Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ain't It Marvellous!


EUC 100C – John Lennon's "Lost" White 1965 Phantom V Comes Out Of Hiding To Receive Honors From The International Rolls-Royce Community!
Guest blogger Eric Roberts reports
EUC 100C parked outside the Madingley Club, Twickenham, April 9, 1969
EUC 100C in the grounds of Burghley House, Stamford. Jody Klein
with Alan Hobbs and Johan Vanden Bergh, chairman of the RREC.
26 June 2016
Click on photos to enlarge

At last, after an absence of three decades, one of Rock 'n' Roll's most famous limousines has been immaculately and expensively restored by its current owner, Jody Klein, head of ABKCO Music and Records.

The majestic 1965 Phantom V, chassis number 5VD63, was revealed and much admired at this year's Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club Annual Rally and Concours d'Elegance in the spectacular grounds of Burghley House in Lincolnshire over the weekend of June 24-26. The event is the largest and most prestigious gathering of Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles anywhere in the world. There could be no more suitable setting for the return of EUC 100C. 

Visitors to the marquee occupied by independent luxury car specialists, Rolls-Royce & Bentley Garages, were given a privileged, close-up viewing of a car that has had a long association with the film and music business. Established in 1984, RR&B Garages is one of only 30 accredited members of the exclusive Rolls-Royce and Bentley Specialists Association. Having garnered numerous awards for their concours restorations over the years, in 2008 the company based in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire was tasked with giving Jody Klein's white Phantom V a full ground up restoration. Under the leadership of senior technician, Alan Hobbs, and founder/managing director of RR&B, Ian Pinder, EUC 100C has been brought back to mint condition in every detail. 

On the last day of the rally at Burghley it was judged best in its category - the S type Cloud class, 1955-66. This was a fitting reward for the owner and his chosen team of automotive experts for their unstinting commitment to saving this historic limousine for posterity.

 
Alan Hobbs at the wheel of EUC 100C after receiving a Best in Class
and red rosette and trophy.
A white shade of pale. No expense was spared in recreating EUC 100C's
unique all white interior as originally specified by John Lennon.
The two chrome grills beneath the quad headlamps conceal twin speakers
linked to a PA system operated from the rear compartment.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dumb and Dumber

Making a list was a Victorian-era parlor game, a way to fill the empty hours, a way to ward off boredom. As I’ve discussed before, there is a Puritanical motive for the making of lists, for the mental activity that determines the selection of a list is perversity (resistance, obstinacy). In other words, when faced with the choice of having something or nothing (even if that something is “just a little,” i.e., the Reality Principle), desire chooses something: perversely--out of necessity--it selects a single object of pleasure out of a vast number of possibilities: the rarified, fetishized object--one object charged with wondrous, excessive meaning. Each element of the set (the list) is like a game piece one must select before the game starts, the game being how to negotiate the operation of pleasure within a highly restricted economy premised on lack. (See the film A Christmas Story.)

If memory serves, lists used to be short. Now, lists are very long and hence have become dumber and dumber: instead of 10 items, for example, one can--perversely--list 11 (apparently some missed the joke in This is Spinal Tap) by using the alibi of the “tie”: two (presumably) rare and singular objects cannot, paradoxically, be sufficiently distinguished. Or, alternatively, you can choose to do what Rolling Stone magazine recently did with its list of the 50 Best Albums of 2015. Since critics do not want time--the final judge--to prove them wrong, their “Best Of” lists get longer and longer as a way to hedge their bets. The “50 Best” list also reveals the extent to which Rolling Stone has developed what might be called a homogeneous “house style,” because while no authorship is attributed to the piece and no single author could have possibly written all 50 entries, the style remains consistent throughout. So much for the critical acumen and perspective of an original, distinctive critic--this is a list by committee. Perhaps this list by committee suggests that with a large stable of writers, you have to keep them all busy, so the solution by the management is to order the list to be very long in order to give them all something to do. Of course, Rolling Stone is no different than any of the other powerful media institutions, which all feel compelled at this time of year to engage in some sort of tremendously dumb historical rundown.


