Friday, August 30, 2013

Loving the 'nightmare commotions,' turbulent, 1968 vibe of 'Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro'

Writer Chuck Stephens sums up the 1968 JAPANESE horror film "KYUKETSUKI GOKEMIDORO (GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL)" as well as anyone:
"No matter what you've seen, you've never seen anything like Hajime Sato's 'Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell,' a movie so unfettered, so unpredictable, so overloaded with chaotic emotions, nightmare commotions, pulsating psychedelic lights, mercurial space slime, and newsreel images of blood-splattered combat forces that, were there any justice in the world, it would have long since been recognized as the greatest film of all time."
I watched this delightfully unhinged movie again today. It's becoming a favorite.
A hijacked airliner crashes in a remote area of Japan and the hijacker becomes possessed by aliens who turn him into a blood-sucking vampire.
Meanwhile, the crash survivors' in-fighting (they've run out of water, among other inconveniences) makes them more vulnerable to being killed by the vampire.
Don't worry, there's no "feel-good" happy ending with this film. It just gets darker and stranger as it goes along.
The film's creation date -- 1968 -- marked a year of assassinations, war and youth rebellions against established norms, and this film reflects that turbulent era. The viewer and the characters are equally at a loss about what will occur next.
That's one of the qualities that makes me love this movie so much.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Superman Journalism

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Straight-up raucousness' from the 'Paris of the Appalachians'

JILL left for the "PARIS OF THE APPALACHIANS" today.
PITTSBURGH is the land of Terrible Towels, Primanti Brothers sandwiches and "Night of the Living Dead."
The city is also famed for its contributions to the development of JAZZ, with the drummer and bandleader ART BLAKEY among the principal figures.
While leading his group The Jazz Messengers, Blakey was known for fostering the careers of upcoming players and composers throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Today, I'm listening to his 1964 album "FREE FOR ALL."
It features the talents of tenor saxophone player Wayne Shorter, trombone player Curtis Fuller, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and others.
Shorter composed two of the album's four works and Hubbard another.
I love this album because it works on two important levels: It makes the listener think, while it also makes the listener move to the groove.
In his book, "Hard Bop Academy: The Sidemen of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers," Alan Goldsher describes what Blakey sought in a saxophone player:
"The majority of the saxophonists hired by Art Blakey were logicians, jazz intellectuals who could think you into a blissful state of swing-itude. This isn't to say that the Messengers' reedists couldn't throw it down."
Goldsher then describes Shorter's work on this 1964 album.
Goldsher writes:
"Wayne Shorter -- himself a supra-cerebralist -- would rear back and go nuclear; his frenetic solo on the title cut of 'Free For All' is a picture of straight-up raucousness."
I needed to hear that raucousness this morning: I was up an hour earlier than normal to take Jill to the airport and her flight to Blakey's hometown. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Miley Cyrus eclipses Lady Gaga

WILL SMITH and his family weren't the only ones wondering what the heck was going on during last night's MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS.
I caught some of the VMAs and decided:
1. LADY GAGA has tried so often (and hard) to be "weird," that she can't remember how to actually be weird. Her performance was simply head-scratching -- like she was throwing numerous ideas on a wall and didn't know herself which would stick.
2. HANNAH MONTANA is officially dead and buried. The tween idol was slaughtered by the vision of alter ego MILEY CYRUS gyrating in a Teddy Bear outfit.
Sorry, Gaga, you've been eclipsed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The hotter it gets, the more blues I wanna hear

Forecasters have issued a HEAT ADVISORY for the next several days, which can only mean one thing.
Really, when it gets this brutally hot, all I want to hear is the toughest, rawest blues I can find.
That means Robert Nighthawk and King Solomon Hill. That means Hound Dog Taylor and Magic Sam. That means Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker, Blind Willie McTell and Bukka White.
We will all sweat and suffer during this scorching last week of August, but at least I'll have some of the world's best music to accompany me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

