VANISHED EMPIRES

Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hobson's Choice (1954) d. David Lean


Hobson's Choice (1954)
d. David Lean
Criterion Collection #461

   Fun little comedy from David Lean.  It's about this guy who owns a boot shop in late Victorian Manchester.  He has three daughters- wife is dead.  Oldest daughter- wants to get married even though she's "too old" (30 lol) and when Dad poo-poos her she promptly sets her cap on the skilled book maker of her father's shop.  LET THE CLASS BASED ENGLISH COMEDY COMMENCE! Charles Laughton is excellent as the alcoholic patriarch.  Remember when alcoholism was a subject for comedy?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Event Preview: Broken Bells w/ Au Revoir Simone @ Humphrey's By The Bay

Broken Bells is James Mercer (Shins) and Danger Mouse (everything)


Event Preview:
 Broken Bells w/ Au Revoir Simone
 @ Humphrey's By The Bay
San Diego, CA.
TONIGHT (SOLD OUT)

  It's been a privilege to see the Broken Bells After the Disco campaign spool out from a somewhat insidery perspective (gained because of who I'm dating, not based on any music related merit on my part.)  I've been able to watch the campaign unfurl as a "fly on the wall," overhearing conversations and reading emails over shoulders. It has been an education, and its already influenced my own choices in my little indie world (for example, the decision to launch Haunted Hearts with an Itunes pre-sale was based on Columbia Records doing the same thing for Broken Bells.)

  Along the way I've had the opportunity to casually mingle with the Artists, James Mercer and Danger Mouse.   I think I've witnessed enough to know that both Artists are genuinely cool, interesting people who care about their Audience and the people they work with.  Broken Bells exist in the rarefied air where the music industry is NOT in fact, imploding upon itself.  They are the type of band that sells hundreds of thousands of records, not millions, and they are also the kind of band that doesn't actually want to sell a million records.  Maybe over a decade.

  At Coachella, the live show was bright and engaging.  Using only a four piece band, Broken Bells comes across to both their devoted and casual fans, there is no exclusionary indie bullshit in their game.  While reading a laudtory review from their recent Tucson show, it occurred to me that they have a broad enough appeal to support a tour of Midwestern and Southern County/State fairs a la country artists.  Not that they would do such a thing, but they could do such a thing.

  I'm very much looking forward to the show tonight, which is sold out.  Au Revoir Simone opens and the whole thing looks like it will be done by 9:30 PM, so if you have tickets get there early.

The Shadow Line (1915) by Joseph Conrad


Book Review
The Shadow Line (1915)
by Joseph Conrad

  Total fan of Joseph Conrad.  He's a repeat player in the 1001 Book project,  You've got the immortal Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1899), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907.)  There's also Victory (1915) which didn't make the 1001 Books list but is worth a spin regardless. The Shadow Line is late Conrad. Despite the fact I actually enjoy reading Conrad, the reviews haven't done well in terms of page views:  35, 79, 42, 38.

  So yeah... no hits for Jo Conrad.  The Shadow Line like Victory and Heart of Darkness is a novella more than a novel. Despite his reputation as a literary author today, many of his books were published in serial.  I haven't done the research, but I suspect that during his lifetime Conrad was often characterized as a writer of "adventures."  His favored settings in the tropics of the East Indies and other then exotic locales like Africa (Heart of Darkness) and Central America (Nostromo) reflect his life experience as a sailor, but the locales often serve to emphasize the social isolation of his characters.

  In many ways The Shadow Line, about an ill-fated voyage that ends with the death or near death of every man on board do an unnamed tropical fever, can stand in for all of his books.  His characters are lonely people, struggling against a cold, uncaring world. His world is the modern world in miniature and it is a dark place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meeting Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor

Jimmie Rodgers in his guise as "The Singing Brakeman"

Book Review
Meeting Jimmie Rodgers
 by Barry Mazor
p. 2009
Oxford University Press

  Meeting Jimmie Rodgers was a totally random pick up, found by a friend at the always-amazing dtla used book hot spot The Last Bookstore.  Can't say enough about The Last Bookstore, from the location to the selection!  And the crazy second story! So many books, much reading.

