Archive for September, 2010

Tony Curtis, Arthur Penn and Gloria Stewart: Saying Farewell To Three Generations…

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by halmasonberg

This week has been a sad one. Two landmark actors and one landmark director (not to mention film editor Sally Menke, whom I wrote about earlier) have left us. While we know that this is the way of things and that these moments are inevitable, it still hits hard and the sadness and loss is real. Even if some of these people haven’t been front and center in our daily lives for some time, knowing they are no longer with us seems to make the world just that much emptier.

But thankfully we have their work and legacies to guide us, to keep us company, and to recognize as a signpost to possibility.

Actor Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz)  died yesterday of cardiac arrest in his Las Vegas home. He was 85. Thankfully, Mr. Curtis recently shared his memories of making SOME LIKE IT HOT with author Mark A. Vieira in the recently published book, THE MAKING OF SOME LIKE IT HOT: MY MEMORIES OF MARILYN MONROE AND THE CLASSIC AMERICAN MOVIE. I highly recommend it.

Curtis was a Hollywood icon. His films ranging from WINCHESTER ’73 to THE DEFIANT ONES and on through THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, THE GREAT RACE, SPARTACUS, THE BOSTON STRANGLER and even an episode of THE FLINTSTONES (as Stoney Curtis) as well as dozens of other films and television roles, Tony Curtis was and remains an American legend.

Arthur Penn, the groundbreaking director who ushered in an entirely new direction in American cinema with his daring and controversial BONNIE AND CLYDE, died Tuesday night of heart failure at the age of 88. Penn cut his teeth on the early days of live television directing for GULF PLAYHOUSE, GOODYEAR PLAYHOUSE, THE PHILCO-GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE and a host of other groundbreaking and highly influential shows. As a feature director, his work includes MICKEY ONE, THE CHASE, ALICE’S RESTAURANT, NIGHT MOVES, THE MISSOURI BREAKS and many, many others. In 1982, Penn was quoted as saying, “The movies have changed: there’s now this wonderful storyteller Spielberg making benign movies that are enormously successful, while I’m known mainly for making movies about people shooting and cutting each other up. I love his work, but I could never make stuff like that.” Arthur Penn will be forever remembered.

Film actress Gloria Stewart was reintroduced to contemporary audiences in James Cameron’s epic blockbuster TITANIC. But Miss Stewart, who died Sunday night at the age of 100 from complications due to lung cancer, began her career in the early 1930′s. She was best known for such landmark films as THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU and literally dozens and dozens of other film and television appearances. Even though Miss Stewart was blessed to live a long life, the world is that much smaller in her absence. She will be missed.

As will they all.

Goodbye, Sally Menke

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, Film, Los Angeles with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2010 by halmasonberg

Horrific and tragic. Film editor Sally Menke’s body was found at the bottom of a ravine in Griffith Park. She apparently left for a hike with her dog and never returned. This turned out to be on the hottest day in Los Angeles recorded history. Sally’s dog was also found, thankfully alive. No report yet on the cause of Sally’s death.

Sally was best known as Quentin Tarantino’s editor. The two made a tremendous team. My condolences to Sally’s family and friends and to Mr. Tarantino for the extreme loss. Sally’s death is a loss to the entire film community.

Among Sally’s non-Tarantino films are:

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
NIGHTWATCH
MULHOLLAND FALLS
FOUR ROOMS (MAN FROM HOLLYWOOD segment)
THE SEARCH FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

as well as many others.

She is already missed.

Grateful Dead Go FURTHUR At The Greek

Posted in Grateful Dead, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2010 by halmasonberg

I’ve been listening here and there to this current incarnation of the Grateful Dead legacy; bits and pieces as they appear on Archive.org and other sites. While I am already a fan of their newest lead guitarist John Kadlecik (of Dark Star Orchestra fame), I have found what I’d heard so far to be “interesting,” even quite good at times, but never great. Over the last few years I’ve become a shameless Dark Star Orchestra fan. In large part because that band feels more like the Grateful Dead experience to me than the Grateful Dead themselves did in their last 10 or so years. With a few exceptions, the Dead lost their ability to play tightly as they wound down into their third and final act. Perhaps it was lack of rehearsals, or maybe Jerry’s heroin problem, or perhaps a lack of interest or pure exhaustion, I don’t know. What I do know is they were no longer the band I fell in love with. I still went to see them, and I always yearned for more, but I was also fighting a mounting disappointment that they had become rather sloppy.

