Monthly Archives: March 2018

Rocks In The Attic #676: Dick Hyman – ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ (1985)

RITA#676There’s a strange part of my brain that immediately dislikes any Woody Allen film from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s in which he doesn’t appear as an actor, yet if he appears in one of his films post-2000 then I’m instantly disappointed. Maybe it’s easier to look beyond his supposed wrongdoings back in his youth, and the glimpse of him on screen post-allegations and post-Soon Yi relationship is just too jarring?

The Purple Rose Of Cairo is a rarity in that it’s one of only two of his 1980 films in which he doesn’t star or feature in a prominent role (1988’s Another Woman being the other). It’s probably a good casting decision – usually there’s a fantastical element of his work where his character ends up with somebody far more beautiful, desirable – or in the case of Manhattan, somebody far younger – than him. The audience is usually expected to suspend their disbelief that somebody like that could fall for somebody like him – a nebbish loser who looks like he’s crawled out of a Robert Crumb drawing.

But The Purple Rose Of Cairo is something else. It’s a fantasy film – but along the traditional lines of the genre – rather than a dating / relationship fantasy. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress in the midst of the Great Depression who finds solace in the escapism of the silver screen. After watching one film – The Purple Rose Of Cairo­ – numerous times at the local cinema, its lead actor, the charming Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) breaks the fourth wall and recognises her from being sat in the audience so regularly. He emerges from the screen and enters the real world, where the pair go on an adventure involving an odd love-triangle between Cecilia, Tom and actor Gil Sheppard (Jeff Daniels again) who portrayed Tom in the fictional film.

RITA#676aIt’s a nice little film which affords Allen the opportunity to play around with the conventions of cinema, and while the main plotline is compelling enough, it’s the small sub-plot featuring the abandoned actors stuck on screen in the fictional film, conversing with the cinema owner, that I find the most enjoyable.

Jeff Daniels plays the enthusiastic all-American hero well – a part which the audience would have had difficulty swallowing if Allen had cast himself – and Mia Farrow plays to her strengths as the innocent pulled along for the ride.

The music, as per the Allen trademark, is period rag-time jazz, ably composed and conducted by Dick Hyman (‘period’ and ‘rag-time’ – what an unfortunate pair of labels!). The tunes are so well executed that they easily stand up to the one piece of contemporary music on the soundtrack – Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, sung by Fred Astaire, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which we leave Cecilia watching at the conclusion of the film.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek (Main Title) – Fred Astaire

Hidden Gem: Hollywood Fun

Rocks In The Attic #675: Elton John – ‘Too Low For Zero’ (1983)

RITA#675‘You can never know what it’s like,’ he thought, as he drove into Cannes. The French town was cold at this time of year, and the rental company had really shafted him with a convertible. Although the sun was shining, his blood, like winter, was freezing just like ice.

He was here to defend his title in the world human dominoes championships. As a measure of his popularity, a helicopter from the local news station was following his car, to document his arrival. While the duties of fatherhood had taken him away from the sport for the past 7 years, he was back with a vengeance. The prospect of some time away from his son was an added bonus he was looking forward to.

Driving along the tree-lined Boulevard de la Croisette, it wasn’t immediately obvious where to park. A protest group, made up of dancers upset over the championships had blockaded the promenade. Thankfully, an overly helpful group of hotel bellhops pointed out a nearby parking space.

He approached the Hotel Carlton, dressed in his red three-piece suit and white pith helmet. He looked fantastic. He felt fucking fantastic. He wasn’t going to let these dancing idiots spoil his time here. Finding the concierge, he tipped him with a handful of glitter – a loaded gesture to symbolise the terrible service he had endured during his last stay there.

A few hours later, dressed in his trademark human dominoes kit of a tailcoat and straw boater, he stood on the beach, ready to break his world record. Nobody had ever attempted 22 human dominoes before. As a younger man, he’d managed 21 at 33, but he was older now. It just wasn’t possible.

