All posts by alanwp

In “Opening Wednesday,” Charles Taylor explores what B-films embody of ’70s America

Classics such as Cabaret, The Godfather, Taxi Driver and The Wild Bunch reigned over ’70s cinema. But there are riches found in the overlooked B-movies of the time . . . flicks that were rolled out wherever they might find an audience, perhaps tell an eye-opening story about post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America. Missed them? Catch up with  Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s (Bloomsbury, $27), in which acclaimed film critic Charles Taylor revisits the films that don’t make the Academy Award montages and explores what these B-films embody of ’70s America.Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-in Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s

Opening Wednesday unlocks a forgotten treasury, films that display the honest, almost pleasurable, pessimism of the era, with a staying power that stands in opposition to what Taylor calls the current “infantilization” in Hollywood. Taylor argues that movies today—beginning with the unprecedented success of Star Wars in 1977—have devolved to “spectacle and gimmicks,” with sequels and remakes and spinoffs as the bulk of mainstream moviemaking, while films from the 1970s portray a “connection to the world, and to real-life emotions.”

In the essays of Opening Wednesday, Taylor pays homage to the trucker vigilantes, meat magnate pimps, blaxploitation “angel avengers,” and taciturn factory workers of grungy, unartful films such as Prime Cut, Foxy Brown and Eyes of Laura Mars.

He creates a compelling argument for what matters in moviemaking and brings a pivotal American era vividly to life in all its gritty, melancholy complexity.

A literary warning: “Frankenstein Dreams” offers scary thrills and scarier chills

Warning! Do not read this book at night. Or in the dark. Or when you are home alone.

Michael Sims has edited Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction (Bloomsbury, $22), a collection of chills and thrills that will be released in September. We are giving you advance warning.

Sims, whose elegant introduction provides valuable literary and historical context,  has gathered many of the finest stories, some by classic writers such as Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, but many that will surprise general readers. Dark visions of the human psyche emerge in Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s “The Monarch of Dreams,” while Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (below) a glimpse of “the fifth dimension” in her provocative tale “The Hall Bedroom.”   

Perpetual human concerns meet modern anxieties in these tales that grapple with time, mortality, the senses and the unknown. The tales showcase the ways in which Victorian writers confronted the philosophical and spiritual repercussions of the new technologies and scientific revelations of the 19th century. The major themes of modern science fiction emerge: Space and time travel, dystopian societies, dangerously independent machines, all inspiring the speculative fiction of the Victorian era.

You’ve been warned. Again.

Up, up and away with “Air Warriors: Season 1” on DVD

Take flight with Public Media Distribution’s Smithsonian Channel original series Air Warriors: Season 1 on DVD. The program is filled with stories of a winged fighter that hasn’t lost a fight in 26 years; a lifesaver that’s part plane and part chopper; and an attack helicopter our enemies call the Black Death. These are America’s undisputed kings of the sky: the F-15 Eagle, the V-22 Osprey, and the AH-64 Apache. And their success stories are as remarkable as they are improbable.Image result for Air Warriors: Season 1 on DVD

They are the ultimate fighting machines. And they’ve kept our skies safe from enemies both here and abroad. Air Warriors profiles some of the most powerful aircraft ever flown by our armed forces. In-depth interviews, archive footage and access to military installations around the world tell the story of how these engineering marvels influenced our nation’s course.

Osprey
Follow the journey of the U.S. Marine’s V-22 Osprey, from early failures to war and humanitarian mission triumphs.

Apache
Hop aboard the AH-64 Apache, one of the most heavily fortified and well-armed helicopters ever built.

F-15
Get an inside look at the USAF’s go-to fighter jet, the F-15 Eagle, and discover the secrets of its unprecedented success.

“The Complete Book of Classic Chevrolet Muscle Cars: 1955-1974” is one book car lovers auto have

Allow us to steer you to the best chronicle of Chevrolet cars throughout two decades of speed and style. Park Mike Mueller’s The Complete Book of Classic Chevrolet Muscle Cars: 1955-1974 (Motorbooks/Quarto Publishing Group, $40) in your essential library after you’ve taken it for a few fascinating laps o’ reading.      

