Video Fridays: The Sapphires

The_Sapphires-posterIt’s been several weeks since I saw the wonderful film, The Sapphires, at Bellingham’s own art house emporium The Pickford Film Center, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.

I went into the experience with few expectations. The brief description I’d read gave me the impression that it would be a fairly lightweight, feel-good, possibly a little silly movie. BUT, man, take four Australian aboriginal gals with amazing voices, introduce them to a washed-up white soul musician played by Irish comedic actor Chris O’Dowd, and then take the show to Vietnam in 1968 to entertain American troops and you’ve got one dynamic, fantastic film!

As I’ve mentioned several times before (Just two examples: Post 1, Post 2), I LOVE Soul music. It has become my go-to genre when I’m burned out on nearly every other type of music, I eventually get fatigued by everything else but I can always come back to Soul music.

So, it’s Video Fridays, and thanks to The Sapphires, I’ve got some wonderful Soul music to share, first a clip from the film, with the gals doing the 1968 Linda Lyndell tune What A Man, then a sampling of the soundtrack in the trailer.

Seriously, see this movie if you can, whether in the theatre or at home. It’s a gas!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

The Dystopia Fetish

dystopiaHave you ever had one of those experiences where you’ve been quietly tolerating something that really bothers you for a long, long time, but then you suddenly, in a dramatic moment, realize that you can no longer tolerate it?

Well, I’ve just had that experience, and I’m here to pronounce that I have no more tolerance to offer for what I see as a rampant dystopia fetish.

Dystopia: that mostly fictional construct of a future, sometimes post-apocalyptic, sometimes the product of a long, slow decline, filled with darkness and oppressive authoritarian government and violence, societies that retain just enough resemblance to present day realities as to give the impression that we’re heading down that slippery slope.

Fans of dystopian fiction, in print or onscreen, argue that we need these cautionary tales of possible futures, so that we, ideally, wake up and do everything we can to prevent such a future. But, what I see happening more and more is that people are starting believe that dystopia is unavoidable and already manifesting.

And, it wouldn’t be nearly as scary if it weren’t for the fact that some of these dystopians are already heavily arming themselves and preparing for the worst.

In some ways, we all contribute to the problem, by continuing to consume massive quantities of dystopia in books and movies and on TV. The media are happy to keep meeting the demand. I’m talking about everything from The Hunger Games to even the whole zombie craze. (Zombies aren’t real, of course, but they adequately serve as an easy metaphor for any number of evils that can fester in dystopia.)

You know, there’s enough real darkness in the world today, as a brief glance at news headlines will confirm. I’m not preaching head-in-the-sand escapism, but I do think we all should be rationing the attention we place on the dark side.

A friend of mine, a Seattle blogger at sealife chronicles, posted something today that I think is a good companion piece to this post, titled zen test. In it, he provides a wonderful quote by William Rivers Pitt and then writes:

bad happens every day.

and our collective survival instinct demands that we pay attention to it, so we learn to avoid it. trouble is, fed too much attention, the bad can take on a grim, feral life of its own. it’s a wild, dark energy that can turn on you and eat you alive.

this is true…and yet somehow the world is not, always or entirely, a carnivorous beast. we know this because sometimes ~ in quiet moments between the relentless waves pounding our souls ~ sometimes awesome happens.

amen.

Hamlet Mashups: Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit

hamletI’ve mentioned several times, here at Fish & Bicycles, that I concentrated in Shakespeare while working on my bachelor’s degree in English, most notably in my October 2011 post concerning the film Anonymous, a fictional exploration of the Oxfordian Theory, which argues that Shakespeare didn’t actually write the works he is so famous for.

All that is to explain that most things Shakespearean usually grab my attention, and today is no exception, as I’ve come across two items on the web, within minutes of each other, both related to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, arguably the Bard’s greatest and most influential play.

First, via a tweet by Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen, an eye-popping and highly entertaining mashup, by Geoff Klock, of 65 very short clips from 65 movies and TV shows, some from actual productions of Hamlet, and others references to or quotes from Hamlet, the latter often from the seemingly most unlikely sources imaginable.

As a former student of Shakespeare, I find the sources of the references and quotes to be particularly fascinating. From Gilligan’s Island to action flicks, from children’s cartoons to The Simpsons, I have to wonder just how many original viewers recognized, much less understood, these.

