It’s Audrey Hepburn’s birthday and the anniversary of Kent State…and the internet meme of the day is a lame Star Wars’ pun….”May the Fourth Be With You”?
And you still think Civilization is a thing?
…To all of us, alas.
Though he was most famous for his Oscar bait from the early nineties (The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia), Jonathan Demme did his best work in the eighties. He made two of that dreary, trend-setting decade’s best films (Melvin and Howard and Something Wild), both notable for their fluid, easy use of popular music. He had a knack for scoring small visual moments that worked to enlarge both the song and the scene, none more so than this one…
…though his use of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in the much more pedestrian (fi still frightening) The Silence of the Lambs was just as revelatory. The music Demme’s characters listened to in his films was the music his characters actually would have listened to if they’d been real people. That’s been such a rare gift in American cinema, that his losing it was as much a tragedy as us losing him.
Of course, in that same decade, he also made Stop Making Sense, one of the most acclaimed rock and roll concert films. Not being much of a Talking Heads’ fan, I’ve never seen the whole thing, but the clips I’ve caught over the years look astounding, so that’s an oversight I’ll have to rectify someday.
Something seemed to go out of him when he tried to remake Charade (as The Trouble With Charlie) and produced both a bloody mess and one of the worst films ever made. Coming on the heels of the eighties, the nineties were like that. They sucked the life out of everybody.
There was a key hiding in a line of a music video Demme directed. It’s of the only good record ever made by one of the ad hoc charity organizations that sprang up as we went about the world with our “terrible notions of duty.”** Turns out “Why are we always on the wrong side?” had an easy answer. In South Africa as elsewhere (where we’ve “helped” them into increasing their murder rate by a factor of a thousand, the victims being no longer worthy of any “charity” recordings by hot shot western superstars….or reporting by western media), there was no “right” side. Now there’s a tragedy for you.
But the power of seduction–of Pornographic Idealism–remains. We will insist on doing good until it hurts. And we will keep on insisting, no matter who it hurts. The Christian conscience nags, it seems, even when the Christ part is discarded.
And, therefore, “Sun City” is as good an epitaph for the unfulfilled promise of that very representative modern American, Jonathan Demme, as any.
**“We’re so prone to these things, with our terrible notions of duty.” (A.H. Clough)…from the famous epigram that begins Graham Greene’s 1955 novel, The Quiet American, from which we could have learned a thing or two, had we been less inclined to gag on our own hype.)
And so we come to the end of the story thus far. Here I have to confess that I haven’t kept up very well. There could be some gems out there from the current decade that I haven’t even heard of, let alone watched. But if we’ve come this far….again, the links are to posts where I’ve done a deeper take on that particular film.
2010 True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen) (over Winter’s Bone, which operates as a kind of sequel, and a measure of our collapse)
2011 The Lincoln Lawyer (Brad Furman) (over My Week With Marilyn…the only thing I remember about either movie is that Marisa Tomei and Michelle Williams were even sexier than usual…giving Ms. Tomei the edge here because Ms. Williams was channeling Marilyn Monroe and so didn’t have to generate all her own heat…Though Ms. Tomei did have the advantage of an actual leading man…so maybe I better not think about this too much….let’s just go with that first judgment).
2012 Men in Black 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld) (over Zero Dark Thirty, which was admittedly funnier, but lacked that scene from Cape Kennedy which recreated a moment for which I was present and did it well enough to put a hole in my heart and a smile on my face….you never know what will get to you in this world)
2013 Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) (slick but engaging….is that now all we can expect?…see 2015, 2016…and every year after?)
2015 Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg) (oy vey)
2016 Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) (ditto…good luck and good night)
As I feared, slim pickings (which get worse in the teens). These fillms are fine, but except for 2001 and 2006, none of these would have been real contenders eve in the nineties, which was much weaker than the three decades preceding.
I don’t think this Decline of Civilization thing is all in my head. If I ever start to doubt myself, I’ll just go back and read the long lists of titles of the films released since 2000. It’s not conducive to any pretty pictures, either on-screen or in my head.
