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Tim Buckley and Jean Renoir meet Beau Bridges in 1971’s ‘The Christian Licorice Store’


 
After The Monkees TV series ended, 33-year-old director James Frawley went to work on his very first motion picture. The Criterion-worthy Christian Licorice Store stars Beau Bridges as floppy hair, bushy-browed, tennis superstar Franklin Cane and follows the ups and downs of his turbulent Hollywood lifestyle. Inspired by the great French New Wave and Italian neorealists of the late 1950s and 1960s, the film sadly never reached an audience and was shelved by Cinema Center Films just after a few screenings in Boston and Greenwich Village in 1971.

Director James Frawley spoke with me over the phone from his retirement home just outside Palm Springs this week and we discussed the rarely seen film that is still near and dear to his heart. “I came to L.A. first as an actor in an improvisational group called The Premise which was Buck Henry, Ted Flicker, George Segal, and Joan Darling. So the introduction to directing was very improvisational one in which we had a great camera, great writers, terrific young guys, and I had two years of apprenticeship directing with The Monkees. So when I went to make The Christian Licorice Store we took a very improvisational approach to it.”

The story follows Beau Bridges success in the professional tennis world: competing for prize money, entertaining the press, and fielding endorsement offers by day. By night he attends superficial Hollywood parties where he meets love interest, photographer and socialite Cynthia Viestrom (played by Swedish actress and future James Bond girl Maud Adams). For the party scenes, Frawley called on favors from several friends to come in and play themselves as party goers. “The party is full of show business celebrities, producers, writers, psychiatrists, and different characters from Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. I pretty much just improvised the scene and then put it together in the editing room. But it really catches the flavor, I think very much of L.A. Everybody kind of agreed to do it, I looked at the list last night and it’s amazing, I mean Mike Medavoy for chrissakes, Howard Hesseman who’s a friend of mine that was in the second party, George Kirgo, Robert Kaufman, a lot of really amazing people. And it was fun, we did it in one night.” Director Monte Hellman of Two-Lane Blacktop and future Barney Miller creator Ted Flicker also make an appearance.

The Christian Licorice Store makes fun of the superficial showbiz side of Hollywood, while also painting a beautiful portrait of the city using incredible locations from William Pereira‘s LACMA and Theme Building, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, and up the Pacific Coast Highway to the scenic views of Soledad Canyon and Morro Rock. To add to the realism, Frawley used urban, guerrilla filmmaking to capture real L.A. pedestrians walking down the street, driving around, and going about their everyday business. “You put a camera out on a street and just shoot some stuff and just intercut it with the scenes just to get the flavor of L.A.” Then there are nighttime scenes in the film that perfectly capture the strange emptiness of the city after dark. “I love their kind of romantic ballet in the cars coming down the hill from the party. It was kind of a very romantic feeling I had about Los Angeles and, being a New Yorker, you know, the light, the romance, the sexuality. I love the architecture, I mean La La Land, the recent movie, is very much like that in terms of its appreciation of L.A.”
 

 
Frawley tells screenwriter Floyd Mutrix’s story using a very unconventional, avant-garde approach. “I’m a film buff and I grew up with European movies. I loved Godard, 400 Blows, Breathless, Fellini, all of the Italian realists. That was my education and my influence because it does have a very European feeling to it.” The director and screenwriter make many bold decisions, such as opening the film with the dramatic ending scene of the film, a gull-winged Mercedes-Benz wiping out in a tunnel alongside the PCH. Frawley accomplished this with a delicate style of filmmaking that does not spoil the entire movie. “I wanted to frame the film in a way so that you had a sense of foreboding that kind of holds over this whole movie. There’s kind of a sadness to the picture too, a sense of things are not going to turn out well here.” In yet another bold move, the opening credits don’t appear until nearly twelve minutes into the picture and are contained in the movie-within-the-movie when the party-goers are summoned to the screening room of the swanky, modern house.

It certainly helps to make a European influenced film in Hollywood when you have the approval and participation of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Executive producer Michael Laughlin was then married to the French movie star Leslie Caron, who knew Jean Renoir‘s family in France. They asked him if he would agree to make a cameo appearance in The Christian Licorice Store and surprisingly, he said yes… it would end up being the final feature film Renoir was ever involved in before his passing.

“There’s a lot of things I love about the movie, and there are some things that feel awkward because it’s a first film, but the presence of Jean Renoir in the movie is unbelievable. If the movie existed only for Jean Renoir it would be enough for me. A lot of this movie was about people saying yes when we asked them, ‘Would you do this?’ Because a lot of it was favors, and Jean Renoir was a favor, and he’s like Picasso, one of the great men of all time and a great filmmaker. And so we were allowed to be in his house for an afternoon, and again this is totally improvised. As we drove up the hill to his house and drove down afterward, you see those shots, and he talked about film, and he talked about Beau and Maud, and what he did so brilliantly, he talked about how attractive they were to one another in real life. He said, ‘You two could be lovers in real life’ which was wonderful because he acknowledged the fact that we were making a movie.”

More after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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02.16.2017
09:50 am
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See Frank Zappa on ‘The Monkees’ for the first time in HD!
07.22.2016
09:21 am
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Episode #57 of The Monkees saw two of the most “out there” moments of the entire series flanking one of their less memorable escapades—Peter has his mind taken over by an evil hypnotist he visits to get over his writer’s block—and we’ve got an exclusive HD version of that show premiering here for the very first time, an appetizer from the new Blu-ray box set of The Monkees (available only from their official website).