With a single point of his finger, he did it! The record was broken! It wasn’t a coincidence that Hercules was his middle name. During a half-hearted celebratory dance, he looked across to his convertible and spotted his son sat in the driver’s seat, quickly trying to hide from view. He had stowed away. The little bastard!

The rest of the day was spent in negotiations with the protestors, who surrounded the newly crowned champion on the beach. In an attempt to pacify the angry mob, he changed into something more comfortable – a white tuxedo, and a cane – and spent time listening to their concerns.

Hit: I’m Still Standing

Hidden Gem: Too Low For Zero

Rocks In The Attic #674: Wilson Pickett – ‘The Midnight Mover’ (1968)

RITA#674Aside from Mustang Sally, In The Midnight Hour or The Land Of 1,000 Dances, Wilson Pickett doesn’t get half the credit he deserves.

The Midnight Mover was largely co-written with a then-unknown Bobby Womack, and finds Pickett trying his hardest to continue his successes of the previous couple of years. The title of the album – and its lead single – is a clear allusion to his 1965 hit In The Midnight Hour; he even name-checks the song in the fade-out of side-B’s Down By The Sea.

Ever since seeing Edgar Wright’s 2017 film, Baby Driver, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for songs about girls called Deborah. There’s more than you’d think! Not only did Wright overlook Pickett’s Deborah for his soundtrack – opting instead for Debora by T. Rex and Debra by Beck – but Pickett sings his song partly in Italian, something you’d never expect to hear from a soul screamer from Alabama.

Hit: I’m A Midnight Mover

Hidden Gem: I Found A True Love

Rocks In The Attic #673: The Beach Boys – ‘Holland’ (1973)

RITA#673If there was ever a band that was stuck in time, like an insect trapped in the sap of a tree, it’s the Beach Boys. They were the hippest American band between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari and 1966’s Pet Sounds – or more specifically between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari single and 1966’s Good Vibrations. Then Brian stepped back and things changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love records like Surf’s Up and this, their 1973 album, Holland – but it’s not California Girls, is it? Without Brian Wilson’s input on this record – aside from a couple of token writing credits including a 7” fairytale EP in the vein of Nilsson’s The Point! (although nowhere near as charming) – the Beach Boys seem lost at sea. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine them being a band on their own merits, without the genius of Brian, but then you hear those harmonies and you’re instantly reminded of Help Me Rhonda or I Get Around.

The band even looks out of place when you see them in colour around this period – on stage in multi-coloured satin shirts or in white suits. They seem forever to be locked into the antiseptic cleanliness of mid-‘60s teen television, grooving against white infinity screens alongside bikini-clad dancing girls.

Hit: Sail On, Sailor

Hidden Gem: The Trader

Rocks In The Attic #672: Various Artists – ‘More Pennies From Heaven (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#672.jpgI think I might be reincarnated from some 1930’s Big Band musician or something; this kind of music really resonates with me for some reason. I always get the same feeling of intense familiarity when I hear Hang Out The Stars In Indiana from the Withnail & I soundtrack.

Either that, or I was asleep in my cot while my Mum & Dad watched this show after I was born in 1978. That sounds more believable I guess, with the old-timey music seeping into my DNA as they watched Bob Hoskins on the telly.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek – Lew Stone & His Band

Hidden Gem: Down Sunnyside Lane – Jack Payne & His BBC Dance Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #671: Aimee Mann & Jon Brion – ‘Magnolia (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

150678 - SMALLER SPINECould Magnolia be the best film of the 1990s?

Rolling Stone rank it at a lowly #26, twelve places behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film, the arguably more accessible Boogie Nights. The magazine voted Scorsese’s Goodfellas at #1 (followed by a more esoteric run-down than you would expect from Rolling Stone: #5 – Pulp Fiction, #4 – The Silence Of The Lambs, #3 – Safe, #2 – Hoop Dreams).

