Saturday, April 30, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #7: "Long, Long Day" from ONE TRICK PONY

Robert M. Young is an unsung director who contributed many near perfect yet certainly idiosyncratic films to cinema in the late 70s/early 80s, including the odd prison picture Short Eyes, the Robert Altman-produced latchkey kid dramady Rich Kids, the culturally detailed Edward James Olmos vehicle The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, the Farrah Fawcett rape thriller Extremities, and the moving Dominick and Eugene, starring Ray Liotta and the brilliant Tom Hulce as troubled brothers. But, by the time the 90s arrived, his lack of box office success had relegated him to television, where he really didn't make much of a mark until he again hooked up with series lead Olmos as the director of a number of rebooted Battlestar Galactica episodes.

But, for me, Young really hit it out of the park with One Trick Pony, his indelible 1980 film adaptation of Paul Simon's ultra-personal script about a Paul Simon-like songwriter eking out a living (unlike bonafide, real-life arena star Simon) as a struggling 60s-era musician, now in the 80s, limping across country with his deftly talented band, while his son and ex-wife (an always lovely Blair Brown) wait impatiently back in NYC to see him once again. Young's mastery of the camera is always in evidence in One Trick Pony--for instance, here, with the more powerful Lou Reed dominating his more musically adroit charges:

One Trick Pony is one of the finest rock-and-roll movies ever produced. It gets just about all of even the tiniest nuances right (I love the scene where Simon cedes the stage to the B-52s, and then wonders whether he's in the right business anymore). It tells a unique story truthfully every step of the way; you can deeply feel its honesty as you're watching it. Never more is this more apparent than in the scene seen below, before the melancholy "Long Long Day" reaches the screen. Perhaps the best scene in this film FILLED with great scenes has the band--Simon, Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Tony Levin and Richard Tee--in their van, traveling to the next gig, playing a time-wasting game called "Dead Rock Stars." The final line in the scene is absolutely brilliant (Simon should have seriously been considered for an Oscar for his one and only movie script). And then the scene segues into a suitably heartrending tune about the need for comfort after expending so much energy, without much appreciation. It's a song that longs for touch and, unlike the hit "Late in the Evening," also from this still neglected movie, it says so very much about the story wrapped around it.

One Trick Pony boasts an incredible cast that includes Allen Garfield, Lou Reed (as an asshole record producer), Joan Hackett, Rip Torn, Mare Winningham (resplendent in her one major scene), and a trio of 60s-pop touchstones, cleverly used: The Lovin' Spoonful, Sam and Dave, and Tiny Tim. I have to say, here, that Paul Simon is a sharp actor in the film; he's perhaps the smartest rock-and-roll star who's ever dared to take on the challenges of the big screen (even if the public didn't respond). One Trick Pony also, I might add, has some of the most satisfying final moments of any movie I've ever seen.

After you experience the unforgettable game of "Rock n' Roll Deaths" (with an irritating graphic bit in its center, unfortunately), you'll hear the song. It's called "Long Long Day," and its music and lyrics are performed by writer Paul Simon.

It's been a long, long day
I got some run-down shoes
Ain't got no place to stay
But any old place will be okay
It's been a long, long day

Good night
Good night, my love

I sure been on this road
Done nearly fourteen years
Can't say my name's well known
You don't see my face in Rolling Stone
But I sure been on this road

Good night
Good night, my love

Slow motion
Half a dollar bill
Jukebox in the corner
Shooting to kill
And it's been a...

It's been a long, long day
I sure could use a friend
Don't have much else to say
I hate to abuse an old cliche
But it's been a long, long day
It's been a long, long day

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ann-Margret!

