Tony Bennett is a classic, and this latest reissue of his Christmas album Snowfall does nothing to hurt, nor particularly enhance, that reputation. Originally released in 1968, Snowfall is a lovely bit of crooning, running the gamut from the joyous (“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”) to the reflective (“Snowfall”). The addition of a couple of those peripherally-related songs that weren’t actually meant as Christmas songs but have come to be known as such, like “My Favorite Things” and “Where is Love” add a little bit of variety, and the whole thing is over in half an hour, before Bennett’s excessive vibrato and slippery style has a chance to grate on you. This 2007 reissue adds a bonus DVD with a few selections from the long out-of-print video Tony Bennett: A Family Christmas, though generally, the visuals don’t add too much to Bennett’s distinctive stylings. The DVD could only be called essential if you’re an archivist. Still, if a previous iteration of Snowfall has never found its way into your Christmas collection, now’s as good a time as any to correct that little oversight.
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For the most part, exploitation films of the ‘50s-‘70s sold their wanton wares with the usual raincoat crowd components: skin and sin. Your typical overworked white male, bloated from a capitalist combination of liquor, beef, and shame, didn’t require subtlety or cinematic shadings in his erotic entertainment. He wanted bare bodkin and plenty of it.
Violence was also a viable way of getting the grindhouse gang in the mood, since beating a broad for no damn good reason apparently aided the sexual inadequate suburbanite in dealing with his depressed, defensive deviance. Yet, believe it or not, music was also used as a way to spike the common corporeal cavalcade. As part of the genre’s cracked kitchen sink approach, anything was fair game: even the occasionally off-key pop song.
Sometimes, the inclusion of a tainted tune was done as a favor to a friend. Musicians — or their mafia-backed managers — usually had some investable money lying around, and for a little quid pro quo, a play-for-pay scenario was neatly arranged. In other instances, the music was treated as added production value. Many exploitation films could not manage true mainstream talent (no known celebrity was going to go gratuitous for the sake of a slim payday), so bolstering the soundtrack seemed like an ingenious way to make the movie more conventional than its otherwise carnal attributes would indicate. And then there were those nutty outsider auteurs who believed that any narrative facet they fancied — including a totally inappropriate musical number — was par for the perplexing course.
As a result, a great many of the classics in the exploitation genre contain misguided musical numbers; songs guaranteed to get both your toes tapping and your gag reflex responding with equal aplomb. Since there are so many examples to choose from, SE&L will concentrate on the crème de la crap, the evil earworms that, once heard, are destined to dull your brain forever. In reverse order, we begin with:
#10: “Do the Jellyfish” from Sting of Death (1965)
How do you perk up your lackadaisical monster movie about a killer invertebrate? Why, call on a washed-up Neil Sedaka and enlist him in creating the latest dance craze. Director William Grefé was no dummy. He was well aware that the same drive-in demographic that would flock to his passion pit-proof production about murderous man-of-wars also loved that rebellious rock and/or roll, and he set about adding the necessary stomp to his otherwise worthless schlock. Unfortunately, Neil was yet to have “Love Will Keep Us Together” or “Bad Blood” in his sonic arsenal. Instead he dreamed up this obnoxious poolside production number that hoped to rival the ‘Monkey’. Sadly, it made ‘The Freddie’ seem graceful.
#9: “The Next Time” from Blast-Off Girls (1967)
Herschell Gordon Lewis suffered from a similar sense of salesmanship as his fellow filmmaker Grefé. While crafting this obvious rip-off to a certain Fab Four’s ‘difficult day’s evening’, someone should have told the exploitation emeritus that his featured act should actually be able to sing and play. The Faded Blue, a kind of New Christie Minstrels on cough syrup, appeared as the The Big Blast, and they tried to pass off the failed four-part harmony of this disturbing drone as a solid Summer of Love hit. It didn’t work. Not even a cameo from Colonel Harlan Sanders himself could sell this finger-licking flop.
#8: “Yipe Stripes!” from Teen-Age Strangler (1968)
A killer is stalking the adolescents from a local high school. So what do they all do to keep themselves safe? Why, they gather around the local soda shop and watch a barefooted bimbo (Stacey Smith) shout out a song about vertical (or horizontal) lines. Though the movie is far more memorable for a nutzoid nerd named Mikey who keeps whining incessantly over his brother’s felonious fate, this otherwise minor musical moment was a nice bit of additional aural apocalypse. After likening herself to The Beatles and Peter, Paul and Mary, our bee-hived babe climbed on the food counter and attempted to wail a wacky salute to style. All we got was a rockabilly retread that should have been defense enough to any killer’s homicidal urges.
#7: “It All Comes True” from Year of the Yahoo (1972)
It’s really tough to pick just one song from Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Face in the Crowd rip-off, what with real life professional hick harmonizer Claude King supplying the plentiful in-concert cornpone. While his ode to “Wicked Welfare” was a hilarious hambone anthem, this epic bit of balladry as balderdash won out in the end. As he learned the truth about the political machine manipulation behind his ‘honest man’ Senatorial candidacy, King stepped up to the podium for one last impassioned plea to the electorate. Like “Cat’s in the Cradle” cooked in corn squeezings, this drippy ditty was the very definition of democracy in action. Our hero lost the vote, proving that the system does work.
