Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 35

The category is self-explanatory, but it would include new or old businesses, political elections, trends, restaurants in town, entertainment in town, etc.

Four Short Films for the Holidays from Argo

Argo is a global curator of films under 40 minutes and a social streaming platform. Argo’s mission is to support upcoming filmmakers everywhere and connect the world through incredible stories. Every week you can find new playlists curated by the top film festivals and filmmakers.

Here are the four I viewed, with a brief description, listed in the order of my enjoyment of them:

Jackie Weaver in “Florence Has Left the Building”

#1)  “Florence Has Left the Building,” written and directed by Mirrah Foulkes with cinematography by Jeremy Rouse. Florence is a resident of the Marigold House Assisted Living Facility and she’s not a bit happy about it. In her mind, she is still a sweet young thing and she wants out.

In this 13 minute and 37 second film, two dueling Elvises come to her nursing home Eden to entertain the residents. There is gold Elvis (Eden Falk), red Elvis (Justin Rosniak) and the star of the piece, Florence, portrayed by the great Jacki Weaver, who has been twice Oscar-nominated, once for 2011’s “Animal Kingdom” and once for playing Robert DeNiro’s wife Dolores in “Silver Linings Playbook.” (Best Supporting Actor) Florence plots to make her escape with Red Elvis.

The film is totally relatable and enjoyable. I will be showing it to my college roommate when she hits my house this coming weekend. This one gets an “A.”

“Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom”

#2)  “Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom” – This film is all about magic mushrooms, or the Amanita Muscaria. It makes a connection between a shaman from Lapland and the Santa story, with flying reindeer, a fat little man in a red suit who comes down the chimney, etc.

Great story.

Wonderful animation.

Good advice about thinking more about the spiritual side of our lives.

Terrible music.

Maybe Santa this year is giving us the gift of reflection?

Grade of “B+”

Marius in “The Christmas Gift”

#3)  “The Christmas Gift” -This little gem (23 minutes long) from Amanda Muscaria features a young boy, Marius, who writes a letter to Santa in which he asks for gifts for himself (a locomotive) and for his Mom (a purse) and for his Dad (that the then-dictator Nicolae Ceausescu would die.)

This one required some reading up on the Romanian Revolution of 1989, for me. Here’s the Wikipedia short story:

“The revelation that Ceaușescu was responsible (for the deaths of citizens in the streets of Timisoara, Romania) resulted in a massive spread of rioting and civil unrest across the country. The demonstrations, which reached Bucharest, became known as the Romanian Revolution—the only violent overthrow of a communist government in the course of the Revolutions of 1989. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena fled the capital in a helicopter, but they were captured by the military after the armed forces defected. After being tried and convicted of economic sabotage and genocide, both were sentenced to death, and they were immediately executed by firing squad on 25 December, 1989.”

This small historical snippet helps explain how the mere mentioning of how the populace wanted the repressive dictator overthrown could cause one to end up dead. Ceausescu had unleashed the military upon the populace in Timisoara on December 17, 1989, and many were killed.

Imagine how upset the father is to learn that his son has exposed him to potential arrest and imprisonment.

Most of the rest of the short film involves Dad threatening Marius with physical violence, which did not appeal to me. Marius seems like a really good kid, and he didn’t deserve the screaming fit. I even wondered whether this was really his biological son, as Dad seemed like as big a tyrant as Ceausescu.

Ceausescu seems to have pretty much ruined Romania during his years in power (1955 to 1989) and the economy suffered mightily.

Most of the rest of the film hinges on how Dad might get the letter out of the post box Marius has placed it in, or how he might damage the mail within the post office box so that he doesn’t get arrested.

The very end of the film has actual newsreel footage of the Romanian Revolution, which, to be honest, I barely remember, although the name of this infamous dictator I did remember.

The acting was good and I could relate to this faux pas on the small boy’s part. I wrote a Letter to the Editor once that similarly parroted my own teacher mother’s feelings about non-certified teachers being allowed to teach in Amish schools in Iowa (she was opposed) and I got the same reaction from my parents (although my high school’s principal called me in to congratulate me on having my letter selected by the Des Moines Register for publication.) I was 16 at the time. My father—the town banker—had a lot of Amish customers and he wasn’t thrilled that I had let his wife’s views on this touchy subject of teachers with no more than an 8th grade education being allowed to teach in Amish one-room schoolhouses.

Grade of B.

#4 –“December in Toronto” – This is a trip to Toronto over 6 days. It seemed like a home movie that some friends had put together. It only runs 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

Not my cup of tea, but I love Toronto at any time of year. It always reminds me of a mini-Chicago, just as Lisbon (Portugal) reminds me of a mini-Paris.

Grade of “D.”

Reminder: Today is December 2nd and the XmasCats Deer Book is ON SALE!!!

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

This is a reminder that the 99 cent price for “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer” is on TODAY, and it will be on for 3 days. This is a good one, and you may want to pick it up in paperback for a Christmas gift, because there are puzzles and coloring book pages in the back.

This is the first of the XmasCats.com books that had a hard cover book, but I did not go through Ingram Spark and that, my friends, has led to it being a “limited edition.” The small Indiana company that did the hard cover did a phenomenal job. The colors in the deer illustrations are gorgeous! I love the drawings that Gary did for this one, and I love the story, which we “story-boarded” at the Bettendorf Public Library, when people who had come to hear about the first 3 books in the series suggested plot twists (the “Cat Copter,” for one).

Unfortunately, having the small Indiana publisher do the book made it costly. It is $25, from me, if you want a hard cover version, and you will have to contact me here to get one. They are definitely a “limited edition.”

After this book comes “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear,” an anti-bullying book that has one of the most germane and relevant messages for today’s youth.

And—last but not least—the Donald-Trump-look-alike bee of “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee.”

Look for specials on the remaining books in the series in the remaining weeks before Christmas, but “get them while they’re on sale and hot.”

Merry Christmas!

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer” is 99 Cents on Dec. 2, 3 and 4

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

I checked out the special for my favorite XmasCats.com book and it is 99 cents in e-book this coming weekend, for three days only. I have to admit that this one, in hard cover (which is a limited edition and only available in hard cover by contacting me) is my favorite. I had it done by a small Indiana press and the illustrations and color are superb.

