Everything’s Turning Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals
11:53 am


Industrial Musicals

This is a guest post from New York-based writer Mike Sacks. Mike’s next book, Poking a Dead Frog, will be released in June 2014 from Viking Penguin. It’s the second volume of his in-depth interviews with comedy writers.

One of my favorite books of the last few months is Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. Co-written by Steve Young, a long-time writer for Late Show with David Letterman, and Sport Murphy, a professional musician and pop-culture historian, the book is a tribute to a bizarre, fascinating world that I never knew existed, but had only heard about through back-alley innuendo and late-night, cross-country A.M. radio chit-chat: the personal life of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Wait a sec, I’m confusing my notes. Here we go: This book, published in mid-October by Blast Books, is a beautifully-designed, wonderfully-written tribute to musicals performed at corporate conventions, mostly taking place from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s.

Often written by professional composers and lyricists, these elaborate, expensive productions were used to elevate the morale of employees during their once-a-year company-sponsored vacations to not-so-exotic locales, such as Tampa or Pittsburgh. Some musicals were about cars. Others were about appliances, tractors, and fast-food. One 1971 musical, All Aboard, was written to promote Country Club Malt Liquor, a product whose mascot appears to have been an aging pirate with one hand in his pants. The product still exists. The mascot does not.

As if the musical productions weren’t enough for these sunburned, possibly inebriated employees, companies were sometimes also gracious enough to press LPs for employees to be enjoyed on home turntables, perhaps only a few times, if at all. Chances are better that the LP sleeves were taken out every once in a while just to prove that, yes, a musical did once take place that featured actresses in marching band outfits, singing disco-infused ditties about a brand-new Johnson & Johnson sunscreen called “Sundown.” (That musical took place from December 5 – 9, 1977, at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Phoenix. The hotel still exists. The sunscreen does not.)

As with any sub-category of LPs, there exist a handful of experts. Luckily for us, the two foremost authorities in the world on “industrial musicals” joined forces (after having battled each other for LPs on eBay for years) in order to produce a book that will delight any fan of the glorious disasters that often resulted when big business crashed into big entertainment.

The book’s companion website, industrialmusicals.com, exists for those readers brave enough to listen to (among other earworm-inducing songs) the strangely melancholic “My Bathroom” from 1969’s The Bathrooms are Coming.

My bathroom, my bathroom, is a private kind of place/very special kind of place/the only place where I can stay making faces at my face.

Profits is the perfect coffee table book. Buy it. I spoke to Steve and Sport by email and in person.

Steve, you’ve been in charge of Late Night’s and Late Show’s recurring comedy bit “Dave’s Record Collection” since you started as a writer for Letterman in 1990. Can you tell me about coming across your first industrial musical LP and your initial thoughts?

Steve Young: The first one I saw was Go Fly A Kite, in 1993. While I was typically going out to record stores to hunt for “Dave’s Record Collection” material, I think that particular album was actually sent in to the show by a viewer. I certainly didn’t understand what it really was; I just thought, Oh good, GE. We can make fun of that on the show. In those days, NBC was owned by GE and we were always mocking them. I had no idea of the significance of the names John Kander and Fred Ebb [composers for the stage musicals Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as the 1977 Martin Scorsese movie New York, New York], having grown up with no exposure to musicals. I did think, Wow, this is awfully elaborate and well done for some oddball private show. It wasn’t until later when I’d turned up a few more—and realized that songs about selling insurance or diesel engines were getting stuck in my head—that it began to dawn on me that this might really be a genre. In ’96, I began tracking down composers and cold-calling record stores.

How about you, Sport?

Sport Murphy: I found 1962’s Penney Proud [for retail chain J.C. Penney] in a Salvation Army thrift store on one of my oddity expeditions, circa ’79 or ’80. Like most civilians, I never knew these shows existed and I thought this was a singular slice of weird. There were any number of oddball finds in those bins: self-released horrible comedy albums, instructional records of the least practical sort, product promo giveaways, but it was the deluxe nature of Penney Proud that set it apart. Gatefold sleeve, performance photos, and the lush, totally professional music. As other such LPs gradually emerged over the years, the idea that this was an entire genre—one immortalized on vinyl for our hunting and gathering enjoyment—beguiled me.

