Monday, April 23, 2012

I'd Love to Turn You On #55 - "Good Old Boys"

Not long after I moved to Georgia I was out for lunch with a few of my new colleagues when the name Lester Maddox came up, and immediately my mind went, “Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show with some smart-ass New York Jew. And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox. And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too.” I didn’t know anything about Maddox except those lines. They’re the opening verses of “Rednecks,” the first track on Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, one of the best singer-songwriter albums of all time. Turns out Maddox was governor of Georgia in the 70s. When he campaigned, he carried around an ax handle and he bragged about how he swung it at blacks to keep them out of the restaurant he owned. In the song, Newman sings, “He may be a fool but he’s our fool. If they think they’re better than us they’re wrong. So I went to the park and I took some paper along, and that’s where I wrote this song.”
I couldn’t get the song out of my head when I first moved down here. It has so many great lines. “We talk real funny down here. We drink too much. We laugh too loud. We’re too dumb to make it in no Northern town.” And, “College boys from LSU. Went in dumb, come out dumb, too. Hustling around Atlanta in their alligator shoes. Getting drunk on the weekend at the barbecue.” And all these little Southern vignettes are punctuated with (forgive me): “We’re keeping the niggers down.” And just when you’re about to give up on the song, despite its lovely melody, because it’s just too obnoxious, Newman sings, “Now your Northern nigger’s a negro. You see, he’s got his dignity. Down here we’re too ignorant to realize, the North has set the nigger free. Yes, he’s free to be put in a cage in Harlem in New York City, he’s free to be put in a cage in the Southside of Chicago, and the Westside.” And so on through Cleveland and East St. Louis and San Francisco and Boston: “They’re gathering up from miles around, keeping the niggers down.” And then the chorus again, as punch line: “We’re rednecks. We’re rednecks. We’re keeping the niggers down.” Ha ha. Joke’s on, well, all of us.
You wouldn’t know it from his cartoon soundtracks, but Newman is one edgy bastard. “Rednecks” treads right on the razor edge of offensiveness but remains on the good side because it’s smart, and it’s true. It’s especially ballsy for when it came out – in 1974, when the nation was turning hard toward the left and away from centuries in which overt racism was pretty much an acceptable thing. And it sounds great. It’s just a plain, old song, sung in the simple hum-along style of all good, old songs. The album is full of them, most all of them related in some way to the South. Every number is a different character: the factory worker from Birmingham with a big, black dog named Dan in his backyard; the forlorn drunk who needs a whole lot of medicine to pretend like he’s somebody else; the kingpin politico who may be corrupt but he sure gets things done; the beauty whose dad was a midget, mom was a whore and granddad was a newsboy till he was 84. Some of the songs are slow and beautiful, some got a little more kick to them, but they’re all easy on the ears, though never syrupy and sentimental. A few are achingly beautiful. One that always gets me is “Louisiana 1927.”  It’s a ballad about a terrible storm that rolled in from the North and made the river rise until there were six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline. If you listen to it in the context of the time in which it was released, it comes across as a metaphor for change in the South. But now it’s hard not to hear it as prescient, with its chorus, “Louisiana, Louisiana, they’re trying to wash us away,” hard not to think of Katrina and all the neighborhoods in New Orleans that remain vacant today. Great records are timeless in that way, and this one’s truly one of the best.