  Jimmie Rodgers is constantly mentioned in almost an book you read about twentieth century popular music.  He's a key nexus between older genres of popular music like Blues and Hill-Billy and newer genres like Country and Rock and Roll.  He was also a prototype for the single singer songwriter accompanying himself on guitar, and an obvious inspiration for Folk trends of the later 20th century.

  While Rodgers hasn't exactly been forgotten, the fact that all of his recordings were done on now scarce 78s gives his story a bit of a "lost and found" vibe similar to what accompanies the re-discovery of African American bluesman.  However, that is a misleading comparison, because Rodgers recorded more than 111 "sides" via 78 and sold hundred of thousands if not millions of copies of those records, before succumbing in proto-rock star fashion to Tuberculosis during the Great Depression.

 Meeting Jimmie Rodgers devotes itself equally to chronicling Rodgers true life biography and then chronicling his long afterlife as an inspiration for broader popular music trends of the 20th century.  The most interesting of these descriptions is Rodgers relationship to the country-music establishment in Nashville Tennessee.  Rodgers recorded when what we call country music was called "Hilly-Billy" and when what we call "Western" (as in "Country and Western") was a largely separate genre called Western Swing.  Nashville did not emerge as "Music City" in a formal sense until the 1950s, roughly the same time Rodgers was going through the first of several "revivals."  One problem: Rodgers maybe played one show in Nashville, and was from Meridien Mississippi.

 Obviously it is a battle that Nashville was destined to win, but it's interesting to see the way Rodgers was initially held at arms length as an outsider before being broad into the warm embrace.   Mazor's chapter on the Rock influence is weaker- perhaps it's simply more obvious since Elvis Presley was from Tupelo Mississippi and had parents who were Rodgers fans.  Rodgers influence on rock music is less direct because the star of his early 50s revival had waned by the time of the British Invasion.

 Mazor deserves high praise for turning out an Oxford University Press title on such an interesting, but traditionally "non academic" subject.  There need to be more titles that bridge the gap between "popular" biographical accounting of pop music stars and academic treatises that focus on narrower subjects.  This is one of those books.  For other books on popular music that reach this level of sophistication without being obtuse, check out The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry (Duke University Press) by Diane Pecknold and Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Harvard University Press) by David Suisman.

  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Show Review: Coachella 2014


Show Review:
 Coachella Arts & Music Festival 2014

 It very much seems to me that whether you like or dislikes Coachella Arts & Music Festival and what it "has become" it simply needs to be acknowledged that Coachella is incredibly successful as an enterprise, that it has become a southern California cultural institution in its first 15 years of existence, that it stands at the beginning of the "festival season" which is particularly vibrant and healthy part of the post internet music industry and that it is the primary music festival for people Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, California Desert and arguably Las Vegas/Phoenix AND Tucson.  Those markets comprise something like 10% of the total population of the United States.

  Another simple fact that must be acknowledged is that Coachella is an instant sell out BEFORE THE LINE UP IS ANNOUNCED.  In other words, the vase majority of the people who attend Coachella would have purchased tickets for any combination of Artists.  The Audience for Coachella is people who are fans of Coachella itself, not any particular Artist or Genre.

 The "official attendance" for each weekend of Coachella is 90,000 per weekend.  According to multiple sources, the number of "tickets sold" is 75,000, meaning there are additional 15,000 attendees who do not purchase tickets.   I have been to enough Coachella's to remember a time when VIP tickets were not actually available for purchase, in 2014, what appears to have happened is that there is a three class system- general audience, VIP and then the Artist/Crew/Press/Hangers On community, which is like a festival within the festival at this point.

  This year I was fortunate to be a part of that third group- a good thing because my forays into the VIP section were enough to make me of the firm opinion that VIP status is not worth having at this point.  My experience in General Population this year was limited to Sunday afternoon, when I strolled the terrace, had a Stumptown iced coffee and chilled in the brand new Beer Garden which has been built between the Do Lab and the Yuma Tent.

