By 1937, surrealism was in its second decade as a movement. Its artists and filmmakers were making inroads into London and New York galleries, and becoming media stars. The surrealist bug also bit on the West Coast, and underground gatherings like the Hollywood Film and Foto League screened European avant-garde films regularly.
Such gatherings attracted politically minded actor Harry Hay and Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographers Roger Barlow and LeRoy Robbins. After seeing a magazine ad for a short film contest, these jokers sprung into action, making Even—As You and I, a short depicting themselves as broke filmmakers who cobble together clichés from their fave avant-garde films into a dorky film-within-a-film spoof called The Afternoon of a Rubber Band. In a “D’oh!”-style ending, the three realize they’ve missed the contest’s midnight deadline.
A damn clever little underground film moment. Hay—the curly-haired guy in the group—would go on to become the godfather of gay activism, founding the Mattachine Society in the early’50s and the Radical Faeries in the early ‘70s.
Marc’s post about Times Square yesterday reminded me about Los Angeles’ equivalent: The once thriving downtown suburb of Bunker Hill. In the very spot where now sits the Disney concert hall and the 1960’s music center complex was once a thriving neighborhood packed with turn-of-the-century Victorian houses, theaters, bars, restaurants and a large population of retired old folks. By the mid 1950’s when Kent Mackenzie, future director of the acclaimed film The Exiles (which also takes place in Bunker Hill), made this short documentary film the neighborhood was already doomed. By the end of the 60’s, save for a few buildings it was all gone. In a city such as ours which perpetually tears down the past and re-invents itself there was no way a few rickety old buildings and poor people would ever get in the way of progress. Fortunately we have the below film and countless other movies and books to remind us of what once was.
oops, the video was taken down. To view the short film, buy or rent The Exiles DVD. Sorry !
These photographs taken for the US Farm Security Administration in the late 30s/early 40s are among the only color photographs taken during the Great Depression. They document the impact of the depression on small town and rural America. Each tells a story, each one a work of art.
After making one remarkable self-titled psych-pop album in the ‘60s that’s been a collector’s staple for years, Jamme are one of those bands that somehow slipped through the net. Their debut has just been reissued for the first time, 40 years later (via Now Sounds), and has a fantastic story attached to it.
In 1968, Jamme—a four-piece made up of two Brits and two Americans—were just another young group of musicians trying to make it on the Sunset Strip when they were handed the opportunity of a lifetime after John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas offered to produce an album for them, thinking he had found the new Beatles.
So far, so good. However, not everything went quite to plan. The band came into Phillips’ life in the summer of 1968, just as the Mamas and the Papas were breaking up, his marriage to Michelle Phillips was on the rocks and he was having an affair with Mia Farrow (right under the nose of Frank Sinatra!).
All of that contributed to a rather bizarre recording experience, all of which took place in the studio Phillips had installed in the roof of his Bel Air mansion—the same studio Sly Stone later used to make “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”—the entrance to which, incidentally, was hidden (James Bond-style) behind a secret panel on the first floor of the house.
The whole amazing story of the Jamme is detailed in the pretty lengthy liner notes that come with the reissue. For now, listen to their groovy signature tune, “Strawberry Jam Man”, which sounds it like it should be the theme to some whacked-out Saturday morning kids TV show, and enjoy this little nugget from the notes:
One night, Michelle Phillips, Mia Farrow and Jamme drummer Terry Rae all dropped acid together in the lounge below the studio, while John was upstairs leading a session with the band. When the panel that lead out to the main house was closed, the room was cast into pitch blackness. They all laid underneath a table with their heads pressed together, legs sticking out like the spokes of a wheel, all giggly and loose.
“Wouldn’t it be great to go to France,” squealed Mia. “Just jump on a plane right now and go.”
“Let’s go to France, then,” added Michelle. “Let’s just go!”
