Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Movies You May Have Missed: "(Untitled)" - 2009

In the pantheon of movies that satirize the conceptual-art world, Jonathan Parker's (Untitled) stands above all the rest. This is partially because I can't think of any other films that satirize conceptual art to this extent—that is, as the goal of the film. So heavy is the satire that (Untitled)'s characters are merely players in a New York City contemporary art-based economic system, and that's how it should be, because as anyone who's worked in a gallery knows, that's how it is.

And now: (Untitled):

Glowering Adam Goldberg is experimental-music composer Adrian Jacobs, who lives by his hardcore artistic principles, no matter how economically unfeasible. When not performing his laughably unmusical works to minuscule audiences (which include his parents, who walk out of the first prelude because "his father needed to use the restroom,") he's barely putting up with his equally pretentious but more insecure brother, Josh (Eion Bailey), who paints banal abstract works that are all the rage on the commercial-art circuit. Everything sound-related is tortuous to Adrian, including his paid work as a lounge pianist, accompanied by a  babble of cell-phone abuse by upscale bar patrons who are oblivious to their mass technological cacophony—a sort of unknowing sound piece they create during his work hours.

I can't give much more away here without spoiling the delightful visual humor of the film. Parker has a good sense of when to use a close-up as a substitute for studying a work of art, before pulling back to reveal how art is a commodity (or not). These shots are punctuated with meanings that may be somewhat lost on anyone who hasn't sat through a performance of John Cage classics, but if you're an artist, gallery patron, innovative musician, or aficionado of any of these mediums, this is for you. And recommend it to your frustrated-artist friends and family members too. They'll thank you.

Adrian Jacobs, composer of squawks, wailing dirges, and bucket kicks

Into Adrian's world steps (or squeaks—cartoonish sounds emit from her synthetic-fabric wardrobe) Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton), who seems to have poured her entire trust fund into a small storefront gallery full of nightmarish contemporary art. Madeleine's eyes light up behind her designer eyeglass frames every time an artist outlines an analytical treatise of why he creates aesthetic horrors. We're unclear if she truly believes in these works, or simply wants to profit from them. Probably a bit of both.

Shades of the noir shady-lady trope

Madeleine takes a shine to Adrian's work (and Adrian) and convinces novice tech-billionaire art collector Monroe (Ptolemy Slocum) to commission a new sound piece. Monroe's apartment is a bravura art-collector joke throughout his awkward dinner date with Adrian's clarinetist (Lucy Punch) who moves throughout gallery spaces with honest expressions of confusion. Although she's the earthiest cast member and a close cohort of Adrian, she doesn't get a name, known only as "The Clarinet." There's not a lot of breathing room here for earthiness.

Every struggling gallery needs one - the tech-billionaire buffoon

Adrian's hapless ensemble attempts to rehearse  his dense directives, which include chain thrashing, bucket kicking and impromptu complaining from a Russian singer (Svetlana Efremova) who's clearly not enamored with his convoluted vision.

And there's always a new artist coming down the pipeline, spouting an idea that has yet to be commodified. Madeleine is there to nurture and wholesale whatever action plan should present itself, with a back room full of unheralded commercial art to bankroll the deal. Tensions ensue between brothers, artists, patrons and curators. There will be consequences.

Into this world we enter—its rules and regulations seemingly from the brink of insanity yet deadly serious business for all. The best comedy comes from deadly seriousness. Adrian's work stems from knowing he'll never be recognized for his work during his lifetime. He composes from an endless supply of existential despair. A quibble—this art-dipped and dunked group of patrons and dealers would be familiar with John Cage's 4'33" and therefore there's one instance of a joke falling flat during a climactic performance. Otherwise, the satire is deadly and the gallery world obtuse, grasping, or simply a con. But the desire to create something new and meaningful is honored without condescension—an impressive juggling act.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Donald Trump is Robot Monster

What if "they" made a remake of the 1953 grade-Z sci-fi contender for worst-movie-ever-made Robot Monster and it starred Donald Trump as Robot Monster? Well, guess what, "they" have and we're all co-stars in this mad endeavor. It's like a reality show, starring us! With Donald Trump as Ro-Man the monster with his intergalactic bubble-machine death ray.

Don't remember Robot Monster? Let me jog your memory. The IMDB tagline reads: "The monstrous Ro-Man attempts to annihilate the last family alive on Earth, but finds himself falling for their beautiful daughter." Full movie is here (do you dare?).


