Monday, November 25, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #78 - Buffalo ’66 (1998, dir. Vincent Gallo)

“Just look like we are a married couple, *spanning time*!”

Vincent Gallo’s debut feature length film is a beautiful yet twisted love story. Simple and to the point, this film pulls no punches. The viewer is provided with a bird’s eye view of a blue-collar man dealing with life after being released from prison. Through the course of one day we follow an anxious, easily detestable, nervous wreck as he evolves and his true colors shine. Gallo’s film is deceptively simple and one of the most poignant love stories of modern independent cinema.
From the moment the film opens on Billy Brown, played by Gallo himself, exiting prison, a stark ambiance is set. The film is draped in greys and a haze permeates the scenery. The compositions and scenes are well thought out and remarkably executed by cinematographer Lance Accord. We’re immediately thrown into the meat of the story when jolted by an onslaught of jarring flashbacks from prison. Billy has a need to urinate, being turned away by a variety of different restrooms he ends up in a dance studio where the camera pans through the tap students, landing on Layla (Christina Ricci). From this point the chain of absurd events begins: Billy kidnaps Layla, forces her to drive him around, pretend to be his wife, and Billy starts his hunt for Scott Woods, the field goal kicker that ruined his life.
It is almost impossible to do the story line justice in such a short piece; the film follows the basic structure of a classic love story where the guy meets girl through random happenstance and while they don’t immediately fall together they develop feelings for each other. But there is another side to the story. Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl” – we’ve established the girl part of this equation, but we do also have the gun. Through a flashback we learn that Billy’s stint in prison was payment to a bookie for a bet he lost when the Buffalo Bills kicker (Scott Woods) missed a field goal. Billy believes that Woods missed the kick on purpose and has decided that he must kill Woods for ruining his life and then kill himself in order to not go back to prison. While Billy reluctantly falls for the quirky Layla there still burns a fiery desire for revenge. This all culminates in the most colorful, shocking and beautiful action sequence and a somewhat unexpected ending to this tale.
But, with all of that said the question still remains, what makes Buffalo ’66 such an amazing film? The brilliance of this film lies in the passion, the subtleties, and the idiosyncratic humor that embody the film and its players. Billy is not a loveable character; he’s brash, hot tempered, awkward and anxious, but as the film plays we grow to understand what made him who he is and his walls start to dismantle, exposing him as a vulnerable person. Billy’s transformation is brought on by the quixotic, beautiful and captivating Layla.  The key to this film is the two well-written main characters and brilliant performances of the actors who play them. Gallo plays Billy with an extreme passion, yet is amazing at subtly letting vulnerability shine through. This is coupled with Ricci’s ability to convey so much through facial expression and mannerisms having while very few short lines.
In addition to the performances of Gallo and Ricci (as well as the supporting cast including Ben Gazzara, Anjelica Huston, and Mickey Rourke to name a few), the delicate black humor and scattered forays into strange surreal sequences make this film truly something special. So why would I like to turn you on to this film? Because it is one of the most tantalizing, hilarious and touching stories that will capture your complete attention. It is a story surrounding characters that we are inclined to dislike and yet can’t help but love. So give this film a chance and “span” some time with Billy and Layla.
- Edward Hill

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #93 - Stan Getz – Captain Marvel

Stan Getz – best known as America’s tenor sax master of the Bossa Nova – here creates a different kind of Latin fusion that’s light on the fusion and heavy on the beauty. But those who come to him familiar only with the Getz/Gilberto albums might be in for a bit of a shock in hearing the less laid back approach he uses here. It’s something he’d done before in his pre-Bossa, “cool jazz” work for the Savoy and Verve labels that flirted with bebop, but is nowhere to be found on the creamy tones employed when he’s creating a Brazilian/jazz hybrid alongside his partners João Gilberto or Charlie Byrd. But even while he’s taking a more overt rhythmic approach there is no loss of the lovely lines he develops – that’s simply pure Getz, him doing what he’s best at.
Aiding and abetting him here are three Miles Davis alumni – miraculous drummer Tony Williams, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, and keyboardist Chick Corea, whose Fender Rhodes electric piano and whose compositions (spiced with what Corea called “My Spanish Heart” on one of his own albums) set the real flavor of the album – and rounding out the group is bassist Stanley Clarke, only 20 at the time of the recording. With these former Miles sidemen, it would be understandable to fear some of the notoriously brilliant fusion experiments that the great trumpeter was creating at the time, but Getz and Corea here have something less forbidding in mind, with uptempo Latin grooves dominating the album and the only audible touch of what would become known as “fusion” in Corea’s deferential Rhodes keyboards – even Stanley Clarke, soon to become one of the masters of the electric bass, is here all acoustic. But a fusion it is regardless – fusing a post-bop structure with Corea’s affinity for Latin rhythms, augmented by Tony Williams’ impeccable drumming and Airto’s sometimes complementary, sometimes otherworldly percussion accents.
And what about Getz himself? As noted, even with a more urgent rhythmic delivery spurred by his band here, he still keeps melody at the forefront and delivers the long, lyrical lines that are his hallmark throughout. And when he’s given a pair of ballads in the second half – Corea’s “Times Lie” (which kicks off as a ballad and then starts chugging once Getz lays out before returning to its mellower beginnings) and Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Lush Life” – those who know Getz from his Bossa Nova stylings will find a very familiar vibe to this record. And as a bonus, the CD includes a track recorded at the sessions that didn’t make the original album – Corea’s duet with Getz on the absolutely gorgeous “Crystal Silence” which includes a few mild interjections from Airto, but mostly finds the two players talking back and forth at the height of their powers. There are those who prefer Getz’s earlier, similarly styled collaboration with Corea, Sweet Rain, but for me the presence of Tony Williams here trumps it, makes this a more exciting collaboration overall, and Corea’s “La Fiesta” that opens this album is a show-stopper that the fine earlier album can’t touch. But they’re both pretty great – check ‘em both out.
- Patrick Brown

