October 30, 2009 § Leave a Comment
It’s an equation that few would ever consider — one post-classical string quartet plus one Mexican science fiction horror sex comedy from the 1960s — but the group ETHEL has proven it adds up to something madcap.
ETHEL members Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Mary Rowell (violin), will perform their live score for the film “La Nave De Los Monstruos (The Monsters’ Ship)” in a special pre-Halloween performance at Mass MoCA tonight at 8 as part of this year’s Williamstown Film Festival.
“La Nave De Los Monstruos (The Monsters’ Ship)” follows the adventures of two women from Venus who come to Earth — or, as they call it, “the planet Mexico” — to find men.
“These two uber babes from Venus have to take off to find men to repopulate their planet because a nuclear bomb had exploded on Venus and destroyed all the men,” said Ralph Ferris. “The women all manage to survive, so they have to find men.”
Along the way they pick-up several monsters, including a Martian brain creature, a fly person and a walking bone thing. What sets the movie apart from your typical bad, old cheap film is the intentional comedy and the creative design work, despite the almost non-existent budget.
Ferris also points to the serious theme that serves as a backdrop to the kitsch — the dark side of the joke.
“It is totally silly, but it is serious. They’re dealing with some very heavy stuff,” he said. “They’re talking about nuclear proliferation and the very real threat going on there, this is very close to the Cuban Missile Crisis, right before that, and it’s a very frightening time for the entire world. Not that I’m any great expert, but there is a really endearing and wise cultural norm in Mexico that they are not afraid to take on the really heavy stuff and shine some light on it” « Read the rest of this entry »
October 23, 2009 § 1 Comment
Children’s book illustrator Matt Phelan makes a dynamic graphic novel debut with “The Storm in the Barn,” which takes the setting of the Dust Bowl and transforms it into a barren landscape that inhabits a fertile universe of folklore.
Young Jack is bullied and depressed — the world is drying up around him, people are either leaving or dying, and a human desperation is starting to build up into bloodshed. He finds solace in fantasy, provided from his ill older sister’s readings of later L. Frank Baum Oz books and the tall tales of the owner of a local diner where people take refuge during dust storms.
Meanwhile, rumors are bandied about that Jack is victim to the so-called “dust dementia.” He begins to agree with that summation as he appears to hallucinate in regard to the barn of an abandoned neighboring farm.
Phelan’s delicate artwork captures the setting perfectly, with visuals drenched in the brown colors of drought that become tinged — but never overwrought — with color in fantasy and flashback sections.
Phelan takes a historical event and moves it into fantasy, with Jack functioning as a hero in direct line with the child heroes related through the stories he hears and the cause of the drought as something looming in the shadows with the potential to appear as some kind of beast of legend — or possibly just the object of Jack’s dilemma.
Phelan keeps you guessing until the end and pulls of the bulk of the story through an economy of dialogue — most of the book is wordless, words are used only when really needed. In the wave of graphic novel work aimed at kids, Phelan’s book flies to the top of the pile as one of the most challenging and depthful additions.
October 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Canadian filmmaker Brett Gaylor’s vibrant and informative documentary “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” takes a meticulous look at the issue of copyright infringement with the idea that culture — and knowledge — is being held up in the name of commerce.
Gaylor’s premise is simple — although put into four concepts organized into a manifesto, it can be well summed up in one: The past is threatening the future. More specifically stated, Gaylor alleges that the business model of the entertainment industry — both music and film — is an antiquated structure that corporations are struggling to hold in a stasis in order to keep their profits, even as everything changes around them. In order to do this, the entertainment industry must cling to its history while ignoring ours.
At the center of Gaylor’s argument is that copyright laws have been changed to an unnatural model that benefits big businesses that own artwork — rather than the artists themselves — and ignores the way culture works. In other words, the entertainment business model of copyrights attempts to stop the progress that should lead to future progress by controlling the tools of creativity and offering product instead of creation — from Fabian to Britney Spears, this has been the operating model for decades.