Here's some shots of Trump in the role he was born to play: monster from outer space. This role was first inhabited by George Barrows who got the role when budget-minded director Phil Tucker found out he owned his own gorilla suit. Tucker slapped a diving helmet on that sucker, and behold! An icon to inanity was born.

See Robot Monster daily on most news networks and across all Internet platforms—unfolding before our very eyes whether we want it to or not. Trump Monster dialogue included.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

"The point is, you can never be too greedy."

“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.”

To be like the hu-man—to laugh, feel, want. Why are these things not in the plan? - Robot Monster, 1953

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My funniest Facebook comment-war thanks to the Cocks Not Glocks protest

I'll explain: thanks to the "campus carry" gun policy backed and enforced by Texas governor Greg Abbott, it's legal to bring a licensed gun onto any Texas campus and right into the classroom. Yet the University of Texas at Austin's student handbook bans the "distributing" and "brandishing" sex toys.

Noting the absurd discrepancy, One Pulse for America student activists Jessica Jin and Ana Lopez staged a clever Cocks Not Glocks demonstration this week. They handed out hundreds of dildos to their fellow students, who brandished them in their classrooms and throughout the campus with impunity. Just like their open-carry gun-toting brethren.

This of course got mass-media attention and will probably lead to one of two results—either campus officials will take this open-carry battle to the highest federal court because their state insists they allow guns in their classrooms, whether they want them there or not (and if I know most college professors, the answer to that is probably not), or the college will shrug its collective shoulders and say, "Okay, okay, you made your point—you can go ahead and carry dildos around campus too. Enjoy, kids."

Anyway, the .Mic news site made a great little video about the photo-op-rich rally and I commented to the UT activists a positive little message of support, because you can imagine the backlash they're getting from gun-toters who find sex toys "obscene." I got some brush-back for my effort. And I'm amused. So I saved it here, because let's face it, campus carry laws are not the best policy, and also Facebook is so rarely amusing.

See for yourself. My original comment, "Hilarious and insightful. Keep up the good work," is at the top, followed by the following exchange:

Mark Davidson thinks that if he writes "you failed to make a point or a joke," it is so, when the reality is very different. His deep denial aside, he set the pointed joke up with his own argument and it is PERFECTION.

Here's a screen shot of some of the video points from the .Mic video. The original is here.

Now these activists have made their point and it's funny and true. Keep up the good work, ladies.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fabulous Rock and R&B Fashions of The Midnight Special, 1972 - 1978

The 70s! A special time for rockin'. If you don't believe me, you haven't seen "The Midnight Special." The pilot aired on August 19, 1972, which I missed because I was eight years old and my bedtime was at eight as well. But in subsequent years, I managed to stay up late, nabbing television-watching real estate in one of our suburban-home watching stations after the parents had gone to bed.

Here was a world of live music, onstage, decked in man-made finery the likes the world had never witnessed before. I'm talking about shiny plastic-like fabrics combined with crocheted granny-squares (with acrylic yarn, of course), as if pioneers on the Oregon Trail had ingested some seriously psychedelic mushrooms en route to the promised land. People dressed like pioneers in the 70s, complete with sun bonnets and hand-woven fabrics made from petroleum-derived chemicals. It was a serious mish-mash.

And it shows. Just look at these images I borrowed from "The Midnight Special" DVD documentary-extra, "Star-Studded Stage Fashion." I appreciate that my local library carries several of these DVDs, particularly disc 1, featuring Argent, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez and Hall& Oates (don't give me that look—they all rule in their own way, okay?). It is 70s-studded to the extreme. I'm going to title everything I do "________-Studded" from now on.

Have a happy-face-studded day.

As a child, I was open and accepting of all stage fashion. I didn't have a frame-of-reference for such things, so this all seemed completely normal to me. You play in a band or sing? Oh, then you wear these kinds of clothes during performance. No judgment. That was the best way to be during the 70s and accounts for my survival. It's a theory anyway. 

We begin with Helen Reddy, singing "I Am Woman" in a pink crocheted halter top. There are interviews with many of the former performers of "Midnight Special" and they're good sports to look back at their younger selves and comment. Reddy seems somewhat baffled about her fashion choices, which she implies were "one of several options" to choose from (paraphrasing). So I imagine there was some wardrobe person on hand with a trunk full of garments and the performers reached in there and perhaps stoned, drunk or sleep-deprived, this was the result...?

Oh, Helen...

