Wednesday, February 25, 2015

She Mob - Expired Cough Syrup (Don't Drink It) - with fabulous found footage

Ooh, I lucked out today and stumbled upon a beautiful educational film from the A/V Geeks Archive: Hidden Treasures from 1951. If you like closeup (in this case, microscopic) photography, this is the educational science film for you! Great found footage practically edits itself to the song—I'm here to testify to this.

Expired Cough Syrup (Don't Drink It) is a true story about Joy's bad trip from bad cough syrup that she innocently ingested while trying to treat a bad cough. She had a rough time of it, chemically, but she lived to write and compose the song and it's on She Mob's third album, "Not In My World" from 2005. (Available here)

"Not In My World" is an interesting one. She Mob was in flux at the time. I had just had a baby and couldn't partake much in musical endeavors. I sang backup on a few songs on this one and that's it. Before I left for motherhood hiatus, the band had experienced "creative differences" (fighting) between founding members, Joy, Diane and me. It wasn't much of a fight—more like tense psychological warfare involving a battle of wills and a coronet player from El Cerrito.

Band fights are the stuff of legend but no one outside the situation can ever comprehend them fully because they involve personal histories, old and new grudges, and inexplicable mental states that are of the moment, never to be fully understood. Suffice to say, "Not In My World" has some anger issues. But it also has a soft side. In fact, if it were on vinyl, Side A would be super-pissed and side B would help you relax and be in the moment.

Joy, Suki and Alan play on this song and as a special treat, Suki worked her sampler magic. The footage is really quite spectacular—I just cobbled it together.

If you're looking for excellent found-footage gold, consider purchasing an affordable DVD sampler from A/V Geeks.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

She Mob - Mrs. Idey, the video

Say, Captive Wild Woman, what's your process when making a no-budget music video?

I'm so glad you asked! (Yes, I'm talking to myself in my head; that's what blogging for ten years does to a mind.)

Here's my process:
  • Pick a song, any song, from one of She Mob's four albums (or sometimes from another album—that's for another post)
  • Look for a film on the Prelinger Archives to re-edit and repurpose
  • Place them together on Windows Movie Maker—the free and very basic editing software that works like making a collage from old magazines with digital paste
  • Repurpose the film to the song
  • Sit back and enjoy the accolades! (I'm waiting for this part to kick in—any day now.)
  • Really appreciate that MFA in Cinema degree and all it's wrought
Admittedly it's not entirely free when factoring in the costs of making an album, paying the bills for Internet access and a roomy-enough hard drive for all these downloadable public-domain film clips, but once that's squared away—you're ready for music-video magic-making.

Yesterday I was looking for clips to use for one song, but ended up using another song entirely, because I didn't feel like getting up from my desk to make an MP3 of the originally intended song. You might call that laziness. Generally, I would agree. But in a happy accident, the MP3 I already had on the computer worked better with the footage I settled upon.

And now, too much analysis: happenstance, serendipity, coincidence—be on the lookout for these things when working on a creative project. It's fine to be tightly controlled too. Sometimes that's in keeping with the project. But in this case, a loosey-goosey approach seems to work best for me. Because I have to tap into the unconscious with these little films. They don't take long to make and are set to music; that's a dream-like realm of our brain. I hope I haven't made myself perfectly clear. I would never try to do that.

And now, from She Mob's 1999 album, "Cancel the Wedding" (a favorite of old rock critics and little kids), Mrs. Idey.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movies You May Have Missed - Obvious Child (2014)

Despite my age and gender, I don't fit into the romantic-comedy movie demographic. That's because I'm about as romantic as a home-cooked meal. A really great home-cooked meal and I'll even do the dishes afterwards, but don't expect me to do it in a satin teddy with full makeup and scented candles. That's just impractical! And will interfere with your meal. [Note that if I were a male, making this meal would be deemed "romantic" enough for most—FOOD FOR THOUGHT.]

What's the least romantic thing in the world? That's right—having an abortion. But director/writer Gillian Robespierre and her collaborators (writers Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm and Anna Bean, who also worked on the short film the feature was based upon ) have done it—made a rom-com about a woman who's having an abortion. In fact, the abortion is a factor in the will they/won't they rom-com trope. Not the will they "do it" question. Obviously, they did. But will they connect on a fulfilling emotional level once the deed is done? You might be thinking no way will this work—not in a million years, buddy-boy. But somehow it does and it accomplishes the task by honoring protagonist Donna Stern's truth, which happens to be a truth that many of us have experienced, with all its messiness and imperfection. It's a rom-com scramble!

