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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015
Although Lee Van Cleef's portrayal of a Native American will understandably raise concern in some viewers, this fun if cheesy film takes a clear anti-racism line.

Captain Apache (1971) has a terrible reputation among Spaghetti Western fans. The movie is often used as an example of how the genre took a turn for the worse as it entered the ‘70s. For me, however, it is an incredibly fun if cheesy film that embraces the type of boundless creativity, shameless risk-taking, and over-the-top invention that I find so appealing about the genre. 


The film starts by flashing this sequence of quotes across the screen:


“The only good Indian is a dead Indian”—Paleface saying
“The only good Paleface is a dead Paleface” - Indian saying
“Love they neighbor”
—source forgotten


Then, the theme song kicks into full gear while a montage begins with scenes that help illustrate the following lyrics: “They are after me with guns, knives, and fast fast horses / They are after me with bombs, drugs, and fast fast women / They’re going to tail me, trail me, try to nail me / But they haven’t got a prayer”.


With this montage we get to see the star, a heavily tanned Lee Van Cleef, as the title character, Captain Apache, in all his badass glory, and we realize that it is he who is singing the catchy song. “They call me Captain Apache, a Redskin in calvary blue,” he mumbles with charm. A graduate of West Point who wears a fur-lined jacket, this Native American character of Van Cleef’s will tomahawk his way into your memory, and director Alexander Singer cleverly inserts him into a plot that exposes the corruption and racism that was running rampant in the American Wild West. 


The plot actually has more in common with a spy thriller or a hard-boiled detective story than that of a typical Spaghetti Western. The U.S. Government hires Captain Apache to investigate the murder of the commissioner in charge of Native American relations, assuming that evidence will prove the Native Americans responsible. The only real clue Captain Apache has to go off of is the dead commissioner’s last words: “April Morning”. As the plot unfolds, several different characters are introduced who either know or are trying to find out what this phrase, “April Morning”, means. But, as Captain Apache says, “Every time I get a lead on April Morning someone gets killed.” 


These characters, among others, include a gunrunner named Griffin (Stuart Whitman), a blonde bombshell named Maude (Caroll Baker), several calvary members like General Ryland (Hugh McDermott) and O’Rourke (Charles Stalmaker), a Mexican temptress named Rosita (Elisa Montes), Moon the Native American chief (Percy Herbert), a bunch of muscles like the snarly-faced Snake (Tony Vogel), and a Mexican bandit turned general named Sanchez (Charly Bravo).


Eventually all these characters, including Captain Apache, end up on a train heading to Tucson. It is on this train that we learn what April Morning is and how it plays into a elaborate conspiracy to set-up the local Native Americans so that the U.S. Government can justify forcing them out of their reservation, which is located on valuable land, and off to Yellow Snake Canyon which, as Captain Apache points out, is “filled with snakes!”


Before learning all that, we get to enjoy some great dialogue and many moments of B-movie madness. Griffin, the gunrunner and local businessman, for example, has two body guards that happen to be identically dressed identical twins. Captain Apache, upon meeting them, tells Griffin to “keep your freaks away from me,” to which he asks, “Why do you always insult people who might kill you?” and our protagonist answers, “I like to see a man enjoy his work.”


After Griffin says, “You’re at the wrong table, at the wrong hotel, in the wrong town, and you might even be in the wrong line of business,” the two insulted twins take Captain Apache to the bar where they try to kill him… by forcing him to drink. He says, “I don’t fight with freaks,” and instead goes along with their drinking game. “Bottoms up,” one says while taking a shot, and if Captain Apache doesn’t follow suit, the other says, “My brother is waiting.” This goes on and on until Captain Apache points out that he’s drinking two to their one, and “I’m Indian—one more and I’ll go crazy.” He takes one more and then soberly knocks them both out. 


Because Van Cleef’s character, who is far superior in both intelligence and ability than all the other characters, parodies the racist sayings about Native Americans and completely contradicts the stereotypes of them, Captain Apache is, regardless of what some viewers may believe, a pro-Native American, anti-racist film. While some will understandingly be offended by the sight of a white man playing a Native American, such practices a normal part of the Spaghetti Western genre. Producers used Spaniards to play Mexican characters, just as they used southeastern Spain for the American Southwest and, occasionally, like this case, they used white men to play Native Americans. (Burt Reynolds as Navajo Joe is the most notorious example.)


