Film

Elizabethtown (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown does not know how to end.


Elizabethtown

Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Judy Greer, Jessica Biel, Paul Schneider
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-14

Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown does not know how to end. Or, for that matter, how to begin or develop or provide much in the way of sustained entertainment. Though it plainly aspires to a sort of "freshness," given its peculiar rhythms and offbeat comedic moments, it's repeatedly flattened by its focus on a dull boy hero's predictable route to redemption. Most depressingly, his plot hinges on the Love of a Quirky Girl.

Kirsten Dunst plays the Quirky Girl as well as anyone (okay, maybe not as well as Katharine Hepburn, who pretty much patented the concept in Bringing Up Baby). But her job here is hard, partly because she's set off, apart from the rest of the film's focus (a community called Elizabethtown) and, more devastatingly, by the stifled object of her desirous quirk, Drew (Orlando Bloom).

Miserable at the start of the film, Drew starts explaining, in voiceover. A truck backs into a loading bay, bearing thousands of pairs of the Spasmotica, the shoe he's designed for a mega sportswear company. A warning reads, "Watch your head." It's good advice for what follows. Drew goes on to give an accounting of his "fiasco" -- personal, professional, and familial -- which he defines as a "disaster of epic proportions." Specifically, he's designed a totally terrible, unsellable, even laughable shoe called the Spasmotica. It's so awesomely bad that it costs the company close to a billion dollars. Pithy, sometimes slo-mo flashbacks show the boy's ascent through the cubicled ranks, his perceived brilliance at a company Christmas party (for which he misses his family's Christmas dinner), and his minute's worth of romance with fellow employee and success-infatuated girlfriend Ellen (Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive Jessica Biel). But when that's done, he's left facing his boss, the awesomely smug and significantly named (after Mr. Nike) Phil (Alec Baldwin), who dismisses him with apt disdain.

Drew's depressed by his pile on of failures, or at least he says as much in his oddly unself-aware voiceover. And so he turns briefly suicidal (taping a huge and shiny kitchen knife to his exercise bike, as if to stab himself while riding to nowhere). Before he can do the deed, however, he gets a phone call that changes his life: his father has died in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and he needs to retrieve the body and return it to Oregon, home of his mom Hollie (Susan Sarandon) and sister Heather (Judy Greer).

Drew's journey will, of course, be enlightening and healing, a result augured by his first encounter with the sole flight attendant on his flight, on which he is the sole passenger. During this extended magical moment (and it does go on), he isn't quite smitten by Claire (Dunst), but she gives him her number anyway. Feeling especially bereft some hours later in a hotel populated by weekend wedding partiers, he calls her. At this point the movie slides ever deeper into banality, as their all-night cell phone conversation allows them to appear in an exceedingly unclever montage of places and poses -- the tub, the bed, the couch, the hotel hallway where Drew runs into the drunken groom-to-be, who toasts their disparate events -- funeral and wedding, ending and beginning.

As usually happens during such montages, the couple reveals their own deep thoughts, as these will form the basis for their long-lasting relationship. Claire, especially, is full of them: "Nobody's as anxious as they think they are," "Men see things in a box, and women see them in a round room," and, most painfully, "I think I've been asleep my whole life." (And you're getting sleepy just hearing it.)

The movie takes its time getting to the couple's commitment clinch, as the unevenly accented Claire (who knows where she's really from?) says she has an unseen boyfriend, about to arrive from somewhere else. Maybe more importantly, Claire insists that she and Drew are "the substitute people," standing in during crises. Never mind, Drew is increasingly liking hr. "I'm not used to girls like you," he says. Ahh, she sighs, "That's because I'm one of a kind." (And you're thinking, I've seen this movie before.)

The clinch is mostly put off for Drew's sake of course, as it's clear by now that Claire will get what she wants when she wants it. He needs to absorb a slew of life lessons before he can fully appreciate the anomalous beauties of this special girl. It could be that his inability to grasp her at first results from his intensely personal, unshared memories of his father (mostly fond); his complete misreading of Ellen (as a girlfriend); and/or his immersion in cubicle-design-think (where he was, in sequence, a star and a loser), but the movie doesn't offer much in the way of explanation. It does offer plenty of banal celebrations of small town values. Not only does Drew come to appreciate the casseroles (courtesy of an aunt played by cooking show host Paula Deen), instant familiarity, and cozy collective that is Elizabethtown, but he's also witness to what seems a three-tiered father-son dysfunction: his uncle (Loudon Wainwright III), his "Freebird"-loving cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider, whose terrific performance situates him in what seems another dimension), and his little screaming meemie nephew Samson.

He's learning his lessons while he's negotiating with his father's family over what to do with the body (his mom, following dad's wishes, wants to cremate, the town/family wants to bury). Drew wins points by providing Jessie with an answer to his loudly unruly son (whom Jessie is treating like his friend, by the way, and not his son), in the form of a videotape featuring a man in a hardhat who transfixes his young viewers by promising to explode a house if they promise to obey their parents. Like magic, the kids gathered before the tv all nod in wide-eyed agreement, including little monster Samson. The house explodes, and Drew's a star again, in a different universe. (You're wondering about the stunning obviousness or obscurity of this device, the exploding house.)

By the time Drew has processed His Experience (and watched his mother perform a tap dance to "Moon River" in honor of his dad), Elizabethtown is quite over, thank you. Or no. It persists, with a coda in the shape of a road trip, mapped and narrated by Quirky Girl and set to a rock classics-according-to-Crowe compilation soundtrack, setting Drew's life lessons against an outlandish national history encompassing Elvis at Sun Studios, and memorials marking Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and the Oklahoma City bombing. Maybe it's about losses, recoveries, and recollections. And maybe it's about not knowing how to end.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

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Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
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Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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