I suppose the fair and non-cynical thing to say would be that the widespread influence is undeniably impressive, regardless of how much impact these snippets of Shakespeare may have had. So, yeah, I’ll leave it at that and not spoil it by over analyzing.

Next, via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, John Peck’s hilarious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hall and Oates, a kind of mashup of its own, with just words instead of video.

Here, without any commentary from me, for it needs none, an excerpt:

    ACT III, SCENE II

    Danish march. A flourish. Enter HAMLET, KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, POLONIUS, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, HALL, OATES, and others.

    HAMLET

    They are coming to the play; I must be idle:
    Get you a place. Where be Ophelia? My own person,
    Like the sun, doth daily rise to greet her.

    HALL

    I wouldn’t if I were you,
    I know what she can do,
    She’s deadly, man, she could really rip your world apart.
    Mind over matter, ooh, the beauty is there,
    But a beast is in the heart.

    OATES
    (silent)

    HAMLET
    (clears throat)

    Go, bid the players make ready.

    ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN

    We will, my lord.

    Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN. Enter OPHELIA.

    OATES

    Whoa-oh, here she comes.

    HALL

    Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.

    OATES

    Whoa-oh, here she comes.

    HALL

    She’s a maneater.

    HAMLET

    Let the show begin!

    Enter a dozen SAXOPHONISTS.

    KING CLAUDIUS

    Gods, no! Give me some light: away!

    Exeunt all.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Phil Ochs: Is it ever ok to give up?

Originally Published: August 9, 2011


I try really hard to keep things positive here at Fish & Bicycles. There are already plenty of blogs and websites out there wailing about how bloody awful things can get in this world. I should know. I used to write one of them.

That’s why I go looking for positive news (e.g. my Celebrating Progress series) to write about, or for the latest on less overtly political topics like the arts.

And yet, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1960s and ’70s lately (Post 1, Post 2), feeling pretty sad about how, despite the cultural revolution of that period, we still have a world dominated by corruption, war-mongering, environmental destruction, and plutocracy.

So, what do I do? The other night, in a kind of masochistic impulse, I watched a documentary on Netflix, Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune, that just broke.my.frickin’.heart.

I’ve known some of Phil Ochs‘ music for years, knew he was a folk singer from the Greenwich Village glory days, and I even knew he descended sadly into alcoholism and madness before killing himself at the age of 35.

But I didn’t really understand the depth of his passion for and commitment to social causes until I saw this film, and it was nothing short of brutal to watch as Ochs’ dreams were violently dashed, over (Medgar Evers), and over (JFK), and over (Malcom X), and over (MLK), and over (RFK), and over (1968 Democratic National Convention), and over (1973 Chilean coup d’état), and over again (Victor Jara).

How is anyone expected to withstand that kind of relentless defeat? Can you really blame Ochs for trying to soothe his aching soul with alcohol? Is it ever ok to give up?

Video Fridays: The Eagles

eaglesThis week’s Video Fridays installment is very much a companion piece to last week’s.

Like the music of the Steve Miller Band, mentioned a week ago, The Eagles, in my opinion, suffered severely from being overplayed on the radio.

If, like me, you ever lived in southern California (Los Angeles, 1988-1993), this effect was amplified to such an extent that my feelings toward The Eagles eventually came to resemble those of The Dude’s, from The Big Lebowski (warning, multiple F-Bombs):

So, you can imagine my reaction when several of the guys in my band suggested that we play an Eagles song.

Now, I believe in democracy, I was outvoted, and it was more important to me to keep my bandmates happy than to be stubborn about one song…

…and, it turns out, the song is good, clean, rockin’ fun!

Already Gone, from 1974 is mostly a three-chord workout, screaming out for some creamy tube amp overdrive, and I just can’t help getting swept up by it.

Who woulda thunk it?

Here’s The Eagles from the year it came out, playing before 300,000 people at the California Jam music festival.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Movie Scene Doppelgänger: The Futility of Trying to Recreate a Magic Moment

VDayMoviesGroundhogDay_gallery_primarySo, rewind a few weeks, to February 2nd, Groundhog Day to be precise, and, as corny as it sounds, my family and I watched, as we do every year, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day.