  The main arena for the Artist/Crew/Press/Hangers-On is the Artist Village, located in a corner between the main stage and the VIP area.  Here, each of the major-ish acts have their own "Star Waggons" trailer (or segment of trailer) arranged in a court yard fashion.   Part of the fun of the Artist Village scene is the hierarchy of trailers given to each act.  More privacy is good.  The older and more established acts were located off "the main drag" with the smaller acts placed in the main walk way.  Some acts stayed on their bus, and Main Stage acts had special trailers behind the main stage.

  All weekend celebrities, music industry types and significant others comprised a majority of the traffic, while actual Artists tended to limit their time milling about.  Periodically free water and beer (Heineken light) would be dispensed in large plastic tubs around the grounds.  Each stage now has a VIP area at the front of the stage, and there is a walkway/track around the back so that people with VIP and Artist/Press/Crew level access can navigate without walking onto the festival grounds.   The VIP area was alternatly a god send (any time you wanted to watch a main stage act), a disaster (you couldn't even get in during Pharell's set on the second stage) and irrelevant (for Courtney Barnett it was a better view from the sparsely populated general population area, with the gobi tent vip viewing area shunted off to stage left in front of a screen and wall of speakers.)

  As someone who naturally gravitates towards the least crowded part of any space for watching a show, I found myself in the unusual position of standing in the back of a sometimes sparsely inhabited VIP viewing area looking at people who had been uncomfortably pressed up against metal railing for hours at a stretch.

  On Friday I arrived to see Broken Bells play the coveted "magic hour" set on the second stage.  That set on the second stage at sunset typically kills, and Broken Bells was no exception to the rule.  I'm a fan of the new record and it was a bit of a thrill to see the songs performed live for the first time.  I was surprised to see that the entire band is only four people, James Mercer, Danger Mouse and two additional people.  James Mercer gave particularly memorable performance "he was swiveling his hips!" other people observed after the show.

  After Broken Bells is was back to the Artist Village area for a discreet and sophisticated celebration, largely industry people.  Then I walked to the second tent to see Bryan Ferry, who was resplendent in the kind of multi colored dinner jacket that only looks right on aging British rockstars.  The crowd for Ferry was largely comprised of older dudes and their younger girlfriends, and I actually physically saw several examples of that combination who I'd met at prior music industry type events.  Ferry was backed by an excellent band- including two energetic african american back up singers in the classic mold.  Everything was very tight and on the money, leading me to the conclusion that Ferry keeps in practice and has pride in his work.

 After Bryan Ferry there was more agreeable socializing in the Artist village, listening to but not watching Girl Talk (missed all the guest stars), followed by an attempt to watch Outkast's headlining set from the VIP section- which was  mistake and let to my departure after half of the first song.  Back in the hotel room, I watched the stream and was not impressed.  The next day I spoke to someone who watched from the main stage vip area and said it was great.  Observers who criticized the crowd for failing to respond are stupid.  I think Outkast was disappointing as a main stage head liner, even compared to recent hip hop headliners like Dre and Snoop or Kanye West.

Saturday was a late start.  I sat pool side at the Renaissance Esmerelda, bemused from behind my used copy of Slaves of New York as some basic bitches and Coachella bros organized, I shit you  not, a race in the hotel wading pool.  How bro ish can one possibly get?  The same group also brought a regulation size football which they threw around in the pool at rapid velocity, splashing strangers like assholes.  Any argument that the normal general admission folks who go to Coachella in 2014 are in any way cool or fun was dashed by my observations of the non industry festival goers pool side.  They seem a loutish bunch, the equivalent of the British term "punters."  Well heeled punters, because that hotel was four hundo a night, but loutish.

 I arrived early Saturday night for the second major highlight of my festival experience, Lorde's set on the second stage.  I arrived puzzled at the discrepancy between laudatory reviews of her touring show vs. my own experience watching her perform "live" on tv where she typically stands still and declaims at the audience with hand gestured.  Quickly I learned that Lorde does in fact have moves, that put her somewhere between a Lily Allen/M.I.A./17 year old who watches 80s rap videos on youtube.  It certainly works.  She has a solid voice and the Audience (myself included) ate it up.

