Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

Movie Night 10/14/11

Yes, it’s Movie Night at the Villa in Ozone Park, and Hostly and I are kicking off with the most natural choice imaginable:  Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison.  The trip here was, fortunately, uneventful and, unfortunately, as long as always; almost three hours from home to Staging Area Two in the Sports Authority parking lot.  After errands and lunch at the Esquire Diner (first visit; reuben–quite satisfactory–and bagel with lox and cream cheese to go), he’s cooking up the Irish soda bread, now with chocolate chips, while George’s story unfolds.

The Beatles began their career shortly before I was born, so I literally grew up with their music, and the songs and events interspersed skillfully by Scorsese really evoke those bygone days.  As is widely known, their music has affected me like no other throughout my life, and although there are songs I love on every single one of their albums, if I had to pick a favorite album overall, it’s gotta be Sergeant Pepper.  I’ve rewritten the lyrics to many a Beatles song in my day, but I took a special satisfaction in rendering the title tune from that one as “General Bradley’s Movie Knights Club Band.”

On a side note (but one I consider a public service), not long after noting on my expanded “About” page that I like the Bronze Age Marvel Comics of the 1970s and early ’80s, I stumbled across Bronze Age Babies.  The site focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on comics, with a nice pop-culture range in the non-comics stuff.  The tag-team bloggers, Doug and Karen, are knowledgeable and eloquent, and seem to inspire lively discussion with their posts, which are quite well illustrated.

All of this stuff pulls me back strongly to that era I’ve written about here before, those pre-cable, pre-VCR days when our lives were ruled by TV Guide, plus the Marvel Comics that occupied us between genre films.  Each of the local channels had its own personality, exemplified by the selection of movies that made up so much of its programming, be it a network affiliate or an independent.  Powerful associations that will last a lifetime were formed between certain films and the stations and/or programs (e.g., The 4:30 Movie, Creature Features) on which we watched them.

As savvy readers know, George was also a film producer who worked with the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and it’s a joy seeing and hearing them in the documentary.  Watching them with my Dad on PBS when I was a kid was another formative experience; much of their dialogue is now everyday conversation in the BOF household.  How six men could be so brilliant both as performers, enacting so many roles within a single film or episode, and as writers, mixing high-, low- and middlebrow humor with a unique slant on the world, is quite beyond me.

Gilbert has joined us, following his flu shot, and boy, is he lucky:  not long after his arrival, the skies opened up in a virtually Biblical fashion for a fierce but short-lived cloudburst.  After finishing the Harrison, we’ve shifted over to Gil’s birthday present for Tom, a compilation of Trailers from  Hell, which we’re watching with the commentaries by Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, Jack Hill, Roger Corman, et alia.  Right now they’re discussing John Frankenheimer‘s Seven Days in May, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

Now we’ve segued into a Japanese anime based (how loosely I do not know) on Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula, written by Marv Wolfman and pencilled by the late “Gentleman Gene” Colan in what I believe was a record-setting ’70s run.  Although I only bought the book twice–when it crossed over with Dr. Strange and guest-starred the Silver Surfer–seeing this version of Colan’s Count again takes me back to those glorious pop-culture days of my youth.  As usual, much talk of Marvel creators ensues, and then we come full circle by shifting over to the recent Green Lantern, followed by the Tim Lucas commentaries for Mario Bava’s Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil.

Morning-after addendum:  After Gilbert headed for home on Saturday, Hostly and I got through a few Simpsons episodes and most of The Creature from the Black Lagoon before I reluctantly had to head home myself.  Boundless thanks to The Host with the Most for another fine gathering of food, films, fellowship, and fun.

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Eighty-fifth birthday wishes to Richard Matheson as we belatedly conclude the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Touch of Evil:  Beginning with a single, unbroken, three-minute crane shot following a car with a bomb in the trunk until it explodes, this is one of Orson Welles’s best films.  Welles directed, adapted Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, and plays the corpulent sheriff of a spectacularly sleazy Mexican border town; a mustachioed Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican-American cop trying to enjoy his honeymoon with Janet Leigh (and who wouldn’t?) when the explosion changes his plans.  Brilliantly shot, written, and acted, it creates a palpable atmosphere of corruption and evil.  With Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), and Mercedes McCambridge (who dubbed the nasty bits for Linda Blair in The Exorcist) in supporting roles of various sizes and a splendid jazz score by Henry (The Pink Panther) Mancini.

