Monthly Archives: June 2017

Worst Rolling Stones singles

I was born too late to take Mick Jagger seriously as a balladeer, especially Limburger as fragrant as “Angie,” in which I’m asked to believe Jagger would (a) “try” (b) notice a string section. But at least he and pianist Nicky Hopkins broke a sweat. Friends know my esteem for Dirty Work, but the esteem doesn’t extend to the execrable “Harlem Shuffle.” I’m also not keen on the second-rate rocker “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Mott the Hoople were doing this shit better) or third-rate tubthumpers like “You Got Me Rocking,” begging and pleading to be accepted as “Start Me Up” sequels by radio programmers. Even Keith Richards can sound like he’d rather be climbing palm trees (“Wanna Hold You”).

My best-of list.

1. Angie
2. Harlem Shuffle
3. Indian Girl
4. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll.
5. Anybody Seen My Baby
6. Wanna Hold You
7. Gunface
8. Going Home
9. Tie Me Up (The Pain of Love)
10. Hey Negrita
11. Blinded by Love
12. Dancing With Mr. D
13. You Got Me Rocking
14. You Gotta Move
15. Always Suffering

Worst solo Beatles tracks

When Superman chose to mate with an earthling, his parentage demanded he surrender his powers in exchange for a disco collar. So it happened with the Beatles — a couple of them even wore disco collars! At their worst three of them put themselves through some grim studio rock paces, but I can’t blame them — the Beatles invented the idea of a solo career. No one had ever left the biggest band in the world. No wonder they recorded nursery rhymes, hectoring odes to Krishna, and country covers; they devolved to their constituent parts. The survivor was Paul McCartney, who hired hacks, forced them to perform his stoned doggerel at gun point, and after Elton John and Stevie Wonder became the most consistent American hitmaker of the seventies. No one at his level recorded inanity like a song about a doorbell. Meanwhile John Lennon waved the white flag after a #1 album and single in 1974,before which he’s recorded studio rock no less anonymous than George Harrison’s but better sung. Dependent on three colleagues/best bros who understood how to write to his non-voice, Ringo triumphed for longer than expected; writing for Ringo was like writing for the headmaster — you show your best to the PR agent best suited to represent you.

So here are my pics for worst solo Beatle songs, many of which comment on each other because why not. I could have stuck Harrison’s “Wake Up My Love” in yesterday’s list — it’s the Dirk Diggler version of New Wave. I’m delighted Rob Sheffield concluded that “My Love” is McCartney’s attempt to write his own “Something” and failing. Not many Ringo songs — why would I? Unlike the Other Three, he had no interest in a solo career. He had a solo career like you and I have phases when we walk after dinner — our doctors recommend them.

My links to related work.

1. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
2. Whatever Gets You Through the Night
3. Wake Up My Love
4. You
5. My Love
6. Cook of the House
7. Drumming is My Madness
8. Temporary Secretary
9. Tight A$$
10. Only You
11. Angry
12. Mary Had a Little Lamb
13. Bless You
14. Freedom
15. Ding Dong, Ding Dong
16. Drowning in the Sea of Love
17. John Sinclair
18. Little Lamb Dragonfly
19. Give Ireland Back to the Irish
20. All Those Years Ago

‘The Beguiled’ sticks to Coppola’s tried and true

In her debut film The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola showed the sexual fascination of young women with a passive male beauty. Her Cannes Award-winning The Beguiled is a refinement of the approach – too refined. The 2000 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel justified its languid, often stilted prettiness by situating it as a period piece, refracted through imperfect memory and an unreliable narrator. Moreover, Coppola suffused The Virgin Suicides with a hothouse thickness, an approach to which she hasn’t returned. Bawdier and rowdier than even 2013’s The Bling Ring, The Beguiled is a hidebound and unsatisfying picture. It isn’t that the audience knows where the film is going before the opening scene has ended; it’s that Coppola wrings no unfamiliar nuances from the material. Good genre pictures have their wrinkles.

Based on Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s A Painted Bird starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled relies on the audience’s collective understanding of the tropes of feminine sexual repression during the late nineteenth century. In 1863, Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies in Mississippi continues with French lessons while the men are fighting during the war’s bloodiest period. With the eponymous headmistress played by Nicole Kidman, they can do no less. Signs of resistance darken the curved, avid features of Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), however, when twelve-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence) finds wounded Union corporal John McBurney hiding in the woods. As played by Colin Farrell, McBurney is a wily scamp who understands at once what he must do to curry favor; fortunately, the girls are willing to oblige. While Ms. Farnsworth plays the part of the imperious Southern dowager, condescending to a Yankee quasi-prisoner, Alicia (Elle Fanning) is practically oozing out of her corset.