How good a career could these songwriters achieve by writing industrial musicals?

Steve Young: Apparently the money was quite good. I don’t know that anyone ever had industrials in mind as their ultimate goal, but while a composer angled for his big “real Broadway” breakthrough, industrials could make life very comfortable. In the industrial heyday [1950s through 1970s], corporations often had enormous budgets for these productions, and if a composer had gotten their foot in the door with a successful first attempt, they might continue to work for many years for the same production company or the same corporation. The downside was that you’d often get stereotyped within the Broadway community as an “industrial show composer,” a lesser level of talent and seriousness. A 1976 NY Times article profiled the excellent Hank Beebe/Bill Heyer writing team, who’d just been hired to help with the Jerry Lewis flop Hellzapoppin’. In the piece, Bill Heyer said something like, “You do a great job, but you can’t really go brag to your friends, ‘I just did the American Motors show.’”

Sport Murphy: Not only songwriters but performers, designers and all other skilled specialists and artisans could build entire careers in the industrial field. One prominent purveyor of industrials, Jam Handy Corporation, had by the 1950s become the nation’s largest employer of theatrical talent, producing as many as twenty sales conference shows yearly. The rarity of these albums belies the enormity of the enterprise they represent.

Have you seen any video footage of these musicals?

Steve Young: Thanks to [composer] Hank Beebe and his transferring the original twenty-minute 1973 film to DVD, I finally got to see Love Is The Answer, the film that was part of the ’73 GE show Got To Investigate Silicones. Our industrialmusicals.com site has an excerpt, the legendary “The Answer.” Film of the actual stage productions is rare; there’s part of a ’55 Chevy dealer show on YouTube, and there are a few brief clips of the ’66 GE Go Fly A Kite show. Video is definitely harder to come by. I hope some more will emerge.

Sport Murphy: One of the things about writing this book that’s fun is getting to see what kind of stuff will turn up now that there’s a light thrown on the genre; for me, film and video footage is the most interesting possibility. We know that some of these shows were simulcast closed-circuit, so kinescopes are possible. Others were produced as films, to be shown in conjunction with live elements. I’m guessing that there are numerous privately-held videotapes and films, made as keepsakes or perhaps as work-sample reels for prospective clients. The thought makes one salivate. And the thought of that shames one, as it should. One had better just drop the whole subject.

Do you think that these musicals actually did improve company morale? The attendees seen in the book’s photos tend look a bit indifferent, if not drunk.

Steve Young: Hard to tell. For a long time, the companies seemed to think there was a definite effect, and composers I’ve talked to have anecdotal evidence about audiences moved to tears. I do think it was a less cynical time, at least until the ’70s, and employees really could feel that the company was their home and something to believe in. Of course, as with many areas of endeavor, the best examples have a long comet tail of knock-offs and wanna-bes, and there’s a large percentage of industrial shows that were not terribly ambitious or clever. For a while it seemed to be “the thing to do,” and a lot of it felt perfunctory.

But I love those shows just because they’re so sad and desperate. Probably most of them were well-received enough to provide a brief flash of amusement, and make attendees at least think, Well, that was sort of fun, I guess. The best show really did address the rank and file’s concerns and problems in an amusing, tuneful way, and must have really been very effective. I know the ’65 Seagram show wasn’t going to be recorded, but the audience went so wild for it that the executives had to hastily promise a recording. I also know of a song in 1966’s Diesel Dazzle with a line that, according to Hank Beebe, brought down the house so thoroughly that the orchestra had to vamp for a while until the howling stopped . . . and yes, the audience may have been drunk.

Sport Murphy: Undoubtedly, there were many gradations of indifference and/or inebriation among attendees. I’ll bet these pics were snapped during early morning speeches, not during our corporate extravaganzas. And I bet that even the photographers were too busy imbibing and cheering during these showstoppers to take pictures. But I do believe these shows boosted morale, though it likely needed little improving. These shows were commissioned by companies that had an obvious interest in keeping their employees motivated and team-oriented. That fact alone suggests a corporate environment difficult to understand today, when company “lifers” are as rare as ballplayers loyal to only one team.

What specifically is it about the combination of commerce and creativity that intrigues you to such a degree?

