Thursday, 21 June 2018

Ian's adventures in Nashville

Studio B (to the strains of Roy Orbison):

The Country Music Hall of Fame:

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Grand Tour

Once it was about art, architecture and poetry; broadening the mind; a cultural education; swimming in the Med; romantically wasting away with consumption surrounded by exotic women who looked like Claudia Cardinale.

Now, it's come to this.

Italian lager.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Paul Simon: Alternate Tunings and In the Blue Light

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Songs for the Asking: Paul Simon Previews Rarities Collection “Alternate Tunings” and “In the Blue Light”

Joe Marchese
The Second Disc
18 June 2018

Paul Simon may be retiring from the road, but the conclusion of his acclaimed Homeward Bound – The Farewell Tour on September 22 won’t be the last we’ve heard of the legendary musician. On tour, he’s currently previewing two upcoming projects: Alternate Tunings, a long-awaited collection of previously unreleased material, and an album entitled In the Blue Light, due in September.

In lieu of a traditional tour program, Simon is offering a lavish “Limited Edition Folio” for purchase at each evening’s concert (price: a reasonable $30.00). This clothbound, hardcover, roughly LP-sized book is a fitting souvenir, but moreover, it includes a six-song MP3 download “from the forthcoming rarities collection Alternate Tunings.” The download card promises, “Drawn from Paul Simon’s vast archive of recordings, this collection spans his entire career.” This anthology has been mooted for years now; a quick online search reveals discussion of the project as far back as 2003. It’s finally becoming a reality, with the following previously unreleased songs available now for download to purchasers of the folio:

Song for the Asking (Solo Demo) (released version from Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970)
Papa Hobo (Solo Demo) (released version from Paul Simon, 1972)
Learn How to Fall (Solo Demo) (released version from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973)
Silent Eyes (Film Score Outtake) (released version from Still Crazy After All These Years, 1975)
Hearts and Bones (Solo Demo) (released version from Hearts and Bones, 1983)
Citizen of the Planet (Solo Demo) (released version from Simon & Garfunkel, Old Friends: Live on Stage, 2004)

These six beautiful acoustic tracks, bookended (pun intended) by solo versions of compositions associated with Simon & Garfunkel, augur well for the high quality of the complete release. (“Citizen of the Planet” was originally intended for Hearts and Bones – the album that itself began life as Think Too Much, the S&G reunion album that never was.) “Silent Eyes,” noted as “Film Score Outtake,” is a particularly fascinating offering, with Simon’s ethereal, wordless vocals and guitar joined by subtle, baroque orchestration.

Alternate Tunings isn’t the only project on the way from Rhymin’ Simon, however. The folio promises that In the Blue Light will arrive this September from Legacy Recordings. Though no further information about the album is printed in the folio or otherwise available, we do know that the album title derives from a lyric in “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” from 1980’s One Trick Pony. Additionally, Simon mentioned from the stage of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night that his longtime guitarist Vincent N’guini (who died last December at the age of 65) played on In the Blue Light – his final collaboration with the artist. N’guini was first heard on a Simon album in 1990 The Rhythm of the Saints and has been featured on each of Simon’s LPs since. With Alternate Tunings also on the way and the farewell tour occurring now, it’s evident that Simon has been in a reflective mood. Perhaps In the Blue Lightwill find him looking back to the milieu or style of the past as well? In a 2016 interview with American Songwriter, Simon divulged that he and veteran producer-engineer Roy Halee had been re-recording new versions of old songs. The fruits of those sessions, including the possibility of a reworked “How the Heart…,” could finally see the Light of day this September. Whatever the case, Simon assured the enthusiastic Philly crowd that he wouldn’t be turning away from music despite his onstage retirement.

Watch this space for more news on both In the Blue Light and Alternate Tunings as it becomes available. Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound – The Farewell Tour resumes Tuesday night in North Carolina and continues through September 22, when it will wrap up at a still-unannounced venue in (where else?) New York City.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Happy birthday, Stan Laurel!

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"Chaplin wasn't the funniest. I wasn't the funniest. Stan Laurel was the funniest." Buster Keaton
Happy Birthday, Stan Laurel
England's greatest cultural export. Okay, we're a couple of days late. Fingers crossed he's busy and doesn't notice...

Image result for laurel and hardy music box steps
Can You Stand Some More Stan?

Dick Cavett
The New York Times
5 October 2012

You overwhelmed me, dear reader, with your reaction(s) to the piece I did last time about Stan Laurel. I’m particularly moved by the number of you who were touched, using phrases like “I misted up,” “I shed a tear” and even “I wept.” I didn’t mean to upset anyone.