2001: A Space Odyssey:  Madame BOF is perhaps not the only one whose patience is put to the test by this film’s rather, shall we say, leisurely paced 140-minute running time.  But she is too quick to dismiss its technical expertise, its profound script by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (at that time an extremely rare cinematic venture by a world-famous SF writer, who expanded considerably upon his short story “The Sentinel” and, at Kubrick’s insistence, took sole authorial credit for the novel they wrote simultaneously), that famous Strauss theme song, and the sheer ballsiness of MGM in making the damn thing, which render it unique and influential.  A huge, featureless black monolith appears at various points in humankind’s development, its purpose initially unknown, and so begins Keir Dullea’s voyage aboard the aptly named Discovery.  “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Unforgiven:  To date, this is my favorite among Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts, and I seem to be in good company, because the Academy awarded it not only Best Picture and Director but also Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Film Editing.  He supposedly acquired the script by Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples (who also copped a nomination, as did Clint for his performance) and stuck it in a drawer for a decade until he thought he was ready to play the part of Bill Munny, who hung up his guns out of respect for his late wife, and only reluctantly picks them up again to support his two children when times get tough.  Joined by old pal Morgan Freeman and young gun Jaimz Woolvet, he goes after a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes for the cowboys who defaced one of their own.  But things don’t go according to plan, and he runs afoul of brutal sheriff Hackman.  Clint dedicated the film to his directorial mentors, BOF faves Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the heart-wrenching score, guaranteed to choke me up, is by his longtime collaborator, Lennie Niehaus.

Up in Smoke:  Although I think one of my brothers started it by bringing home their album Big Bambu, my late father and I shared a perhaps inexplicable fondness for the drug-(dis)oriented humor of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong, who made their film debut in this stoner comedy that made “Low Rider” one of my theme songs in later years.  Their next movie (titled, with breathtaking originality, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie) was followed by the likes of Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’.  Those looking for detailed descriptions of and/or penetrating insights into those later films are, at least for now, doomed to disappointment, because I haven’t seen most of them for years.  They do all tend to blend together, and quite frankly they’re probably all terrible in hindsight, but this one, at least, stands up to repeated viewings, and since my wife and daughter—who would no more toke up than ski down Everest—love it as well, it’s not just me.  In this, they unwittingly smuggle a van made of dope across the Mexican border.

Vertigo:  A Hitchcock masterpiece, probably almost neck and neck with Psycho in my book, featuring a stunning James Stewart performance (as an obsessive character whose make-over of a woman is, for Hitch, stunningly self-revelatory) and an absolutely shattering final scene.  Say what you want about Kim Novak’s acting, I think she does just fine with her dual role, and as always, Bernard Herrmann’s score is superb; the credit sequence alone is a breathtaking mix of image and music.  You’ll catch many nuances after mastering the complex plot, based on a novel by celebrated French crime-writing team Boileau-Narcejac.  “I don’t want to get mixed up in this darn thing!”

Walkabout:  Erstwhile cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Masque of the Red Death) made his solo directorial debut with this unique film.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), stunningly beautiful on the cusp of womanhood, and her younger brother (Roeg’s son Lucien John) are forced to embark upon an odyssey through the Australian Outback that intersects with, and in some ways parallels, the titular coming-of-age ritual of Aborigine David Gulpilil.  The bittersweet (or, per the somewhat less nuanced response of Madame BOF, “sad”) story is perfectly complemented by the film’s ravishing cinematography, also by Roeg, and its heartbreaking score by the late, great John Barry.

Where Eagles Dare:  Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite.  Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general—who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans—from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau!  Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them!  Only Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring (Shatter), Donald Houston (The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains!  Only Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes) could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight!  Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD!  I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released), and even the Mad magazine parody.

The Wild Bunch:  In my opinion, this is director Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement, although Tom is free to prefer Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (admittedly one hell of a film).  William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, and Edmond O’Brien are among the members of this aging gang, running out of banks to rob and pursued by ex-member Robert Ryan, railroad man Albert Dekker, and sleazy bounty-hunters Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.  The sanguinary finale is the apotheosis of Peckinpah’s “poetry of violence.”  Absolutely superb.  Even my Mom liked this, surprisingly.  My favorite quote says it all:  “When you side with a man, you stay with him.  And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal—you’re finished.”

The Year of Living Dangerously:  I don’t think anybody saw this one and didn’t like it.  Reporter Mel Gibson and diplomat Sigourney Weaver mix it up in politically unrestful Indonesia in 1965 to spectacular effect.  This exceptional thriller was directed by Peter Weir, is extremely faithful to the excellent novel by Christopher J. Koch (who also co-scripted with Weir), has a score by Maurice Jarre (although I later learned that my favorite piece was written by Vangelis for another film entirely), and co-stars Linda Hunt in her Oscar-winning performance (as a man, yet).  Note for trivia buffs—Gibson’s character is the namesake of Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton.  Coincidence?

Yellow Submarine:  I think you either love this one, as Alexandra does, or hate it, like Loreen and Gilbert.  Since the Beatles are my favorite group EVER, you do the math, even though the Fab Four did not voice the dialogue for their animated likenesses.  It features a bunch of their best songs (e.g., “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “A Day in the Life”), amidst surrealistic Peter Max-style animation, as they try to save Pepperland from the ravages of the Blue Meanies.  “O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!”

