Sunday, July 31, 2011

Laibach Is a Seriously Misunderstood Band

The Wholesome Boys of Laibach

The great Slovenian band Laibach have been playing their mix of industrial, neo-classical and pop covers since 1980 when they were part of Yugoslavia's banned NSK art collective.

Lead singer Milan Fras, plays his character on stage as a cross between Vlad Tepes and Himmler, while the rest of the band pull the fascist imagery even further. They intentionally play a nationalistic game, but when matching the images to the music, the parody becomes strikingly clear.

At times musically challenging, and with a rough sense of humor that is not going to be for everyone Laibach remains one of the best Eastern European bands of the last 30 years.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tex Avery: Red Hot Riding Hood

Red Hot Riding Hood (MGM, 1943)

Tex Avery's quintessential cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood, is a classic of fine sight gags, excellent music and all that big band feel.

I would easily rate this one of the 10 or so greatest cartoons ever made.

Have a look.....

Shatner Covers the Classics

Shatner Rules

Here's the king of all entertainment, William Shatner singing his awesome cover of Cee Lo Green's Fuck You!

This video drips with coolness, 


Friday, July 29, 2011

Best of the '70's: Michael York

Michael York

British actor Michael York has always been one of my very favorite actors, and was by far my favorite "action" star of the 1970's.

The first time I noticed York was when Kathy Kimball, the very sexy 14 year old my 13 year old self was totally head over heels in love with convinced me to go to the Flick, our local art house theater to see the Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet , where York played Juliet's explosive cousin Tybalt.

Tybalt (Romeo and Juliet, 1968)

York's Tybalt is brash, mean spirited and almost but not quite a villian, his presence stealing just about every scene he is in, plus his action scenes have a realistic and gritty feel to them that were quite surprising from someone with such a classical "pretty" face, all in all making for a very striking and memorable performance.

Just a few weeks after seeing this fine movie, and totally striking out with Kathy, on the afternoon Dialing for Dollars movie, I caught York's first lead roll as a WWI solder who teams up with A Shot In The Dark's, Elke Summer, in Zeppelin.

Elke Summer and Michael York (Zeppelin, 1971)

While overall a decent enough action film, York played a much quieter, more intellectual figure in Zeppelin, but still managed to really catch my attention.

York also put in a strong performance as young gay writer in Nazi Germany, in Bob Fosse's Cabaret

Cabaret (1972)

York was also one of the stars of the ill-fated 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon, one of the true bad movies of all time, that I never the less have a great deal of affection for, even with the truly awful Burt Bacharach and  Hal David score.

Michael York and Olivia Hussey, Lost Horizon (1973)

Michael lucked out and didn't have to sing, but since I can't help myself here is Swedish actress and Bergman muse Liv Ulman singing the atrocious, World is a Circle, just so you can get the idea....

To quote the great Leonard Pith Carnal, "truly bad".

Anyway, at this point, I was something of a fan, then came York's real breakthrough from supporting man to full fledged movie star.

Shot in two parts, Richard Lester's all star adaptation of Alexander Duma's The Three Muskeeters, was a huge international hit, with York just fantastic as the young swordsman D'Artagnan.

Oliver Reed, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay

The Three Musketeers and it's second half, the Four Musketeers, were bright films, with exceptional style that catch both the solid sense of humor of Duma's classic but also the sense of grand adventure. In my own personal opinion these are two of the finest action movies ever made and are far and away the best telling of this classic tale that was ever put on screen.

Next up for York, starring along with Jenny Agutter in what is probably his most famous role, renegade Sandman, Logan-5, in the 1976 science fiction classic, Logan's Run.

Whoops that's not Michael York

Let's try that again.

Michael York, as Logan-5

Logan's Run story of a youthful utopia with a price, is a classic among science fiction fans but it bombed at the box office, and was the start of the end of York's days as a leading man, but he still had a couple more nice moments before the decade was out.

