June 16, 2016
Ah, summer… It can be a beautiful time, but it can also be too hot to handle during the day. For cinephiles, it can also mean a drought at movie theaters. But fear not! This year, there are some great offerings that will not only keep you engaged but also in the comfort of amazing film venues with air-conditioning. A glance at the upcoming screenings at indie theaters in Miami this summer reveals an eclectic mix, featuring a documentary, a new film by a legendary director, a classic anime feature and even a music-themed movie screening for one night only.
January 12, 2016
Mid-year, I teased my working lists of The best films of 2015 … so far. It’s finalized. Four films had their premieres at either Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival or its mid-season Gems event. I had the chance to catch up with one of these films (Flowers) thanks to the Coral Gables Art Cinema booking it even without a distributor. It later became Spain’s entry to the Oscars and was picked up by Music Box Films. Another movie had its premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. But I’m spoiling the suspense already…
Now, in reverse order and capped off with 10 honorable mentions with links to reviews where appropriate, are the 10 best movies I saw in 2015. Where available, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the link provided, you will be financially supporting this blog.
The only film in my top 10 I did not review. Suffice to say that The Forbidden Room is an incredible experience of dreams and primal desires infused with that indelible Guy Maddin sense of humor.
7. Heart of a Dog
6. Flowers (Loreak)
4. My Golden Days
3. Love & Mercy
2. The Assassin
My honorable mentions (or bottom 10 – 20) are as follows (titles either link to reviews or Amazon): Mr. Turner, The End of the Tour, The Look of Silence (review), Voice Over (review), Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Spotlight, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (review), Brooklyn.
Next, Ana Morgenstern weighs in with her top 20.
January 8, 2016
Here are Independent Ethos’ picks for the 10 best albums we heard in 2015. They are presented in no particular order because it is the only thing we would argue about with these records. Where available, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the link provided, you will be financially supporting this blog.
The guys in Deerhunter are not content to stagnate in their sound. Following the creepily noisy Monomania (Vinyl Matters: Deerhunter’s Monomania), the Athens, Georgia, based quartet, produced Fading Frontier, a diverse record featuring smooth, crystalline guitar lines that were missing from the last album. Bradford Cox’s voice sounds clearer without losing any of its sneer. The instrumentation includes a sparkling harpsichord (“Duplex Planet”) and things like castanets and droning synthesizers that add waves of atmospherics. There’s even some funky guitar work for “Snakeskin.” Deerhunter have never sounded more fun and cozy. (Hans Morgenstern)
Son Lux is Ryan Lott, a classically trained musician that has mostly created alternative music that fuses genres. From classical music to digitized pop sounds, Bones is an exploration that pushes boundaries in different directions. In this full-length album, Lott is accompanied by guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, who help create an even bigger sound for Son Lux. But it is not only the sound that packs a punch, Lott wrote the lyrics for the album, which can dwell in dark moods. In “I Am the Others,” he asks “Am I the only one?/Where are the others?” Finally answering, “I am the only one.” The stand out of the album is “Change is Everything,” which has a sound that slowly builds up to a kind of controlled chaos. (Ana Morgenstern)
For those who miss the ’90s alternative rock of bands like Bettie Serveert or Th’ Faith Healers, Seattle’s Chastity Belt comfortably fill that void. Mixed for maximum reverb effect by Matthew Simms, the guitarist for legendary British post-punk band Wire, Time to Go Home, gets the slacker sound of ’90s down pat. It wouldn’t be what it is, however, without the swagger of lead singer/guitarist Julia Shapiro. The band’s second album is also just stuffed with great song craft. Take the syncopated layering of “Joke,” that piles on the instrumental tracks and is driven by Annie Truscott’s simple, high-toned bass line. The all-female quartet also display a keen feminist sense of humor we love. (HM)
During my first listen of Sufjan Stevens’ new album Carrie & Lowell, I was immediately transported to an intimate world inhabited by loss, grief, loneliness and unresolved childhood trauma. However, in the midst of what I would call one of the saddest albums this year, there is also lots of love, understanding and even redemption that give the album a positive spin. Carrie & Lowell is autobiographical and narrates Stevens’ early years, his relationship with his bipolar mother, Carrie, and his stepfather, Lowell. The sound is stripped down and folky and melodic with Stevens’ hushed voice — almost a whisper — a contrast to the enormity of the personal narrative woven throughout the album. Here’s another album that deserves repeated listening, as the songs compose a larger picture together. (AM)