Chevrolet didn’t invent the overhead-valve pushrod V-8 engine, but without question Ed Cole and company perfected it. And General Motors’ Bowtie division wasn’t the first to put the engine design in a production car, but it was the first to put the engine design in an affordable production car and make it available to the average driver. No other automobile in history so clearly demarcates a before-and-after line in the sand like the 1955 Chevrolet. This was the birth of the affordable performance car, and from the moment the car hit the streets, the experience of driving would never be the same.

The impact that an affordable American sedan with a powerful performance engine had on American society was so great that it not only changed the experience of driving; it changed the psychology of a generation. Prior to the introduction of the 1955 Chevrolet with its V-8 engine, cars had been considered necessary appliances, like refrigerators or vacuum cleaners. With a single stroke, Chevrolet turned American culture into a car culture.

Chevrolet dominated the muscle-car scene throughout the classic era. The Impala SS, with its 409 engine popularized by the Beach Boys, ruled America’s drag strips. The Z16 Chevelle Malibu SS396 became the every man’s muscle car. The Camaro turned the pony car genre into genuine muscle cars. The LS6 engine was the most powerful of the classic era.     Image result for Z16 Chevelle Malibu SS396

The book’s luscious 183 color and 37 black-and-white photos will have you revving the engine!

“The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek” flies high

The impossible has happened . . . and we don’t mean why we continue to question why William Shatner is a “star.”Image result for william shatner 2017

Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of the world’s most successful science fiction television series: Star Trek. In The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek (Aurum Press, $19.99), author Lance Parkin, goes in search of the show’s creator.

This book reveals how an undistinguished writer of cop shows set out to produce “Hornblower in space” and ended up with an optimistic, almost utopian view of humanity’s future that has been watched and loved by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Along the way Parkin examines some of the great myths and turning points in the franchise’s history, and Roddenberry’s particular contribution to them.Image result for The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek 2017 He will look at the truth in the view that the early Star Trek advanced a liberal, egalitarian and multi-racial agenda, chart the various attempts to resuscitate the show during its wilderness years in the ’70s, explore Roddenberry’s initial early involvement in the movies and spin-off Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as his later estrangement from both), and shed light on the colorful personal life, self-mythologizing and strange beliefs of a man who nonetheless gifted popular culture one if its most enduring narratives.

W.W. Norton offers four books that are meant to be read and savored . . . even at the beach!

Beach books to carry along? We suggest this quartet from W.W. Norton.

With the sweet yearning and raw truth of a Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris duet, Don Lee’s Lonesome Lies Before Us ($26.95) resounds as a contemporary ballad of heartbreak, failure, and unquenchable longing. Yadin Park is a talented alt-country musician whose career has floundered—doomed first by his homely looks and lack of stage presence, and then by a progressive hearing disorder. His girlfriend, Jeanette Matsuda, might have been a professional photographer but for a devastating heartbreak in her teens. Now Yadin works for Jeanette’s father’s carpet-laying company in California while Jeanette cleans rooms at a local resort. book coverThey sing together in a Unitarian church choir and try to find comfort in their weekly routines, yet solace eludes them, their relationship remaining lukewarm despite their best intentions. When Yadin’s former lover and musical partner, the celebrated Mallory Wicks, comes back into his life, all their most private hopes and desires are exposed, their secret fantasies about love and success put to the test. Subtly and sublimely, all the characters’ paths begin to converge, and the results of these intersections will provoke readers to reconsider their own lost highways.

With an infectious passion for the period and an expert knowledge of the music, Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel tells the story of how progressive rock developed, evolved and endured over time—and why it still matters to music today. A wonderfully entertaining behind-the-scenes look at such hugely popular bands as Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Jethro Tull, The Show That Never End: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock ($26.95) explains exactly what was “progressive” about the music, how it arose out of psychedelia and heavy metal, and why it went from dominating the pop charts to being widely despised and satirized. book coverSpanning five decades, the book is both a narrative history and an affirmation of progressive rock as “a grand cultural detour” that made possible much of the music that is popular today. Every new artistic movement rebels against whatever came before it, but progressive rock’s rebellion was the weirdest, the most outlandish of them all.