I feel a little funny about admitting that, rereading the piece days later, I did at least one of the above.

At the risk of anticlimax, I can add here a few things that swam back to mind in the interval. Things I had forgotten about my golden few visits with the great man. And an event that just recurred recently.

I was in Hollywood last week working on a TV project, a pilot idea concocted by the remarkably talented John Hodgman. I mentioned last time that on my first visit, Stan had told me that The Steps still existed — the daunting 131 concrete steps up which he and “Babe” Hardy back-breakingly struggled and heaved the crated piano, losing it a few times — in the Oscar-winning short “The Music Box.” A classic of team comedy that bears watching at least once a year. (Get “Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection.”)

Several commenters on the column had a favorite moment from that film: the one where the generally sweet Stan, moved to a rare display of rage when the fuming Billy Gilbert — the intended recipient of the piano — insists they get themselves and the giant crate out of his way as he descends the stairs from his house at the top of the hill.

Stan swats his top hat off. Gilbert steams and bellows as it bounces and tumbles its way to the very bottom of the steps and rolls into the street. A truck runs over it.

An iconic moment in film comedy.

So last week, in a break from the stuff I was shooting, as a treat for me, my dear wife arranged for a friend of ours to drive us on a pilgrimage. We found The Steps.

(The location is hardly a secret, but just for fun let’s pretend I’m giving you a bit of inside information. You can find the steps yourself at the corner of Vendome and Del Monte in the Silver Lake district, just south of Sunset. There’s a little grassy triangle nearby that’s been named Laurel and Hardy Park. The magic numbers: 923-937 North Vendome Street.)

At first the steps look wrong, somehow, and you wonder if you’ve been misled. In the 1930s, they stood virtually alone; now, houses and low apartment buildings and high shrubbery surround them. Much has changed, but worshippers are rewarded by the fact that the house across the street, where the hapless boys parked their horse-drawn wagon, survives. A plaque on the bottom step reading “Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy ‘The Music Box’” reassures you you’re in the right place. I assumed it had been put there by the Laurel & Hardy-adoring organization Sons of the Desert, but in fact seems to have been placed by an impressive list of sponsors, including Hollywood Heritage Inc., The Society of Operating Cameramen, The Silent Society, The Hollywood Studio Museum and perhaps others.

It was like visiting a holy place.

For trivialists: there are exactly 131 steps. We climbed them as an act of homage.

Don’t be disappointed to learn that there is, in fact, no house of Billy Gilbert’s at the top. There never was. It was a studio set.

Another bit of arcana. The same steps were used by the boys for a 1927 film called “Hats Off!” Alas, the search for this lost gem goes on.

Stan recalled a favorite moment in “The Music Box”: “Remember the baby nurse lady who’s pushing the baby carriage who laughs at us? And how when she turns her back, I kick her in the butt? And she tells a cop and he says, ‘He kicked you?’ I asked for another take and added a line for her that might have been thought vaguely naughty, but I knew the kids wouldn’t get it but the sharper adults would. I had her say: ‘Yes, officer. He kicked me. Right in the middle of my daily duties.’”

We laughed.

How I could have temporarily forgotten a certain revelation by Stan I can’t imagine. He talked about the time when he and Hardy were suddenly surprised by the oleaginous Ralph Edwards and lured, live, on the spot, onto his “This Is Your Life” TV show. Rudely surprised by Edwards’s crew and suddenly flooded with light while peacefully chatting with their wives and a friend in a hotel lounge, they were to be spirited quickly to Edwards’s studio a few blocks away for the live show, but Hardy rebelled.

Stan: “Babe was livid. He was halfway into his car to go straight home, leaving poor Ralph sweating in the studio with half a guest list. Babe reluctantly relented.”

It’s their only live television appearance and should have been wonderful. It’s around, but it is infuriating to watch. The endlessly yakking Edwards — phony as his hairpiece — does all the talking. He raises a subject and, instead of saying to the pair, “Tell us about that” — he tells us.

You wish Stan would treat him like Billy Gilbert and swat his rug off.

You long to hear them talk. Edwards allows them each a few words while repeatedly attempting witless jokes about the llfe-threateningly obese Hardy’s girth. Babe plays along with faux pleasantry as surprise guests like Hal Roach, their former employer, and a few relatives are awkwardly trotted out. Eventually and mercifully the travesty ends.

It should be avoided as ardently as — and I apologize for this dirty word — the “colorized” version of “The Music Box,” which is still floating around. Miraculously, the cheesy colorizing practice — now junked — manages to extract all humor from the great film. A subject for an essay on the inferiority of color to black and white. (Sorry, young folks who boast of watching no movies not multihued. There really are a few good black-and-white ones.)