With Depression Cherry, the Baltimore duo of singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally take both a step forward in their song-craft while glancing behind. Gone are the live drums that made their former albums sound more organic. Instead, the duo brings back the electronic precision of the drum machine, a key element of their early sound. Despite something being lost in the lack of vital drums, Scally is in prime form offering entrancing guitar loops while Legrand shows she’s not afraid to go outside of her comfort zone of dreamy, hushed vocals with a bit of speak singing and layered, noisy voices. Read more in my full length review: Beach House grows into its own with Depression Cherry – a music review. (HM)
Viet Cong returned with a more sharply developed sound that leaves behind the psychedelic fuzz of their introductory 2014 EP Cassette and embraces the Canadian quartet’s icy post-punk DNA. Bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel’s voice is more upfront and delivered with a confidence missing from the early effort. The music is more diverse, recalling precursors like Gang of Four and Wire but also featuring stellar moments of experimenting with drone craft, like the epic “March of Progress,” which opens on propulsive drum pulses against a shifting hum of organ that sounds like Boyd Rice but switches to a quirky, layered bright finale that recalls the noisy, more deadpan parts of Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). (HM)
I don’t think I ever liked a Wilco album as much as Star Wars. The Chicago alt-rock group sprung their ninth album on fans as a free download back in July. They must have known they had a good record to give it away for free. It’s their least indulgent record ever at a brisk 34-minute running time. The songs all have their own catchiness with mostly fuzzed out guitar work, but “Satellite” stands among probably the greatest songs of the year. Building on a repetitive chiming guitar line and gradually swelling propulsive drums and rhythm guitars to an ecstatic freakout of noise that threatens to come undone while still hanging on to the song’s essential grove to the very end. Downright entrancing work. (HM)
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Courtney Barnett has the ability to find the fun in banality, with lyrics that focus on the mundane. Her songs are easy to relate to and delivered in a speak/sing fashion that sometimes veers into melodic. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit is Barnett’s debut full-length album in which her loose style is coupled with a grungy sound reminiscent of the ’90s indie scene. It is Barnett’s exceptional ability to deliver these effortless capsules of everyday life with remarkable wit and sense of humor that make listening to Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit a rewarding experience. (AM)
The quirkiest yet still one of the most catchy records came from Cory McAbee, the frontman of the Billy Nayer Show, a group known for using high concepts as springboards to their albums. McAbee even directed a few stellar indie movies as part of the albums (The American Astronaut, a sci-fi musical western stands as one of his best works). He is at work on another film with the help of fans, and his solo debut Small Star Seminar is the jumping off point for it. It’s a strange concept album in that it speaks to self-perception and self-worth while filled with fear and insecurity delivered with both incredible sincerity and wry irony. The music recalls the deadpan quality of Laurie Anderson and the intricacy of The Talking Heads. You can stream the entire album on Bandcamp, but it’s not available on vinyl. (HM)
Keegan DeWitt – Queen of Earth (Original Score)
Keegan DeWitt did not only add a mysterious, unsettling element to Queen of Earth, the latest film by Alex Ross Perry (An interview with Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry), but he has also created an album that can stand alone (so it’s a shame it’s not available on any format besides streaming). The haunting instrumental score is equally dark and beautiful. Songs unravel slowly and put you on alert or a different state of mind directed inward. De Witt said he used a wrenchenspiel because “it sounded broken.” Indeed, the album is a mood piece that perfectly transmits the mental unraveling of the woman at the heart of the film. Wind instruments and high-pitched chimes create jarring sounds woven through tense, suspenseful moments interrupted by melodic bells that settle the mood back down. An aural journey that is disquieting but gorgeous. (AM)
Year’s best vinyl reissue:
Red House Painters 4AD catalog
Consistently fetching hefty prices on the secondary market, the vinyl versions of the first four Red House Painters album, released by 4AD Records in the early to mid-90s, were finally reissued by the UK-based label on vinyl this year. The dynamic, moody music, sometimes boxed into the slo-core sub-genre of alternative rock, begs for the attentive and deliberate plays. There’s no better format than vinyl for such music, especially considering some songs peter up from hushed whispers and distant mumblings, building to epic musical meanderings (I’m thinking “Evil”). Also cool, 4AD finally released for the first video for the band’s first single, from 1992, the brilliant downer about growing old, “24.”
