Sunday, January 27, 2019

Michael Collins

Written and Directed by
Neil Jordan
Starring Liam Neeson, Aiden Quinn, Julia Roberts, Alan Rickman
IMDB Entry

Liam Neeson is nowadays most strongly identified with his hard-ass character from Taken, but earlier in his career, the took a lot of prestige roles, and one of his better ones was in the biography, Michael Collins.

Neeson plays the title character, an Irish revolutionary who was instrumental in establishing the Irish Free State. It’s a flashback, starting with the news of his death coming to his fiancĂ©e, Kitty (Julia Roberts) Working with his colleagues Harry Boland (Aiden Quinn) and Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman), Collins masterminds a campaign to force the British to give Ireland its independence.  But he get almost as much trouble from his allies in the IRA, who disagree with his ideas of how to go about it and with what he accomplished.

Though there are some historical glosses for dramatic purposes, the film is one of the better portrayals of the fight for independence. It was a major hit at the time, but this sort of biopic has lost some of its luster and seems to have been overlooked.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Jamming with Edward (music)

Jamming with Edward
Nicky Hopkins (piano), Ry Cooder (guitar), Mick Jagger (vocals, harmonica), Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums)
Wikipedia Page

Some albums are meticulously planned out, with multiple takes and overdubs to get just the right sound. Jamming with Edward was just the opposite: it just happened and was released almost as an afterthought.

It grew out of the Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed sessions. The Stones had brought in Nicky Hopkins, the premier sessions pianist of his time,* and guitarist Ry Cooder.**  But when Keith Richards left the studio, they sat around with the rest of the Stones and just started to jam.

The result was Jamming with Edward.***  It was just the group playing, with Hopkins and Cooder improvising on the drums and bass line, and Jagger joining in. The blues classic “It Hurts Me Too” was part of the mix. When the session was over, it was forgotten.

But a couple of years later, Jagger stumbled upon the tape, cleaned it up a bit and released it as an album on their newly formed Rolling Stone records. But it was clear that he didn’t think it was great work. The album was sold at a discount**** with very little promotion.

Some thought at the time that this was a form of revenge.  Cooder had charged that Jagger had stolen the riff of “Honky Tonk Woman” from him and was extremely disdainful.  This was thought to be Jagger’s way of getting back.  Jagger has always damned the album with faint praise, calling it “just a laugh. . . It didn’t really warrant releasing, really, but it was okay, a bit of fun, and there’s some good playing on it.”

It suffers from the drawbacks of any impromptu jam session:  lack of focus, and the musicians deferring to each other a bit too much.  Still, when you have five high-quality musicians playing together, the results are fine to listen to.
*Hopkins, who had health issues that often prevented him from touring, was a session man used by the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Move, the Who, Jefferson Airplane (at Woodstock), the Beatles (“Revolution”), and was a member of the original Jeff Beck Group and Quicksilver Messenger Service. He also worked extensively with the Rolling Stones.
**Cooder is known today for his interest in roots music, but in the 60s and 70s, also was a busy session man with Captain Beefheart, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Randy Newman, and many other groups and is considered a guitar great by those in the industry.
***Hopkins was nicknamed “Edward” by Brian Jones. The name was used in one of his best compositions, “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder.”
****In small record stores, albums were priced by the wholesaler, using a letter system. Stores could decide how much to charge for each letter.  At the time Jamming With Edward came out, records usually had a “B” classification.  “C” was used occasionally, and double albums were “AA,” which meant they cost twice the “A” price. Jamming with Edward was released as an “A,” something only used for bargain records.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dave Clark Five (music)

Dave Clark (drums), Mike Smith (keyboards, vocals), Rick Huxley (bass), Lenny Davidson (lead guitar), Denny Payton (sax, harmonica, guitar)
Wikipedia Page

Back in the days of the British Invasion, the main debate as to who was the best of the many groups that were part of it. Nowadays, the two main contenders are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,* but at the time, there was a third contender who gets little notice today:  the Dave Clark Five.

Clark started the group in the late 50s as the Dave Clark Quintet. After the usual changes of personnel, the group was renamed in 1962 and started gaining success.

Part of this was due to the search for the next big thing after the Beatles. “The Liverpool Sound” stormed the charts and record companies tried hard to find something similar.**  The Five were from North London – Tottenham – so they were promoted as the “Tottenham Sound.”

No matter what the promotion, the Dave Clark Five was a hit.  Their first single, “Glad All Over” knocked the Beatles out of number 1 in the UK and became the first non-Beatles British Invasion song to hit the US hot 100.  It led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, again, the second British Invasion group to appear there.

The group continued with hits like “Bits and Pieces,” “Can’t You See That She’s Mine.” “I LIke It Like That,” “Catch Us If You Can,” “Over and Over,” and “You Got What It Takes.”  Ed Sullivan liked them so much that the appeared on his show 18 times – more than any other UK music at at the time.  Their songs had a heavy beat and catchy hooks.

The group also followed the Beatles with a movie of their own:  Catch Us If You Can/Having a Wild Weekend. I haven’t seen it, but it looks like it was an ambitious attempt to tell a story other than just being an excuse for the group to perform its hits, but it didn’t make much of an impression.

By 1970, after a string of non-hits, the group broke up.  Unfortunately the story didn’t go on.  Dave Clark managed the band himself and made the smart move of keeping control of their tapes.  Unfortunately, he kept a very close control of them, rarely allowing people to rerelease their material. Clark was a multi-millionaire from other sources, so he didn’t need the money and it was hard to persuade him to release the songs.

It also didn’t help that the band never really projected a personality. Only a die-hard fan could name anyone other than Clark during their heyday, and many people believed it was the name of the singer, not the drummer. So when Clark took the songs off the market after they broke up, they were forgotten, and their influence on the music scene faded to nothing.

Still, they leave a legacy of a string of hits that helped define the musical era.

*With some support for the Kinks, the Who, and the Animals, though none of these were as successful..

**The only real successful one was the “San Francisco Sound,” which developed organically.  Indeed, when they tried to create a “sound” of their own in the “Bosstown Sound,” it failed miserably.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Fortune

The Fortune(1975)
Directed by
Mike Nichols
Written by Carole Eastman
Starring Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Stockard Channing
IMDB Entry
Comedy always boils down to personal taste, since everyone thinks different things are funny and one of the most dated forms is screwball comedy. While it worked wonderfully in the 30s, at time went on the elements of it lost their luster. From time to time, though, a filmmaker decides to bring it back, and one prime example was The Fortune.
Nicky (Warren Beatty) and Oscar (Jack Nicholson) are two small-time conman who think they have hit it big:  Heiress Freddie Bigard (Stockard Channing) is enamored of Nicky, who sees it as a way to make a big score. But there’s a problem: Nicky is married and taking her across country to Los Angeles would run afoul of the Mann Act. And that’s where the unmarried Oscar comes it:  Nicky plans to marry him to Freddie. But when Freddie resists their attempts to get her to give them the money, they move to the next step:  murder.
The movie is a little too laid back and slow for screwball comedy, but it’s still funny. Especially nice is see the actors in the top of their form. This was Channing’s first major movie role, and she’s just fine as the clueless Freddie. Nicholson and Beatty are at the top of their form.
Before filming, the movie was considered by the studio to be a sure thing.  Beatty did it in order to interest the studio in making Hairspray and Nichols was brought in after a couple of major flops. There was tension on the set between Nichols and writer Carole Eastman, and Jack Nicholson was hit some some difficult personal events that may have affected his performance. Possibly as a result the movie flopped badly.
Still, even with all this, the movie has its charms.  Just watching the actors is worth it.