THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Skinny and Fatty (*****)

Blast from the past of "The CBS Children's Film Festival"

Skinny and Fatty (Chibideka monogatari)
Directed by N. Terao; written by Mitsuo Wakasugi and Seiya Yoshida
Cast: H. Sha (Kenkichi Komatsu), Y. Kataoke (Yuso Oyama)
(Japan, 1958, 46 minutes)
Watch entire film

Thanks go to Video Americain manager Scott Wallace Brown for tracking down a DVD-R version of this beloved chestnut from bygone days. Skinny and Fatty was easily my favorite movie from the CBS Children's Film Festival series, a 1967 television series hosted by the puppets 'n' puppeteer team of Kookla, Fran & Ollie. This 1958 children's film tells the story of chubby new-kid-in-school Oyama ("Fatty"), who is teased and ostracized until befriended by popular schoolmate Komatsu ("Skinny"), who shows him that he has to believe in himself and always try to do his best - even if he fails.

Skinny (Komatsu) and Fatty (Oyama)

Komatsu's attempt to help Oyama master the rope climb in gym class is particularly poignant, though not exactly tear-inducing this time around, viewing it 40 some years later.

Give 'em enough rope: "Don't quit!" Skinny implores Fatty

Like any good Baby Boomer, I was reared on KFO during the latter end of their original 1947-1957 run on NBC and ABC, probably first watching them in syndication in the early '60s (my childhood memory timeline really didn't start until JFK's assassination in November 1963 when I was 6 years old). But I really started to appreciate them when they moved to CBS to host this series featuring "films from all over the world especially for kids."

Behaving parents can watch, too!

As hosted by the "Kuklapolitan Players" - puppets Kukla ("doll" in Russian) and Ollie (aka Oliver J. Dragon), created and performed by Burr Tillstrom, and Fran Allison ( who had been working together as early as 1948, with the original puppet pair appearing even earlier in 1939) - this hour-long program featured dubbed, edited versions of foreign films that were suitable for children. And that's what made it so special to the pre-Globalization know-nothing nudniks of my generation, raised as we were on a map of the world that still listed almost half of Africa as "West French Africa."

The Puppeteer Team: Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison

The Kuklapolitan Players: Kookla, Ollie and Fran Allison

Sure, I was in elementary school by then, but I've always been visually oriented, and maps and books and National Geographic magazines were no substitute for seeing live-action kids from all over the globe eating, playing and studying in their native lands - kids who didn't look like me and who seemed to dress funny and eat weird stuff. I can safely say that everything I learned about foreign lands and cultures really started here (just as my friend Dave Cawley's lifelong fascination/obsession with All Things Japanese began with his exposure to '60s TV imports like Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Astroboy, Marine Boy, Gigantor, Tobor the 8th Man,and Speed Racer); in fact, Skinny and Fatty was probably the first foreign film I ever saw, and certainly the first Japanese movie. (And this is probably where we all first saw The Red Balloon, a film everyone from my generation knows!)

Two things I noticed right off the bat watching the film again was how trend-setting Japanese school kids were, toting their books around in little messenger bags that today have become, along with mp3 players and cell phones, de rigeur accessories for all young people. The other was a scene where Fatty tries to squeeze through a fence to catch up to Skinny, but gets stuck, to comic effect. The very same scene would be reenacted years later by Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and his pudgy pal Larry Mondello in American TV's Leave It To Beaver program. I also noticed, in the scene where Komatsu's family is moving to a new home, that the Japanese pack their belongings in straw, instead of boxes. So many little, incidental details - the taking off of shoes when the children visit one another's houses; the everyday tea ceremonies; the communal bathing in which two unrelated boys cleanse each other - unfold in the film's 45 minutes to be stored away in viewer's cross-cultural memories. The film also touched lightly on the class system, for while the two boys may attend the same school, the well-fed Oyama is obviously from a wealthy family, while Komatsu's family is poor and must move away at picture's end to find work in the far-away mountain region.

The film uses athletic achievement as a narrative arc to show how Oyama's growing confidence under Komatsu's friendship and tutelege helps him achieve newfound popularity and belief in himself. At first, Oyama humiliates himself climbing the rope, but by year's end he is able to team up with his skinny friend to win accolades at the annual sports and games competition festival.

When Oyama pouts "I can't!"...

Komatsu says "Just do it, Oyama!"

The following clip highlights Oyama's progression from failure to success in competitive sports.

