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‘Storytelling Giant,’ offbeat Talking Heads video compilation from the 1980s
02.23.2017
12:55 pm

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Talking Heads


 
When MTV ran the world in the 1980s and a few years after, it was de rigueur for bands to release VHS video compilations. The Police had one, Duran Duran had one, ZZ Top had one, you know Madonna had one. Typically, They Might Be Giants decided to name theirs Video Compilation.

Talking Heads were unquestioned pioneers of the music video form, so it would be only proper for them to release such an item. The band’s last studio album was Naked in 1988, the same year that Storytelling Giant, their video comp, came out. The band would wait until 1991 until announcing that they had broken up, but it seems likely that everyone knew the writing was on the wall, so Storytelling Giant can be seen as a quasi-conscious capper to their career as music video artists.

Here’s the (slightly bizarre) writeup of the compilation from the back of the VHS box:
 

“Storytelling Giant” is a work composed of all ten Talking Heads videos made over the past decade. They are connected by random, unrehearsed, spontaneous footage of real people talking. None of the people are actors, and all of them are wearing their own clothes. Many of them know nothing of the Talking Heads, and sometimes they tell stories that have nothing to do with the band’s music. Yet, somehow, their stories bring the Talking Heads music into another place. A place of giant lizards. . . A place where little girls sit on clouds. A place where everyone has enough to eat. . . And the government provides hairdressers if you can’t afford one. A giant man walks into a bar. He begins to wrestle with three nuns. A man with a toupée stops them, and they begin to speak.

 
The compilation is very effective in that cerebral Talking Heads way—the interstitial spoken-word bits are interesting but generally short—most of the time you’re hearing a bit out of context and you’re never really supposed to know what they’re talking about, it’s all about generating arbitrary connections. 
 

 
A few notes about the videos. I’d forgotten that John Goodman is in the video for “Wild Wild Life.” That song is off of True Stories, and Goodman’s rendition of “People Like Us” is probably the high point of that movie, so that makes sense. Interesting to see him here, before he became famous.

The most pleasant surprise on this compilation, for my money, is “And She Was,” which was directed by Jim Blashfield, who has mentioned Terry Gillam’s cutouts as an influence. That makes total sense—the video kind of a 1980s version of the “Eleanor Rigby” sequence from Yellow Submarine using moving cutouts, and it’s dated extremely well in my opinion. I didn’t realize that Jim Jarmusch had directed a Talking Heads video, but there’s a reason for that, “The Lady Don’t Mind” is one of the less interesting videos here.
 
More after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘A for ABBA’: The story of the Swedish sensation as told by John Peel, 1993
02.23.2017
07:46 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
John Peel
ABBA


 
International superstars though they may have been, the members of ABBA were not, individually, all that fascinating. If you think the group identity that emerges during, say, their medley of “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” and “Midnight Special” is less than exciting, check out what Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid had to say when they met representatives of the press in their capacity as persons. I’m not just being snotty. As I understand it, the absence of personality is a key part of ABBA’s appeal, and I’m all for it. Zero subjectivity—let’s go! In the same way Kraftwerk audiences greet robotic simulacra of Ralf and Florian with ten times the enthusiasm they muster for the actual human beings in the group, I’m counting the days until I can buy tickets to hologram ABBA, even though I probably would not get out of my chair to see plain old meatbag ABBA reform. The collective, or in this case the brand, is everything.

But the ABBA brand itself could not talk to journalists, and compelling TV the meatbags’ interviews did not make. Into this void, BBC cast John Peel, duded up in smarter attire than wardrobe provided on other occasions. Enlivening the proceedings with Peel in this 1993 retrospective were Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, Roy Wood, and Ian McCulloch. Generous helpings of these and other interview subjects, plus clips of ABBA parodies from Not the Nine O’Clock News and French and Saunders, make A for ABBA (in homage to the 1985 TV special A for Agnetha?) the best encapsulation of the band’s story for those of us who are grouchy, impatient, and easily bored.
 

 
One thing we cultural anthropologists of the amazing future year 2017 know that contemporary viewers of this program did not: the lone ABBA LP in John Peel’s collection was their disco record, Voulez-Vous. An orthodox ABBA fan, Peel asserts in A for ABBA that Stig Anderson was the group’s fifth member, ignoring the heresy of the Tretowist deviation. Without discipline, the party of ABBA is nothing!