The NEXT book (#5), “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” may be the most timely, as it is an anti-bullying tome, but I really love “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” which is a true story about the deer in Scott County Park and rescuing them, flying them to the North Pole, and making it possible for them to fly with Santa.

The sixth (and final) book will be the final FREE offering in a couple weeks, but this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Dec. 2, 3 and 4) pick up a 99 cent copy of “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.” And the following week, check out “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear.”

Last FREE book will be “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” and I’ll have more to say about that as that weekend gets closer.

“Last Night in Soho:” Edgar Wright’s Much Anticipated Film Doesn’t Disappoint

This quote from “Last Night in Soho” director Edgar Wright is a good  jumping-off point, for talking about his newest film, “Last Night in Soho,” which opened October 29th after premiering in Toronto. Said Wright, “I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and genre films. Horror films harbored a fascination for me and always have been something I’ve wanted to watch and wanted to make.”

That said, “Last Night in Soho” (an area of London known for its sex trade) is not strictly a horror movie. Until the final 30 minutes of the 1 hour and 57 minute movie, I had no idea where we were being taken by Edgar Wright, director of such films as “Baby Driver,” “Sean of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”

Initially, it didn’t seem as though it was going to be a horror movie at all. The set-up of “Last Night in Soho” seemed to be exploring the family dynamic of a young girl from the countryside (Cornwall) who is an aspiring fashion designer haunted by the suicide of her mother when she was just 7 years old.

We see Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) in rural Cornwall, where she lives with her Grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham), who is a seamstress; her mother also went to London to become a fashion designer.

“Last Night in Soho

Peggy is played by Rita Tushingham, a nice homage to the ingenue from 1961’s “A Taste of Honey” who was a vanguard of the Kitchen Sink school of British cinema. Not only do we see Tushingham, but Diana Rigg (the Bond girl in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in 1969), in her final film role; Rigg is a major character and pivotal to the plot. Teence Stamp (absolutely beautiful in 1962’s “Billy Budd”) also has a recurring role.

For me, this film was a stroll down memory lane. I was an exchange student in England in 1967 and made a special trip to Carnaby Street back in the days of mini-skirts and 60s fashion, including “the tent dress,” as worn by the second star of the film, Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”).

Although I found the multiple tent dresses in Ellie’s fashion show to be pushing the entire idea of the “tent” dress of the sixties, I remember them well. One of the worst moments of my 7th grade school year was when Jimmy Cowell loudly proclaimed that I was wearing “a maternity dress,” when it was,in reality, that season’s new look, the tent dress. (When you’re 12 it doesn’t take much to embarrass you).

That did it.

I was impressed with costume designer Odile Dick-Mireaux’s work, and the 60s music, selected by music supervisor Kristen Lane is to-die-for. The cinematography is great and the special visual effects, which primarily depict the young Ellie communing in dreams (and, sometimes, in reality, it seems) with a girl named Sandy who once lived in the apartment she rents, are terrific. The multiple images of predatory men with faces blurred are original and appropriately frightening.

At first, the film, which builds slowly, seemed as though it were going to be about the country mouse coming to the big city (London) and dealing with all that entails. It seems as though Ellie’s struggle to become a fashion designer at the London College of Fashion and her ESP super-sensitivity, especially because of the loss of her mother, are going to be the primary focus of the film. Her bitchy roommate Jocasta (Synove Karlsen) says, “I’d lay bets on her slashing her wrists before Christmas.” And perhaps Ellie would have, had she had to endure rooming with the likes of Jocasta for more than one night.

Ellie quickly decides to rent a room of her own, which is advertised by a  kindly landlady, played by Diana Rigg in her final film role. (Rigg’s presence in the cast is also a nice salute to the 60s).

It seems odd to me now that Ellie never learns the landlady’ name until their final scenes together. Wouldn’t Grandma Peggy want to know the name of the woman who is now Ellie’s landlady? It wasn’t until the final scenes of the film that her name surfaced, however.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandi (with Jack) in “Last Night in Soho.”

I also wondered, “How did Ellie get her money back for the dorm room she would have had to pay for in advance?” These are practical things that bothered me, which have little to do with the plot. My own daughter spent a semester in Brooklyn and we had to pay for her lodging in advance. The fact that Ellie spent only one night in the dormitory and then moved out struck me as odd. Her Grandmother did not seem independently wealthy and yet Ellie acted as though money were not an object throughout most of the film.

One line from the film is, “There’s just something about the sixties that speaks to me.” It is uttered by Ellie, but it could have been me. I arrived in the United Kingdom in 1967 for my home stays in three communities: Chislehurst, Weston-Super-Mare, and Birmingham. Chislehurst was in Kent, just a short train ride to London, and I visited many clubs like those depicted (a Wright trademark) in the film and remember the “swinging sixties.” (My favorite was “The Three Witches” in Stratford-on-Avon).

It struck me as interesting how faithfully someone born in 1974 (i.e., Edgar Wright) has managed to recreate that era, but Quentin Tarantino (one of Wright’s close friends) did so in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.” Both are spot on. I say this as an expert who lived the sixties as a youth aged 15 to 25.  It was definitely THE best decade to be young in this or any country, (although my mother, who was that same age during the Roaring Twenties, might have disagreed.)

At night, in her newly-rented flat that is quintessential 60s, Ellie dreams of a young girl named Sandy, who came to London to be a singer. The young singer is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who is brimming with the self-confidence that Ellie lacks. The cinematic choices and visuals that cinematographr  Chung-hoon Chung selects are stunning. The film is truly worth seeing for the music, fashion and cinematography alone. But we have the added bonus of a film that morphs from being (apparently) about a young girl trying to forge a career in the big city and dealing with the loss of her mother to suicide at the age of 7 into something completely different.

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT

In some ways, this film reminded me the most, thematically, of the Emerald Fennell Best Picture nominee of last year, “A Promising Young Woman” with Carrie Mulligan. In that film, Carrie seeks revenge on the predatory males who drove her best friend, a rape victim, to suicide.