In listening to Furthur online, I got the sense that this band was tighter than the Grateful Dead had been toward the end, but still not as tight as, say, Dark Star Orchestra. But last night’s show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles turned me around. I can’t tell you how this show will translate to tape, but I can tell you that being there was a very different experience from any recording I’ve heard to date. What I witnessed was a very tight band. And a very advanced one. Perhaps they’ve returned to the stage after a short break with a newfound enthusiasm, well-rehearsed and ready to move things another notch up the musical ladder. It certainly seems so.

For the record, this is not the Grateful Dead. Most of the songs may be, but the approach is different. This band is even more jazz-influenced than the Dead were at their “jazziest.” With rhythm guitarist Bob Weir (not just bearded, but bespectacled now as well) and bass player Phil Lesh the only Grateful Dead members in attendance, Furthur truly is a unique animal less concerned with recreating the Grateful Dead experience and seemingly more concerned with exploring new sounds and new directions to take the music. And if last night’s show is any indication, they are succeeding masterfully.

No longer bound by the structure of the Grateful Dead’s set lists (which, though improvised and ever-changing, nonetheless became a bit predictable), Furthur has thrown the rule book out. Any song, from any era can (and will) be played anywhere in any set at any time. This, for Dead Heads, is pure nirvana. Everything is possible.

Added to this lineup is keyboardist Jeff Chimenti who is easily my favorite “Dead” pianist since Keith. Jazzy and daring, Chimenti never tries to overpower the band, but flows energetically as he weaves in and out of the spaces between the other instruments, stepping forward front and center only when an opening permits. And when he does, watch out! The music is about to reach new heights! I’m one of the few who was never a huge fan of Brent Mydland (I know, I know, sacrilege…). I felt his playing, as supremely talented as it was, overpowered the rest of the band and made it that much easier for them to ease into sloppy musicianship as Brent’s keyboards would usually cover any such “mistakes.” Even MORNING DEW would climax prematurely due to Brent’s overuse of organ and his extreme volume in any given mix. Perhaps in Brent’s defense, he was just covering up the gaps left by a band that had lost some of its drive. But either way, Chimenti never traverses that same path and I could not have enjoyed his participation more. I hung on every note with delight.

Drummer Joe Russo is less a replacement for the Kreutzmann/Hart duo (the other surviving Grateful Dead members not included in this lineup), but more reminiscent of those years when Billy Kreutzmann was the band’s sole drummer. Like Billy, Joe does more than just hold the band together, he cuts a clear path so that they may dance unrestrained, their individual sonic personalities skipping with complete abandon through open spaces to come together with all the love and affection of a family reunited. Just listen to his uninhibited and self-assured intro to the show opener, ALLIGATOR.

Following ALLIGATOR, the remainder of the first set at L.A.’s Greek was completely engaging. Filled with songs the Grateful Dead stopped playing in the 60′s, as well as a brand new song and some old favorites, the band wove a pleasant tapestry that was, as it would turn out, just a small taste of what was to come. By time the set ended with MASON’S CHILDREN, I felt the band was just getting up to speed, even though they’d already taken us on some sublime spiraling musical excursions.

The second set hit the ground running with a welcome trip back to the 60′s once again with a pair of songs I’d always longed to hear live, BORN CROSS-EYED and NEW POTATO CABOOSE. I was in heaven right from the get-go and the set list just kept getting better and better. The complexities and nuances of this new incarnation came clearly into focus. For the first time, I was able to let go of what I expected them to be and was able to embrace who this band had become, who they were now.

UNBROKEN CHAIN was a second set highlight, less because of the beauty of the song and its once mythic status, but because, in the hands of this new band, it had become an epic musical journey in ways I’d never imagined possible. This was only slightly overshadowed by what turned out to be one of the best live MORNING DEWs I’ve ever heard. I had to keep snapping myself back to reality and remind myself that I was seeing this live and not just listening to an old CD from the past.

And even though they could have ended the set with the DEW and no one would have been anything less than completely satisfied, the boys decided to treat us to a full-on, no-holds-barred PLAYING IN THE BAND before wrapping up the set.