More ABBA after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Oil paintings of ‘Seinfeld’ reruns
02.20.2017
01:36 pm

Topics:
Art
Television

Tags:
Seinfeld


 
In 2012 New York-based artist Morgan Blair was asked where she would be in 10 years. Among other things she looked forward to knowing “how Breaking Bad ends.” In the same interview she cited “whoever made the paintings above the Drake’s TV and couch in Seinfeld season 4 episode 22 “The Handicap Spot’” as her favorite artist. (I went and looked them up; they didn’t seem all that to me.)

Blair clearly had Seinfeld on the brain around that time, which is also when she began turning out Seinfeld canvases. As she later stated,
 

My process involves watching episodes of Seinfeld on my computer with my fingers poised to take screenshots at key moments, specifically when characters are covering their faces, at close-ups on plot device objects (a hand holding a business card, an eclair in the trash, etc) or any kind of situation that looks like a painting to me. Then I just go into each one trying to stay free, without really rendering them into blatant fan-art type images. Ultimately, I want the screenshots to serve as compositional jumping off points for more abstract studies, but sometimes they turn into more devoted representations of the characters.

 
Blair’s website does not emphasize that the canvases are for sale, but she has sold a few of them, it seems.

Not much of Elaine to be seen in the paintings on the website; George appears to be her favorite subject.
 

 

 
Check more out after the jump….....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Jane Birkin: The Mother of all Babes’
02.20.2017
11:48 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Serge Gainsbourg
Jane Birkin


 
Jane Birkin was—is—the unlikely girl who became a kind of royal figure in France due to her marriage and decades of collaboration with the country’s nonpareil musical genius Serge Gainsbourg. The Mother of All Babes is a documentary from 2003 directed by Birkin’s friend Gabrielle Crawford, who produced the DVD for Birkin’s Arabesque concert at the Odeon in Paris as well as published a book of photos of Birkin.

When Birkin went to France to do a film test for Pierre Grimblat’s movie Slogan, she had already appeared in Richard Lester’s The Knack and How to Get It as well as a memorable romp in the nude in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
 

 
Birkin’s first time meeting Gainsbourg, at that film test, was seemingly inauspicious. Discomfited by Gainsbourg in a taciturn mood, she demanded to know why he hadn’t asked “How are you?” “Because I don’t really care,” was Gainsbourg’s typically blunt reply. Birkin’s husband of three years, Goldfinger composer John Barry, had recently left her, and Birkin’s emotional state as well as her incomplete command of French made the test a challenge, but Gainsbourg gallantly assisted her and helped her get the part.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Hoaxes of Death: Secrets of the infamous death documentary REVEALED!
02.20.2017
10:05 am

Topics:
Movies
Pop Culture
Television

Tags:
VHS
horror movies
snuff


 
One of the many pointless rites of passage for dopey teenage boys in the 80s (present company included) was watching Faces of Death on VHS. Originally released to theaters in 1978, the infamous “mondo” movie—a collection of “real death” scenes collected from various supposed “real” news sources and hosted by a death-obsessed world-traveling “pathologist” named Dr. Francis B. Gross (geddit?)—was a box office smash in the kind of greasy grindhouses and drive-in movie theaters where murder and mayhem reigned, eventually gobbling up a reported $35 million in box office receipts. But that was only the beginning…

Faces of Death really became a phenomenon in 1983, when the infamous Gorgon Video company released it on a garish, big-box VHS with its crude drawing of a grinning skull on a pitch-black background with the impossible to resist tagline: “Banned! In 46 countries!”  As soon as you saw it, you just knew you had to watch it. Faces was, arguably,  the first real “viral video.” It spread largely by word of mouth, each giddy viewer embellishing its beastly atrocities in a far-flung game of VCR telephone. By the mid-80s the film’s reputation had grown so fierce that even the title could send a nervous kid into a pile of trembling sweat and goo.
 

Don’t worry, this guy is gonna be fine.

So did it live up to the hype? Sorta. Everyone has their “favorite” moments—the “bloody” dog fight, the brutal electric chair execution, American tourists gorging on the brains of a live monkey, the guy getting eaten by an alligator, the Satanic cult cannibal feast, the dumb camper who tries to feed a bear a sandwich and becomes the real lunch—but even the least discerning sixteen year old was left with more questions than answers. Why would a camping couple bring multiple cameras with them to film a spontaneous inter-species act? Do you really bleed from the eyeballs when you get electrocuted? Why does the chimp suddenly turn into a monkey halfway through the “feast”? But here’s the thing: it was the 80s. We had no Internet. The true story of Faces of Death was not in the latest edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. We suspected some amount of fraud, but how much and how it was created was unknown. It should also be noted that although a lot of the film seemed fishy, most of it was definitely authentic. The dramatizations in Faces of Death are littered with actual slaughterhouse and morgue footage. It’s a grim view no matter what.
 

