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Monday, Jan 15, 2007


A really mediocre week. Save for the two Criterion releases, there is not much here of real cinematic substance. You could opt for a nice selection of cutting edge cartooning or one of the summer’s less successful efforts. Then, of course, there are two terrible titles representing the year’s absolute worst. Consider your coinage carefully this week. You may end up with a nasty case of DVD buyer’s remorse. For the second week of January, here is our SE&L Pick:


Gridiron Gang


While it’s nice to see former wunderkind Phil Joanou back behind the lens, did it have to be for a standard issue sports film? You know the kind – hard ass coach with a well placed heart, juvenile delinquents needing leadership and indirect guardianship, an uncaring public, a set of odds to beat and pitfalls to overcome. Sadly, all those elements are here, amplified by the movie’s criminal justice setting. Still, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is good in the role of Sean Porter, real life California corrections officer who devised this ‘athletics as life lesson’ program for his underage offenders, and the film itself has a unique look and feel thanks to Joanou’s directorial flair. Yes, it’s derivative – but sometimes, the familiar can be just fine. It is here.

Other Titles of Interest


The Animation Show: Volumes 1 & 2


Recalling the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Beavis and Butthead‘s Mike Judge and fellow pen and ink expert Don Hertzfeldt created this post-modern version of the traveling animation festivals that once roamed the arthouse circuit. If you like your cartooning edgy, up front and exceptionally well done, this two volume collection is a terrific treasure trove.

Border Radio: The Criterion Collection


This odd little experimental film from directors Allison Anders, Dean Lent and Kurt Voss follows the adventures of three disaffected members of a local music scene who steal a bunch of money and head for Mexico. Mostly improvised, and filmed in stark black and white, this minor cinematic curio gets the full blown specialty treatment thanks to Criterion’s preservation experts.

Employee of the Month


Ugh and double ugh. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is “a slacker comedy starring Jessica Simpson and Dane Cook”. Still think this movie has some kind of humor potential? There is nothing interesting about this turgid tale of two warehouse workers who compete for the titular title in order to win Ms. Newlyweds one-note   affections.

Mouchette: The Criterion Collection


French film master Robert Bresson delivers another of his spirituality through suffering epics, this time concentrating on an adolescent waif whose impoverished existence becomes a cause for scandal in her local village. Using a non-contextual narrative style requiring audiences to fill in the cinematic blanks along the way, Bresson avoids the safety of storytelling to get his theological themes across.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning


Poor Thomas Hewitt. Not only was he born with a freakish facial disorder, rendering him a lamentable laughing stock, but a bad familial foundation lead him to a life as a power tool wielding maniac. What was supposed to be an exploration of this genre giant’s backstory actually became a platform for actor R. Lee Ermey to chew the scenery.


And Now for Something Completely Different


The Red Skulls


For the last six years, brothers Andy and Luke Campbell have been making some of the best, most inventive outsider efforts in the entire realm of self-distributed DVD. Finally hooking up with the Troma-like Tempe Entertainment, their films Midnight Skater and Demon Summer have become incredibly engaging cult endeavors. Now comes their most ambitious project ever – a rockabilly gang film twisted onto a good old fashioned zombie gorefest. When the title bunch of hooligans is purposefully poisoned with some weird pharmaceutical brew, they mutate into bloodthirsty butchers, turning on each other with ravenous intent. Bathed in blood, overloaded with atmosphere and ambiance, and marking a substantial improvement in cinematic technique, the boys continue to grow as filmmakers. Here’s hoping they make the leap into the mainstream sometime soon.