Although Ellie’s Grandmother warns her about being careful in the Big City, the minute Ellie hits the city and gets a cab, the cab driver (Colin Mace) turns out to be a dirty old man.  All of this preying upon beautiful young women of the sixties is absolutely Gospel, but only now, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and Donald J. Trump are there films about women speaking out and demanding some form of justice, or taking revenge, vigilante-style. I can remember being “hit on” by dirty old men and horny young men and, yes, it was always quite a daunting task to keep one’s self safe from  predators.

It doesn’t stop there.

In her nightly clairvoyant visits to the time that Sandi was trying to make it as a singer in Swinging Sixties London, we see Sandi (whose real name is Alexandra) being victimized by a “manager” named Jack (Matt Smith), who is a bigger predator than the skeevy cab-driver and wants to “turn her out” as a prostitute.

Just as I enjoyed “Antlers,” the horror movie showing across the hall from “Last Night in Soho,” I enjoyed this movie and found it to have the clearest claim to Best Costume Design for a film made this year since the Disney epic, “101 Dalmatians.”

The film cost $43 million to make. With its homage to 60s stars and fashions, it was a real kick for me. I’m old enough to remember all of the things being presented to today’s audiences as ancient history; I am glad I lived through it as a young person.

The music, cinematography, acting, writing (co-writer is “1917’s” co-writer, Krysty Wilson-Cairns) are all Top Notch, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from start to finish. If you are young, you’ll get a chance to experience the sixties. If you’re a child of the sixties, it will be like leafing through your old scrapbooks.

 

 

 

Van Jones Documentary “The First Step” About Prison Reform Screens at Denver Film Festival

When I saw that Kartemquin films was involved in the Van Jones documentary “The First Step,” now showing at the Denver Film Festival (and 23 other festivals), I was optimistic. It’s a 90-minute film directed by Brandon Kramer, with cinematography by Emily Topper and music by Joshua Abrams. If it’s backed by Kartemquin, it’s usually good. The topic of “The First Step:” prison reform.

Here’s what the “New York Times” said about Kartemquin: “There are few film production companies in the United States as admirable as Kartemquin Films, the nonprofit documentary house founded in Chicago in 1966 that was subsequently responsible for such outstanding, illuminating works as “Hoop Dreams” (1994) and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2016).

“All the Queen’s Horses” (2017) about Rita Crundwell’s embezzlement of $53 million in Dixon, Illinois–the largest case of municipal fraud in U.S. history—was another outstanding Kartemquin documentary.

As a Chicago-based journalist, aware that Chicago-based Kartemquin’s films have received 4 Academy Award nominations, won 6 Emmys, and collected three Peabody Awards, I was enthusiastic about this story of Van Jones’ attempts to help successfully shepherd a bill for criminal justice/prison reform through Congress.

There are some exchanges between subjects in the documentary that stay with you, as when Jones’ assistant, Louis Reed, who spent 14 years in prison, is dismissed rather abruptly by a former prosecutor (clip above). We hear a different ex-convict, addressing post-prison life and jobs, say, “Nobody don’t see past McDonald’s for us.”

The original prison reform bill was weak. As initially proposed, the bill had only three proposals. Two of them were so seemingly non-controversial that it’s difficult to believe a crusade was necessary to secure them.

One change proposed that prisoners should be housed in facilities within 500 miles of their hometowns. The other change would ban female prisoners from being shackled while giving birth. These don’t seem like very controversial proposals. but both former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and junior Republican Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton actively opposed the bill with vigor. Kim Kardashian gets screentime advocating for the bill, so there’s that.

Van Jones’ tactic is to begin a campaign to forge an alliance with Jared Kushner to gain passage for the prison reform bill.

Van Jones and Louis Reed in “The First Step” documentary.

Others on the Jones team have misgivings about trying to work with Donald J. Trump during his time as president through Kushner or anyone else (one member of Jones’ team flat-out refuses to go to the White House for a meeting).

To some, meeting Trump on his home turf is a dangerous and poorly thought-out tactic, since the opposition can frame the meeting any way they want. Van’s meeting with Jared Kushner was a bit like 88-year-old Senator Chuck Grassley (R, IA) appearing onstage recently with Donald Trump and gleefully accepting Trump’s endorsement. These actions legitimize Trump, perhaps the least progressive president in  American history.

I heard Van Jones speak in Austin in 2017. “Just do something,” he said. He also said, “Own your need for acknowledgment and maintain visibility,” adding “I was never afraid to be in front of a camera or speak into a microphone – I’ve got something to say.”

This is true. Jones has had something to say for a long time—things with which I generally agree. However, barely mentioning the nay-sayers who brought Jones down (chief among them, Glen Beck) in the documentary seems like a major omission.

Van Jones’ affiliation with a 1990s anti-war group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement exposed him to accusations that he associated with Communists. When he is shown arriving at CPAC, one of the audience members shouts out, asking him if he is “still a Communist.” Jones’ hasty departure from office during the Obama administration, where he was a special advisor to Obama on green energy, is totally ignored.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean on “Fox News Sunday” called Van Jones’ abrupt resignation from his post in the Obama administration a “loss for the country.” “This guy is a Yale-educated lawyer, he is a best-selling authority about his specialty. I think he was brought down. It is too bad. Washington is a tough place that way,” said Dean.

Jones, for his part, said he never believed in the so-called “Truther” movement, issued an apology for his past remarks, and said, in a statement, that his involvement with 9/11 conspiracy theories “does not reflect my views now or ever.”

I believe those Van Jones sentiments. But, just as the wisdom of some of Van Jones’ past statements or affiliations are questioned, when the documentary covers his big bright idea of lobbying the White House by befriending Jared Kushner, you have to ask, “Is that really a good idea?” A line that resonated was: “What does it mean when the President of the United States is divisive?” (A national topic that we’ve been wrestling with through two impeachments and a failed coup d’etat.)

Apparently I was not alone in my lack of enthusiasm for Jared Kushner as a conduit to convincing then-President Trump to support a bill on prison reform. Kushner’s father spent time in prison so maybe he’ll be an enlightened proponent for prison reform, went the thinking. (Of course, Kushner still has Saudi, Arabia’s MSB on speed dial; MSB  sanctioned killing and cutting up a Washington Post reporter, Jamal Khashoggi).