Hence, one cannot avoid the connection between language and power. As Robert Christgau observed about 15 years ago, the idea of a rock canon is a complete absurdity. Still, the notion of a rock canon hangs on, a consequence of the powerful connection between music and memory. As he says, “Canonization is institutional. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a canonizing institution.” What was once a game played by the idle rich has become an instrument of institutional power, and as Christgau indicates, Rolling Stones uses its economic power to enforce a canon—as perverse as it is ludicrous. Once more, all the “Best of” lists being issued this time of year reveal how we live not in an age of axioms (universally accepted truths that are potentially falsifiable), but in an age of aphorisms (statements of personal taste).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Frank Mazzola, 1935 - 2015

Frank with his daughter Francesca
It grieves me to report the sad news that my friend Frank Mazzola, who became one of the most influential film editors of his generation by virtue of his re-edit of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's PERFORMANCE (1970), died on January 13, 2015, at the age of 79. The following obituary was written by Catherine Mazzola. It is a wonderful tribute to a great man.

Frank was born and raised in the heart of Hollywood surrounded by the film business, his father being the first contract player at Fox Studios. Frank worked as a child actor, appearing in such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) starring Charles Laughton, Always in My Heart (1942) with Walter Huston, Casablanca (1942), and Joseph Losey's The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Frank went on to study acting with Stella Adler and Jeff Corey and did theater at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. He was cast in a part of a high school student in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955) before being accepted into the University of Oregon on an athletic scholarship. Frank left Hollywood behind but only briefly.

On a school break, he auditioned for a role and was cast as "Crunch" in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), directed by Nicholas Ray and starring then-unknown James Dean. Because of his reputation from his days in the Hollywood High club, The Athenians, Frank was approached by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, Rebel's producer, to help recreate a reality about rebellious teens from middle class families. Frank was given an office at Warner Brothers, and according to Rolling Stone magazine, "he ended up helping director Nick Ray and screenwriter Stewart Stern shape Rebel into an accurate piece of 1955 sociology." Frank was instrumental in selecting Jimmy's '49 Merc and his famous red jacket, which was not unlike the original Athenian club jackets; and one of the Nick Ray biographies quotes, "...the knife duel between Jim and Buzz (Corey Allen) was staged with the aid of Frank Mazzola." Nick summed it up by signing a Rebel poster with a personal note of thanks, "For Frank Mazzola who helped so much to make the texture of Rebel into a living reality."

Having participated in the creative aspects of production on Rebel, Frank decided to pursue his love of film from behind the camera. Inspired by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, who had edited A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Frank chose editing to learn the process of filmmaking. As an assistant at Universal Studios, he was involved with Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). Following, he assisted at Fox Studios and The Mirish Corp., learning some of his most valuable lessons from working with Ralph E. Winters as the first assistant on Blake Edwards' The Party (1968). After creating artistically beautiful and complicated montages that received excellent reviews, Frank began his career as an editor on films such as Macho Callahan (1970), Stiletto (1969), and a re-edit of La Piscine (1969).

Frank was then sought out by film director Donald Cammell to create montages and re-edit Performance (1970), a film that was sitting on the shelf at Warner Brothers. Frank's work with Donald on Performance (1970) led to the film's release. It went on to receive cult classic status and according to The British Film Institute, "Performance is one of the most extraordinary British films, and arguably the greatest."

Frank's career as an editor excelled from this point forward with films such as Peter Fonda's directorial debut, The Hired Hand (1971), Donald Cammell's Demon Seed (1977), and A Woman Called Moses (1978) starring Cicely Tyson with narration by Orson Welles. The Second Coming of Suzanne (1974), which Frank co-produced and edited, won three of the top ten awards at The Atlanta Film Festival including the gold medal for editing.

Frank loved the artistry and creativity of filmmaking. As Rex Reed wrote in The New York Daily News, "Frank Mazzola, the excellent film editor, has attempted to do something different with film." Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic wrote, "Mazzola has used almost the whole contemporary editing vocabulary." Other reviewers have written that Frank is, "a master craftsman at film editing," he "creates a perfect sense of pacing," and his "montage sequences rate spontaneous audience applause." As quoted from the Stratford Film Festival: "The exhilarating beauty of the color cinematography and visual wizardry of the many montage sequences establish cinematographer Isadore Mankofsky and editor/montage artist Frank Mazzola as two of the world’s finest artists in their respective fields."

In 1999 Frank completed production on restoring and editing a Donald Cammell short, The Argument (1999). Video Watchdog wrote "the film is a surreal gem...abandoned, once lost, now found, The Argument, like the Phoenix, has been reborn." The screening of the short became the catalyst for Tartan Films and London's Channel 4, to join forces with Frank on the restoration of The Director's Cut of Donald Cammell's Wild Side (2000). Following the Wild Side premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Perhaps the most remarkable event of the festival has been Wild Side, the last film by the late Donald Cammell, presented in a radically new director's cut, lovingly prepared by editor and long-time associate Frank Mazzola...Under Mazzola's microsurgery, it emerges as classic cinema..."

