Watched Downstairs last night, from 1932, in which John Gilbert is incredibly convincing as a vile, thieving, conniving lowlife of a chauffeur with no redeeming virtues whatsoever. Weird choice of role for a leading man with a career on the rocks, weirder still that he’d written the story himself and wanted to do it so badly he sold it to MGM for a dollar. Gilbert is ridiculously good in it, his attention to detail verges on fanatical—the character picks his nose and wipes it on his clothes, ferchrissakes—and his voice is fine. He did not have a squeaky voice, despite the legend. He did have a fight with Louis B Mayer, tho’. Combine that with a thirst for drink worthy of John Barrymore—it killed him four years after this film—and you can see where his career went, and the squeaky voice rumors were just post mortem Hollywood viciousness. John Gilbert should have been one of the top leading men in the thirties and forties, as good as any of them, but he drank himself to death first. You really do have to wonder about the mindset of a movie star who goes to such incredible lengths to play an absolutely loathsome character. Oh, and this being the pre-code era, the chauffeur doesn’t even get his comeuppance. He wins.
Sorry there’s no more of the great gobs of prose I used to spill out all over these blogs. People have been asking. Alas, epilepsy was really fucking with the long essays, and I finally had to stop. Had to stop working too. Had to stop just about everything. It’s been a couple years now and the synapses have calmed down nicely. They seem to like being bored. Me not so much at first but I’ve adapted. So I write tiny little essays now, scarcely ever longer than a paragraph. Hence all this tinyness where vastness used to be. Little gems, I tell myself. The actual gemage might be debatable, but they’re my blogs. You can think everything you do is art if no one is editing you.
Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to complain.
Watching Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and The Pit) once again. I watched it last night too and while googling up some info on the flick I was saddened to see that Barbara Shelley passed on a month ago. She was just a few weeks shy of her 89th birthday. Though she is best known for her roles in string of Hammer’s quintessential horror films, I love her most as an unflappable scientist in this Hammer science fiction classic, one of my favorite films ever, and probably my very favorite science fiction film. (The original BBC four episode story, with a different cast, is also excellent.) Who knows how many times I’ve seen this movie since it first blew my mind when I was a teen, and it has only gotten better with age. Barbara Shelley was never better—subtle, smart, unflinching and beautiful—than she is here. Rest In Peace.
The Food of the Gods is the ne plus ultra of of giant chicken movies. Nuff said. Look lady, Marjoe Gortner says, I’ve already seen your chickens. Ida Lupino stares him down with a shotgun. He had seem them too, the rooster attacked him and he killed it with a pitchfork, blood and feathers everywhere. Admittedly it’s not the giant carnivorous chicken extravaganza that Night of the Lepus was a giant carnivorous rabbit extravaganza, but with a giant chicken oeuvre—I’ve waited my whole life to say giant chicken oeuvre—limited to Food of the Gods and Sleeper, I’ll take it, over easy.
OK, maybe I forgot other giant chicken movies. There could be hundreds of them. There could be entire giant chicken film festivals. There could be. I could Google “giant chicken movies” to find out, but the algorithmic possibilities terrify me.
I never thought of The Lion In Winter as a Christmas movie, but it is. Well, it’s certainly set at Christmas time. Henry II inviting estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine over to his vast Norman castle for gift exchange and feasting and fucking in High Medieval style. He even lets her out of jail for the holidays though sends her back come the New Year. There’s murder and mayhem and some gloriously wrought English (which almost none of them could speak, actually) and an enormous meal with apalling table manners. Still, it’s hardly a film that brings to mind tree trimming or Silver Bells or waiting for Santa to bring the presents from Amazon. But there it is on TCM, between Christmas in Connecticut and Holiday Affair. Perhaps there is Christmas in it. Katherine Hepburn’s Eleanor saying “he came down from the north with a mind like Aristotle and a form like mortal sin; we shattered the Commandments on the spot” could be an earthier I Saw Mommy saw kissing Santa Claus when you think about it, if you’re sleazy enough, and Peter O’Toole’s Henry bellowing “I hope we never die!” in the final scene could stand for the immortality of Santa Claus, who doesn’t, though Santa is more likely to bellow a “Merry Christmas to all”, which is what I’ll say too, in this tawdry plague year.
Danny Thomas’s first spit take. It’s there at the end of the bit. Though he didn’t invent the art form, Danny Thomas—Marlo’s dad—was the Jimi Hendrix of spit takes, and even if we kids didn’t get the jokes we loved his spit takes, because he was Danny Thomas, who was still on TV weekly and on every day in syndication, for when we were home with chicken pox or on snow days or it looked like maybe WW3, duck and cover. We’d watch Danny Thomas at his kitchen table with his cup of coffee and the kid would suddenly say something funny and Danny Thomas would wait a quarter beat and then do these perfect firehosed explosions. It was awesome. We kids used to practice spitting mouthfuls of hose water in our backyards and finally, when we had the finer points mastered, we’d try it at the table once, because Danny Thomas did. If we did it well then mom and dad would laugh because Danny Thomas and tell us if we ever did that again they would break our necks, sounding just like Danny Thomas. I haven’t done a spit take since I splurted a beautifully timed spray of tea all over the kitchen table. Think I was in third grade, up in Maine, well over a half century ago. I’d have to learn the fine points all over again, watching YouTube clips of ancient, faded and flickering Make Room For Daddy’s. You’re never too old, I tell myself. It’ll be a surprise.
Found this in my drafts, completely forgotten. I only found it again when one of these bits–Walking About–wound up on a tee shirt in Australia. Seems I had once spent a late evening on YouTube digging up old tunes from my past life and writing about them. They’re not for the jazzbos, most of ’em, they’re a little harsh….
