Movie Review: Starstruck (1982)


Title: Starstruck
Release Date: 8 April 1982
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Production Company: Palm Beach Pictures | The Australian Film Commission
Summary/Review:

Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy) is an aspiring pop singer in Sydney, Australia where her family run an hotel bar beneath the footings of the Harbour Bridge.  Her cheeky 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan) wants to be her agent and works to bring attention to her career. After securing a backup band at a local club talent night, Jackie and Ross set their sights on getting a spot on the tv talent show hosted by celebrity kingmaker Terry Lambert (John O’May).  Things don’t go well as the there are setbacks and betrayals, and then Jackie finds she must win a talent contest to save her family bar.

The movie is extremely corny, but in an irresistibly charming way.  Kennedy and O’Donovan are likable characters even when they’re being idiots.  And the New Wave music and fashions make this movie a terrific time capsule.  The group choreography that goes along with the musical numbers is awkward, and for some reason reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it’s still enjoyable.

If you’re like me and wonder if a 1980s Australian musical had any involvement from the Finn Brothers, you would be correct.  Tim Finn in fact wrote one of the most memorable songs of the film, “Body and Soul.” (Watch the video for the great song and extremely awkward group choreography).

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Cleo, From 5 to 7 (1962)


Title: Cleo, From 5 to 7
Release Date: April 11, 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Production Company: Ciné Tamaris | Rome Paris Films
Summary/Review:

Watching lots of New Wave, New Hollywood, and other 60s art films, I’m seeing a pattern of movies that glorify the renegade man. Over and over these men defy convention, yes, but are also obnoxious, abusive, and sexually aggressive – in short, dudebros.  So it’s refreshing to see a New Wave-style film by a woman director that focus on a woman lead character who spends much of the film interacting with other women.

Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is a rising pop singer who is waiting for the results of a medical test which will tell her if she has cancer or not.  Over a two-hour period (close to the film’s 90-minute run time), Cleo visits a tarot card reader, goes shopping with her maid, has a brief visit from her lover, rehearses with her composer and lyricist, meets her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck), and finally goes to a park where she encounters a soldier on leave from the Algerian conflict, Antonie (Antoine Bourseiller).  Antoine agrees to accompany her to the doctor if she will see him off at the railway station.

Cleo is depicted as being somewhat vain, but a recurring theme is “beauty is life,” reflecting how people are conditioned to value a woman for her beauty. Cleo’s meanderings through the film are given poignancy by the fact that she is facing her mortality.  The movie is also a great time capsule of Paris in the early 1960s.  I was particularly impressed by an extended scene in a taxi cab that simply showed the view of the city’s winding streets at a radio news report speaks about Algeria and other current events.  The whole movie is beautifully composed as a film and features top-notch acting all around.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Breathless (1960)


Title: Breathless
Release Date: March 16, 1960
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Les Films Impéria | Les Productions Georges de Beauregard  | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)
Summary/Review:

There was a big deal about a remake of “Breathless” with Richard Gere, that I remember seeing scenes from as a kid.  There’s also the song by Jerry Lee Lewis. But I honestly had no idea to expect from this alleged French New Wave masterpiece. Alas, it’s another movie from the Sixties which tries to glamorize the life of an obnoxious, sexually aggressive, and criminal dudebro (dude-frère?).  In this case, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) steals a car in Marseilles, kills a police officer who chases him, and uses his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), to shield him from the police.  It’s very self-indulgent and frankly kind of boring.  The movie is recognized for its innovation in cinematography and broad influence, but I just don’t care enough to muster up any thoughts on what this movie does right, because it was so dull and awful.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: The 400 Blows (1959)


Title: The 400 Blows
Release Date: 4 May 1959
Director: François Truffaut
Production Company: Les Films du Carrosse
Summary/Review:

The title of The 400 Blows comes from a French idiom that most close in meaning “to raise hell” in English.  It is one of earliest movies in the French New Wave movement, when young filmmakers discarded the conventions of classical film-making for experimental filming and editing techniques, documentary-style realism, and subject matter of a more personal nature.

