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Hey Netflix, we need some ‘Swedish Dicks’ in our lives (and for once, that doesn’t mean porn)
09.06.2016
09:44 am

Topics:
Television

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I spent the Labor Day weekend in Stockholm, and while I was there I noticed plentiful advertisements for a new Swedish TV series called Swedish Dicks, starring Peter Stormare as a private eye in Los Angeles. You probably know Stormare from his work for the Coen Bros., as taciturn Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo and the nihilistic Uli Kunkel in The Big Lebowski.

Swedish Dicks happened to have its premiere while I was in Sweden. The entertainment service that produced the show is called Viaplay and it’s sort of the Netflix of Sweden. Swedish Dicks is, in fact, the first show it’s ever produced.

I was intrigued enough by Swedish Dicks to get a subscription to Viaplay and check out the first two episodes, and I enjoyed what I saw. It’s nothing earth-shattering but it’s a diverting show, a fine start for the network. I think Americans would have an interest in seeing it.

Swedish Dicks is a comedy catering to a Swedish audience that is set in Los Angeles that has made some interesting choices in terms of keeping interest up among Americans. Aside from the two leads, Stormare and Johan Glans (who in this show at least exhibits a Rainn Wilson-y vibe), every actor in the show is played by an American, and the show is shot entirely in Los Angeles. All the dialogue is English except for the two-handed scenes featuring the two leads. Swedes are accustomed to watching American movies in English (often with subtitles), so the strategy makes sense for that audience. Meanwhile, were an entity like Netflix or Amazon to gobble it up, the show’s probably 70% English in the first place, so there are not many scenes at all that require subtitles. Plus, thanks to domestic shows like The Americans that make frequent use of subtitles, even U.S. viewers are becoming less resistant to the practice.

In Sweish Dicks, Stormare plays “Ingmar” as a cross between both the Dude and the Stranger from The Big Lebowski. Ingmar has been in the States awhile; he has a grown daughter who’s an attorney and disdains “Swedish” as a concept. Ingmar ends up taking on a partner named Axel (Glans), who is more of a naif. The show also features the contributions of Traci Lords and—remarkably—Keanu Reeves

Swedish Dicks has an easygoing B-movie quality that reminds me, variously, of The Nice Guys, Burn Notice, Seven Psychopaths, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. If you liked any of those, you’ll probably like this—just remember that it’s a comedy, not a drama. I’d say it elicited winces and laughs in about equal measure.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Father of Combat TV’ Wally George annihilates jerk who thinks there’s ‘no such thing’ as date rape
09.02.2016
09:28 am

Topics:
Amusing
Feminism
Television

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Hot Seat was a syndicated talk show, running from 1983 to 1992, hosted by raving reactionary conservative commentator (and estranged father of actress Rebecca De Mornay), Wally George, who termed his delivery “combat TV.” The show’s format was a precursor to the popular “shock talk” shows hosted by the likes of Morton Downey, Jr. and Jerry Springer, with a profoundly right-wing posture. Hot Seat‘s studio audience was generally comprised of aggressively out-of-control meatheads, and George was a fist-pounding, screaming, Reagan-worshipping bully whose shtick was so over-the-top that one often wondered if the whole thing wasn’t a put-on.

In an interview I conducted last year with Nikolas Schreck who appeared on Hot Seat three different times, Schreck described George as “a consummate showman, no more or less insincere or fake than his showbiz idol Ronald Reagan, who both cunningly played exaggerated roles for their niche Neanderthal audience in the grand old tradition of American populist demagoguery.”

I love watching old Hot seat clips on YouTube. Although I find myself disagreeing with George’s positions 99% of the time, his delivery is just so much fun in a pro-wrestling sort of way that you can’t turn away from it. Generally Wally and his guests are both playing the part of the heel, and the “debates” almost instantly devolve into name calling and posturing with the rabid audience members getting into the mix, shouting everyone, including Wally, down. If you’re not a conservative, Wally is still a guy you “love to hate.”