---Joe Miller

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Taj Mahal

It’s not fair to call Taj Mahal a blues artist. He is, but he’s so much more. For years I stayed away from him because I just wasn’t crazy about electric blues. I’m still not, honestly. A lot of it sounds to me like rock and roll stuck in a low gear. So when I snatched up a load of old records from my uncle on a recent trip back to my hometown, I initially looked down my nose at the three Taj Mahal albums in my haul. It took me a week to get around to listening to them. I chose Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home to start with because of the novelty of a double record that’s actually two separate records bound together in a gatefold. The first record, Giant Step, is electric with a full band. The opening track, “Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie Anymo’,” is a short and wistful whistling-and-guitar tune that’s nice and mellow. It’s like a nice shoulder rub to ease you into the listening experience. The next song, the title track, is similarly calming but a little more upbeat, with Mahal urging you to “take a giant step outside your mind.” I wouldn’t peg either of these numbers as blues. Forced to categorize, I’d say, “easy-going American music.” The third tune, “Give Your Woman What She Wants,” is straight-up electric blues. If I were more confident in my knowledge, I might say Chicago-style. It’s the kind I usually hate—macho, hard-driving stuff. But here, set in contrast to the first two songs, it takes on a nice shine. Plus there’s a quality to Mahal’s voice, a sort of soft raspy-ness and soulfulness, that mitigates the testosterone overdrive of the genre and carries the mellow vibe through from the first two songs. Side two opens with a cover of “Six Days on the Road” done up in the groovy, high-speed way the Flying Burrito Brothers did it, except Mahal seems to be having more fun with it, like he’s getting a big ol’ kick out of being a black dude belting out a country trucker song.
            The second record, De Ole Folks at Home, is acoustic. Like its companion, it gathers a wide range of sound and unifies the pieces. It opens with a rhythmic work crew song, slides into an instrumental slide guitar number that calls to mind Blind Willie Jefferson by way of Ry Cooder, breezes into a banjo number with a tempo that’s reminiscent of blues but not quite. The blues are always present on these records, but they’re not always front and center. They’re more like the DNA that underlie and bind all the songs together.
            After spinning these two discs, I was hooked on Taj Mahal, so I reached for another record and grabbed The Natch’l Blues. I was leery, fearful that this would be the slogging blues record I dread. And true to its name, it’s more consistently bluesy. It came out a year ahead of Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home, and it was just his second record, so maybe he wasn’t quite ready to stretch out so much. Still, he pushed the boundaries a bit, especially on “Corinna” and “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” both of which drift into a soul territory, and even a little bit of gospel on the latter. The bluesy numbers have the kind of hippy swing to them that you’d expect from a record released in 1968, the notes bent ever so slightly, as if to suggest the silhouette of a go-go dancer shaking on a table top. And throughout there’s still that voice that’s soft and hard-edged all at the same time, and has a way of finding the soul of the melody and hitting you where you live. This is blues even a blues hater can love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interview With Chali 2Na

Charles Stewart (a.k.a.Chali2na) has had quite the career. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago he was inspired by the young, underground sound of House music. After moving to Los Angeles it didn't take long before he was performing spoken word and starting to rap. In his work with such groups as Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli and his countless collaborations, Chali2na has gained respect as one of the Hip-Hop's most prolific MC's. While he's noted for his music he's also a painter, has scored a few video games and has even managed to add Actor to his resume. Recently when he came in to Twist & Shout to shoot a scene for an upcoming video, he also agreed to answer a few on-line questions for our loyal Spork readers.

When we met, we talked about tattoos. What is your favorite and why?

My favorite ones are memorial tattoos because they mean so much to the person who has them. Usually they would have done their homework and searched for the best thing they could think of to celebrate the occasion.

You're currently shooting a video, tell me a little about the project you're working on.

Well it's called Against the Current and it'll be broken up into five genre-specific EP's that will allow me to draw on my inspirations musically. Each EP will represent a genre or style of music that inspires me such as Caribbean, Electronic, Live instrumentation and just straight Hip-Hop.

What inspires your painting?

Like my music, everyday events inspire my paintings. I'm a sucker for detail so I go for things that tell a story through the amount of detail present. Weird angles catch my eye and I try to translate what I see with a message behind it.

It's been several years now since your head injury, how do you think that has affected you as an artist, both an MC and as a visual artist?

Well my biggest lesson from the crash was to seize the moment. You never know when the time to leave is now so live as if the next moment is that moment. Now I have a newfound sense of urgency that pushes me a bit further than I'd normally go I guess.

Who are you listening to right now?

Believe it or not, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Chill Rob G, Percee P, StesaSonic! Riding in my car reliving those days and appreciating how innovative these guys were and still are today!

What's the most memorable show you've ever done?

That's almost impossible to answer. I've been blessed to be at shows where there were 80 thousand people as well as shows in small clubs where people like Prince have shown up so it varies quite a bit.

What do you think of Hip Hop now compared to when you were first coming up?

The kids today don't know a world without Computers, Internet, Hip-Hop. So in my opinion they take it more for granted as something that's just gonna be there than we did watching it being created, and defined into what it is today. It's treated more like a piece of disposable chewing gum than a great book that you'd share with all your friends.

You've always worked with incredible crews, how does that compare to being a solo artist?

It doesn't really. Being solo is much more work with a different kind of reward at the end. But being a part of the crews I've been blessed to be a part of was just that... a blessing!!

Knowing the political climate in the US today, what are your thoughts on the state of Civil Rights today?

It's apparent that Civil Rights in this country haven't moved forward much when you finally have a black president whose very existence brings out the inner racist in people you'd least expect.

How does that manifest itself into your music?