Steve Young: I’m tickled at the deepest level by the improbability, the resoundingly odd juxtaposition of jolly musical entertainment and messages about selling and product details. Of course, it made perfect sense at the time to the people who were in the middle of it, but to us outsiders it seems like it must be the work of comedy writers trying to be perverse. Yet it’s real, and at the genre’s upper reaches, it’s so far superior to what you could have imagined that it blows you away—yet another layer of improbability. It’s like finding out that Shakespeare secretly wrote a play about his favorite tavern’s ale, or that Rembrandt produced paintings of wagons for a calendar to be distributed only to employees of the wagon company. Again and again I’ve heard from composers both famous and less famous, “We always did our best, because that’s the only way we knew how to work. It was a great way to practice the craft.” And the more I looked into it, the more I moved from glib mockery to respect for creators and performers who gave 100%—often on extraordinarily daunting assignments, knowing their work was never going to be heard by more than a handful of people.

Sport Murphy: The dorkiness of it has a charm I cannot quite explain, but part of that comes from growing up with a sensibility honed by Mad magazine. The culture’s idiocies and contradictions were upended in every issue, but without savagery. A good-natured sense of sanity-as-irreverence, redeeming the tedium of everyday entertainment and its attendant commercial touting, became reflexive for me.

In the popular music I enjoyed, there were many lyrical “givens” to which I had no connection or interest; loved the Beach Boys, but had zero interest in surfing or cars. There are songs that connect emotionally to me based on a recognized lyrical truth or resonance, but there are also any number of things where I just dig the sound, or the melody, without any personal significance. Syd Barrett can name the planets and stars in “Astronomy Domine” and I dig, so why not a list of the possible uses for silicones? 

The cynical/absurdist side of me, existing after all these years on the outskirts of the music biz, also gets a kick out of the flat out honesty of this stuff: rather than some idealistic anthem created by some talented hack to inflame the naive yearnings of a record buying demographic, gimme an idealistic anthem for a product, aimed at those who sell it. Up Came Oil is more genuine in its emotional appeal than “I Wanna Know What Love Is.”

What I very much like about the book (among other things) is that it’s in no way snarky or condescending to the musicals or the people who produced them. There seems to be a genuine love for this world.

Steve Young: Yes. There will always be something deeply amusing about the whole field, but I found myself launched on a journey in which I went from snarky to puzzled to curious to respectful. Some misbegotten industrial show tunes may make me gasp with horrified glee, but overall, I have great affection for the material, and gratitude that I got to learn about a hidden history and to meet interesting, talented people (and in many cases bring them satisfaction as their work gets unexpected recognition). And I’ve got enough bizarre, catchy songs in my head and in my iTunes that I’ll never lack for entertainment as long as I live.

Sport Murphy: For me, it comes not only from a love of this work, but a sensibility about what constitutes humor. I used to date someone who worked in an old folks’ home, and sometimes I ran A.V. for theatrical presentations there. Often, the staff and other residents would laugh at the antics of some addled performer, which at first shocked me until I quickly noticed that it was a gentle, sympathetic laughter that served as a vent for everyone’s frustrations in dealing with the limitations of age and infirmity; mockery was never a part of it.

I should also mention my lifelong addiction to the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. I watched every one of these annual ordeals—in its entirety—since 1976. At first it was strictly teenage camp: mocking old borscht-belt comics and 3 A.M. performer-on-drugs-on-live-TV shenanigans. Gradually, I began to recognize that the old comics were brilliant. And that I ain’t exactly at my peak, performing late at night under the influence of this thing and that. Maturity, life lived, and learning the difficulties of performance taught me but good. However, the blunders and excesses are still funny! So one can laugh at and with this stuff, the same way that This Is Spinal Tap is the favorite movie of just about any heavy metal musician you’d ask.

This is a guest post from New York-based writer Mike Sacks. Mike’s next book, Poking a Dead Frog, will be released in June 2014 from Viking Penguin. It’s the second volume of his in-depth interviews with comedy writers.