But then there’s that really weird 1% of the time that you find yourself actually agreeing with him. For instance, when he appeared as a guest on (White Aryan Resistance leader) Thom Metzger’s public access hateshow, Race and Reason to debate him about racism having no place in conservatism. And then there’s this clip we’re going to look at today, with Wally debating a man named Mike Hubbell who claims that there’s “no such thing” as date rape.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Psychedelic Alpha-Bits TV commercials of the early 70s
09.02.2016
09:25 am

Topics:
Advertising
Drugs
Television

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If you weren’t quite old enough to roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour, the Enchanted Flying Boat was also hoping to take you away. In the early 1970s the D’Arcy-MacManus agency created a series of wild, psychedelic television commercials for Post Alpha-Bits where a rag-tag gang of kids decked out in kaleidoscopic hippie gear climb aboard a Pufnstuf-style sailboat in the sky. The quick, trippy editing style and bizarre off-beat humor subtlety (or not so subtlety) hint that there might by more than just alphabet-shaped oats in your breakfast.

The hippie kids (who include a very young Todd Bridges) meet some strange adults on their voyage including a cowboy with a talking horse, a construction worker (played by veteran actor Aldo Ray), a caveman, and an “old timer” panning for gold with his donkey. They subject every authority figure to ridicule by stumping them with a deliberately confusing question followed by their exciting message: eating Post Alpha-Bits makes you smarter. The “I love you Alpha-Bits wherever I go” jingle plays as the kids sail back off into the horizon.

One of the TV spots from 1972 starred The Jackson 5 (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and yes, even Michael) at the height of their popularity; soaring high in the sky singing their own recorded funky version of the Alpha-Bits jingle. A lucky few collected the limited edition run of the cereal which featured a one-sided, five track flex-disc released in conjunction with Motown Records that had to be cut out from the back of the box.

By the late 1970s combining psychedelic drug culture with children’s programming had become a bit of a phenomenon. Sid and Marty Krofft had almost a dozen shows under their belt, the “McDonaldland” characters were popular in restaurants all across the country, and 1977’s The New Mickey Mouse Club revival (which also featured a trippy flying boat!) was a far-out, technicolor drenched version of its predecessor. Any family who still had a black & white television was definitely missing out.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Leave a comment
Even after 16 years, Chris Morris’ ‘Jam’ is still the sickest, darkest, bleakest TV comedy EVER made
08.31.2016
03:19 pm

Topics:
Television

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It’s quite something that what was undoubtedly the oddest, most extreme and certainly the most sinister “comedy” series of the year 2000 would still be all of those same things when revisited over a decade and a half later, but this was the conclusion that I invariably came to last week when I re-watched Chris Morris’ legendarily fucked-up Channel Four series Jam. Nothing’s come even close to dethroning it in the intervening years.

Based on audio material that had initially been worked out for a late night radio show called Blue Jam that was broadcast from 1997 through 1999 on BBC1, Jam often had the actors who’d done the original radio work lipsync those same bits for the camera, giving the show an organically disturbing element that was difficult to pinpoint. Indeed, from the very first seconds of Jam, it’s patently obvious that the viewer is about to witness something that’s not only meant to fuck with their heads, but that’s going to accomplish this goal quite successfully. I first caught an episode of Jam in a London hotel room (I was there doing publicity for the second series of my own Channel Four show) and I was utterly flabbergasted by not only what I was seeing before my astonished eyes, I was also gobsmacked (as the Brits are fond of saying) that something like this, something this post-post-post modern, this forward-thinking, this incredibly bleak, moody and just plain fucked-up had made it to television in the first place, having been green-lighted by the very same people who foolishly allowed little me to have a TV show around the same time.

Someone I knew at C4 mailed me VHS tapes of Jam back in New York, and I became an evangelist for it, forcing joints into mouths and making all of my friends watch it. Some of them even thanked me. (One person I’ve not heard from since…)
 

 
But enough of these… words, it’s not like one can “explain” Jam, so let’s take a break now and roll tape. Here’s the first episode of Jam. I know you’re busy, we all are, but for your sake—I’m not doing this for me—watch at least the incredibly brilliant opening sequence and the first sketch, where a worried couple at their wits end (Amelia Bullmore and Mark Heap) lay something quite dark and heavy about their son on his godfather (Kevin Eldon) and ask for a rather big favor.
 

 
Breathtaking, is it not?

Much more ‘Jam’ after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
A young Depeche Mode perform a slice of synthpop perfection on Swedish TV, 1982
08.31.2016
10:38 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Television

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A few years ago there was a theory that Kraftwerk was the “most influential group in pop history.” The pitch goes something like this: The Beatles’ influence lasted about thirty-plus years while the electronica heralded by Kraftwerk continues to be of influence to this day. One of the chief proposers of this argument was Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark who said:

When you listen to pop now, do you hear the Beatles, or do you hear electronic, synthetic, computer-based grooves?