But I’m soldiering on as there are still some worthwhile films and we must do what we must do…Civilization won’t be resuscitated by failing to finish what we start!
2000 Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute) (over Proof of Life…speaking of fallen civilizations, don’t watch this movie unless you’re prepared to witness a completely gratuitous and hyper-realistic scalping scene…the compensation is stellar work from Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman plus Chris Rock justifying his fame)
2001 Me Without You (Sandra Goldbacher) (nothing close…and no shame on the year, which can’t be said for some other years in this decade)
2002 Ripley’s Game (Liliana Cavani) (over The Good Girl…not quite as good as The Talented Mr. Ripley from the previous decade, but further proof that Miss Highsmith’s terrifying age as arrived and a career defining role for John Malkovich even if he’s about as far from the Ripley Highsmith imagined as it’s possible to get without bringing spacemen into it.)
2003 Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton) (fun movie, but you know things are going south when something like this stands alone)
2004 The Incredibles (Brad Bird) (and ditto)
2005 Walk the Line (James Mangold) (over Proof…and I’ll say this much, it’s been an excellent century for musical biopics and small blonde actresses)
2006 Infamous (Douglas McGrath) (over The Break-Up…an unlikely step up from the previous year’s more celebrated and excellent-in-its-own-right Capote…with Toby Jones narrowly besting Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock, earning the Oscar they later gave for some hokey nonsense or other, ever-so-quietly laying Catherine Keener’s Harper Lee in the shade)
2007 The Brave One (Neil Jordan) (over Zodiac and Michael Clayton, which isn’t saying much)
2008 Appaloosa (Ed Harris) (over Iron Man and The Dark Knight, which might be saying even less…good western which, in the fifties, would have been one of a thousand)
2009 My One and Only (Richard Loncraine) (fun road trip movie, loosely based on George Hamilton’s childhood, with a rare turn by Renee Zellweger–who also lit up Appaloosa–as a style of southern belle who has rarely been portrayed as accurately or sensitively….over The Hurt Locker and Up…if Up had been released as a short, consisting of its first fifteen minutes, it would have quadrupled the national suicide rate and been the film of the new millennium…which still wouldn’t have deserved it)
Are we having fun yet?…Actually, this decade was better than I thought…at least at the top.
At least if you don’t bring none of them boring old morals into it.
Still dreading the post-millennium.
1990 The Grifters (Stephen Frears) (and what a way to open a Decade of Decline!…over Bad Influence, Metropolitan and Pump Up the Volume)
1991 The Doors (Oliver Stone) (over Robin Hood (Patrick Bergin version), JFK (Oliver Stone’s one good year!) and Point Break (still Kathryn Bigelow’s best)
1992 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Curtis Hanson) (over One False Move and The Player)
1994 Fresh (Boaz Yakin) (over Barcelona and Ed Wood (Tim Burton’s best…by miles))
1995 To Die For (Gus Van Sant) (over Mighty Aphrodite, Sense and Sensibility and Toy Story)
1996 Grace of My Heart (Allison Anders) (over Freeway, Jerry McGuire and That Thing You Do)
1997 Wag the Dog (Barry Levinson) (over Grosse Pointe Blank, Jackie Brown and The Peacemaker)
1998 A Perfect Murder (Andrew Davis) (over Shakespeare in Love, Croupier and The Mask of Zorro)
1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella) (over Ride With the Devil and, by the thinnest of margins, Dick…if only because “the nineties” was not a decade that deserved to die laughing)
Next, the new millennium…feel my heart go pitter-patter.
Well this proves it. Donald Trump’s election didn’t change everything. The beat goes on….(for those who are new to the site, this is a full category and previous entries can be accessed at the right…recommended reading!)
Vis-a-vis, women in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
“1986: Inaugural induction class consists of all men, including Elvis who gained fame from covers and influence of women of the blues who have yet to be inducted 30 years later.”
(“An Open Letter to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Women Merit Conversation,” Desarae Gabrielle and Lily Grae, Inspirer Magazine 4/19/17…link entire piece here.)