In order to prove his point, Gaylor traces the songwriting history of some creative powerhouses, following the Rolling Stones from working class plagiarists to multi-millionaire plagiarists, as well as Walt Disney, who practically invented the culture of American children by borrowing the older culture of their European counterparts. What allowed such big guns to do so was a healthy public domain that let them take the materials from the past and interpret them to the present and put their own personal creative spin on them.
You know, like a dee-jay.
Popular remixer Girl Talk functions as Gaylor’s poster boy for the argument. Plenty of others parade through, from Creative Commons guru Lawrence Lessig and Boing Boing blogger Corey Doctorow to several people sued by the industry for downloading music, but Girl Talk is the constant. Gaylor uses him to great effect, revealing a direct line in musical innovation from the likes of Son House and Muddy Waters to the current field of mash-ups and revealing how popular culture naturally works, building on what has come before, and also depicting the actual work of a dee-jay and how it can be justified as a creative musical pursuit.
One of the largest benefits of Girl Talk’s involvement is the inside access to the work and process of what a dee-jay does. This might be well understood by youngsters of a certain age, but if it’s the past regulating the future, then it certainly helps to reveal what the man behind the curtain does to the older of us. As witnessed here, sampling and reusing is anything but the simple cut-and-paste exercise that opponents would represent the practice as — Gaylor even gets an older, digital-Luddite bureaucrat from the copyright office to marvel at Girl Talk’s work.
With the silly propaganda that has crept out of the entertainment industry monster, Gaylor’s film is important viewing for anyone — but especially teenagers — who need to see the other side of the argument and a clear explanation of how the current copyright laws affect all corners of our culture. To his credit, Gaylor also depicts how this business model has crept into many other aspects of our reality, including pharmaceuticals — it’s an important revelation that should empower viewers to take hold of what is theirs.
October 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
In her new documentary film, “Beyond Greenaway: The Legacy,” director Sue Gilbert looks at a way of life that has passed on — that is, her own family’s — and how it has affected the children and grandchildren.
The lifestyle in question is that of the ultra rich — but not merely measured by money. Gilbert’s parents were a very traditional kind of affluent, embracing the sort of upper class lifestyle that is hidden to most people unless they watch a lot of screwball comedies from the 1930s or pay attention to the comings and goings of the British Royal Family.
Gilbert’s father, a Williams College graduate, brought the family to Greenaway, an island off the coast of Connecticut complete with a mansion and private bridge — and with them came the trappings of an era that was fading away. Everything about the Gilbert family was proper, and this created an unusual childhood that Gilbert and her siblings now find both shocking and charming all at the same time.
Her parents were the subject of Gilbert’s 1982 documentary film “Greenaway.”
It was in high school that Gilbert began to realize her family wasn’t what most people considered normal. The opulence, the formality, the servants — these were all taken for granted by childhood friends who thought, “that’s the way it was at the Gilberts’,” but visits home from boarding school with friends had to be prefaced by lectures on appropriate conduct.
“I began to realize that I had to warn them on the way from the airport or the train station and let them know that they weren’t going to an ordinary house — that they needed to be prepared for the kinds of dinners where personal things were not discussed and we had to dress up, and it would probably be important to avoid my parents at all costs and do our own thing,” Gilbert said. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
It’s been 28 years since Tenpole Tudor released its debut album — and 27 since its last one. That’s not a lot of time to exist in recorded history, but the band made an impression in England in that two-year period, even though the act never quite caught on in America. Band leader Edward Tudor-Pole has revived the band name — if not the actual line-up — and his new record, “Made It This Far,” pretty much starts up where the band left off so long ago, with all the energy from the first time around.
The band members had been together for years before they began recording, but much of their renown has revolved around some of Tuder-Pole’s side projects. It was in the late 1970s that he somehow became involved with The Sex Pistols, following the departure of front man Johnny Rotten.
The story is that Tudor-Pole was supposed to replace Rotten and, indeed, he did appear in the slapped-together Julian Temple-directed documentary “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” performing several numbers, most notably the infamous “Who Killed Bambi.” The new Sex Pistols gig didn’t quite work out — the band split — and Tudor-Pole was left in the memory of that band’s fans as the gawky, squeaking weird guy in the Sex Pistols movie.