The Van Jones friendship with Kushner did not fly with everyone on the Van Jones team.

“The First Step:” West Virginia meets Los Angeles.

The most impressive part of the documentary depicts a program that Jones originated to bring South Los Angeles residents together with West Virginia natives, including the Sheriff of Welch, West Virginia, a community of 50,000 that shrank to 18,000. Welch ranked first or second in deaths from opioids nationwide.

Each group tours the other’s hometown area, including Skid Row in L.A.  There is a feeling that growing mutual awareness could change attitudes. The supportive community approach of West Virginia towards addiction is praised. A member of the Los Angeles group is heard saying, “How do we replicate this in L.A.?”

As for me, I began to wonder what Van Jones’ main causes are. He has three best-selling books on Amazon. I’m having trouble pinning down his primary concerns. Green energy and prison reform seem to be just a small slice of Jones’ town. In this respect, he reminded me of the Reverend Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, who always seem to show up at any Black/white imbroglio.

While there are some good nuggets of information about Van Jones, the man, I would have liked more personal information about the ex-wife who shows up briefly onscreen and/or the small children that appear to be his. I enjoyed the shot of Van Jones in dreadlocks while in college at Yale. The trip home to visit his twin sister is great. The failure to give us more information on Van Jones, pre-2021, made the random shouted remark about “still being a Communist” without enough context to decode it unless you are a news junkie, as I am.

The shift from green jobs to prison reform: when and why did that become the new Van Jones frontier? What is next on the Van Jones “to do” list? Is it “any old cause in a storm?” Why not just run for office, if he is devoted to societal change?

There’s much to admire in the documentary. The cinematography and music are good. Van Jones is an attractive and charismatic subject, but he is only peripheral to the theme of trying to help pass a bill advocating prison reform, when I, for one, wanted to know much more about the idealistic emissary at the heart of the campaign. The documentary was 90 minutes long and, like many documentaries, seemed to drag at key points, but there’s certainly something for everyone in that 90 minutes.

I’ll be waiting for the one that focuses on Van Jones, the candidate.

“Citizen Ashe” Is Well-Done Sam Pollard Documentary at Chicago International Film Festival

Arthur Ashe, from the documentary “Citizen Ashe” at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival.

Sam Pollard, who directed “MLK/FBI” and “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me,” has teamed with Rex Miller— listed as both the Director and Cinematographer—to produce an informative 96-minute documentary entitled “Citizen Ashe.”

The film traces Arthur Ashe’s career as the first and best Black male tennis player. Ashe was the first Black man to win the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. Along the way, talking heads including John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Ashe’s younger brother Johnny, and various luminaries of the sports world talk about this amazing athlete who was born In 1943 and died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 49 in 1993. Ashe’s widow, Jeannie Moutoussamy-Ashe was Executive Producer for the film. The entertaining, thoughtful documentary testifies to Ashe’s spoken goal: “I want to be the Jackie Robinson of tennis.”

Born in Richmond, Virginia to a mother (Mattie) who died at age 27 from heart-related disorders  when Arthur was only 6, it is worth noting that Ashe was the documented descendant of a West African woman brought to America in 1735 aboard the slave ship Daddington and subsequently owned by North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe.

Growing up in the segregated South, Ashe was fortunate that his father was in charge of a Richmond, Virginia sports complex, Brookfield Park. The park included basketball courts, a pool, 3 baseball diamonds and 4 tennis courts. Ashe started playing tennis on the courts there at the age of 7 and was ultimately noticed and given instruction by a local physician, Dr. Johnson, a tennis enthusiast who had built a tennis court in his own back yard and had coached Althea Gibson.

Still, Black players were denied participation in many tournaments and could not use the indoor courts in Richmond, so Ashe relocated to St. Louis’ Sumner High School at the invitation of 62-year-old teacher Richard Hudlin to complete his high school education. While there, with Ashe on the team, Sumner High won the United States Interscholastic Tennis Tournament.

Ashe was offered a scholarship to the University of California in Los Angeles in 1963 and headed off to Los Angeles, while also involved with ROTC that would lead to 2 years in the Army to help him with college expenses (he was assigned to West Point and put in charge of their tennis program).

In 1963 Ashe was named the #1 player in the world and was #3 in 1965. His entire life changed with the much more accepting nature of racial interaction in California. Other athletes were beginning to speak out against racism, with moments like the raised fists of John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Ashe found himself torn between his own impulses, learned at his father’s knee, [“Don’t do anything that will hurt yourself later.”] and his sympathy for the Black athletes who were demonstrating and standing up for their rights. As Ashe said, “If you were a moderate, it was the same thing as being an Uncle Tom.”   In an interview, Ashe acknowledges that, “Being the only one, I’m a drawing card, whether I like it or not.”

As a “drawing card,” other Black athletes were pressuring the tennis star to join them in protests against unequal treatment. He responded to calls to boycott the Olympics by saying, “That’s not my way.” But he allowed that hanging back from joining the movement caused him to feel that “I didn’t like myself very much.”

As the documentary puts it, “There was a new breed of Black athlete.”  Arthur, as a child, had been taught to return every ball within two inches of the line and never argue with an umpire’s decision, so protest of a strident sort was not his upbringing.

In these years, the country seemed to be coming apart with the assassination of JFK, RFK, and MLK. Fifty thousand National Guard troops were quelling riots in the streets of U.S. cities. Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination hit Arthur particularly hard, as he had been with RFK on the campaign trail in June of 1968, just the day before he was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

South Africa’s policy of apartheid also became a cause that Ashe invested in, with a sincere admiration and a growing friendship with Nelson Mandela arising from Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment for the cause of equal rights.

Just as President Barack Obama modeled on Mandela, so, too, did Arthur Ashe. It was, he said, a great honor and privilege to get to meet Mandela and to become a personal friend.

Ashe is quoted as saying that he wanted to rebut the commonly held misconception that athletes were “all brawn, no brains.” He did that with his masterfully planned victory over Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon Finals. Ashe countered Connors’ technique of serving the ball by hitting it on the rise by taking the pace off the ball. He gave Connors only soft junk shots (dinks, drop shots and lobs) to deal with.  Ashe won the match and the title at the age of 32.