Hot Chocolate! I love these guys. I just heard "Every 1's a Winner" yesterday while shopping at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, and indeed I felt like a winner while finding good deals on granola bars.

RIP, Errol Brown—great front man with great style

Kool & the Gang! Yes, this is stylish. I miss the masterful R&B horn sections of yore. Playing tightly composed dance tunes while wearing a three-piece suit is not for the faint of heart. It gets hot under those stage lights. Kudos, Kool & the Gang.

Check out Aerosmith's pants. That's gotta affect your ability to stay on pitch.

Tiiiiiiiiiiight (pants)

Looks like hugely successful Fleetwood Mac stopped by. Note: this floaty witchy look only worked on Stevie Nicks.

(Professional rock star - do not attempt this at home)

I can't believe Lindsey Buckingham could play with these ginormous sleeves flapping about, but he is a guitar master

Just who the hell is this anyway? Disc 1 doesn't credit everyone in this documentary, assuming you have the entire set at home at your perusal. These pants are even tighter than Aerosmith's attire. Jesus, ouch with these trousers.

I blame cocaine for this look - I blame cocaine for a lot of things

The Emotions, suited up in white and silver menswear. I love a lady in menswear. I just love menswear—it's comfortable and wears well.

White suits were a thing.

And what was once called leisurewear, although ABBA is taking it too far, as usual.

There was nothing leisurely about the late Barry White. He meant business. He was large and in charge, with the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra to back him up. FORTY-PIECE ORCHESTRA—the 70s were kind of amazing.

Freddy Mercury. We were so dense, we didn't understand that he was out by naming his band Queen. Jumpsuits were big and hard to deal with in public restrooms.

Helen Reddy again, in modestly flamboyant attire.

LaBelle! "Lady Marmalade" was a radio hit that taught us kids how to speak French while singing along to a song about a business man who has mind-blowing sex with a New Orleans prostitute.

I remember these outfits—how could I ever forget?

Patti Labelle is not messing around

The O'Jays - unified elegance. Top-40 radio of the 70s was like a blender full of musical genres—a genre smoothie if you will. It made for an interesting time for early 80s bands that were made up of kids who had grown up listening to a lot of different musical styles.

So O'Jays segueing into Peter Frampton was not weird for us. We adjusted our inner-ear tune-forks accordingly. Out of all the interviewees for this segment, Frampton appears to be the most embarrassed by his bare-chest look, excusing himself slightly by mentioning that Robert Plant pioneered the style and who was he to question it? It's okay, you're still a total cutie, Peter.

Redbone! They were the awesomest. I remember seeing this performance and thinking, these guys look like people in my family. Redbone and Santana—we were glad to see and hear them in our household.

I'm including Kevin Cronin from 1980-era REO Speedwagon only because I had a blazer just like this. It was oversized and evoked a weird blend of dressy combined with circus-clown that made up much of early 80s style.

Sly and the Family Stone. They had it all. They rule the Earth. Forever and ever. Peace and love, Sly.

Check out Tina Turner and the Ikettes. They're still cooler than anyone else to this day.

I don't know what was going on with Todd Rundgren and I'm sure he doesn't either. And that's okay. No judgment.

The great Wolfman Jack pushing the great Little Richard on a swing. Look at Wolfman's ecstatic face. You know he's thinking, "I'm getting paid to push Little Richard on a swing!"

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Women Cover the Fine Tunes

I don't call out gender in music too often lately but once in awhile I'm compelled to ponder the reality that while growing up, there were very few women in rock until the late 70s. Before that there were plenty of supreme singers and performers, and a few rock iconoclasts (Janice, Tina, Grace, Genya Ravan, the group Fanny—who am I forgetting—help me out Internet, it's late and this week has been full of horrific gun violence that has scrambled my synapses). But thank god for the late 70s and early 80s were a goldmine of women began rocking out. I mean, rocking. Out.

It was thrilling to discover more and more of these women on college radio, in magazines and books (books!) and from people you just happened to meet at a friend's house, at a party, or at school, who pushed an album into your hands and said, "You have to listen to this! She's my favorite! You can borrow it if you want." (Bless you for that, generous friends with your adventuresome album collections.)

Let's listen to some of these fine musicians cover the songs of other fine musicians.