I'm a freedom fighter using the only weapon God gave me which is my art. So musically or visually you will find that I'm pushing for a change for the better in whatever I can effect change in.

What's your favorite thing to do after you've created something you really love?

Show it to as many people as I!!

- Natja Soave

Monday, April 16, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #37 - Bird (1988, dir. Clint Eastwood)

Movies about music and musicians are a dicey proposition at best. So many of them fall flat. I mean, how often have you watched one and said to yourself  “gee there’s so and so pretending they are so and so.” In other words it is hard to suspend disbelief when you are watching something with so much sub-context. We all have such strong impressions of musicians and what they must be like outside of the spotlight that depictions of them often feel wrong or off somehow. The music side of it complicates things further when an actor clearly is not a player and their fingering or the way they hold the instrument looks phony. Of course nothing is worse than the director just not getting the musician and whitewashing the facts of his or her life to make them more palatable for the masses. Clint Eastwood’s Bird avoids all these pitfalls and in the process captures the era beautifully and presents Forest Whittaker as one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was a complicated man; sublimely talented and highly intelligent he was also tortured by feelings of inadequacy, driven to suicide attempts by crippling bouts of depression and victimized by the twin assaults of racism and drug addiction. He was introduced to heroin as a teenager and the junkie life defined his fate for the rest of his life. Eastwood’s movie focuses on all the right stuff. First and foremost it completely gets the music right. Forest Whittaker clearly studied Parker as his body language and handling of the saxophone are spot-on. After only a few minutes my disbelief was suspended and I felt as though I was watching Charlie Parker himself, not an actor portraying him. The soundtrack utilizes original Parker recordings mixed with modern musicians, which give them both authenticity and modern production values. Thus it all sounds correct, and of the times. One really gets a feeling for Parker’s ability to solo and improvise, and how his unique style built upon his influences and revolutionized all jazz soloists who followed him. Most specifically, Parker’s profound influence on a young Red Rodney (real name: Robert Chudnick) played with wide-eyed innocence by Michael Zelniker is explored to great effect. Rodney comes to Bird as an acolyte, desperate to just be near the man, but ends up playing with him and following him down the road of heroin addiction. The other major relationships explored are those with his long suffering wife Chan Parker and fellow bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie. Parker was irresistible because of his overwhelming talent, but at the same time he was unreliable in every way. He was often too stoned or drunk to play, he womanized constantly and he hurt all those closest to him. Gillespie (played by Samuel E. Wright) is his friend, mentor and champion yet he recognized Parker’s tragic flaws and didn’t make excuses for them. In one pivotal scene the two men stand by the ocean discussing their fate and Gillespie tells Parker “If they kill me (white society) it won’t be because I helped them do it.” He is referring to Parker’s own self-destructive behavior, which he can’t seem to curtail and rightly predicts Parker’s sad fate. Dizzy loves to play with Bird, but sees him as the tragic mess he is. Diane Venora plays Chan Parker as a very modern woman who is trapped by her love for a guy she can clearly see is no good for her. Yet, they marry (her white, he black and all that went with that in our society in the mid 20th century), have children, and try to forge some sort of domestic happiness. It is heartbreaking to watch, because it is so clear that he is not up to the task. He can’t keep his instrument out of hock, so how is he supposed to provide for a wife and kids?
The real power of Eastwood’s accomplishment comes in the constant juxtaposition of Parker’s golden talent with the clay and mud of his day-to-day life: he was hounded by police trying to shake down a junkie, he was disapproved of for fraternizing with white women and he was constantly out of work because of his unreliability. But then, Eastwood shows many scenes of Parker onstage, using his horn to soothe the savage beast that raged within his soul. Jumping around in Bird’s history, Eastwood manages to keep the thread of time clear even as we go from scenes of a young Parker learning his trade and being humiliated by his inadequacies, to a man at the height of his powers, knocking the jazz world on its ear with his mind-blowing improvisations, to a washed up has-been who doesn’t understand the new world of showboating rock and rollers, all in no particular order. Unstuck in time, the movie weaves a majestic tapestry that gives one a sympathetic understanding of Parker’s brief 34-year life. The greatness of his talent is clear, the depth of his junkie depravity is clear and by the end of the movie these two factors merge to offer a startlingly honest and compelling portrait of one of the greatest musicians who ever graced a stage. Bird is that rare artistic accomplishment that makes one confront the uncomfortable truths that surround the creative process. Often the angels that give one his inspiration come hand-in-hand with the devils that rob him of his talent.
- Paul Epstein

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fun. Live @ Twist and Shout April 4, 2012 by Molly McGrath

     Last week we were pleased to host an in-store by chart-topping band Fun. But were just as pleased to find out that one of our attendees, 11-year old Molly McGrath, had written a review of the event and was willing to share it with our Spork readers. Twist and Shout is honored to present this review from up-and-coming music reviewer Molly McGrath. Enjoy!


