov 2009

Lane Kenworthy linked to this NYT article by sociologist Arlie Hochschild (pioneer of the concept of “emotion work”—the often uncompensated labor of managing emotions to allow for social relations and market exchanges to transpire). The article offers an explanation of why Americans rank marriage’s importance so highly yet divorce more frequently than citizens of other nations.

Why are Americans on this marriage-go-round? Is it the “restless temper” Alexis de Tocqueville observed 175 years ago? It is true, Cherlin observes, that more than people elsewhere, we move from job to job, city to city, and even church to church. Could this be linked to a missing government safety net and ­family-protective policies? Cherlin gives little credence to this idea, but he leaves us with another useful notion — that more than we realize, we’ve become accustomed to a move-along life-go-round world.

That is of a piece with the theory that technology has made possible the marketing-driven acceleration of the pace of consumption at all levels of social life. Hochschild cites Juliet Schor who “shows in her research on ‘fast fashion’ that we consume and discard dresses, shoes, toys, furniture and cellphones at a quicker pace than we did in the past.“Spouses are just another product we are encourage to consume quickly and move on from—after all, think of all the associated consumption that is driven by courtship and wedding rituals. Why not cycle people through those as often as possible? It’s a win-win, right? Everyone enjoys the whirlwind of romance, being the center of their own drama that climaxes with a big party.

Hochschild supplies some context for that idea:

Could this “fast-fashion” culture be filtering into our ideas about human connection? On Internet sites and television shows, we watch potential partners searching “through the rack” of dozens of beauties or possible beaus. Some go on “speed dates”; others go to “eye-gazing parties” — two minutes per gaze, 15 gazes — to find that special someone. If advertisers first exploited the “restless spirit” by guiding consumers’ attention to the next new thing, a market spirit now guides our search for the next new love. The culprit is not the absence of family values, I believe, but a continual state of unconscious immersion in a market turnover culture.

It does seem that this is so, though the key idea here is that market turnover has become identity turnover, and that identity turnover proceeds whether or not it remains a market imperative. As I’ve been arguing in the past few posts, impersonal cash markets have given way to embedded markets in which subjects try to maximize their selfhood in a public forum, commanding resources to serve that end and turning attention, status, etc, into more explicit forms of currency.

The problem is that we have shifted retail consumption into the public sphere, when markets once were making it private. The cash economy democratized consumption, but social networking,etc. is resocializing it within a commercial matrix. Our self-publicized consumption is more susceptible to fast-fashion acceleration, as the signifying power of consumption gestures is relative to who else has made similar gestures and so on. The meaning in the gestures therefore have only brief shelf life. Identity needs more and different things to consume and display more rapidly—it needs more things to share. Yet the alibi of sharing hides how voracious the appetite for novelty has become.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

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