 Left after she played Royals (towards the end of her set) to catch the main stage show of Foster the People.  I really have a deeper appreciation for this band after a couple of live viewings, and I'm attempting to be complimentary when I observed that Mark Foster is like the platonic ideal of the Bro.  The Archetype, if you will.  He is also a cutie pie, and his biggest fans in the VIP area seemed to be super hot girls in their 20s, so it is hard to say he's doing anything wrong.  I don't believe they've really won over the fellas, but I'm certain they are not going for a hard edge.

 After Foster The People I watched Queens of the Stone Age deliver a deadening, hit filled set, then walked over and watched most of Mogwai, who were great but had a small crowd.  Their dramatic compositions played well against the Coachella night sky, and the idea that they might be "boring" live was outweighed by the joy of simply seeing Mogwai live.  After that, tried to go see Pharell but was warned off the VIP viewing area, so went to see Darkside instead.  Darkside was good, very much reminding me of Michael Mayer's Sahara room set a few years back, but it was clear that the Coachella likes its EDM like it likes its hip hop, big and dumb.

  Closed out the night with twenty minutes of Pet Shop Boys- who were also not particularly popular but it was a thrill to see them in the flesh.  They wore giant black porcupine style rubber suits and had a splendid video back drop.

  Sunday had to go early (Noon!) to watch Ratking, who were the discovery for me of the festival.  With a throw back style of hip hop and interesting IDM/EDM-y type beats, they were a real fresh voice in the Coachella crowds, and the new record on XL is excellent.  Later I had a chance to chat with lead rapper Wiki back stage and found him to be an interesting and well informed young man, far from any stereotype about rappers.

   After Ratking, I wandered around the Terrace area- which holds the double EDM barrels of the Yuma tent and the Do Lab (and the Heinkein Lounge which I didn't even want to look at.)  Goldenvoice built an actual craft beer bar back there in "Craftsman" style wood- it was a great place to pass an hour Sunday.  Then I watched Courtney Barnett- who is a real discovery! You need to check out her new record- she's like a cross between Bob Dylan and Best Coast, with a sharp band that gives everything a very Nirvana vibe (she plays guitar left handed.)

  Left the festival grounds for a couple hours to hang at the Beerhunter-which is an amazing Coachella convenient sports bar/restaurant.  Then came back for a terrible Calvin Harris and an even worse Lana Del Rey.  Even after watching four songs live I'm not sure if she is a drugged up train wreck or PLAYING a drugged up train wreck, but that was def. the vibe.  It could also be both or neither.  The fawning coverage I've read of the performance is baffling and I honestly wouldn't trust anyone who said she was "great"- she was terrible- fascinating all the same- but objectively it was a terrible, obviously lip synced performance.  Bear in mind Lana Del Rey has sold a million records, so any criticism of the live show is meaningless and shouldn't be taken as anything other then objective facts.

  I am 100% spoiled for regular VIP after the Artist level access- thank you to my hosts at Goldenvoice!  And I am very excited about Stagecoach Festival in two weeks- which I will also be writing about on this blog!




Tunes of Glory (1960) d. Ronald Neame


Movie Review
Tunes of Glory (1960)
d. Ronald Neame
Criterion Collection #225

  This is the third Ronald Neame directed film from the Criterion Collection that I've seen. There is the delightful Hopscotch (1980), a winning spy picture starring Walter Matthau.  The other is The Horses Mouth, which, like Tunes of Glory, features Alec Guinness.

   Tunes of Glory is about a battled of wills that plays out at Scottish military base in the period after World War II.  Guinness plays an "up from his bootstraps" commanding officer named Jock Sinclair.  Jock is, at you might guess, Scottish, and Guinness is of course amazing.   He can really carry the skirt he has to wear through most of the picture.  Jock is troubled when his replacement arrives and turns out to be the well educated, somewhat effete Lt. Col. Basil Barrow, played by John Mills.  Barrow is from an old military family and doesn't drink whiskey.

  He quickly turns the base on its ear with his strict adherence to rules and regulations, going so far as to order dance lessons at 7:15 AM three times a week because the soldiers dance with their hands above their heads. (?!?)   Sinclair, already upset, drunkenly assaults a fellow soldier when he sees that soldier talking to his only daughter.  Barrow needs to decide whether to file a report, ruining Sinclair's career and earning him the undying hatred of the regiment OR not filing a report and ruining any chance he has to be taken seriously as a commanding officer at the base.