In addition to Frank's behind the camera career, he has appeared in numerous documentaries about Donald Cammell and James Dean, most notably Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, the American Masters series, James Dean: Sense Memories and as a special guest on Larry King Live.

Throughout his life and career, Frank remained committed to the dedication of his time and creative energy as an independent force in maintaining film as an art form.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 31st at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation fund has been set up by Frank's oldest daughter at IndiegogoLife/FrankMazzola Memorial Fund. 

https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/frank-mazzola-memorial-fund

With Affection,
Catherine and Francesca

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Elvis at 80

Note: This blog is an amalgam of observations I've made previously, with a few additional remarks added. It seemed appropriate to (re)publish some of these observations given the occasion of Elvis's birthday.

Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. His death occurred over 37 years ago, but he lives on, and not only in the form of impersonators. Greil Marcus calls the image of Elvis who lives with us now the dead Elvis, and even wrote a book about it with just that title: Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession (1991). Marcus called this Elvis “an emptied, triumphantly vague symbol of displaced identity” (p. 33), but it also happens to be the condition of the android, the experience of the ghost having left the building. You can find this Elvis on coffee mugs, ashtrays, crushed black velvet, ties, T-shirts, scarfs, wine labels, billboards, Pez dispensers, limited edition dinner plates, clock faces, and appropriated for album covers. You can find it all over. The image is ubiquitous. Elvis’s meteoric rise to fame roughly coincided with the new technology of television, so in a sense Elvis has always been an image.

For those who may care that today would have been his 80th birthday, Elvis Presley will always be a daunting, elusive mystery. In Dead Elvis, Greil Marcus calls the invention of dead Elvis “a great common art project, the work of scores of people operating independently of each other, linked only by their determination to solve the same problem: who was he, and why do I still care?” Because dead Elvis is a collective representation, it both legitimizes and subverts “Elvis” the man. Perhaps the whole issue is irrelevant, except that Marcus can’t get past the vast amount of cultural expenditure invested in constructing dead Elvis. Nor can I. For now, dead Elvis is largely perceived as an exemplar of tastelessness and an example of what comedian Tom Arnold once said about his marriage to Roseanne Barr, “We’re America’s worst nightmare—white trash with money.” What are the reasons behind this cultural perception of dead Elvis?

The reasons underlying these perceptions are astutely explored in an essay by Linda Ray Pratt, “Elvis, or the Ironies of a Southern Identity,” which can be found in Kevin Quain, Ed., The Elvis Reader (St. Martin's Press, 1992). In one of the very best pieces ever written about Elvis, Dr. Pratt, writing as a Southerner herself, discusses Elvis with the kind of understanding and empathy that those outside the culture often lack. She makes so many acute insights that it is impossible to list them all here, but here are a few insights that may help explain why Elvis is held in such contempt by so many. Writing about Elvis in the context of Southern culture, she says:

C. Vann Woodward has said that the South's experience is atypical of the American experience, that where the rest of America has known innocence, success, affluence, and an abstract and disconnected sense of place, the South has known guilt, poverty, failure, and a concrete sense of roots and place.... These myths collide in Elvis. His American success story was always acted out within its Southern limitations. No matter how successful Elvis became in terms of fame and money, he remained fundamentally disreputable in the minds of many Americans. Elvis had rooms full of gold records earned by million-copy sales, but his best rock and roll records were not formally honored by the people who control, if not the public taste, the rewarding of public taste.... His movies made millions but could not be defended on artistic grounds. The New York Times view of his fans was “the men favoring leisure suits and sideburns, the women beehive hairdos, purple eyelids and tight stretch pants”.... (96-97)

Observing that Elvis “remained an outsider in the American culture that adopted his music,” she goes on to say:

Although he was the world's most popular entertainer, to like Elvis a lot was suspect, a lapse of taste.... The inability of Elvis to transcend his lack of reputability despite a history-making success story confirms the Southern sense that the world outside thinks Southerners are freaks, illiterates . . . sexual perverts, lynchers. I cannot call this sense a Southern “paranoia” because ten years outside the South has all too often confirmed the frequency with which non-Southerners express such views. Not even the presidency would free LBJ and Jimmy Carter from the ridicule.... And Elvis was truly different, in all those tacky Southern ways one is supposed to rise above with money and sophistication. (97)