This monkey has some serious concerns about the ‘Faces of Death’ script.

The beans were finally spilled thirty years later…

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Leave a comment
Kate Bush’s first live appearance on American TV, 1978
02.15.2017
09:50 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Kate Bush

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Once upon a time, way back in the late seventies, Kate Bush seemed to be a regular feature on British television. Turn on some late night talk show and there was Kate singing two tracks from her debut album or chatting with zoologist Dr. Desmond Morris. Or tune-in to the breakfast news and there was Kate discussing her thoughts on music and dance or giving a list of the authors (Kurt Vonnegut, C.S. Lewis) who influenced her writing. Hard to imagine the reclusive star doing this today. Not that she even needs to do this of course. But there was something quite delightful, quite wonderful, in all of Kate’s TV appearances back then. She later said circa 1982 that all this media attention was down to the fact that when she first appeared:

...it was incredibly unusual for a young female to be writing her own songs and singing them…

Which shows how far we’ve come and how pioneering and exotic Kate Bush seemed to the media at the start of her career. Admittedly there was Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and even Lynsey de Paul but nothing quite like Kate Bush. There was something different, ethereal and downright odd about her. Nobody sang like her. Nobody looked quite like her. And nobody quite mixed music, dance, mime and performance the way Kate did.

She also seemed incredibly innocent and vulnerable—which was probably a lot of male projection as Kate was hardworking, ambitious and driven. She was sixteen when she signed to the world’s largest record company EMI. She was nineteen when she had her first number one and conquered a large swathe of the pop music world with “Wuthering Heights.” And just twenty when she had EMI bankroll her first (and until very recently her only) tour in 1979. There’s not many stars who ever managed that.  Kate eventually gave up touring as there wasn’t then the technology to give her the full artistic control she desired. That’s either true perfectionism or control freakery. Or a decent enough excuse?

In December 1978, Eric Idle introduced Kate Bush to America on Saturday Night Live. This was Kate’s first appearance on a US broadcaster, where she performed “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” and “Them Heavy People” live. This was rather daring and risky as Kate had failed to chart with either her debut album The Kick Inside or her first two singles in the US. In part due to this appearance “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” made #85 in the Billboard chart and America sound discovered what the rest of the world loved about Kate Bush.
 
Watch Kate Bush in early appearances on American, German and UK TV, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Melvins mind-melting first ever television appearance from 1995


An early shot of Washington State fuzz kings, Melvins.

Sound FX was a short-lived show on the FX Network back in the mid-90s. Its greatest claim to fame was when it had the honor of hosting the Melvins’ very first national television appearance in 1995.

This clip features the band absolutely slaying “Revolve” from their eighth album Stoner Witch in front of an audience that clearly has NO idea what was happening on stage or how to handle it. It’s an awesomely awkward experience from beginning to end as during the performance the show rolled a bunch of Melvins’ factoids on the screen to hip their viewers to the band. Such as the fact that none of them drink or do drugs—and even featured an artist sketching the band while they played.

But things get really uncomfortable when the band and King Buzzo sit down with one of Sound FX‘s hosts—and future host of the reality series Survivor—Jeff Probst who was tasked with interviewing the band. The trio had just released Stoner Witch which Probst carelessly describes as more “user-friendly” than other records their catalog. Yeesh. The entire affair is highly amusing to watch as the Melvins quite literally roll all over Probst and his silly questions and then thankfully take the small stage again and murder out a version of “Goose Freight Train.” Nice. The fifteen minutes of footage is ready for you to watch below.
 

The Melvins’ first national television appearance on the FX Network show ‘Sound FX’ in 1995.

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Danny Partridge is the Devil: Welcome to the Partridge Family Temple
02.14.2017
01:37 am

Topics:
Music
Occult
Television

Tags:
Partridge Family Temple


 
The 90s weren’t known for their frivolity. The whole idea was to be beyond fun. Fun was fucking square in the 90s, man. So naturally, when the Partridge Family Temple—a kooky hip-kid religion based on the irritating 70s sitcom—made their national TV debut on MTV’s The Jon Stewart Showin 1993 clad in impeccable Salvation Army chic and spouting frothy declarations about Shirley Partridge being the “Virgin Earth goddess mother from whose womb all Partridges came,” you instinctively knew something sinister was bubbling just below the glossy, fuzzy, c’mon-get-happy surface. And so it was.