  After Sinclair essentially talks him out of filing the report,  he is told by his lieutenant that the men simply assume that Sinclair is running the show and Barrow is taking orders from him whereupon he quickly shoots himself in the head.   Sinclair goes insane with guilt shortly thereafter AND SCENE.

  All of Neame's pictures are worth a watch on the Criterion Collection Hulu Channel, but I would start with Hopscotch first, then this film, then The Horses Mouth.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cría cuervos . . .(1976) d. Carlos Saura

Ana Torrent plays Ana in Cria Cuervos... by director Carlos Suara (1976)


Movie Review
Cría cuervos . . .(1976)
d.  Carlos Saura
Criterion Collectin #403

 Cría cuervos... is a dark little film shot in Spain while Franco was literally on his deathbed. The movie is about Ana, played by Ana Torrent who is orphaned along with her two siblings when her fascist military father dies in flagrante (in the arms of the wife of his closest friend.)  It turns out that Dad was preceded in death by Mom, who appears to the disturbed child in the form of a ghost, gradually filling in the back story of her parents troubled relationship in a blend of dream sequence and flash back.

 This movie is "about" Franco's fascist dictatorship in the way that many movies made under an atmosphere of censorship can be "about" that censoring government: oblique.  If I'm reading the metaphor properly, the Aunt who steps in as Ana's new guardian represents the attempt of the current Spanish government to deny the crimes of the past, and the ghost of Ana's mother (played by Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie) represents the "ghost of the past" while the children represent "the Spanish people."

  You can watch Cría cuervos . . . without worrying about the politics- it stands on its own as a dark psychological thriller- sort of- it's somewhere between thriller and memoir.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fists in the Pocket (1965) d. Marco Bellocchio

Paola Pitagora plays Giulia in Fists in the Pocket (1965) d. Marco Bellocchio

Movie Review
Fists in the Pocket (1965)
 d. Marco Bellocchio
Criterion Collection #333

  I'm not sure if I'm being recommended movies that deal with twisted subjects or whether the Criterion Collection is simply saturated with said pictures, but add Fist in the Pocket to "sordid European familiy melodramas."  Fist in the Pocket was the debut of notable(?) Italian film maker Marco Bellocchio.  Yet another well known European filmmaker whose existence I was completely unaware of until I randomly watched one of his/her films on Hulu Plus.

  Fist in the Pocket tells the story of a troubled family, known in the film only by their first names.  The Matriarch, played by Liliana Gerace, is a blind tyrant, demanding loyalty from her four children. The eldest is the normal one, and then Giulia and Augusto are the "too close for comfort" middle children, with youngest Leone being essentially invalid.

  Augusto is determined to free the family, so he takes it upon himself to push his Mother off a cliff during their visit to a cemetery.  He calmly discloses the fact to Giulia at the funeral, but she either doesn't believe him or doesn't want to believe him.  Augusto celebrates his new found freedom by patronizing a prostitute, and then taking Giulia for a viewing of that prostitute afterward.   After he murders Leone by convincing him to overdose on his medication, Giulia freaks out, and the movie ends with Augusto expiring from an epileptic fit.

  Although the plot is dark, the film is more or less a conventional narrative construction with realist overtimes.  Bellocchio downplays the terrible behavior, as if to make the point that such is essentially "normal" in our society.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mouchette (1967) d. Robert Bresson

Nadine Nortier plays the title role in Mouchette (1967) d. Robert Bresson

Movie Review
Mouchette (1967)
 d. Robert Bresson
Criterion Collection #363

 I'm certain that you can't have a deep and far ranging conversation about French cinema without referencing Bresson- at least in passing.  It's a fact that he was the main model for the "auteur" theory developed by the critic-filmmakers of the French New Wave, and you REALLY can't talk about French cinema without an intimate familiarity with the principal film makers of the French New Wave, so by extension Bresson gets in there.

