Reviews

Thunders, Kane & Nolan: You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory [DVD]

Charlotte Robinson

It is a don't-miss DVD for fans of the Dolls or the Heartbreakers.


Kane & Nolan

You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory [DVD]

Display Artist: Thunders, Kane & Nolan
Label: Music Video Distributors
UK Release Date: 2005-10-31
US Release Date: 2005-10-25
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Thanks to a lengthy and ultimately fatal addiction to heroin, Johnny Thunders has been relegated to also-ran status in the history of guitar heroes. That's unfortunate, because Thunders possessed almost as much talent and charisma as he lacked self-control. Born John Anthony Genzale, Jr. in 1952, Thunders' closest brush with fame came in the early 1970s as the lead guitarist in the New York Dolls. Although the band's rowdy mixture of Stones-like swagger and outrageous glam style didn't look or sound much like what punk would become, it helped set the movement in motion. After the Dolls' breakup, Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan formed the Heartbreakers, a band that, with classic songs like "Born to Lose" and "Chinese Rocks", was nearly as influential as its predecessor and even more notorious in its excesses.

Although the Heartbreakers occasionally reunited throughout the years, the band was effectively over when Thunders issued his first and most lauded solo effort, So Alone, in 1978. The album's highlight and Thunders' finest post-Dolls moment is "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", a plaintive ballad about loneliness and addiction that seemed to sum up the sadness of Thunders' short and largely wasted life. Thunders' reckless lifestyle ensured that his recording career would be erratic, and he recorded just two more official studio albums -- 1985's Que Sera, Sera and 1988's Copy Cats (with Patti Palladin) -- before his methadone-related death in 1991.

Thunders' former bandmate Jerry Nolan, also a longtime heroin user, passed away in 1992, but the deaths of two-fifths of the band didn't stop the remaining New York Dolls from staging a reunion at London's Meltdown Festival in 2004 at the request of longtime fan Morrissey. Although bassist Arthur Kane died of leukemia shortly after the reunion, singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain have continued to tour under the Dolls name. This begs the question, how many members of a band does it take to constitute a "reunion"? If two people can claim to be the New York Dolls, then couldn't the new DVD credited to Thunders, Kane and Nolan just as logically be called a Dolls reunion, since it features three band members? The trio, along with Barry Jones on rhythm guitar, reunited at the Roxy in Los Angeles for this January 1987 show, which features material by the Dolls, the Heartbreakers, and Thunders, as well as a lot of classic covers.

This release should be of interest to any Thunders or Dolls fan because it captures the guitarist, who was unsurprisingly known for erratic performances, in fairly lucid form. The musicians sound good if occasionally sloppy, and for a recording of a club show, it's decent quality. The 90-minute show was filmed with a single camera to the right of the stage, but that one camera works at getting both long and tight shots, even if Thunders gets most of the screen time. The band rips through the Chantays' "Pipeline" (the opener on So Alone) and Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions" as if it owns them, leaving no doubt that Thunders could be a powerhouse when he set his mind to it.

While the hipster audience starts off in a subdued mood, it perks up, oddly enough, when the band exits mid-show and Thunders plays five songs on acoustic guitar. "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" gains even more poignancy in this stripped-down form, but the surprise of the set is Thunders' bare-bones cover of "Eve of Destruction", which rouses the crowd into a sing-along. After decisively winning the crowd over with the acoustic set, Thunders is rejoined by his bandmates, and launches into the rest of the set with considerably more confidence. While he's nowhere near the front man David Johansen is and his nasally voice could at best be called an acquired taste, Thunders shows here that his guitar chops, rock star preening, and genuine love of rock 'n' roll could carry him pretty far.

Despite an overreliance on covers, low-tech film work, and some grating backing vocals from Kane's wife on a couple of songs, You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory is a don't-miss DVD for fans of the Dolls or the Heartbreakers. It's also a bittersweet viewing experience, because in it you can glimpse the potential of Thunders, Kane, and Nolan even as you can see that their time was past.

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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