And, as the blogger at everydayfamily.com observed, not only does Komatsu teach Oyama the values of courage, friendship, self-pride and risk along the way, but "with the subject of bullying so up front these days, Skinny and Fatty addresses the issue with subtly and beauty."

By film's end, Oyama has learned to stand on his own two feet and runs to the hills to shout his thanks to his friend who's now physically far away but still near and dear to his heart.

The Climatic Finale: "Komatsu! Thank you!"

According to Pop-Cult.com, "The CBS Children's Film Festival was an hour-long program appearing sporadically beginning in 1967, until it joined the early-Saturday- afteroon schedule in 1971...The show ran in this format until 1977, when it was reduced to the half-hour CBS Saturday Film Festival, without the charming hosts. It continued to air irregularly until 1984."

(Trivial aside: Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson cited the CBS Children's Film Festival as one of his inspirations for creating the concept of MST. "It was just one of those shows from my childhood that prepared me for fully appreciating the greatness of MST in the future. You got to see a lot of goofy films from other lands." Even the framework - with a human host and two non-human sidekicks (with MST's Crow and Tom Servo filling in for Kukla and Ollie) introducing the films and then later talking about them and performing little skits - was similar to MST.)

Pop-Cult.com and other sites believe the titles that follow represent a complete listing of all of the films and programs shown during the Film Festival's run:

Adventure in Golden Bay - Czech, 1956
Adventure in the Hopfields - British, 1954
The Angel and Big Joe - American, 1975
Anoop and the Elephant - British, 1972
Bag on Bag - Russian, ?
A Bird of Africa - Japanese, ?
Birds Come Flying To Us - Bulgarian, 1971
Black Mountain - Soviet, 1970
The Blind Bird - Soviet, 1963
The Boy and the Airplane - ?
The Boy Who Wore Spectacles - Soviet, ?
The Boy With Glasses - Japanese, 1962
Bunnie - Polish, 1973
The Camerons - Australian, 1974
Captain Korda - Czech, 1970
Captain Mikula, the Kid - Yugoslavian, 1974
Charlie the Rascal - Swedish, ?
Chipmates - British, ?
The Chiffy Kids - British, 1976
Circus Adventure - Dutch, ?
Circus Angel - French, 1965
Clown - Spanish, 1969
Cold Pizza - Canadian, 1972
Countdown to Danger - British, 1967
Cry Wolf - British, 1968
Carole, I Love You - French, ?
Danger Point - British, 1971
Death of a Gaudy Dancer - Canadian, ?
Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World - British, 1973
Doggie and Three - Czech, 1955
Egghead's Robot - British, 1970
Elephant River - Ceylon, 1956
Felipa: North of the Border - American, 1971
The Firefighters - British, 1975
Flash the Sheepdog - British, 1966
Flay Away Dove - American, 1982
The Flying Sorcerer - British, 1973
For Boys Only is For Girls, Too - Czech, ?
A Friend - Italian, 1967
Friend or Foe - British, ?
Friends For Life - Soviet, 1971
Funny Stories - Soviet, 1962
Geronimo Jones - American, 1970
Get Used To It - ?
Ghost of a Chance - British, 1968
Giamador - ?
The Giant Eel - Czech, 1971
The Goalkeeper Also Lives on Our Street - Czech, 1957
The Golden Fish - French, 1959
Gosha the Bear - Soviet, 1971
Hand in Hand - British, 1960
Headline Hunters - British, 1967
Heidi - German/Austrian, 1965
Joey - American, 1964?
John and Julie - British, 1954
The Johnstown Monster - British, 1971
Jumping Over Puddles - Czech, 1970
The Legend of John Henry - ?
The Legend of Paul Bunyon - ?
Lionheart - British, 1968
The Little Bearkeepers - Czech, 1957
The Little Ones - British, 1965
Little Pig - Chinese, ?
The Little Wooden Horse - ?
Lone Wolf - Yugoslavian, 1972
Lost in Pajamas - Czech, 1966
Lucy and the Miracles - Czech, 1970
The Magnificent 6-1/2 - British, 1967
Mauro the Gypsy - British, ?
Me and You, Kangaroo - Australian, 1974
A Member of the Family - British, 1971
Miguel's Navidad - Mexico, ? Miguel: Up From Puerto Rico - American, 1970
Mischief - British, 1968
Mr . Horatio Knibbles - British, 1971
My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson - Jamaican, ?
My Main Man - ?
Nikkolina - Canadian, ?
Nina and the Street Kids - Swedish, ?
Nunu and the Zebra - South African, ?
On Snow White - Czech, 1972
The Orange Watering Cart - Hungarian, ?
Paddle to the Sea - Canadian, 1966
Paganini Strikes Again - British, 1974
Pero and His Companions - ?
The Promise - ?
The Ransome of Red Chief - Soviet, 1963
The Red Balloon - French, 1956
Soapbox Derby - Canadian, ?
Scramble - British, 1969
A Seafaring Dog - Soviet, ?
The Secret - ?
The Seven Ravens - German, 1937
Shok and Sher - Soviet, ?
Shopping Bag Lady - American, 1975
The Show Must Go On - Soviet, ?
Six Bears and a Clown - Czech, 1972
Sirius - Czech, 1974
Skinny and Fatty - Japanese, 1959
Stowaway in the Sky - French, 1959
Strange Holiday - Australian, 1969
That's My Name, Don't Wear it Out - British, ?
Three Nuts for Cinderella - Czech, 1973
Thunderstorm - French, ?
Ticko - Swedish, ?
Tiko and the Shark - Italian/French, 1965
Tjorven, Batsman, and Moses - Swedish, 1964
Tony and the Tick-Tock Dragon - Hungarian, ?
Turniphead - Italian, 1965
Tymancha's Friend - Soviet, 1970
Up in the Air - British, 1969
The Violin - Canadian, 1974
What Next? - British, 1974
Where's Johnny? - British, 1974
White Mane - Frenche, 1952
Winter of the Witch - British, 1969
The Yellow Slippers - Polish, 1961