He would retire four years later with 818 wins, 260 losses, 51 titles and $1,584,909 in tournament winnings, plus wins for the U.S. Davis Cup team three years running, in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Ashe coached the Davis Cup team from 1981 to 1985. He had to contend with  obnoxious personalities who were the polar opposite of his own, like John McEnroe.

We see McEnroe acting like a jerk in old footage and commenting on Ashe’s supervision of him on the Rider Cup teams. (McEnroe consistently played on Rider Cup teams for 12 years, while Jimmy Connors refused to do so and even lodged a lawsuit against Ashe at one point over their differing opinions on what the Davis Cup play meant to the nation).

Arthur Ashe’s widow, Jeanne, ends the film sharing Arthur’s words: “We both want to distress the comfortable and comfort the distressed.” Commenting on how losing a kind soul like Arthur Ashe illustrates what a treasure he was during life, Jeanne talked about their adopted daughter Camera, who lost her dad at the age of 7, just as Arthur, himself, had lost his own mother to heart disease when he was only 6.

Arthur Ashe’s funeral attracted 6,000 mourners. Then- Governor Douglas Wilder allowed his body to lay in state at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, where an additional 5,000 mourners paid their respects. Andrew Young, who had married Ashe in 1977, buried him after a service held at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center on February 10, 1993. Ashe was buried next to his mother, Mattie.

The action shots of Ashe and tennis contemporaries in action were well-chosen. His demeanor in all recorded interviews or appearances illustrate how a champion should behave A clip is included in the documentary that shows Obama saying that the two athletes that he most emulated and admired were Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe. It’s a great way to learn about this fabled athlete.

 

 

“Babi Yar” Is Riveting Documentary at 57th Chicago International Film Festival

“Babi Yar. Context” (Wikimedia)

Director Sergei Loznitsa (“State Funeral,” “Donbass,” “Maidan”) has compiled a staggering amount of vintage 80-year-old footage of World War II action in Kiev and Lemberg (Lvov)in this documentary. It is 1941; the opening scene is of black smoke billowing over the countryside while firing on a bridge continues. War planes soar overhead.

The 1941 film is black-and-white, although there are a few color pieces of vintage film. Throughout, one is struck by the devastation being wrought.  There are tanks on the roads. Broadcasts from Moscow. Multiple explosions rock Kiev.

Said Director Sergei Loznitsa, “Some of the footage I work with has been buried in the archives for decades – nobody has ever seen it, not even historians specializing in the Holocaust in the USSR.  One such episode is the explosions of Kreschatik in September, 1941.  Kiev’s central street was mined with remote-controlled explosives by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Service) before the Red army had retreated from Kiev.  The detonations of the explosives were carried out a few days after the Germans took the city. There were civilian casualties and thousands were left homeless.”

Ominously, there is footage of a large group of men, seated peacefully on the ground. Explosions planted by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, occur everywhere in Kiev. The Nazis decide to eliminate the city’s Jews, driven by the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy falsehood at the heart of Nazi ideology. It is the first attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population of a large city: extermination by bullet.

The men seated peacefully on the ground are being counted off and loaded into a truck. At one point, one of the Nazi soldiers doing the counting says to another, “What are we going to do with them?”

What they did do with them was cold-blooded execution, killing 33,771 (although estimates up to 100,000 are mentioned by those interviewed). The Germans rounded up the Jews via official posted announcements  (they were told to bring their valuables and food and warm clothing)  and gather on the edges of a ravine in Northwest Kiev  known as Babi Yar (“Grandmother’s ravine”) and then the Germans and some Ukrainian soldiers who had gone over to the Nazi side systematically executed men, women and children.

If you were a curious resident of the town who wandered out to see what was going on, that might be your death sentence, as the public notices to show up were made in such a way that none imagined the barbarity of the actions to take place. “Man’s inhumanity to man” is the phrase that reoccurs, again and again.  Flash forward to the horrible photos of genocide against the people of Syria on “Sixty Minutes” not long ago.

But the Director has a much grimmer take on what happened at Babi Yar. From Director Sergei Loznitsa:   “I study dehumanization, the loss of humanity by a human being…There was a regime change and, prior to that, a short period of chaos, of lawlessness. It is during this moment when the true nature of a human is revealed.  Without control and pressure from the authorities, in an atmosphere of chaos, it seems that anything is allowed, any action can go unpunished.

I have every reason to believe that back in September 1941, many residents of Kiev had suspected that Jews were going to be killed and not “relocated to the South.” But no one protested.  I study dehumanization, the loss of humanity by a human being. This is why it is necessary to reflect upon this whole situation. It is necessary to think about it.

No doubt there were the righteous among them—those who hid the Jews in their houses, who helped them survive.  But they were few and far between. This is what scares me. Certain individuals committed heroic acts and risked their lives by helping the Jews, while thousands of others remained indifferent to their fate, preoccupied with their own ‘housing issues’ and dividing the remaining Jewish property.

Neighbors reported on neighbors, concierges acted as informants. They used the same lists of residents that they had previously supplied the NKVD with, to report the Jews to the Germans.  After the massacre, a few remaining invalids and elderly Jews in the Podol district of Kiev, who were too frail to walk to Babi Yar, were hunted by the local residents, dragged out of their apartments and stoned to death.  The locals did it, not the Germans.  I saw the archive documents describing these atrocities with my own eyes.”

The film has shots of corpses, many bodies obviously exposed to the elements for a long period of time. There are also shots of men carrying dead, bloody bodies out of a prison where the people had been interrogated (and then shot). There are scenes of thousands of men and women digging along the river as though happy to help. These people did not know what awaited them. They were told to bring food and warm clothes and any valuables, to prevent them from suspecting mass extermination. Some did fear the worst and over 100,000 fled the city.

There is documentation of Nazi troops setting fire to homes, watching the thatched roofs burn.  We see both the occupation of Lemberg (Lvov) on June 21, 1941, and, near film’s end, on November 6, 1943, the Soviets taking back Kiev.

Babi Yar” Stalin image being removed upon Nazi occupation of Kiev.