Venom P. Stinger – Flourish Wish
“At times life seemed so narrow down/simply consisting of a wish to die and a relentless feeling of non-being/laying on the bed unable to sleep….” One of the great tunes of those times, and almost completely forgotten, if it was ever really known in the first place. The extended jam towards the end, harsh and beautiful both, still sends me, and in it you can hear the seeds of the Dirty Three. Extraordinary Australian band, Venom P Stinger, and I was thrilled to be able to see them more than once on their US tour so long ago now….
Venom P. Stinger – Walking About
There was quite a stretch there, back in the 80’s, where I listened to this song every day. Put it on when I got up in the morning, loud, and had it going through my head all day long at work. Then I’d play it again when I got home, even louder. Al told me what it was about, how back in Melbourne a guy stole his keys and he was stuck at home all weekend till the locksmith got there, trapped indoors, while out there someone walked about with the keys to everything Al held dear. His car, his stuff, his gear, his sanity. It seethed in him, drove him mad and boiled out into this song, and eventually onto this little seven inch, perhaps the greatest punk rock record nobody ever heard of. I love the crowd at the Aussie party, too, they look just like the freaks we hung over here on our side of the Pacific Ocean. Freaks is freaks, I guess, and Venom P Stinger attracted them. What a great band. They crashed on our floor here in L.A. I don’t know how many times.
God – My Pal
If I had to pick one and only one song Australian song, this would be it. So simple, so urgent–almost frantic even–and so disturbing. The chorus hangs with you. Not an ideal tune to end the night on. You’re my only friend, and you don’t even like me…..
Steaming Coils – Carne del sol
There’s a planet somewhere, and it’s my planet, and on that planet this is one of the biggest hits ever, and you would have heard this song so many times by now you’d be sick to death of it, that’s how popular a tune it is on my planet. Here, on this planet, only a few have ever heard it, but they know what I’m talking about. Dig the drums, too.
In jazz they call it telling a story, that is when a soloist seems to turn his instrumental break into a narrative. Clifford Brown could really tell a story. So could Louis Armstrong. Even on What a Wonderful World he’s telling a story. You don’t really hear that kind of story telling much in rock’n’roll, certainly not on a guitar solo. So what happens here? Steve Diggle–I assume it’s Diggle–weaves us a remarkable little tale, completely with mood changes. Amazing. One of my favorite guitar passages of all time. I wore out my original copy–picked up in ’78, I think–but I still get a thrill following the story told on that guitar. Brilliant band. Saw them twice in ’79. Long time ago…..
Tower of Power – You’re Still a Young Man
Rick Stevens–finally out of prison again, thankfully, and in full voice–had the most amazing ability to slip from speech into song and back again, that if you stop to think about it, it is almost surreal. I mean listen to him here, talking, singing, talking, singing, back and forth, with exquisite timing and pacing and dropping in notes and words like Monk dropped big fat chords into the empty spaces in a melody, just perfect. Language is music and music language, in our heads they blend, and it’s a shame we insist on thinking them entirely different things.
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Coming Down
We’ve all been here. Of course, some people are here a lot more than usual. Me, I usually have coffee for breakfast, even on a Sunday. But then I don’t write anything as good as this. Kris used to dash them off like it was nothing. Too bad he found Jesus. He was a much better writer hungover.
Then I turned off the computer and went to bed, apparently.
Staying in tonight, we’re going to see Chuck Manning at the York tomorrow. Been listening to ancient radio comedies all week. Amazing how weird and conceptual and hysterically funny this stuff was, TV comedy has rarely come close, and never gotten beyond it. The mind’s eye can visualize so much more than our meager real eyes, so radio was a canvas limited only by the reaches of the imagination. This Fred Allen stuff is particularly nuts. It was hugely popular in its day, millions listened regularly. Probably more people listened to this than watch any television show today, and that in a country with a population a third of today’s. Listening now, it’s hard to believe this is from the thirties—1933, ‘34, ‘35. Radio was scarcely a decade old. I’m sitting here in a living room where nearly ninety years ago the original occupants once sat in front of a large radio listening to this very program, laughing and laughing.
Some blistering guitar work in this linked video by Mike Bloomfield with the Electric Flag at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Flag, alas, were one of the acts that didn’t make it into the movie, which is a shame as Bloomfield was at the top of his game. But then the Electric Flag not making director Pennebaker’s final cut was really just another in the long line of missteps and misfortunes, mostly self-inflicted, that has left Mike Bloomfield perhaps the most forgotten guitar hero of them all. Indeed so forgotten that it’s startling to hear him speak in this clip from the Newport Folk Festival (about 3:20 in, just past Son House) because unlike his now legendary sixties guitar hero brethren, almost none of us has ever heard him speak. So dig his rap, the rushes of words, fragments of sentences, full of beatnik speak and musician jive and sounding incredibly like Jimi Hendrix, actually, whose voice we all have memorized. It must have been the way serious young players talked in the joints and road houses and cafes on the circuit in the early-mid sixties, where both Mike Bloomfield and Jimi learned their trade. And though some of you, perhaps even most of you, might not recognize Mike Bloomfield by name, you definitely know his sound–that’s him on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, indeed all over Highway 61 Revisited, and that was him raising hell with Dylan at Newport. The second half of the sixties was an amazing period for Mike Bloomfield–Dylan, Paul Butterfield (East-West was one of the rock’n’roll game changers back then), The Electric Flag, Super Session–but he disappeared up his arm in the seventies and ceased to be entirely before the eighties even got started. A long time comin’ is a long time gone.
I don’t know if this Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is the worst thing in history, but it’s up there. If Samuel Adams himself had come up with this travesty the Revolution would never have gotten off the ground and we’d all be speaking English, which we are, so never mind. Think I’ll dump this in the toilet and flush ten or fifteen times.