In case you don’t read the whole thing (which I recommend–it makes some salient points on its main topic), one element is unsurprising:
Only Elvis is singled out as someone who “gained fame” covering and being influenced by “women of the blues”–or any other kind of woman. (The three girl group covers that provide major highlights on the Beatles’ first LP are among numerous other instances which might have been adduced….but weren’t.)
Yes, Elvis listened to women–including Big Mama Thornton and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who I presume are the “women of the blues” referenced here.
Since the authors know enough to stay quiet about the Beatles, and so many others, even though making a little noise would buttress their points, I assume they know at least this much about Elvis.
Then again, if they know all that, they should also know that Elvis listened to everybody, including a lot of women who had little to do with the blues.
They might even know that he named Toni Arden’s “Padre?” as his favorite record when he was going off to the Army.
In other words, Elvis didn’t exactly make his admiration for female artists a secret, as this clever wording suggests. (Nor did he dump on his female fans, in public or private…for that, I once again recommend studying the Beatles, among many others.)
I’ve been lobbying as hard as I know how for the inclusion of deserving female artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the early nineties (by which time it had become obvious it was going to be a problem). Anyone who wants to read (or, better yet, engage) my longstanding arguments, is recommended to the categories “Shangri-Las Forever” and “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” at the right.
But the question for today is whether you can advance this, or any righteous argument, by saying Stupid Stuff About Elvis?
Can you get any of the women mentioned in the linked piece’s accompany video one step closer?
Can you make the case for them–or the many others (including some even more deserving) the video does not mention?
Having been at this for a quarter century, I make you this promise:
Saying Stupid Stuff About Elvis never makes you part of the solution. It just makes you part of the problem.
See, the reason Elvis was Elvis wasn’t because he belonged to a demographic (white, male, hillbilly, truck driver). It was because he was the only one who really got both this…
..and made “getting it” sound like breathing.
I ain’t dead.
As I have to do now and then, I apologize for light posting this week. Trying to put the finishing touches on a rock n’ roll detective novel which, with any luck I can start submitting next week. (If you have an agent and want to help a brother….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah). It’s the first short novel I’ve ever completed, which means I can submit to small publishers. That at least greatly expands my realistic possibilities. If there are any developments, you’ll hear about them here, I promise.
If the creek don’t rise, I should be back up to speed some time in the next few days.
Meanwhile, a little dedication for Easter…
Cue the Manfreds…
All worthy…though waiting for Tanya Tucker and Hank Jr. is gettin’ a little wearisome…
In the Modern Artist category, Alan Jackson…
In the Nonperformer category, Songwriter Don Schlitz… who, among dozens more, wrote these two all-time favorites of mine….
…and, to warm the hearts of the wilder side, (not to mention Elvis fans everywhere), the late, great Jerry Reed…
Official announcement here, an especially nice moment for Reed’s daughters.
I recently revisited the three seasons of Peter Gunn, trying to figure out why it will never die.
I’m trying to work some of my broader responses into a larger piece, but in case it never comes to pass, I’ll just note here that the show’s success rested entirely upon mood, music and casting.
Plot was, well, kinda secondary.
And that was fine, because Blake Edwards was in charge of the mood, Henry Mancini was in charge of the music….and the three leads were perfectly cast.
Lola Albright (her real name…I always thought she should have changed it to Edie Hart, so she could be Lola Albright in the series) was the girl you had to believe Craig Stevens’s private eye would always come back to. There were about a thousand P.I. shows on TV in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Few of them even tried to have anybody test the hero’s character to that ridiculous extreme. None succeeded anywhere near as well as Lola playing Edie. On top of all the obvious attractions, she was a better-than-good Julie London style saloon singer–in the show and in “real” life, if anything happening in and around Hollywood can ever be described as real.
She had a lengthy career before and after, with a typical list of period credits, including an Elvis movie….
…but her place in the firmament was settled between September 22, 1958 and September 18, 1961, as the definitive midnight girl in the original midnight town.
And buddy, they don’t make dreams like that no more…