Songs »Honky Tonk

by Bill Doggett (1956)

Honky Tonk is an early classic of instrumental rock and roll. The kind of tune that makes you want to sway by the jukebox with your bobby sox, cute straight cut bangs with a beer in your hand and a bad boy in your sights.

I am not surprised to find that Bill Doggett, who made the song a hit before the Beach Boys adopted it later, was the pianist and arranger from one of my favorite 1940’s bands, The Ink Spots.

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Posted on January 23, 2011

Books »Dr. Suess Beginner Book Collection

by Dr. Seuss

As you can see, Van is just overwhelmed by the bounty of fun time Dr. Seuss reading the Beginner Book Collection offers. I am sure we can all quote from the included Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Cat in the Hat but I can tell you it’s such a pleasure to revisit these classics as a mother. When he’s in a reading mood nothing gets him squealing one of these quirky, silly rhymes. This is a great gift for new parents (thanks mom for ours!)

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Posted on January 18, 2011

Songs »Mr. Sandman

by The Chordettes (1954)

When you have a baby you suddenly have to sing baby songs. Initially I couldn’t remember any and just sang what popped in my head, but somehow, no matter how sing songy I made it “They’ve got the guns, but we got the numbers.. Gonna win, yeah we’re taking over.. Come on!” just seemed strange to sing to a little one.

Fortunately, and rather oddly since I don’t think I’ve really listened to it since it popped up in Back to the Future, Mr. Sandman was the other song I could think of. Van seemed to enjoy it very much and lately so do I. It’s a lovely song.

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Posted on December 19, 2010

Movies »All About Eve

directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1950)

All About Eve (in no way associated with All About Steve) is a classic. Delving into the egocentric world of theater people, it studies the paranoia that accompanies success and the cut throat viciousness of those that yearn for it. Bette Davis, never afraid to look bedraggled, aged or drunk is the star of the show, mixing charm and an acid tongue to play Margo Channing, a revered actress growing older and less pleased by the fact daily.

Surrounded by a small team of friends and a lover that appreciate her for all her faults, Margo let’s a young, sycophantic admirer named Eve into her inner circle. Initially working as an assistant, Eve eventually draws out the venom in Margo, throwing the star into what seem like fits of jealous unfounded paranoia. Like a self fulfilled prophecy, however, everyone soon learns that Eve may not be as temperate and sweet as she seems.

Davis is excellent here and though it always feels strange to critique a classic, Anne Baxter as Eve doesn’t quite deliver. She’s plenty creepy in her obsessive excessive kindness but lacks fire when she shows her true colors – making it hard to understand how she could have threatened anyone in the first place. It’s a talkie movie with lots of grand monologues, leading me to assume it was adapted from a play – but it comes from a short story by Mary Orr and was only adapted for the stage years after the film.

It’s generally considered one of the best American films made.

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Posted on November 21, 2010

Books »Foxfire

by Joyce Carol Oates (1993)

Teenage girls are infinitely fascinating and mysterious to me (even though I was one once!). There’s such a deep emotional well and dynamic opposing elements, it’s little wonder that their world can make for excellent fiction when handled right (see Virgin Suicides and My Summer of Love).

Joyce Carol Oates makes the rebellion of teenage girls, and the intense friendships that can be formed, especially with little or no family influence, the topic of Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. Told through the older, though perhaps no wiser eyes of one of the gang members years later, the story is mostly set in the early 1950’s in the run down town of Hammond, NY.

“Legs” Sadovsky is the gang leader, a bold, complex young hellion, beyond her years and an idol for admiration to lost girls. Under her watch and direction, a rag tag group of outsiders, all young girls and denouncing men, form Foxfire, a girl gang that goes beyond mere tattoos and matching outfits but delves into violence, recklessness, theft and eventually worse in an uncontrolled vent against a world with few options and many obstacles.

It’s a fast paced and quick read that I have on good authority is a million times better than the loose film adaptation which seems to take all the bite out of the plot and sets the story in the early 90’s with Angelina Jolie. It’s a shame, because in the right hands it could make a compelling movie. For now, read the book instead.

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Posted on October 15, 2010

Books »More Than Human

by Theodore Sturgeon (1953)

I thought I knew what to expect from Theodore Sturgeon‘s More Than Human based on the cheap (modern) cover and back jacket description: some sort of X Men meets Enders Game, but what I found was more mysterious and at times down right literary. Divided into three segments, the groundbreaking novel explores the coming together of several outsiders with extraordinary talents. They are a village idiot that can control minds, twin girls who can teleport, an overly protected girl with telekinetic skills, an ingenious baby and an angry multi skilled young man. Apart they are often beat down and freakish, together they may just be the future of human evolution. It sounds a movie-ready tale with a comic book vibe, but the first part, The Fabulous Idiot, in particular is darker, stranger and more complex than that.