* * *
Finally, this weekend, we will share our best in film.
All images courtesy of the bands. Except Red House Painters reissue. That was edited from an image from turntablelab.com.
January 4, 2016
Let’s start with the actually bad music documentary I saw this year. Even though it’s beautifully shot and the songs sound amazing (even in hacked up snippets), Arcade Fire’s The Reflektor Tapes is atrociously edited. The phenomenal group from Canada created an album full of songs that build on grooves. But before you can get into any musical moment in this film, there is a cutaway to something else. Making matters worse are the varied formats of framing. The film even jumps around in time with little rhyme or reason. Sometimes the audio doesn’t even match the performance. Director Kahlil Joseph simply betrays the music with a concern for panache over substance. Vincent Moon did it much better with Miroir Noir. Seek that out instead (purchase here).
Honorable mentions include Revenge of the Mekons, which actually came out a couple of years ago but only last year made its theatrical tour. I caught it at O Cinema Wynwood during a one-night only screening with only four other people attending, and — besides my partner — two of them turned out to be people I know from the music scene, so that says something about who The Mekons are in the world of music. Read my review of the film here: Revenge of the Mekons presents a portrait of a band whose success transcends fame and fortune. Also worth noting is the revealing documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, which debuted via Netflix. It’s quite good, and director Liz Garbus does ultimate justice to Simone’s music by allowing full performances to play out as the story of her life is told with archival recordings and talking heads, including her daughter, who doesn’t hold back in sharing how difficult her relationship was with her activist/artist mother.
For the most part, this year, we got to know and understand the difficult line of existence that is the world of music and fame contrasted with musicians’ private lives out of the limelight. Simone was later diagnosed as manic-depressive as was Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Jaco Pastorious, all subjects in some of the year’s best music documentaries, whose tragic stories involved premature death. In a way, Simone was the strongest and indeed the feistiest of these subjects. It makes for an odd, sad connection between these excellent films, but these are sad exceptions of the music world in general. There are clearly happier stories that don’t make for compelling, sad stories. One of those more positive stories of recent music history debuted at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. The Record Man undeniably stands as the most uplifting of all the docs on this list. It had its world premiere at the festival with a rooftop party featuring guests like music legend George McRae, who introduced himself to me singing this song’s chorus.
But really, this was the year of the depressing music doc, reflecting on dead icons, their lives meticulously picked apart in retrospect with the cooperation of surviving family members who helped paint intimate portraits of the people behind the music. For more thoughts on these films, I have linked to my original reviews. If I didn’t get the chance to review them, I share a few thoughts. Where available, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the link provided, you will be financially supporting this blog.
Though, like all the subjects in these documentaries, Henry K. Stone has passed, this film is the most uplifting of the lot. I never thought disco music would make me smile as much as it did when it appears in this film. This was the music of my childhood, and it was great to see how a warehouse in Hialeah, Florida, became the source of an indelible movement in music. Director Mark Moormann offers a brilliantly paced stroll through Stone’s story as a music mogul that included the discovery of Harry Wayne Casey (of KC and the Sunshine Band).
The film that set the tone for the year of the grim music documentary reflecting on deceased musicians. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an incredibly researched work, despite some contention by Cobain’s former friend in The Melvins, Buzz Osborne (read his review here). Director Brett Morgen had access to Cobain’s archives of tapes and recreated the man’s past, sometimes even using animation set to Cobain’s monologues. On a human level, it’s a hard film to watch. The home movies of Cobain as a precocious child slowly evolve into the home movies of the drug-addled man, and it’s a pitiful thing to observe.
Next up, a look at some of the year’s best albums and songs.
January 1, 2016
I tend to avoid the rubbish Hollywood produces to sell the popcorn and its over-priced 3D premium upgrades, so you won’t find well-known crap like Terminator Genisys and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 on this list. I try to seek out films that at least appear to have potential to be good and/or are well-reviewed. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t get suckered into some disappointments.