The best site for detailed information about these films, as well as sample video clips, is the Kuklapolitan Website's CBS Children's Film Festival page at kukla.tv/cbs.html.

Watch "Skinny and Fatty" in its entirety (46:32)

Related links:
CBS Children's Film Festival (The Kuklapolitan Website)
CBS Children's Film Festival film listings (Pop-cult.com)
CBS Children's Film Festival (Wikipedia)
1967 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)
1972 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Michael Dane Star Traveler & the Black Velvet Express

Black Velvet Express
Where the Stars Kiss the Moon
(Flower Records, 2010)

Dane Williams: Vocals, acoustic/electric/slide guitars, Ebow
Michael Fiore: Acoustic/electric guitars
Gerard Moore: Bass guitar
Brian Hughes: Drums, percussion
Glenn Workman: Piano, keyboards

Artwork: Ron Komber
"There once was a note, pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by. There once was a note - listen!" - Pete Townshend, "Pure and Easy"

Black Velvet Express' Michael Dane, Star Traveler is a concept album about the sci-fi adventures of the semi-fictional space-age explorer "Michael Dane" and his quest to bring peace to the universe through the power of music ("the Notes"). I say "semi-fictional" because Michael Dane is actually a conflation of the first names of BVE guitarists Michael Fiore and his longtime friend (and fellow sci-fi enthusiast) Dane Williams, who composed this musical soundtrack to compliment an original story written by Mike Fiore.

BVE's Dane Williams and Michael Fiore

Where the Stars Kiss the Moon came about, Fiore explains, "When I sat down late one night to write a song about one of my favorite sci-fi movies, Forbidden Planet." (The film is one of my personal faves as well, featuring one of the most unusual and sought-after electronic soundtracks of all time.) That song, "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," became the title track for the subsequent CD.

Fiore film fave: Forbidden Planet (1956)

For years his pal Dane Williams - who Fiore met when Dane came to Baltimore to become part of a group called Voices, a concept band consisting of musicians from surrounding cities on the East Coast - had been saying that they should do a CD together and, after writing "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," Fiore thought he had just the right project. A photographer friend suggested that Mike create an alter ego for the name of the band and call it "Michael Dane." Though Fiore had already settled on Black Velvet Express as the band name, he kept the idea in mind when he decided to write a sci-fi story (dedicated to his "beautiful wife Deborah," his family, and friends) to go along with his song. (The BVE CD contains a free digital copy of the story, which can also be viewed at BlackVelvetExpress.com.) More songs came - all written by Fiore save the Fiore-Williams collaboration "Lullaby Dream" - and thus the song "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" and the story "Michael Dane Star Traveler" became a collaborative project between two friends, as well as a concept CD.

