Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sweet Movie (1974) d. Dušan Makavejev

The gold penis from Sweet Movie (1974) d. Dusan Makavejev

Movie Review
Sweet Movie (1974)
 d. Dušan Makavejev
Criterion Collection #390

   Sweet Movie is another entrant in the genre I like to call "Cinema WTF": transgressive/outre/surreal cinema, often from the margins of the cinematic world, that frequently involves "shocking" sexual/horror/violent footage and frequently lacks plot or a comprehensible narrative.  Criterion Collection Hulu Plus movie recommending algorithm has me pegged as a fan as the genre, because Sweet Movie was at the top of my recommended list for about a week before I gave in.

   Dušan Makavejev, the film maker, is Yugoslavian but he was actually kicked out/left Yugoslavia prior to shooting Sweet Movie because he was just that outrageous, so it was shot in the west- Amsterdam mostly.  It's hard to really describe Sweet Movie- no plot to speak of- and a series of somewhat "sketch comedy" like scenes that range from disturbing (20 minute long food orgy with real vomiting and simulated penis eating) to borderline criminal (grown woman dressed in erotic "wedding gown" seducing 10 year old boys.)

  In the end you've got a movie that still possesses considerable shock value and maintains a transgressive quality. Oh- and don't miss the dude with the gold penis- see above.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: The Sound of the City - The Rise of Rock and Roll by Charlie Gillett

Book Review:
The Sound of the City - The Rise of Rock and Roll
 by Charlie Gillett

  Something that is amazing to me is that 9/10 local musicians are incredibly knowledgeable about bands and songs and equally ignorant about the history and structure of the music industry.  For me it is the opposite- I know there will always be tons of people who care more about ANY band/album/song then me, so I don't bother to compete in that department.  On the other hand, I've learned a ton of lessons from the "history of rock and roll" that I've been able to directly apply in my own semi-pro career operating a record label.

  My favorite lessons from the history of rock and roll are 1) avoiding the situation where an indie label has one hit artist and spends all of that artists' money putting out the records of less lucrative artists, using the royalty money owed to the successful artist to subsidize the less successful artists.  2) The incredible ability of the "major" labels of the era to take the most successful artists from independent labels of that same era.  

  One fact from the early history of rock and roll is that very many indie labels have had hit records in the rock and roll era, but very few were still around five years after the hit. Failure is very common, success is always fleeting. That doesn't mean history inexorably repeats itself, you only have to be familiar with the bare outlines of the history of the rock and roll era to understand that changes in technology and distribution can make it more or less difficult for major labels to cherry pick the most successful indie artists.

  I would argue that the "internet era" is most amenable to the rise of indie labels since the early rock era, where a sluggish, complacent post-War record industry virtually ignored the early stirring of rock and rhythm and blues to the benefit of a number of regional record companies. Over time, the major labels of the early to mid 1960s reacted and adapted to the various changes in the composition of the rock market- notably the 'british invasion' of the early mid 1960s, the bonafide success of Motown records and the "hippie rock" revolution in the mid to late 1960s.   These three episodes were aftershocks of the initial youth-quake/emergence of rock and roll as a thing that existed.

  By the beginning of the 1970s, the major labels had essentially gotten a handle on the rock and roll situation and began a basically unchallenged dominance of the market that lasted until the dawn of the internet era itself.  The Sound of the City takes you from the antecedents of rock until the dawn of the 1970s, when the "rise of rock and roll" is essentially complete.  Author Charlie Gillett is a well regard authority on the subject of rock history, and his book is admirably complete.

  There are only a few unsteady moments, such as when he tries to describe late 60s garage rock as "punk." ( he understands what he's talking about, but seems to shy away from using "garage rock" for some reason.)  His perspective often discusses the contribution of independent labels, but typically it's a situation where you get a paragraph sketch of the back story, and then a paragraph about their one or two hit records/artists and that is the end of the story.

  Although the description of various independent labels can be cursory, his discussion of the underlying structure of the music industry and how it reacted (or didn't react) to rock and roll is priceless and I think it's probably the last word on the back-and-forth that went on in the United States and England/UK between the first rock and roll records and the early 1970s, when rock had secured its place in the music industry.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: Empires of Time - Calendars Clocks and Cultures by Anthony Aveni

Book Review:
  Empires of Time
 Calendars Clocks and Cultures
by Anthony Aveni

 Horology is what you call the study of the measuring of time.  My sense is that the bulk of horology is devoted to the mechanics of time measurement- "Watch and clock escapements," "Wheel and pinion cutting."  Those kinds of subjects.  The technical/mechanical aspects of time measurement.

  Empires of Time is something different- grounded more in history, archaeology and anthropology than horology.  Empires of Time is more about the why's of time, and why humans all over the world have learned to tell time as a necessary component of complex cultures and the resulting civilizations.

  The clearest link between the keeping of time and the invention of complex civilization is the importance of the calendar in the timing of planting crops for agricultural purposes.   Since agricultural and civilization basically appeared at the same time, the keeping of time was quickly adopted by whomever was in charge to buttress whatever claim they made to power.  This happened among tribes people and ancient civilizations alike.

  The measurement of time was very important to simply feeding large populations, but it was so important that it quickly gave rise to the use of time as a metaphor/symbol/etc. "Our" conception of time i.e. "Western" time is typically ascribed to the Greeks, but the Greeks themselves were privy to the developments in the East- where the Babylonians had created a complex study of astrology with religious significance.

  Greek time keeping developed about the shared human interest in knowing when to plant crops. Aveni devotes ample space to Hesiod's Works and Days, which is itself one of the oldest written works in Greek.  Works and Days is basically a farmers almanac written in verse.  Aveni also devotes substantial time to the Mayans who are the sine qua non of time obsessed civilizations.  Aveni also discusses the Incans and the Aztecs, and I found those portions of the narrative most compelling.

  Aveni also weaves in examples from sub-civilization "cultures" like that of Islanders from the Indonesian archipelago and African tribesmen. My take away from Empires of Time is that there are DEFINITELY universal, human rhythms of time that are central to our commonality as a species.  One excellent example is the day/night cycle, and the coming and going of the tides.  For periods beyond the day you get into the difficulties of horology proper, specifically the issue of an accurate calendar.  The irregularity of the "year" period as it related to days and months is basically THE question of calendar studies, and Aveni covers it for sure.  Here, the Western solution is the "correct" one.

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