     Before taking on the rest of Colorado, Indie rock band Fun. played  an acoustic set at Twist and Shout Records in Denver. You might be wondering what a platinum earning band is doing playing in a record store (instead of a gargantuan amphitheater)? The answer is being AWESOME! And lead singer, Nate Ruess even admits that the store is awesome, too.

     Nate Ruess and the rest of the band, guitar player Jack Antonoff and keyboardist Andrew Dost, definitely impressed the young, eager crowd of over 300. The band received lots of love from the audience, especially at the end of the set, when there was a 100% participation sing-along of the smash hit song “We are Young”. The music is mostly love songs, and if you love bands like Vampire Weekend and Adele I can guarantee you will love their music. If you don’t, you’ll probably like them anyway.

     The audience swayed back and forth while listening to well written lyrics, and Nate Ruess’ strong voice and wide smile definitely drew in the female fans. The way the band performed was phenomenal. Ruess’ voice seemed to attack the microphone, but in a good way so that he sounded like he really owned the songs he was singing. A piece of their lives was put into every single song. Meaning was found not only in the lyrics but in the expression of the band’s face and every note played.
     In my honest opinion, it was a touching performance and a great demonstration of what the band is all about: having Fun.

     --- Molly McGrath ---

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #54 - Free Design - Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love

There's nothing quite like the vocal harmonies made by brothers and sisters. Something about their growing up together and sharing vocal-cord DNA seems to create an almost telepathic ability to blend perfectly together, and this is why so many of the great harmonizers were families - The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees, The Carpenters to name a few obvious ones. This inexplicable magic is never more delightfully shown than on the albums of family band The Free Design.
The Free Design was made up of four Dedrick siblings - girls Sandy and Ellen and brothers Bruce and Chris. Chris Dedrick was also the main arranger and composer of the group, and one of the unsung greats of sunshine pop.
The Free Design made six wonderful albums on Enoch Light's Project 3 label from 1967 to 1972, all of which, no doubt, would have been perceived as very square in those days. These guys were obviously completely removed from the counter-culture or the Woodstock crowd. Forty years on, however, and they look and sound cooler than ever - in a naive, twee pop, post-Stereolab sort of way. The sound is sweet, charming, childlike and effervescent - something like an arty version of The Carpenters (who also have more hipster cred these days than when they were in their hit making heyday).
All the records the Dedricks made were filled with gorgeous, sparkling tracks, with their fourth Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love being the most sparkling of all. Expect lighter than air, sugar sweet easy-pop, Sesame Street-ready anthems to all manner of things: four of which are mentioned in the album title. But when these guys are singing about flying kites, that's what they are talking about – there’s no irony or drug reference here. However, you do get some serious grooves on this record - fabulous picked bass and funky drums are all over the place. This foundation, behind all the delicious layered harmonies, keyboards and jazzy brass is a recipe for sonic heaven.

The best tracks on this album (as on all the 'Design albums) are the Dedrick originals - dynamic, soft-psych songs with adventurous arrangements that would be completely impossible to recreate today. The opener “Bubbles” is a wild wah-wah clavinet-led ode to simple pleasures in 7/8 time, with scintillating intertwining vocals and a killer fuzz guitar solo. Pop music never got more carefree than this. “Kije's Ouija” is an off-the-wall gem about the joys and perils of the occult, set to a tune by Prokofieff. “Starlight” is a divine creation with stacked harmonies and the funkiest waltz beat you'll ever hear. Best of all is the singular “I'm a Yogi” - a blissed-out trip with crazy phased vocals, echoey trumpet and electric sitar. It's actually more psychedelic than most of the bands who played at Monterey Pop, and an essential track for fans of Rotary Connection or David Axelrod. The relatively aggressive “That's all People,” the final track on the original LP, is a brilliant, and deceptively dissonant use of the family's vocals.
In between the originals are covers of standards and a brace of recent classics by Burt Bacharach and Laura Nyro, which are some of the more ambitious tracks on the LP. "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," for example is a master class in vocal and brass arranging, which is seemingly inexplicable to modern untrained indie-pop musicians. The bonus track, a racial harmony hymn called "To A Black Boy" is as good as anything on the LP, and the most out-jazz track on the CD. Overall, this is probably the most satisfying Free Design album, but I'd recommend any and all of them.
This ain't rock 'n' roll, this is gentle genius.