Below, Steve Young talks to Dave Letterman about the book on October 18, 2013.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
ArtWot: Is Lady Gaga over, just when I was starting to like her?
11:02 am


Lady Gaga

Being a Lady Gaga fan is akin to being in the closet. Like a deep, dark, terrible secret you cannot truly avoid for fear of going insane, one day you will have to face the music and admit to this forbidden desire, with the danger of losing the love and respect of your (more tasteful) friends.

So says my boyfriend, anyway. 

And I can see what he means. Admit to liking Lady Gaga and prepare yourself for a shower of derision and condescension, most of it from so-called “real,” self-appointed, “sophisticated” music fans.  The kind of people who overstate their own knowledge of pop but use it to patronise anyway, as if the only people who can possibly like Lady Gaga are dumb listeners who don’t know their music history. Puh-leeze. It is possible to know what Gaga is ripping (and riffing) off and still enjoy her work. It is possible to like Gaga not because of lack of knowledge, but because, you know, regardless of where they came from, you like her tunes.

But that’s the thing about Gaga, for me, anyway. I WANT to like her, I really do. And I do like her, to an extent, as far as all her visual and presentation work is concerned. But I have tried to get into her music, and failed. And in the proper context too: drunk, snorting poppers in a gay bar. But, alas… Nothing.

Until I heard “Do What U Want” that is, a relatively slow groove that marries the cold electronics of Glass Candy/Italians Do It Better with the over-heated melodramatics of guest vocalist, R&B don R Kelly. The wisdom of putting Kelly on a track with that name/hook may be very questionable (as are the lyrics of the track itself) but the song and production are pretty undeniable. Musically at least, Gaga seems to be finally transcending her influences.

Yet it seems like the irony of life, which has happened before, that once a major pop act begins to release interesting, decent music that I like, the public goes off them. Which, if the lukewarm response to the ArtPop album leak last week is anything to go by, is already happening. To an extent it is understandable. Gaga’s “weirdo” schtick could be said to be wearing thin, and perhaps she is presenting nothing new to the fans who have been soaking all this up for the last five years. Especially now that practically everyone in pop has to feign some kind of wacky weirdness in the wake of her huge success. But maybe just because of that overload of the faux-strange, right now Gaga actually comes across like she’s, whisper it, the real deal.

And before anyone starts, don’t bother trying to throw names of artists and bands at me in the presumption that, like, if only I’d heard that Nina Hagen b-side from ‘82 I’d see that the only proper course of action to regain credibility is to dismiss Gaga out of hand as just another pop product. Pop she may be, but so fucking what? I mean, seriously, who else is out there doing anything close to these things in popular music right now? Being the first musician to perform in space (yeah, let’s repeat that: IN. SPACE.) Her performance art tutelage under Marina Abramovic. Handing over design duties to Jeff Koons (even if he is over-rated, name another pop act who have given an artist of his stature control of their whole aesthetic, not just a record sleeve.) Her recent red carpet, ugly-teeth look (which seems to me as much a tribute to Jodorowsky as Michael Jackson.) Creating, and piloting, a flying dress called Volantis.

I have yet to see Gaga perform live, and from what I have heard, it is her live show that will make a convert of even the most cynical stone-heart. Looking at this very recent ArtRave show, I can see why that may be. Nevermind the Jeff Koons set design and the bizarro Gareth Pugh inflatable outfit (which already has come in for stick for apparently resembling the KKK) there’s stuff going on here that reminds me—in a good way, not a reductive way—of one of my all time favourite acts, the Pet Shop Boys, a band that managed to combine all the best bits of art and pop with genuine sophistication and class. 

Yes, she is pretentious, yes, she is over-rated, but maybe now that she’s on her fourth album, and actually beginning to deliver some decent music, Lady Gaga will shed some of her more fickle fanbase and begin to appeal to the real weirdos out there. I think it’s beginning to happen already, but we shall see. Would it even be possible to convert some of you dyed-in-the-wool, cynical DM readers to the dark side?

Lady Gaga - ArtRave (Full Show)

PS I don’t know if this rip is legit or not, but somehow I doubt it. Watch it now before it gets pulled!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
After The Specials came the bittersweet pop of Fun Boy Three
08:24 am


The Specials
Terry Hall
Fun Boy Three

Terry Hall. Terry Hall. Terry Hall. There’s only one Terry Hall. Okay, there’s probably thousands of the bastard, but there’s only one Terry Hall.