York put in a strong performance opposite the great Burt Lancaster in the 1977 remake of The Island of Dr Moreau 

Michael York in the Island of Doctor Moreau (1977)

And finally finishing off the decade with a solidly funny turn as Marty Feldman's "slightly more identical" twin brother in the Last Remake of Beau Geste.

Marty Feldman, Ann Margret and Michael York

Sadly though both of these films were box office poison as well and this was pretty much the end of York's career as a leading man. Never the less, York has continued on becoming a popular character and voice actor and of course had a major role in the Austin Powers series.

But for awhile there Michael York was one of the best of the 70's

Russia Wins The Space Race

© RIA Novosti. Alexey Kudenko

Russia to Carry Out 3 Space Launches in August

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said on Friday it is planning to launch two satellites and a space freighter next month.
The Express-AM4 satellite will be launched on August 18 on board a Proton-M carrier rocket from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan.
A Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft will be launched from Baikonur to the International Space Station on August 24 on board the Soyuz-U launch vehicle.
A Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket will orbit a Glonass-M navigation satellite after the launch on August 25 from the Plesetsk Space Center in northern Russia.

It's pretty clear with NASA out of business that in the end, Russia won the space race.

I don't mean to harp on this as much as I do, I really don't.

But the US has ended it's Space Program, and while that's not to say that there are not some private companies out there doing their very best to keep us in orbit, that's just not the same as the what you can do with the backing of a government.

Like Russia

Russian Proton-M Carrier Rocket

Or China...

Long March 4 Rocket

Or even India...

Cartosat-2 Rocket

The rest of the world is jumping into space just as we jump off.

Guess that means that in the end, Chekov gets to be Captain.

That's Captain, sir, to you, tovarich

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bettie Page, Blaze Starr, Gypsy Rose Lee and the Bad Girls Club

Bright and sunny, nothing "seedy" here

I was writing about the seedy world of 1950's Burlesque that our favorite pin-up girl Bettie Page lived in. A place of dark nightclubs, shady characters and organized crime, Burlesque was the low end of the entertainment world. 

Still along with the girls, Burlesque was also the home of some of the most beloved comedians of all time. Abbott and Costello began on the Burlesque stage, so did  Jackie Gleason for that matter.

But still, let's be honest, what everyone remembers best from Burlesque is the women.

Those busty, exotic specimen's of 1940's and 50's woman hood at it's finest have somehow managed to be remembered by the great-grandkids of their original customers.

What's interesting is that back in their day these ladies were considered shocking moral reprobates, but to our jaded current generation they are more like relics of a more innocent time.

Probably the most famous of these ladies, and in fact probably the most famous stripper of all times, was Gypsy Rose Lee.

Gypsy Rose Lee

Gypsy Rose, whose life story was immortalized in the musical Gypsy, was the child of one of the most scary stage mothers in history, a woman who pushed her onto the stage and even added her name to Gypsy's stage name. Eventually though Lee would break away and on her own become not only one of the great Burlesque stars of all time, but also an actress, author and playwright.

Lili St. Cyr

One of the most famous strippers of the 40's and 50's was Lili St Cyr. Dancer, stripper, business woman, St. Cyr was famous in her day for her scandalous social life and six marriages, but went on to form a hugely successful mail order firm selling lingerie, decades before Victoria's Secret.

Sally Rand

Going back a few decades to the early 1930's, dancer Sally Rand and her Bubble Dance were so popular that she was the single most popular attraction at the 1933 Chicago's World's Fair. Arrested multiple times for indecent exposure, the public at large were never made aware that in fact Rand was never nude at all and was in fact wearing a body stocking the whole time.

Tempest Storm

Tempest Storm has proven to be just about the longest lasting person in the world of Burlesque, having begun in the early 1950's and who is still performing today. Storm had had an interesting life, but my personal favorite fact about her is that at one time Storm was married to Herb Jeffries, films first black cowboy movie star.

Blaze Starr

Considered the exotic wild woman of the 1950's, Blaze Starr was just a Southern girl at heart, and her affair with Louisiana Governor Earl Long, helped to finish his political life.