Unfortunately, the two latter parts are told through a lot of exposition – a character talking to his psychiatrist in one, and a man trying to regain his memory in another – which is a far less exciting way to unfold a story of sometimes complex ideas. Still, it holds as a unique piece of science fiction with memorable characters that one can imagine in other adventures.

This is the most famous novel by the nearly unknown but undeniably influential author who inspired Delany, Bradbury and Ellison as well as the character Kilgore Trout of Vonnegut’s novels.

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Posted on September 18, 2010

Books »Wild Town

by Jim Thompson (1957)

Even a lesser work by Jim Thompson is great fun to read. It is with reluctance that I admit Wild Town falls into that category, especially with such a strong set up. Bugs is a life time loser, in and out of jail with a temper and a lust for women. He wanders to an oil boom town and in the employ of local rich man, Hanlon as a hotel detective. Lou Ford is the deceptively hayseed sheriff capable of great violence.

Of course, there are dames too: Hanlon’s loose young wife whose got her eye on Bugs, the seemlingly innocent hotel maid that can’t resist a strong man, and the goodhearted school teacher that seems like the image of perfection to Bugs. The characters are colorful, they just are left in one of Thompson’s most straight forward and least bleak plots.

I can’t give too much away without spoilers, but there’s a murder, blackmail, some missing money and double crossing, it’s just missing the bleak almost surrealism that brightens the best works by Thompson (see Hell of a Woman, The Killer Inside Me). Still, fans of noir could do much worse for quick and mostly satisfying summer reading.

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Posted on September 5, 2010

Songs »En Glissant

by Yvette Horner

The haunting En Glissant by Yvette Horner came to my attention via family on facebook and is one of the songs shot for the Scopitone, which friend Marcus explained to us over on RC a ways back. Horner, virtually unknown in America was a French accordion star.

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Posted on August 22, 2010

Songs »Rock Around the Clock

by Bill Haley (1955)

Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock is considered iconic of the mainstreaming of rock and roll even if it wasn’t the first or the most popular of it’s time. It’s inclusion in the rebel teen movie, Blackboard Jungle sealed it’s place in pop culture infamy and now I think it’s catchy awesomeness as a song is overshadowed by it’s position as a background to our history. I mean, how many times have we heard the song over the years? Still, even though it might be overplayed and is by no means a rare hip find, when you really listen to it again, it’s a whole lot of fun and makes me think of bobbysox, rebellion, and high school dances – all good things!

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Posted on June 27, 2010

Songs »Iko Iko

by The Dixie Cups (1965), The Bell Stars (1989), James Sugar Boy Crawford (1953)

Wow, between Beetlejuice, Keanu Reeves, Frazetta and the Smiths, I really seem to be revisiting the mid to late eighties with all my heart this week. The trend continues with Iko Iko, a song introduced to me via the Bell Stars rendition in Rainman. Something about the kite festival got it in my head and it’s been pleasantly rattling there ever since. I’ve learned that the Dixie Cups 1965 version is even better (and probably my favorite if I had to pick) and that among many people The Grateful Dead and Cyndi Lauper also have versions. The very first original though, is pretty rocking and fab and comes from James Sugar Boy Crawford. See videos for all these after the jump.

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Posted on May 16, 2010

Movies »The Fugitive Kind

directed by Sidney Lumet (1959)

You know, melodrama just doesn’t work today the way it used to. With Tennessee Williams at the writing helm, adapting his own Orpheus Descending along with screenwriter Meade Roberts, The Fugitive Kind is certainly an old school southern Gothic melodrama with drunks, mad angry women, silk slips, money left on mattresses, desperate love affairs, and a town full of violent dirty secrets. Naturalistic it’s not, but entertaining it is.

Marlon Brando is deliberate and handsome as Snakeskin, a drifter musician and possible former hustler who is both slow and unwittingly skilled at manipulation. His nickname comes from his iconic jacket, which inspired a similar stylistic iconic choice in Wild at Heart.

The women surrounding him are played by Maureen Stapleton, who is heartbreaking as a gentle, naive artist surrounded by ugliness, Joanne Woodward as an almost animal like untamed drunken crazy socialite, and Ann Magnani who commands the screen as Lady “a real live one” with restrain that’s ready to boil over. She’s both a powerful diva and beaten down. She’s musky, dark and needful but softened by  glimmer of hope that burns in her despite a life and face cracked with loss, horror and age.

Misfits and fugitive kinds, they are all the romanticized fringe, who are the only ones in an ugly world who dare to try to bring beauty to it – whether with a song, a confectionery or a painting.