It’s a moot point as nearly everything is electronic today. McCluskey clearly remembers the day he first heard the future of music—when Kraftwerk played the Liverpool Empire on September 11th, 1975. Though the venue was about half-full, this gig had far-reaching consequences. It was a starting pistol announcing the launch of bands like OMD, the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire who were to pioneer electronic music in Britain.

When OMD signed to Factory Records, McCluskey was utterly horrified when label supremo Tony Wilson said their music was the future of pop. OMD saw themselves (quite rightly in many respects) as creating serious artistic music. Though McCluskey vehemently disagreed at the time, Wilson has been proven right. Yet it wasn’t until Gary Numan, Visage, Soft Cell, and in particular Depeche Mode, could synthpop be said to have truly arrived.

Depeche Mode was originally a guitar band from Basildon, Essex called No Romance in China. It was formed by two schoolmates Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher in 1977. The line-up changed as different members came and went until the band morphed into Composition of Sound with the arrival of Martin Gore on guitar.

When Clarke saw OMD in concert in 1980, he reinvented the group as wholly synthesizer-based band. With the addition of Dave Gahan on vocals, Depeche Mode were complete.

Clarke was the principal songwriter and main driving force behind the band. At the time he was working as a delivery driver for a lemonade company to pay for his synthesizer. They recorded a demo and hawked it around to different labels, yet, it wasn’t until Daniel Miller—head of the newly formed electronic record label Mute—saw Depeche Mode play a gig in London that he offered them a deal on the spot

Miller was one of the pioneers of electronic music. As The Normal he released two seminal singles “T.V.O.D.” and the J.G. Ballard-inspired “Warm Leatherette.” One of the reasons he offered Depeche Mode a contract—apart from the obvious synthpop association—was the fact people at the gig weren’t watching the band play, but dancing joyously to their songs.

Watch Depeche Mode perform, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Ian Dury: Before The Blockheads when he fronted Kilburn and the High Roads
08.30.2016
01:09 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk
Television

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Ian Dury by Peter Blake.
 
Picture the scene. Here’s Malcolm McLaren revelling in his role as the pre-eminent tousled-haired punk impresario. He’s busy reinventing himself as Fagin to a band of snotty-nosed street urchins—The Sex Pistols. They’re going to change the world. Bring down the establishment. Create a level playing field. Music will never be the same again. It’s all bubbling through his head like a soap commercial. But first he must teach this band of young punk rockers all about stage presence.

McLaren took the Pistols to a local bar—let’s say it was the Tally Ho or the Hope and Anchor, although really it could have been anyone of the many venues favored by pub rock bands at the time. Inside, McLaren and co. squeeze among the crowd unnoticed, up by the side where they watch the band onstage. Out of them all, it’s Johnny Rotten who is taking the most interest—particularly in the lead singer—a man called Ian Dury.

He notes the way Dury stands—stooped over the microphone counterbalancing his club foot and withered arm—the result of childhood polio. He notes the way Dury spits out the words—glaring at the audience. Dury’s dressed like a music hall act—thrift store clothes, drainpipe trousers, Paisley scarf and a razor blade earring. Give it a month and Rotten has taken some of Dury’s style as his own—even down to the razor blade earring.
 
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The band McLaren and his ruffian charges watched that night was Ian Dury and the Kilburns—the spinoff band from the better known and more influential Kilburn and the High Roads. Kilburn and the High Roads was a ragtag band of musicians, art students and misfits: Ian Dury (vocals), Keith Lucas (guitar), Humphrey Ocean (bass), Rod Melvin (keys), David Newton-Roboman (drums) and Davey Payne (saxophone).

Formed in 1970, Kilburn and the High Roads was one of the most popular bands on the pub rock circuit that flourished in London and its environs during the 1970s.

Pub rock wasn’t for novelty acts or hopeful amateurs—despite how snide music journalists used the term in the 1990s to denigrate bands like Oasis. Pub rock was music played by serious musicians who just wanted to play their music to an audience—any audience.

Let’s also remember that there were not all that many venues where bands could play back in seventies Britain. The ones that were available were usually booked-up months in advance by headline acts. It was therefore bars like the Hope and Anchor, the Tally Ho and Dingwalls—small venues, crammed with sweaty, boozed-up young men and women out for a good time—that offered bands a place to play.