Michael Dane's ancestor: Ziggy Stardust

If the idea of a space-rock concept album makes your memory harken back to David Bowie's breakthrough 1972 album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, rest assured - it's no mistake. You see, Fiore and Williams wear their glam rock and melodic Anglo-pop influences on their sleeves, citing Bowie, T Rex, Mott the Hoople, Badfinger, Kinks, Stones, Faces and especially The Beatles (the "four Liverpool lads" name-checked in Fiore's tale as keepers of "The Notes" that once created worldwide peace and harmony) as guiding lights and mentors. "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon," which appears twice on the CD (in electric and acoustic versions), is as anthemic a song as Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and its intrepid-but-lonely protagonist Michael Dane recalls the lost-in-space travails of Major Tom "floating in his tin can" in Bowie's "Space Oddity." (Michael Dane even travels with his three dogs, though no mention is made whether, like Bowie's, they are Diamond Dogs.)

Ground Control to Michael Dane (illustration by Ron Komber)

In fact, from the very first note of this (literally) fantastic song, one cannot escape the comparison to Bowie's Ziggy-era sound. The guitar tunings (both acoustic and electric) evoke none other than Mick Ronson...and the pace, the engineering, the production - it all seems like a time capsule from 1972! (And to this glam rock fan, that's a very good thing!) But the CD cover (and accompanying liner note and story illustrations) evoke an even earlier era, with Ron Komber's artwork recalling '40s and '50s sci-fi pulp covers (thematically more in tune with Fiore's original inspiration, 1956's Forbidden Planet).

Ron Komber's pulpish cover art

Okay, let's just to back-pedal a bit...all the way back to the '80s. You see, I hadn't kept up with Mike Fiore (shown below) since the days when he drummed for The Accused, an early '80s New Wave outfit that regularly headlined at The Marble Bar and Baltimore area clubs.

Michael Fiore circa 1980

Under leader David Cawkwell, The Accused were kind of a big deal at the time and were one of the few bands playing the Marble Bar circuit that actually released a record, 1980's acclaimed 4-song EP on E.S.P (shown below).

"The Accused" EP. Clockwise from L-R: Mark Morgan, Kraig Krixer, Mike Fiore, David Cawkwell

Sometime around 1983-1984, I worked with Accused bass player Mark Morgan (who's now a professional photographer) at the Music Liberated record store he managed in the basement of the old Towson Center Mall (where other musicians, like Montgomery Clift-lookalike Mark Renner of Boys In the River, also worked - Mike Fiore may also have worked for Music Liberated at their North Plaza or Saratoga Street locations, but I just can't remember through the lazy haze of memory lapse); that was really the last time I thought about the Accused until the unfortunate passing of original Accused guitarist Kraig Krixer in January of this year.

Batter Up: Kraig Krixer Memorial Mixer pixers

At the memorial get-together that followed Kraig's death, countless friends and musicians who played with him turned up at Perry Hall's Batter's Box on Belair Road (Krixer's favorite watering hole) to pay their respects, including his former bandmates David Cawkwell and Mike Fiore (seen below).

David Cawkwell and Mike Fiore @ Kraig Krixer Memorial

Through the wonder of Facebook, I kept in touch with Mike and he sent me a copy of Where the Star Kiss the Moon to see what I thought. I was surprised to see he wasn't listed as the drummer, but as the guitarist - and that he's pretty good! Who knew? In fact, the whole CD is top-drawer and professionally recorded (kudos to Jason George of Towson's Nice Package Productions). Along with Dane Williams' fluid lead vocals, twin guitar strummers "Michael Dane" are amply supplemented by journeyman area musician Glen Workman (Crack the Sky, Howard Markman)'s atmospheric, ethereal keyboards, Brian Hughes' crisp percussion and Gerard Moore's rock-steady bass backing.

The Songs:

1. Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (M. Fiore)
"Push the button, open the door/Yeah, I know what you're looking for
You've come to this forbidden place/Out here in deep dark space
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon

Please don't take my love from me/It's all I have, can't you see?
There's a monster inside my head/You can't hide in your silver sled
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon

It's been such a long, long time/All alone inside my mind
Way down here in deep dark space/You must leave this forbidden place
I'll be waiting here for you/Where the stars kiss the moon"

The inspiration behind this song is clear in the line "There's a monster in my mind" for it recalls the "alien monster of the mind" hatched from Dr. Morbius' subconscious that wiped out all life on planet Altair IV in the film Forbidden Planet (itself a sci-fi rumination on Shakespeare's play The Tempest).