That dour-faced grumpy-looking singer and songwriter who has appeared in as many different bands as there are Terry Halls out there.

Hall seems to have been around for decades now—longer than the careers of most pop stars, but he’s never achieved the heights of success, despite having the talent, the idiosyncratic voice and that surly sneer. Maybe it’s because he’s “too English”? Maybe it’s because he’s perceived as awkward, moody, and trouble? Maybe it’s because he’s never kissed America’s ass? Maybe it’s because he’s actually quite shy, suffers from depression, and gets so wound-up about writing songs that the stress gives him eczema? I don’t know. All I do know is that Hall has been involved with some incredible bands and has produced a diverse and impressive array of work, with a dozen pop classic songs, and a clutch of superb albums. But all that doesn’t help, for really, who the fuck is Terry Hall?

There’s that old pop riddle of why some bands manage to keep a shambling career going on the basis of one Top 40 single; while others, with more talent and charm, disappear after a residency of two-to-three years in the Top Ten. Fitting into this latter camp is the Fun Boy Three, the band formed by Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple, after they quit Ska band The Specials.

Hall had tired of the chaos and aggression (drugs, drink and bottles being thrown by skinhead fans) of life with The Specials. And after too many years of near constant touring, Terry, Lynval and Neville found joyous release producing their own distinct and eclectic music in the studio.

It was as if the three young lads had gone on holiday, and packed-in their 9-5 Two-Tone suits for sweat shirts, three-quarter-length cargo pants and Terry’s distinctive Shockheaded Peter haircut. Their appeal was instant and the Fun Boy Three were soon all over the music press, and bouncing around like teenyboppers on Top of the Pops. But underneath it all, they were just the same three lads wanting to make music, as Terry Hall explained it to the student magazine I edited at the time:

”We created one of the biggest images last year with stupid haircuts, but our image is ourselves. I have had enough of telling people that I am just the same as them; they think I’m different because I’m in a group, but it’s just my job. A lot of people think record companies control us, but they just distribute our records; we manage ourselves.”

Lead singers always receive the focus, because they’re the ones out front, saying those things so many young hearts want to hear and understand. Listening to Hall’s lyrics it was obvious here was no ordinary lead singer, with his near monotone vocals and withering gaze, he was the maverick talent at the heart of the Fun Boy Three.

”I come up with most of the ideas for our songs. I take lyric writing very seriously. I would like to produce other people’s music, to give myself ideas as much as anything.”

It’s been said that Hall has to wear white gloves when he writes lyrics because he gets so stressed his hands erupt with eczema. It’s one of the stories that if not true, should be, for it makes Hall seem near saintly in suffering for his art.

Together Fun Boy Three produced two classic pop albums and a handful of hit singles between 1981 and 1983. Their debut, “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)” may have carried on from where The Specials’ “Ghost Town” left off, but Fun Boy Three were no Specials-lite, and their following singles—“T’Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” (with backing from Bananarama), and “The Telephone Always Rings”—offered jaunty, enjoyable pop.

“Commercial success takes a lot of pressure from the band. There is tension among us but we can talk about it, and we try to avoid each other as much as possible. With The Specials tension split us up; but I think all groups should eventually. Changing helps the progression of music like doing cover versions to take music further, the way we did ‘T’Ain’t What You Do…’ with Banarama. Unlike Phil Collins, his version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ took music back about ten years.”

Hall later jokingly dismissed the band’s first album as “crap,” and that it had only been done to make money, which kinda sums up Terry’s sense of humor. A typical joke by Terry (an avid Manchester United supporter) goes something like this, where you have to imagine he’s reading out soccer results:

“Real Madrid, one. Surreal Madrid, fish.”

I liked their first album, but it was their second (and sadly last) album Waiting, produced by Talking Heads’ David Byrne, that hit me directly between the ears. This was no ordinary record, Waiting is classic pop of an exquisite and thoroughly brilliant and enjoyable kind. From its opening track (a cover of the theme music of the Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple movie, Murder She Said), through the politically barbed “The More I See (The Less I Believe)” with its Captain Scarlet drum riff, to such pop chart gold as “Tunnel of Love” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” (with Jane Weidlin), Waiting is one of pure pop’s genuine masterpieces, or as Hall described it at the time just “a really good LP.”