Tenpole Tudor had some hits — “Swords of a Thousand Men” being the most likely one for anyone to recognize — and Tudor-Pole had a memorable musical appearance in the movie “Absolute Beginners,” but it never quite happened for the band. Tudor-Pole split and recorded one last single — the Celtic/Cajun-influenced rave-up “The Hayrick Song,” which predicted the sound of the Irish rockers The Pogues — and the band recorded a long-forgotten record without him.
Over the next two decades, Tudor-Pole’s biggest achievement was ending up on the cutting room floor in a Harry Potter movie — though he did play Spike Milligan in the recent Peter Sellers bio-pic, for those of you who hadn’t noticed.
On the new album, Tudor-Pole revisits his old sound with a fury — from straight, hard-rocking numbers to rockabilly ravers, to even more Cajun foot tappers, Tudor-Pole proves that his brief ascent into the public eye in the early ‘80s was well deserved — and his failure to capture the charts was in no way a reflection of his talent, just the times.
He’s still got one of the world’s most unusual voices — a screeching, high-pitched yodel that at times sounds like it’s coming out of a Muppet — and it’s wonderful to listen to. The album is sadly low profile and not likely to make any sort of a splash, but if you love energetic, roots rock with personality and flavor — and the possibility of getting up to dance and down some beers — then I suggest you get to iTunes now and download this release from an unknown legend.
October 21, 2009 § Leave a Comment
I love Icelandic experimental band Múm, though their music is impossible to classify — sometimes obscure and minimal, other times sweet and almost with a pop music quality. It’s filled with personality and vigor, as well as brains. At the center of the band is the team of Örvar Smárason and Gunnar Örn Tynes, with various musical partners since the band’s inception in 1998. Their latest album is “Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know.” Along with putting out albums, they’ve also scored silent movies and performed underwater.
What follows is the interview as conducted via email – not my preferred method of interviewing, but it does give a good indication of the attitude and humor of the band:
J: What was the evolution of your sound originally? How much did you have to experiment with mixing “real” instruments with electronic sounds before you settled into a combination that sounded right for you?
O: I think we have never settled into a combination of anything and listening to the albums, you hear that there is different instrumentation on every album we have made. The evolution of our sound has never been linear, nor should it be. We have no hopes of reaching some “final destination” with what we do.
J: How do you think your music has changed since 1998 – what have you added to it and what has disappeared from it?
O: We never make the same album twice and we rarely write the same song twice. People have come and gone, everything has had it’s twists and turns.
J: What is the typical evolution of a song? What is the process of
collaboration for the band?
O: We don’t really have a preferred process of making music. It has much more to do with just turning on the faucet and letting it flow.
J: What are Gunnar and Orvar’s separate musical backgrounds and how did they come to work together?
M: Neither of us had any proper musical background, we were pretty much just doodlers. We met in a another band that our friend was putting together called Andheri, where I sang and played guitar and Gunni was the bass player.
J: How does Iceland manifest itself in your music?
M: That’s an impossible question for us to answer, as artists and musicians we don’t really analyze our work much. We create.
J: In regard to Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know – the album was recorded in various locations – what sorts of settings
did you work in and why did you choose those? What did each location lend to the music?
O: We go to write and record in new places to enjoy their beauty and to relax in a different environment, basically to put ourselves in a situation where creating is effortless. We recorded a lot of this album in a cabin thats about an hours drive from Reykjavik. We also spent a week in an amazing house in Estonia, a 14th century wooden manor surrounded by hundreds of lakes. And other places. What each place lent to the music, I don’t know.
J: You use a lot of different instruments on this album – do you have certain instruments in mind to use with certain songs or do you choose through a process of experimentation and playing? What do you like best about ukuleles?
O: The best thing about ukuleles is how small they are. Like tiny guitars. Anyway, new instruments are very often the starting point of a new song, when you have something you haven’t experimented with before, there is more space to create brand spanking new things and ideas. I hope there is an endless world of new instruments out there, because we don’t feel ready to stop.
J: Tell me about your parrot and how it got involved with the recording.
O: I was watching my parents parrot for a while and it was pointless to try and exclude him when I was making recordings. Most of his parts came when I was recording piano at my parents house, he likes the sound of a piano and would sing when I hit the keys.