The 400 Blows is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young teenage Parisian boy based somewhat on director  François Truffaut own childhood.  Antoine is presented as a troublemaker, but his offenses – passing around a pin-up photo in class, scribbling a poem on a wall, and skipping school for a day out with a friend – seem mild compared with the draconian response from authority figures.  He has a love for the author Balzac (and makes a shrine to him that he comically sets fire to by mistake) but when he writes an essay inspired by Balzac he’s accused of plagiarism rather than homage by his teacher (Guy Decomble).

Antoine’s mother (Claire Maurier) is strict and short-tempered with him much of the time. His father is a bit more easygoing, but doesn’t connect well with Antoine.  Neither are around much, leaving Antoine and his friend Rene (Patrick Auffay) to their own devices.  If anything, this movie depicts Antoine as a resourceful and resilient teenager, but with no adult willing or able to recognize his talents. He ultimately drops out of school, runs away, and takes up petty thievery.  When he fails to pawn a typewriter stolen from his father’s office, he is caught while trying to return it, and sent to juvenile detention center.

The plot of this movie could have been used for an After School Special, but without melodrama and moralism, it is a gritty depiction of real-life situations. Truffaut does a great job depicting the working class reality of post-War Paris, from the worn-out school room to Antoine’s cramped apartment (so small that when Antoine lays out his bed for the night, it blocks the entry door).  All the characters are flawed, none above judgement, but they also all can by sympathized with.

The movie feels bleak, but it’s not without hope.  Antoine’s joy in going to the movies is a particular detail that shows the autobiographical detail of how Truffaut found his way out of his troubled youth.  The last scene of the movie offers a moment of joy and release, while the fear of what comes next still ominously present.  I guess if you want to find out, Truffaut and Léaud made 4 more films over 20 years, continuing Antoine’s story, although I also think this movie can stand on its own with an ambiguous ending.

Rating: ***1/2

Music Discoveries: The Clash


In Music Discoveries, I find artists and bands that I’ve liked but have only listened to a small portion of their output, and do a complete listen of their discography. In the case of the Clash, this is a band I have listened to a more extensively but nevertheless have still found new-to-me music.

Back when the Clash was an active band I was a child who decidedly did not like punk music. Of course, I didn’t really know what punk music was since I basically equated it with heavy metal (and honestly I didn’t really know what heavy metal was either). I first became acquainted with the Clash like many mainstream Americans with their 1982 hit songs “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In 1989, I was reading a “Best of the 80s” issue of Rolling Stone that ranked the Clash’s London Calling as the #1 album of the decade (despite being released in December 1979). I got a copy from the library and gave it a listen, surprised by what I heard and more surprised that I loved it.

A couple of years later, I started college and many of the people in my dorm listened to the Clash so I got exposed to their other recordings, including the more raw punk of the earlier days. And so, five years after the Clash broke up, I became a fan.

Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about the band by listening to a podcast produced by the BBC and Spotify called Stay Free: The Story of the Clash hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame.  That prompted me to give the Clash the Music Discovery treatment.

Album: The Clash
Release Date: April 8, 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Police & Thieves.”
Thoughts:

The Clash come in with a roar on one of the most remarkable debut albums of all time.  This is The Clash at their most raw, most punk rock, and yet already melodic enough to be appealing to squares like me. They even cover a reggae song, “Police & Thieves,” which was innovative at the time. The album also stands as a legacy of the social unrest, inequality, and racial strife of the UK in the 1970s.

Rating: ****1/2


Album: Give ‘Em Enough Rope
Release Date: November 10, 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Guns on the Roof,” “Drug-Stabbing Time,”
Thoughts:

The sophomore effort feels more stripped down and raw than the debut, although the second side is poppier (and “Drug-Stabbing Time” sounds deceptively cheerful).  Lyrically there’s a broadening of topical issues beyond the band’s experiences in London to global political events.  This album doesn’t grab me as much as The Clash, but it’s still quality.