It's easy to romanticize the 1950's, and make the life story of these ladies into more than it was. Mostly these were hard working women in an unglamorous profession. And yet these women were tough and way more in charge of their lives and their pocketbook then the majority of women stuck at home. So really there is much to respect about all of them.

And nice on the eyes too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You Popular?

Sandy is a "popular" girl if you get my meaning

Back in 1947 the always helpful Coronet films put out this short movie that helps good students everywhere to figure out the answer to the burning question, Are You Popular?

Of course if you were popular, you'd find some use from this other helpful film from the company, 1949's, Dating Do's and Don'ts.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anti-Communist Propaganda 1948 - Make Mine Freedom

With the end of the second world war, the nations of Western Europe and the United States now found themselves in a simmering conflict with the Soviet Union.

In just a few years the USSR had gone from the allies to villains and in no place was that more obvious then in the propaganda cartoons and "educational" films from the era.

Make Mine Freedom, directed by long time animator John Sutherland,  was produced in 1948 at the religious based Harding College of Searcy, Arkansas, and  uses animation to explain why good Americans just can't trust anyone selling an "ism".

Organized labor is a Commie front apparently

Extremely pro-business, Make Mine Freedom does its very best to get the message out that being in a union was about the same thing as marching in Red Square, and does it in a funny and enthralling manner, making for a first rate piece of propaganda.

Apollo 11: Splashdown

July 24, 1969
16:50:35 UTC

On July 24, 1969, after an eight day voyage to the Moon and back Columbia returns to Earth bringing the Apollo 11 mission to a successful end.

Less then 70's years from man's first flight, and not even a decade after President Kennedy committed the US to reaching the Moon, we had succeeded in sending men to the Moon and bringing them safely back again.

The human race had proven that there was nothing that solid engineering and technology, plus hard work couldn't do.

The future was ours.

I Know It's 40 Years Too Late, But I Really Hate Jerry Rubin

A few weeks ago the wife and I were out book hunting and I came across a beat up paperback copy of "Do It!", a loud and boisterous call to revolution by Yippie leader and Chicago 7 defendant, Jerry Rubin.

Do It! (Simon & Schuster 1970)

Do It! is loud, brassy, filled with the energy and enthusiasm of youth with a purpose, and has half convinced me that the hardhats were right all along and that beating these guys over the head with clubs at the '68 Democratic Convention was the best option all along.

Look, the Vietnam War was wrong, America's Civil Rights record was abhorrent and people had every reason to rebel against the conformist lifestyle promoted by 1950's American culture, no argument there. And most people who were protesting against any of these things on the whole were decent enough young people whose hearts were in the right place. My problem though is that as I became more familiar with the so called "leaders" of the 60's youth movement, I've been consistently disgusted by what self-centered, egotistical creeps so many of them turned out to be.

And Jerry Rubin comes across in his own book, as more or less King Nozzle of Douche Mountain.

Here are a few choice quotes accompanied by pictures from the book....

A free society

"This generation gap is the widest in history. The pre-1950's generation has nothing to teach the post- 1950's, and that's why the school system is falling apart.
The pre-1950's Generation grows more desperate. We dreamers disturb straight Amerika's dreamless sleep.
They were alive when Germany created concentration camps for Jews and other troublemakers.
Will they send us, their own children to concentration camps?"

Flags of the Viet Kong, that beautiful yellow star...

"All we want from those meetings are demands that the Establishment can never satisfy. What a defeat if they satisfy our demands!" 

I did like this Freak Brothers page

"Go into a bank, business or office and demand to use the toilet. You'll be told, "No public bathroom here." Stand on one leg and whine loudly, "I gotta doo-doo."
Tell them if they continue to refuse , you'll shit on the floor.
Shit on the floor!"

Jerry knows bigboy words

"I thought to myself: "Kennedy - the jewel of Amirika: one bullet and the beauty, money, fame, power, a family dynasty all gone." Far out!"

Looks like Ron is going to be Far Out too.