We’ve watched the movie many times, each time I tend to notice something I hadn’t noticed before, or a particular scene strikes me as funnier than it had before, or something like that, and this time was no different. It took me a couple of weeks to fully piece this year’s revelation together, and here it is:

    The snowball fight scene is the cinematic doppelgänger of the lobster scene from Woody Allen‘s 1977 film Annie Hall. (see the lobster scene below)

The photo shown above is from a scene where Bill Murray’s and Andie MacDowell’s characters are having a magical moment. Murray’s Phil has been harnessing his experience of reliving the same day over and over again in order to learn as much as he can about MacDowell’s Rita, a strategy which, at first seems to be working. Phil deftly manages to shift Rita’s impression of him as a cynical, arrogant, and selfish jerk to a sensitive guy with deep interest in her as a person, as well as someone who seems to share her values. They build a snowman together, and, after a spontaneous snowball fight with some kids, they kinda inadvertently fall close to each other in the snow, their eyes lock, and they kiss. It’s sweet and playful.

But, Phil overreaches. Managing to persuade Rita to come see his room at the B&B, his selfishness returns, he becomes extremely pushy with sexual advances, culminating in a slap to the face and Rita’s swift, angry departure.

His attempt the “next day” to recreate the magic moment is painful to watch, so forced and fake and duplicitous, the antithesis of what Rita would want:

And, of course, it doesn’t work. It will never work. That’s why the original moment was magical. It was the coming together of two people whom at first didn’t seem at all well-suited for each other, yet in the surprise that they could actually get along and have fun, affection and even love, or at least the possibility of love, happened.

Now, rewind 16 years, and try to remember, if you can, a scene from Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s Alvy and Diane Keaton‘s Annie are on a little getaway to the seaside, when hilarity breaks out in the kitchen, as Alvy and Annie are trying to cook lobsters, but the lobsters have somehow scattered about the floor.

Once again, you have two VERY different people coming together, taking delight in the fact that, despite their differences, they are having a lot of fun.

But, as we know, sadly, Alvy and Annie grow apart. And, Alvy, like Phil from Groundhog Day, is under the mistaken impression that he can recreate that magical lobster moment with someone else.

Here are both scenes spliced together:

As one YouTube commenter wrote:

This is perhaps the best scene about what chemistry is. And how it can only be found and lived, not recreated, not replaced.

So, yeah, it’s chemistry, or magic, or something, and it has a shelf life.

As I said, it took me a while to fully formulate this post, to connect the dots across 16 years of film history, but it finally came together this past weekend, in Portland, Oregon, where, as I mentioned, I was on a mini-vacation with my wife and 15-year old son.

On Saturday, we, along with, it seemed, 95% of the population of Portland, visited OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). We went to OMSI not only because it’s supposed to be an amazing place, but also because our son had been there several years ago on a class trip, having stayed the night on the premises, and it was…

…magical!

We were careful to honor the memories of that magic, and asked him if he was sure that he wanted to go, he was now 15 after all, and perhaps, we wondered, he’d think it was for younger kids and not his thing at all anymore.

And yet, when asked, he enthusiastically said, “YES!!! OMSI’s AWESOME!!!”

Fast Forward, and we’re standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in, or we’re wandering around the museum checking out the exhibits, and he’s noticeably quiet, a quiet that, we’d soon find out, represented disappointment.

The magic could not be recreated, for whatever reasons, maybe the fact that he’d been with his classmates and friends last time, or the fact that they got to have a sleepover in a museum (how cool is that?!), and the fact that he’s now a little older and he’s there with his parents, etc.

Anyway, the lesson here is pretty obvious: Should you have magic moments, savor every frickin’ drop, breathe it all in and gather it up and store it away in your heart and mind, take some photos and video if you want, so that you can think of and feel those precious, unique memories, whenever you summon them.

Just, please avoid the disappointment and don’t try to manufacture them again.

Trust me. It.won’t.work.

“The Hobbit” Redux

HobbitThis is frickin’ hilarious!

Ok, so, last month I wrote about my experience having seen The Hobbit in IMAX 3-D at the new local multiplex movie emporium, wherein I put forth the proposition that these new generation of movies, with their myriad visual technology gimmicks, more closely resemble amusement park rides than cinema. (This was actually a follow-up of sorts to a post I wrote in November 2011 in which I declared my preference for old school 2D analog film.)

Well, this morning I read a piece at McSweeney’s by Martin Azevedo titled “An Unexpected Screening Format Decision” that perfectly captures the absurdity I see in these current trends in movie making.