 


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Monday, Jan 15, 2007

As many of us enjoy this day off from work, let’s also remember what this day honors.  Two great tributes come from the stalwart folks at Alternet:


- A few videos of Dr. King’s speeches (what a great orator he was) plus Stephen Colbert adding his two cents


- Sean Gonsalves’ “Be Your Own King”- probably the best recent column I’ve read about his legacy


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Monday, Jan 15, 2007

Randall Stosser’s article in yesterday’s NYT Business section complained about the new iPhone perpetuating Apple’s DRM scheme, arguing that the system cripples customers’ enjoyment while shackling them to Apple players for perpetuity. This seems self-evident to me, always making me wonder who these millions are who bother with the iTunes store—impulse buyers who can’t be troubled with ferreting out mp3s from other (pirate or otherwise) sources? Strosser is similarly confused, wondering not only why you would want to amass a collection of music that you can’t play freely on whatever system you wanted, but why you’d bother collecting songs at all, when subscription services that offer you the entirety of recorded music are just around the corner.


In the long view, Mr. Goldberg said he believes that today’s copy-protection battles will prove short-lived. Eventually, perhaps in 5 or 10 years, he predicts, all portable players will have wireless broadband capability and will provide direct access, anytime, anywhere, to every song ever released for a low monthly subscription fee.
It’s a prediction that has a high probability of realization because such a system is already found in South Korea, where three million subscribers enjoy direct, wireless access to a virtually limitless music catalog for only $5 a month. He noted, however, that music companies in South Korea did not agree to such a radically different business model until sales of physical CDs had collapsed.


Is this really going to be the future? Shuffle-play the songs you get from subscription services like the ones foretold here and you get something that resembles a somewhat less futuristic invention: the radio. Still, I can understand a subscription model, which would change the mentality of subscribers from   a collecting mentality to a playlist-making one—you become the DJ of your own individualized radio station that broadcasts to you and you alone wherever you go. If you are too lazy, then some sort of Pandora-like software will pick songs you’ll like based on the taste profile you help it build. And how easy will it be to let people judge you by your musical taste? Rather than display your collection to them or laboriously type in your favorite bands on a MySpace profile, you can just export the playlists you construct for computer analysis and decoding. This is already going on—iLike, for example, is a social-networking tool that allows you to spy on other people’s iTunes history, what they’ve recently played, what they’ve played a lot.


The pleasures of ownership are sometimes hard to separate from the pleasures of experiencing the things we own, since ownership seems to hold the promise of that experience in abeyance. But in the case of music, the subscription model should blow away the clouds of confusion. If this model takes hold and dominates, obviously it would put an end to casual music collecting, and it will make clear once and for all the difference between enjoying music and enjoying collecting. People who collect music may like music, but that’s not really what it’s about. (The most extreme example of this that I can think of is this guy who collected records and scheduled a methodical routine not for playing them but cleaning them. The idea that he would play them was absurd to him as actually reading a bagged and rated comic would be to a hard-core comic-book collector.) If all the music in the world is available for $5 a month, it will make no sense at all to collect music for the sake of the music. But it will make plenty of sense to collect if you like collecting; that is, if you like organizing fascinating objects, grooming them, and completing series of things for the sake of it, for the satisfaction that comes with a fleeting sense of finality. You won’t have the alibi of really being into music to excuse your obsession, but maybe it won’t seem necessary for an alibi—it hardly seems required as it is. But the coming separation of enjoying music and collecting it hits hard people like me, who thrive on the alibi, who let the dialectic between ownership and experience drive them to keep hearing more, acquiring more. Take away the need to archive, and I may just lapse into listening what I already know and am familiar with. If I don’t have to justify keeping something by making myself listen to it first and make an aesthetic decision, I’ll go with what I know—play that John Phillips record again. (Sometimes I romanticize that feeling of being stuck on a record; sometimes it makes me feel stuck in a rut, depressed.) Being a collector drives the pleasures of evaluation over and above those of sensual experience; without the collecting excuse to prefer evaluation over sensual pleasure, it becomes it bit harder to make the effort. I need to collect to keep my taste from atrophying. If subscription services give me everything, I probably would end up wanting nothing at all.