No matter how you feel about abortion, one thing's absolutely certain, the odds are high that you or someone you know and love has had one. Or will have one. Because humanity, in all its cunning and wisdom, can't bypass our basic genetic disposition to survive. And that survival depends on procreation. And procreation is driven by biological urges, and sometimes alcohol and desperation. We're sexual beings and our birth-control methods are fallible, and so medically safe, effective abortion procedures are imperative. Our survival depends on that too. It's obvious.

And now:

Meet Donna Stern (Jenny Slate, doing a fine job with comedy and the deeper emotional stuff, plus no matter what the circumstance—always such great hair). Just a typical young lady, looking for love in the big city—kidding. She's not typical or that young. She's a 28-year-old comedian, working the stage of a neighborhood bar while day-jobbing it in a bookstore (no one can afford NYC-borough rents by working in a bookstore. Still, it's a dream job for many bookish young women, trying to make it in a difficult field, such as comedy, so we suspend disbelief and allow Donna her dream job.)

And Donna isn't even looking for love. She's currently in a relationship, mining it for her often vulgar act—musing on such earthy subjects as vaginal discharge, farts, and sexual dysfunction. While Donna's comic persona isn't for everyone, she does leave the audience giggling into their drinks, appreciating a woman who can be just as gross as any male comedian. Feminist progress!

But within ten minutes of the movie, she's been dumped by her boyfriend in a most unpleasant manner. And laid off from her long-term bookstore employment as well. Dark times!

Luckily, she has a supportive family, including goofy puppeteer dad, played by Richard Kind, who has no problem doing goofy. And business professor mom, played by Polly Draper, who has a hard time accepting her intelligent daughter's dream to write and perform great fart jokes. But there are comforting dinners and hugs all around.

Donna also has a really good friend, Nellie, played by the great Gaby Hoffman. After this film (and several others, including the series Girls), I've decided to see anything Gaby Hoffman is in for the rest of our natural lives. A warm, natural presence—yet intensely odd if a story calls for that. Here's she's the kind of friend anyone would love to have, and along with wise-cracking comedian pal, Joey (Gabe Liedman), Donna's future is actually in good shape.

The film's main flaw is its first half-hour, when Donna is hitting bottom—drinking, obsessing over her ex, bombing at the club (her bad set is audience-punishing). It's risky for Donna to be this wilting and weepy so early on in the story. Her earlier pre-breakup comedy set should have been even better, so we can feel how low she's sinking. And empathize. The film at times loses the balance between character drama and genre expectations. Donna is a budding comedian who's growing into her act, but the genre demands that she fall from some sort of grace if we're to root for her romantic (or personal) dilemma.

My other issue with the narrative has to do with her ex, who crushes her spirit by taking up with her best friend. We don't spend more than a few minutes with him (although it's a memorable jerk moment) and only get a glimpse of the best friend, and that's it. This diminishes the impact of Donna's despair, however comedic and lacking in dignity. Watching a romantic comedy unfold, we want to see emotional antagonism in action, if only briefly, so our heroine can become that much more of a potential shining star.

But at least Slate is able to handle these heavier scenes, pulling the comedy from pathos, as she partakes in a bit of "light stalking" and drinks to an excessive degree, further exasperating her impulse-control issues. I have a soft spot for a drunken heroine.

It gets better. After Donna's culmination of setbacks, into the bar walks goy-next-door, Max (Jake Lacy).

Max is easy on the eyes and not the least bit creepy as he shyly flirts with Donna. In fact, they get along great because they're snockered beyond comprehension. Hence the dancing-in-underwear to Paul Simon surrounded by books montage.

But, as we know from the trailer, Donna soon finds herself with embryo. She's a single, unemployed, would-be comedian who's been impregnated by a guy she met in a bar while on a bender. There is no question she's going to get an abortion. It's not even a question. The question is, why does she keep running into this Max guy after the dirty deed? It works because Donna and Max, hang out in the same geographic circles and despite everything, have good chemistry.

I just put this here because I appreciate that a dad who's a puppeteer is going to be a little freakish at times.

Yup, there's chemistry galore between our two leads. I was rooting for them, especially in the scene involving the Crocs. I appreciate human interaction that stems from footwear—particularly ridiculous footwear.

How will Donna make it through the abortion? Not lightly, and with help from her friends. Like many low-budget first features, Obvious Child starts out a little rough. But halfway through I was emotionally involved, perhaps even a bit teary, due to the strong performances. Especially by the great interplay between actors—who are very much friends, parents, and potential partners on screen. That sort of familiar and spontaneous back-and-forth is difficult to capture, but Gillian Robespierre, through solid casting and whatever spark carried her team through this seemingly impossible concept, accomplished it. And gave us a love story about modern human beings—a rarity, much appreciated.