Furthur is a band worth seeing. If you appreciate true musical exploration, if you love the music of the Grateful Dead (and I mean their full songbook, not just the “hits”), then this incarnation is a must-see. And while it’s still true that Bobby and Phil are not the best vocalists to be found, reinforcements have been brought in in the form of backup singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. And Kadlecik is no slouch himself with a somewhat rough-around-the-edges Garcia-like lilt to his voice. And it should be noted that Phil appears to have taken some more singing lessons or is simply pushing himself farther than he’s gone before as he, truthfully, has never sounded better. Rearranging his vocal approach to many of the songs, I was hard-pressed to find those wince-worthy, off-key notes Phil has been known to hit on more than one occasion. In fact, there was a downright beauty to his approach this night and I hope he continues to challenge himself in this manner as the results are already enormous. The splendor of these songs came through in a way they had not for many, many years.

On a less enthusiastic note, the audience in attendance at the Greek was a mixed bag. I don’t know if it’s just the L.A. crowd or if this is a staple of the concert experience everywhere, but I was amazed –nay, shocked– by the sheer number of people who seemed more focused on engaging in full-on, top-of-lung conversation than in listening to the music. On more than one occasion, I found myself aurally competing to stay focused on the band and not on the selfish verbiage that was spewing forth all around me by those who appeared less interested in music and far more interested in socializing and networking. It took some deep breaths (and the occasional dirty look and random friendly comment to the worst transgressors) before I was able to just let go and not let the less-attractive elements of my surroundings take away from all the wonderful happenings going on. Thankfully, the music grew louder as the show progressed and it became increasingly easier to smile and ignore those nearby who were clearly mislead into believing we had all bought our tickets to hear them lecture, commiserate and exchange business cards.

The other slight complaint I had was that I was never fully satisfied with the sound mix. This seems to be in keeping with my experience of the live recordings. Vocals are often soft and a bit muffled, and John Kadlecik’s lead guitar is almost always too low in the mix, rarely standing out above the other instruments. Whether this is by design or not, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve also felt, both at this show and the others I’ve listened to, that Kadlecik is holding back. After experiencing him in Dark Star Orchestra on numerous occasions, I know what he is capable of as a guitarist and, as good a job as he did last night, it was still restrained compared to Kadlecik’s full musical capabilities. Again, this may simply be the sound and style this particular band is after. But one senses that with slightly looser reigns, Kadlecik could help this band go even further (no pun intended). And if you can’t loosen the reigns a bit, at least turn him up! Luckily, by the show’s last third, the mix seemed to agree with me as Kadlecik (particularly during MORNING DEW) finally landed front and center in the mix. Oddly enough, up until that point, it wasn’t Bobby and Phil who dominated, but the drummer and keyboard player. So while I would have preferred a different balance in the mix, at the end of the day it wasn’t enough to take away from the experience in any dramatic fashion and, as said, it did improve by show’s end.

Soon I’ll listen to Furthur at the Greek in download format and see if the experience of the show I attended translates to the live recording medium. Will it sound as good to me then as it did in the moment? Or will they once again sound like that band I wish were just a little tighter, just a tad more polished? I’ll let you know. But for the moment, as I sip my morning coffee and reminisce about the night before, they are still powerful in my memory. And I can still feel them in my dancing feet.

Here’s the set list followed by a few video snippets I took (no full songs, I’m afraid. I was too busy dancing to commit that much time to recording. But it’s a taste…).

Set 1:
Alligator->
Caution->
Good Lovin’
Muli Guli
China Cat Sunflower->
Ramble on Rose
Mason’s Children

Set 2:
Born Cross Eyed->
New Potato Caboose->
Cryptical Envelopment->
The Other One->
Unbroken Chain->
Let It Grow
Mountain Song->
Morning Dew
Playin’ in the Band
Encore
Box of Rain

Kubrick’s FEAR AND DESIRE. The L.A. Screening

Posted in Childhood, Favorite Quotes, Film, Misc with tags , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by halmasonberg

After a lifetime of waiting, I was finally able to catch up with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s infamous first narrative feature film FEAR AND DESIRE. Made at the youthful age of 23, after having shot and directed a few short documentaries and having been a photographer for LOOK magazine for a number of years, Stanley Kubrick embarked on what would turn out to be the beginning of a lifelong passion. Today, FEAR AND DESIRE is best known as the film Stanley Kubrick didn’t want anyone to see.