Part archeological dig, part culinary science lab, part history lesson with booze, Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Recreated ($26.95) by Dr. Patrick E. McGovern is a romp through time to rediscover how our ancestors brewed libations, and how to recreate these liquid time-capsules at home. Biomolecular archeologist and experimental beer-maker Dr. Pat—as he is affectionately known—not only traces the rich history of human’s centuries-long passion for fermented drinks, but reveals how research science and the culinary arts combine to bring these paleo-brews back to life. book coverMcGovern has worked to uncover the tastes and techniques of ancient brewers, while also exploring the significance of alcoholic beverages in human history: how ancient brews shaped our culture; impacted our environment; and informed our ideas of life, death and the divine.

Soaking up the sun is a good way of cooking up some new dishes with BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts ($35). Stella Parks, an award-winning pastry chef, serves it all up: From foolproof recipes and fresh take on the history of American desserts to the surprising story of how our favorite desserts came to be—the hidden meaning of the word “oreo,” the weirdly vindictive origin of graham crackers, and the marketing-driven machinations that led to key lime pie. You’ll find everything from a one-bowl Devil’s Food Layer Cake to Blueberry Muffins and Glossy Fudge Brownies, even Stella’s own recipes for recreating popular supermarket treats!book cover These meticulously tested, crystal-clear, and innovative recipes (including an effortless, no-fuss twist on Angel’s Food Cake) bring a pastry chef’s expertise to your kitchen.

Terry Newman’s “Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore ” fits like a glove . . . or a Gucci

After working professionally in the offices of Redbook, Us Weekly, United Feature Syndicate and sundry other spots, I no longer dress when I work. And write. The daze of black ties and tuxes are over with. Forever. No more Oscars and Tonys and Grammys and other stuffy, star-studded events.

A new book? That calls for me to wear T-shirts and boxers.
Another article? Perhaps sweats or pjs.
Another blog? The naked truth in the naked truth.

It’s no wonder I didn’t make Terry Newman’s delicious new book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore (Harper Design, $29.99). This innovative gift book took a clue from the horse-faced Diana Vreeland who, in her 1984 autobio D.V., reminded all “Where would fashion be without literature”?

Newman presents 50 fully illustrated profiles of prominent men and women of letters, highlighting their key works, signature fashion moments from their wardrobe that express their persona and how they influence the fashion world today. This segues into an examination of how this particular item of clothing or style makes up part of fashion’s lingua franca, getting under the skin of the fashion story and talking in more detail about its historical trajectory and distinctive impact on popular culture.

Under the garb are revealing anecdotes about the authors and their work, archival photography, first-person quotations, little known facts, and clothing-oriented excerpts that exemplify their writing style—make this a lively look at the authors we love.

Joan Didion, smoking and leaning against a sleet Stingway, stars out from the cover. In 2015, she was the face of Céline. Everything Didion writes is distinctly Didion; she is an original and that’s something designers can connect with. Her personalized journalism where innermost emotions and ideas are transparently communicated or experimental fiction such as her novel Democracy where she, as the author, takes center stage as narrator are bodies of work that reflect the soul. Her style does the same.

There is only one thing more interesting than a writer, and that’s a stylish writer. The shape and twist of their hair, how they hold a cigarette, or penchant for wearing a particular item is their creative DNA on display, whether it’s an exotic turban like Zadie Smith’s signature head-piece, James Joyce’s wire-framed glasses, or Samuel Beckett’s Wallabees (left).Image result for Samuel Beckett’s Wallabees Quite often a writers’ wardrobe is distinctly out of fashion and for that very reason stands out and alone. Likewise, curious fashion-hounds find writers a stimulating muse in today’s non-linear fashion climate.

For some writers, their style does not mirror, but rather, deflects. Take Sylvia Plath, her Bell Jar wardrobe was prim and proper, and a foil for her tormented psyche. The pearls and twinsets, and later, her less formal but still sensible choices, all projected assimilation and a non-confrontational, even somewhat bland persona, yet her work was dark, confessional. For Plath, fashion was aspirational: she dressed in the way she wanted to be seen, rather than exhibit her interior turmoil.