"There's a monster in my mind..."

This is a lovely song that deserves to be reprised (which it is later on track 5). And I love the crisp electric guitar solo in the middle eight that is like a restrained Ronson riff.

2. Simple Love Song (M. Fiore)
This mid-tempo rocker with the boss backbeat and plentiful guitar soloing caught my girlfriend's immediate fancy; when she heard me listening to the CD, she asked "Who's this?" When I told her, she replied, "It's really good - I can move my hips to this!" She added she could probably hoop her way through a low-impact aerobics workout to the record!

3. Distant Lights (M. Fiore)
"Running away in the dark/Always afraid of getting lost"

Glenn Workman's keyboards are put to their most effective use on the lilting "Distant Lights" while the standout sitar-ish guitar motif recalls session man Reggie Young's sitar solo in B. J. Thomas' hit "Hooked On a Feeling"! (Oh, in case you're wondering, Young - who worked with Elvis and a long line of country artists, including The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson) - also played the sitar solo on The Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby").

4. When Heaven Comes (M. Fiore)
"When Heaven comes, it's gonna come hard - Bang! Bang! Baby, bang bang!" A straight-ahead 4/4-on-the-floor rocker, and my choice for the "hit single." If "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" is BVE's "Ziggy Stardust," then "When Heaven Comes" is the album's "Suffragette City."

5. Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (acoustic) (M. Fiore)
Reprised because it works just as well acoustically..a slower tempo, more mellow, more reflective feel. Just as "Rock and Roll Suicide" is the calm-after-the-storm following the rock-out of "Suffragette City"'s on Ziggy.

Watch "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic)" (YouTube)

Watch "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" (Acoustic Demo version)" (YouTube)

6. Lullaby Dream
This guitars-only instrumental closes out the song cycle on a peaceful, uplifting note. I like how the guitars interplay and play tag with one another...the second guitar motif reminds me of the start of the Big Star song, "Watch the Sunrise" (from 1972's #1 Record) and I almost expected to hear the ghost voice of Alex Chilton chiming in.

And thus ends the song cycle - and Michael Dane Star Traveler adventure - that is Where the Stars Kiss the Moon.

Be sure to check out BVE's web site (www.BlackVelvetExpress.com), which allows fans to view the lyrics and register for a free cover art print, view the lyrics. The website also provides song samples and the ability to purchase the EP thru CdBaby.com., iTunes Rhapsody, and other digital distributors.

Finally, BVE's web site concludes: We hope that people, dogs and aliens get as big a “Bang Baby” out of this release as we had making it. Join us and take a star filled journey through the “Distant Lights.”


Black Velvet Express Videos:
"Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic)" (YouTube)

"Where the Stars Kiss the Moon (Acoustic Demo)" (Charles Funk Video)


Other reviews:
"... I love the throbbing groove and spooky slide ... It sounds as if a hybrid of 60’s San Franciso Ballroom Rock and some Pre-Punk Snarl from NYC was tossed into a Spin Cycle with 70’s London Glam..." - Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Magazine

Where The Stars Kiss The Moon is an excellent concept EP/album containing several alternative rock/pop gems. The opening title track is a song of real beauty, a moving story about love and loss "out here in deep, dark space." Based on the classic 1956 Sci-Fi movie Forbidden Planet, it's a perfect marriage of lyrics and music with a haunting melody you won't forget (love the eerie intro!) It's later reprised as an acoustic version with an equally haunting sound and feel. If you love Bowie's "Space Oddity," you should love this one, too.

"Simple Love Song" and "When Heaven Comes" are straight-ahead rockers with blistering guitar solos, throbbing bass lines and pounding drums ("Heaven," especially, has a fierce, driving intensity) while "Distant Lights" has a darker and more pensive mood and feel to it (love the new intro and arrangement on this one, along with the eastern-flavored sitar-like solo).