#6: “The Female (is More Deadly Than the Male)” from Satan in High Heels (1962)
When a cut-rate carnival stripper steals her junkie husband’s financial stash and flakes off to New York, one envisions a typical, tragic hard luck story. But it’s the Big Apple that better get ready to run. Stacey Kane gave new meaning to the word ‘bitch’. She apparently studied at Beelzebub’s Studio for Method Meanness. After gaining employment as a nightclub singer, she proceeded to undermine the entire establishment. When she wasn’t bedding her boss, she was teasing his tripwire son (poor lesbian manager Pepé didn’t even get a second look). As if to accentuate her wickedness, Ms. Kane put on a schoolmarm’s version of dominatrix gear and belted out the aforementioned admonishment. The riding crop rim shots seal the sonic scourging.
#5 “My Birthday Suit” from Jennie: Wife/Child (1968)
Remember that obnoxious novelty song “Shaving Cream”, with its “almost said ‘shit’” conceit? Well, “My Birthday Suit” was a lot like that fecal fluke, except not quite as clever… nor as intelligent in its humor, either. Director James Landis had to find a way to jazz-up his otherwise ordinary Southern Gothic about a miserable old farmer, his far too young bride, and the brawny hired hand giving them both the big eye. His solution was simple: allow the audience to hear the internal monologue of the characters, and capture said thoughts in song! Thus we get this noxious nod to nudity. And what compelled our title character to sing this silly chantey? Why, she was skinny-dipping, of course.
#4: “Hot Nuts” from Too Hot to Handle (1950)
Granted, it wasn’t an outright original. It was as basic Burly-Q as they came. But that doesn’t mean the song is any less memorable. Since it was a full blown theatrical review captured by a single camera situated in the front row, Too Hot to Handle had to rely on it’s performers to provide the thrills. And aside from the plethora of pulchritude presented by the strip tease “artists” (ah, the good old days of aesthetically acceptable clothes removal) we got the fantastic Jean Carter, doing her best innuendo-filled funny business. Like a less rude Rusty Warren, Ms. Carter crooned a personal testament to the audience’s trouble with enflamed filberts… piqued pecans… charred cashews…burning balls, all right — and the results were resplendently risqué.
#3: “My Own Robot” from Swamp of the Ravens (1974)
Similar to how Grefé decided that his horror needed some hummable hokiness, Spanish moviemaker Manuel Caño realized that his zombie-filled necrophilia fest also required a little show tune support. The result was a subplot revolving around a Don Ho-like lounge singer, whose sole big hit was apparently a piece of pop poetry about worshipping a deceased automaton. And in case anyone thinks something was lost in the film’s eventual translation into English, the android was right on stage with him. It even sang a solo verse! So Caño clearly intended it to be some sort of mangled metaphor. He even insertsed an experimentation scene, complete with bloody beating heart, inside this otherwise cheery supper club sonnet about the dangers of loving technology a little too much.
#2: “You Can’t Fart Around with Love” from Roseland (1970)
One of the rare occasions where a song was seminal to the storyline, this ode to the odiferous nature of affection represented a pivotal plot point in Roseland. As our hero, a self absorbed singer with a one time promising career, sought LSD treatments for his poverty-row porn addiction, we flashback to the event that mangled his entire upward mobility. Appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show (quasi-convincingly realized in memory-enhancing monochrome), our crooner created quite a stir with his production number to poots. While the rest of the film was a flesh-filled freak-out with rampant religious overtones, this single song made this problematic parable a genuine grindhouse gem.
#1: “A Heart Dies Every Minute” from Doctor Gore (1973)
Nothing says rampant, bloody vivisection better than a bearded Roy Clark wannabe busting out a ballad belaboring the loss of a lover. Like Bigfoot with near perfect pitch, our meaty mountain of a musician, otherwise known as the beefy Bill Hicks, took us away from the sinister slaughter of the title character to remind us how affection is like a fatal itching in the blood pumper. Director J.G. Patterson, Jr., a one-time production assistant to Herschell Gordon Lewis, decided to make his own gore epic about a madman medico hoping to create the perfect woman. As he went about removing the necessary parts for his mistress mock-up, Hicks delivered a steakhouse performance worth witnessing over and over again. Even our title character agreed. It’s the music he listened to while preparing for a date… with the electric chair!
This was the photo that should have gone with the drive talk entry a couple days back. It isn’t necessarily the best—and certainly not the only—image moseying on by at 30 clicks an hour on the congested LA freeways . . . but it unquestionably one of the more self-explanatory.
Besides, it was the one most readily available. The one just outside my windshield today heading home from work. Availing itself of my phone-camera.
Opportunity being the blessed child of expediency. Success the golden fruit of dumb chance.