That Coppola shows the women considerable more sympathy than Siegel did goes without saying. This is not to knock Siegel, an often superb director with an excellent sense of cutting and pace and whose sympathy for men in crisis didn’t prevent him from taking the piss out of them. Coppola and Siegel make for a fascinating study in contrasts. Fond of isolating her characters in frames, Coppola is a fabulist, whose films are taken with the reconstruction of a past which her women remember as a surrender to sensual abandon but to the audience unfolds as a present in which a reckoning is around the corner. This tension gives Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette their queasy inertia. Paced like a comedy, The Beguiled invites us to have a chuckle at the expense of Miss Martha and Edwina (McBurney goes without saying) – a development not dissimilar to what Coppola did in The Bling Ring.

The problem with The Beguiled, though, is its fidelity to the Siegel film without also demonstrating a commensurate control over the familiar comedic elements. Coppola attempts something different while sticking rather closely to her tried-and-true. The women, to borrow Joe Reid’s phrase, sit in space. Using incident to develop character is not her strength; in her films she presents characters as their environments and social relations define them. Therefore, it’s uncomfortable watching Coppola rely on broad yuks; imagine Whit Stillman comedies resorting to cream pies. Siegel’s film used the chasms-wide difference in acrting styles of Eastwood and Geraldine Page to shrewd effect; the sexual tension was believable. Yet despite Coppola’s eye for the closeups of a woman’s thighs and arms – she has kept her fascination with our bodies intact – The Beguiled plays like your usual bodice ripper; at some point, McBurney is going to bed one of the women, and McBurney is going to get his. Her skin as translucent as Michelle Pfeiffer’s in Dangerous Liasions, Fanning gives the standout performance. Kidman is fine as the frosty matron who seethes as her younger charges outsmart (and outsex) her. When The Beguiled ends, the scenario still looks like the seminary in its first scenes: a house glimpsed through magnolia and mist.

GRADE: B-

Worst disco and New Wave accommodations

It was a dark time for boomers. As the seventies collapsed with an enervated sigh, those acts in their late thirties and older fought to hold on to their market shares. For every “Miss You” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (shut up: it’s a monster track, despite the leering) and “I Need a Lover” (Pat Benatar’s, that is), listeners had to endure KISS proving how difficult it is to write a terrible disco throwaway, Alice Cooper working himself into a lather trying to be impassive and robot-like, and Billy Joel being Billy Joel. Some of these hits have disappeared; some of these weren’t even hits outside MTV and AOR radio for six seconds. What distinguishes them from their successful cousins is cynicism: most of these people weren’t even trying, and when they did it was to get a gold certification. This explains “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”; also, “Goodnight Tonight,” an ace pop song with a typically superb McCartney bass line mixed zealously in a dub mix because, uh, disco means zealously mixing your bass lines.

1. The Beach Boys – Here Comes The Night
2. KISS – I Was Made for Lovin’ You
3. David Naughton – Makin’ It
4. Barbra Streisand – The Main Event
5. Eagles – The Disco Strangler
6. Kool & the Gang – Celebration
7. John Hiatt – I Look for Love
8. Frankie Valli – Grease
9. Andy Gibb – Shadow Dancing
10. Roxy Music – Trash
11. Rick Springfield – Human Touch
12. Wings – Goodnight Tonight
13. France Joli – Feel Like Dancing
14. Alice Cooper – Clones (We Are)
15. Linda Ronstadt – Mad Love
16. Aretha Franklin – Ladies Only
17. Crosby, Stills & Nash – War Games
18. Billy Joel – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
19. Leif Garrett – I Was Made for Dancin’
20. The Knack – Good Girls Don’t
21. Dan Fogelberg – The Language of Love
22. Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music
23. Leo Sayer – You Make Me Feel Like Dancing
24. Barry Manilow – Copacabana
25. Rolling Stones – Emotional Rescue

Neil Gorsuch’s progress

In another reminder, as the fag ends of Pride get scattered to the winds, of Why Elections Matter, the Supremes said it was unconstitutional for Arkansas to keep one same sex parent off a baby’s birth certificate just because one of them is not a biological parent. On the losing side of the 6-3 per curiam (i.e. unanimous) decision in Pavan v. Smith was newly installed Neil Gorsuch. “It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths,” wrote the Arkansas Supreme Court months ago.

To be fair to Justice Gorsuch, he slips into the mantle of reasonableness with no fuss – he isn’t yet the late Antonin Scalia hurling spit-covered thunderbolts:

To be sure, Obergefell addressed the question whether a State must recognize same-sex marriages. But nothing in Obergefell spoke (let alone clearly) to the question whether §20–18–401 of the Arkansas Code, or a state supreme court decision upholding it, must go. The statute in question establishes a set of rules designed to ensure that the biological parents of a child are listed on the child’s birth certificate. Before the state supreme court, the State argued that rational reasons exist for a biology based birth registration regime, reasons that in no way offend Obergefell – like ensuring government officials can identify public health trends and helping individuals determine their biological lineage, citizenship, or susceptibility to genetic disorders. In an opinion that did not in any way seek to defy but rather earnestly engage Obergefell, the state supreme court agreed.