Rumors persist that Kubrick tracked down prints, as well as the negative, and had them burned. Not true. Or so says Eastman House Motion Picture Curator Caroline Frick Page. Turns out Kubrick never owned the rights to the film, but did request on numerous occasions –and quite adamantly– that Eastman House not show the print of the film residing in their permanent collection. But now that Kubrick has passed on to the world beyond (the infinite?), Eastman House seems to be a bit more open to screening their print. Though don’t expect to see much of it as this is, apparently, the only known surviving 35mm print in the world. Some (though not all) of the negative has been found and, according once again to the very gracious and articulate Caroline Frick Page, a collaboration may soon be undertaken to restore FEAR AND DESIRE for wider public consumption, though nothing official is as yet in the works.

What to say about the film itself… Well, it’s easy to understand why Kubrick felt this production to be amateurish and why he was embarrassed by it. At least when viewed beside his other works. However… while it is true that the acting is at times quite bad (and at other times quite passable or, at least, fascinating), and the script rather portentous and amateur, the visuals are nothing shy of a feast. Shot by Kubrick himself, the black and white photography is stunning and the compositions exceptionally potent. The editing isn’t always as strong as it could be, but there are times when it is oddly effective and certainly the inception of concepts to come. But it’s the imagery that is without question the film’s strongest element and more than enough of an excuse for seeing this first narrative work by one of the world’s master filmmakers.

And while there’s no fixing the script, the themes and concepts explored are ones that Kubrick would return to repeatedly in his later work. This is, as well as the visuals, another strong argument for the film being seen. Add to this actor/director Paul Mazursky’s acting debut (a very strange and disturbing performance) and I truly think the argument to show the film outweighs Kubrick’s desire to have it hidden. At the same time, part of me wants to honor Kubrick’s wishes, while the other part of me is just thrilled beyond measure that Eastman House chose to screen this print. As a filmmaker and film-lover, seeing FEAR AND DESIRE was and is a rather big moment in my ongoing experience of cinema. It is also a fantastic insight into the early creative mind of a filmmaker who helped sculpt how I see cinema and opened artistic doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. And despite its many flaws and imperfections, FEAR AND DESIRE is a film worth seeing. And one that sticks with you (at least it did me). Kubrick once said that film should be more like music than like fiction. Well, FEAR AND DESIRE may not be Kubrick’s master composition, but it certainly shows an artist who had already formed that notion very early on, regardless of whether or not he was aware of it at the time.

The screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood was followed by a Q&A with Paul Mazursky and Eastman House’s Caroline Frick Page. Below you will find audio for that Q&A (not professionally recorded, but quite listenable nonetheless). Please note that several Melies shorts were shown before FEAR AND DESIRE and are referenced in the Q&A. The Q&A is presented in three parts:

Below is an audio segment from an interview with Stanley Kubrick done in 1966. In this segment, Kubrick discusses the making of FEAR AND DESIRE and his feelings about the film:

Happy Birthday, Mickey Hart!

Posted in Grateful Dead, Music with tags , , , on September 11, 2010 by halmasonberg

Every Country Has Its Own Rev. Terry Jones

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2010 by halmasonberg

Protests throughout the Middle-East condemning Reverend Terry Jones’ claim that he will burn copies of the Quran (which the Reverend then said he would not do and is now reconsidering again), have resulted in injuries and the stupidest of all responses, the burning of the American flag. Like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck’s followers, there are people everywhere who simply do not put two and two together.

Burning the American flag is not the best way to convince anyone that they should respect the Quran and not burn copies. However, while it’s easy to assume that most Afghans or Pakistanis protesting are this misguided, be reminded that it’s just as easy for them to think that most Americans are like the Reverend Jones. Both sides react based on extreme actions by a select faction of people and violence, hate, and oftentimes murder ensue.

Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, Dick Cheney, the Reverend Terry Jones, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin… these are all people who offer those seeking an avenue to syphon their fear and anger a place to rage. To gather together with others who have not come to terms with the emotions they are feeling and allow them to act inappropriately and dangerously. This is not new to society. Any society. It is not new to the human race. Joseph McCarthy, Adolph Hitler… granted, those are extremes, but the idea is the same. People the world-over are disillusioned and fearful. We all struggle with these emotions. We always have.

Hopefully through the events of the past ten years, we will all start to learn just how susceptible we are to those who prey on those fears and insecurities, whether they do so knowingly or through ignorance. It’s one thing to try and learn from the past, from something one hasn’t experienced oneself. It’s another to live through it, as we are doing now.

