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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Song ID: The Hollies – “After the Fox” (1966)

Thursday, March 26th, 2015


One of the less familiar Burt Bacharach/Hal David movie themes. Featuring harpsichord and sneaky chord changes, it appeared the year after What’s New Pussycat. It plays during a candy-colored animated intro and includes comical interjections by leading man Peter Sellers in between the Hollies’ lead vocals. More appreciated today than in 1966, the After the Fox movie serves as a cineaste’s field day with its numerous industry in-jokes.

The Hollies (with Peter Sellers) – “After the Fox” (1966)

Song ID: The Beatles – “Across the Universe” (1968)

Monday, December 8th, 2014


What springs to mind when this Let It Be song plays: 1) Its spiritual poetics, as if it were a hymn to Lennon’s imaginative Ono and her home continent’s mystic heritage; 2) evidence that the Maharishi era enhanced the Beatles’ artistry; and 3) that Lennon was a craftsman to the core.

Some Beatle versions you can choose from: 1) The official Let It Be one with Phil Spector’s overzealous angels; 2) the earlier version (on Past Masters) with bumble bees and horses; 3) The Anthology version where Lennon has trouble controlling his breath; and 4) the Let It Be Naked version, which is possibly the best one, although it omits the ascending eight notes reinforcing the outro on the familiar Spector version. Sigh.

Recently my teenage son asked me about the 1998 movie Pleasantville and I couldn’t quite articulate why my memories of it were so negative. So we watched it and near the end I thought, well that wasn’t so bad. Then Fiona Apple started up her moaning sick-bed rendition of “Across the Universe” and my memories made sense.

The Beatles – “Across the Universe” (1970)

James MacArthur, adopted son of Helen Hayes?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

jamesmacarthur helen_hayes

I was watching the 1970 Airport movie a few nights ago and it struck me again during the scenes featuring Helen Hayes: she reminds me so much of James “Danno” MacArthur. The official biographies all assert that Hayes is his adopted mother. Some suggest that her husband Charles MacArthur was the real father while some speculate on James actually being the son of MacArthur family friend Lillian Gish. I’m not agitated enough about this to conduct any serious snooping, and I understand that family secrets are family secrets. But I have to admit to being puzzled that none of the theories about his birth origins I’ve come across acknowledge MacArthur’s uncanny resemblance to his adopted mother nor any willingness to consider the possibility of her being his real mother. Does no one else see the resemblance?

Bruce Haack on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013


I remember feeling frustration when I saw the 2005 documentary Haack: The King of Techno (about synth pioneer Bruce Haack) because only the briefest glimpse of the legendary synth pioneer’s 1968 appearance on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood made the final cut. The entire segment has since turned up on YouTube, and you can take it in via Dangerous Minds where you can also read more about Haack.

Song ID: Shocking Blue – “Acka Raga” (1968)

Monday, May 6th, 2013


None of the official “best of” comps for the Dutch group Shocking Blue do justice to their facility with the three minute pop song. You have to go digging through all of their album cuts and B-sides and construct your own playlist. “Acka Raga” is a post-pyschedelic sitar instrumental, a cover of a track from the Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quartet’s 1967 Indo-Jazz Fusion LP. In 1999, a techno group called Mint Royale covered the song and retitled it, but hilariously claimed writer credits, giving Harriott-Mayer liner note honors for the “sample.” They even had the song placed in the Alias TV show and the Vanilla Sky film soundtrack. How did the licensing for this go down, I wonder?

Shocking Blue – “Acka Raga” (1968)

Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quartet – “Acka Raga” (1967)

Mint Royale – “From Rusholme with Love” (1999)

The car crash in Medium Cool

Sunday, April 17th, 2011


I watched Medium Cool again, one of those classic bummer films of the late sixties. It’s about dispassionate journalism and the end of the sixties and is famous for being filmed in the midst of the real-life mayhem at the ’68 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The car crash at the end, though, uses the standard-issue sound effect first made famous by Nervous Norvus in his “Transfusion” single from 1956 and subsequently used in a number of records and TV shows. There’s a high-pitched male-voiced squeal at the end of this sound, and I always figured it was the voice of Nervous. Whatever the case, that goofy, familiar sound clashes with the somber, cinema verite vibe of the film, serving as a sort of buzzer handshake. Was this intentional? If so, it’s a better film than I thought.  Update 6/10: Just watched It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and heard the “Norvus squeal” in Jimmy Durante’s opening car crash.

