What was the origin of rock and roll? Scholars (and by scholars I mean stoner music majors) have debated it for centuries, at least as far back as 1750, when Methaius Palmer observed: “The back beat in the Negro jump music causes one’s body to rock, but the rhythm in the Negro spiritual causes one’s body to roll. This, say I, is the origin of the ‘rock and roll’ and not, as some have claimed, the Polack’s polka.” Indeed. But what exactly was the origin of rock and roll? Continue reading The origin of rock and roll→
Barack Obama gets an A- for his first 100 days as president on pretty much every issue. His cabinet appointments have been clumsy, and his handling of the stimulus package unnecessarily watered down good economics with bad to satisfy Republicans who then voted against it anyway. But for the most part, he has done an excellent job of rehabilitating the United States on the world stage and handling the break down of the economy. The test he has failed was on the subject of torture. Continue reading F→
It takes guts to find a song you like and change it to make it your own. And it takes brains and a real feel for music to find a song you don’t like and realize it has potential if it were done differently. “Mack the Knife” is one of the great songs recycled from lesser songs. These aren’t covers, tho—they’re rearrangements and extreme rearrangements at that. A cover just remakes the song with the same arrangement and different vocalist and/or instrumentation. A rearrangement fundamentally changes the song’s rhythm, tempo, chord structure, and/or lyrics. Continue reading “Mack the Knife” and 5 other famous songs completely different from the originals→
My 5-year-old niece and I lend a helping hand to the Beatles in their second film, the full-color presentation of Help! Ringo becomes the target of an Indian (dots, not feathers) cult of Kali (or Kah-ili, as they say), probably still smarting from the drubbing they took from Indiana Jones thirty years before. I identify some of the cars (and tanks), and explain some of the background surrounding filming, such as how the Beatles were so stoned they didn’t know what the movie was about, how much a curling stone weighs, and how dumb it is to shoot outdoors in England in March. Keely explains some of the plot, sings along a little, and identifies which Beatles are cute. A good time was had by all.
Listened to this again and noticed two small errors: I say Ringo and John are both about 25 and then mistakenly say that Ringo is “a few years older” instead of “a few months older.” Also, I say the “Webley automatic” line is incorrect, but the name of the gun actually is “Webley Automatic Revolver,” where Automatic refers to the fact that it cocks itself (in a crude, revolver version of the action perfected later in the Browning HP and Colt M1911). You learn something new every day.
Start the film with the opening in the Indian temple at the same time as you start the commentary. (43 MB)
The Coen Brothers succeed in creating an almost magical pastiche of 1930s crime and ancient Greek epic and even make it funny, with George Clooney as the fast-talking leader of a gang of escaped convicts crossing Depression-era Mississippi to get home and ending up in a number of tight spots. I manage to avoid singing along by jabbering incessantly. I compare the story to the Homeric epic on which it is (very loosely) based as well as to Preston Sturgess’s Sullivan’s Travels, where it gets its name. And I explain various 1930s customs, manners, cars, and secret organizations whose name I need not mention.
This is the region 1 DVD release. Start the film with the studio logo at the same time you start the commentary. (49 MB)
Just in time for Halloween! A campy lawyer becomes a bug-eating lunatic in thrall to the king of all vampires: Count Dracula, as personified by Bela Lugosi. I compare the film to the Bram Stoker novel, to the stage play, and to other Dracula movies. I point out how the film set the standard for vampires from the incredible opening featuring the brides of Dracula (and the possums of Dracula) to the thrilling discussion-on-a-divan scenes to the pulse-racing discussion-on-a-staircase scenes to the chilling look-over-there-while-I-stab-Dracula ending. I mix up Joan Standing (the English nurse) and Moon Carroll (the American maid). Maybe there are no fangs and no blood (or score); maybe the actors all stand motionless to deliver their lines, maybe everything interesting happens off-screen, but this is the granddaddy of ’em all and well worth a look.
Sean Astin leads his hearty band of adventurers—plus his older brother.. and a couple of girls—thru the caverns underneath the rocky coast near his home town in a search for the legendary lost treasure of One-Eyed Willy! I examine the three-part story structure, the emotional arc of each character, and Willy’s weird music/skeleton obsession. I admire Mikey’s leadership, Troy’s Mustang GT, and Andy’s panties.
I contemplate the nature of the “Goondocks.” I point out the age of the various kids (surprise! Josh is younger than Kerry!). I examine the structure of the two-parent Walsh family and single-parent TV families. I wonder about the distance from the lighthouse to the country club. And I wonder about how Data apparently walked in from a Warner Brothers cartoon and how a Chinese character with a Japanese love for technology could be played by a Vietnamese actor.
I misstate that Martin Sheen played John F Kennedy in an episode of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories when it was actually the TV movie Kennedy. I was actually mixing it up with an episode of The Twilight Zone called “Profile in Silver”.
Start the film with the studio title at the same time you start the commentary. (52 MB)
Ridley Scott starts the Alien franchise rolling with Alien, the story of a humble xenomorph born into a hostile world full of potential hosts that he must struggle to maim and prepare for embryo impregnation. But there is a spunky gal in a space panties that has it out for him!
Join me as I dissect this alien. I discuss the structure and pulp origins of the film, the similarities between Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, and the mysterious connections between Gunsmoke and American science fiction. I compare the film to WW2 submarine movies, Star Wars, Mission Impossible (for which I drop a spoiler), and teenage slasher films. I suggest that Veronica Cartwright’s career might have been derailed by snot. I complain about Star Trek: First Contact. I say that Dallas portrays alien characteristics when I mean hero characteristics. I say that we’re “still in the third act” when I mean the second act.
Start the film before the 20th Century Fox title at the same time you start the commentary. (54 MB)
Bond is back again in probably the most popular—and certainly most influential—James Bond film. He’s asked to check out Auric Goldfinger in this one, and uncovers a dastardly plot to steal—wait for it—gold! I discuss the gold-painted girl, the Aston Martin DB5, the idea of substituting golf for baccarat, the plausibility of putting a Lincoln Continental in a Ranchero, the plausibility of machismo overcoming lesbianism, the US Army’s sense of humor, and, of course, Pussy Galore.
Start the film before the Universal title at the same time you start the commentary.
Harrison Ford breathes life into another icon when he picks up the whip and fedora offered by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan. I talk about the film’s origins and episodic nature, call it “nearly perfect,” and point out its various imperfections. I ponder the nature of the triple villain and the character arc that Indy travels. I compare it to romantic comedies and serials of the 1930s and ’40s, and to the other Indiana Jones films. I say 1935 a couple of times when I mean 1936. I say Martin Scorsese directed Tucker when I mean Francis Ford Coppola. And I squeeze in a reference to Yakima Canutt.
I watched the US release on DVD from the boxed set. The commentary should work with any other version unless Lucas does something stupid with the Blu-Ray release (like replacing Marion’s final ‘drink’ dialog with: “By the way, Indy, what do you think of the name ‘Mutt’?”).
Start the commentary just before the Paramount logo fades in.