Rae’s 18-year old acid-fried mind was having trouble taking all this in. He was sitting under a table in the dark with Michelle Phillips and Mia Farrow as they were discussing taking him with them halfway across the world on a Lear jet. When the talk turned to more intimate matters, Rae began to get feel uncomfortable.
“What would the sleeping arrangements be,” Mia asked out loud.
“What if John was here? You wouldn’t be talking like this,” Rae stammered.
But no sooner had he said it then the panel opened up, the room was flooded with bright white light and John Phillips’ voice boomed out: “I am here.”
He had been there all along, standing silently at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the studio, listening to every word. Rae was mortified. “Being on acid, it blew the whole thing up in my mind. I was just totally blown away that he might have thought I was doing anything. But he took the opinion that I was a threat and had all the intentions of going to France with them to get laid. It was just a crazy fantasy. A joke, basically. We were having fun. But it turned out to be my demise.”
Shortly afterwards, John pushed the other members of the Jamme into firing Rae. As he was not only acting as their producer but also bankrolling the sessions, they had little choice but to comply.
“Funny enough,” Rae reflects, “both Mia and Michelle were in love with John. There were obviously problems with Michelle, but I don’t think she would have ever frivolously just gone off with some guy to get laid.”
A month after he was fired from the band, Rae was bemused to get a call from Mia Farrow. She invited him to the house on Copa De Oro Road that afternoon on the pretext of showing him some candid photographs of her with the Beatles in India.
“Nobody had photos, you know, actual 4x4 photos of the Beatles. You never saw stuff like that,” he says, even while acknowledging that he again found the situation alone with Mia Farrow in Frank Sinatra’s house“really weird”.
After a fashion, Mia sighed. “I have a problem,” she said, gingerly. “My best friend is Michelle, but I’m in love with John. What should I do?”
“Stick with Michelle and don’t mess with John,” Rae offered, his advice colored by his own recent experience at the hands of John Phillips.
Tara and I watched Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story this weekend (it’s on the Netflix VOD currently) and I absolutely loved it. It’s a truly great film, one that I have no doubt will be looked at and revered by future generations trying to understand what the hell happened in our backwards era. I recommend it to everyone who reads this blog and cares about my opinion. It was absolutely spellbinding to me. I felt as if I wanted to cheer several times to see someone say these things and say them so powerfully. Capitalism: A Love Story, or a film just like it, needed to be made. but there is only one guy who could have pulled off something like this, gotten it funded, herded through the distribution system and gotten a message this radical the deep penetration in the culture that it deserves, and it’s Michael Moore.
Surprisingly, Capitalism: A Love Story is perhaps the least polemic of all of Moore’s films, even if it does, at root, articulately advocate the necessity of class warfare, at least at the ballot box. Most of what Moore, or his protagonists, have to say in the film would be damed difficult to refute, perhaps this is why it doesn’t seem as confrontational as Moore’s films often are. You’d have to have a very closed mind to deny the reality of what you see on display here. Even Sean Hannity would have a hard time arguing with any of it (although I doubt he watched or will ever watch Moore’s film)
To say what Michael Moore says in Capitalism: A Love Story took balls and it also took amazing skill as a storyteller, underscoring his Mark Twain-like role in American society. After a mind-numbing section where the audience is introduced to the concept of the so-called “Dead Peasant” life insurance policies some major companies take out on their non-essential employees—unbeknownst to them—where they make more money if the employee dies, he cuts to an interview with Father Dick Preston, the Flint, Michigan-based priest who married Moore and his wife Kathleen Glynn (who interviewed me for a job once, she’s super cool).
He quietly asks the priest if capitalism is evil and what Jesus would think about free enterprise and his answer is devastating. This isn’t some left-wing loony he had to search out, this is the man who married him, the local priest who, like Moore, has witnessed the tragedy and destruction the loss of the auto industry in Flint, Michigan did to their hometown. Both of these men knows what greed does and how and who it harmed. People with first and last names.
And let me tell you, this priest fucking nails it. It’s a powerful, powerful cinematic moment.