Nervous Norvus – “Transfusion” (1956)
Scatman Crothers – “Transfusion” (1956)
The Cadets – “Car Crash” (1960)
Jan and Dean – “Dead Man’s Curve” (1963)
The Shangri-Las – “Leader of the Pack” (1964)
Medium Cool (1968)

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Song ID: Magnet – “Corn Rigs” (1972)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010


I got talking with Kendell Kardt about his pre-Rig days in New York City and he again made my head spin somewhat when he talked about a folk group he played in called “Forever Children” that included his friend Paul Giovanni (other members included Ronnie Gilbert, Joyce Aaron, and Mike Poznick). This is the same Paul he writes about in his private, online memoir – a guy he gave guitar lessons to and who performed, along with the aforementioned Ms. Aaron (Kendell’s girlfriend at the time), in an experimental troupe called the Open Theatre. Paul and his partner, the British playwright Peter Shaffer, eventually (and benevolently) flew Kendell out to London during an Open Theatre stint out there circa 1970 so he could reunite with Ms. Aaron.

That’s pretty much the end of Kendell’s own story with Paul, but the memory drive in my head kept clicking over the familiar-sounding name, and I remembered it was the same name listed as composer on the opening credits of the the 1973 Wicker Man cult film (performed by a group called “Magnet”). So I dug up an album cover by the group Side Show, that I since found out Giovanni had also belonged to, and Kendell said, “yes, this is Paul, second from the left.” I then told Kendell about The Wicker Man and have now replaced the long standing encyclopedia listing in my head that read “Paul Giovanni: Forgotten British folkie who composed a one-off soundtrack to a singular movie” to “Paul Giovanni: New York actor, composer, and old friend of Kendell’s who also happened to write the music for a singular movie.” Giovanni passed away in 1990, but although this New York Times obituary makes no mention of it, that enchanting soundtrack alone will keep his memory alive and well.

(Another friend of Kendell’s, by the way, recently sent along this piece from the Guardian about a Rocky Horror-style Wicker Man singalong that just took place in London…)

Magnet – “Corn Rigs” (1972)

Movies By Memory: 1996 edition (100% Google-free)*

Friday, December 18th, 2009


How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

The English Patient (1996): A woman feeds a dying soldier nothing but chocolate as he narrates classic scenes from “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Hard Core Logo (1996): Three Canadian punks hunt for Ron Reagan Jr. and commit Charlie Starkweather-style farmland murders along the way.

Lone Star (1996): Three policemen sleep together in a Texas border town, making for subsequent confusion and the birth of Freddie Fender.

Secrets and Lies (1996): A British man plans and orchestrates an entire family reunion while on the toilet.

The Craft (1996): Loosely based on “Henry V,” this film follows the adventures of a young girl who chooses Shakespeare over witchcraft.

Suburbia (1996): Tom Hanks helps the cast from “Kids” cope with fame after their song “We Don’t Take Checks” becomes a massive hit.

Stealing Beauty (1996): Liz Taylor’s daughter finds herself through uncovering the dark side of Italian farm life.

The Daytrippers (1996): Stanley Tucci teaches a narrow-minded suburban family not to fear NYC subway travel.

Freeway (1996): Alicia Silverstone and Nick Nolte battle a ghost town full of real life nursery rhyme characters.

Breaking the Waves (1996): Liam Neeson’s brush with death on an oil rig sparks a whirlwind of golden rock ‘n’ roll memories.

*except for that picture.

posted by Kim Simpson

Memo to Wes Anderson: Please drop the classic pop record shtick

Saturday, November 28th, 2009


To: Wes Anderson
Re: Pointless pop records in your movies

After watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m requesting that you please drop the classic pop record shtick you’ve used for every single one of your movies for the following reasons:

1) The records mostly don’t work. All those records you shoved into Rushmore, and even The Royal Tenenbaums were fun in a head scratching sort of way, but having just seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re now subscribing to Quentin Tarantino’s hobbyhorse method of tossing favorite records into a film willy nilly just to be cool.