India's extraordinary visionary with limited sight -- Tiger Pataudi

I've been listening to ASHES coverage on the radio this week while reading about the history of CRICKET in INDIA.
One idol of the nation has emerged as my favorite.
MANSUR ALI KHAN PATAUDI, THE NAWAB OF PATAUDI until 1971 -- when India abolished royal entitlements -- is often considered India's greatest cricket captain, despite playing with permanent damage to his right eye.
Nicknamed "Tiger," Pataudi (1941-2011) was India's youngest captain, taking the reins age 21 -- just a year after having his eye permanently damaged in a 1961 car accident in England.
He is remembered for his charisma and determination on the field. Off the field, his extraordinary life included being married to BOLLYWOOD starlet Sharmila Tagore.
Pataudi led India in 40 of the 46 Tests he played in, winning nine of them, but also served revolutionize the nation's cricket in several important ways.
According to WISDEN:
"With a beguiling mixture of personal charm and tactical know-how, (he) forced the team to abandon their deep-rooted factionalism and become a disciplined fighting unit."
The country's cricketers had suffered from a collective inferiority complex in the years following 200 years of British rule.
Pataudi was both prince and a second-generation cricket star.
His father, also the Nawab of Pataudi, represented both ENGLAND and India.
The younger Pataudi helped reform India's selection process, as Wisden notes:
"(Under Pataudi) players were now picked on merit, not to satisfy some unwritten regional quota system."
Overcoming his eye injury demanded persistence and ingenuity.
According to Wisden:
"He found he saw two balls, but decided to hit the inner one. He soon settled on a method, pulling his cap down over his right eye to reduce the double vision and effecting a more open stance."
The modern Indian cricket side we know today -- the one that has a chance in any match -- owes much to a visionary who couldn't see all that well.
That's why I admire the Nawab of Pataudi.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Singing and dancing and clapping and -- oh yeah -- lots of murders

There's a scene in Raja Nawathe's 1965 film "GUMNAAM" that encapsulates what I love about BOLLYWOOD movies.
It's a song-and-dance number featuring the dancing of HELEN (playing Miss Kitty) and the song "IS DUNIYA MEIN JEENA HO TO SUNLO MERI BAAT," sung by LATA MANGESHKAR.
Miss Kitty frolics at the beach, clapped by onlookers and plays with beach balls as the catchy song builds to its climax.
It's a scene of joy.
It's also a scene in the middle of a film in which an unknown assailant kills off the characters, one by one.
Indeed, by the time Kitty dances her way around the sunny beach, four of the three characters have been murdered, and the survivors seriously wonder when they will meet their doom, too.
The greatness of Bollywood is that such a scene only seems incongruous upon reflection.
Imagine such a scene in an American slasher film, and it would seem like a jarring slap in the viewer's face.
In "Gumnaam," the viewer can't help clapping along.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An "English" Premier League without English players? That's a concern

The PREMIER LEAGUE has reached an all-time low of English players.
ENGLAND'S chances to reach the WORLD CUP and excel seem diminished without a top-flight platform to develop their skills.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Marking the passing of the great pianist, Cedar Walton

The JAZZ pianist CEDAR WALTON died yesterday, age 79.
He contributed to a clutch of fine albums in our collection, including "Mosaic" and "Free For All" by ART BLAKEY & THE JAZZ MESSENGERS, "Giant Steps" by JOHN COLTRANE and "Mode For Joe" by JOE HENDERSON.
Walton's versatility meant he was an in-demand member of sessions from the 1960s onward.
In his book, "Texan Jazz," Dave Oliphant writes:
"One thing that can be said of Walton is that he has played in many different styles and has handled them all with facility and taste."
He was also known for the complexity of his composing, including the title track of Henderson's "Mode For Joe" and the title track of Blakey's "Mosaic."
I'm listening to the latter in the car today, savoring the talents of a pianist we have lost.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A real team effort from the Eagles

