Category: 1971


Wanda

Wanda1

A couple months ago, I read one of the bibles of screenwriting, Robert McKee’s Story. Though I don’t necessarily believe in everything that McKee says in the book (ultimately his rules are mostly interesting for structure and his opinions become more questionable the further you move away from structural concerns), there was something he understood that is germane to the film I just watched. Cinematic storytelling (with the exception perhaps of documentary) can not simply be portraiture. It doesn’t matter how true your presentation of life is if there ultimately isn’t a story arc there, even if its the barest bones of a story.

The Italian neo-realists understood this. Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief is a no-frills portrait of post-war poverty and despair, but the movie also had a heartbreaking story of a father and son’s quest to rescue their livelihood at its core. Terrence Malick understands this as well. Yes, the story of The Tree of Life or To the Wonder is secondary to the emotions that Malick evokes with the film’s imagery, but there’s still a compelling story there. 1971’s Wanda from Barbara Loden (wife of director Elia Kazan) is a seminal “classic” of early independent cinema, but it’s lack of a compelling story or even compelling characters made it a nearly unbearable chore.

Wanda2

There is the bare bones of a story in Wanda. Unfortunately, it’s not one that’s worth the two hour investment of your life this film asks of you. Wanda (Barbara Loden) is, to quote Mumford & Sons, a hopeless wanderer. She’s abandoned her husband and her kids but not for any reason that makes sense. She just refuses to settle down. When the film begins, she shows up late for the court hearing for her husband to officially take her children, and she doesn’t put up any fight once she gets there. And, afterwards, Wanda drifts from one meaningless event to another until she takes up with crook, Mr. Dennis (Mike Higgins), who finds himself with a companion he never really asked for.

I actually feel like there could be a good movie here. A somber meditation on female dissatisfaction with the limited options women had in life in the 1960s and 70s. Of course that movie exists; it’s called Rachel, Rachel from Paul Newman starring his wife Joanne Woodward. That film is one of the saddest and most powerful that I’ve ever watched because Rachel was a haunting and powerful examination of repressed feminine yearning. Wanda on the other hand seems to have nothing to say other than that Wanda’s life has no meaning, but you don’t get any looks into why or what would push her down the absurd path she follows.

Wanda3

None of the performances in the film were memorable either. Barbara Loden’s performance was particularly wooden which is astounding considering who her husband is. I don’t know why he didn’t come around the set and tell her that everyone in the film felt stiff and unnatural. Mike Higgens performance would rapidly flip from hilariously campy to occasionally appropriately moody and intense. No other characters were on the screen for more than a couple scenes, and most of them were even worse than Loden and Higgens, and I suspect they were grabbed right off the street, Bubble-style.

I’d rather work on my screenplay than devote any more time to discussing this film. Here’s the bottom line. Do not waste your time with Wanda. It has  a reputation as being one of the first great independent films, but give me a John Cassavetes film any day. The characters are flat, the performances are unnatural, and the story goes nowhere even if it ends on an obvious climax. The film is only an hour and a forty minutes long, but it felt like I was sitting through Lawrence of Arabia again. There are few sins in film-making worse than that.

Final Score: C-

(P.S. This film is so obscure that there is no trailer for it on Youtube.)

 

First things first. It really bothers me that Robert Plant is pretty far away in this picture but without even attempting to see it, you can still clearly notice his bulge. My friend, you may be wearing your pants too tight. Back to musings that aren’t about the package of rock’s notorious “Golden God” (love the Almost Famous joke about that nickname at the party scene). As someone who isn’t quite on the East Coast but close enough, I, like millions of others, am dreading the arrival of Frankenstorm Sandy. Morgantown is enough of a hassle to drive in without throwing hurricanes and blizzards into the mix. Seriously… fuck inclement weather. It was literally 85 degrees on Thursday in Morgantown and now they’re calling for a blizzard on Tuesday… What the hell? Bipolar, erratic weather is one of the sure signs of global warming, and if you still try to deny it, I don’t really know what universe you live in. Anywho, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that a lot of levees across the nation are going to break and so what’s more obvious than this gem from Led Zeppelin IV, “When the Levees Break.”

I’m getting to this weird point in my life where I enjoy classic soul and old school R&B more than I like classic rock. This is really odd because before like my sophomore year of college, classic rock was all I listened to. I’m not sure what it is, but the emotions and passion in old soul music just seems so much rawer and more authentic than classic rock which has become increasingly pandering as I’ve gotten older. I’m not dissing the all-time greats like the Beatles or the Stones or Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel. There’s just a lot of so-so music that I really enjoyed when I was younger primarily because I thought I was supposed to like it. There’s a line in last year’s under-rated gem of a film, Beginners, where Ewan McGregor’s mother tells him as a child that black music is better because African American artists at the time experienced more pain and suffering than their white counterparts. It’s not the most politically correct thing to say, but it’s kind of true. There’s a wounded edge to this music that speaks to the injustice and institutional repression that was the African-American experience in the 60s and 70s. They were also incredible musicians which I don’t think gets recognized enough. I’m going with “Family Affair” by Sly & the Family Stone, off their classic LP There’s a Riot Goin’ On, because it’s one of the greatest soul/funk songs ever recorded. Period.

If you want to know when I first knew who Gil Scott-Heron was by name, I’m ashamed to admit that it’s because of “Who Will Survive in America,” the closing track on Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If  you want to know when I first actually heard him, it was on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto IV (on the old school jazz/soul station which was possibly the best radio station in the game). Each time I heard his music, I was blown away, especially by today’s Song of the Day, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” I didn’t know who sang the song til years later, but it just blew me away and remains one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack. The late, great Gil Scott-Heron isn’t necessarily as well known as many of his 70s/60s contemporaries (his trouble with the law prematurely stunted his career) but he’s incredibly influential in modern soul circuits as well as the more jazz-influenced hip-hop artists. The man got the last word on Kanye West’s album for god’s sake. Anyways, here’s easily one of the best tunes of the 70s. Enjoy.