Look, I know most of this stuff is the kind of crap lots of people spout off when they were young, energetic and very, very high, but the thing about Rubin that really gets me is that while reading the book it is quite clear that as far as Rubin is concerned he actually is a "Leader" of youth and because of that is owed a certain amount of deference and respect from the Establishment while making clear his absolute contempt for any view but his own.

Plus it really galls me to read Rubin describe the tactics of the "revolution" and realizing that their tactics were almost identical to what the "pigs" in the Republican Party were using.

Rubin writes with pride about infiltrating opposing groups, including fellow liberals and rigging speeches, events and debates, as well as fairly giggling about sending out false flyers that put what he saw as his fellow liberal competition in a bad light.

Reading Rubins self- indulgent tract it isn't hard to see why in the mid-70's Rubin gave it all up, coined the term "Yuppie" and went to work on Wall Street. What I see under the cover of his political theater is a man who is in his own way as interested in gaining power as any of the politicians he rails about.

Despite my feelings about Rubin, I do have to say that Do It! is an energetic read and does have a enthusiasm that is hard not to enjoy. I can't support it's call to revolution, but in the end I can still recommend the book itself to anyone looking for a slice of true counter culture ideology and a fascinatingly weird primary source historical document.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Animated World War II

Seeing Captain America the other night got me to thinking about how World War II was portrayed in the cartoons of the era. After all the war coincided with the period in time when American animation was at it's peak and other countries were not far behind.

Nationalistic, jingoistic and full of racial and ethnic stereotypes these films are a product of their era and while I won't apologize for them, I will say that they need to be judged by the times they were created in.

First up is our old friend, Tex Avery, and his 1942 short, Blitz Wolf.

Blitz Wolf (MGM, 1942)

Using the classic story of the Three Little Pigs, Avery spends the first half of the film showing the foolishness of appeasement and the second half is good old fashioned slap stick as Adolf Wolf finds out what happens when you try to invade the good people of "Pigland".

Funny, but with a serious message, Avery works in some powerful shots of tanks on the move broken up with his normal visual slapstick humor.

From 1941 is the Soviet propaganda film Fascist Boots on Our Homeland 

In this film, brutal beast like Nazi monsters run rampant on the Soviet motherland, but are stopped by the combined forces of the Soviet people. Completely over the top, but at the same time a brilliant example of the boot to face style of propaganda the USSR was famous for.

I don't have a still for the next film but below is Der Storenfried, a 1940 German cartoon where a family of peaceful hares are rescued by evil Russian foxes by the Honeybee Luftwaffe, in a celebration of German air power.

Speaking of the Soviets, here is a Warner Brothers cartoon from 1944, titled Russian Rhapsody where Adolf gets his butt kicked by a bunch of Gremlins from the Kremlin, in a rare American pro-Soviet cartoon.

There is just so much material from this era that's worth a look, that I think I'll be revisiting the subject before too long.

The Rutles - Ouch

The Prefab Four in their prime

I think it's fair to say that each and every one of us has been in some way touched by the seminal rock act, The Rutles. Discovered in the early 1960's by Leggy Mountbatten, he was so impressed with the bands music that he tried his very best to touch them back.

Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry changed the very fabric of the 1960's and with their revolutionary music brought about huge social changes as well as a definite enlargement of their own spiritual beings and bank accounts.

Soon the world was swept up in Rutlemania and the band was happy for the money and girls.

So let's go back to their second movie and take a look at a clip of the title song. Here it is..Ouch.

Big Bad Mama: Sex, Violence & a Naked William Shatner

Big Bad Mama (1974)

1974 was a banner year for exploitation films, and one of the best of the entire lot was Roger Corman’s, Big Bad Mama directed by Steve Carter and starring Angie Dickinson, televisions Police Woman and one time paramour to John Kennedy, as Wilma McClatchie.... 

.....a poor widow living in Texas during the early days of the Depression who along with her two nubile teenage daughters, Billy Jean and Polly, played by Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee turn to a life of crime while showing as much skin as possible in the process. Big Bad Mama is loud, rude, dirty and at times very funny.