The 1973 EAGLES song "SATURDAY NIGHT" has been stuck in my head since we listened to the band's "DESPERADO" album this weekend in the car.
Don Henley and Randy Meisner shared lead vocals on the poignant ballad, which features mandolin by Bernie Leadon -- the Eagles' "secret weapon" during their early days and the solid link from the band to the country music tradition.
"Saturday Night" actually offers much of what fans enjoy about the Eagles' music.
Author John Einarson writes:
"The melancholy 'Saturday Night' is an example of the Eagles' lovely harmonizing."
The band's talent at harmonizing continued to be the Eagles' strength, even during the latter days of the group's first incarnation, when there was very little other harmonizing between members.
Fittingly, perhaps, "Saturday Night" is the only track on "Desperado" bearing writing credits of the four Eagles -- Henley, Meisner, Leadon and Glenn Frey -- without outside assistance.
It's a real team effort.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Premier League return is a family affair

As always, the opening of the PREMIER LEAGUE season proved to be a family affair.
We all gathered to watch parts of three matches on television this morning.
The pets were first, sticking to me like glue as we saw Liverpool defeat Stoke City, 1-0.
Next up was visiting Aston Villa defeating 10-man Arsenal, 3-1, thanks to a pair of Christian Benteke goals.
Poor Bacary Sagna appeared to hurt himself quite severely while taking a tumble (pictured).
My soccer-loving daughter, KERSTIN, was just relieved new American broadcast rights holders NBC didn't mess with the traditional airing of the match.
"Thank God they didn't count down (the time)," she said, in reference to the American way of displaying the clock.
Finally, we watched as visiting champions MANCHESTER UNITED defeated SWANSEA CITY, 4-1, thanks to a pair of goals by both Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck.
Watching English football on television has been our family's traditional way to spend a Saturday for years, so today felt like a comfortable return.

Friday, August 16, 2013

How Indian media recovered from a major miscalculation

What would become of CRICKET when INDIA gained her independence? Would the sport fade in the public's consciousness with the departure of the Imperial forces that brought it to the subcontinent.
The answer came quickly, according to RAMACHANDRA GUHA in his excellent history of cricket in India, "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD."
The arrival of India as a force in Test matches, the decentralization of the sport and the birth of interstate rivalries helped to spur "all that went to make cricket in free India: the energy, the excitement, the noise and the nationalism."
Interestingly, the free nation's voice, ALL INDIA RADIO, initially declined to participate in the growing excitement.
Guha writes:
"The Minister of Information and Broadcasting was that well-known opponent of cricket, B.V. Keskar. Initially, the Minister had decided that he would not promote film melodies or cricket broadcasts. Classical music and discourses on development were how the masses would be uplifted instead."
Ignoring BOLLYWOOD music and cricket? In India? What a major miscalculation!
Guha writes:
"Eventually, Keskar was persuaded to start a separate channel for Hindi film music and to sanction live broadcasts for the Tests. Millions then bought radios to listen to one channel or the other. During the Test matches, college students and office workers alike concealed transistors in their clothing."
Thank goodness India wouldn't be denied!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Celebrating India through cricket and film

INDIA celebrates its INDEPENDENCE DAY today, and I've been celebrating Indian culture lately.
I continue to read RAMACHANDRA GUHA'S excellent "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD." More than a history of Indian cricket, the book takes a close look at how cricket fit into Indian culture as the country moved from colony to sovereign nation, as well as how the communalism of a popular cricket tournament forecast the Partition to come.
I also ordered a BOLLYWOOD classic, "GUMNAAM," from Amazon.
Seven people win a free vacation in this 1965 horror musical, only to find themselves abandoned in a remote, haunted seaside mansion.
I can't wait to see it. I'm already familiar with the film's fantastic music.
"Jaan Pehechan Ho" is the film's signature tune, if only because it also plays during the opening credits of the American film, "Ghost World." It is sung by the incomparably Mohammed Rafi.
"Peeke Hum Tum Jo" is another memorable number from the film (pictured), sung by Asha Bhosle and Usha Mangeshkar
One of my favorite numbers from "Gumnaam" is "Hum Kaale Hain To," sung by Mohammed Rafi but featuring the great Indian comic actor Mehmood.
I should receive the DVD this weekend, when I will continue my own personal celebration of India and its culture.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Georgia sports radio looks at a tragedy