2) More often than not, the records hurt the movie. “Heroes and Villains,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Old Man River,” and, especially, “Let Her Dance,” add nothing to the singular visual experience you’ve offered viewers with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In fact, they jerk viewers out of the wonderland you’ve coaxed them into by introducing clashing contexts, like you did with the Clash in The Royal Tenenbaums and the distracting David Bowie material in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Your insistence on overplaying Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” in The Darjeeling Limited added unnecessary pounds of dead weight to an already sluggish situation.

3) More often than not, the movie hurts the records. I’m of the opinion that the visual images movie makers ask viewers to associate with certain songs is no trifling matter, and a song’s appearance in a movie can do irreparable damage to a song. I understand the argument that pop songs are essentially commercial entities that are, in a way, consigned to an existence of eternal molestation merely for being what they are. But damage is still damage.

Illustration A: Sarstedt’s song, a UK no. 1 hit in its day, has already been around the block. But the distinct image that unfortunate viewers of Darjeeling are now forced to associate with it – Jason Schwartzman moping around with his iPod and a bored, anorexic Natalie Portman – has undoubtedly murdered a certain element of that song’s je ne sais quoi.

Illustration B: When the Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance” crashes in for the closing credits of Mr. Fox, viewers are asked to associate the emotionally complex classic with animals dancing in a supermarket. I felt my heart sink when I heard it play, realizing that a song that made me lose my breath the first time I experienced it would now be remembered by my own kids as an incidental soundtrack item in an animal movie. The song hurt the scene and the scene hurt the song.

4) Movie directors have a unique opportunity to introduce new music to audiences. Here’s one thing about your latest movie that makes me think you have it in you to change your ways. The very best musical moment in this film was the song you had the animated Jarvis Cocker do. That was so magical that I wondered through the entire film why you didn’t just get Cocker to do the entire soundtrack. It meshed with the rest of the film in a way that none of those records did.

This is my basic counter argument for those who say “the music biz survives on movie and commercial tie-ins nowadays and you might as well get over it”: Movie directors, advertisers, and TV people would be doing the music biz a lot more good if they commissioned more original music. It would also make them look more inventive and less like those lazy minded types who devised the CSI intros featuring recordings of the Who as opposed to commissioning original theme music. (Spike Jonze, to his credit, used freshly composed music for his Where the Wild Things Are; to his discredit, the soundtrack and movie both turned out utterly cheerless. But still.)

Thanks for reading. Here’s to future days, future movies, and future original soundtracks.


Movies By Memory, Pt. 5: Party Mix

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

cowsillsAs I restrain myself from dropping big bills on old Tiger Beat mags featuring the Cowsills, you’re stuck with more entries from my “movies by memory” guide, a work in progress.

How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

Virgin Suicides, The (2003): Todd Rundgren stars as a boy who wears a wig to seduce three schoolgirls with tragic results.

Paper Moon (1974): Young Tatum O’Neal teaches her father, a hot dog vendor, valuable life lessons using stories from the Bible.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1993): Richard Gere stars as Heathcliff, a lusty islander whose life is altered when he inherits an estate in Pemberley.

Trading Places (1983): Jamie Lee Curtis and her attorney, Eddie Murphy, bring outsider transvestite Dan Ackroyd back into normal society.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931): Two aboriginal surfers travel the Australian coast looking for perfect waves and topless sunbathers.

Spies Like Us (1985): Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy, reviving their roles in “Ghostbusters,” investigate Paul McCartney’s mistaken identity.

Reversal of Fortune (1990): Woody Allen, a lawyer, gets ten misfit law students to help him annul Kirk Douglas’s marriage to Glen Close.

Peter’s Friends (1992): Sparks fly when five British thespians reunite to work on a stage production based on the music of Tears For Fears.

Advocate, The (1994): John Travolta stars as a hooded gigolo among the castles of medieval France.

Nobody’s Fool (1994): Paul Newman teaches Al Franken how to keep his two boys from fighting.

My Architect: A Son’s Journey (2003): A boy roller skates to Creedence Clearwater Revival in buildings designed by his absent-minded father.

Jazz Singer, The (1980): Neil Diamond teaches Barbra Streisand how to sing Al Jolson songs in Yiddish.

54 (1998): An elderly woman disco dances to death in the arms of an impressionable young boy.

posted by Kim Simpson