Did you notice he or his law clerks used contractions? Damn. Elsewhere in his brief opinion, joined by fellow dissenters Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, Gorsuch wonders if “the strong medicine of summary reversal” is appropriate in a state that already allows “the female spouse of the birth mother” and adoptive parents are eligible for birth certificate placement. Obergefell isn’t a consideration, Gorsuch insists. But why dissent just to complain that Arkansas was too harshly treated?

Cold War masterpiece ‘Stalker’ gets fresh airing

A wish granted is not a life changed. In Stalker, the chance for three citizens of an industrial, quasi-totalitarian present to enter an out-of-time space called The Zone produces no satisfaction. Part of the joke in Andrei Tarkovsky’s beloved 1979 classic is that The Zone looks no less bleak and dirty than the purported real world. Often regarded as a commentary on the Soviet Union’s post-Stalin decline, Stalker itself has for too long looked like a product of those times. An edition released by Kino a decade ago replaced the disgraceful prints extant, but even the first third’s monochrome images look as if industrial smog had smeared the lenses, or grime-encrusted snow. Thanks to Janus Films, a 4K restoration touring the country and a print of Solaris will run through Thursday, June 29 at Coral Gables Art Cinema.

A filmmaker of severe formal rigor who ran afoul of the Soviet film industry, Tarkovsky’s adaptation of scriptwriters Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s novel creates immersive experiences demanding from audiences an attention to how dialogue and performance sometimes clash, fruitfully, with setting and camerawork. Stalker resists characterization, though. What begins as a depiction of lives smacked by firm government that the Andrzej Wajda who made Kanal might have recognized turns into a static but dialectical meditation on reality itself. In Stalker‘s greatest sequence, a train containing our trio hurtles toward The Zone, whereupon a hard cut signals their arrival; color overwhelms the screen, the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) is playing with a caterpillar, and the landscape is now a forest of thick pines and overgrown meadows. But the three find no peace. The Writer (Solaris’ Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolay Grinko) participate in discussions centering on their experiences; their names define them. In the dreary “real” world they abandon for the Zone, that’s all they are. “Everything gets clear here until it’s too late,” one of the characters observes. “For Tarkovsky the artist, despite his Russian Orthodox Christian faith, despite his insistence that the epic scenery of Utah and Arizona could only have been created by god, it is an almost infinite capacity to generate doubt and uncertainty (and, extrapolating from there, wonder),” Glenn Kenny wrote several years ago in his review of Zona, Geoff Dyer’s book length disquisition on Stalker. To enter the Zone, where one’s fondest desires are realized, means to confront the desire for those desires too, and whether, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, “desires ungratified” shouldn’t be allowed to persist. Key to Stalker is the performance of Kaydanovskiy, projecting what film reviewer Hans Morgenstern calls an existential sadness.

Speaking for myself, I am more moved by 1975’s The Mirror, in which the ripple of sequences demonstrates an interweaving of past and present that is one of the closest cinematic equivalences to reading Proust I’ve ever seen. Then again, it’s likely that few people have seen Stalker look this impressive. It awaits a new generation of curious fans.

Gables Cinema Associate Director Javier Chavez, along with Miami Jewish Film Festival director Igor Shteyrenberg and Independent Ethos film critic Hans Morgenstern, will discuss Stalker and Solaris at a panel called “In the Zone: The Mysteries and Revelations of Andrei Tarkovsky” tonight at 7 p.m. Criterion Collection will release a remastered edition on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 17.

X-rated music, and adult books too — the best of X

The L.A. equivalent of Fleetwood Mac, X boasted a powerful rhythm section and a bassist and singer who sang to and about each other, even when the scenarios were fiction. Meanwhile a guitarist in Billy Zoom with a bag full of rockabilly riffs kept them coming. Wild Gift garnered the kudos, but I can’t choose between the quartet of superb albums released in Ronald Reagan’s first term produced by Ray Manzarek. John and Yoko, Richard and Linda, Linda and Cecil — many couples released song cycles about marriage in that period; Wild Gift is the only one that evokes talk benumbed and awash alcohol, of bad sex regretted in the morning in dirty rooms. When they lapsed into the generic, which was often after 1983, John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s harmonies — plainspoken, anguished — still juiced the songs.

1. White Girl
2. The Hungry Wolf
3. The Once Over Twice
4. I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
5. 4th of July
6. Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not
7. Adult Books
8. The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss
9. Riding with Mary
10. Dancing with Tears in My Eyes
11. Beyond and Back
12. Blue Spark
13. Los Angeles
14. When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch
15. We’re Having Much More Fun
16. The New World
17. Burning House of Love
18. Motel Room in My Bed
19. Drunk in My Past
20. Breathless