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Posted on May 9, 2010

Albums »I Hear A New World

by Joe Meek (1959)

Fascinated with the space program, producer Joe Meek made I Hear a New World as a pet project in the late 50’s. Comprised of various aural experiments, the result was ground breaking and would have been at home played on space stereos in the farthest reaches of the universe. I’ve been listening to it for days and it’s as beautiful as it is odd. One song in particular, Valley of No Return, has been teasing me with its familiar strangeness, calling to some other piece of music (I believe from a movie soundtrack) buried deep  in my mind – but the identity of the similar tune continues to elude me.

Mostly instrumental, a few songs include human voices but they’re creepy and Chipmunk-like which makes them feel like they come from a David Lynch meets Santa Conquers the Martians universe which, you may surprised to discover, is not such a terrible place to be transported to.

After a little bit of research, I was shocked and saddened to find out that this pioneering master musician (whose accomplishments are even more astounding once you learn that he was tone deaf) succumbed to a very tragic ending: after a decline in popularity and bouts of depression and paranoia, he killed his land-lady then turned the gun on himself. He was 37.
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Posted on March 14, 2010

Albums »My Funny Valentine

by Chet Baker (1954)

Smooth and sultry and oh so romantic, the voice and trumpet of Chet Baker is incomparable (as you’ll see in this week’s hunk category, he was also incredibly, mind numbingly handsome). So sad then that a substantial drug addiction ruined his career, resulting in his name attaining less than household status; he deserves to be remembered as a true jazz great. If you love the standards like I do, and are interested in delving into his work, there’s no better place to start than one of his early recordings, My Funny Valentine.

Released in 1954, the soft and haunting album which includes the title song, Someone to Watch Over Me, Let’s Get Lost, and Isn’t It Romantic, is appropriately dedicated “to lovers”.

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Movies »The Red Balloon

the red balloondirected by Albert Lamorisse (1956)

The Red Balloon is a beloved daydream-like classic. It plays daily at the Museum of Moving Image and was perfect Christmas weekend viewing on my laptop. The simple yet stunning little movie celebrates imagination, childhood and France and makes you joyful to have memories of any of those things. With its wordless story of a boy’s friendship with a big red balloon, a delightful score by Maurice Leroux, and beautiful images by Edmond Séchan, The Red Balloon has been charming audiences of all ages for decades.
Producer, writer director Albert Lamorisse cast his own son as the little boy who, along with the neighborhood kids (bullies included) is dressed impeccably stylishly French (rollneck grey sweaters and small school boy briefcases).

If you’ve missed this tiny masterpiece, watch it now on Netflix instant.

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Posted on December 26, 2009

Songs »Blue Christmas

blue christmas elvisby Elvis Presley (1957)

Blue Christmas is a rare sad Christmas song that was performed by tons of people but made oh so popular by the great Elvis Presley. Though, to be honest, lately I’ve grown very, very fond of the indie rock darling Bright Eyes version. Please forgive its inclusion in a phone company commercial.

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Posted on December 20, 2009

Laughs »Your Life in 1975

1975 predictionsFrom Tempo and Quick, July 1955

People have been waiting for “heli” transportation forever (myself, I began wishing for it when I saw Back to the Future 2), or so I’ve learned from this 1955 article that predicted that we would fly to work on helibuses by the year 1975. Another thing that sadly never came true? Thirty hour work weeks. Read more below/after the jump.

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Posted on November 29, 2009

Movies »Strangers on a Train

For a long time I kind of felt less than inclined to actually watch Strangers on a Train, having been so clued in on the plot from the many films that are inspired by and reference it, but there's real joy to be had, even if you know what's going to happen, in watching a Hitchcock film that's so perfectly on; there are some ingenious visual sequences here that prove again (as if it were ever disputed) that he can be an amazing master of film making with clever simplicity.

Aside from the iconic directing, the dandyish performance by Robert Walker as crazy Bruno is spectacular. In a favorite scene, he claims to be late for an appointment fully dressed in slippers and a robe, and saunters off with a smirk upstairs. There are few villains more fun to watch on screen while still maintaining a genuine feel of insanity and danger under behind their pearly whites.

Bruno's foil, the male lead (played by Farley Granger), is perfectly fine as a dumb tennis player with a reasonably pretty and politically connected new girlfriend. But again, it's the villainy role that's the juiciest: the slutty, mean-spirited and, critically, bespectacled Kasey Rogers (billed as Laura Elliott) is great as a woman that you can actually imagine yourself wanting to kill.

The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, whose work is always prime for great adaptations (see the Talented Mr Ripley), though there is one major difference in the book's plot?

Here's the trailer

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Posted on August 17, 2009