Among the Hollywood films I had higher hopes for in 2015 were Trainwreck, Amy Schumer’s big screen debut as not only a lead but a screenwriter. I found the movie to be forced and not as funny as it was hyped to be. The editing was particularly terrible, revealing sentimentality for improvised lines over an interest in consistent storytelling. Then it all ended in typical precious Hollywood sincerity. There was also too much made over The Danish Girl, which sealed my judgement with an idiotically romanticized scene of closure with a fucking flying scarf and the words “Let it fly!”
These are all the easy targets, however. My disappointments include well-respected directors, indie darlings and several screenings at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. To be fair with MIFF, a festival of about 200 films, it can only be as good as the films you can actually see during the festival’s week and a half run. I was also on a jury where I was assigned movies to watch. It’s also not really fair to single out some of the weaker movies that somehow made it into the program. Some are obscurities that will never get U.S. distribution yet offer distinct voices for the countries that produced them. So I won’t note some particularly disappointing experiences from Venezuela and Spain.
That said, I do feel obliged to single out a couple of titles. Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier returned to the fest with the obnoxiously preposterous A Second Chance. It’s a ludicrous film featuring the talented actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays a police detective pulling “the old switcheroo” with a baby he finds in a drug addicted couple’s filthy home and the body of his and wife’s dead infant. Then there was the festival’s big award winner, Las oscuras primaveras (Obscure Spring). I had high hopes for this Mexican film, but it turned out to be utterly contrived and overly serious. I was surprised to see the jury fall for it. You can read my review in the Miami New Times here. And I was glad to find The Hollywood Reporter’s film critic prove that I did not stand alone in my complaints: read Jonathan Holland’s review here.
Still, these were not the worst films I saw in 2015. Here in ranked order, are the biggest disappointments for this writer in 2015:
5. Z for Zachariah
The pedigree was right for this one. Director Craig Zobel, whose previous movie I admired (Compliance reveals horrific dimensions of social behavior – a film review), had three fine actors at his disposal. Unfortunately, the original story by Robert C. O’Brien was changed so much that it not only lost its relevance but lost its sense.
4. The Hateful Eight
I’ve loved so many films by Quentin Tarantino. Though I was generally positive about Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), for the first time I had some serious issues with a Tarantino movie. My main problem was that it could have used some editing. But here is the monstrosity that results in terrible self-indulgence: The Hateful Eight.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve always shows so much great potential in his movies. So far all of them have succumbed to fundamental flaws in story-telling. You have to look beyond his film’s often stellar cinematography, but once you do, you will understand that his scripts are plagued with terrible issues. Sicario tries to say something deep but can only help but scratch at a surface that only reveals ignorance and ends with a mere tasteless stretch of Hollywood closure with a climax that caves to its own evils.
Read my review with Ana Morgenstern: Sicario romanticizes revenge in gritty Hollywood take on US/Mexican drug war — a film review
2 and 1. Love and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
These two are so close to call because both made me want to walk out. Both are also stories of young people stumbling with an affection for the opposite sex who fall short for their own egos. Both directors take themselves so damn seriously that all they reveal is their own annoying self-importance. Both filmmakers have growing up to do before they can cast backward glances at growing up and avoiding so much overwrought, self-indulgent cinema.
Read my reviews:
October 30, 2015
With Halloween around the corner, the lists of top scariest movies have begun popping up again on the Internet. The usual suspects are there, of course. But some of us might want a little more than typical genre recommendations. As someone who has grown out of looking for thrills in monster movies and ghosts stories in cinema, allow me to present you with something a little different for the season, some of which will be screened on Halloween on 35mm in my town, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema by the Secret Celluloid Society, in a marathon night of screenings (see the line-up and get your tickets here). Check out their trailer for the evening below:
Many of the films below offer something more than cheap scares, gimmicks and gore. I’m talking about a sustained sense of eerie gloom. The problem with a lot of horror is that the films often fragment the story into these moments of thrills that feel cheap if the rest of the plot, story and performances fail to hold the mood together. To me, there’s nothing like sustained dread for creating an off-kilter atmosphere that will keep you hooked to a horror movie. I want a movie to tap into a deeper, primal sense of fear that feels truly otherworldly, the more irrational the better. There is nothing more disturbing than a film that tests logic, maintains mystery and heightens a sense of confronting the unknown. It’s all about the dark, and nothing is darker than that place in the mind that holds our fears.