Speaking as someone who took ten people on my own 24th birthday to see Roger and Me when it was in theaters—I also released This Divided State on DVD when I was at Disinformation—maybe I’m biased, but do yourself a favor and see this film. Better still, if you watch it and you like it, consider having a screening party at your house and invite 5 or 6 friends over to watch it and discuss it afterwards. It takes two hours to watch and could open the eyes of even a devout redneck Fox News watcher (well, some redneck Fox News watchers) to what’s really going on in this country. It’s not like Glenn Beck is ever going to tell them.
Below is one of the most powerful moments in a film full of them: rare footage taken right after FDR’s final State of the Union address where he lays out the concept of a Second Bill of Rights that would have guaranteed that all Americans have “a useful job, a decent home, adequate health care, and a good education.”
God bless Michael Moore. He’s a great American.
The Middle Class in America Is Radically Shrinking. Here Are the Stats to Prove it (Yahoo! Finance)
The U.S. Economy Is A Dead Horse And The American People Are Starting To Get Really Pissed Off And Frustrated (Economic Collapse)
Some claim the 1963 hit single Sally Go Round The Roses by The Jaynetts is the first recorded psychedelic pop tune. While this may or may not be true, it’s certainly a beautifully hypnotic, circular number with mysterious and whimsical lyrical imagery. It’s also, I’ve discovered, one of the most covered songs ever so I’ve decided to line up most of the versions I’ve found. Play ‘em one after the other or mix and match to make your own trance-inducing rose parade. Let’s begin with the original. I have no proof, but it’s claimed that the drummer on this session was Buddy Miles, later of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies.
Original Signed Sketch, penned in black ink on a 6 ¼ in. x 8 in. album leaf. Fields, an accomplished pool shark, perfected many billiards tricks which he later used in stage and film comedy. Depicted here is one such gag: in the center of the page, Fields has drawn himself as a hapless billiards player attempting a shot with an enormous pool cue! Signed with sentiment just beneath, “Best wishes, W.C. Fields”. Minor stains; otherwise, in fine condition. A delightful image, drawn entirely by Fields himself.
The opening bid is $3500. I actually got to see Fields’ original trick pool table at the Magic Castle recently.
I think that those of us who are old enough to remember hearing actual Muzak in public places were in fact hearing one of these diabolical devices: The Seeburg 1000 background music system. Essentially a stackable spindle record player that played Seeburg’s specially produced 16rpm, big hole in the middle LPs chock full of motivating background music, sure to bring out the productivity in your employees and the wallets from your customers. I was delighted to find literally hundreds of clips of these records, alas mostly being played on conventional players, on the youtubes. For the pupose of this post I’m concentrating on a few examples from Seeburg’s long running Industrial library:
Average tempo: medium fast. Predominantly instrumental,with a light seasoning of great vocals. An occasional polka or march. Emphasis on popular music. Minimum of stringed instruments. Unusually rhythmical. Over-all lively character but never a rock ‘n’ roll. Designed for Industrial plants only.
Marshall McLuhan would have turned 99 years old today, and his status as the god-daddy of media studies still seems pretty rock-solid. I wasn’t previously aware of how often the Canadian theorist appeared on TV, and was especially unaware of his November 1967 duet with New York novelist Norman Mailer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show The Summer Way, bravely moderated by Ken Lefolii.
Recovered from recent treatment for a benign brain tumor he suffered while teaching in New York, McLuhan gamely tugs at a few of Mailer’s pretensions. Mailer is recently back from levitating the Pentagon with the Yippies, with the siege of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention in his future.
McLuhan pops off a bunch of gems, including:
The planet is no longer nature, it’s now the content of an artwork.
Nature has ceased to exist…it needs to be programmed.
The environment is not visible, it’s information—it’s electronic.
The present is only faced by any generation by the artist.
Communications maven Michael Hintongoesspeculative on his hero’s televised meeting with the Jersey-raised boxer-novelist, but of course it’s best to just check the thing out yourself.