“Hitler, the Liberator” banners are torn down when the town is re-taken. Early in the film, Stalin’s larger-than-life banner is removed to be replaced with one that says, “Long live the leader of the German people, Adolf Hitler.” One mass murderer gives way to another. And so it seems to go, worldwide, from time immemorial.

This compilation of film is truly remarkable. Finding the historical film must have been a colossal task. Jonas Zagorskas and Likas Zapearakas worked on film restoration. The quality of this 80-year-old film, some of it shot by Nazi soldiers with their own personal cameras, is amazing. The Germans were always given high marks for keeping extensive records of the atrocities they committed (which made it easier for judgment at Nuremberg.)

At the end of this series of  historic film clips, there are trials and testimony. Hans Isenmann, an SS soldier, describes how the Germans methodically divided the killing squads into 6 men to guard and 6 men to shoot, and then armed them with a machine gun, 2 submachine guns and rifles and had them shoot people for 3 days in Babi Yar. Isenmann was a shooter and personally killed 120 people while positioned 70 to 90 meters from the edge of the pit.

Historian Stephanie Trouillard found this testimony about the procedures the victims faced: “People were asked to take their most treasured possessions with them, then at a particular spot they had to give away their proof of identity, then at another point they had to give away the possessions they brought, and finally there was a place at which they had to undress.”

The most riveting trial testimony comes from two women.  One woman, with her son, made the mistake of going out to the ravine just to see what was going on. The woman and her son were told to line up and she was a witness as they shot her son. Then, she fainted. When she came to, she “played dead” from 9 o’clock until 5 p.m. Then, she got up and went home.

Dina Pronicheva, another witness, tells an even more harrowing story of witnessing the murder of naked victims, who were lined up single file. She jumped into the pit and hid amongst the dead, whom she describes as making hiccupping and moaning sounds in their death throes.

Two Nazi soldiers, noticing that she didn’t seem to have any visible blood (she was not shot) stand on her arms with their nailed boots, yet she didn’t cry out. Then, they began to bury her alive.

That is when she decided it would be better to be shot than to be buried alive. As the soil began to suffocate her, she moved her arm and dug herself out.  She could see flashlights (“torches” in her testimony) from above.

Dina crawled up the wall of the ravine, which was very difficult, and heard the voice of a boy of 14 behind her—a young boy who, like herself, fell into the pit uninjured when his grandfather was shot.  They crawled across a large meadow and hid, as the sun was rising, and now she testifies to these atrocities.

It is film like this that must be preserved against the Alex Jones’ of “false news” who sometimes say the Holocaust never happened. Historian Boris Czerny, a specialist in Jewish history in Eastern Europe tells us: “Nearly 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered between 1941 and 1944. Almost 80 percent of them were shot dead. Executions continued at Babi Yar long after September 1941. The Nazis killed nearly 100,000 people there until Soviet forces liberated Kyiv in November 1943 – not only Jews but also Ukrainian opponents of the occupation, Poles, Roma people, the mentally ill and prisoners of war.”

The synopsis accurately described “Babi Yar. Context” as a masterfully crafted study of a human catastrophe that stands out in WWII history for its barbarism. The documentary is immersive, captivating and deeply distressing.

Bearing witness to past tragedies is the first step if we’re ever going to avoid them. The knowledge of history is the best defense if we’re ever to see the world today in a true light.

The film is intended for the long-overdue Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. When complete, it will speak against such atrocities forever.

“Babi Yar. Context” won the Silver Hugo at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival in the International Documentary category announced Friday, October 22, 2021. It is 2 fascinating hours long.

 

 

Salaries for James Bond Films Through the Years

The pay has gone significantly up after each Bond movie.

Sean Connery
Dr. No : $17,000
From Russia With Love : $250,000
Goldfinger : $500,000
Thunderball : $750,000
You Only Live Twice : $750,000 + 25% of net marchandise profits = $1,000,000
Diamonds Are Forever : $1,200,000 + 12.5% of net US profits = $6,700,000

George Lazenby
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service : $80,500

Roger Moore
Live and Let Die : $1,000,000
The Man with the Golden Gun : $1,000,000
The Spy Who Loved Me : $1,000,000
Moonraker : $4,000,000
For Your Eyes Only : $3,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $4,607,500
Octopussy : $4,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $5,265,800
A View to a Kill : $5,000,000 + 5% of US gross = $7,515,000

Timothy Dalton
The Living Daylights : $3,000,000
Licence to Kill : $5,000,000

Pierce Brosnan
Golden Eye : $1,200,000
Tomorrow Never Dies : $8,200,000
The World Is Not Enough : $12,400,000
Die Another Day : $16,500,000
(Wanted salary for Bond 21 : $20,000,000)

Daniel Craig
Casino Royale : $3,220,000
Quantum of Solace : $7,245,000
Skyfall: $17,000,000 plus bonuses for certain box-office milestones
Spectre: $24,000,000 + endorsements

No Time to Die – $25,000,000

Interesting how low George Lazenby’s salary was for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:” Less than 10% of what Connery got for Diamonds Are Forever, even before Connery multiplied it over 5 times with his share of the U.S profits.

 Roger Moore was on 1 million for each of the first three movies and then his pay was multiplied 4 times for Moonraker. I’m guessing he was on a 3 movie deal and by the time they negotiated for his fourth film his popularity in the role was massive so he could command this. He commanded a share of the profits for each of his last three movies following “Moonraker.” Neither Dalton or Brosnan seemed to have an agent who could get that for them.

There are 3 films that are not part of the James Bond official canon, including the film that Connery agreed to do at age 53, “Never Say Never Again,” “Casino Royale” in 1967 and “Casino Royale” in 1954.

“No Time to Die” Is Worth the 18-Month Wait

Daniel Craig makes his final outing as Bond memorable. The log-line says: “James Bond has left active service.  His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.” During a pandemic, a weapon that is a microscopic bio-rocket that can enter your bloodstream via the slightest contact with your skin is certainly timely. No wonder the studio pulled the $250 million-dollar film for 18 months. The ploy seems to have worked, as it grossed $56 million in 4,407 North American theaters this past weekend and was the fourth-best opening in the 25-film series history.

