Reviews

Studio One Anthology

Matthew Sorrento

Everything gold can stay: Studio One returns, on DVD.


Studio One Anthology

Distributor: Koch
Cast: Eddie Albert, Art Carney, Robert Cummings, Norman Fell, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Lorne Greene, Charlton Heston, Marsha Hunt, Jack Lemmon, Sal Mineo, Elizabeth Montogomery, Leslie Neilson, Barbara O'Neil, Lee Remick, Eva Marie Saint
Network: CBS
First date: 1948
US Release Date: 2008-11-11
Amazon

With new techno-gadgets arriving in stores by the month, can we relate to the joy Americans felt when the “magic window” first arrived to their homes? If the distorted images of early television distance us, we can see the excitement all over the face of Lois Hunt, co-star in The Medium, aired December 12, 1948 on CBS. The third entry of the Studio One series (1948-1958), this show opens Koch Vision's new Studio One Anthology set, and it's fitting to see Hunt's face beaming through the cathode rays.

Hunt sings the opening tune of what is, quite curiously and not representative of this set, an opera. Hunt knew she'd have a thousand-plus pairs of eyes watching her every note and dance move in real time – and not months later, as with a taped film performance. Her glee makes for an especially touching moment, one that channels the post-war enthusiasm of television better than volumes of study ever could.

A continuation of a radio program, Studio One was live, and its makers and performers raced in preparation right up to the show's opening. At the flourish of orchestration, hearts began racing in front of and behind the camera, all eager to successfully open a “window” to America. Nowadays, comedians rush to perform ragtag skits on SNL – in the medium's golden age, rising stars nailed dramatic art in an hour's time.

On Studio One, like other live programs of the time, producers presented refined drama, some of it highbrow while most plays were light entertainment. Some of the performances feel like experiments at dramatizing for a new medium. A case in point is June Moon, an adaptation of the 1929 stage play by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman that aired on – suitably enough – 22 June 1949. This well-made entertainment sports the rapid chatter in which both writers specialized, though the dialog is drowned out by the awkward staging and what must have been a race to wrap the performance on time. Yet by the story's first scene, between a young Eva Marie Saint and Jack Lemmon – both fresh-faced and looking fresh out of a jazz club – we realize the importance of this entry: early television drama was a training ground for actors, many of them off the New York stage, heading to Hollywood.

The appearance of both Saint and Lemmon beg for a bigger screen, and we scratch our heads when Lemmon's character, a jingle writer trying to make good, abandons the love of the angelically beautiful Saint for a sharp-tongued gold digger.

A similar misfire – though a fond attempt – is Wuthering Heights, starring a coiffed and caped Charlton Heston. In the opening scene, Heston (as the doom-laden Heathcliff) chews the scenery right off the walls when screaming out of a window to the ghost of Cathy. Heston remains the black sheep for much of the episode, allowing him to strut like a spiteful rooster: indeed, training grounds for a career to come.

Many adapted stories were too broad for the hour-long format, although an exception appears in William Temple's version of Aldous Huxley's 1984, directed by the program's standby, Paul Nickell. Nickell finds suspense and a causal narrative from the dystopic novel. He maximizes use of a multi-stage set that provided numerous scenes and called for a feat of logistics during live filming. The result is a series of moody, expressionistic visuals, reflecting both Big Brother with video screens and looming, police-state architectural design by Kim Swados and Henry Mat.

Regretfully, a disclaimer does all but flash the face of Stalin to channel a fear of communism, in case Eisenhower America happened to read the conformist message as a mirror to its own face. Yet the baiting is easy to forget, as a focused piece of storytelling takes over. Similarly unified are an August 1955 adaptation of Julius Caesar – a play filmed many times by the program – in which director Dan Petrie's camera movement opens up the staging, and the morality play Pontius Pilate , even if the latter feels like an attempt to exploit the religious at holiday time.

But the trademark entries in this set – and the most distinct – are those written originally for the program by Reginald Rose, who rests in the dramatic canon as the author of Twelve Angry Men. Before the script was filmed for the big screen by a young Sidney Lumet, the teleplay thrilled viewers right in their homes. Today, it's hard to forget the cool moral sense of Henry Fonda's Juror 8 in the Lumet version, and the grandeur of the ensemble around the actor.