I'm certifiably nuts about this lady. I have been since I was a kid, endlessly rerunning Ken Russell's Tommy, Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge, and George Sidney's Bye Bye Birdie (these are her three signature roles, to me). She's always possessed the perfect combination of cute and sexy, and has held on to it even in her later years (in movies like 1993's Grumpy Old Men). She's a two-time Oscar nominee, a top-40 recording artist who's been nominated for two Grammys, a five-time Golden Globe winner (for Tommy, Carnal Knowledge, 1983's TV movie Who Will Love My Children, as well as for playing Blanche DuBois in 1984's TV version of A Streetcar Named Desire and for being 1962's Most Promising Female Newcomer--an award she shared with Jane Fonda). And, last year, Ann-Margret Olsson (ya, she's a little Swedish girl) won her first Emmy--after five nominations--for a guest shot on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. She also happens to be the only woman who could match Elvis Presley's charisma on-screen and off (the two stars shared a famous and loving tryst). Here's Ann and Elvis together in perhaps the most dynamic scene from arguably Elvis' best film, Viva Las Vegas:

She's indefatigable, brave, confident, and loyal (she's stayed by her husband Roger Smith's side for over 40 years, helping him fight a debilitating neuromuscular disease that finally went into remission in 1985). She's also a movie star of the highest order, and of the ultimate degree in talent even if her movie choices--like 1966's The Swinger, pictured above--haven't always been particularly wise. But this intense scene, as the depressed beauty queen Bobbie trying to nab cad Jack Nicholson in Mike Nichols' stunning 1971 movie Carnal Knowledge, might be her crowning moment on camera:

And did I mention she's ridiculously beautiful? I really adore her. I could drink a case of her. And so I wish her a happy 70th birthday today. In celebration, I've gathered together a gallery of frame grabs from some of her best movies, and a few clips (some from TV variety shows and specials she did) to show you what a dynamic performer she is on stage.

The first five screen shots I've chosen are my favorite images of her as the starry-eyed, teenaged Conrad Birdie fan in Bye Bye Birdie (George Sidney, 63):

A strawberry blonde frame from The Pleasure Seekers (Jean Negulesco, 64)

Looking sweetly at Elvis in Viva Las Vegas (George Sidney, 64)

As Karl Malden's wife, trying to seduce gambler Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid (Norman Jewison, 65)

Her shy strip tease finally bears fruit in The Swinger (George Sidney, 66)

Sexily disheveled after some argumentative hanky panky in Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 71)

Five of my favorite moments from what will probably remain her most challenging role: as the mother of that deaf, dumb and blind kid named Tommy (Ken Russell, 75):

Radically arousing--this is one lady who's never been afraid to show her body--as the tempting Lady Booby in Joseph Andrews (Tony Richardson, 77)

Showing more than great comedy chops in The Cheap Detective (Robert Moore, 78)

As the troubled ventriloquist's long-lost love Peggy Ann Snow in the underrated Anthony Hopkins thriller Magic (Richard Attenbourough, 78)

Ann as the dying mother of a brood of kids in Who Will Love My Children? (John Erman, 83)

A woman in jeopardy, opposite Roy Schieder, in 52 Pick Up (John Frankenheimer, 86)
As St. Nick's mother-in-law in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (Michael Lembeck, 2006)

Ann's mesmerizing 1961 screen test, singing "It Might As Well Be Spring" for her role in Roger and Hammerstein's State Fair (Jose Ferrer, 62):

An early 60s guest appearance on television, singing a saucy version of "Mack The Knife":

From her TV special From Honolulu, With Love, at first performing "The Look of You," and then singing "Put A Little Love in Your Heart" for the troops (who were, no doubt, expecting to see some early morning dew, if you know what I mean): 

And, finally, a fresh-faced Ann assaying the standard "I Ain't Got Nobody," from 1961:

Wow! If all this don't get your grill burning, then you best see to that fire, man! Thank you, Ann-Margret, for being your own sweet self. And, again, happy birthday!

Forgotten Movie Songs #6: "In My Own Way" from SHOCK TREATMENT

In 1981, I was just discovering pop music, having been a classical music fan up until I was about 12. I was about to reach my 15th birthday when I was thumbing through LPs at my local Turtle's Music and heard this rocking, magnificent song playing over the store's PA. As we are all likely to do when we hear music we love, I asked for the tune's source. And I found it was being sung by Jessica Harper, for the soundtrack of some movie called Shock Treatment.

