Appreciating Leslie Nielsen: He Could Hold His Breath for a Long Time

Anyone who can remember the era when Beta briefly held sway over VHS will surely remember seeing Nielsen in Airplane! (Don't call me Shirley). Impossible as it might be to believe, nobody from this generation had any idea who he was, which only made him funnier.

Real Leslie Nielsen fans will immediately understand the title of this tribute. It is as good as any of his iconic quotes, but it resonates for the way it applied to his career: if any actor held his breath, figuratively speaking, Nielsen waited patiently for his big break. He waited until his hair turned white, literally speaking.

Anyone who can remember the era when Beta briefly held sway over VHS will surely remember seeing Nielsen in Airplane! (Don't call me Shirley). Impossible as it might be to believe, nobody from this generation had any idea who he was, which only made him funnier. As in: who is that old guy and holy shit, he's hilarious! And he was. I'm sure you've already read more than a few career retrospective/obituaries that detail his long, patient struggle to make a mark --meaningful or otherwise-- in Hollywood. (If you haven't, they won't be hard to find). It was, clearly, as unexpected for him as it was for audiences all around America when he ended up stealing the show in that low-budget 1980 movie.

(It is both ironic and a tad eerie to see Nielsen pass a little more than a month after the other enduring scene-stealer from Airplane!, Barbara Billingsley. In fact, that movie was a vehicle to give America's mom one last moment that lasted forever, while for Nielsen it served as the springboard that launched his most unlikely late-career ascent to superstardom.)

And aside from Airplane! he'll be best remembered for his almost too-perfect-to-be-possible role as the bumbling Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun series. (Nobody begrudged Nielsen milking that particular cow long after the udder ran dry, because the brilliance of the first film made up for the increasingly lame follow-ups).

This is material that any competent actor could make amusing; Leslie Nielsen makes it sublime:

It was, however, a role just after Airplane! and before the Naked Gun goldmine that I'd like to celebrate while everyone is busy paying very appropriate respects to America's silver-haired half-wit. If you are of a certain age, you certainly remember the supremely cheesy early '80s horror flick Creepshow. If you succeeded in growing up, literally and figuratively, you quickly forgot about it. But here's the funny thing: it wasn't as bad as you remember; in fact, the only parts that remain awful are the parts that were supposed to be scary, which would explain why it kind of sucked when you first saw it as a teenager.

The scary parts are funny, and the funny parts (mostly) funny, and then the unforced parts are wonderfully unsettling. Seriously: the last episode, with the wealthy, Machiavellian scumbag whose only soft spot was a profound fear of insects? How many of today's Wall Street masters of the universe would you love to see that scene happen to? Or enjoying Hal Holbrook ham it up with the cellar-dwelling stuffed animal who ravages the delectable Adrienne Barbeau (did someone say early '80s and "target audience")? Or Stephen King doing some of the worst acting in film history, yet still managing to put in a better performance than 90% of the movies made from his books? Good stuff abounds, and it might best endure as a film that (gasp) adults can actually enjoy. Now that is horrifying.

Right in the middle, sandwiched between King turning green and Barbeau's bosom, is the segment that manages to represent the best and worst elements of what made this movie so wonderfully awful. Needless to say, it features Nielsen. He is the cuckolded husband who happens to be jealous, wealthy, and --as his wife and her lover find out-- more than a little psychotic. Whether or not this is ultimately worthwhile material (for my money, it is), this is one of those roles that can --and should-- function as a cinematic case study: any other actor playing Nielsen's role could not have risen above the ridiculous dialogue and too-campy-by-half histrionics that ensue. Nielsen, equal parts wise-ass, weasel and, at this point in his career/life, still able to cut an imposing figure (he was not a small man), suffuses fake charm, menace and ill-will. And then he really gets down to business.

He manages to seem somewhat pathetic, and in another bit of brilliant and more than slightly perfect casting, (which seems uncannily prescient in hindsight) the very suave and masculine Ted Danson is his foil. This, mind you, is the then-unknown Ted Danson, pre Sam Malone and Cheers, so it's hilarious in its own way to see a man who would become one of America's TV immortals all through the '80s sucking seaweed in this B-minus movie.

Watching Nielsen ensnare his prey, then explain what he is about to do, is genuinely disturbing. And he is note perfect: each grimace is undercut with a self-deprecating giggle; every threat is softened by the man's silliness. You can't take this guy seriously, until you suddenly find yourself buried up to your neck in sand. (Serious props to Danson: he rocks the house in this rather brief role, and until he is obliged to return from the deep as an undead sea-monster, he rips off a convincingly desperate and very human role. And the only actor that outperforms everyone else is his wig, which manages to defy gravity, and reality, even when it is fully submerged in the ocean.)

That scene is about as good as it gets, and it is arguably the best evidence of what Nielsen was capable of. And the clip above doesn't even show the two best moments. First, the horrifying, then the hilarious. When he sees the man he is about to murder (from the safety of his house, on remote video) he sips his drink and laughs, heartily. Then, when the man he is about to murder, coughing as the tide rolls in over his chin, looks defiantly at the camera and curses him, he stares at the screen with a look that could freeze fire and says "You better hold your breath." Later, when the inevitable comeuppance occurs, the extent of his insanity is revealed as, driven over the brink (as any of us would be if we were led back to the ocean by the decomposing --and talking-- corpses of the couple we just drowned), he laughs hysterically and promises "I can hold my breath for a long time!" and even then it's not over: as soon as the words leave his mouth that first wave hits his mouth and he makes a face only Leslie Nielsen could make: it manages to undercut and amplify the campiness, and it elevates the scene --and the role-- from merely impressive to inimitable.

In sum and with love: no one could do the things Leslie Nielsen did like Leslie Nielsen did them, and no one will ever do them again.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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