I’m not a particularly avid Bond fan—(although I am the target demographic, as the audience is primarily older)—but I really liked almost everything about this Bond epic. The cinematography and score (Hans Zimmer), including a Billie Eilish song that opens the film, are Top-Notch.

ACTING

Daniel Craig is great as Bond. He really seems to be doing all the fighting in the many fight sequences. The stunts are spectacular and, again, special mention should be made of the contribution to the mood and tone from Hans Zimmer’s score. Of course, there is also the Billie Eilish song at the beginning of the film, which will, no doubt, be remembered come Oscar-time.

The female lead, Lea Seydoux, while not as glamorous in appearance as previous “Bond girls,” was a good actress.

Lashana Lynch as a Black female 007 could have been omitted to shorten the film, and Ana De Armas’ appearance seemed sort of gratuitous, to me. If you added up the screentime of these two and remove them from the 2 hour and 43 minute run-time, the film would come down closer to what it should have been. This is a movie that should be seen on a big screen, as the cinematography in Norway and England and Jamaica and elsewhere is breathtaking, but the long run-time and other factors may well cause otherwise dedicated theater-goers to stream it at home when it is available. More’s the pity.

Rami Malek is weak as the villain and Christoph Waltz’s Hannibal-Lecter-like appearance was simply weird, but the main love story between Bond and the Bond girl makes up for a lot.

WRITING

Writers never get the credit they deserve. This film’s script is credited to Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Director Cary  Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”). Here are some memorable lines:

(1) “There’s something I need to tell you.” (Lea Seydoux)

“I’ll bet there is.” (Daniel Craig)

(2)  “We all have our secrets. We just didn’t get to yours yet.” (Daniel Craig)

(3)  “Seems intelligence isn’t central any more” (re the blonde aide, Ashe, of Felix Leighter’s)

(4)  “I gave up trusting pretty faces a long time ago.” (Daniel Craig)

(5)  “You seem like a man who only has time to kill—nothing to live for.” (of Bond)

(6)  (Felix Leighter after being shot by Ashe)  “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling in my gut that Ashe may not be on our side.”

(7)  (Bond to “M”)  “Either the desk is getting bigger or you’re getting smaller.” (Followed by “Definitely not the desk.”)

(8)  “I wanted to give you an empty world like the one you gave me.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig)

(9)  “I wanted everything with you.  I have loved you, and I will love you, and I do not regret a single moment of my life except putting you on that train.” (Bond to Madeleine).

(10)  “Life is all about leaving something behind.  We want to be told how to live and then die when we are not looking.  We are built for oblivion.” (Bond)

(11)  “We both eradicate people to make the world a better place.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig as Bond.)

(12)  “I just showed someone your watch.  It really blew their mind.” (Bond about the Cyclops device)

(13)  “We are two heroes in a tragedy of our own making.” (Bond to Madeleine)

(14)  “You made me do this.  This was your choice.” (Rami Malek to Bond)

(15)  “Our function is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” (Bond)

 

As of Sunday, global grosses for “No Time to Die” were estimated to be over $313.3 million. The film cost $250 million to make and another $100 milliion to advertise, but it is on target. Said Head of Distribution for United Artists Releasing Erik Lomis, “It’s right where we thought it would be and right where tracking predicted it would be.”

One factor in the improvement at the box office is that 25% of movie-goers returned to theaters for the first time in 18 months this past weekend. Many audiences erupted in spontaneous applause at the end of the film; it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit

 

Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min.

Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).

 

“Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene.

Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.”

According to Wikipedia, “Rolling Stones” named the “most influential bands of the Sixties” and the bands ranked first, second and third were the Beatles, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Velvet Underground.

As a sixties music afficionado, I was “in” to music, especially music from my own sixties generation. I subscribe to “Rolling Stone” and brought back a British record release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, carried home from my time as an exchange student abroad. (The record was slightly different from the U.S. release.)

In England and Europe I took in James Brown and the Famous Flames in Paris and bought the U.K. version of the Beatles seminal “Sergeant Pepper” record breakthrough. When in England I attended a concert at the Savoy Hotel, a posh hotel in Birmingham, with a light show, at which an unknown band that had no record contract (yet) appeared. That band was Pink Floyd.

 

So, how did I miss out on being a fan of the Velvet Underground in their hey-day?

 

Now that I’ve seen Todd Haynes compilation of old photos and interviews with original members of the group and heard some of the songs, I think I know why I didn’t jump on the Velvet Underground bandwagon at the time. They were hugely experimental and are credited with giving birth to the punk movement and the New Wave movement many years later. With Welsh band member John Cale (who is interviewed prominently in the documentary) playing the viola and supposedly obsessed with sounds that are droning noises (like a refrigerator humming), that doesn’t sound much like the Beatles or James Brown, does it? It didn’t, to me. Then or now. To show how film was supposed to have merged with music (years before it did), some YouTube links like Nico’s singing with Warhol’s art in the background, should perhaps be included in this documentary. I’ve given you a couple video links.

 

I did not become very aware of the Velvet Underground until David Letterman featured Lou Reed on his Late Night talk show many years later. Since Lou Reed has been dead since 2013, these appearances must have happened 9 or 10 years ago, but I remember that Reed was always held forth by Letterman as the King of Cool, sitting in with Paul Schaffer and the Late Night Orchestra.Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two times, once as a member of the Velvet Underground and once for his own music, which continued for many years after the break-up of the group. His big hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 

In fact, as one learns from reading up on the Velvet Underground (but not really from this documentary), the parting of the ways for this band came about when Reed felt that Cale had to go. And the primary reason Lou Reed felt that John Cale needed to go in one direction while Lou Reed went in another was that Cale, an odd bird from the first (a weirdly-coiffed intellectual Welsh guy who played the viola), was taking their music in a fairly eccentric and probably unmarketable experimental direction. Lou Reed had already had a job turning out 99 cent songs for Pickwick Records and he knew how to craft a tune that didn’t sound like the drone of a refrigerator. He also wanted to become a well-known star; he needed to do that on his own.