--- Ben Sumner

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Golden Calves

I organize my record collection chronologically so I can keep in tune with the space-time continuum of music. It’s like they’re all part of an epic, ongoing improvisation. Some years --1972 and 1970, for example -- are like long crescendos, with dozens of brilliant and very different albums, and others are more like brief bridges – 1962, 1979. The 90s are the biggest gap in my stack. This is less a reflection of the quality of music from that decade than a document of my musical life. Or, more accurately, its near-death. That’s when I divested myself of all my LPs, and most musicians stopped releasing them. That’s when, not long after I got my first dial-up Internet account, I unloaded all my CDs and cassettes, and embarked on ten long years of digitally-squashed songs crammed into a piece of plastic the size of a cigarette pack, and squeaking out of a puny pair of ear buds.
            Now that I’m back into vinyl with a vengeance, it’s nice to run across end-of-the-Millennium artifacts from artists who never gave up on the medium. It’s like being able to relive a life I missed. Such is the case with the first release of the year from the Woodsist label, Golden Calves’ Money Band + Century Band. It’s a double-record reissue of an early project by James Jackson Toth, a DIY-scene pioneer and hero who’s released an untold number of albums and singles under a bunch of different names, Wooden Wand and Vanishing Voice being the best known, relatively speaking. Toth put these recordings out on vinyl in 1996, a year when I seriously believed LPs were no longer being made. Not only that, he paid for it by cashing in his meal plan at college, thereby precluding himself from being able to “eat a proper lunch for an entire semester,” according to the reissue’s liner notes, which Toth wrote. “I was eighteen years old,” Toth writes. “I was taking drugs.”
Listening to the record 16 years later, I’m stunned by the bravery and the dedication, and I’m grateful to him for keeping grooves in the music, and vice versa. This is music that has to be heard on vinyl. Its bones and structure are built with a single acoustic guitar, a sound that thrives in the warmth of wax, and this sound brings a fleshy folky-ness to Toth’s compositions, though they seem to owe more to improvisational jazz and Africa and rhythms and trance and spooky film soundtracks and noise than Joan Baez or Tim Hardin. He fleshes out these odd-shaped and strummed melodies with layers of weird sounds, electric guitars drenched in static, sustained notes from a cheap Casio synth, screechy saxophone, atonal piano, even the hushed rhythm of an adding machine. And his voice, soft and shaky, cracks a bit here and there betraying his youth and unprofessionalness, in the best sense of the word, in a punk-meets-folk sense, as he sings surreal lyrics such as “electric stacks of glass” and “my bacteria forms” over and over again, like some sort of AIDS-era mantra. In other words, it’s trippy as hell, but gentle and chill. I keep coming back to it, and with each listen it reveals more and more, despite its simplicity and primitiveness.
Toth is at once egotistical and self-deprecating in his account of the music on these rereleases. “These are not perfect records,” he writes. “Perhaps worse than so-called ‘naïve art’ is ‘only-marginally-informed art’ … I should have let my talents marinate for a while before rushing out records … But fuck it, man. I was hopelessly arrogant then and remain so today. Why else would I greenlight this fucking thing?” Thank god he did. The original releases were few in number and are almost impossible to find anymore. But with this, Woodsist has offered up an important document, a missing link in the unstoppable life beat of music. Real music that you can hold in your hands and that sounds right in your ears. Toth is one who wouldn’t let it go away.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #36 - Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers (1988, dir. David Cronenberg)

Dead Ringers is the linchpin film in director David Cronenberg’s career, and it’s definitely a film firmly in the “not for everyone” category. It’s a film about identical twin gynecologists who spiral downward into drug addiction, an idea so disturbing and odd that of course it had to come from the fertile mind that had previously created the completely off-the-wall (and brilliant) horror/sci-fi film Videodrome. But of course it is in fact so strange an idea that the film is actually based in reality, modeled on a book written about a pair of twin gynecologists found dead in their Manhattan apartment, apparently from drug withdrawal symptoms. Right there you ought to know if this is a film for you or not. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself….