”It shows we have grown up in a lot of ways. We are taking our music a lot more seriously than last year. We were enjoying ourselves and hoping that people were enjoying us.”

In 1983, Fun Boy Three appeared on TV show Switch, where they performed “Well Fancy That,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Farmyard Connection.” Their opening number, the jaunty yet hellishly disturbing “Well Fancy That,” detailed Hall’s sex abuse at the hands of a teacher on a “school trip to France.” It’s like a depth charge, as the meaning lyrics only hit you after you’ve started humming along to the carnivalesque tune.

”You took me to France
On the promise of teaching me French,
We were told, to assemble, to meet up at ten,
I was twelve and naive,
You planned out our route
I sat in your car, my suitcase in the boot,
On the M1, and the A1, until we reached Dover,
Through passport control, you pulled your car over
On the liner, we stood on the deck, we left port,
My first time abroad,
A school trip to France.”

Who else but Terry Hall would make such a naked admission in such a public way? As David Byrne pointed out at the time:

“He didn’t tell his mum, he didn’t tell his friends, but he’s going to tell everybody.”

Hall later said writing the song was cathartic:

“It was about me being sexually abused as a kid by a teacher,” says this father of three.

“The only way I could deal with the experience was to write about it, in a song. It was very difficult for me to write, but I wanted to communicate my feelings.”


I bet it was. Every critic nearly peed their pants when John Lennon sang about his mother obsession and his Primal Scream therapy, but along comes Terry Hall singing about his sex abuse as a child, and not one hack says peep, or even “how brave.” No, I seem to recall they were all rubbing their nipples over Flock of Seagulls’ asymmetric haircuts, and Bono’s enormous ego. Plus ca change..

Terry Hall’s approach to such a horrific event reveals something of the essence of the man. Hall has always done things on his own terms. He has chosen how best to deal with his own private demons; and he has followed his own career path from The Specials, to Fun Boy Three, through The Colourfield, Terry, Blair & Anouchka, then Vegas (with Dave Stewart), to his own solo career and back to The Specials again. Hall is an artist who is only ever been beholden to anyone but himself and his own muse. This has meant some people, some journalists, have pettily and foolishly written Hall off. But wait, stop, and take a look at what he has achieved. Hall has a highly impressive and significant body of work, both as a solo artist and through his various bands. And together with Staple and Golding as the Fun Boy Three, Hall has produced some of pop’s best and most lasting songs.

The 1983 Switch performance.

Fun Boy Three live on ‘Rockpalast’ plus more, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Mad Villainy: Oliver Reed on how to play a bad guy
07:13 am


Oliver Reed

Since I couldn’t have a dog when I was a child, it became my ambition to turn into a werewolf. Vampires were dull and superstitious. Frankentstein’s monster was clumsy and no good with kids. The Invisible Man appealed, though he wasn’t too good at small talk, and being invisible could get awfully cold. My short list, therefore, was pared down to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the werewolf. Both had interesting dichotomies, but where Jekyll’s was about repressed guilt and sexuality, the lycanthrope was driven by a powerful animal nature, which I saw as my untamed spirit.

That summer, when I was six, I became a werewolf for a week or so, and howled at the moon.

I learned my lupine behavior from Henry Hull in The Werewolf of London, who was then my favorite lycanthrope, putting a beefy Lon Chaney Jr.‘s Wolfman into second place. This was, of course, until I saw Oliver Reed possessed by a silvered moon in The Curse of the Werewolf.

Reed had the werewolf routine down pat. He knew all the moves, and did a fine line in shirt-shredding and wet-eyed remorse. I quickly realized that being a werewolf wasn’t as much fun as being an actor, and I began to follow Reed’s on-screen career.

I caught-up with his early swash-buckling double-bills at the Astoria cinema, where I also saw Reed as the definitive Bill Sikes in Oliver!, then as a comic and unlikely brother to Michael Crawford in The Jokers, and finally as animal-loving POW taking an elephant to safety across the Alps in Hannibal Brooks.

Reed had a joy for living that radiated form the screen, and unlike all the other fodder on offer, Ollie’s films were different, quirky, and, most importantly, fun.