Rating: ***


Album: London Calling
Release Date: December 14, 1979
Favorite Tracks: “London Calling,” “Hateful,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “The Right Profile,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Guns of Brixton,” “Death or Glory,” “Revolution Rock,” “Train in Vain”
Thoughts:

It’s hard to find anything new to say about what many people consider one of the greatest albums of all time, except to say it is one of the greatest albums of all time.  It’s hard to single out my favorite songs, although “Lost in the Supermarket” has always resonated with me. I wonder what it would’ve been like to hear this album for the first time in 1979.  It must’ve been so unexpected for most listeners of the time.

Rating: *****


Album: Sandinista!
Release Date: December 12, 1980
Favorite Tracks: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville, U.K.,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “The Sound of Sinners,” “Lose This Skin”
Thoughts:

Almost a year to the date of releasing a double album, the Clash follow up with a triple album! Sandinista! is reminiscent of the Beatles “White Album” in it’s diversity of musical styles, large list of guest musicians, and the sense that one could pare down this sprawl into a great single album, but what would you cut?  The new wave and “world music” sounds of the album seem to be years ahead of the rest of music world.

Rating: ***1/2


Album: Combat Rock
Release Date: May 14, 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Straight to Hell”
Thoughts: The band’s best-selling album is more radio-friendly with tracks like “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” but I don’t think the band compromised too much for commercial success. Other tracks on the album like “Know Your Rights” hearken back to their early punk rock sound. And then there’s music that doesn’t sound like anything else ever made, like “Straight to Hell,” one of my all-time favorite songs by any band.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Cut the Crap
Release Date: November 5, 1985
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: This is the much-maligned final album of the disillusioned remnant of a once great band.  The songs are formulaic, recorded over cheezy 80s synth with shout-along choruses that sound like a crowd of drunken football supporters.  It’s not terrible, but it it is boring, which is about the worst thing one can say about the Clash.
Rating: *


My Clash All-Time Top Ten Songs

Aramagideon Time (Live at Shea Stadium)

(NOTE: The live performance combines Armagideon Time with The Magnificent Seven which is not evident from the YouTube clip)

I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.

Know Your Rights

Lost in the Supermarket

Remote Control

Revolution Rock

Rudie Can’t Fail

Somebody Got Murdered

Straight to Hell

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais

Album Review: Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo


Album: Remain in Light
ArtistAngélique Kidjo
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Born Under Punches
  • Crosseyed and Painless
  • Once in a Lifetime
  • Houses in Motion
  • but really, the whole album

Thoughts:

In 1980, the Talking Heads released the seminal New Wave album Remain in Light which incorporated African rhythms and instrumentation into post-punk rock music.  Angélique Kidjo takes the music back to Africa by covering the entire album.  And, wow, it’s absolutely breathtaking! Even if you’ve listened to the Talking Heads album again and again, these feel like fresh, brand-new songs!

Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 7


Fresh Air :: The Pediatrician Who Exposed the Flint Water Crisis

Interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who exposed the Flint water crisis.  She also discusses growing up as a child of Iraqi refugees.

99% Invisible :: Right to Roam

I’ve always been amazed by how Britain protects the rights of walker/hikers to cross land that’s privately owned.  Whereas in the US, one is liable to be shot for doing so.

Ben Franklin’s World :: Brian Regal, The Secret History of the New Jersey Devil

If you’ve ever heard the legend of the New Jersey Devil, you imagine it as a cryptozooligical creature inhabiting the Pine Barrens.   Turns out that the story originates instead with a 17th-century colonist named Daniel Leeds who published an almanac that ran afoul of the Quaker authorities!

Disney History Institute :: Winsor McCay and the Origins of American Animation

Early animation originated as part of a vaudeville act featuring a trained dinosaur.

99% Invisible :: Beyond Biohazard

A video podcasts explores the effort to let future generations know that something is dangerous without using language or symbols that won’t be understood.

Hit Parade :: The Deadbeat Club Edition

The first part of the story of how two very different New Wave acts emerged from Athens, GA in the 1980s.

Podcast of the Week Ending June 30


Decoder Ring :: Clown Panic

A history of clowns and how they’ve gone from funny to terrifying.

