Saturday, June 29, 2013

217. How and Why I Love Film

Up until 1982 -- the year I turned 30 -- I thought of films and filmmaking as something which could provide some nice visual entertainment. Like most film-goers, I sat back and let the movie wash over me. Any critical thinking -- even after the fact -- seemed unnecessary, a waste of time.

It was not until 1982 that I came to the realization that I was much more interested in studying the film; trying to figure out how it was made; beginning to understand the individual components, i.e., Director, Producer, DP, Set Designer, Composer, etc. -- and how things got put together.

During my time in Paris, I had been exposed to some Buñuel, Truffaut and others. It was pretty obvious that these types of films had little in common with the typical Hollywood product.

And then that day in 1982 when my wife and I went to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

I walked out of that theater having experienced what seemed like a completely new emotion: Filmic Manipulation Anger Syndrome.

I still had tears dribbling from my eyes from Spielberg's emotional, sappy ending.

And I was mad!

It dawned on me -- gradually -- that Mr. Spielberg had done quite a masterful job at prodding the sodium chloride from my tearducts. Bit by bit, scene by scene, John Williams cue by John Williams cue -- I was being manipulated!

And a damned fine job he (they) did of it. I spent the following months constantly thinking about how Spielberg had pulled it all off.

And for the next decade or so, I always kept at least one of my newly analytic eyes open during Hollywood attempts to lure me into their insidious design.


In 1999, everything changed.

I saw my first Kurosawa film (Red Beard). I could not get enough AK and soon had all 30 of his films.

What I noticed in his work (and later Ozu's), after much study, was that these guys used the exact same "manipulative" techniques that Spielberg was using -- but the difference was subtle. Instead of hitting us over the head with a musical/visual "cry now" cue, these non-Hollywood directors were trusting their audience not to need those types of sledgehammer clue-ins.

And it got better. Kurosawa, for example, took the corny old wipes from the 30's Saturday serials, and transformed the dusty old trick into an entire subset of his massive filmic vocabulary.

Ozu went even further, for example, by rejecting the artifice of lens size (he only used one, the 50mm) and set perfection (he loved to move a salt shaker two inches to the left from take to take, just for the hell of it). Some of the "heaviest" emotional scenes in Ozu occur in medium shots with no music or sound. Other times, crucial events in the plot (such as it is in Ozu films!) are completely elided -- leaving the (Ozu-presumed intelligent) viewer to figure it all out.

I soon realized I preferred watching this type of film to most of gunk coming out of Hollywood. Not much has changed in the past 15 years. My Top Twenty favorite directors:

  1. Akira Kurosaswa
  2. Yasujiro Ozu
  3. Zhang Yimou
  4. Andrei Tarkovsky
  5. Tom Tykwer
  6. Takeshi Kitano
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. Terry Gilliam
  9. Woody Allen
  10. Ang Lee
  11. Quentin Tarrantino
  12. Richard Linklater
  13. Alejandro González Iñárritu
  14. Frederico Fellini
  15. Wes Anderson
  16. Juzo Itami
  17. Pedro Almodovar
  18. Martin Scorsese
  19. Powell/Pressburger
  20. Jean Renoir

216. DONALD FAGEN: Suken Condos (2012)

Whoa! It's here.

Donald Fagen will be 65 in a few months. Old man, on behalf of all us aging motherfuckers who still think we can swing, plant funk, sew it all up and serve it on out -- we thank you! This has got to be one of the swingingest albums of all time. And as the kids say ... Really?

His fourth solo album promises to be a most delicious dish ... but is it a luscious dessert, a cherry-banana topping off the Trilogy ( Nightfly (1982) / Kamakiriad (1993) / Morph the Cat (2006) // or is it something brand new; perhaps the start of a new series ... or is it an enigma, to be slowly unwrapped over a long period of time; each listening revealing yet another wondrous kick on some ambiguous and-of-four which punches up a whole new set of matrices, weaving in and out of lyrics like this:

I can hold my breath
For a really long time now
I can hold my own
I'm not the same without you

Whoa! It's here.

Mike Ragogna's interview with Donald and Michael Leonhart

What stands out for me in this lovely interview with the two forces behind this product is the delicious way they "recall" the other talent on the disc, including Michael's father, Jay:

"DF: Well we've got a couple of acoustic bass players. We have a man named Jay Leonhart, of whom Michael is a progeny, we have a man named Joe Martin, I don't know whose progeny he is, probably Mr. Martin's ..."

Personally, I think this album should have been titled "q.v." Quod vide, which see; meaning check out every single musician on this date, and you will find an amazing artist in his or her own right, including Jay's daughter and Michael's beautiful sister, Carolyn:

For example, clicking on any of the three links above (Jay, Joe, Carolyn) will send you down a rabbit-hole of musical deepness (listen to the audio which plays when you click on Martin's name!) and must-check-this-out type of talent.


Especially, Michael Leonhart.

I. Slinky Thing

The first thing we notice is an acoustic bass! Mr. Joe Martin, ladies and gentlemen. As I said, q.v. Every single musician on this release ... and this dude is tasty! [If you click through on his name above, you will hear a clip from his latest...]

Check out the instrumentation here at the beginning: Bass, Clavinet (Leonhart [hereinafter referred to as ML]), Drums (also ML), Guitar (Jon Herington), and another sound which sounds like a soft synth sound; perhaps it is Fagen (DF) on Prophet 5.

It's interesting to note how the bass, clavinet and "soft-synth" parts are written-out while Herington slides around ...

It could not possibly be more deliciously funky!

It was an October morning
Near the carousel
I met a lithe young beauty
And we talked there for a spell
We walked up by the Great Lawn
And my heart began to sing
A madman on a bench screams out:
Hold on to that slinky thing (note the vibes [ML]!)
Hold on to that slinky thing

Sure is October, in any case. At least it was when I began this post...

An A Minor groove sizzles until the penultimate line in each verse when he shifts to some exotic false-dominant substitutions. The sizzle becomes positively steamy in the second verse:

We went to a party
Everybody stood around
Thinkin': Hey what's she doin'
With a burned-out hippie clown
Young dudes were grinnin'
I can't say it didn't sting
Some punk says: Pops you better
Hold on to that slinky thing
Hold on to that slinky thing

The vibes now stay in the mix while Donald and the girls chant More light -- more light six times.

II. I'm Not the Same Without You

III. Memorabilia

IV. Weather in my Head

V. The New Breed

VI. Out of the Ghetto

VII. Miss Marlene

VIII. Good Stuff

IX. Planet d'Rhonda