I had not seen Shock Treatment. I didn't know who Jessica Harper was. But I immediately bought the album--red-tinted, with Richard O'Brien's mad, bespectacled dome on it--because something in me told me I must cling closely to this song. It's a dauntless, straightforward confession of desire and ambition, written by Mr. O'Brien, and it's called "In My Own Way."

I now, of course, know O'Brien as being the writer and star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I now know that Jessica Harper (who I wasn't familiar with before hearing this song) is the utterly brilliant and mesmerizing star of a string of late-70s/early 80s masterpieces the likes of which, when seen together, amount to a surely astral ouvre. When you have a assuredly comedic AND dramatic AND musical lead actress that's impresses so genuinely in notable movies like Love and Death, Phantom of the Paradise, Inserts, Stardust Memories, Pennies From Heaven and Suspiria, you have to fucking stand up and take notice. Once I saw Jessica Harper on the big screen for the first time in Phantom of the Paradise, she instantly hooked me with a face that I honestly cannot adequately describe. She has that intelligent, emotional, slightly feral look that instantly...well, it instantly made me horny.

There. I said it. So sue me. But this woman KNOWS her stuff. It's in there her eyes, as she hypnotizes the camera playing the wanna-be ingenue of Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise. And while portraying the chilly wife in Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven. And, here, as the newly-cynical heroine in Jim Sherman's Shock Treatment. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, look at the clip I've referenced below. The power Jessica Harper proclaims is not only in her boldly unique face: it's in her steadfast, confident voice--and that IS her voice in this song. In fact, her very being oozes power, especially in Shock Treatment. But she couldn't have performed such a feat without a strong song to spur her on.

I don't want to debate the importance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show here. It's too big a subject and, frankly, I'm not sure I fully buy into it, except on purely solid terms (it is, for sure, the most influential cult movie of all time, obviously; but that doesn't mean I love it). But if you were to play me "In My Own Way"--in which Harper's Janet admits her failure of confidence in her cage-bound husband Brad (Cliff De Young, dejected after showing his ass on "national" television)--if you were to play me this song, and then ask me whether or not, based on this song alone, I was a member of the Rocky Horror cult, I would wholeheartedly say YES, even if I didn't know what the hell The Rocky Horror Picture Show was.

In other words, you don't need to know what's going on here. You need only to listen to this chompy little number that screams "I'M A HIT, GODAMMIT!." The music and lyrics are by Richard O'Brien, and the song is called "In My Own Way," performed by the unspeakably hot Jessica Harper, accompanied by slaying guitar and drums:

If only you knew how to win some prizes
If only you knew how to play
If you could sleep nights
And stop your crying
Then you might find out I still love you in my own way

If that's not enough then I am so sorry I met you
It was almost like leading you on
But there's more to it all
Than just wringing your heart out over something
That keeps on going wrong

So don't tell me you love me
How am I supposed to know what that means
No, don't sell emotion
You can't find devotion
If you're falling apart at the seams

I hope that you smile
When you reach your conclusion
I hope that you'll know just what to say
But if it should mean that the party's over
You should know that I still love you
You should know that I still love you
You should know that I still love you
In my own way
In my own way
In my own way
In my own way

(By the way: the whole damn album is great, even if you haven't seen the movie. Which is a bit more than I can say about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I have to confesss has some boring moments in it.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #5: "At The Ball" from WAY OUT WEST

Who doesn't love Laurel and Hardy? Even with their often acrimonious doings on-screen, the audience instantly gets that these two are great friends, no matter what Stan accidentally drops on Ollie's round head. Never was this more apparent than with the little dance they do together when, in 1937's Way Out West, they enter a gold prospecting town and come upon The Avalon Boys (with a later Oscar-nominated actor, Chill Wills, as the lead yodeller). Right there, outside of Mickey Finn's saloon, Stan and Ollie cannot help but launch into some of the sweetest hoofing ever committed to celluloid. It's just the best, this scene, topped off by the silky smooth vocal stylings of the Avalon Boys. The music and lyrics to "At The Ball" were deftly written by producer Hal Roach's house composer Marvin Hatley (who also wrote the team's famous "cuckoo" theme, and who won an Oscar nomination for his score to Way Out West).