The Partridge Family, lest we forget, was a relatively short-lived (1970-1974) TV series about the titular musical family, who toured around the country playing their gooey flared bell-bottom sunshine pop and getting into lightweight misadventures. The star of the show was real-life teen heartthrob David Cassidy who played Keith, the frontman for the family band. In the Temple, he’s the Satyr, the sex god, and his legendarily generous phallus is “the tree of knowledge and the tree of life combined.” They were wrangled by mom Shirley (Shirley Jones). A father was never even mentioned on the show, hence her placement in the cult as a sort of Virgin Shirley. Danny Partridge (perpetual walking disaster Danny Bonaduce) is the bass player/irritant, the perverse imp, the Partridge’s very own false prophet. Sister/keyboard player Laurie (Susan Dey) is…well, in the Temple she’s always involved in orgies, so maybe she’s the whore of Babylon? We don’t want to dig too deeply into this hole, really. I’m sure you get the drift.
 

The new messiahs?

So where are we, and how did we get here? In 1988, Shaun Fairlee AKA Shaun Partridge, the high priest of the Temple, was living in Denver. One weird weekend he met a rogue reverend, Adam Sleek, who tortured him with Partridge Family albums on crackly vinyl for many unsettling hours. At first, he hated them. That’s the sane reaction, incidentally. But eventually, he broke, allowing the insipid kiddie-pop of “I Think I Love You,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” and “Come On Get Happy” to burrow deep into the soft meat of his brain. He saw it all, the whole virgin/whore dichotomy, his misfiring synapses creating a crazy-quilt origin story where All is Partridge and Partridge is All.. All that was left was to pick a few gold medallions and polyester shirts at the Goodwill and POOF! a new dumb religion was born.
 

He saw the light. Shaun Partridge gets happy

A vaguely sinister provocateur wrapped in a garish mid-70s clown costume, Fairlee began following (some might call it stalking) the various actors from the Partridge Family series. The Temple’s first major public disturbance was at a David Cassidy/Danny Bonaduce concert in 1991, where he was arrested for loudly preaching the gospel of the Temple to weirded-out nostalgia buffs. His stunt caught the attention of the media, and soon the Temple was making the rounds on shows like Stewart’s and on sensational tabloid programs like A Current Affair. Fairlee picked up a small contingent of co-conspirators along the way, most notably Giddle Partridge, a glamorous LA Satanist known mostly for Giddle and Boyd, her apocalyptic retro pop band with noise-rock anti-hero Boyd Rice.
 

Uneasy listening: Giddle and Boyd
 
In the mid-1990’s, they moved their act to freak-friendly Portland, where they were known mostly as creeps, fascists and women-beaters. Fairlee was in frequent barfights, and interviews would devolve quickly into the various atrocities his Temple may (or may not) have been a part of, from raw violence (sure), incest (Fairlee has threatened to marry his sister on occasion), devil worship (definitely; the Temple is rife with Satanists), and even urine-guzzling (Fairlee is very pro pee-play). They’re still around, but odds are they’ll be run out of town with pitchforks and torches any day now.
 

 
It’s hard to laugh off public beatings. I mean, people have seen it with their own eyes. But aside from the drunken rages, almost everything this group has ever done has been wrapped in so many layers of irony and sarcasm that it’s impossible to know exactly what any of this is about. I mean it’s not like they have an actual church to go to or any sacraments or even a sermon to listen to, although they do have a pretty dope house band. But it’s really just a bunch of quasi-evil 90s vintage hipsters fucking with you. Clearly, it’s satire, but what’s the joke? That religion and TV are the same thing? It’s a lot easier to just say that. You don’t need to invest 20 years into a fake cult for that. So maybe the truth has been right in front of us the whole time. Maybe, like Fairlee before us, we just haven’t watched the show enough or paid enough attention to the albums. Maybe illumination awaits, deep in the grooves of The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits.
 

 
[Spoiler: It doesn’t.]
 

