Archive for the ‘music’ category

Roll Credits: A Hard Day’s Night

This is the second installment of the Pictorial’s series “Roll Credits,” profiling some of the greatest title sequences in film history.

Richard Lester’s 1964 rock and roll musical, A Hard Day’s Night, has long been heralded as the movie that invented the music video. And while we could spend an entire post debating that, the fact remains, A Hard Day’s Night exemplifies the non-linear, creative sequences that would soon inform the grammar of music videos. A truly groundbreaking piece of filmmaking, Lester keeps the viewer surprised from the very first frames of the film: The Beatles shoot towards the camera like a charging locomotive– along with the crashing opening guitar chords of the theme song– and never slow down once. Read more ►

Swing Heil! ’90s Movies and Why I Love Swing Music

The further we get from the 1990s, the more I believe we are coming to realize that it was probably the last great decade of truly original, creative product from Hollywood. (Unless of course the 2010s do an abrupt about-face and prove me wrong.) Sure, there were franchises, but only a handful, and not every film produced with a moderately successful sales return was re-purposed for sequels of the exponential kind. Of course, the ’90s wasn’t without its share of extraordinarily mind-blowing bombs. (Cool As Ice, anyone? Suburban Commando? Wow.) But looking back, it is quite clear that good films of the 1990s were the result of a Hollywood system that was still willing to take risks on solidly good storytelling.

It was a renaissance for independent filmmakers as well, its golden age, and an all-around great decade to be a teenager who loved movies. Like me.

It was also a great decade for swing music. Read more ►

A Baker’s Dozen of John Lennon

It doesn’t seem possible that 72 years ago, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century was born. It was on a night the Nazi’s bombed Merseyside, and his Aunt risked the danger to run across town to be with her sister at the Green Street Hospital. (Her steely fearlessness would influence John in so many ways.)
There is something almost prophetic in the fact that his turbulent, angst-filled life began on such a night; things were never going to be normal for John Lennon.
Read more ►

Pinched in the Astor Bar: Frank Sinatra

So once in awhile, Ol’ Blue Eyes gets under my skin and, ring-a-ding-ding, he absolutely ends up doing it his way and there’s nothing I can do-be-do-be-do about it.
The Wee Small Hours and No One Cares have been regulars on my semi-new turntable– pieces of art that positively thrive in the acoustic-friendly, teensy confines of my studio. (One of the small perks to overpriced, undersized Hollywood living.)

Frankie, by many accounts, may have been an insufferable pain in the arse… but I’m perfectly willing to go out of my way to understand those foibles (God knows I’m an insufferable pain in the arse myself) the minute his light baritone hits the scratching vinyl. After all, who are we if we are not all flawed?

Prior to his Academy Award winning role in 1953′s From Here to Eternity, Sinatra’s career had become a total write-off. From bobby-soxer idol to matinee movie star, Sinatra surrendered it all to face scandal head-on by marrying the woman of his dreams in 1951, Ava Gardner. The press had not been kind. Nor had his fans been loyal.

In between Frankie’s rejuvenating venture as a vocal artist with In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and his poignantly beautiful Where Are You? (1957), Sinatra’s resurrected career as popular recording artist and movie star benefited from this splashy MGM musical, 1956′s High Society.

The Pictorial could write volumes on Frankie but for the time being, I happen to love this delightful moment of unbridled frivolity in which, it is quite obvious, Frankie is having an absolute ball. The demons were still around the corner, chasing him as they always had and always would be, but it’s marvelous to see Frankie bring his A-Game in charming fraternal intoxication with Bing Crosby in High Society.

Just watch and let Frankie pinch YOU in the Asss-tor Bar:

p.s.: Frankie’s duet with Celeste Holm is likewise delightful:

Indie Rock Meets… Bette Davis?

Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak in 1932's THREE ON A MATCH

Three on a Match is a sharp, street smart 1932 melodrama starring Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell, under the always socially conscious direction of Mervyn LeRoy. You’ve got a very young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles, saucy, fast-talkin’ dames, and plenty of gritty precode slumming. It’s a film so gloriously unrefined that it still views remarkably relevant to a modern audience.

Three on a Match also happens to be the name of an Indie rock band who, by their own description, are a “new songwriting project inspired by the films of the great Bette Davis. The songs draw on plot elements, characters, actors, biographic details, or, in some cases, the film titles alone.”

And with tracks like “Mr. Skeffington,” “Now, Voyager” and, the album’s best track, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” it is quite obvious that musicians Neil Carlill, Jeff Mellin and King Toad are quite sincere in their work. Do not expect to find a vintage-inspired set of neo-standards, this band is more Belle and Sebastian, Velvet Underground and Sufjan Stevens than anything else. Interspliced with dialogue from Davis films (including that great crowd pleaer: “After you kissed me I always used to WIPE MY MOUTH!) these films are obstinately original, yet at the same time, endearingly reverent to their inspirational source.

From their album liner notes:

“Each Bette Davis film resonates with me in its own way,” says Carlill. At times he finds inspiration in of the back story, rumor mill and pop-culture trivia because “the surrounding mythology yields too much comedy, irony and tragedy to go un-eulogized.” He conceived abstract character sketches and highlighted iconic lines to evoke the films’ atmosphere and to produce a musical structure “that sets the listener quite literally off-balance.”

Mellin says that Bette Davis movies are “perfect seeds for songs.” His approach was to focus on the titles alone: “I wanted to let the raw sound and rhythm of the words shape the songs’ creation, knowing there’d be no escaping the inherent aesthetics and my own subconscious associations.” He says the titles’ infuse the songs with a “vintage mystique” and “cinematic narrative” that results in the “sort of memory dream you might’ have falling asleep to Turner Classic Movies.”

And, in perhaps the most touching gesture of reverence to Bette, the band released the album as a name-your-own-price download on April 5– Bette Davis’ 103rd birthday.

While it may not be be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s been on my play list quite consistently and, if you are so inclined, I would highly recommend downloading this truly unique album here. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, order their exquisite special edition. Worth ever bloomin’ penny: the art deco design is simply irresistible– any album that includes a match box and candy cigarettes is simply aces.

Three on a Match - the special edition album, available now