Hidden Brain :: Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

There are times when a song, book, or tv show I loved leaves me with a feeling of crippling nostalgia, so I was interested in this examination on how our brains reflect on the past.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: Is Guilt A Wasted Emotion?

Speaking of reflecting on the past, how about an unhealthy dose of regret and guilt.

The Sounds in My Head :: “Hey, the 80’s called…”

A podcast full of current music that sounds like it was made in the 1980s.  But the good New Wave sounds of the 80s, not the crumby songs that actually made the top 40 in the 80s.

HUB History :: Immigration in Boston

Present day anti-immigrant prejudice and hysteria has long historical roots as seen in these three stories from Boston history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Chinese tongs in Chinatown, and the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 27


A good crop of podcasts this week featuring Parliament and owls, but not a parliament of owls.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Six O’Clock Soundtrack

I always liked tv news music as a child too, particularly the Action News theme.  Here’s the story of how news music is made.

Sound Opinions :: New Wave & Alison Moyet

Another defining musical style of my childhood, New Wave, is examined along with an interview with New Wave musical great Alison Moyet.

Code Switch :: The ‘R-Word’ In The Age Of Trump

An exploration of when it’s appropriate to describe someone or something as racist and why some journalists are hesitant to do so.

All Songs Considered :: George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars

Parliament Funkadelic are back and as funky as ever.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar

A sweet story about a girl from Lebanon who immigrates to England and finds her place through the study of owls and Welsh mythology.

Snap Judgement :: Senior Year Mixtape

The touching and heartbreaking of three students at a San Francisco high school over the course of their senior year.

Hit Parade :: The B-Sides Edition

The first live-audience Hit Parade episode features pub trivia questions about b-sides that became bigger hits than their a-sides and a performance by Ted Leo, “the nicest guy in punk.”

RetroMusic: Shriek of the Week Playlist


I recently signed up with Rdio, a music streaming social network that provides access to a boatload of music for a monthly fee.  I’ve enjoyed being able to listen to a lot of new discoveries and digging up old favorites.  For example, I listened to Prince and the Revolution’s “Around the World in a Day” for the first time in at least 25 years.  That was a new album around the time we moved to a new house in 1985, and while all my other tapes were packed in a box, that one had just arrived in the mail so I ended up listening to it over and over.  It’s surprising how many of the songs seemed completely unfamiliar despite that.

On that same nostalgia vibe, I also payed tribute to one of my favorite New York area radio stations of my youth, which was known as 92.7 WDRE-FM when I listened to it, but was also known as WLIR.  This was the “left of the dial” radio station that played Post-Punk, New Wave, Modern Rock, Alternative Music, whatever moniker you wanted to slap on it (oddly, the term “alternative” became most popular around the time that R.E.M and Nirvana lead the music into the mainstream in the early 90s).

One of the features of WDRE was a contest for the best new song of the week called the “Shriek of the Week.”  Apparently, during the WLIR days there was the rhymeless “Screamer of the Week” that did the same thing.  There is a list of all the Screamers & Shrieks from 1980 to 1996 here: http://www.advancedspecialties.net/wlir.htm

I made a Rdio playlist of the Screamer/Shriek of the week covering my junior high and high school days from 1985-1991.  Rdio had many, but not all, the songs from the list and sadly it seemed to be the quirky one hit wonders that didn’t make it to the playlist.  Still it’s a good playlist that gives one the sense of those exciting days of the 80s and early 90s, if one can excuse a little too much exuberance for artists such as The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Erasure, U2 and Morrisey who seemed to have entire albums elected as Shrieks over the course of several weeks.

http://www.rdio.com/people/Othemts/playlists/8452784/Shriek_of_the_Week/

If you are on Rdio and have the time and energy to populate the rest of the list, have at it.  I may go back and fill in the earlier days of the 1980s.  I feel it may be too sad to go forward in the 1990s and watch the musical erosion, especially when you get to the third week of June 1994 when alternative music officially jumped the shark.

Oh, and apparently WLIR lives on as an internet station with some of the original DJs.