My choice of some of the most successful movies of terror that sustain this sense of dread are presented in no particular order, as all achieve an atmosphere that never seems to let go. Following each entry you can find a link to the best format to find the film in via Amazon.com. If you click on those links and make a purchase, you help support this non-commercial blog.
Though full of startling moments, this debut film by the master of cinematic surrealism, David Lynch, creeps under your skin with its soundtrack and lighting. All sort of eerie things occur that do not necessarily seem startling, though they are quite unsettling. The main character’s sensuous neighbor lady comes out of the pitch black shadows, emerging from the depths like a creature conjured from the dark. “I’ve locked myself out of my apartment … and it’s so late,” she says in a soft, droll voice. The strange industrial/suburban setting, and those sounds by “the baby,” just build to play with how we react to sounds.
There’s a Criterion blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
But, if you are in Miami on Nov. 1, the best format to see it: 35mm. Buy your ticket here (Yes, it’s at 4:30 a.m.). Nayib Estefan (indeed, the son of Gloria), the founder of the Secret Celluloid Society, assures an amazing sonic experience with the 35 projection. “Take a dip in the analogue hot tub,” he messaged me via Facebook just yesterday.
Just before finding success as the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, director Gore Verbinski took the job of remaking the cult Japanese horror film Ringu. It was about a cursed VHS tape that held an abstract short film featuring grisly, statling scenes. If you watched it, you would die a week later. I saw it alone, during its theatrical release with only a handful of people in the movie house, 13 years ago, and it was the last movie I saw that conjured up an irrational sense of dread I had not felt since childhood. The grinding, screeching atonal music of on the cursed short film still played in my head as I headed home that night. The bushes next to my stairwell never looked darker or held more mystery. What I like best about The Ring is its dreamlike logic. One moment the investigative reporter played by Naomi Watts is in the hustle of the newsroom, the next she is off to a cabin in the woods with trees glowing a surreal orange. Even the sets look staged an unreal, recalling the design of many of the early J-Horror movies like Hausu (1977) and Jigoku (1960).
There’s a blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
Speaking of Hausu, it’s another that was screened on 35mm by Secret Celluloid Society, earlier this month. I have seen some odd Japanese movies, but this stands as one of the strangest. It’s not so much frightening as it is surreal. The characters, all female, are stock archetypes to an almost clichéd extreme. There’s a karate expert and a chubby girl who is always eating something, for instance. They are part of a group of teenagers who head out for a stay at a friend’s mother’s mansion, only to meet a gruesome demise while — in a strange salacious quirk — they lose their tops, as they struggle for their lives. The lighting always seems to be twilight with an orange sky, and the effects, many of which are super-imposed animated images, are primitive but heighten the unreality of the movie to jarring effect. I’ve heard it described as a “Scooby Doo” cartoon as Japanese nightmare. The story is so out there, it’s no surprise it came from the mind of the director’s prepubescent daughter.
There’s a Criterion blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
It’s a predictable choice but worth noting the cinematic power that has made The Shining a classic horror film. Stephen King, the author of original novel, famously griped about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, going as far as producing a two-part television remake. It hardly rose to the level of Kubrick’s masterpiece. The gliding tracking shots and inventive Steadicam use created a new way of capturing on-screen action. It felt alien and unsettling. Couple that with Wendy Carlos’ eerie but low-key score of creeping, high-pitched strings, sporadic rumbling timpani and terse xylophone hits, and The Shining becomes a masterpiece of sustained unease. Beyond music, sound is also important. The score also mingles with the sound of little Danny riding his big wheel in the Overlook Hotel’s hallways. The rhythm of the plastic wheels skipping from carpet to wood to carpet to wood mingle with the music, keeping the audience grounded and tense. The Shining stands as grand testament to the tools of cinema to create a mood that builds toward well-earned startling moments.