This is interesting: One reader pointed out the coincidence that when my first column ran, the BBC radio was airing a show about L&H. I listened to it online. Somehow I joined it in the middle and a man was talking. The voice was not familiar. He was talking about how Babe Hardy took no responsibility for the films, had no interest in the editing and wanted out as early as possible so he could escape to the golf course. And how he, the speaker, worked far into the night. It had to be a stranger reading a quote from Stan Laurel. But it was Stan Laurel.

Here again is something I’d forgotten. Stan’s real voice, in conversation, was not the voice of “Stan” in the movies. It was about 10 notes lower. While not falsetto, his character voice used in the films was at least an octave higher than his own. His real voice was nearer baritone. I’ve never seen this mentioned.

You can prove this for yourself by finding the BBC show and also in the only place I know of in the movies: the remarkable step out of character that Stan takes when a conk on the head reverts him, temporarily, to his former, forgotten life as an upper class English lord in “A Chump at Oxford.” He uses, in his faultless, Noël Coward-y accent, a voice nearly as low as his real voice. When re-conked and “Stan” speaks to the now re-recognized Ollie — who squeals with delight at having his friend back — he cranks his voice back upward to the voice we know and love.

I’ll close with a little gem from my all-too-skimpy, semi-legible and fading notes of my first meeting with Stan. We talked about what he liked and didn’t like on television. “There’s one television show, lad” — I was 24! — “that I just can’t abide. It’s the one with that panel of ultra-shi-shi folks. The one called ‘What’s My Line?’ It sends me straight up the wall. I call it ‘The Snob Family.’”

A man for the ages.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Scariest 25 Horror Films Eva!!!!

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The scariest horror films ever – ranked!
Occult chiller Hereditary is the latest in a proud line of big-screen blood-curdlers. Our critic picks his 25 most terrifying

Peter Bradshaw
The Guardian
Thu 7 Jun 2018

25 Don’t Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, 1972)
Now that Lars von Trier has offered what may be a backhanded homage to it in his serial-killer nightmare The House That Jack Built, attention may well refocus on this cult giallo classic from Italy. A journalist investigates a series of murders in a remote village and uncovers black-magic practices.

24 American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Once upon a time, Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho was the most shocking thing in American publishing. Mary Harron’s movie version did not excite the same disgust, but it made Christian Bale into a star as the gym-built Wall Street master of the universe and status snob who is also a serial killer.

23 The Funhouse (Tobe Hooper, 1981)
A classic crude slasher from Tobe Hooper, in my view better than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Four teenagers become trapped inside a haunted ride at a carnival and find themselves being picked off by the disfigured killer inside. Hooper weaponises his own fiendish bad taste with some truly grisly killing scenes.

22 The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)
The explosion of digital movie-making 20 years ago – and the sudden availability of digital cameras at high-street prices – liberated film-makers and gave birth to the “found footage” genre. This is a movie whose cheeky viral marketing allowed people to think it was a genuine documentary. Three students hike into a forest, intending to make a supercilious video-diary history project about the local tradition of the “Blair Witch”. They are never seen again and this footage is all that is recovered.

21 Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
George A Romero invented the zombie genre with this smart, low-budget shocker about a virus, accidentally brought back to Earth from outer space, that causes people to eat each other, afflicted by an eternal hunger. It satirised racism, conformism, careerism and the country’s secret fear of the future.

20 Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)
Ari Aster has barnstormed his way into the scary hall of fame with this deeply strange movie featuring Toni Collette as an artist and miniaturist who is haunted in every sense by her late mother, an abusive and manipulative woman who now wishes to gain control of her grandchildren from beyond the grave.

19 It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
A brilliant horror inspired by MR James’s story Casting the Runes. After sleeping with someone, a young woman discovers she has been inducted into a supernatural death cult; she is being followed by a demonic figure that only she can see and which pursues her on foot at a zombie pace, but will eventually kill her – unless she has sex with someone else, at which point this demon’s target will change. And so it goes on: a viral chain-letter of sex and shame.

18 Audition (Takeshi Miike, 1999)
An almost unclassifiable masterpiece of J-horror and one of the very few movies in the genre in which the demonically violent protagonist is allowed to be a woman, satirising women’s position in Japanese society and cinema. A film producer hits upon the idea for getting a wife: he will audition actresses for a (nonexistent) minor role and then, having found a suitably submissive woman, let her down and ask her for a date. The auditionee (Eihi Shiina) turns the tables on his arrogance with extreme violence.

17 Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
One of the great horror thrillers of contemporary US cinema and a brilliant allegory for the plot twist of the US post-Obama. An African American photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited by his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend with her super-liberal parents.