Delving into the wardrobes of literary icons—past and present—and the way they write about clothes provides a glimpse into the world they each inhabited and their moment in time. A testament to the notion that reading and writing never go out of style, this beautifully designed book is sure to captivate lovers of fine literature and dedicated followers of fashion.

My fave remains Jacqueline Susann (below). The iconic author wrote the best novel ever, Valley of the Dolls, a sordid saga of show-biz. (“Sparkle Neely sparkle!) More than 40 million copies of the bible have sold and I am not even mentioning Jackie’s luck with The Love Machine. After all, once is not enough. Susann sits on the tiled floor of her 200 Central Park South apartment, clad in a mini Pucci (circa mid-60s), diagramming Love Machine‘s Robin Stone on a blackboard.Image result for jacqueline Suzanne pucci

And the quotes! Newman choose some whoppers, the way Liza would have chosen the right Halston before she got fat and drunk and slovenly.

Dorothy Parker: “Gingham’s for the plighted maid; satin’s for the free!”

Maya Angelou: “Seek the fashion which truly fits and befits you. You will always be in fashion if you are true to yourself, and only if you are true to yourself.”

Oscar Wilde: “Fashion is what one wears oneself. Whit is unfashionable is what other people wear.”

Tom Wolfe: “You never realize how much of your background is sewn in the lining of your clothes.”

Newman writes: “What you read is as important as what you wear. And what authors wear is source material for designers’ creativity. The literary and fashion worlds are therefore synchronized, and the geek chic of librarians is a look that is set to prevail.” She adds: “Fashion is a history book as well as a mirror, and the incidental assimilation of who is wearing what, where, why, and when adds density to a cultural read.”

 

 

 

 

 

PBS Distribution’s “Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel” is a powerful history lesson

Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

Robert Mugge offers a revealing, musical look at the life of Al Green in “Gospel According to Al Green”

Listen up, folks. Let’s stay together.

After filmmaker Robert Mugge produced Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron for Britain’s Channel 4 Television in 1982, he and Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Music Andy Park wanted to collaborate again. Park suggested Mugge create a portrait of African American gospel star Andraé Crouch. But Mugge, a longtime fan of soul and pop singer Al Green, countered that suggestion. Mugge figured that Green’s rejection of soul music to become a Memphis-based preacher and gospel singer perhaps made him a richer potential subject. (Interestingly, Green was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson).

Indeed.

Park agreed. Mugge needed 13 months to secure Green’s approval, getting his approval only days before the planned Seventh Anniversary Celebration of Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. That Sunday afternoon church service featured not only Green’s usual church choir and musicians, but also a second choir from Ellington, South Carolina and most of Green’s touring musicians and backup singers. Mugge arranged to document that December 18, 1983 service with three 16mm cameras and a 24-track audio recording truck, making it the first (and reportedly still the only) Al Green church service to be committed to film, Gospel According to Al Green.

While in Memphis, Mugge and his crew went on to film an interview with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (who had produced and co-written Green’s commercial hits of the ‘70s), a studio rehearsal featuring Green and his musicians and an extended interview with Green himself. In Green’s interview, he explored his early days in the music business, his creation of such popular hits as “Tired of Being Alone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”, the traumatic events that led to his abandoning of his successful soul and pop career, the purchase of the Memphis church building which he transformed into a church of his own, and the ways in which his soul and gospel backgrounds had each informed the other.

Image result for Mary Woodson White
Mary and Al

Perhaps the most emotional part of Green’s interview was his discussion of the so-called “hot grits incident,” wherein spurned girlfriend Mary Woodson White assaulted him in the shower of his Memphis home with a pot of boiling hot grits, then ran to another room of his house where she shot and killed herself. (Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her). This interview, conducted two days after his church service, was the first occasion on which he discussed this experience publicly, and he included facts that even his own band members had never heard.

In February of 1984, Mugge also filmed Green and his band in concert at the Officers Club of Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., this time utilizing four 16mm cameras and the same Nashville-based 24-track recording truck he had hired to record the Memphis church service. It should be noted that, at that point in Rev. Green’s career, he had embraced the Southern fundamentalist notion that blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock n’ roll were “music of the Devil,” and that, therefore, he should now perform only gospel music.