 

Spotify doesn’t have the studio version of the song on their server so today’s Song of the Day on Spotify will be live version of the tune that Gil Scott-Heron recorded in his later years (a year or so before he passed away). For those of you interested in July’s Song of the Day playlist, you can find it here (tomorrow’s the last day!). If you’re interested in the playlist for all of 2012 so far, you can find that here!

Well, my magic carpet ride adventure in New York City is officially over. I made it back to my dad’s house in Philippi, WV, this afternoon at around 1 PM. And I’ve spent the rest of the day cleaning up the apartment (describing my dad’s living arrangement is semi-complicated in WV terminology), specifically the apparent clusterfuck that was my bedroom when I left (and also the spare bedroom which is even more of a disaster area). So, I haven’t had much time today to do my Song of the Day post, but I made sure I took 15 minutes out of the major cleaning project to do this. This may seem like a cliche choice for my first day back in WV in four months, but I guess it’s cliche for a reason. I may not be the most excited person on the planet to be in my home state and I know that New York City is where I want to spend the rest of my life. However, WV will always be my home, and we may have had our disagreements over the years but she’ll always own part of my heart. So let’s let John Denver (and his hit-or-miss understanding of WV geography) welcome me back to my home.

Who’s Next

The late 1960′s/ early 1970′s are often considered the high water-mark of rock music, and for good reason. The Beatles were at the top of their creative and wildly original output. The Stones were releasing record after record of pure rock and roll soul. And to round it all out, a group of young up and comers calling themselves The Who were just starting to emerge. For the most part, The Beatles and The Stones get all of the credit. Yet, I consider it a cardinal sin to ignore just how influential and well beyond their years The Who were as well. Punk music would not exist without them, and they pioneered many areas such as sound distortion and synthesizers. Their album Who’s Next is a truly essential piece of the rock and roll canon.

From the opening synthesizer intro of “Baba O’Riley” (not called “Teenage Wasteland”), you know you’re in for something that sounds entirely different than all of the classic rock that preceded it. You have the guitar distortion on “Going Mobile” that would make Tom Morello proud. You have the sonic landscapes they paint throughout each song to serve as a background to the kick-your-ass rock and roll that defines their music. “Behind Blue Eyes” is one of the premier rock ballads ever written. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is one of the most clever songs I’ve ever heard about political revolutions with it’s famous line “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Of course, you have Keith Moon’s drumming which stands alongside the all-time greats like John Bonham or Neil Peart. Roger Daltrey has one of the greatest rock and roll voices of all time and Pete Townshend shines on the guitar like it’s going out of style.

This is one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s plain and simple. In terms of the influence that this album would have on generations of musicians, it would be difficult to tell just how monumental said influence is. From prog rock to punk rock to straight out hard rock, this album is quintessential in studying popular music’s origins. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should not at least check this album out because it is probably the most accessible album I’ve reviewed so far.

Final Score: A+

If you were to ask me what director I believe to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), that might be the single most difficult question you could ask me. A lot of names would pop in my head. Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Elia Kazan, etc. And while I am not going so far as to call him the greatest director of all time, Woody Allen (all personal flaws aside) is probably the greatest comedic director to ever step behind a camera. His masterpiece, Annie Hall, is in my mind tied for being the best romantic comedy ever made (alongside Chasing Amy). What makes Woody so great is that he is such a versatile director. His career can basically be divided into three parts. His farcical, absurdist early pictures, like Sleepers or Bananas, Annie Hall (which would bridge the gap between the two phases of his career), and his more mature dramedies like Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters. Well, the film I just watched Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex is definitely one of the earlier farcical pieces and boy, was it absolutely hilarious.

Back in the day, the title of this film was also the title of a fairly serious book about the different sexual questions people were facing in the dawn of the sexual revolution. Woody Allen being Woody Allen decided to take some of the questions from the book and turn them into 7 self contained short films that are all (one exception) rather funny, and some are absolutely uproarious. Some of the stories include Woody Allen playing a sperm who is about to be ejaculated, along with various other people controlling the human body (Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds to name the big stars). One involves Gene Wilder being involved in an amorous relationship with a sheep that was probably the funniest story in the entire set (and it in all likelihood ruined Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for me for the rest of my life). Another casts a Dr. Kinsey type sexual researcher as a new Dr. Frankenstein who unwittingly releases a killer breast on the populace the size of a house.

Even before Woody Allen is a film maker, he is first and foremost a cinema lover, especially the foreign films of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. His love of this medium is very obvious throughout this film in how well he juggles the many different genres and styles that he uses to individualize each segment. One segment is an homage to Italian cinema. One is an homage to B-Horror films. There’s science fiction. Hell, there’s even a game-show with an incredibly young Regis Philbin called “Guess My Perversion” which is exactly what it sounds like. The only bit that wasn’t very funny was the one that involved a man who liked to dress in woman’s clothing. It was just very boring compared to the rest of the film, and I felt like Woody was a little lazy with that scene.

I know a lot of people who can’t watch Woody Allen films because of a certain aspect of his personal life (which I guess is understandable), but if you are able to separate the man from his art, you need to give this film a whirl. I can even recommend it to those who don’t really enjoy his normal dry, sardonic humor because this film is much raunchier and more broad, yet it still contains that classic Allen wit. The only people that I can’t recommend this film to are those that are easily offended. This is a hilarious look at sex in the 70’s and it doesn’t feel dated one bit.

Final Score: A