16 The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
One of the great movies about vampires, which Abel Ferrara reimagines as a parasitical cult of addiction, a pyramid scheme for spreading evil. Lili Taylor plays a lonely student in New York who is bitten and must then bite. Her agony in confronting her unwished-for destiny of eternal undeadness is brilliant.

15 Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) 
A masked attacker has escaped from a secure facility. It is the loathsome Michael, who has one of the most disturbing walks in film history: lumbering and laborious, and yet inexorable in his pursuit of Jamie Lee Curtis. The pioneering use of electronic music is part of what makes Halloween memorable: the plinking piano theme over a buzzing synth score.

14 Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1959)

Frequently and misleadingly described as “the British Psycho”, this is the film that undid Michael Powell’s career – a serial-killer nightmare with strange echoes of his earlier film with Emeric Pressburger, A Canterbury Tale. Carl Boehm plays the deranged porn photographer and amateur cine-movie obsessive who films prostitutes at the moment he kills them. The sheer tattiness and seediness of postwar Britain is superbly conjured.

13 The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
A classic of English folk-horror: Edward Woodward plays the stolidly moralistic police officer who comes to a remote Scottish island community to investigate the case of a missing girl and is unsettled by the strange pagan practices. It is a society that has evolved separately from Britain’s mainland and its Anglican beliefs, but it looks like an alternative reality of fiercely insular, irrational England. Is there anything more Brexity than this?

12 Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
An eminent surgeon attempts a cosmetic reconstruction of his daughter’s face after she is disfigured in a road accident – using parts of faces of other young women that his assistant lures to his laboratory and kills. It is a horror movie in the tradition of Mary Shelley and yet also something of Beauty and the Beast, with the beastly father-figure turning his innocent daughter into something repulsive. Her mask is inexpressibly disturbing.

11 Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976)
Sissy Spacek is the bullied teen with telekinetic powers in this parable of bullying and misogyny, which is also a brilliant satire of high school, particularly the prom as a theatre of cruelty and anxiety. The violence and rage scream out of the screen.

10 The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece of forensic psycho-macabre horror stars Anthony Hopkins, who brings a career’s worth of Shakespearean savvy to his greatest role: the imprisoned serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter. Jodie Foster plays the FBI rookie Clarice Starling, who must convince Hannibal to offer invaluable help from behind his toughened glass in tracking down another murderer. But what will he want from her in return? A guignol gem.

9 The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
I have rewatched this a number of times and it just gets better, verging on classic status. A lonely and stressed young mother finds herself reading to her young son from a strange pop-up book he has found, called The Babadook, about a weird top-hatted figure that lives in the wardrobe. Too late, she realises that it is a satanically charged object and by reading it aloud she has made it come true.

8 The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s gift for eerie grandeur is given free rein in this adaptation of the Stephen King novel (disliked by the author) about Jack Nicholson’s brooding writer, given the job as caretaker of an out-of-season hotel. There are sensational set pieces of horror and mystery: the lift shaft full of blood, the twin sisters appearing in the corridor.

7 The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
An elegant, sinister and scalp-prickling ghost story, based on Henry James’s story The Turn of the Screw. A governess, played by Deborah Kerr, takes charge of two children at a remote country estate and suspects that the house is haunted by the drunken valet and the former governess he seduced. She suspects the children can see these ghosts, too, and that these evil spirits have befriended them.

6 Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
There’s a remake on the way from Luca Guadagnino, and we have had many homages (from Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan to Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon), but here is the original and best. The extraordinary, operatic fantasy horror about a young American dancer discovering awful secrets at a German ballet school freaks out its audience with crazed intensity and eyeball-frazzling blocks of fierce colour.

5 Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti et al, 1945)
Low-key it may be compared with the jump-scare slashers, but this Ealing classic from 1945 is genuinely frightening: a portmanteau collection of five ghost stories, of which the most disturbing is probably the one directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, about a mad ventriloquist haunted by his dummy – a superb premonition of Psycho.

4 Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
One of the great event movies of the postwar era and an inspired exploitation nightmare that sensationally took Hitchcock – then in late middle-age – to the next level of cinematic greatness. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch – itself based on the grisly true story of the serial killer Ed Gein – it stars Janet Leigh as a realtor’s secretary who takes off with $40,000 in stolen cash and has to stay at a creepy old motel run by awkward Anthony Perkins, heading for a horrendous fate in the shower.