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Leave a comment
The Andy Warhol episode of ‘The Love Boat’
02.10.2017
09:14 am

Topics:
Art
Superstar
Television

Tags:
Andy Warhol
The Love Boat


 
Jack Jones sang the theme song to The Love Boat from 1977 until 1985. Love was life’s sweetest reward; all was right with the world. But before the show’s ninth, terminal season, while the crew of the Pacific Princess was making ready for her 200th seafaring voyage, a hole opened in history. Bonzo went to Bitburg, police beat new age travellers and their infant children at Stonehenge, and after adulterating the national beverage, Bill Cosby called the result “a new explosion of wonderfulness in your mouth.” Sensing that some catastrophe had rent the very fabric of reality, Dionne Warwick seized the mike from Jack Jones and bellowed his signature song into the yawning mouth of Hell. I like to imagine that when they recorded this version of “Love Boat Theme,” Warwick was standing in a doorway during an earthquake, astride a widening abyss in the studio floor, after spending a few months listening to Diamanda Galás records.

So apocalypse and mutiny hung in the air when Andy Warhol joined the lovely Love Boat Mermaids aboard the Pacific Princess in October ‘85. From the Paley Center synopsis of the episode, “Hidden Treasure / Picture from the Past / Ace’s Salary”:

An all-star cast, including Andy Warhol, Andy Griffith, and Milton Berle, helps the crew celebrate the ship’s two-hundredth voyage. In “Picture from the Past,” Warhol, as himself, offers to select a passenger as the subject of his next portrait. Marion Ross plays a former Warhol superstar who fears the artist will recognize her and reveal her secret past to her disapproving, conservative husband, played by Tom Bosley.

According to Victor Bockris’ biography, Warhol was enjoying the benefits of a new health regimen in which chiropractors, shiatsu, a dermatologist, raw garlic, crystals, and an internist all figured. The health kick complemented a new look Andy showed off on The Love Boat. Photographer Christopher Makos:

He wore black Levi 501s or Verri Uomo, a black Brooks Brothers turtleneck sweater, an L. L. Bean red down vest, a black leather car coat by Stephen Sprouse, white or black Reeboks, a big crystal around his neck and big black-framed glasses, and his hair was huge, jutting out wildly. He was like a cross between Stephen Sprouse and Tina Turner. Andy’s look always made a statement, and it was usually about not looking perfect. His last look was as chic as ever, although the overall effect had a lot to do with his general aura: it was as though he’d accomplished everything imaginable in his lifetime.

Not that Andy was always as enamored of celebrity and showbiz as he seemed. Bockris:

After The Love Boat episode was aired, he complained to a friend that people in Hollywood were “idiots.” They didn’t buy art, he said. They stank.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Bizarre video of the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ from Soviet TV of the 1970s
02.06.2017
11:31 am

Topics:
History
Music
Television

Tags:
The Beatles
USSR


 
The Beatles were big enough that even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had to deal with it, somehow. In 1976 Soviet-controlled TV—the only available televised media in the entire country—played a peculiar Russian version of Paul McCartney’s deathless song “Let It Be” as an oddly baroque and defiantly un-glitzy bit of variety TV. Odd to say about television in the worker’s paradise, but the trappings of the proceedings seem to me somewhat ... bourgeois?

It doesn’t happen too often, but today I sorely wish I understood Russian. In the YouTube comments on the video, there is some healthy (and also rancorous) debate about the nature of the Russian translation and the degree to which they represent a stridently post-Marxist rewriting of McCartney’s text. One participant’s premise is that in Soviet Russia, where the authorities control all of the public propaganda and nothing comes about by chance, it was essential to rewrite the humanism of the original song to fit collectivist ideas, so everyone’s the same, no one is an individual, one must internalize Communist conformity, blah blah. The original Russian is (forgive any errors on my part here) “Bylo, est, i snova: budet tak,” which means something like “It was, it is and it will always be like that.”

What everyone seems to have missed is that this is a pretty fair translation of McCartney’s original sentiment. What is the phrase “let it be” if not an ode to quietism, however defined? It don’t take a lot to get from here to there, you know? The propagandistic component might have resided not in rewriting McCartney in any way but in choosing this song, of all Beatles songs, as the one to adapt.

The 2000 WGBH miniseries Communism: The Promise and the Reality features a brief clip of this mysterious video, although unfortunately not much information about it is supplied. It pops up in “People Power,” the final part of the six-part series, about 14 minutes in (you can check it out below). After discussing the strong demand in the USSR for banned western goods such as blue jeans, the voiceover says, “But occasionally the authorities made an effort to cater to the tastes of the new generation….” and we get to see the start of the video. They translate the opening lines thus:
 

Everything’s happened before in the world
People are always the same
That’s how it was, it is, and always will be

 
 
Apparently the religiously tinged references to “Mother Mary” were also expunged, which can’t be too surprising.
 
See for yourself, after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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