However, among the numbers Green performed at the D.C. concert was Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which exists somewhere between soul and gospel. In addition, during the staged rehearsal in Memphis, Green agreed to perform “Let’s Stay Together,” which had been one of his biggest commercial successes and now represented a recurring theme in the film. Along with fragments of a few more hits he performed during his interview, these songs helped to depict “Al Green the pop star” who had preceded “Al Green the pastor.”

Among the top Memphis musicians who appear in this film are, number one, Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee, Jr., who was best known for touring with Green and for performing at Woodstock and elsewhere with Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; and number two, Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Green’s hits “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” and toured and recorded widely as a guitarist with the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Lee can be seen performing in the church service and rehearsal sequences of the film, and Hodges can be heard, and briefly seen, playing incidental guitar behind Green during much of his interview. Sadly, both men are now deceased.

The resulting 96-minute film, Gospel According to Al Green, had its world premiere presentation in the summer of 1984 at Filmfest Munchen (a film festival in Munich, Germany), its television premiere over Britain’s Channel 4 later that fall, and its U.S. theatrical premiere at Coolidge Corner outside Boston a year later. After each of the two opening night screenings on October 25, 1985, Green sat on the Coolidge Corner stage and, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, freely offered the commercial hits that he had mostly refused to perform during the making of Mugge’s film, thereby demonstrating his storied unpredictability. Naturally, audience members at both shows were enchanted by his presentation, and since these and other premiere screenings, the film has been in constant release around the world.Image result for al green 2014

As to Rev. Green—now Bishop Green—this past December, he and his congregation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his Full Gospel Tabernacle church. For MVD Visual’s new worldwide Blu-ray and DVD releases, director Mugge has overseen 4K remastering of the film and created a new 17-minute video titled Soul and Spirit: Robert Mugge on the Making of Gospel According to Al Green. Other bonus features include audio of Green’s entire 1983 interview, audio of the climactic final hour of Green’s seventh anniversary church service, an extended film version of a key song from the church service, and the personal telephone answering machine message Green recorded for Mugge in the mid-’80s.

“As Good As You” is a bittersweet, poignant and funny lesbian drama

First Run Features continues to live up to its name. What else were you expecting?

FRF offers the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of As Good As You on June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. The lesbian drama/comedy—named winner of Best LGBT Film by Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival—marks the feature film debut of Heather de Michele. The screenplay is by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, executive produced by Michelfeld and produced by Reena Dutt. Another reason to celebrate Pride Week.

Laura Heisler leads an outstanding cast in this poignant and witty film about a bereaved woman searching for meaning and purpose in the aftermath of her wife’s death. Jo (Heisler) enlists her brother-in-law Jamie (Bryan Dechart) as a sperm donor in an effort to salvage her dream of raising a family. Along the way she leans a bit too heavily on her two best friends, a lesbian punk photographer named Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and a straight male barfly named Nate (Raoul Bhaneja).

The film also features Peter Maloney, Karis Campbell, Elizabeth Herring and Annie Potts. The story is consistently tender in its portrayal of grief, even as the film becomes a kind of willful, triumphant comedy. Director de Michele navigates the tonal shifts with good timing, taste and craftsmanship.

Director Heather de Michele is a co-founder of the NY comedy troupe Lesbian Pulporama, which included playwright Michelfeld and her late partner. The film is inspired by Michelfeld’s own story and partly a tribute to her partner, also a performer in the troop who died in 2012, made by close personal friends. It is the first feature for both director and writer. In fact, de Michele’s partner plays Lisa in the film.

“Lesbian pregnancy, infertility, hormone shots, artificial insemination–these were subjects I hadn’t seen explored in film yet,” de Michele explains. “I told Gretchen she should get on that; then her partner got sick and it all stopped. Once she passed, too shortly thereafter, Gretchen dove back into her work. She needed to write. We were all grieving madly. The story of As Good As You became a hybrid of all of these experiences. It’s deeply personal for both of us. ”

IF YOU GO
Laemmle Music Hall
9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
310.274.6869
laemmle.com