If Gaby Hoffman and Jenny Slate were to team up onscreen again, I'm for that


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Brady Bunch Mental Health Analysis - Will the Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up? (1971)

No one was more shocked by the success of The Brady Bunch than Robert Reed. He had taken the job of Mike Brady, thinking the show—with its cornball sentimentality and sophomoric humor—would be cancelled immediately. Instead he was forced to play the Brady patriarch for five seasons of polyester-clad purgatory, plus sequels and variety-show embarrassment for years to come. He didn't know the power of the tail-end of baby boomer mass viewership. But we're not here to ponder Robert Reed's economically motivated thespian hell.

This is a second-season look into the dark psyche of the only member of the bunch who's considered to be somewhat of a misfit. If she had been born a few years later, she might have expressed her inarticulate disgruntlement while living amongst the cheerful middle-class suburban bourgeoisie with the angry sounds of punk rock. I'm talking about Jan, of course, would-be dark middle-child, trapped in a sisterhood, all with hair of gold—like their mother. (The youngest one in curls.)

Jan's existential dilemma was not just having a weak sense of identity, but having to live within a clan who refuses to acknowledge that such a thing could hold any importance for her. Her stories revolve around anxiety of the self—of misplacement. And are doubly troubling because her exterior is a perfect example of acceptable Southern California girlhood of 1971, when this was aired. With her long blonde hair, blue eyes, and apple-cheeked American-girl looks, she should have been living it up, sunshine-state style. But because she was sandwiched between a relentlessly groovy older sister and overtly babyish younger sister, she was destined to be unsure of her importance in the world—forever questioning the qualities that made her unique. The making of an artist, if you will.

A feeling that would be expressed so well around the same time by bedraggled boy-men in wigs, spandex, and makeup.

Since twelve-year-old Jan wasn't about to run away to follow The New York Dolls (although what an episode that would be!), she could only try to alter her exterior to match her interior turmoil. With tragic results that only magnify her isolation—as we shall see. And now, Carol Brady, in a cheerful pantsuit, surrounded by wood paneling, welcomes you back to the 70s!

With special-guest star, the late, great Marcia Wallace, who I believe was a big influence on my art, as "Saleswoman."

It all starts when Jan receives an invitation to Lucy Winters' birthday party. Hooray—apparently Jan's no wallflower. But, Jesus Christ, what's this? her supposed friend addressed the envelope to Marcia, even though the invitation was for Jan. That's weird—who does that? Was Lucy subconsciously wishing Marcia would come to her party? Was she thinking of Marcia the entire time she addressed the invite? Does she have some kind of crush on Marcia (understandable, who didn't?). In any case, it triggers something deep and disturbing in Jan's psyche. And she's pissed.

Jan's all, "Fuck this shit!"

She tries to explain her feeling of invisibility and unimportance to her mom, but Carol, like so many socially successful people, doesn't get it. She tells Jan she's overreacting and after all, the invitation was for her, not Marcia. Jan's not convinced.

As always with this show, I think a different outfit would have helped

She searches a nearby magazine for answers and there, in marketing-speak, is her salvation. Or so she thinks. WHICH ONE STANDS OUT IN A CROWD?

Why, the BRUNETTE, of course.

Jan realizes that nobody cares about stupid old BLONDES

This advertisement for something that involves GLITTER, in sparkly surround-font, portrays exactly what Jan's problem is. Yes, a hint of delusional thinking—we'll get to that soon. It's HAIR. Hers is the wrong color.

Do I have to spell it out? These are the psychological implications of wrong-colored hair. And as a life-long brunette, I know of what I speak:

Check out the impressive bitch-face on repressed rage—she earned her model salary

Jan's blonde angst has all the hallmarks of a budding punk misfit. But instead of picking up a guitar, she totes her little purse to the nearby department store to buy a wig. That's right—a wig. Jan will seize the day and stand out in the crowd with synthetic hair as her trademark. Nowadays, she would just dip her hair in pink Kool-Aid and be done with it, but she's a little too ahead-of-her-time yet behind the times for that.

Set design was not the show's strong point

The awesome Marcia Wallace, ladies and gentlemen, always ready for a little caustic underplaying no matter what the situation.

Unlike Carol Brady, she grasps Jan's problem immediately and promises to remedy her fixation with a shot of endorphin-producing consumer-based impulse gratification. The interplay between Jan and Saleswoman is the best and funniest part of this episode, but that's no surprise. Wallace was a warm presence with the ability to reveal all her sardonic thoughts beneath her quirky exterior. Just think if she had played Carol Brady. The implications are implosive to my brain.