Canadian writer/director David Cronenberg spent the 1970’s and early 80’s earning his nickname of “The Baron of Blood,” working largely as a genre filmmaker in the horror and science fiction realms, though there was always something different about his films. Slow moving and strange by horror standards, creepily organic, and using special effects to complement his story and characters, not as the centerpiece, Cronenberg’s films were decidedly out of step with the era that saw the rise of the slasher film. After three films exploring unsettling body horror all marked by startling and gory violence and a bleak outlook (though always leavened by Cronenberg’s dark, deadpan sense of humor) he took a turn, creating first an auto-racing film and then Scanners, a film about battles within subdivisions of a group of telepaths most notorious for a graphically realistic image of an exploding head in its first scene. But that gives the wrong idea of the film, which spends most of its time moving around with its characters, having them talk and explore their powers and their relationships to each other, rather than the more dazzling and entertaining violence of a similar film like Brian DePalma’s The Fury. Then came Videodrome, a film equal parts early Cronenberg and Marshall McLuhan, positing ideas about a society filled with intellectual malaise and whose moral girding is being rotted by television, featuring such hallucinatory imagery as televisions that breathe, pulse and spill out viscera, a gun taking root in James Woods’ arm, and a hideous, vein-covered video cassette being inserted into a victim’s stomach. The film’s craft and uniqueness won it a new group of admirers outside of Cronenberg’s early cult and opened up new possibilities for him. It was also called by Roger Ebert “one of the least entertaining films ever made.” Oh well, I guess there’s no pleasing everybody. He quickly moved to bigger budget projects – a grim, sad adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, featuring a stellar performance from Christopher Walken, and an update of the 1950’s classic The Fly, which again used graphic body horror grounded in strong performances by leads Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. It also brought Cronenberg to the attention of the Academy Awards, albeit winning for a makeup award rather than its performances, where Goldblum’s manic-depressive scientist/fly went unnoticed in favor of William Hurt (who would 20 years later be nominated for a supporting role under Cronenberg for A History of Violence).
Cronenberg initially wanted Hurt for the lead role(s) as the twins in Dead Ringers, but Hurt was unavailable, and so he turned to Jeremy Irons, whose performance as the Mantle twins is so pitch-perfect that I can’t imagine Hurt having done work this good. The special effects are seamless – after a while you’ll simply give up trying to note how the computer-tracked camera shots have split Beverly and Elliot Mantle and you simply accept Irons as twins, not as one actor. It’s said that Irons’ Academy Award win for Reversal of Fortune the next year was really an award for this role since it wouldn’t have been quite acceptable for the Academy to offer him a statue for the unsettling melancholy on display here.
I’d talk more about plot here, except that I think having already said that it is “a film about identical twin gynecologists who spiral downward into drug addiction” tells you pretty much all you need to know. There is, of course another element at play here, in the form of Genvieve Bujold, as an actress who finds her way into the twins’ lives, falling in love with Beverly and not Elliot and inadvertently driving a wedge between them that separates them in a way they’ve never experienced before. And as the twins descend into madness and addiction, the film’s clinical cleanliness slowly deteriorates as well, with the cool, dimly lit interiors slowly becoming more disordered, lit with noir-like lines of light cutting through the dark. It’s a virtuoso performance by everyone involved, not just Irons, and special props need to be paid to Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky – who began collaborating with Cronenberg here and has worked on every film since then with him – but also to the set designers and costumers who have helped put this darkly disturbing vision on film.
Since Dead Ringers, which netted Cronenberg a slew of nominations from various artistic circles and made it impossible for “real” film critics to dismiss his visions as merely the work of a talented horror hack, his films have gone on to receive three Palme D’or nominations from the Cannes film festival; he’s received the prestigious Cannes Golden Coach award given from directors (and directors only) to fellow
directors to honor their consistent vision; he’s directed Viggo Mortenson to two Golden Globe nominations and both Mortenson and William Hurt to one from the Academy (and they should also have taken notice of Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant portrayal of the title character in Spider); he’s successfully adapted three supposedly unfilmable novels (Naked Lunch, Spider, and Crash – not the 2004 Oscar-winner, but the bizarre 1996 drama); his latest film, the excellent A Dangerous Method, explores the relationships and rifts between Sigmund Freud (Mortenson), his protégée Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and the brilliant patient (and later analyst) Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley); and his next project is another “unadaptable” interior journey of a book, Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Not too bad for the former Baron of Blood. But Dead Ringers is where the early promise gave way to the later fulfillment of his filmmaking genius; where his bodies in revolt gave way to his minds in revolt; where his exploration of the carnal and the cerebral was formalized and moved forward. It’s an ingenious piece of work, but definitely not for everybody. But if it’s your kind of thing, he’s rarely, if ever, been better.

- Patrick Brown