Alas, the televised version's Robert Cummings, in the Fonda role, appears uncomfortable as he trips over line after line. Yet the drama still explodes through the crude transmission. While purportedly a lesson in compassion and understanding, 1950s viewers must have been surprised by the liberal message: Rose urges Americans to remember the “undesirables” casted aside, after 11 of the jurors at first call for the chair like a posse high off today's Fox News.

Rose shows a similar tone in An Almanac of Liberty. Awkwardly titled, the drama was produced to promote a new book of the same name by long-time Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. This magical realist tale – in which time stands still, literally – summons small-town folk to a meeting to ponder their attack upon an innocent drifter.

Rose used a similar device for his more effective original story, The Remarkable Incident at Carson's Corner. Townspeople assemble for a mock trial at the requests of their children, when – with a plot twist that fellow Studio One dramatist Rod Serling would have loved – the children accuse the school's janitor of murdering a child.

Paul Nickell shifts the lighting, and the accused's makeup in a sprint during the commercial break, to reflect small town innocence veering towards a Dantesque fatalism – not dissimilar to Frank Capra's transition to Pottersville in It's a Wonderful Life. Rose bravely presents mob logic at a time when McCarthy was rooting through Hollywood for “reds” like a zealot. But even more curious is how the residents suggest the accused, an old single man with no identity outside his duties, to be “odd” and thus sexually deviant. (Written today, the story would have the characters accusing him of raping and murdering the child.)

The accusations dance around this expectation, and the unconscious impulse coupled with the suspense make for a doom-laden tone. Yet, like both Twelve Angry Men and Almanac, Rose brings about justice as the narrative reveals that everyone on this Orient Express is guilty. Rose cannot let his theme rest easy, though: like Serling's closing commentaries on the Twilight Zone, the moral comes like a sledgehammer when the dead boy's father intones, “We've got to do better!”

Rose again opts for the eerie in The Death and Life of Harry Benson. His initial plot twist suggests that something tricky is at work: a soldier returning home looks completely different. This antiwar piece appears headed to the Twilight Zone, until the ending explains away the preternatural hints like Ann Radcliffe meeting a deadline. (Oddly enough, Rod Serling's antiwar piece, The Strike, a parable of sacrifice – and one of a couple by the author on this set – plays the drama straight from start to finish.)

Rose's voice notwithstanding, Studio One had much variety, shown by two genres pieces in this set. The noirish mystery The Storm (directed by Yul Brynner!) reflects the popularity of crime stories at the time. The Storm stars the lovely Marsha Hunt (soon to be a blacklist victim) as a woman discovering she's shacked up with the wrong guy. (A touching side note: still at work, Hunt stars in Eddie Muller's intelligent short film, The Grand Inquisitor.) Having aired 17 October 1949, this episode re-staged Studio One's debut. Dark Possession, a mystery centered on madness with Geraldine Fitzgerald and written by Gore Vidal, roots through pop-psychology for a rather sexist depiction of hysteria. It appears that women needed a psychiatrist/investigator at bad times, while the Stanley Kowalskis could just scream out for their wife-mommies.

This collection's oddity – and most rewarding entry – stars Art Carney (already performing with Jackie Gleason at the time) in Confessions of a Nervous Man. Subtitled a “Comedy Documentary”, this episode was scripted by George Axelrod, author of the play The Seven Year Itch, about his stomach-churning experience waiting for the play's opening-night reviews. Set when the author was about to learn the fate of his career, the story eavesdrops on Carney's George dropping quips and pleas in a barroom, when flashbacks don't take us into his frantic mind. A surreal set piece of New York stage critics, typing out pans like demons served new flesh, is a delight. Carney ignites the sharp script and finds pathos and humor in a light comedy. It's a treat of a performance, impressively focused – considering the live format – and the finest acting in this set.

A “Reference Guide” booklet lays out all the credits and offers notable but scattershot information on each episode. A description of a figure's career will shift right over to another topic, making the entries more like lists than articles. The anthology's video extras are even more trying: footage from the “Studio One Seminar” at the Paley Center has the liveliness of a C-SPAN marathon at the sixth hour. Appearing are important figures like Nickell and Betty Furness – the sponsor Westinghouse's spokesperson, who explains way too much about 1950s appliances during the show's commercial breaks. Yet, the info would be better served as transcripts added to the booklet. As irritating as the Westinghouse spots may become, they are associated with an era of pure drama on television – fresher than it ever will be again.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

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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