Valentine’s Day with Bud Powell

Bud Powell
Broadcast Performances 1953, vol. 1
1973, ESP-Disk

Even at my advanced age, I still feel that someday I will be into jazz. Someday I’ll be a guy who references Miles Davis and knows what the fuck he’s talking about. Someday I’ll have strong opinions on alto saxophone players. Someday I’ll put on a jazz record and follow the notes like each one is a hundred dollar bill blowing away in the wind. Someday I’ll hear the pain and beauty and love in these sounds that dart through the air faster than summer wasps. Someday it’s all gonna hit me.

Until then, I just “like” jazz. I like it when it twinkles in the background. I’m your regular dilletante, a total bird-brain and a complete fuckface. I enjoy jazz, but I’m not conversant in it. I’m like a guy who has a picture of the Eiffel Tower hanging in his living room, but hasn’t spent more than a day or two to Paris.

Someday, though…

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A Laurel & Hardy Party #2: “Berth Marks”

This is one of the lesser lights among Laurel and Hardy’s dozens of two-reeler talkies, but it’s still funny with that all-important mean streak. Our heroes hop a passenger train—just barely making it, of course—and chaos ensues. The centerpiece gag is a bit that runs a little too long in which they slapstick their way in and out of a berth for a much-needed nap after a long day of being complete idiots.

Still, the funniest thing here is that Stan Laurel is a musician, lugging around a cumbersome upright bass, and Oliver Hardy is his manager. Just the idea of that is funny. They’re blundering bohemians on their way to a vaudeville gig in Pottsville. THAT’S the movie I want to see. Stan screwing up his performance, breaking a string or two, accidentally knocking over the rest of the orchestra with his instrument. Then, Ollie struggling to get paid after the show, arguing with the shyster theater manager, finally getting what he and Stan are due, after which he steps outside and trips over the bass. The money flies in the air and is carried away by the wind.

And maybe they made that one. I’m still making my way through the 10-DVD box set. Bear with me.

Tha’ Disastah’ Ah’tist

THE DISASTER ARTIST  (2017; director: James Franco)

I’m not one of those people who is obsessed with The Room. Never threw plastic spoons at a movie screen after midnight, never took a photo with Tommy Wiseau, never think to quote it in my daily life. Yell out “You’re tearing me apart!” for a laugh and I’ll at first think that you’re referencing Rebel Without a Cause. I am what is technically called “out of it”. It’s not that I hate The Room. It’s alright. It’s a big thing with millennials, I guess. Me, I’m too busy checking nutrition labels on food products for fiber content to think much about Tommy Wiseau’s auteur statement. I saw it ten years ago and it got a couple of smirks out of me, but then I moved on. If so-called bad movies are your thing, there’s a whole world of ’em out there. As memorable as it is, Wiseau’s botched melodrama is merely another Froot Loop in a big, Tor Johnson-sized cereal box.

Furthermore, I’m of the view that the unintentional comedy of bad movies is usually the LEAST interesting thing about them. How many times can you laugh at the same instance of clumsy ADR? Or chuckle at someone’s over-acting? Or giggle at a rough special effect? How many times can you chortle until you start to get bored with feeling superior? Of infinitely greater appeal to me is the treatment of these films as strange artifacts from outside the bounds of good taste. Films that are unique, even if by accident, in a business where most things that come out are test-marketed pieces of plastic.

The Room has been a cult phenomenon since the mid-2000s. Everybody’s already made all of the jokes. Nobody’s coming up with new ones. Now is a good time for the masses to appreciate the determination and insanity that went on behind the scenes.

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Chandu the Blu-ray Review

I got this on Blu-ray because it struck me as a great way to give another chance to a film that put me to sleep when I was 13. As a teenage classic movie weirdo dorkface, all Bela Lugosi movies I’d seen at the time were winners, except for Chandu the Magician from 1932. This movie STUNK. It was choppy and uninvolving–and actor Edmund Lowe’s impersonation of a piece of wood as the titular hero didn’t help.

What did I know back then, though? I didn’t know how to drive a car. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know that my clothes and hair looked stupid.

But decades have passed and things have changed. (I can drive now.) Maybe my opinion on Chandu has similarly changed.

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The Big Job of TINY IDOLS

Tiny Idols: Transmissions from the Indie Underground 1991-1995
2005, Snowglobe Records

In my defense, I never wore horn-rim glasses nor did I own the “sunny-side up” Pavement T-shirt or the Sebadoh shirt with the heart on it, but 90s indie rock did its job on me all right. I was right in there, reading Puncture magazine in my dorm, folding my arms and nodding at club shows, taking Steve Albini’s opinions seriously, looking for an identity and finding something that resembled such in lo-fi rock on stacks of 7″ records. It feels like so long ago. In the time since, I’m pretty sure that I’ve said that I hate 90s indie rock. I’ve also said that I love 90s indie rock. Call that a contradiction if you like. Me, I call it merely teasing an old friend.

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THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941; directors: William Witney and John English)

Believe it or not, but there was a time when superheroes were considered strictly B-movie fare. No big star would’ve been caught dead in a cape and mask. No major screenwriters or directors would have considered it. The most popular characters from the comics page only made it to the screen in weekly fifteen-minute serial chapters spread across 3-4 months.

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“Heroin, Peppermint-Flavored Heroin”

CHARADE (1963; director Stanley Donen)

A romantic comedy that happens to also have brutal, violent murders in it. Sounds like perfect holiday season comfort food viewing to me.

With these amazing players and director Stanley Donen, there needs to be a major fuck-up somewhere for this to turn out bad—and there is no major fuck-up. I’m not sure if every puzzle piece in the plot fits together, but I can say that I don’t care. There’s too much sparkling dialogue here for one dwell on silly things like that.

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The Only Christmas Album That Matters

Tiny Tim
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album
1995, Rounder Records

Lesser singers, such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and Michael Bubbles (or whatever his name is), have tried.

They’ve tried to conjure up a joyous holiday spirit while they wrap their pristine voices around some of the worst songs ever written. They’ve tried to make us feel good. They’ve tried to make us hold our loved ones a little closer. They’ve tried to make us think about Jesus while we’re on our fifth eggnog.

They’ve tried and failed. At least for dirtbags like me who only like Christmas because it’s a day off from work—and shouldn’t us assholes be the REAL judge of what makes great Christmas music?

I think so. And you can trust me. I’ve only had three martinis tonight.

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John Sayles
Pride of the Bimbos
Little, Brown, 1975

I’m not a fan of baseball so if I’m going to read a book about it, it helps if the main character is a dwarf who used to be a private detective and is now in hiding from someone who wants to kill him so he joins a baseball team who play in drag as a novelty act on the small town carnival circuit. That spices things up a bit. This is a novel about hating life though, not loving a game. Its characters are all grotesques worthy of Flannery O’Connor and whose alcoholic, dysfunctional presences could wilt flowers from ten feet away. It’s a tall glass of bleakness, but John Sayles knows humor when he sees it. He just usually finds it on the gallows. Sayles makes a comedy act (the drag baseball team) depressing and makes a humorless beast (the killer out to put a bullet in our dwarf’s head) funny as he has his own misadventures with bizarre characters and a car with serious radiator problems as he speeds through the rural American south on a murder mission. What makes it great is that Sayles loves all of these people, even the bad guy. He inhabits each of their psyches and spends time in the dark corners. He tells us things about these characters that they probably don’t tell anybody. If he doesn’t excuse them, he at least explains them. When you close the book, you’ve got their germs all over you.