"Lullaby Dream" is the closing track. It's an instrumental using guitars only which shift back and forth between G and D major, with layered chordal harmonies and a clean, sparkling solo - a pretty gem of a song with an uplifting vibe - a good note to end things on.
- heliumbound


Related Links:
Black Velvet Express (Official site)
Black Velvet Express (Facebook)
Black Velvet Express (MySpace)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

50 Documentaries To See Before You Die

"In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director." - Alfred Hitchcock

I taped the first two episodes (and watched the second one) of this five-part series on Current TV (it debuted August 2, 2011) that's hosted by affable documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). While there may be a conflict of interest that Current TV boss Al Gore's doc An Inconvenient Truth is one of the nifty fifty (not to mention Spurlock's Super Size Me!), I certainly won't quibble. The series limits itself to documentaries made over the past 25 years, so you won't see Nanook of the North (1922), Salesman (1968) or Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) here - and that's fine, too. A line has to be drawn somewhere, especially for those of us who either suffer from ADD or who know Marc Sober (who, if he's reading this, is probably compiling his list of 500 documentaries to see before you die!). And Morgan Spurlock is just the sort of contempo figurehead to make this sort of program not only informative, but fun.

I like the framing device for the series, which has Spurlock traveling around the country to the towns and locales where the films or filmmakers are situated. In addition to showing highlight clips from each documentary, the directors and/or a panel of "experts" (fellow filmmakers, critics, pundits) offer commentary on the selected films. An added bonus is having Spurlock, in some cases, perform some "Where are they now?" follow-ups with some of the principles involved, such 13-year-old evangelist preacher-in-the-making Levi of Jesus Camp (2006), now 18 and with a full-on hipster goatee. Spurlock asks Levi the question we've all been waiting for: has he finally seen the Harry Potter movies his Christian ministry mentor Becky Fischer once branded as "Satanic"? The answer: Yes! "Those are great movies!" Levi enthuses. And Spurlock even pays a visit to meet Billy Mitchell, the "villain" of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), at his video arcade; we learn Billy still has his "rebellious redneck" long hair and still hasn't seen the movie. Oh, and that he'd rather be Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker any day!

Spoiler alert! A quick Web search determined that the following films will be highlighted in what has been billed as Season 1 of this series (which promises that there will be more titles in seasons to come - yea!). I've only seen 20 of the titles listed here, so I've got some catching up to do!

•An Inconvenient Truth
•Biggie and Tupac
•Brother's Keeper
•Bus 174
•Capturing the Friedmans
•The Decline of Western Civilization
•Dogtown and Z-Boys
•Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
•Exit Through the Gift Shop
•The Eyes of Tammy Faye
•Fahrenheit 9/11
•Grizzly Man
•Hoop Dreams
•Inside Job
•Jesus Camp
•Madonna: Truth or Dare
•Man on Wire
•March of the Penguins
•One Day in September
•Paris is Burning
•Roger & Me
•Super Size Me
•Taxi to the Dark Side
•The Kid Stays in the Picture
•The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
•The Thin Blue Line
•Touching the Void
•Waltz with Bashir
•When We Were Kings

I tried to embed some related videos, but Current TV has disabled that feature in YouTube and elsewhere. But here's series producer Tom Barbor-Might discussing how the 50 films were selected: "How the 50 documentaries were selected."

Related Links:
"50 Documentaries" (Current TV)

In the Canyons of Your Mind...

you'll find the origins of Pete Shelley's "Boredom" guitar solo

I'm The Urban Spaceman/The Canyons Of Your Mind
(Oct/Nov 1968 Liberty LBF 15144)

In Mark Lamarr's recent BBC Radio special ("The Buzzcocks Story, Episode 1"), Buzzcocks guitarist Pete Shelley was asked how he came up with his brilliant reductio-ad-absurdum two-note solo in the song "Boredom," which first hit Britain's eardrums on the 'cocks' self-released 1976 Spiral Scratch EP. Pete referenced, of all people, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band! Specifically the song "The Canyons of Your Mind," which was B-side of their biggest chart success, 1968's poppy "Urban Spaceman" single (#5 UK Singles Chart). It later also appeared on the third Bonzos LP, Tadpoles (1969), which was mostly a compilation of tunes they had performed as the house band on the British television comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set.

"Urban Spaceman" was written by Neil Innes (who would later essay the John Lennon role of "Ron Nasty" in The Rutles) and on the flip side "Canyons of Your Mind," Innes himself played the purposely cacophanous, fractured and altogether off-kilter guitar solo (at the 1:08 mark of the three-minute song) that inspired a young Pete Shelley eight years later.

Watch the Bonzos play "Canyons of Your Mind" on British TV.

I never knew that before, and I'm a fan of both the Bonzos and the Buzzcocks! (No doubt, somewhere in cyberspace Bonzos buff Scott Wallace Brown of Video Americain is making tisk-tisk-tisk sounds and shaking his head at my folly as he reads this!)