The whole thing must be read to fully appreciate it, but here are some of my highlights:

“Two tickets to The Hobbit, please.”

“Which version would you like to see?”

“Which version? What do you mean?”

“At 1:30 it screens in theater seven in 3D with THX sound. At 1:55 it screens in theater one in 48-frames-per-second IMAX 3D with 16 Channel Dolby sound and seat-quake technology, for a special fifteen-dollar admission. At 2:20, it screens in theater twelve in conventional 2D digital projection.”

===================

”Which version would you recommend?”

“I’d wait for the 4:15 screening in theater fifteen, presented in 2D Action Focus format. It has a running time of 70 minutes with no dwarf songs, Silmarillion flashbacks or long nights of dramatic hesitation experienced in real time.”

“I was hoping to get started by three o’clock.”

“Would 3:05 work? In theater eight, we’ll start the Extended Journey Final Cut version in Hi-Res Digital Cinemascape. It expands each of the epic battle scenes by showing their impact on minor characters who had to stay home.”

===================

“Have you got anything that runs two hours or less, balances character with action into a compelling fantasy narrative, costs eight to twelve dollars, can be seen with the naked eye, won’t trigger my epilepsy, and starts before three o’clock?”

“2:45, theater nine. Swallow this capsule thirty minutes before show time.”

“I’ve got my ten-year-old nephew with me.”

“Oh—my mistake! With your nephew, you’ll want the Frodo Family Edition, playing at 1:45 in theater three. It runs 110 minutes, features two extra dwarf songs, and introduces six animated talking animal characters. Also, CGI safety rails have been added to the treacherous cliff passages. And Gandalf’s pipe blows bubbles.”

Tweet of the Day: #R.I.P.JackKlugman

When I first saw this tweet from The Onion, I chuckled:

But then I realized that I never posted anything here in response to the loss of Jack Klugman, the stage, film, and TV actor best known as Oscar Madison on the TV version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.

My having not done that is really unacceptable.

oddcoupleThroughout my entire childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, continuing until I moved to the west coast in 1988, reruns of The Odd Couple were broadcast nightly on New York’s WPIX, channel 11, and I watched them, was thoroughly entertained by them, over and over and over again.

I had friends who shared my passionate love of The Odd Couple, and we’d rattle off bits from the show, from one liners to entire scenes, and the jokes never, ever got old.

It’s tempting to say that Klugman, as Oscar, was my favorite, but the truth is that he and Tony Randall, as Felix Unger, were such an amazing team that it diminishes both of them to play favorites.

That said, Klugman’s Oscar Madison was refreshingly different from most adult male characters on TV. He was flawed (divorced!), utterly unpretentious, a man who loved the simple things in life, a slob, and yet a man with a very successful career as a sportswriter.

Most of all, he had a big heart, pushed to the breaking point over and over again by Felix’s annoying, often maddening, eccentricities, always to cave in time and again, to remember that Felix, warts and all, was still his friend and someone worthy of patience and compassion.

The character may have been written that way, but Jack Klugman brought Oscar to life in a thoroughly believable way, and even though Walter Matthau was great as Oscar in the film version, I always think of Klugman as Oscar first and always will.

R.I.P., Jack. Thanks for the memories.

Casting “Fiscal Cliff: Part II”

wile-e-coyoteI really had no intention at all of saying anything about the national embarrassment that was the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.

But this morning, a friend of mine posted a tweet that refreshingly reframed the whole sad tale of governmental dysfunction into something I could nibble at:

 
Thinking of the whole nightmare as a bad B-Movie opened up wonderful satirical opportunities, so I replied, my friend replied, and here’s the whole conversation:

Me: “@TomMINT: Coming This March!! #FISCALCLIFF Part Duex – the debt limit” I hope they spice up the casting for this one.

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles no kidding! Casting get on it!

Me: @TomMINT Samuel L. Jackson as Obama!

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles as Obama said to Romney “please continue”, I’m at a loss.

Me: @TomMINT Bryan Cranston as John Boehner, Scooby Doo as Harry Reid, Thurston Howell III as Mitch McConnell, Kristen Wiig as Nancy Pelosi…

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles maybe this other Jim Backus character would work for McConnell:
Magoo_Christmas_scrooge.jpg

Me: @TomMINT Michael Hogan, who played Colonel Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica, as Joe Biden, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Grover Norquist…

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles well done! Now we need a script that’s more believable.