There’s a blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
Ju-on and Ju-on 2, the shorter Y2K TV movies
Above you will find a short, creepy film in the Ju-on series by Takashi Shimizu called “In a Corner.” It was around this time that the Japanese director made the first in a long series of Ju-on (a.k.a The Grudge) films, which had its start on Japanese television with these two tightly connected films. It’s basically about the bad vibes left in the wake of domestic horror. It’s a classic haunted house story. However, what made Shimizu stand out was his non-linear storytelling, which relied on foreboding plot developments. For example, in one part, a pair of detectives stand in an attic, staring down at an unseen object hidden between the rafters. As they speak elliptically about the remains, one finally says something to the effect of, “If this is the jaw, where is the rest?” Cut to a scene at home where a woman is walking up some stairs calling out to someone in the house to no response. Then, a shadowy figure of a girl in her school uniform, with black hair draped over her face, appears behind her, slowly creeping up. Could that be “the rest” the detective asked about? We will have to wait for the reveal, when the woman finally turns around to let out a long scream.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
Another movie that has a Halloween screening in Miami at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on 35mm (again, here’s the link): John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. It’s one of those rare remakes that actually improves upon the original. In Carpenter’s version, the creature from outer space is never given a cohesive form. Whether it is implicitly felt hiding in plain sight as one of a group of scientists on an Antarctic research station, or bursting forth from their bodies becoming an array of primal, startling and often dangerous parts: teeth, claws, tentacles and black eyes, The Thing always has a presence. Even as an amorphous mound of viscera, it has personality, thanks to a masterful group of artisans behind the monstrous special effects. In between harsh scenes of gruesome appearances from the sorry bodies of humans and even dogs, there is a haunting sense of paranoia. It’s an element that was so key to the ’80s brand of Cold War weary American culture, but it also infuses The Thing with a disquieting sense of dread.
There’s a blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
But, if you are in Miami on Oct. 31, the best format to see it: 35mm! Buy your ticket here.
I have vivid memories of being a child entering a Radio Shack with my mom and younger brother in the late 1970s and seeing the images of Reagan (Linda Blair) levitating off the bed and twisting her head around on a tiny TV screen on the counter, near the cashier. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it despite the horror it was imprinting into my sensitive, innocent mind. I would finally see it at a more appropriate age, later in life. The mix of the mundane and the supernatural that constantly appear in the film always creeped me out. Even many years later, when I caught it after it was re-released in theaters as “the cut you’ve never seen” in the late 1990s, it still worked. Before any of the horror starts, the film brilliantly explores a sense of the foreboding horror that was to come, from the use of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” to that scene when Reagan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) hears an unearthly sound in the attic and says it’s probably just rats.
There’s a blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vamypre)
Werner Herzog’s version of Nosferatu, a remake of the German expressionist silent film classic, has to be my personal favorite version of the Dracula story, and I got to write about it in Reverse Shot for its “Great Pumpkins” series. Read it by jumping through the RS logo below (scroll down to the “sixth night” in this post that is a collaboration with many great writers on this site who have their own recommendations for terrific horror movies for the season):
Best version to buy: The new Shout Factory Blu-Ray release with both English and German versions (no dubs; both shot simultaneously)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Speaking of the “Great Pumpkins” of Reverse Shot, it all rightly began with this essay by Michael Koresky on this little TV special, which has become an icon for Halloween. It goes to show Halloween is about more than frights of the supernatural or horror and violence. It’s also about the turning of the leaves and the deepening of the shadows. So what if “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is not scary? It still oozes Halloween atmosphere for many generations. For this writer, a child of the ’70s, before cable and VHS, it was an annual event to watch on TV, where the special interrupted regular programming to announce the start of the holidays. Even Miami felt cooler back then. Maybe we had fall back then? Who cares? Even if it’s all an illusion. It certainly always feels real with this short animated delight from the mind of Charles Scultz.
It’s a shame that much of the music was never released on CD, but at least there’s this. Listen for the flute parts, they’re amazingly dark for the instrument, including the closing iteration of the “Linus and Lucy.”
There’s a blu-ray for this one, purchase here.
Still image from Eraserhead courtesy of dvdbeaver.com.
In honor of Record Store Day, which takes place this Saturday, April 18, today’s post is dedicated to the best films that feature record stores or vinyl as a crucial part of their storytelling. At Independent Ethos we take vinyl seriously and love independent record stores, as one of those places that are a necessity for the cultural enrichment of any neighborhood. One of the most fun days of the year, Record Store Day is an opportunity to celebrate those independent record shops that many seem to take for granted most of the year. The day is filled with events, exclusive releases, and a gathering of people that appreciate vinyl and independent music. In short, if you have not yet experienced a record store day click here now, find your nearest independent record shop and get out there!