Here's a 1980 live clip of Shelley playing "Boredom" for comparison purposes.

And be sure to check out Mark Lamarr's great two-part BBC 6 radio interview with all the Buzzcocks and principles:
The Buzzcocks Story - Episode 1
The Buzzcocks Story - Episode 2

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011 Natty Boh Film Festival

Saturday, July 30 2011 @ Fraziers on the Avenue
919 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD. (410) 662-4914
fraziersonthe avenue.com

The inaugural 2011 Natty Boh Film Festival was held this past Saturday night at Fraziers on The Avenue in Hampden and featured 16mm prints of vintage Natty Boh commercials (courtesy of Sam Fitzsimmons) - not to mention some Natty Boh DVD rarities from Atomic TV and the excellent documentary Mr. Boh's Brewery by Alex Castro, Harry Connelly and Lyle Hein - as well as live music about Natty Boh (and other quality-of-life essentials in the Land of Pleasant Living) by The Motor Morons, TT Tucker, The Beatoes (a special reunion for the former Baltimore eccentrics whose leader Chris Dennstaedt now resides up I-95 in Philadelphia), Mongolodian Glow, and some related songs by guest artists (at least I suppose so - I wasn't able to hang around for the full night's festivities because my girlfriend Amy had to get up at 5 in the morning for work!).

Although many troubadours took the stage on this night, I didn't hear anybody sing my favorite vintage jingle, the one once belted out in a Boh ad by a cartoon Lord Baltimore: “National Beer, National Beer, you’ll like the taste of National beer.” Though most people associate National Bohemian with the one-eyed Mr. Boh, there was a whole cast of characters in the Land of Pleasant Living and they were all given a shout-out in this song: “There’s Chincoteague oysters and crabs and clams, and fried chicken and Virginia hams, and while we’re singing, we’re proud to say, it’s brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Likewise there was quite a cast of local characters on hand for the evening's festivities because in the Land of Pleasant Living and National Beer, "good things happen when you put the two together." I spotted Skizz Cyzyk, Bob Wagner, Teresa Dugan, Liz Abeth, John Ellsberry and even Ellsberry's erstwhile Dork Brothers (and former City Paper and New York Press art director) pal Michael Gentile, who was back in town from NYC for the occasion.

DORK BROS: John Ellsberry and Michael Gentile

But before the films came the tunes...

Down the Beatoe Path: Chris D. Returns to Charm City

The Beatoes open their tab at the Natty Boh Film Festival

First up were The Beatoes, featuring Chris Dennstaedt (Poverty & Spit) on guitar and vocals...

Chris Dennstaedt

...Charleigh Chadwick (The Livers, Pornflakes) on guitar...

Charleigh sez: "Love my Good 'n' Plenty!"

...Chris "Batworth" Ciattei (Go Pills, etc.) on drums and Mike Kiker (of Philly's St. James and the Apostles) on bass.

I really liked Chris D.'s t-shirt that said "Big Man Music," a reference to his dearly departed friend (and former Beatoe) Mark Harp (Mark "Harpo" Linthicum); my girlfriend Amy Linthicum (Mark Harp's former wife) certainly got a "big" kick out of it as well!

Big Man musician Chris and little music lover Amy

It was the first of two shout-outs this night to The King of Peru (who passed away before his time in 2004), as Sam Fitzsimmons ended his Motor Morons set by crying out his name and holding up Mark's guitar. It made sense on this night of remembrance of good things past, for Harp was every bit a part of Baltimore lore and legend as Mr. Boh (whose namesake libation is now brewed out of town by Pabst).

The Beatoes opened with "Beer Drinkin' Woman," an obvious homage to Mrs. Boh, aka "Natalie Boh" (doh! - if only Amy had remembered to wear her Natalie Boh t-shirt this night!).

Mrs. Boh: Beer Drinkin' Woman

Watch the Beatoes play "Beer Drinkin' Woman."

Next up was "Polyester" and "12-Bar Blooze" and probably some other tunes I should know (but the sound mix at Fraziers was a little, how should I say, funky?).

Watch the Beatoes play "Polyester" and "12-Bar Blooze."

Anyway, following are some Beatoes pix I took before running to the back bar for a Boh (oddly priced at $2.20 a can - obviously feeling the effect of the new city beverage tax hike). Oh, I also made a quick stop in the Men's Room, where I had to agree with this thought-provoking graffiti:

OK, back to the Beatoes...