As a child, I thought this wig was kind of cool. It's called Midnight Persuasion, or something like that. It's not right for Jan's coloring but it fits her mood pretty well. Still, even the Saleswoman admits it's too sophisticated for our protagonist. She's apparently not that desperate to make a sale.

I'll admit that this scene had some kind of profound effect on me that inspired a lifelong fascination with false hair and persona. It's a good thing I ended up in a band who appreciates the power that comes from wearing a good wig. I was lucky. Jan, not so much so.

There's a number of ways Jan could have gone with this wig-wearing thing. 1971 was not the most radically fashionable year, but let's explore the possibilities available to a young girl, searching for a sense of self at that time. (Please excuse my poor Photoshop—it's not like I'm on salary here.)

She could maybe pull off Cher, during one of Cher's variety-show musical introductions.

Or go full-on David Cassidy—teen heart throb with a shag cut.

Or really stepped it up and do it up in a Raquel Welch-inspired do. Coincidentally Raquel Welch is known for her line of wigs. How cool if she had had a wig reference so long ago?

I'm so sorry about this Photoshop—I gave up at this point, obviously

But maybe that wig saleswoman was desperate for a sale, because here's what Jan settled on:

Oh dear god no

And even worse—she LOVES it. Kudos to Eve Plumb for the power of her acting imagination, because she sells us on the idea that Jan thinks she looks terrific in this wig. Even in the face of harsh criticism from her sisters.

Marcia cannot roll her eyes hard enough

And condemnation from her parents, as well as ridicule from Greg and Bobby (but notably not Peter, who has his own B-plot issues in this episode). Jan believes in this wig and demands to be able to wear it to Lucy Winters' party, as a showcase of her new identity.

The humanity

First of all, your friend's birthday party is not the time nor place for such a gesture—it's not about you, Jan. Second of all—things are getting pretty scary here, mental-health wise. This is delusional thinking to an extreme degree. But it was 1971 and no one cared. Do your thing!—that was our motto. Let it all hang out! Flip your wig! (See celebrity hairstyles above.) Mr. and Mrs. Brady, instead of riffling through the yellow pages for a competent child psychologist, capitulate and let Jan find out the hard way that suburban twelve-year-olds are the biggest conformists of all.

Here we see Jan's full-on psychosis in effect. She's totally into her new identity, which would work in John Waters' "Female Trouble," but is under-appreciated in the Brady universe.

Cindy's too old for pigtails and a doll, but that's for another post

Check it out, she's got a MIRROR to admire her new look. The Brady girls, although dismissive of their sister, carry on with their card game—the game of DENIAL.

Sad—like Liz Taylor in rehab

While Jan's desire for her own look is played for laughs, the producers of The Brady Bunch continued to dye Mike Lookinland's blond hair so he would match his brothers.  Et tu, Sherwood Schwartz?

The night of the party arrives! Jan makes a grand entrance on Lucy Winters' porch. Jan wouldn't have come across as a complete lunatic if it had been her own birthday party, but oh well. On top of all her other problems, she's got narcissistic tendencies (probably the root cause of her issues, but I'm not rewriting this now).

It does not go well. Lucy (played by ubiquitous child actress of the 70s, Pamelyn Ferdin) thinks it's the best joke Jan's ever played. And since Jan's never played a joke, nor ever shown a sense of humor during the series' run, this stings. Ruining Lucy's party, but not caring one iota, Jan runs home in tears (more good acting by Eve Plumb—it's a shame she felt compelled to follow up on the Bradys with with schlocky Dawn, Portrait of a Teenage Runaway—another Hollywood dream bubble popped).

Peter, having to contend with obsessive lovesick stalker, Margie Rimple, is powerless to step in and mediate this tense social situation.

And now it's Lucy's turn to cry, Lucy's turn to cry, Lucy's turn to cry-yy-yy

And Jan must come to her own realization that she's going to have to learn self-acceptance if she's going to party in the suburbs.

Don't worry—middle boy child, Peter, who understands where Jan's coming from—intervenes. Lucy has to leave her birthday celebration to apologize and beg Jan to come back, assuring her that everyone's envious of her real hair. Jan's all, "Wellll, I guess I'd like that." Then the gang, including Peter's stalker, head back for cake and punch. You know Jan's not getting invited next year.

Carol and Mike are all, "We are the BEST PARENTS EVER."

And the wig? Jan lets it go. She passes it on to Alice, who brandishes it like a wig of power, to the everlasting horror of the Bradys. The wig lives on in perpetuity, as do all synthetic hairpieces.

Now that we've analyzed that problem, what's up with this lamp?

Another set design tragedy