As silly as most of it is, Captain Apache is the film that made me appreciate the entire spectrum of the genre. It’s easy to dismiss every Spaghetti Western that doesn’t come close to the quality of of Sergio Leone’s many masterpieces, but sometimes these films—whether they’re goofy, exploitative, or just plain bad—have moments of magic in them that can’t be ignored. 


Take, for example, the scene in Captain Apache where we unexpectedly get to see Van Cleef tripping-out one some sort of truth sermon (probably a mescaline based concoction); his eyes bulge while he rolls around on the ground sweating, grimacing, and having visions before escaping from his captures up a M.C Escher type of staircase. If this scene doesn’t increase your love for the genre, I don’t know what will.


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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015
“Martin, maybe one day you’ll find true love." ABC's sumptuous critique of romance is a masterful blend of disco, New Wave pop, and golden age Hollywood glamor.

Dance music is often accused of seemingly prizing escapist content over substance. That’s a critique based upon faulty expectations. “Substance”, that very thorny, very rockist notion tied to overall determinations of worth, is honestly not often required in such music. Dance music, after all, has a very basic goal it must achieve, and anything beyond facilitating a good time on the dancefloor is an expendable bonus.


However, that doesn’t mean dance music has to sacrifice intelligence or wit, or lyricism more nuanced than the most primal exaltations. Martin Fry’s excellence as a wordsmith is a hefty reason why I enjoy his band ABC’s 1982 album The Lexicon of Love so much. Though it lacks the gargantuan and obtuse experiments typically associated with concept albums, The Lexicon of Love is most assuredly such a specimen, for every aspect of its being is employed in the service of Fry’s bitter deconstruction of modern romance.


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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015
Differentiating yourself from other gamers on the basis of a few primary colors may indicate some powerful symbolic and identificatory impulses.

You see that little car up there on the Monopoly board? Yeah, that’s me.


That car has always been me for as long as I can remember. I have played my fair share of games of Monopoly, and I honestly don’t believe that I have ever played the game as anything other than the car. All of which is kind of weird when you come to think about it, since Monopoly has so much more variety in its playing pieces than many other classic family board games. There’s a car, a thimble, an iron, a little dog, a man on horseback, etc. A much different quality than, say, merely picking from the traditional red, blue, yellow, and green pieces that usually all look the same in most other games. Wouldn’t it then be neat to play as something different once in awhile?


Well, obviously for me the answer is “no” because any time a box of Monopoly has been opened in my presence, I immediately either reach for the car or simply declare, “I’m the car.” Somehow the car has become my identity within the context of a game of Monopoly.


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Tuesday, Jan 27, 2015
The latest from these Leeds rockers is a synth-driven, catchy number that sets the stage brilliantly for their next LP.

In the ‘00s, the Leeds, UK rock outfit Kaiser Chiefs made a big splash with their excellent 2007 album Yours Truly, Angry Mob and its earworm of a lead single, “Ruby”. Like that song, the band’s latest tune, “Falling Awake”, anchors itself on a simple, repetitive chorus: “She’s got me falling, falling / Falling away!” Also like “Ruby”, though, such repetition is extremely effective given the Chiefs’ catchy songwriting. Buoyed by a near danceable bass synth, “Falling Awake” bodes quite well for the group’s forthcoming sixth studio LP, which follows 2014’s Tony Blair-referencing Education, Education & War.


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Tuesday, Jan 27, 2015
Although their DVD releases are bare-bones, Island in the Sky and Betrayed both benefit from their recent restorations from Fox and Warner archives.

Island in the Sky and Betrayed, both very good B pictures, each run at only 67 minutes. The films feature heroines navigating through tricky murder mysteries. They’re examples of the obscure little gems you find on demand from various studio catalogues, and both films look good in their bare-bones releases.


Gloria Stuart, most famous as the old lady in Titanic, is an excellently game and vivacious secretary to the District Attorney (Michael Whalen) in Island in the Sky. When he prosecutes a poor sap (Paul Kelly) for killing his rich dad, the man’s guilt looks as open and shut as if it were a Perry Mason case, and you know what that means. Our strong-minded gal Friday starts snooping with method and intelligence and finds all kinds of information, facing her own murder attempt along the way.


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