"Hey Charleigh, how do ya hold this stringy thing???"

"Like this???"

"How about like this???"

"I see...ya lift it upright like this!" Chris D. says as a disgusted Charleigh Chadwick turns his back on him

"I see - you sling this thing over your hips!"

"Got it! Under control now! Ready to rock!"

"I'm so happy to be here, I'm glowing!" Chris effuses.

"Is it just me, or did someone turn on the infra-red light? We really must be cooking tonight!"

On with the Boh Show

And now for a word from our sponsors...

After the Beatoes finished their set and broke down their gear, a big screen was set up and the film screening started. Although there were some technical difficulties with the 16mm films that came from Motor Morons bassist Sam Fitzsimmons' private collection (the projectors were provided by Hampden's own audio-visual specialists, the Falkenhan's Audio Visual Service over on 34th and Chestnut Avenue), everyone enjoyed the vintage National Bohemian commercials that were screened.

The Fraziers crowd is mesmerized by the Natty Boh films

"Hey, we're turning black and white like these Natty Boh ads!" Skizz observes, while Amy quips "In that case, I hope Liz and I turn into animated dancing clam shells - though I'd be tempted to eat myself!"

As a backup, someone called former Senator Theatre owner (and current candidate for Baltimore City Council President) Tom Kiefaber to give a hand with the the screening, and Tom brought along a DVD of ads taken from the Atomic TV public access television show's "Atomic Cocktail Hours" episode as well as from the Mr. Boh's Brewery documentary - some of which I had never seen (like the French chef cartoon with Frenchy serving Mr Boh the "wet, cold and delicious" brew from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, a Preakness Stakes Boh ad, and the dancing clamshells of Maryland's capital, "Clamapolis"!).

I hope the Natty Boh documentary becomes available soon on DVD, because it promises to be chock-full of "extra feature" goodies like these vintage ads (the film transfers look beautiful!). Until then, this Atomic TV sampler will have to suffice:

Watch ATV's "Classic Natty Boh TV Commercials."

The Motor Morons

Next up were The Motor Morons - Jeff Bridges lookalike Sam Fitzsimmons on bass and vocals, "Wild Bill" Hagy lookalike Craig Stitchcombe (Judie's Fixation) on the skins, TT Tucker (Tom DiVenti, whose Baltimoronic pedigree goes back to late '70s punk rockers Da Moronics) on the guitar, Fred Collins on machines and vocals, Blade on vox and firestarter device (?) - who took to the stage in pitch darkness, all the better for the sparks to (literally) fly during their incendiary metallic K.O. set! Though the Morons have played just about every venue in Charm City over their long existence, I've most associated them with the annual SoWeBo Festival, where they've been absent the last several years; so it was good to see them back in a setting where their genius was once again fully appreciated.

Motor Morons make merry metallic music mayhem!

The Morons opened with "Another Girl."

Watch Motor Morons play "All You Want Is Another Girl."

I'm not as adept as Amy when it comes to discerning which Motor Moron song is which, but I'm pretty sure I heard "Urinal Cakes" and "No Brakes" in there, and probably "Big Truck."

Watch Motor Morons make more music mayhem.

Following are some Motor Moron pix I took.

Unfortunately, the Morons set was the last tune-age we would hear for the evening, as Amy had to get up early the next morning. But I'm glad Amy was there to hear Sam Fitzsimmons bid adieu to former Motor Moron Mark Harp (circa 1998-2004), holding up Harpo's 4-string guitar as he shouted "Mark Harp!"

Watch Motor Morons say goodnight @ Fraziers.

On the way out, we ran into Amy's friend Robyn Webb, who was playing pool in the adjacent room. We exchanged chit-chat about spotted dick and mushy pees - er, peas - since we all love British pub food (though Amy and I didn't discover spotted dick until we "spotted" it next to a packet of Asian "Cock Soup" in the Dundalk Giant's International food isle).

A blurry Robyn Webb and Amy Linthicum say goodnight as my camera battery runs out

What a fun night! But I have a question for the folks at Fraziers: since former milltown Hampden is becoming increasingly upscale and well-heeled, can we expect a National Premium Film Festival anytime soon? It was the "classy" beer of choice in this town for many years. Expensive? Yes. Extravagant? No.

Related Links:
Natty Boh Film Festival set on Flickr
Natty Boh Documentary
"Boh & Utz: A Love Story" (Smythe ad)
Atomic TV's "Classic Natty Boh Commercials"