J: The new album is very sweet and personable, and it seems like a departure from some of your previous work – do you feel the same way about it?
O: Not really, I feel like we made the departure when we started this band and since then it has been one long pointless journey.
October 16, 2009 § Leave a Comment
In “Stuffed,” Tim Johnston is confronted with a past he prefers to ignore after his father dies and leaves him the family embarrassment — a little homemade museum of oddities.
Prominent in the collection is The Savage, an apparent life-sized model of an African savage. Of course it’s offensive — entirely so — but Tim thinks there might be some worth to it. What if it were modeled on a real native African?
Tim’s effort to figure out what to do with the cringe-inducing relic reveals its true nature but also takes him on a journey far more personal than he would have expected — and one that sweeps along various others on their own concurrent paths, including Tim’s drop-out brother and an African-American professor at the Museum of Natural History.
“Stuffed” investigates the idea of heritage with the suggestion that it’s a very imperfect thing to embrace.
With psychology being as mixed a bag as ethnicity, the best solution may well be compromise, with the understanding that where you came from is not more important than where you are. Your blood line does not trump the person you are.
Through their own interaction — and in the shadow of The Savage — the characters are able to see the generational dysfunctions and how they are passed along — as reflected through African tribal disputes, the complex human web of the inability to move past problems and get on with life is revealed as a constant that marks personal histories as well as national ones.
The book marks the graphic novel debut of television writer Glenn Eichler, who has won an Emmy, a Peabody and a Writers Guild award for his work on “The Colbert Report.”
Here Eichler reveals a gentler side while retaining all the bite from the satiric news show. The story is stuffed with a gentle compassion that coats the honest lens through which the characters are viewed — their flaws are there for the reader to see, but no one is ridiculed for their failings. Instead, Eichler spends time to investigate these and understand that this is the first action toward the kind of feel-good resolution that the book moves toward — and which we all seek in our own convoluted little family dramas.
October 16, 2009 § Leave a Comment
The Quebecois three-piece La Patere Rose — fronted by a gal named Fanny Bloom, who also plays piano, and who is accompanied by drummer/DJ Kilojules and keyboardist/samplist Roboto — brings the new-wave synth industrialism of a band like Ladytron and mixes it with the kooky energy of Bis to make something wacky and frenetic. Add to that mix that the band records in French — and allow in all the musical history that implies — and you’ll find practitioners of eccentric and lush pop melodies, like a France Gall for the digital age.
Opening with “Le deux bonnes souers,” the band wastes no time following up with “Pacemaker,” keeping the pop beats bouncing outward — “Decapote” confirms its creative approach to grabbing your ear.
The band does step outside of the pop and, after the onslaught of cheery charm, the second half of the release proves it’s got a variety of accomplished styles lurking in its arsenal, waiting to be unloaded on this album.
On “Charmord Sur Mer” members affect some ragtime from the wrong side of town, with Bloom offering some excited screaming amidst the jazz tinges.
“Backyard Souvenir” is a brooding ballad, with strings that loom around the creeping organ work, while “L’eponge” brings the band into the territory of slick trip-hop. All together, this is a multi-faceted group that can bend music around its own ears and spit any of it back with a brash originality.
La Patere Rose is typical of the sort of gem that’s hidden to much of the United States — but out in plain sight in their home country — which music enthusiasts dream about. I don’t know that it will ever break down here, but the band is well worth a musical journey north to seek it out.
October 11, 2009 § Leave a Comment
I understand that people like to waste their time, and in this era of gadgetry, opportunities for doing so are not only more frequent than a decade ago but also easier — a mere tap of your finger away, actually.
One of the big selling points of the iPhone and iPod Touch is the App Store, an online store that allows users to download tiny and inexpensive computer applications to their gadgets. In marketing terms, the App Store has been the No. 1 difference in making Apple products more desirable to consumers than other cell phones, or even Blackberries, because it has created a useful and easy mobile computing experience.
Even though it was originally marketed as a mobile music and video player, I’ve only ever really used my iPod Touch for practical purposes — calendar, address book, a PDF reader, several newspapers and, most importantly, a really good word processing application. I do look at the App Store to see what else is available, and I’ve noticed over time that the useful applications get fewer and fewer, while the big wastes of time have started forcing their girth into my personal computing space more and more.