A reader’s poll in Rolling Stone, ranking the twenty-five best movies of the decade, doesn’t even mention Magnolia, again with PTA’s Boogie Nights making the cut (faring a little better at #19). Not surprisingly, the poll’s top five are populist choices – #5 – Fight Club, #4 – The Shawshank Redemption, #3 – Goodfellas, #2 – The Big Lebowski, and #1 – Pulp Fiction.

RITA#671cBut who cares about polls and lists? They’re usually only there to provoke discussion – and quite why Rolling Stone could vote a three-hour documentary about basketball hopefuls from the inner-city slums as the second-best film of the year is anybody’s guess. I loved Hoop Dreams, but is it better than anything from Tarantino, the Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) or Fincher?

Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film – the casino-centric Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, deserves a look-in. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to inhabit a casino, let alone visit one.

A textbook first film, you can see a lot of the visual flourishes that are the hallmark of films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia before he started to move away to more static filmmaking. The easiest of his trademarks to spot is the fast dolly-in, usually as a character enters a scene or an object becomes the focus of the narrative. These shots define PTA as much as the inserts and birds-eye views of Wes Anderson’s films, or the tracking shots of Scorsese.

The number eight resonates strongly with Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. He debuted with Hard Eight – the number on the dice needed by the craps-playing Philip Seymour Hoffman; he’s just released his eighth feature, Phantom Thread; and the number eight is a symbolic fingerprint of Magnolia – the film culminating with the threat of Exodus 8:2: ‘If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’

RITA#671aSo Anderson spends the three hours of Magnolia interpreting Christianity and emerges with a delicious pun, insinuating that the biblical plague of raining frogs was caused by the producers of the quiz show who wouldn’t let Stanley visit the toilet. He would revisit the themes of religion more seriously later in his career, but this is where he put his toe in the holy water.

It could be claimed that nothing happens in Magnolia, that it’s boring and uneventful. And while it possibly does try to do too much, with too many characters – even Anderson himself has suggested that it’s overlong – its real strength comes from its pacing. I don’t think another film exists as dedicated to building tension as Magnolia. From its opening scene, until the aftermath of the frog-raining finale, the tension builds and builds, until the clouds break and we get a well-deserved resolution across each of the story arcs.

One important aspect, of course, is the music. The soundtrack is comprised of three key elements – pop songs from Supertramp and Gabrielle, together with snippets of the opera Carmen and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a suite of original songs from Aimee Mann, and a lush original score by Jon Brion.

This new release from Mondo Records represents the first time that the soundtrack has been released on vinyl. Split across three discs, the first discs offers the Aimee Mann songs, while the remaining two discs offer the Jon Brion score.

The beautiful packaging also follows the themes of the film, with new artwork by Joao Ruas and the three discs coloured in (1) Sky Blue, (2) Cloudy Blue, and (3) Translucent Gold – in other words, clear sky, cloudy sky, and frog!

Hit: One – Aimee Mann

Hidden Gem: Stanley / Frank / Linda’s Breakdown – Jon Brion

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Rocks In The Attic #670: Alan Moorhouse – ‘Beatles, Bach, Bacharach Go Bossa’ (1971)

RITA#670This is a lovely little slice of lounge music, not a million miles away from the camp shtick you might find on the first Austin Powers soundtrack. My wife finds records like these in the charity shop, and 9 times out of 10 they’re always worth a listen to.

The liner notes for this MFP release, by Bill Wellings, promise that ‘The four Beatles numbers (including George Harrison’s Something) are already well known to you, but they sound really fresh and inviting in their smart new Brazilian style.’ I guess you know you’ve made it when your songs are reworked into a musical style from another continent.

‘So, if your party ever looks like sagging in the middle, switch on to the Beatles, Bach & Bacharach in Bossa Beat – and give the party a swingin’ new lease of life!’

Hit: Yesterday

Hidden Gem: Air On A G String

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