This should come as a shock to no absolutely no one: The Wall Street Journal had a research firm crunch the numbers and determined that many subprime loans were issued to borrowers who likely would have qualified for better rates and fewer fees. In 2005, people with credit scores that would have qualified them for conventional loans
got more than half—55%—of all subprime mortgages that were ultimately packaged into securities for sale to investors, as most subprime loans are. The study by First American LoanPerformance, a San Francisco research firm, says the proportion rose even higher by the end of 2006, to 61%. The figure was just 41% in 2000, according to the study. Even a significant number of borrowers with top-notch credit signed up for expensive subprime loans, the firm’s analysis found.
How could this have happened? The ever-rational consumer would have shopped around for the best deal, right?
Hardly. The brokers closing mortgages were given lucrative incentives for writing subprime loans and ARMs and the other now notorious credit products, so they had every reason to preserve the ignorance that all of us generally have when it comes to the credit market and to exploit our vulnerability in a time when we are making one of the most significant decisions of our lives, purchasing property.
Many borrowers whose credit scores might have qualified them for more conventional loans say they were pushed into risky subprime loans. They say lenders or brokers aggressively marketed the loans, offering easier and faster approvals—and playing down or hiding the onerous price paid over the long haul in higher interest rates or stricter repayment terms.
The subprime sales pitch sometimes was fueled with faxes and emails from lenders to brokers touting easier qualification for borrowers and attractive payouts for mortgage brokers who brought in business. One of the biggest weapons: a compensation structure that rewarded brokers for persuading borrowers to take a loan with an interest rate higher than the borrower might have qualified for.
This handy interactive graphic shows a lenders rate sheet and the yield spread premiums agents could earn by bullying or tricking borrowers into loans at terms worse than they theoretically qualified for. Basically, lenders use financial incentives to prompt agents to put people into shitty loans, with bad rates and prepayment penalties and unwieldy fees. Who’s on the side of the borrower? Basically, no one. It was pretty much caveat emptor in the midst of a real-estate-buying frenzy when everyone was telling everyone else how they had to act fast and buy something, anything, before all the deals were gone and how housing prices were never going to go down again, since after all, they’re not making any more land.
It’s almost unreasonable to fault mortgage brokers for being negligent and unethical. They are in the real estate racket; that’s what it’s all about. You don’t get into real estate out of a love for human kind and a dream of a better world. You do it because it seems like a good way to make a lot of money. And when greed is what gets you through your work day, why wouldn’t you prey on the ignorance of your clientele? It’s nothing personal, after all, just business. So one could argue that unscrupulous lending practices should be restrained by law—to a larger degree than they are already. In other words, the set of what counts as unscrupulous needs to be expanded to encompass what lenders likely consider to be standard operating procedures—it would be legislating away their right to whatever profit they can grab, and once you’ve done that, what stops the state from interceding in the economy with all sorts of price controls: rent control, caps on food prices, medical expenses, and legal fees, and so on. Ethical cases could be made for any of these kinds of intervention, but capitalism, when it comes down to it, isn’t arranged to be ethical and doesn’t function with elastic definitions of fairness.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with the Kindle.
Download current bestsellers as well as the latest release of your favorite not-so-mainstream author. Plus everything ever published, ever. Coming soon.
Last week’s cover of Newsweek magazine (11.26.07 issue) displays a nearly life size photo of the device Amazon.com is betting will finally offer a serviceable alternative to that bastion of civilization, the book. The ‘Kindle’, as it’s called, is a far more exciting product than electronic readers I’ve seen so far, and halfway through Steven Levy’s feature article I found myself enthusiastically describing the benefits to anyone who would listen.
Not only can the Kindle hold a library-worth of books (200 or so) at any given time in the palm of your hand, but it has a screen you can actually read them on without inducing migraines, and additional books are accessible at any time without hooking up to a computer. Using cell phone type broadband technology, the Kindle exists independently of your computer, which makes it even cooler than an iPod for bookish types. There are no connectivity fees.
Your grandmother wants to know what you’re reading about? Instantly change the font size of the text. Plus get the daily paper and top bloglines instantly without carting along your wi-fi ready laptop.
Imagine having mobile access to your favorite blogs, newspapers (hot off the press), magazines (latest issues before they hit newsstands) and even being able to read freshly released chapters of that new crime novel as the author finishes writing them. Errata can be corrected instantly—because the Kindle remains accessible to publishers even after your download is finished. Rather than a static printed page, the book becomes a link that connects the reader with the entire publishing community.
All using a device that has been designed to look and feel like a book, with a six inch screen and about 10 ounces of heft in your hand. Can readers move both forward and backward at the same time, reading serialized fiction in the manner of Dickens on a device that can also access his entire oeuvre at any given moment?
The larger goal, as Amazon adds to its offerings (currently approaching the 100,000 mark, including books, blogs, magazines and newspapers) is to make instantly available everything ever published. Say what? Get in line if you want to talk about copyright infringement, but the potential is exciting. Texts are totally searchable, which has great implications for scholarship. Nothing ever goes out of print. First chapters are free, so you can try before you buy.
No wonder it costs the same as an iPhone currently does.
// Moving Pixels
"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.READ the article