“Bootylicious Valuable Assets,” anyone?
Just as the Internet was first utilized a million different ways to deliver porn, one of the prime movers in the App Store has been purveyors of cheesecake. We have come to a point in history when this wonderful leap in science and technology is used to peep at women’s behinds — as if you can’t just do that sitting almost anywhere and just looking around.
I wish I could say that teeny-tiny pin-ups were as silly as it got, but that would be ignoring a small contingent of bowel-movement-related applications that are available. There is “Poop the World,” which seems to be a social network built around going to the bathroom, including reviews and ratings of each said activity — just like GoodReads serves the same purpose for books.
There is also Soft Serve Poop Machine, a visual activity — using the word “game” makes it seem more complicated that it is — which allows the user to manipulate a virtual machine that does exactly what the title promises.
You can be grateful that the App Store experience also offers a way to translate these activities into real-life conversation, thanks to the Poop And Fart Jokes application — just read them off and insert them when appropriate or inappropriate, as it were.
Bowel movement applications don’t stop with those — there are plenty more. Some are guides to your movements as a health indicator — one offers the checklist in a nifty slot machine layout — while others can guide visitors to public bathrooms in any given city.
One predicts what kind of stool you will release next — I suppose you could just run that information through the health indicator guide and predict your health. Who says technology hasn’t entered the realm of magic?
There’s an application that animates what happens when a person doesn’t have a city toilet guide application and, therefore, can’t find a rest room in time — really, that’s its only purpose. There are also multiple tiny computer games built around the activity.
And I thought Twitter was a massive waste of time!
Whatever people want to do with their little chunks of amazing technology is their own business. There are certainly plenty of ways to waste your good time on the gadgets without involving the bathroom backdrop — but, really, is this what it all comes down to?
If technology is supposed to amp up efficiency and create more productive time for the normal person, isn’t there a better way to spend this new leisure time than on iMobilepedia’s Poop application learning everything there is to know about the ugly little pastime that links us with the lower forms?
It certainly makes me feel a bit dull when I look at what’s on my own iPod Touch. A tip calculator? A measuring unit converter? A dictionary? A currency converter? Admittedly boring, but actually useful. Maybe this is one instance when I don’t mind being a little mundane.
October 9, 2009 § 1 Comment
Harvey Kurtzman stands apart from so many fine artists and just as many commercial ones for the simple fact that his ability within his form actually matches the broad influence it has had.
Kurtzman was not only a skilled cartoonist, writer and editor but also a terribly intellectual one with a natural sense of stylized imagery that made him stand out. This set him up as a centerpiece in influencing a generation of kids into a social form that would shape the country in the 1960s. Kurtzman’s work routinely trotted out the notion of critical thought and informed analysis, as well as the idea of standing up to the authoritative mainstream and disarming its weaponry through humor.
In the form of his early work on EC Comics — both serious stories and Mad Magazine — Kurtzman was a major influence on an upcoming world that was a bizarro version of everything that had gone on before, one ruled by irreverence.
Kurtzman, like so many cartoonists of his era, was the son of an immigrant who could do nothing else but express himself through pen, and he brought that outsider’s stance to his work. Comic books at the time were dominated by first-generation urban American Jews, and it is possible to read some of the sneering intellectualism against the form as another instance of racism via creative criticism. Tear down the validity of the expression through intellectual snobbery, and you don’t have combat the race or class directly.
In the new overview of Kurtzman’s art and career, “The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics,” the title is misleading. The book spends many pages focusing on the artwork but devotes even more documenting Kurtzman as a stellar writer and editor, as well as a top-notch idea man. Also, the book is not content to focus on his comic book years, instead presenting a large amount of his work on magazines such as Trump, Humbug and Help.
With all three of these titles, Kurtzman took the swagger and irreverence of college humor and added a gruff intellectualism that defines a certain portion of liberal American culture to this day. By acknowledging this, the book pushes the very correct notion of Harvey Kurtzman as lifestyle creator for misfits. « Read the rest of this entry »