The great Ian Dury performing with Kilburn and the High Roads, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Never mind the Shatner, the ‘Star Trek’ cast member with the golden voice was Nichelle Nichols


 
May the gods eternally bless Rhino Records for so many reasons, but one of that label’s greatest contributions to weird society was the Golden Throats series of compilation albums. It endeavored—and largely succeeded—at bringing wide attention to one of my favorite vinyl collectibles sub-obsessions: celebrities not known for singing who nonetheless and against all reason recorded albums on which they sang, often very, very poorly. Adding to the kitsch appeal of the phenomenon, these albums were usually lounge or easy listening, and were often recorded in total earnest.

Notably, key Star Trek cast members William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were disproportionally represented on those Rhino comps, appearing on all four installments in the series, and scoring four tracks between them on the first one alone. Shatner’s stilted cover songs have become legendary on the basis of just one completely bonkers album, 1968’s The Transformed Man which manages to be a major head-trip both intentionally AND accidentally. Nimoy released about a half-dozen musical albums, a couple of which are Trek themed affairs on which he sometimes sings in-character as Spock, which have moments that approach the outsidery awesomeness of the Shatner LP. The rest are straightforward folk-pop albums, which are unironically not half bad at all.
 

 
Sadly, DeForest Kelley never made a musical LP, so it’s impossible to collect a complete discography of Trek’s archetypal Freudian trio. HOWEVER, there was more music to be found on the bridge: the recordings of Nichelle “Lt. Uhura” Nichols were totally neglected by Rhino when they assembled the Golden Throats comps (probably because she was actually really good). Between 1967 and 1991, she released three full lengths (sort of), two 7” singles, and an EP. Before she blazed a massively important trail for non-servile representation of African-American women on broadcast TV, Nichols sang with both Duke Ellington’s and Lionel Hampton’s bands, and she debuted as a solo recording artist with 1967’s Down to Earth. The title was an obvious nod to her stellar day job, and fittingly, the music was anything but cosmic. It’s a lightly jazzy lounge pop album, typical of its time, and loaded with standards and showtunes.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Twin Peaks’ soundtrack reissue pressed onto ‘damn fine coffee’ color vinyl
08.24.2016
08:54 am

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Art
Music
Television

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Behold the ‘Damn Fine Coffee’ edition of the newly reissued vinyl soundtrack for the original ‘Twin Peaks’ television series.
 
A little over a week ago—on August 10th—a vinyl reissue of the soundtrack for the original Twin Peaks television series (first broadcast in 1990) scored by long-time David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti was released into the wild via Mondotees and promptly sold out. If you missed the boat on that like I did there’s still a way (and a better one at that) to score the gorgeous release which comes pressed into coffee-colored vinyl whose color profile is described as “Damn Fine Coffee.”
 

 
Starting on September 9th many cool independant brick and mortar record and video shops across the country will temporarily transform into a version of Agent Dale Cooper’s favorite hangout, Tweed’s Cafe in North Bend, Washington and will offer up their own in-store “Coffee and Pie” event during which you can purchase the record while listening to the soundtrack. Two-long years in the making, the packaging for the soundtrack is almost as cool as the show which comes in a gatefold sleeve,with liner notes written by Badalamenti and a record jacket that pays tribute to the floors of the “Black Lodge” thanks to the clever use of a die cut pattern on the cover. If it sounds at all to you like I am completely geeking out on this, then you’d be correct. Especially since my favorite video store, the world-famous Scarecrow Video in Seattle, is holding one of the 20-some-odd “Coffee and Pie” events. Yummy.

For those of you bemoaning the fact that you don’t live in the U.S. according to the website Welcome to Twin Peaks there are a few locations in the UK, too that will also be hosting their own Twin Peaks party. More details on the record as well as a full list of shops (which does appear to be updated from time to time) that will be hosting the event, here. If your location isn’t listed or if you prefer to miss out on what sounds like a really excellent time you can pre-order the album (for a mark-up in most cases) at lots of places online.
 
Additional product shots after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
FREAK POWER: Hunter S. Thompson’s wildly entertaining 1970 run for sheriff
08.17.2016
10:16 am

Topics:
Drugs
Politics
Television

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In 1970 a British news show called This Week sent a crew to Colorado to document Hunter S. Thompson‘s unusual campaign to become sheriff of Aspen. It should come as no surprise that the documentary they ended up making is just dynamite, a marvelous, evocative document of the culture clash soon after the Woodstock/Altamont moment.