Co-Starring William Shatner 

.....and Tom Skerritt...

Who both join into the fun with true scenery chewing gusto.

A Wholesome Church Going Family

After her bootlegger boyfriend is shot to death by Revenue Agents, including character actor Dick Miller, Wilma and her daughters try to take over his bootlegging route but after a few disasters and close calls, takes to the road with her two sex obsessed daughters looking for a better life.

But it being the Depression and times being tough Wilma instead ends up working for tips at a diner, but that job is short lived when Billy Jean and Polly sneak off to a local club to make a few dollars striping, and a raging mad Wilma shows up pulls the girls off the stage and then proceeds to rob the entire club at gunpoint, and then make a quick get away out of town by stealing the car of a crooked preacher.

The girls explore their employment options

With their new found wealth the ladies head to the nearest city and set themselves up in the best luxury hotel they can find, realizing just how much they enjoy the good life, Wilma decides to take up crime full time.

Money and underwear, a good combination

The next day the trio goes to a local bank in a attempt to pass a bad check, but run right into bank robber Fred Diller (Skerritt) instead.

Calm and quiet, always calm and quiet

Diller’s attempt to rob the bank goes wrong, and he ends up shot in the leg while his two partners are killed, however Wilma stays cool dashes behind the counter grabs the cash and heads out to her car, reluctantly allowing Diller to tag along and help with the escape.

Diller and Wilma hit it off and after a night of lovemaking the two decide to team up.

Teaming Up

But no sooner do the two become a couple when Wilma meets conman William Baxter (William Shatner with a terrifying Southern accent) at the horse races and finds herself attracted to him.

A beautiful woman with a big wad of cash. What's not to love?

Baxter not realizing what he has gotten himself into is stunned when Wilma, Diller and the girls stop to rob the box office on their way out of the track, but is happy enough to come along for a share.

Hell of a first date

And then we get to the scene.

The scene that is terrifying to see but impossible to look away.

Yes, I of course mean, William Shatner’s nude scene.

Some things can not be unseen

While Baxter and Wilma spend an extended time in bed, Diller, jealous about the situation gets ready to bust in and shoot Baxter, but is stopped at the last minute by Billy Jean, who takes Diller back to his room and climbs into bed with him.

Tom Skerritt is a bad man

Seemingly a much happier guy with his brand new very young girlfriend, but still secretly seething over Wilma and Baxter, Diller agrees to team up with the group in a plan to kidnap a millionaires daughter and settle in California where Wilma dreams of a better life.

Unintentional Bergman shot

After kidnapping the girl though Baxter overcome with the fear of being captured starts to freak out and after catching Diller fooling around with the kidnapped heiress, Baxter has enough and sneaks away from the gang betraying them to the authorities in the process.

Looking out for Number One

Not knowing that Baxter has betrayed them the gang goes to the ransom pick-up and finds themselves in an ambush.

The man always shows up when you least expect them

Diller dies, but not before killing Baxter who the police forced to accompany them to the scene, meanwhile Wilma and the girls gets away with the ransom. But Wilma is shot and shortly after while driving out of town with the girls, she slumps in her seat and dies.

Wilma dies

After the success of Bonnie & Clyde movies about outlaws had a bit of a vogue and Big Bad Mama is one of the most fun of the bunch. A funny and ludicrous script is given some real punch by the talented cast of Dickinson, Skerritt and Shatner. The two girls playing the daughters have a good time playing their parts as half comic relief and half sex pot, and the rest of the cast of regular Corman performers play their roles broadly and for fun.

Lot's of bad jokes, tons of overacting and an altogether liberal view of screen nudity really help to bring Big Bad Mamas into the top echelon of exploration films.

Big, Bad Mama is low brow fun with tight pacing and a supporting cast of dumb sheriffs, horny yokels and religious swindlers that keep things interesting. I give it a hearty Studd recommendation.