3 The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
William Friedkin’s horror masterpiece, the most famous of the devil-child wave made possible by Rosemary’s offspring, delivers a sledgehammer punch of fear – and a lumbar-puncture stab of horror. Max von Sydow plays a priest who is called in to cast out a devil occupying the body of a 12-year-old girl in Washington DC. The effects and prosthetics are still staggeringly good and the cataclysmic confrontation of good and evil is genuinely horrifying.

2 Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
For its sense of insidious and encircling evil, and the sensationally good performance from Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby is unforgettable. Adapted by Polanski from the Ira Levin bestseller, it shows the demure, shy young title character (Farrow) moving in to a strange New York apartment building with her actor husband (John Cassavetes), becoming pregnant under strange circumstances and suspecting that a sinister satanic cult has designs on her baby.

1 Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
Nicolas Roeg’s magnificently disturbing ghost story, adapted by Alan Scott and Chris Bryant from the Daphne du Maurier short story, is an inspired combination of the erotic and the uncanny. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie give superb performances as the parents of a dead child who encounter, in Venice’s dankly crumbling splendour, terrifying signs of her existence beyond the grave. It is a meditation on time, memory, the poignancy of married love and the inexplicable mystery of death — and very scary.

A click-bait summer filler piece for The Guardian with some good choices, some poor choices and some Brand Guardian choices. The absence of The Haunting and Night of the Demon (and maybe The Changeling) is just plain wrong, as is the presence of films that might be better termed "thrillers," albeit brutal ones about serial killers - and if you're moving away from the supernatural, how about Les Diaboliques? Have to admit, of those I've seen, Funhouse, American Psycho, Carrie, Blair Witch, Suspiria, The Silence of the Lambs, The Addiction and maybe Peeping Tom and Carrie wouldn't be in my 25. Then again, the list was intended to generate argument and comment... 

Friday, 15 June 2018

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Terry Kelly Poetry Competition

Back from left, judges and organisers Alistair Robinson and Tom Kelly with fFront from left, winners Lauren Aspery, 20, Finn Edmonds, nine, and Bo Buglass, 13.
Back from left, judges and organisers Alistair Robinson and Tom Kelly with front from left, winners Lauren Aspery, 20, Finn Edmonds, nine, and Bo Buglass, 13

Young poets honoured in annual contest in memory of Gazette reporter 
Talented youngsters were honoured as a competition in memory of much-loved former Gazette reporter Terry Kelly was a poetic success once again.

Daniel Prince
The Shields Gazette
Thursday 31 May 2018

The Customs House, in Mill Dam, South Shields, played host to the annual staging of the Terry Kelly Poetry Prize last night. 

The contest was set up in memory of the popular former poet and journalist, who died in January 2016. It is open for young poets aged up to 25 and aims to inspire youngsters in the North East to embrace poetry, just as Terry did throughout his life.

Hundreds of entries were made in this year’s competition, with judges Tom Kelly, Alistair Robinson and Sheila Wakefield finding it difficult to whittle it down to a shortlist. 

They were full of praise for all those who entered. 

This competition keeps Terry’s memory alive and makes people aware about Terry and his work Tom Kelly Tom, who is Terry’s brother, was head judge, and said: “This year’s competition has been terrific, and the most successful one so far." 

There were hundreds of entries and the standard was so high, so it was very difficult to choose a shortlist and then the winners. 

“This competition keeps Terry’s memory alive and makes people aware about Terry and his work.”

Winners were selected in three categories, with prizes for the best pieces of work from those aged under 11, 11 to 16 and 16 to 25. 

Finn Edmonds, nine, was selected as the winner in the first category for his poem ‘Why?’

Bo Buglass, 13, with ‘This Too Will Pass’ and Lauren Aspery, 20, with ‘My First Pair’, were the other winners. 

Mr Robinson, who is a poet, journalist and lecturer at the University of Sunderland, said: “This competition gets better every year, and shows the standard and range of writing that is out there. 

“It would have been there anyway, but the competition draws it out. 

“This competition really does commemorate Terry and his full range of skills, and we are delighted that it continues to provide a showcase for poetry.” 

Terry’s wife Val was among those in the audience. 

She said: “The poets were absolutely amazing and so mature. 

"The poetry was so concise, and you could see such a lot of hard work had gone into it. 

“I think Terry would be over the moon, and surprised. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

David Douglas Duncan RIP

Pfc John L Lewis, Khe Sanh, February 1968

Korean war, 1950

Pablo Picasso, La Californie, 1957

Picasso’s face reflected for an instant, 1967

Con Thien, 1967

Richard Nixon, Miami Beach, 1968

Richard Nixon, Miami Beach, 1968

Korean war, 1950

US Marines, Seoul, Korea, September 1950

Picasso on the front steps of Mas Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins, 1959