Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Chic DVD

Constant readers will know that one of my favorite blogs is the 2Blowhards (see sidebar for link), which has gone through an interesting change lately; one of the primary founders is taking a sabbatical and the open position has been filled by a worthy replacement (imho). All of the flicks I'm gonna discuss here I watched because either because I've intended to see them anyway, or the 2Blowhards brought them to my attention, or both. The other day whilst checking out something at the library, I spied every one of these on the DVD rack at once. I spastically jumped over the rope, dashed over and snatched them up like a teenage girl (trapped in the body of a 40something guy) at an Old Navy sale, alarming everyone in the line behind me, and - having brought so much attention to myself - causing some discomfort when they saw what I had made such an effort to procure; probably because I was a guy and got excited over something other than a WWII documentary.

The Vagina Monologues

I wanted to see if this was as bad as I had heard. It was. Thank God I did not attend this live as I may have spontaneously combusted out of sheer effort to not squirm and groan. This was like all the worst poetry you've ever read combined with a performance that had all the subtlety of Arnold "the gov" Schwartzenhiemer's best thespian offerings, bleated out in a shrill voice that would give Fran "the nanny" Drescher the fantods. Two vicious rape stories are depicted, which always makes for a great night of theatre. And it's capped off by a performance of all the different kids of orgasms experienced during lesbian lovemaking. Eddie Murphy was right when he observed that everybody's ugly when they're coming (only Meg Ryan gets a pass on that one), but I don't think he could have prepared us for this particular horror. About the only thing that could have rescued this piece for me was seeing one of the performances that included Gillian Anderson. Hearing any of those words coming out of her gorgeous lips would have mitigated the pain. But not much.

I came away from this feeling that vaginas had been rather degraded in it, often rendered as an unappealing liability, and not praised, as would have been appropriate and expected. Save these two hours of your life for something uplifting.

Searching for Debra Winger

Rosanna Arquette was feeling sorry for herself because she isn't getting any parts anymore (I guess wealth, a bunch of hit movies, not to mention a classic hit song and TWO entire Peter Gabriel albums written strictly in her honor aren't enough), so she decided to make a documentary on the dearth of good women's roles in modern American films. Now, it's a foregone conclusion that American films of last few decades really don't have enough good roles for women, especially women over 30 (who aren't junkies, hookers, suicidal, or mothers of dead children), and we're all the worse for it. Healthy, vital women bebopping along in the big, wide, normal world just aren't depicted often enough in the movies right now. For instance, Kathy Bates lights up any freakin' movie she's in, so someone should be churning out stuff for her to star in so we have the joy of seeing her more often. It was great to see Diane Keaton in her recent hit comedy (and not just because she was nekkid), but one freakin' movie like that in a year? C'mon! Why has no one figured out what to do with Tracey Ullman? Is there such a thing as too much Francis McDormand? Now, there is such a thing as too much Sharon Stone, but that's really a different issue entirely. Oh, and I do really really like Sally Field, so where the hell is she?

The movie was amateurish, and someone should have helped Rosanna take out some of the more blatant self-pitying moments, but it was truly a lot of fun seeing all these wonderful actresses talk about this issue. I was pleasantly surprised to Martha Plimpton in there. She's got a quirky look, but she's one hell of an actress, and I've kept my eye out for anything she might appear in. She's one of the few actors (male or female) where I'll see the flick just because she's in it. Debra Winger does finally show up (I couldn't decide if this was a spoiler or not, but since she's in the freakin' title, I thought you'd forgive me). She's radiant, and I'd forgotten how stunning her eyes are. I would feel like a deer trapped in the headlights were she to turn those baby blues on me in real life - eeek! I marvel that she was E.T.'s (uncredited) voice. Retirement seems to have suited her, and it was her choice by the way. She just felt she was done. Not "done" in the sense of unhirable, but just really wanted out of Hollywood. Bummer for us.

Still, though, the movie does ultimately amount to a big whine session, and no real compelling solution to the problem is ever proffered. When Rosanna got all these powerful women together, why weren't they also pulling money together and hiring famous screenwriters who are in the same boat, etc.? Screenwriters fall out of favor the same way actors do, but that doesn't mean they still can't pop out a classic if asked. Even in this day and age if you get a decent script and attach a couple good actresses, someone would eventually make it. Why wasn't Jane Fonda going all producer since she has the money and she's out from under Ted's thumb?

Hopefully someday we'll find out.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Being the complete and utter music slut that I am, I love Motown. I have the box set (Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971), which I can't recommend enough, if you dig that sound. It's one of the very few box sets that doesn't have a single bad song anywhere in the set. Not ONE.

Now, I did know that Motown essentially had a house band that played on all the songs, which is why the Motown sound is so uniform and recognizable, but I did not know the names of the band as Motown packaging has always, and still is, if not completely lacking credit information, includes the minimum possible, such as performer and songwriter. Even the box set has a single piece of paper in the cover insert of the CDs, which is a simple picture of a label vinyl 45 on the front and blank on the back. The back of the CDs lists just the songs and the performers. The spine doesn't even distinguish which is which number it is in the set of four. I have the old vinyl, tri-fold "best of" sets, and even those don't have anything other than the performers listed.

Therefore, this documentary finally brings to the fore all the unsung and uncredited heroes of Motown. Tellingly, Berry Gordy is not in the show.

Interspersed between the artists telling their stories is a concert that was held for the purposes of the documentary to show these guys playing and demonstrate that they still very much have their chops. The sound of the concert portions is phenomenal, so make sure you have the stereo on during the show. And make sure you check out all of the deleted scenes - practically a movie unto themselves. Some of the best stories are in those sections, including the interesting code lingo they used, which Bill Cosby incorporated into his grand old kid's cartoon from my childhood, "Fat Albert." Any class on American music history now has a distinguished addition for the curriculum.

The only sour note - outside of the fact that some of the most seminal Funk Brothers are gone - is the now obligatory "white man stole black man's music" saw that mars most documentaries that cover early rock and roll. What's kind of funny (ha ha funny) and illustrative is this line is trotted out directly after they talk about Chubby Checker and Elvis dominating the charts of the day (though the omission of Chuck Berry is odd). Yes, there were pockets of radio stations that wouldn't play music made by black artists; yes, there was a lot of racism to overcome; but, black artists still made the charts, people loved and bought their music, and they are in their deserved place in the cannon of that great American invention: Rock and roll. Rock and roll is really one of the few musical forms that everyone in our nation, all races and cultures, can claim to be a part of because it was a beautiful melding of all of our musical legacies. Chuck Berry and Elvis, the two men who invented the form, both said that their rock and roll was primarily a blend of country music and the blues. Why folks want to deny one of our true interracial and intercultural successes is a mystery to me.

Which reminds me, some of the Funk Brothers were/are white, which was a surprise. There's a poignant part of the movie that discusses the aftershocks of Martin Luther King's tragic assassination. One of the white guys is asked if the tone of collaboration changed with their black peers, as it did in some places of the music industry at the time. He responded that not only did it not change, but that their black friends and collaborators protected them during the race riots that ensued. Isn't that lovely? Or, better yet, "I Just Want to Celebrate"!

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