 Bresson's big run of hits went from 1956, when A Man Escaped was released and includes Pickpocket (1962), Au hazard Balthazar (1966) and this film.  Bresson's classics share a spare, melancholy style, with none of the stylistic flash and pop that would come to define French New Wave.  This style is typified in Mouchette, the story of a young girl living in rural France- with a dying mother, an absentee-ish father and a new born baby sister.  Her house is a one room shack at the side of a busy road.  During her few restful moments Bresson reminds us of the location by having trucks rumble by outside, their lights flashing across the face of Mouchette as she tries to sleep.

  Like Au hazard Balthazar the rape and subsequent suicide of the main character play a defining role in the film. Mouchette, played by Nadine Nortier, is not a talker nor a complainer but the despair of her life is written on her face, and when things take a turn for the worse it is easy for the viewer to emathize with her decision to check out.

 At an hour and twenty minutes, Mouchette is an easy watch despite the grim subject matter, mostly because Bresson doesn't fill the screen time with characters complaining, rather he leaves it for the viewer to make the leap of empathy.  If you are looking to get caught up on Bresson I would recommend A Man Escaped to start, and then Au hazard Balthazar and Mouchette back-to-back.  Be ready for the rapey bits though.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Coachella 2014 Preview: Jussst Waiting For Set Times



Coachella 2014 Preview:
Jussst Waiting For Set Times


  I've been covering Coachella Arts & Music Festival on this blog since before that was a thing.  Specifically, 2007. (2007 Coachella Show Review.)  That was the year I snapped Cory Kennedy and Cobrasnake in the VIP area. Good times.  Also this cool 2007 post with just pictures of people passed out at Coachella 2007.  Reviewing the Wikipedia entry, I think I started going in 2002, 2003, 2004. Maybe missed 2005.  2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, missed 2010 I think.  2011, didn't go to 2012, didn't go 2013.  So that makes 8 visits. But this year I'm invigorated thanks to obtaining an Artist pass for the first time ever.   Also, my friends band is playing (Dum Dum Girls) and my girlfriend's bands are playing (Broken Bells & Ratking) so I'm generally engaged and excited to be going.

  Back in 2006/2007 writing about Coachella was actually not done by that many people.  By 2008 I distinctly remember thinking I never needed to "cover" Coachella ever again.  By 2010 I was "over it."  In 2012 I specifically went to the first Desert Daze festival, which is now in its third year.

  It's hard to pre-game Coachella without the set times, which always seem to be held back till the last fucking minute every god d*** year.  Super annoying- but people of course play guessing games and I happen to know about a couple bands, so let's take it day by day and refer to this hypothetical set times chart until the real one is posted.

FRIDAY

If you go early:   It's likely Dum Dum Girls and Waxahatche are going to draw early (before 3 PM) those are also the two early type bands that I would want to see on Friday.

Mid/Late Afternoon:  Two nostalgia type bands that look likely to draw the mid/late afternoon slot are Afghan Whigs and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- I think Afghan Whigs is probably a must-see.

Early Evening:  A potential HAIM/Broken Bells 1-2 as the sun goes down at the second stage is probably going to be the pre-headliners place to be. Additional potential conflicts with one or both of those bands are A$AP Ferg and Neko Case, not to mention Bryan Ferry(?!?)

Mid/Late Evening: Headlining set by Outkast is a must, and probably the main stage opener (Girl Talk?) by default. Word has it Knife is headlining the second stage (not a fan!) and the tents are not very hot friday night.

SATURDAY

If you go early:  Solange could draw early- perhaps on the main stage.  Banks I think will be early- she's worth checking out I believe.

Mid/Late Afternoon:  Ty Segall is a can't miss, Dillon Francis could draw here and maybe Mogwai.

Early Evening:  Can't miss Lorde!

Mid/Late Evening: With a Muse/Queens of the Stone Age main stage set up looking very missable, the focus turns towards the tents, where there are several appealing electronic options: Pet Shop Boys for the olds, Skrillex for the kids, Fat Boy Slim for the olds, Empire of the Sky for the wierdos.

SUNDAY

If you go early: Don't miss RATKING! They are truly ill, also Courtney Barnett.

Early Evening:   Can't but help feel like this may be my only chance to see Lana Del Rey live.

Mid/Late Evening: Calvin Harris and Lauren Garnier.  

Blog Archive