My wife JILL is in SAVANNAH, GA., this week, so this morning, I am listening to SPORTSRADIO 92.9 THE GAME (WZGC) online from ATLANTA.
The big news concerns the death of a fan at Atlanta's TURNER FIELD during a Braves game last night.
Ronald Homer, 29, of Conyers, fell 65 feet from the upper level of the stadium, landing in a parking lot.
The death appears to be accidental, but raises several questions.
What circumstances led to this tragedy?
Was the fan under the influence of alcohol?
What safety measures are in place to protect fans from such falls?
Answering those questions can hopefully avert similar accidents in the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ridin' Highway 61 and listenin' to Dylan

I drove up HIGHWAY 61 to cover an event yesterday, so I thought it was appropriate to hear some BOB DYLAN.
I listened to "THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 9 -- THE WITMARK DEMOS: 1962-64."
The album features 47 tracks of solo Dylan performing publishing company demo versions of songs, 15 of which were never officially released.
We hear raw and new versions of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Masters of War" while also hearing "Bound to Lose, Bound to Win," "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues," "Seven Curses" and other more obscure items from the vast catalog.
It was great music, particularly while steering along a road made iconic in Dylan's music.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cricket over the air, on the page and in my dreams

I have been listening to CRICKET on the radio and reading about it  in RAMACHANDRA GUHA'S excellent book, "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD," so I suppose it comes as no surprise the sport entered my dreams overnight.
Cricket provided the backdrop for a series of dreams, including one involving the careful packing of a bookbag with statistical notes of varying lengths.
On the radio, I've been enjoying the fourth ASHES Test.
AUSTRALIA (270) lead ENGLAND (238) by 32 runs after both sides completed their first innings at Chester-le-Street.
In Guha's book, I've been reading about the growth of Indian nationalism in the 1930s, and how it coincided, influenced and reflected INDIA'S initial Test match encounters with imperial England.
It's a fascinating historical study of a country where cricket and nationalism remain intricately connected.
Heck, I bet people in India dream about cricket all the time! 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Cricket, history, radio, bugs and birds make a perfect summer combination

Birds singing, bugs chirping and CRICKET on the radio -- that's one of my favorite ways to start a morning.
Alastair Cook has reached 21 not out as ENGLAND (57-1) opened the fourth ASHES Test against AUSTRALIA today at the Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street, Durham.
The time difference meant I listened to the morning session while the rest of my family slumbered, and only the aforementioned birds and bugs (well, and our two cats) were beginning their day's activities.
I've had the great game of cricket on my mind in recent days, as I am reading RAMACHANDRA GUHA'S excellent history of the sport in India, "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD."
I expect my weekend will be filled with radio coverage of the Test and the further examination of cricket's tremendous growth on the subcontinent.
It makes for a perfect SUMMER combination.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Reading about the remarkable Ranji

I've reached the year 1896 in RAMACHANDRA GUHA'S comprehensive history of cricket in India, "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD," and the action has shifted to England.
That's because 1896 marks the debut of the first Indian cricket to play Test cricket -- for ENGLAND.
Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, better known as RANJI, was an Indian prince who traveled to England in 1891 to attend Jesus College, Cambridge.
It was at the university that he displayed his batting prowess, and he parlayed this success into a spot in the Sussex county cricket team.
By the time AUSTRALIA came to England for their 1896 tour, there were growing calls to include Ranji in the England team.
These were rejected by MCC President Lord Harris before the Test match at Lord's Cricket Ground, but were finally heeded before the second Test at Old Trafford.
Good decision.
A contemporary sportswriter described Ranji as "a wizard of the bat, an artist in run-getting, a general in resource."
In England's first innings, Ranji scored 62 runs and the hosts were made to follow-on by the Australians.
It was in England's second innings that the Indian prince announced his arrival on the world cricket scene.
Ranji made 154 runs not out, becoming only the second batsman to make a century on his England Test debut. He was also the first to score 100 before lunch in a Test match, at one point scoring 113 runs in a mere 130 minutes.
Australia (412 & 125-7) defeated England (231 & 305) by three wickets, but the hosts had found a new star. Ranji played 14 more Test matches for England before returning to INDIA. He scored 989 runs in his Test career.
Writing in 1904, Patrick Geddes said Ranji:
"Has done us no end of good; he has raised the popular esteem and respect for India in the man in the street more than a new Buddha would have done."