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Monday, Jan 15, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

One Be Lo/Longshot: Learn [MP3]
ANG13: Ain’t Goin’ Down [MP3]


 


“The first compilation from Chicago’s EV Records details exactly why we should give a shit—about EV Records, the Chicago rap scene, and the direction of hip-hop in general. Everything presents a myriad of EV Records’ artists dropping catchy beats and meaningful prose that reflect not only the presence of meaningful hip-hop, but EV’s high-concentration of talent. In the vein of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, the artists on Everything transcend the current industry standard with music that speaks to the mind. Despite hip-hop circles recent (and probably justified) complaints about sinking standards, EV Records’ roster shows creative and innovative artists producing relevant material that provokes both thought and movement. With a lineup of master producers, talents like Royce Da 5’9”, ANG13, Psalm One, and ex-Binary Star One Be Lo, Everything proves that hip-hop is neither dead nor dying but, in fact, thriving in Chicago.”—EV Records


Explosions in the Sky
Welcome, Ghosts [MP3]


Rob Crow
I Hate You, Rob Crow (Single Version) [MP3]


Eluvium
Prelude tor Time Feelers [MP3]


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Sunday, Jan 14, 2007


There was much more to Yvonne DeCarlo than The Munsters. There was the opera singing youth who performed at the famed Hollywood Bowl, the voluptuous B-movie actress with roles in some of the genre’s seminal efforts. There was the omnivorous sexual being, a woman who claimed 22 lovers in her scintillating autobiography, including Howard Hughes, Burt Lancaster, Robert Taylor and Billy Wilder. And there was the Broadway star who gave Follies (and it’s showstopper “I’m Still Here”) its emotional heft. Last but not least, she was Lily, ghoulish wife to Frankenstein husband Herman and mother to weird wolfboy Eddie. Unfortunately, in a medium measured by a certain level of “what have you done for me lately” fame, DeCarlo was typecast for her brief stint in creature feature costuming. Though she never complained about the classification, it’s sad that one TV show more or less wiped out an entire other career before the public.


With her recent passing from natural causes at age 84 (DeCarlo died on 8 January) fans of her infamous macabre mother bit have reason to be in mourning. While Fred Gwynne gave The Munsters its manic energy, and Al Lewis enlivened the show with his embittered old bat shtick, DeCarlo was the homespun heart, the voice of reason in a realm overloaded with Gothic goofiness and juvenile joking. It was a peculiar place for the former Peggy Yvonne Middleton to be in. Born in the Canadian province of British Columbia, DeCarlo’s mother saw potential in her child from a very early age. Abandoned by her father when she was three, hers was a hard knock life of isolation, dance classes and dramatic studies. While performing provided an excellent escape from the loneliness and poverty of her single parent’s precarious circumstance, young Peggy still suffered. When she turned 15, Mom finally took her to Hollywood, hoping for instant success. Yet aside from winning Miss Venice Beach in 1938, no one was welcoming this adolescent actress. Without breaching a single studio door, the pair eventually returned to the Great White North, defeated.


Three years later, an 18 year old Peggy returned to Tinsel Town, and found steady work in chorus lines while seeking a screen test. Before long, she was working, unbilled, in several slight short films. When her turn as a bathing beauty got her noticed in 1941’s Harvard, Here I Come, the newly christened Yvonne DeCarlo (a combination of her grandfather’s last name and her middle moniker) became exotic eye candy for numerous forgettable efforts. Though a leading role in 1943’s The Deerslayer raised her profile a little, it wasn’t until 1945’s Salome - Where She Danced that DeCarlo finally got the big break she needed. She soon became known for her “sex-and-sand” epics, movies with names like Song of Scheherazade, Slave Girl, Casbah and Desert Hawk. She was equally comfortable in a Wild West setting, where her smashing good looks and ample figure helped fortify such films as Frontier Gal, Black Bart, River Lady and Calamity Jane and Sam Bass.


