First Song of the Month: Mick Smiley and the Musical Time Machine

March 3, 2014

Okay so do you remember the part in Ghostbusters where Harold Ramis is down in the basement of the fire station with a spazzed-out and spirit-possessed Rick Moranis and suddenly Annie Potts comes down the stairs with that pissed off EPA guy pushing in front of her (William Atherton) and she says, “Egon, I tried to stop him! He says they have a warrant,” and then Egon says, “Excuse me, this is private property,” and the EPA guy says “Shut this off. Shut these all off” in this teeth-gritted, intense, red-faced way, pointing around the Ghostbusters’ HQ basement, at all the gadgets and gizmos and containment units we’ve been enjoying for 45 minutes or so by now, determined to ruin everything, to definitively end all the fun? And can you, like me, lipsyc basically the entire scene that follows because you have seen this movie so many times it might as well be tattooed on the inside of your eyelids?


Video Review: Andy Warhol’s “Vinyl”

June 4, 2013

Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, made in 1965, was the first filmed version of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and it opens with a shot so powerful Stanley Kubrick would later ape it in his 1971 remake: Surrounded by his cronies, our (anti)hero gazes directly into the camera, his face wearing an expression of blank, thuggish entitlement. But similarities end there: When Warhol’s camera zooms back, it frames the shot that will compose most of this black-and-white, three-take film.


Will Sheff’s Fresh Prints: Talking with director Scott Coffey

May 30, 2013

I decided it would be fun to use this website as an excuse to get together with other artists – friends of mine I’ve worked with a lot or people whose work I like – to talk about creativity, the creative process, and pretty much any other thing that comes up without a lot of topic-steering. We’d get together and I’d set up some mics and we’d have not so much an interview as a conversation – hopefully the kind of conversation I’d have with that person anyway, ideally at 1 AM after a number of drinks were consumed. I’d focus on people I liked or was interested in, not necessarily the standard folks and not necessarily people who have a new record or movie or painting or architecture thing or shoe or plate of linguini in stores now or whatever.


Video Review: “The Red Squirrel (La Ardilla Roja)”

April 21, 2013

The films of Basque director Julio Medem derive much of their power from their constant proximity to the melodramatic, the grandiose, and even, at times, the ridiculous. As with Leos Carax or Harmony Korine, the dead-serious notion of cinema as a kind of visual alchemy pervades everything Medem does, which means that when he fails — as he does often, and with naked abandon — he provokes unintentional titters. When Medem succeeds, though, his films feel like a head rush.


We Never Have to Be Alone

February 4, 2013

I have seen Woodstock and I have seen The Last Waltz. I have seen Don’t Look Back, Eat the Document, and No Direction Home. I have seen the Maysles Brothers’ documentary about the Rolling Stones, as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s semi-documentary about the Rolling Stones and Robert Frank’s notoriously unreleased documentary about the Rolling Stones, which legend has it you’re only legally allowed to watch in the presence of both Jagger and Richards. I have seen The Great Rock and Roll Swindle as well as The Filth and the Fury, Julien Temple’s two different documentaries about the Sex Pistols. I have seen that double-DVD Tom Petty documentary. I have seen the special features. I have seen the movie where Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. slowly drinks himself nearly to death in a darkened swimming pool enclosure and Ozzy pours the orange juice all over the counter. To varying degrees, I enjoyed all these films, but if you asked me to tell you my very-favorite-ever cinematic document of a rock and roll band, I would have to break down and admit that it’s a 10-dollar import DVD of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show doing a live-for-German-TV performance sometime in 1974. I have seen it at least 30 times. No other cinematic musical document has so consistently reminded me what playing rock and roll onstage should, at its very highest point, feel like.


After Atom

January 12, 2013

When Kinji Fukasaku was 15, the war his Japan had been waging suddenly ended in the detonation of an atomic bomb. The young Fukasaku, who had been working at an armaments factory – his time mostly spent cleaning up the corpses of his co-workers killed every day in Allied bombings – watched as his proud country collapsed into chaos and economic ruin. Years later, Fukasaku would translate those firsthand childhood experiences of Japan’s disintegration into a catalog of vibrant and blisteringly angry films that would make him that country’s most successful director.


Top ten experiences with music in the last year: Number Two

December 21, 2012

My father studied film at the Film School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he launched into grownup life with the goal of being a filmmaker, starting out with usually-silent short films in a more experimental style influenced by the European auteurist directors of the 1960s and 70s. But after a long and frustrating string of disappointments, rejections and setbacks, he set filmmaking aside and pursue another goal he had, to become a teacher. He and my mother moved to Meriden, New Hampshire and joined the faculty at Kimball Union Academy, a college preparatory boarding school.


Top ten experiences with music in the last year: Number Five

December 18, 2012

I was sitting in a chair, snapping my fingers in time to the music, and a naked man was spitting a giant mouthful of warm beer into my face. I was proud of myself, because I had had no idea the naked man was going to spit beer into my face but when he did it I successfully registered no emotion and just kept snapping my fingers in time to the music, which was the Rolling Stones. My mouth was hanging open, just kind of a zoned-out gape, and a good deal of the beer the naked man spat went in there. Still, I didn’t register any emotion. It was my proudest moment as an actor.


I Live My Broken Dreams

December 3, 2012

The greatest height the pop career of Townes Van Zandt ever reached was in 1982. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were working on a duet album together and they needed one more tune; at the last minute they decided to cover Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and were so pleased with their recording they titled their album after it and made it the leading track. The song became a smash hit, resulting in something like financial security for the man who wrote it, America’s best-loved utterly unknown songwriter.

Be Here to Love Me, Margaret Brown’s haunting documentary on Van Zandt, includes some footage from the television program “Nashville Now” in which interviewer asks Van Zandt about Nelson and Haggard’s cover. Instead of expressing his gratitude towards the two country legends, Van Zandt mocks them.