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” which aired originally on March 11, 1968 was the next to last show before The Monkees was cancelled. The principals wanted to take the show in a new direction creatively and NBC wasn’t into that. This might explain how viewers came to see the surreal—certainly unexpected—sight of Frank Zappa (playing “Mike Nesmith” in a wool cap) and Mike Nesmith (playing Zappa with wig, rubber nose and false beard) beating the shit out of an old car. Zappa as “Mike” wields a sledgehammer while Nesmith “conducts” and we hear a snippet of Zappa’s “Mother People.” By the standards of 1968—or any year since when you get right down to it—it was a distinctly odd thing to see on television. If you’re forced to bow out, why not go out with a cacophonous bang?
 
Watch “The Monkees Blow Their Minds” in glorious HD for the first time, after the jump..

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.22.2016
09:21 am
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Frank Zappa as record label honcho in ‘From Straight to Bizarre’


 
By far the majority of artist-run record labels exist as mere vanity imprints, releasing an album or two by the musician/would-be entrepreneur him/herself, and that’s that. Noteworthy exceptions are certainly around—Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records and Null Corporation, Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe, and Jack White’s Third Man are a few artist-run labels that have achieved significant successes.

An early example of such an artist using his own label to bypass the strictures of major label deals is, unsurprisingly, the iconoclastically independent-minded Frank Zappa. In the late ‘60s, when Verve Records inexplicably missed their deadline to re-up Zappa’s contract, he and his manager Herb Cohen used that leverage to establish their own production company and label, to retain creative control, and to release artists they favored. The labels they established were Straight Records and Bizarre Records. Between them, in a mere five years of existence, the labels released albums by Lenny Bruce and Wild Man Fischer, and now-immortal recordings like Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, and Captain Beefheart essentials like Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby.
 

 
Tom O’Dell’s 2011 documentary From Straight to Bizarre tells the labels’ story in detail, through interviews with Pamela Des Barres, John “Drumbo” French, Sandy “Essra Mohawk” Hurvitz, Kim Fowley, Alice Cooper’s Dennis Dunaway and the Mothers of Invention’s Jeff Simmons, among many others. YouTube user Treble Clef has broken the feature-length doc into short chunks for your piecemeal viewing convenience. There’s a lot of illuminating stuff herein, so please, enjoy.
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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04.07.2014
08:23 am
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Leonard Bernstein explains the rock revolution to squares in 1967’s ‘Inside Pop’ doc

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“A lot of the kids who are walking around the street with long hair.. a lot of the kids that you see from time to time—and retch over—are going to be running your government for you.”
—Frank Zappa

For a while now, tantalizing bit and pieces of Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, a 1967 CBS News special presented by the great Leonard Bernstein have popped up on YouTube but this is the best version I’ve seen.

This program marked the first time that pop music was presented as a legitimate art form, with sympathetic host Bernstein lending an intellectual gravitas to the proceedings that only he could bestow upon the “strange and compelling scene called pop music.” It’s fascinating to watch the famous composer/conductor look straight at the audience as he tries to make sense of what rock music was becoming, one would presume, for a “square” middle-aged audience. The second part of the show goes into the field and was mostly shot in 1966.

One of the ultimate time capsules of the moment when the world went from black and white to vivid color in the space of one year. This must have been riveting television in its time, because it still is.

With great bits from Frank Zappa, Graham Nash, Tim Buckley, Herman’s Hermits, Reger McQuinn and the legendary performance of Brian Wilson’s “Surf’s Up” that will cause your mind to explode into a million pieces if you are a Beach Boys fan. Inside Pop also includes 15-year-old Janis Ian performing “Society’s Child,” a then highly controversial song about interracial romance. It was Bernstein’s championing of the song that saw it become a hit. Before Inside Pop aired, radio programmers were still skittish about the number.
 

 
Thank you kindly, Dalton Anthony!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.26.2013
04:07 pm
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Tim Buckley’s stunning performance of ‘The Dolphins’ on Brit TV in 1974
03.20.2013
05:31 pm
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Tim Buckley sings Fred Neil’s song “The Dolphins” on The Old Grey Whistle Test in May of 1974. Simply gorgeous.

Charlie Whitney - guitar
Ian Wallace - drums
Tim Hinkley - bass

Watch it in high definition.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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03.20.2013
05:31 pm
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Tim Buckley brings the magic
07.04.2011
04:27 am
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Sublime.

A song to the Muse. His lover: the song.

“Late Night Line Up” Show (1968).
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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07.04.2011
04:27 am
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Kevin Blechdom’s righteous performance of Song to the Siren
06.24.2010
06:26 pm
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Here’s an astounding clip of theatrically-leaning electronic producer/performer Kevin Blechdom (also a past collaborator of mine, truth be told) showing off her considerable vocal prowess in a spot-on yet original take on Tim Buckley’s deathless hymn “Song to the Siren”. Superb !

 
Bonus clip (couldn’t resist): Tim Buckley his own self playing said song on The Monkees final TV show in 1968

 
Get Gentlemania by Kevin Blechdom
 
thx Dominique Leone !

 

Posted by Brad Laner
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06.24.2010
06:26 pm
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