 

“Walk on the Wild Side” was written by Reed for use in the film version of Nelson Algren’s book of the same name. That book and that movie have a special place in my heart, because I sat across from Nelson Algren at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (Iowa) watching Nelson Algren watch the Jane Fonda/Laurence Harvey movie version of his work. I was glued to watching the author watch his book be interpreted onscreen by Hollywood. The song played over the film credits, if I remember correctly, and it had a haunting, beatnik vibe, as, indeed, Lou Reed represented throughout his life and work.

 

The other tune of Reed’s that broke through my consciousness was the song chosen for the movie “Juno” called Sticking with You,” which I remember thinking was a good choice for the theme of the unwed pregnant teenager who decides to stick with the young man (Michael Cera) who impregnated her, who was her best friend, if not technically her “boyfriend.” In keeping with the entire tone of the Velvet Underground and its pushing of boundaries, it seems somehow fitting that the female lead of “Juno,” Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Here is a version of the song from that movie, sung by the Moldy Peaches:

 

 I had to read up on Lou Reed to be able to interpret and fully understand this Velvet Underground film tribute.

 

I learned that Reed took listeners of his songs on unsettling journeys that detailed his drug use or the electro-shock therapy that his parents put him through. Reed always said he thought his parents made him undergo the shocking (no pun intended) therapy to “cure” him of what might have been his homosexuality. One source says he lived with a trans-sexual individual for three years, but he was also married three times, so I’m not sure if the homosexuality was a correct diagnosis—maybe pan-sexual?— but he was definitely a drug addict and an alcoholic for much of his life and wrote about it in songs like “Heroin.”

 

There was a story told of a falling out between Reed and one of his biggest supporters, David Bowie, who told Reed he was going to have to straighten himself out. Lou had gone on a tour of England and was so strung out that he never took the stage, causing the promoters to hire Ike & Tina Turner to fill his spot. There was talk of Reed, himself, finally deciding to quit using drugs in about 1979. He had contracted hepatitis early in the years of his intravenous drug use and he died shortly after a liver transplant in 2013, living less than 6 months after that treatment.

 

But if Lou Reed—the band’s lead vocalist and its most successful member—is gone, we have John Cale telling us of the years when Andy Warhol was the band’s manager (1966) and pictures from Andy’s work would be projected onto the stage behind the band. Warhol had decided the Velvet Underground would be the Factory’s “house band.” The band toured wearing dark sunglasses because there were so many things happening onstage at times, including impromptu composing of songs  in a sort of improvisational music fashion, and so much happening with lights, etc.. that the sunglasses were to help the band.

 

The female drummer of the Velvet Underground, Maureen “Mo” Tucker, didn’t like cymbals and stood up to play drums in a sort of tom-tom fashion. She is also featured on the documentary talking about her time with the band. Angus MacLise was the drummer and then Moe Tucker in 1965. The band reunited in 1993 and for their 1996 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were primarily done as an entity by 1970.

 

Various voices tell us that they had to change their name a lot “because we were bad” and that “With Lou we were going to blaze a trail, which we eventually did.” One woman even gives an impromptu dance of “The Ostrich,” which Reed wrote as a satire on the ridiculous dance tunes of the day, like the Monkey.

 

Reed, himself, was described as insecure and angry. Shelley Corwin said he was “angry at people for rejecting him,” which seemed odd, since he was always seen as Mr. Cool and managed to keep a career going even after associates like Tony Conrad tell us, in the documentary, “Lou was always falling down, was sick, and had to be raced to the hospital numerous times.”

 

A large part of the documentary shows how Andy Warhol’s P.R. “juice” would have helped them to succeed, and Andy decided that Nico—a gorgeous blonde—would sing. She couldn’t really sing all that well, so it was short-lived, but she was certainly very pretty and would draw a crowd. (She had a bit part in “La Dolce Vita” as one of the girls behind Anita Eckberg in that Italian film.)

 

Talking heads like Jackson Browne and John Waters pass judgment on the Velvet Underground and Lou is quoted as saying, of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” “That’s what I wanted to do, except with a drum and a guitar.”

 

I was at a poetry reading at Berkeley once where Allen Ginsberg came out, sat on the floor with finger cymbals, and mumbled incoherently. He was so stoned that they finally had to go get the janitor to physically carry him off-stage. And th-th-th-that’s entertainment, Folks! Reminds me of the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ginsberg’s was being wasted that night in the summer of 1965, and Lou Reed’s talent was wasted for many years until he decided to depart from the Velvet Underground and clean up his personal act.  They never “shocked the gayness out of him,” but whatever measure of gayness he possessed seems to have been mixed with a fair amount of heterosexuality, as well. [Remember: in those days, you could get 20 years in prison for being gay. It was not embraced by society.]

 

I enjoyed the old clips of Bo Diddly and Mick Jagger, the pictures or film of Andy Warhol and his coterie of avant garde followers.

 

I was less impressed by drummer Maureen Tucker or the viola-playing John Cale, original members of the band.

 

I enjoyed reading the story of a band member (Angus MacLise?) who never showed up on time for practices and/or appearances. Once, he showed up half an hour late for a performance, so, after everyone else had quit playing, he stayed onstage and played solo for half an hour to make up for his lateness.

 

Obviously, these disparate personalities—Reed’s included—were quirky and different and, yes, creative.  All contributed to the assessment that the Velvet Underground, as Todd Haynes’ documentary testifies, was “One of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental and alternative music.”

 

I was hopelessly square (apparently) and from Iowa and preferred the Beatles (seen “live” at the San Francisco Cow Palace in 1965) and James Brown and the Famous Flames (seen “live” in Paris in 1967) and seem to have learned what little I knew about Lou Reed and friends from David Letterman and from research done for this documentary.

 

If you’re a big Velvet Underground fan you’re going to probably be older than I am old, which, since I’ve been reviewing non-stop since 1970, means you are not “young.” To follow John Cale’s “Velvet Underground” you had to like often discordant sounds presented as “music,” but, hey! To each his (or her) own. You’ll love this slice of sixties Americana if you were “in” to the Velvet Underground’s music way back when. It’s easy to see the genesis of Bob Dylan, MTV, music videos and so many other staples of today’s music scene.

 How many Velvet Underground fans remain in 2021? Judging from the rave reviews at Cannes (and elsewhere), more than you’d think.

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