I wonder if it’s possible to learn how dangerous this type of behavior is and to actually pass that on to further generations. Or do we all have to learn it for ourselves and be doomed to repeat it for all eternity? Or at least until we take it so far that there’s no turning back.

Let’s hope something good comes from it all. At least in the present. And let’s hope it doesn’t get too much worse before it gets better.

Doug Trumbull’s BEYOND THE INFINITE 2001 Doc

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, Film, Home Theater with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by halmasonberg

Being as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is still, lo these many years later, my all-time favorite film, nothing could thrill me more than getting a sneak peak at effects wizard Douglas Trumbull’s new documentary on the making of 2001. This looks to be, from all reports, the quintessential behind-the scenes-documentary.

The video trailer for the film is available on Trumbull’s own web site and is very exciting indeed! Just go to the site, scroll down, and click “2001:  A Space Odyssey – Documentary.”

I’m not sure if this doc will be released on its own, or whether it will be part of Warner Bros. proposed Stanley Kubrick Blu-ray Collection.  When I find out, you will, too!

Either way, I’ll be there.

Happy Birthday, Pigpen!

Posted in Grateful Dead, Music with tags , , , , , , on September 8, 2010 by halmasonberg

Grateful Dead with Ron “Pigpen” Mckernan performing “Next Time You See Me” in Copenhagen 1972 at Tivoli Gardens. Magnificent!

The Ugly Americans: Reverend Jones & Friends

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2010 by halmasonberg

I’ll start out by saying that I’m thrilled to see so many people standing up to oppose Reverend Terry Jones’ intention to hold a “Burn A Quran Day” event on September 11th. In the face of the overwhelming ignorance, hatred and blatant religious and ethnic bigotry opposing the proposed building of an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero, Rev. Jones’ disgusting intent just adds fuel to an already out of control fire raging through America. Add the lunatic-gathering at Glenn Beck’s “Take Back America” rally and Sarah Palin’s daily tweets of extreme ignorance and vile attacks, and we have a picture of a dangerous country succumbing to its own panicked state of fearfulness.

What would the American picture of Islam be if some nut-job over in Afghanistan gathered people together to start burning copies of the Christian Bible? Or the Jewish Bible? Would we easily be able to separate an extremist like this–that one in a million religious kook–from the rest of the population? Hell, we already know we can’t separate a group of terrorists from an entire nation and/or religious belief.

And even when Gen. David Petraeus claims that Jones’ actions, if carried out, will almost certainly endanger American soldiers overseas as well as place Americans everywhere (including right here at home) in even more peril, and the Reverend still insists that “Burn A Quran Day” is enacting God’s will… Well, one has to question whether Jones’ God cares all that much about this little country of ours or whether he’s just a vengeful entity who likes to “stir the pot” and see what happens.

Sadly, it’s people like Reverend Jones who are, in my opinion, no better than the terrorists who attacked this country. He is putting his personal beliefs over the lives of lord knows how many people and claims to be on a mission from God. “We actually feel this is a message that we have been called to bring forth,” claims Jones. “And because of that, we do not feel like we can back down.”

Irony of ironies.

“Maybe it’s time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior,” added Jones.

Hmmm… What if we changed the words radical Islam and replaced it with America and placed that same sentence into the mouths of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.

“Maybe it’s to time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to America that we will not tolerate their behavior.”

As a result of his actions and some of the negative attention it has drawn, Rev. Jones has started wearing a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his hip. Now there’s a good picture. A man of God insisting on endangering human lives (American lives, for those that separate) and carrying a pistol in case someone tries to stop him from going through with his “religious obligation…”

And so the lines blur even more…

“Islam is of the Devil,” read the signs Rev. Jones has posted in front of his church.

Wasn’t America the incarnation of the devil in the eyes and words of the Al Qaeda?

The Quran, according to the all-knowing Rev. Jones is “evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.”

Is that what it does? Cause I’m guessing the same could be said about the Torah. It certainly espouses some different biblical truths than Rev. Jones’ preferred version of the holy book. And if you’re Palestinian, you might well believe that it also incites radical, violent behavior in Jews.

Why, it seems to me that Rev. Jones’ bible is inciting radical behavior in him and his followers. Behavior that may well lead to violence and killing as a direct result. Violence and killing Rev. Jones is well aware of. If he wasn’t, do you think he’d still be armed with that .40-caliber pistol strapped lovingly to his hip?

There’s that fine line again. I just can’t keep it all straight…

Who exactly are the good guys?

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