The link between film and music is undeniable, it can change the meaning of a narrative eliciting all kinds of emotional responses. These five films present characters who are deeply invested in music themselves, as it makes an important part of their persona. As someone who spent countless hours of her idle youth in record stores, it’s a joy to see that many others wonder what happens in that place, how our life stories cannot be told in the absence of those objects of affection — yes, I mean vinyl albums — and the music on them.
High Fidelity (2000)
A classic now, High Fidelity stands out thanks to its brilliant character development. The sardonic and comedic elements are modestly familiar to anyone who has made their record shop their second home. Rob (played by John Cusack) is a record store owner reeling from a breakup. His sadness comes with a soundtrack, and many an introspective conversation about what went wrong, how to get the former lover back and elaborate discussions about music minutiae that informs that. In short, a relatable tale that will leave you satisfied and amused. A perfect companion to an afternoon of unwinding after you unpack your record store finds.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
The mother of all mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap documents the fall of the eponymous British rock band, as the band arrives to America to tour their soon-to-be released album Smell the Glove. To the surprise of the band, the album is released with an all-black cover, as the original cover idea, a naked woman on a leash with a gloved hand in her face, proved offensive. It’s just one of the elements leading to the unraveling of the band and many more deftly funny moments in the film, like when the band goes to a signing where only black Sharpies are provided.
The film relied on comedic improvisation, but had at least one hilarious moment of what comedians call corpsing, where they break character to laugh at a joke. Early in the film, the band sits down with documentary filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (a deadpan performance by the film’s director Rob Reiner), who probes the band members on their feelings about former album reviews, and the band’s history. For Shark Sandwich, one of the band’s earlier albums, the two-word review “Shit sandwich” catches Christopher Guest off-guard, as he can be seen laughing at the idea. I could go on about the merits of This is Spinal Tap, one of my most-watched favorite movies. It will be the perfect companion to your Record Store Day exploits, and really any day of the year.
Antoine and Colette (1962)
Antoine and Colette is the second installment in the series that follows the life of Antoine Doinel, of 400 Blows Fame. The film was part of Love at Twenty, a series of short films produced by Pierre Roustang. When we catch up with Antoine in this short film, he lives on his own and works at Philips Records, first packaging vinyl and later manufacturing each record by hand! The short film explores Doinel’s first love as he falls fast and hard for Colette, who he gets to know by stalking her with regular visits to a concert hall. They get to know trading books and, of course, records. In this short film Truffaut manages to capture the nostalgia and melancholia associated with that one first love, as well as the restlessness, yearning and infatuation that are part and parcel of that first love. A true gem, proof that a sequel can also be a great cinematic experience and how two people can connect through music.
Empire Records (1995)
In Empire Records, a cast of Gen-Xers who work at a record store experience a crisis as they are about to lose their jobs when the store is sold to record store chain Music City. The film encapsulates 24 hours of the lives of these store clerks as they go on about their adolescent what-the-future-may-hold indulgent conversations. The best thing about this movie is how it captures the quirky details of these music-centric characters, like the sardonic Lucas (Rory Cochrane), who doles out unrequested music advice to potential customers that might look for rock but should be listening to jazz, based on their violent tendencies.
In Once, the story does not necessarily revolve around a record store, but it culminates with a recording. The film tells the story of a street musician (Glen Hansard) who meets a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) that challenges his status quo. The exchanges between them are the most powerful when music is involved, as if for musicians language is a barrier and music is the best way to convey meaning. The two fall in love by just being themselves, the feelings are so visible and so impossible that it makes for a bittersweet ride. A surprising film for its subtlety and power. It may make you pause and wonder about the story behind the making of that killer independent album in your treasured collection.
* * *
Where are you going on Record Store Day 2015? Our favorite local record shops we plan to hit are Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale (the best “just-in” bin in the region) and Sweat Records, who is celebrating 10 years tomorrow with a 48-strong line-up of bands playing into the night. Click their names for details.