The program, titled “Show Down at Aspen,” states that in the prior contest for the same position in 1966, the longhairs came quite close to stealing away the election by sheer stealth but that this year, all sides were very much on the alert. Carrol D. Whitmire, the incumbent, was looking to garner enough support to stave off the rumblings of the upstart potheads and their chosen maverick candidate Dr. Gonzo.

Let’s start with the resonant, unmistakably British voiceover, which early on describes HST,  not uncharitably, as “a hippie, a freak, an acid-head who openly smokes grass.” The show sets up the electoral contest as a battle between the older, more established residents of the ski resort and the long-haired newcomers who show no respect for the town’s status as a tourist attraction for the well-heeled—and then has the wit to undercut that very framing by cannily showing a smattering of “established” voters leaning for Thompson and younger ones not quite able to swallow Thompson’s schtick.

The first half has some truly fantastic footage of some hippies skinny-dipping (NSFW) and then passing around a few joints on the shore. A young Aspen police officer ambles down the slope to meet them—“a ‘pig,’ as the hippies normally call the police”—and quite astonishingly is shown enjoying one of the blunts and cheerfully admitting on camera that he smokes marijuana. (That guy should’ve been the poster child for a new generation of police officers that never came to pass.)

A few minutes later, a trio of elderly male Republicans describe their feared vision of an Aspen with HST in control. Those two sections, the pot use by the stream and the nattering of the out-of-touch old guard, make this show an absolute must-see.
 

Image from the Gonzo Gallery in Aspen, CO
 
The documentary explains that the result of the vote will hinge on turnout. The “freaks” are motivated, to be sure, but if enough of the regular solid citizens make their way to the polls, then HST’s chances will commensurately plummet. In the event, it emerges that turnout was indeed quite high—Whitmire was able to beat Thompson by a tally of roughly 1,500 to 1,000. Based on the evidence we see, Whitmire wasn’t hassling the drug users very much, and (let’s face it) in political terms (at least) Thompson is two steps away from a total nut. In the final analysis, it was Whitmire’s essential amiability that probably secured his victory.

The British documentary—and more—after the jump…..
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Vangelis stars in the most synth-tastic footage ever committed to videotape
08.16.2016
09:49 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:


 
Vangelis was born in Italian-occupied Greece during World War II with the moniker Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, but quite understandably, when he came of age said to hell with that and went by plain old Vangelis (or Vangelis O.) most of the time. A true pioneer of synth prog music, Vangelis made his name with Aphrodite’s Child in the late 1960s before breaking out on his own some years later. In the 1980s his relatively tame soundtrack for the Oscar-winning flick Chariots of Fire propelled him to wider fame; you might also know his music from Blade Runner.

In 1974 he appeared on a French TV show called Melody and the results were frankly mind-blowing. This is quite simply a totally righteous 1970s jam (man) in the best sense of the word. The footage is broken up into a few different parts but the throughline is Vangelis burning it up on the synth as well as various percussion instruments, accompanied at various points by a quartet of bongo players and an enormous drum circle of young people bashing the bejesus out of a dozen or so kettle drums. 

The material here heavily emphasizes Vangelis’ 1973 album Earth. The second song in the set is called “Let It Happen” and is almost certainly a track that the French electronic act Air pillaged for their own uses a good 20 years later. The third track is a cheery number called “My Face In The Rain” and resembles a satisfying mashup of mid-career Flaming Lips and Genesis in the days right after Peter Gabriel left.
 

 
Vangelis would soon record his masterpiece Heaven and Hell, which ended up furnishing the music for Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series Cosmos and also represented his first collaboration with Jon Anderson of Yes. The two men would later release several albums under the name Jon and Vangelis.

The joyous and infectious jam sessions in the show are fantastic, but what pushes this video into must-see territory is the audacious video effects knob twiddling that director Marion Sarraut demanded for the occasion. Basically there seems not to have been a back-projected visual effect that didn’t get used here, and indeed, the final takeaway is that the technician in the booth was improvising right along with the musicians. Vangelis and his singer spend much of “My Face in the Rain” floating around on individual magic carpets (take my word for it; you’ll see) over footage of the Iguazu waterfalls in Argentina and Brazil and similar natural wonders. Those effects and Vangelis’ brazenly open jacket, revealing a multitude of Greek chest hair and at least five ostentatious medallions (couldn’t tell if any of them was a coke spoon but I would be none too surprised), are the clearest markers of the year this footage was produced.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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