It was through Reed that I arrived at Ken Russell, the man who made me aware of just how brilliant and original cinema could be.

Looking back, Reed’s films were all peculiarly British. Moreover, during the 1970s, as every other Brit actor fled the country’s eye-watering rate of taxation (75%), it seemed like Reed was only actor keeping British cinema alive.

Ultimately, it proved a losing battle, as the American summer blockbuster brought an end to individuality, intelligence and the art of the cinematic auteur.

Of course, things could have been much different, if Reed had gone for the Hollywood lifestyle: those big budget movies, the box office success, and a life by the swimming pool sipping Evian water.

It wasn’t so far fetched, as at the height of his fame, in the 1970s, Reed was offered two major Hollywood movies that would have changed his career for good.

The first was The Sting, where he was to be the villain, Doyle Lonnegan; the second was Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, in which he was to play the wise, old fisherman, Quint.

Reed turned them down, and both of these roles went to Robert Shaw.

Going to Hollywood, Reed later admitted, “might have made all the difference,” but it wasn’t in his nature, as he explained to the actress, Georgina Hale:

”You know, Georgie, I could have gone to Hollywood but I chose life instead.”

Interesting how he made a difference between “Tinsel Town” and “life.”

But “life” had to be paid for, and over the next two decades, Reed made a small library of bad B-movies that hardly used his talent and did little for his reputation.

When his brothers, David and Simon asked Oliver to go to Hollywood, Reed would always shake his head and reply:

”I don’t think I can do it. I don’t really want to do it.”

Reed’s lack of confidence stemmed from his dyslexia, which saw him damned as dunce throughout his school years, and led him to doubt his own intellectual potential. He covered-up this lack of confidence with drink. Lon Chaney once advised his son to find a movie role he could make his own. Junior soon hit on The Wolfman and became a star. By the 1980s, Reed was making the role of a drunk his own. It was a performance that shortchanged his talents.

Robert Sellars in his authorized biography on Reed What Fresh Lunacy Is This? notes an exchange in an early Reed movie, which parallels the actors own fears.

There’s a scene in The System where Jane Merrow’s character asks Oliver’s Lothario of a seaside photographer why he stays in a small town, thinking him to be the type who would have moved on to a bustling city long ago.

Asked if he likes living in the town, he replies, ‘No, not particularly.’

‘Then why stay?’

‘Perhaps I’m a little nervous of going anywhere bigger.’

Reed was a star, it’s just the movies that got small. But in his work/life balance, Oliver probably got it right. He achieved a memorable body of work, with at least a dozen important films; and he lived a life of excess that became the envy of beer-bellied frat boys and suburban barflies.
On British TV back in the 1980s, there was a show called In at the Deep End, where user-friendly presenters Paul Heiney and Chris Serle were given the challenge of mastering a different profession every week. These jobs ranged from working as a chef, becoming a female impersonator, making a pop promo (for Banarama), and acting in a movie.

In 1985, Heiney was given a bit part in the Dick Clement / Ian La Frenais movie Water, a flop that starred Michael Caine, Valerie Perrine and Billy Connolly. With no acting experience, Heiney sought out the advice of Oliver Reed, who gave impromptu acting lesson of how to be a bad guy.

As Heiney later told Robert Sellers:

’[Reed] was wearing a heavy army overcoat,’ says Heiney. ‘Like the ones the Russian army wear, and he said there was nothing underneath. I had no reason to disbelieve him. He was wearing a pair of wore-rimmed spectacles; one of the lenses was cracked. He had a sort of look of death about him, although I’m sure that was put on, and he had in his fist a pint mug with this clear, colourless liquid in it which he said was vodka and tonic, and I’ve got no reason to doubt that, either. Clearly he’d decided from the outset that he was going to play the bad man every inch of the way. Come in, sit down, shut up, don’t sit there, all that kind of stuff, and he was clearly enjoying it. And I wasn’t enjoying it.’

The advice Ollie gives in the interview is like a master class in how to play a villain on film. His big thing was not to blink: bad men do not blink. ‘You don’t see a cobra blink, do you?’ he says.

The next thing was the voice. Villains don’t shout, they don’t need to. Dangerous men have a great silence and stillness about them.