But it wasn’t until 1956, when noted spectacle specialist Cecil B. DeMille was looking for an actress to play Sephora, the wife of Old Testament titan Moses in The Ten Commandments that the actress finally arrived. DeCarlo won the role, and soon she was stealing glances as the faithful spouse who stood by her God guided man through all manner of trials and tribulations. Looking far more erotic than a Biblical bride should, rumor has it that costar Anne Baxter was angry that her Nefrateri had to compete with DeCarlo’s physical flower for the affections of Charleton Heston. A huge hit, Commandments lead the actress to another fine role as Amantha Starr in Band of Angels. Though today, this pre-Civil Rights look at the antebellum South screams racial (and historical) insensitivity, DeCarlo, along with Sidney Poitier and Clark Gable, gave a daring performance (she was even involved in a taboo testing interracial kiss).


As with most studio stars, the failing Hollywood system strangled the actress’s efforts to move forward. Television became a necessary repository for DeCarlo’s career goals, and she ended up co-starring on popular series like Bonanza and The Virginian. But it was the chance offer of a comedic role in a ridiculous sounding sitcom that finally secured the b-movie beauty a slice of immortality. It is said that former Car 54 costars Gwynne and Lewis did not want DeCarlo as Lily. They thought her too old (she was born in ‘22, with Lewis arriving in ‘23 and Gwynne starting off in ‘26) and saddled with a randy reputation loaded with sleazy innuendo (something Kenneth Anger chronicles in depth in his Hollywood Babylon book). This was supposed to be a family show, after all.


Once she put on the fright mask make-up and donned the ghoul’s gown, all fears were instantly alleviated. Lily became the show’s stalwart, the straight man allowing for Gwynne and Lewis’s laugh out loud craziness. As with The Addams Family, The Munsters used the comic premise to explore domestic issues and subjects usually avoided (racism, sexuality, conformity) by the standard sitcom. But just like its chief competitor, the public grew weary of the gimmick-oriented offering and The Munsters disappeared after only two seasons. Again adrift, DeCarlo tried to parlay her TV celebrity into more meaningful roles. Sadly, she seemed stuck in low budget quickies, dreary drive-in dreck, and the occasional exploitation effort. Thankfully, the Great White Way offered her a chance to shine, showing off the surprisingly strong singing voice that few in her fanbase knew she had.


In Follies, DeCarlo was Carlotta Campion, a former star reminiscing about her time in the limelight. Given a great showstopper by musical genius Stephen Sondheim, the theater proved a perfect format to fulfill DeCarlo’s lifelong dreams. The show ran for over a year, and remained an apex in the actress’s latter years. A few Munster’s reunion shows during the ‘70s and ‘80s kept her in the public eye, but by 1995, age and illness forced her into retirement.


Though she was married only once throughout the course of her career (a 13 year relationship with Bob Morgan resulted in two sons and a step-daughter) DeCarlo’s earlier after hours escapades remained salacious tabloid style scuttlebutt. Her tell-all autobiography in 1987 confirmed many of the more sensational aspects of her story, but nothing could really dissuade the public about her persona. Thanks to endless years of afternoon reruns, generations grew up loving the vampire-like matron with a strong, sensible streak, and Lily Munster’s legacy continued unabated. Even actresses who would take on the Munster mantle in various remakes and TV movies acknowledge that DeCarlo was the definitive version of the humble horror housewife.


Still, there was much more to Yvonne DeCarlo than widow’s peaks, haunted house hilarity and an untamed libido. She’s a reminder that imagery and memory are a strong combination, a recipe to reduce even the most startling female figure into a lifetime of living as the bride of the monster. Tell someone that DeCarlo was Moses’s mate and they’ll probably ask you the name of the spoof you are referencing. Hopefully, as her career is considered, newcomers to the actresses canon will discover the diversity of her talents. Sure, she will always be Lily Munster. But that’s not all Yvonne DeCarlo was. Not by a long shot.


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