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #77 - Persuasion (1995, dir. Roger Michell)

The best thing about the 1995 version of Persuasion is the ending, the last two shots. Together they last barely a second, but they form a perfect and stunningly beautiful climax to a classic Jane Austen story, a romance full of subtle and delicious tension.
            It’s the story of Anne Elliot, a woman in her late twenties, from a wealthy family, unmarried, sad and bored. Eight years earlier, she had accepted the proposal of a dashing and smart young sailor named Frederick Wentworth, but he was poor and without good family connections, and her snobbish father and sister convinced her to change her mind. The movie begins at a point just before Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars, a captain now, fabulously wealthy, and just as handsome as ever. It’s clear that he’s looking for a bride, the courtly way he dotes on all the women. It’s clear, too, that Anne is out of the running, the way he won’t even look at her. On a group outing he helps a younger lady across a rugged stretch of rocks but doesn’t stay to help Anne who’s following close behind. But then, late in the film, in a tense and possibly tragic moment, he’s there behind her as she climbs into carriage, and he helps her up, gently holds her at the curve above her waist, and though he still won’t look her in the eye, we know.
            What makes this romance a classic is the sea. We see it from the film’s beginning, when Anne’s father speaks loathingly of navy men, to the pivotal moment when everyone gathers for a feast in candlelight, Wentworth the guest of honor, and he declares that he’ll never have a woman on his ship because it’s impossible to make a ship suitable for one. All the women at the table gasp and laugh, but his sister, who is married to a retired naval admiral - she’s crossed the Atlantic four times, she’s been to the West Indies - she says, “None of us want to be in calm waters all our life.” In that moment we see in Anne’s eyes a great longing, not overstated, and we see it again later on when her family accompanies Wentworth to the coast for a holiday. They all stroll together along the shore and there’s Anne looking out across the waves at the ships. Amanda Root plays Anne brilliantly, reserved and restrained yet plainly full of passion and desire. She carries so much of the story with her eyes.
            Persuasion was the last novel Austen completed, and the story is one of her most nuanced and sophisticated, and this film version (there are three that I’m aware of) best captures the subtle friction between its characters, and its theme, delivered by the symbol of the sea, of seizing life and going as far with it as possible.
               - Joe Miller

Monday, November 4, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #92 - The Feelies - The Good Earth

In 1986 when The Good Earth came out, the smoldering wreckage of disco, new wave and punk lay on the sonic shoreline like so much tsunami debris, waiting for any band to make a move. Grunge was starting to gain traction on the west coast, and back east there were a few bands starting to shake off the historical dust of the last decade and seeking a new (or old) sound that made sense for the approaching 90’s. In Haledon, New Jersey The Feelies had been quietly playing their brand of layered, guitar-based psychedelic folk for almost a decade. They had made one previous album, Crazy Rhythms, which was a favorite of critics and other bands, but had won them few fans out of Jersey and even fewer sales. The truth is, there is no happy ending to this story. They never got the recognition or the sales they deserved, never had a hit, never got rich, but over the last 40 or so years they have sporadically released five albums, toured occasionally and remained one of the real high spots of the end of the last century in my opinion.

The basic Feelies approach is a folky song structure with dreamy, yearning lyrics that almost invariably becomes a trance-inducing raga as drummers Stan Demeski and Dave Weckerman set up a precision tribal assault while guitarists Glen Mercer and Bill Million lay on piles of Byrdsian, Velvetish, Neilworthy textures and leads, weaving in and out of each other’s lines like a basket of snakes. The Good Earth is ultimately a guitar album. Although there are virtually no extended guitar solos, the Feelies sound is defined by the walls of strummed acoustic guitars against mountains of electric chords, all the while mercury leads slide along the bottom, buzzing and giving melodic depth to each song. One never feels like they are listening to a wank-fest - nobody ever takes center stage with The Feelies; they define the ensemble concept in rock. It made perfect sense that the first time I saw them they were opening for Lou Reed. Lou had certainly developed a signature voice and sound, but his groundbreaking work with The Velvet Underground also explored the concept of a small group of players creating a droning cosmic wail by playing simple, parts that, together, work like a musical jigsaw puzzle. Listen to “The High Road” to get the idea. An unfailing rhythm sets up a memorable melody with the perfect use of drums and tambourine to drive the song, counterpointed by a simple but haunting bass line, while the guitars roil and shine to meet the lyric: “Gonna rise and carry us home tonight.” It is sublime, and it is the kind of song every band wishes they could write. The Feelies toss them off like rolling off a log.

There is something remarkably comforting to me about The Good Earth. When I have just about had enough of this or that kind of autotuned, fake-beat, sampled, bullshit noise, and I want to hear some “beautiful hippie music” I reach for this album as a balm. The Feelies wrote great songs, and played them in a way that I can relate to. There are absolutely no gimmicks, or nods toward current fashion. It’s pretty simple, don’t assault the listener, give them something of lasting value.
- Paul Epstein