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Dear John

I’d been trying not to think about what day this is, but when I left work and got on the shuttle to head to the station, they had “Imagine” playing on the radio and it all came pouring out, in more ways than one (yes, I was discreet).  Although that song has long affected me, it didn’t help that I vividly remember hearing it in the car the night Dad died and I drove over to be with Mom, after which it has had an even greater significance.  Some people—and I’m not naming any names here—take it a little too literally, and argue that it conjures up a world in which they wouldn’t want to live, but I think they miss the point and the ideals that John Lennon was writing about.

I can’t recall exactly where I was or what I was doing when I heard that John had been murdered, thirty years ago today, yet I sure as hell remember the aftermath because my then-girlfriend Gale and I were both big Beatles fans.  Their music was a huge part of our relationship (as well as, in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, the breakup that followed), and we were both devastated, of course, but she practically went into mourning, and I had a hard time trying to get her through it.  It was midway through my senior year in high school, and it must not have been long before I broke up with her, because I had my first date with Madame BOF on Valentine’s Day of 1981.

The Beatles have been my favorite group ever since my fairly cool parents used to play Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was little; Dad loved “When I’m Sixty-Four,” among others.  While I think that was the only one they actually owned, one or more of my three older brothers had Hey Jude (which I now know is not a “real” Beatles album, but never mind), Let It Be, Abbey Road, and the White Album, so I’ve been surrounded by their music as long as I can remember.  Among the very first audiocassettes I ever owned were the red and blue compilation albums, The Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70, which I literally listened to until they wore out, and when my friend Chris splurged and bought all the albums, I taped the stuff I didn’t already have.

Sure, the Rolling Stones have been at it longer—a lot longer—but even in their comparatively brief time together, the Beatles created what I consider the greatest canon of popular music in our time, distinguished by not only quantity and quality, even if every song inevitably wasn’t a masterpiece, but also variety.  There’s such a difference between the flavor of their early, middle, and later works that, as with Peanuts cartoons, it’s easy to find a Beatles song for almost every occasion.  I know some of them down to the last inflection, and God knows I’ve put my love and knowledge of them to work time and again, rewriting the lyrics to at least thirty of their songs.

I have no profound point to make here, people.  I can’t claim that John was my favorite Beatle, because I loved them all, and I can’t honestly say that after they broke up I followed his or any other ex-Beatle’s solo career with particular interest; I loved the Beatles, and that was that.  But God damn it, attention must be paid, and I will bloody well remember, and cry, because for no good reason, some fucking wannabe killed a guy who’d always stood for peace and love, and a chunk of my life along with him, and even though we all already knew there was never any way the Beatles would get back together again, that day we knew it with the certainty of the grave.

John, God bless you, wherever you are.  Your music truly made the world a better place, and as we enter the holiday season, I’ll cry again every time I hear “Happy Christmas,” as usual.  “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”  Nothing more for you to fear, man; they could kill you, but the joy you brought to the world, and the love you championed, will live forever.  This post is dedicated with great affection to my oldest friend, Fred Pennington, with whom I have shared my devotion to the Beatles for thirty-five great years, and to my dear friend Brian Boucher (who I somehow sense will “get it” better than anybody else) and his delightful and inspiring family.

Crank it up and rock out.  You know it’s gonna be all right.


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Harmonic Convergence

Back in February, BOF did a live post (“My Green Heaven”) from one of our infamous Movie Night gatherings, at which we converge with like-minded friends to socialize, devour take-out food in shocking amounts, kill brain cells in even more shocking amounts and, oh yeah, watch wacky movies after a fashion.  I say “after a fashion” because the attention focused on the film is often marginal at best, with whatever we’re “watching” serving as an excuse for movie-related chit-chat as much as anything else.  Picture an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which the crew is barely paying attention to the film, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Our original moniker was the Four Musketeers, with me playing D’Artagnan to three fellow ex-Penguin USA employees, all of whom were then employed at Columbia House, so we had our staging area outside CoHo’s home in the midtown McGraw-Hill Building, and schlepped out to Woodside on the R Train.  As time went by, we gained the felicitous additional sobriquet of the Movie Knights, and I sponsored two additional members (another ex-Penguin and a ringer from McGraw-Hill who, ironically, worked in a different location).  But as each of us was claimed by various layoffs, we were scattered to the four winds, and it was tougher to get us all in one place. 

Since our last gathering, our Host With The Most (hereinafter HWTM) has made an intra-Queens relocation from Woodside to Ozone Park, so our latest escapade marks a first in this new setting, and we’re pretty psyched to be partying down in his new digs.  A staple of many such occasions is for me to rewrite and perform (karaoke-style) a song, and since the Beatles are still my favorite band—with Talking Heads in second place—they dominate the playlist.  One of our more artistic members, who craves Internet anonymity, even assembled the first twenty such songs into a very handsomely illustrated songbook, which I entitled General Bradley’s Movie Knights Club Band.