Monday, August 05, 2013

Cricket once provided an escape from Indian reality. How times change

While CRICKET plays on the radio, I'm reading RAMACHANDRA GUHA'S fascinating "A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD," a history of the sport in INDIA.
The book reviews the transformation of an imported pastime.
In the earlier colonial period, the Indians thought the British were lunatics for chasing a leather ball around a field under the burning sun.
By the early 2000s, when the top Indian batsman faced the top Pakistani bowler, the television audience exceeded the entire population of Europe.
Guha explains why the sport was so popular among the early colonials:
"The slow stateliness of the walk to the wicket, the interruptions between balls and overs, the graceful clothes that the players wore, the greenness of the grass, the understated gaiety of the lunch and tea intervals -- all these made cricket an extended escape from India, from its chatter, its dirt, its smells and its peoples."
From serving as a virtual "escape" from the subcontinent, cricket became part of the region's soul.
Eventually, the British were joined by the PARSIS and then the HINDUS in playing the game of bat and ball.
I'm looking forward to learning the remainder of the great history.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

A film that packs everything into its three-plus hours

INDIA is home to everything, the saying goes, with tragedy, joy, love and hate and all things beyond and in between.
After watching it yesterday, I think I can say the same thing about the 1975 BOLLYWOOD classic, "SHOLAY."
The epic contains drama, comedy, action, romance and singing and dancing -- so entertaining a mixture that the film's three-plus hours seem to fly past.
A retired police officer (played by Sanjeev Kumar) hires a pair of crooks he knows to be brave (played by Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan) to protect his village and capture the bandit leader (memorably played by Amjad Khan) who has been terrorizing the populace.
The film's contemporary and subsequent success has been extraordinary, as related by Anupama Chopra in the book "'Sholay,' the Making of a Classic:"
"'Sholay' ran for five years, and changed the course of Indian cinema... The film changed lives, transformed careers, and remains the box office gold standard, a reference point for both the Indian film-going audience and the film industry."
Like another extraordinarily successful film, "Star Wars," this Indian classic has left a legacy of obsession for some.
Chopra writes:
"'Sholay' connoisseurs speak casually of seeing the film 50, 60, even 70 times. Dialogue has been memorized. Also the unique background music: The true 'Sholay' buff can preempt all the sound effects."
I've just seen "Sholay" once, but with the DVD now sitting on my shelf, I plan to increase that number in the months and years to come.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Characters and setting defy appearances in Fuller's film

Constance Towers stars as Kelly, a prostitute trying to go straight in a small town, in SAMUEL FULLER'S 1964 film, "THE NAKED KISS."
I watched this entertaining and disturbing film last night for the second time. With the repeated viewing, I better appreciated Fuller's skill in juxtaposing tenderness and violence while depicting characters and setting that defy appearances.
We see a prostitute who deeply cares for children with disabilities, a giving philanthropist who molests children and a brothel owner who is treated as an upstanding member of the public.
There is much to consider with Fuller's film.
Author Michael Dare wrote about Fuller's approach to the movie:
"Fuller manages to disobey several of the laws of civilized filmmaking, including jump cuts (editing from one shot to another take of the same shot), long inner monologues, and one of the most inappropriate and maudlin musical numbers ever filmed."
This approach elevates "The Naked Kiss" far above B-movie contemporaries, and helps perpetuate the cult of Fuller's followers.

Friday, August 02, 2013

In, out, in and out: Cricket explained to a foreigner

The following emerged in English advertising in the 1970s.


You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.
Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Good start for the Aussies in the third Test

The ASHES are back this morning and I'm listening to the CRICKET on the BBC live online.
AUSTRALIA won the toss and decided to bat on the first day of this third Test against ENGLAND at MANCHESTER'S OLD TRAFFORD.
Shane Watson and Chris Rogers in a big to recover some of Baggy Green's lost dignity. After losing a close inaugural Test, the Aussies were crushed in the second Test at Lord's.
It's a good start for Australia thus far, with Watson and Rogers combining for a 49-run partnership on the first wicket.