Regarding the deification of the dead Elvis, she observes:

[H]is death confirmed the tragic frailty, the violence, the intellectual poverty, the extravagance of emotion, the loneliness, the suffering, the sense of loss. Almost everything about his death, including the enterprising cousin who sold the casket pictures to National Enquirer, dismays, but nothing can detract from Elvis himself.... Greil Marcus wrote in his book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music that Elvis created a beautiful illusion, a fantasy that shut nothing out. The opposite was true. The fascination was the reality always showing through the illusion--the illusion of wealth and the psyche of poverty; the illusion of success and the pinch of ridicule; the illusion of invincibility and the tragedy of frailty; the illusion of complete control and the reality of inner chaos.... Elvis had all the freedom the world can offer and could escape nothing. (103)

Her final, acute insight is painfully true: by saying that Elvis could escape nothing, she means escape the Southern mythology, both what he inherited as a Southerner by birth, and what someone from the South is perceived to be by non-Southerners. The contempt for his Southern cracker origins may have been why he was never allowed to be the great actor he could have been. Even Jimmy Carter as president couldn’t escape the stigma of being from the South: the mass media was brutal on him, his brother Billy, and even his daughter Amy.

Because societies can suffer from amnesia just as an individuals can, the specific meanings of “Elvis” no longer exist. Many young people today know Elvis is a rock star only because they have read that he was one. For Robert Ray (also from the South), writing in The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, dead Elvis is a grand example of a celebrity “whose fame, even at its its peak, is inseparable from camp.” He doesn't write that with glee.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Xanthochroid

Actress Tilda Swinton
According to the Wiktionary, the term xanthocroi was introduced by biologist  T. H. Huxley, from the ancient Greek word ξανθός (ksanthós, “fair,” “yellow,” “golden,” “blond”) + χρώς (khrṓs, “skin”). For Huxley, the term xanthochroi named “a division of the human population having fair skin and wavy blonde hair.” Not a word that is likely to appear in song lyrics, despite songs with titles such as Blondes (Have More Fun)” and Blonde Hair and Blue Eyes,” the word xanthochroid refers to a person with pale skin and yellow hair.

Rather obviously, xanthochroid is an extremely difficult term with which to make a rhyme. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), the protagonist, Longfellow Deeds, who writes greeting-card verse, remarks on the difficulty of finding a rhyme for the proper name, “Buddington.” So, too, is finding a rhyme for the loose cognate of xanthocroid, “yellow.” Not many words rhyme with it. There are songs about yellow roses, yellow moons, yellow roads, yellow submarines and yellow taxis, but only two songs, to my knowledge, that contain words that rhyme with yellow: Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” and Frank Zappa’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”  There is, however, an album title that is arguably an easy way to remember the meaning of the word xanthochroid: Blonde on Blonde.

A few songs about yellow things:

Yellow - Coldplay
Yellow Man - Randy Newman
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
Yellow Ledbetter - Pearl Jam
Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow - Frank Zappa
Yellow Dog Blues - Johnny Maddox
Yellow Bird - The Mills Brothers
The Yellow Rose of Texas - Mitch Miller
Mellow Yellow - Donovan
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini - Brian Hyland
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree - Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
18 Yellow Roses - Bobby Darin
Old Yellow Moon - Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
The Moon Was Yellow - Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra

Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Obscure Conqueror of Fame

Tara Murtha’s contribution to Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 series on classic albums, Ode to Billie Joe, is something of a sleight of hand. The monograph devotes only three pages to the titular LP. Instead, the primary focus is on the few known facts about Bobbie Gentry prior to her spectacular rise to international fame in 1967, the disputed authorship of “Ode to Billie Joe,” and Gentry’s reclusive life beginning about 1980. Happily, Murtha’s monograph demonstrates the value of impeccable research. The book’s fundamental thesis, how a young woman originally from Mississippi named Roberta Lee Streeter reinvented herself as Bobbie Gentry, is a fascinating read. Although she created an image of herself as a girl from the Mississippi Delta, a regional singer who emerged “out of a swamp fog” suddenly to appear on television (p. 5), Gentry in fact spent most of her life in Southern California, moving there in the mid 1950s at age 13. We are set up to expect an answer to the question, “Where is Bobbie Gentry?”, but we never get it. There is no final revelation, no answer to the question, because Bobbie Gentry has chosen to remain silent. She emerged from the fog, as it were, and then stepped back into it. For despite Murtha’s extensive and impressive research, Bobbie Gentry remains, to quote Joseph Conrad, “an obscure conqueror of fame,” a stubbornly inscrutable figure who in fact wrote no classic albums but one classic song. Actually, two classic songs, the other one being “Fancy,” a 1991 hit for Reba McEntire. But since Gentry had largely vanished from pop history by then, and because Gentry’s best album, Fancy (1970), was long out-of-print, McEntire effectively took possession of the song. Now 72 (Murtha points out that Gentry was born in 1942, not 1944 as is widely published), Gentry spent about fourteen years of her life as a star before retreating into obscurity, spending almost exactly the same time in the spotlight as another famous recluse, Greta Garbo.