This being such a “momentous hysterical occasion,” as Bugs Bunny would say, I was compelled to craft a new ditty at HWTM’s behest, which (if I may boast) I cajoled my Muse into helping me produce in 79 minutes flat.  For your edification and/or amusement, I reproduce the lyrics below, and although I realize that all of the in-jokes will be lost on non-Musketeers, devoted Beatle fans should have no trouble identifying the underlying work.  Although my repertoire has expanded to include songs (including some bedrock BOF faves) by Hall and Oates, Kool and the Gang, the B-52s, the Band, and the Hollies, I think it’s impressive that this my nineteenth Beatles tune to date.

But wait, it gets better, because after revamping this song, of which John Lennon was apparently the primary author, I discovered that the very day of our gathering marks John’s 70th birthday.  In fact, said songbook-artiste should be picking me up just as this post appears, for an epic road trip into Manhattan to pick up another Musketeer and thence to Queens.  Whether I’ll attempt another live post from tonight’s bacchanalia—now morphing into a celebration of Richard Matheson on Screen on top of the usual hilarity—remains to be seen, but I cannot think of a better omen as we embark upon this brave new world of Movie Nights in our freshly minted Ozone Park location…

“Ozone Park”


I told you ’bout the Casa of Flynn
You know the place where we’ve always been
Well here’s another train you can take
With TVs to break
Walking by the Esquire Diner
To see how the Dover boy lives
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you ’bout the Gill-Man and me, man
At fatherhood he’s good as can be, man
Well here is a reminder for you
The baby is Lou
Singing by the old jukebox, yeah
Swarthy Italians trying to take the noise, yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you about the Host with the Most
I tell you man he isn’t no ghost
Well here’s another Villa to see
Listen to me

Riding the Chariot homeward
Trying to write a Tor.com post
Come on down to Ozone Park

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Several musical strains run deeply in my blood. One is the Beatles. I have three older brothers whose ages range up to nine years my senior, so between that and the fact that my parents were pretty hip (e.g., Dad took me to Cheech and Chong movies), I grew up listening to Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Hey Jude—too young to know it wasn’t a real album—and, in the years before such compilations became as common as unnecessary remakes are now, the red and blue 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 double albums, which I got on audiocassette and played till they wore out. Last weekend I learned the crushing fact that my 22nd wedding anniversary was also the 40th anniversary of the official breakup of the Beatles, which should be a national day of mourning. My wife gets the last laugh because she never really liked them. If anyone ever wanted proof that it’s really love, they need look no further than the fact that I married a girl who wasn’t a Beatles fan.

By now, I’ve internalized their songs to the degree that I’ve rewritten the lyrics to about two dozen of them, for the amusement of my friends, and only Talking Heads has even approached them in my esteem. (While attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in Cambridge, I walked into a screening of Stop Making Sense knowing nothing about but having a total misconception of their music, just because I’d heard it was a really good movie, and walked out a fan for life.) I never got to see either band in concert, which in the case of the Beatles isn’t too surprising, but on one of the greatest nights of my life, Loreen took me to see David Byrne at Toad’s Place in New Haven in 1994, and he did seven Heads songs, including the truly transcendent “And She Was.”

But another one is the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m proud to say that my daughter has embraced both strains. I was raised on the infectious melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and especially the lyrics and libretti of that champion wordsmith W.S. Gilbert, who—like the Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog of the light-opera world, only less violent—created great art together even, or perhaps especially, when they didn’t get along. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh’s film about the fractious creation of The Mikado, especially Jim Broadbent’s performance as Gilbert.) I can still sing slabs of some of their best-known shows, such as H.M.S. Pinafore, from memory pretty accurately, and at Trinity College in Hartford I even got to sing the modest role of the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Y’see, on and off since I was a kid, Mom has played cello for Troupers Light Opera in God’s Country (aka Connecticut), which next weekend finishes its 65th production in Fairfield County, The Gondoliers. She sometimes woke me up for school by dropping the needle on a classic D’Oyly Carte recording—we’re going back to Martyn Green here—and I’ve seen the major shows more times than I can count. Now, I’m not gonna lie to you: these are not the world’s most polished productions, featuring a decidedly mixed bag of local talent. But it tells you all you need to know that TLO co-founder Fred Scharmer celebrated his 97th birthday during rehearsals, and was up there on stage in the men’s chorus that very same Bradley/Beatles anniversary night. They’re truly keeping the spirit alive, and I for one wouldn’t miss it for the world. So check out http://trouperslightopera.org/ for further details, and tell ’em Jean Bradley’s son sent ya.

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