Kristin Hersh - "Like a Hurricane"
You might not realize that Hersh has been songwriting and rocking on the guitar since she was 14 years old in 1983. Back then I had an early Throwing Muses EP with its stop/start tempo-changing artfulness, but lost track of her and her groups over the years. Then a couple years ago my friend and bandmate Joy called me up and told me Throwing Muses had reformed and we should go see them.

I was like, "I'm 50 years old. I don't need any dissonant chord changes in my life right now, but thanks." But Joy insisted and  we both realize that when one of us insists on something cultural, especially musically cultural, the other should comply—or suffer the consequences of a barren existence. So I bought my ticket and went to the JCC in some nondescript San Francisco neighborhood.


Kristin Hersh is the real deal. She did things on the guitar that blew my mind several times over. Her confidence and poise onstage is astounding. She is my Bob Dylan. The moral is, if Kristin Hersh comes to town, GO SEE HER. Wait for her guitar to truly kick in here. She can wail in more ways than one.

Here's Neil Young doing his great "Like a Hurricane." I've seen Young play live with Crazy Horse several times, and it's just like this, with the plaid shirt and the wind in his hair and everything. Neil Young is a national treasure. Here you can see his huge influence on the grunge scene to come. Without meaning to, he influenced an entire generation of disaffected northwestern youth, who were all tuning into his wavelength around the same time, having heard him on the radio growing up. That was cool how that happened sort of accidentally, through the force of his musical vision, prolonging his career well into the 90s.

Barbara Manning - "Rickity Tickity Tin"
This is Barbara's take on a Tom Lehrer folk parody (see below). Who is Tom Lehrer? Oh, he's great. Check him out. So is Barbara Manning. She writes, she plays, she sings like an angel. She makes the song her own for her psychologically dark rock-opera album 1212, even changing the title of Lehrer's song. And it works.

Tom Lehrer - "The Irish Ballad"
My son is a big Lehrer fan. Lehrer retired long ago from songwriting and performing and taught math at UC Santa Cruz where he still lives, perhaps among the redwoods, which I wish he'd write a song about.

The Go-Go's - "Our Lips are Sealed"
I've never known what the genesis of this song was until Wikipedia set me straight (hopefully—you know how it goes on Wikipedia sometimes). I always thought this was a cover of a Fun Boy Three song, but they were released in the U.S. and the UK around the same time in the early 80s, so how was I to know conclusively?

It turns out it was co-written by Jane Wiedlin and Specials/Fun Boy Three singer Terry Hall (with drumming and backup vocals provided by The Mo-dettes'  June Miles-Kingston on his version), and while the Go-Go's version did well in the States, the Fun Boy Three arrangement was the one that rose to the top of the charts in the UK. Go figure. Anyway, according to Wiki, Wiedlin and Hall were having a "thing" while their bands were touring together and he had a girlfriend at the time, and you how that goes...

It goes like this:

Fun Boy Three - "Our Lips are Sealed"
I think we can all agree, Belinda Carlisle is the cutest lead singer (of all time perhaps), but the Fun Boy Three arrangement definitely has its haunting charms.

The Pretenders - "Stop Your Sobbing"
It's a Ray Davies/Kinks song. He wrote so many great ones. Later he and Chrissie Hynde would be married, for a time. Hynde deserves many props for her iconoclastic tough-girl with the smooth voice persona back in the late 70s when she was writing music journalism in the UK (having fled Ohio for a more interesting life) before starting her band.

The Pretenders were a great group, absorbing the dynamic musical convergence that were going on in the UK at the time—spurring each other on to heights of musical experimentation within the pop-punk genre. I don't think Hynde ever got over the tragic early deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist and "Brass in Pocket" muse Pete Farndon. Her edges softened once she moved back to the States and I just don't find her as interesting now. But that voice. That voice.

That voice.

The Kinks - "Stop Your Sobbing"

BONUS: The Pretenders - "I Go To Sleep"
Another Davies song, only released as a demo by The Kinks.

The Kinks - demo of "I Go To Sleep"

Monday, July 04, 2016

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Barack Obama Holds a Koala Bear

This 2016 Election is anything but comforting, but take some comfort with this rendition of President Obama expertly providing a supportive arm to this adorable snuggle-worthy koala. This artwork is based on the G-20 summit meeting in Australia way back in 2014 and as you can see, diplomatic relations with the marsupials went as well as can be expected. Although I could not vote for our President again this week (this isn't some FDR situation, unfortunately), I felt secure, knowing my vote furthers the foundations of the Republic. Let us venture forth into the political vortex that will be the Primaries. I love you, Prez.