The British Stan Laurel and the southern American Oliver Hardy have never felt so perfect together as they do here. I adore how much they tell me about themselves through their magnificent dancing.

Commence to dancin'
Commence to prancin'
Commence advancin'
Right and left a-glancin'
A-smoochy dancin'
Slide and glide entrancin'
You do the tango jiggle
With a Texas Tommy wiggle
Take your partner and you hold her
Slightly enfold her
A little bolder
Just work your shoulder
Snap your fingers one and all
In the hall at the ball
That's all
Some more

Forgotten Movie Songs #4: "The Maker" from SLING BLADE

Super-producer Daniel Lanois had twisted the sound knobs for artists like U2, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel long before he composed the thoughtful, isolation-flavored score to Billy Bob Thornton's 1996 directorial debut, Sling Blade. As a capper to this movie about the long-hospitalized Karl Childers and his loving and violent adventures outside institution walls, Lanois offered up a forceful yet gracious closing credits song called "The Maker." The song wasn't written for the film, surprisingly, though it works splendidly as commentary on a story that sports dark notions about how we fight one evil with another and, as a bonus, it weaves in religious commentary where Thornton's film often was just too subtly-written to tread. I'm sure that Thornton--a musician himself--garnered great inspiration from this song while writing Sling Blade, and that it led him to hire Lanois as a composer of what still stands as a outstanding rock-based score.

Here is a circa-1990 live performance of "The Maker," music and lyrics by Daniel Lanois.

Oh, oh deep water
Black, and cold like the night
I stand with arms wide open
I've run a twisted mile
I'm a stranger
in the eyes of the maker

I could not see
For fog in my eyes
I could not feel
For the fear in my life
From across the great divide
In the distance I saw a light
Jean Baptiste
Walking to me with the maker

My body is bent and broken
By long and dangerous leaps
I can't work the fields of Abraham
and turn my head away
I'm not a stranger
In the hands of the maker

Brother John
Have you seen the homeless daughters
Standing there with broken wings
I have seen the flaming swords
There over east of Eden
Burning in the eyes of the maker
Burning in the eyes of the maker
Burning in the eyes of the maker
Burning in the eyes of the maker

Oh river, rise from your sleep

Saturday, April 23, 2011

CINEMA GALLERY: The ABCs of Cult Movies

In the interest of the recent worldwide blogger call to contribute the ABC's of any given category, I offer now a possible lexicon of cult movie magic:

A is for The Apple. (Menahem Golan, 80)

B is for Belle Du Jour. (Luis Buñuel, 67)

C is for Cutter's Way. (Ivan Passer, 81)

D is for The Devil Rides Out. (Terence Fisher, 68)

E is for Eating Raoul. (Paul Bartel, 82)

F is for The Fall. (Tarsem Singh, 2006)

G is for Gone With The Wind. (Victor Fleming et al, 1939)

H is for Holy Mountain. (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 73)

I is for if... (Lindsey Anderson, 68)

J is for Jackie Brown. (Quentin Tarantino, 97)

K is for Kung Fu Hustle. (Stephen Chow, 2004)

L is for Local Hero. (Bill Forsyth, 83)

M is for Mean Streets. (Martin Scorsese, 73)

N is for 1941. (Steven Spielberg, 79)

O is for Office Space. (Mike Judge, 99)

P is for Pink Floyd The Wall. (Alan Parker, 82)

Q is for Q. (Larry Cohen, 82)

R is for River's Edge. (Tim Hunter, 86)

S is for Some Like It Hot. (Billy Wilder, 59)

T is for Theater of Blood. (Douglas Hickox, 73)

U is for Up In Smoke. (Lou Adler, 78)

V is for The Vanishing. (George Sluzier, 88)

W is for The Wicker Man. (Robin Hardy, 73)

X is for X--The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. (Roger Corman, 63)

Y is for Yellow Submarine. (George Dunning, 68)

Z is for Zardoz. (John Boorman, 74)