The one thing that’s missing from this clip is Reed’s finally, knowing wink to camera. But it’s all priceless, and shows a flash of Reed’s talents.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Nightmare Concert: An interview with horror soundtrack maestro Fabio Frizzi
08:12 am


Lucio Fulci
Fabio Frizzi

Fan of obscure horror? If so, the names Fabio Frizzi and Lucio Fulci should need little introduction. 

But if not, here goes… For fans of niche horror, very little comes close to the cult reverence held for the Italian “giallo” genre of bawdy, gory, hyper-stylized, pseudo-slasher films from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Typified by the likes of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace, the best of the giallo genre eschews tight plotting and believable set-ups for overwhelmingly dark moods and unsettling technical brilliance.

Although the two directors mentioned above deserve credit for a) inventing (Bava) and b) expertly honing (Argento) the genre, for many the ultimate director of giallo schlock is Lucio Fulci. The mastermind behind classics like The Beyond, Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2), City Of The Living Dead, The New York Ripper and many, many more, his scenes of underwater battles between sharks and zombies, of nipples being sliced open by crazed psychopaths, of faces devoured by cannibalistic fake spiders, not to mention his literally eye popping special effects, are the stuff of horror legend.

Behind every cult horror auteur, there’s usually an unsung soundtrack supremo, and in this case, that man is Fabio Frizzi. Although perhaps not as well known as fellow countrymen Goblin, who set the bar for giallo soundtracks very high with their work with Dario Argento, Fabio Frizzi has still racked up some of the best loved movie themes within the genre. From the intricate, brilliant choral-jazz-funk of The Beyond to the droning, doomy synths of Zombie Flesh Eaters (which, for me at least, is THE definitive zombie film theme of all time) Fulci commands just as much fan respect and admiration as Claudio Simonetti and co.

Which is why I was blowled over to find out that this Thursday, on Halloween night, Fabio Frizzi will be performing live in London at a special concert called Frizzi To Fulci, celebrating his numerous themes for Fulci with the help of a large live group called the F2F Orchestra. For horror soundtrack buffs like myself, this gig is the holy grail, possibly even moreso than the recent Goblin live shows, as the chance of seeing Frizzi perform live seemed even more remote.

Unfortunately, what with Halloween being Gay Christmas an’ all, I won’t be able to make the show (ironically, we’re hosting a triple bill of giallo classics, including The Beyond) but I jumped at the chance to interview Fabio Frizzi; to find out more about his background, his inspirations, and, of course, his work with Lucio Fulci. Frizzi To Fulci is sold out (there are limited VIP tickets available) so for those of us who can’t make what promises to be a very special evening, here is my interview with the soundtrack maestro himself:

Dangerous Minds: When did you first start writing and playing music and what was the inspiration?

Fabio Frizzi: I was attracted to music from a very young age, my father used to sing in a very big choir in Bologna, which is where we lived. When I was 2 or 3 my friends and family used to meet and sing together. When I was about 6 I was part of a small choir at school.

But then something strange happened when I was a teenager. I was still in love with music, but I wanted to do other things. I was a swimmer, and while it wasn’t a career, I was pretty good. At 14 I started to have problems with asthma and my doctor told me it would be better to stop swimming for a while. It was a tragedy for me, because, you know, at 14 you are still a baby! But my father had a great idea, he asked a guitar teacher to give me lessons, because he knew I still liked music. So I began and, day by day, I got better, This was at the same time that The Beatles were gaining popularity, so we were all listening to that.

At 15 I had my first group, which was classical, but after a while I moved from classical guitar to acoustic and electric, you know how guys are! But I kept going and it became my real love. I always say that my first girlfriends, when I was about 17, they had to come with us to the rehearsals, because for us Saturday and Sunday was dedicated to the music!

When I finished school my dad wanted me to become a lawyer, and I started studying that, but it was always secondary. I met a very big Italian publisher called Carlo Bixio, he believed in my talent and helped me as I put together my first group, Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera when I was about 23. But you have to remember that my father was already working in the cinema field. So it was easier for me than it would be for other people; I knew Italian actors, I would go to premieres and screenings, so it was easier, yes, but I was passionate. I studied, because, after all, it takes a while to get good at making music!

Read the full interview after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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