But Garbo remained childless; Gentry did not. Murtha reports that Gentry married singer/comedian Jim Stafford on 15 October 1978. The next year, a son, Tyler, was born to them, and shortly after that, the marriage (her third) broke up. “In 1980,” Murtha writes, “Gentry was a 38-year-old single mother” (p. 125). If one were to venture reasons for Gentry’s decision to end her career, a rather obvious reason is the birth of her son: the end of her career coincides with the birth of her son. Another possible reason is that Las Vegas, where she entertained for most of the 1970s, lost its allure due to the death of Elvis in 1977 (Gentry became friends with Elvis in the 70s and also performed as “the female Elvis” as part of her stage show). As an artist she may have said all she wished to say, and decided, given the circumstances, it was time to move on.

Murtha’s book raises some practical and theoretical questions about the process of canonization, as well as the future direction of the 33 1/3 series that I’d like, briefly, to sketch out:

The practical question is whether the 33 1/3 series will, in the future, publish books on an artist largely famous for one song. With the exception of “Fancy,” Gentry’s subsequent albums included more and more cover versions, rendering them less significant achievements. As I mentioned earlier, the book is something of a sleight of hand, because it’s not about the album, Ode to Billie Joe, per se, but about an enigmatic artist and her one justly famous song (with a brief chapter devoted to the film inspired by it). While you can’t criticize a book for what it didn’t set out to do, one profitable direction might have been the intertextual linkage, pointed out by Greil Marcus, that “Ode to Billie Joe” has with “Long Black Veil”: “The singer [of 'Ode to Billie Joe'] is like the woman who walks the hills in 'Long Black Veil': she knows why Billie Joe went to his death, she knows what they threw into the black water, but . . . she [will] not tell . . . .” (The Old, Weird America, p. 141). The songs are different in that in “Long Black Veil” the dead narrator reveals the crime for which he was found guilty, but most importantly, both songs share the idea of the guilty secret. I mention this only to point out that if you wish to unpack an enigmatic song, intertextual analysis is essential. Murtha does acknowledge, however, the answer song to “Ode to Billie Joe,” Bob Dylan and the Band’s “Answer to ‘Ode’,” released as “Clothesline Saga” on the official Basement Tapes (1975). (See the chapter, “Kill Devil Hills,” in Marcus’s The Old, Weird America.)

Theoretically speaking, the book makes explicit an observation made by Robert Christgau over a decade ago, that the idea of a rock canon is “a complete absurdity.” It has never been completely clear whether at its inception the 33 1/3 book series set out to publish critical analyses of canonical rock albums, or (more likely, in retrospect) sought to engage in journalistic canonization. In any case, the economics of the publishing industry have dictated the series become more democratic in its selection process, publishing studies of albums that are cult classics (Spiderland), are critically acclaimed commercial failures (Song Cycle), and are commercially successful contemporary works (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). I should add that while economics has a good to deal with it, the title selection also reveals how we live in an age of aphorisms (statements of personal taste) rather than one of axioms (universally accepted truths that are potentially falsifiable). Hence in every instance the author reveals the reasons behind his or her personal attachment to the album under discussion, meaning the author is also a fan as well as a critic. I suspect the series will continue to rely on critical approaches based on the principles of race-, sex-, and gender-based criticism initially developed in the 1970s, but will also rely on Bakhtinian aesthetics (the artifice of social life, the public persona as an invention) in order to rehabilitate the reputation of neglected works and artists, Bobbie Gentry being a perfect illustration.

Still, I admire Tara Murtha’s book and welcome it as an important addition to the series.