Rocks In The Attic #625: Fairport Convention – ‘Liege & Lief’ (1969)

RITA#625I’ve been looking for a nice, clean, affordable, original copy of this record for what feels like forever. I recently gave up and bought a minty Back To Black reissue, and I can report that it sounds glorious.

To folk, or not to folk; that is the question. In this case, the answer is very much in the affirmative. This was the band’s fourth studio album, and their third to be released in the year of 1969. Now, that’s what I call prolific!

Hit: Come All Ye

Hidden Gem: Matty Groves

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Rocks In The Attic #624: Howard Shore – ‘The Silence Of The Lambs (O.S.T.)’ (1991)

RITA#624.jpgPop quiz, people: what’s the link between this Jonathan Demme film and Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975?

Clue – it isn’t that they’re both set in mental asylums, although of course that is undoubtedly true; the answer is something more specific. Just like the magazine quiz in the Sunday papers, you can find the answer at the bottom of the page!

“Starling! Starling! Crawford wants to see you in his office.”

So begins one of the best films of the 1990’s, and arguably the best Thomas Harris adaptation. Hipsters will try and claim Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) – the first film adaptation of Harris’ Red Dragon ­– but that feels very dated now, compared to the later, admittedly duller, remake, Red Dragon (2002). Manhunter isn’t even the best Michael Mann film – surely that accolade would sit with Thief (1981) or Heat (1995).

While Manhunter introduced the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter to the silver screen, Lambs stands head and shoulders apart from the earlier film and Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal is so different to Brian Cox’s version that it feels like a different character altogether.

Fresh off her Best Actress winning role in 1998’s The Accused, Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, a trainee FBI agent tasked with interviewing an incarcerate Lecter on the current serial killer at large, Buffalo Bill. Like all great films and television shows, the naive Starling acts as our guide into this world for which she isn’t ready.

RITA#624aAnother clue for the pop quiz at the top of the page – the third film that links The Silence Of The Lambs and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is Frank Capra’s 1934 proto-romantic comedy It Happened One Night.

Even if you take away Lambs most thrilling scene – the sequence involving Lecter’s escape from a heavily locked-down Tennessee courthouse – and the film’s many, many contributions to ‘90s popular culture, there’s still a lot to love. Howard Score’s musical score is very highly strung, with a recurring theme that resonates with Starling’s unease into Lecter and Buffalo Bill’s territory, every performance from the principals down to the support roles and bit-parts feels just right, and the film’s final switcheroo when Starling knocks on the door of a lead, while the FBI storm the house of their main suspect, is just wonderful – a cinematic device I’ve seen imitated many times since but never bettered.

The only aspect of the film now that doesn’t work as well as it might have done upon release is Demme’s use of extreme close-up. While this works with the voyeuristic theme of the film, in practice it feels a little too jarring, particularly when used in relatively benign scenes like, for example, the scene where Starling and her FBI colleagues watch the TV news press conference by the parents of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim.

“I do wish we could chat longer, but… I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Cellar

RITA#624bANSWER: All three films – It Happened One Night, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence Of The Lambs – won the ‘big five’ academy awards in their respective years: Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster) and either of the two screenplay awards, in this case Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).

Now, while this is one of my tried and tested trivia facts, and something I’ve bored countless people with over the years, what I find even more interesting are the films which were nominated for the ‘big five’, but didn’t pull off a clean sweep like these three films did. As of the latest Academy Awards in February 2017, a total of forty three films have been nominated for the ‘big five’. The following list ranks each of the forty three by their number of wins in the ‘big five’ categories:

Four
Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942)
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Three
From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
Coming Home
(Hal Ashby, 1978)
On Golden Pond
(Mark Rydell, 1981)
Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Two
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
The Philadelphia Story
(George Cukor, 1940)
Gentleman’s Agreement
(Elia Kazan, 1947)
A Place In The Sun
(George Stevens, 1951)
The Country Girl
(George Seaton, 1954)
Room At The Top
(Jack Clayton, 1959)
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
(Stanley Kramer, 1967)
The Lion In The Winter
(Anthony Harvey, 1968)
Rocky
(John G. Avildsen, 1976)
The English Patient
(Anthony Minghella, 1996)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

One
A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
(Sam Woodm 1939)
Rebecca
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
Johnny Belinda
(Jean Negulesco, 1948)
Sunset Boulevard
(Billy Wilder, 1950)
A Streetcar Named Desire
(Elia Kazan, 1951(
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
(Mike Nichols, 1967)
The Graduate
(Mike Nicols, 1967)
Reds
(Warren Beatty, 1981)
Silver Linings Playbook
(David O. Russell, 2012)

Zero
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958)
The Hustler
(Robert Rossen, 1961)
Bonnie And Clyde
(Arthur Penn, 1967)
Love Story
(Arthur Hiller, 1970)
Lenny
(Bob Fosse, 1974)
Atlantic City
(Louis Malle, 1981)
The Remains Of The Day
(James Ivory, 1993)
American Hustle
(David O. Russell, 2013)

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Rocks In The Attic #623: The Band – ‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968)

RITA#623I recently saw The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s film of the final Band performance in 1976. I don’t know why I had avoided this for so long; perhaps it was the feeling that when you’ve seen one classic rock superstar concert line-up, you’ve seen them all. “Get Eric Clapton on the phone, we’re having a get-together.” Or perhaps it was the suspicion that Scorsese’s presence might taint the Band, just like his sycophancy for the Rolling Stones has left that band a little less dangerous.

Watching the film – which I enjoyed immensely – I was struck by the feeling of how inadequate my collection of Band records is. I have this, their classic debut, and I also have their self-titled follow-up, but that’s it. No more. Zilch.

Of course, I’ve been operating under the illusion that that’s all I needed, and that if I made the effort to check out their later recordings then I’d be disappointed. But watching the 1976 version of the group perform in The Last Waltz, it seems like the Band couldn’t write a bad song if they tried.

My favourite guest star in The Waltz was Joni Mitchell – another artist seriously under-represented in my record collection. I have Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, but I need more, so much more. I might grow my hair and start wearing flares this summer.

Hit: The Weight

Hidden Gem: Chest Fever

Rocks In The Attic #622: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Gremlins (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#622.jpgGremlins is such a great film; one of those movies from my childhood that was a little bit scary but a whole lot of fun. I would have only been six years old when I first watched it, half laughing, half watching through my fingers. I re-watched it recently just to check whether it was as good as I remembered. Perhaps the special effects would have dated the film, or maybe I hadn’t noticed if the acting was hammy back when I was a kid.

Watching the film in 2017, it’s still a joy to watch. The special effects – made before the age of computer effects – hold up really well, and all of the performances are as good as you’d expect from what is essentially a B-movie picture. I couldn’t help but thinking that with Hollywood’s sometime lazy approach to filmmaking, surely a remake is on the cards at some point. A truly terrible thought as such a project would probably involve a lot of CGI and a cast of bland stars.

RITA#622aMost of the laughs in Gremlins comes from the creature effects, and you can tell that the team behind these had loads of fun coming up with disgusting ways for the little critters to behave. It almost feels like two projects on the screen at once – one, a film of a smalltown hero battling the odds to save the day, and a second project, led by the creations of special effects artist Chris Walas, ultimately aimed at innovating ways of showing the gremlins causing mayhem. At one point, the special effects crew had a list on the wall titled ‘Horrible Things To Do To Gizmo’.

RITA#622bAs well as the obvious nostalgia factor, a re-watch of the film also pays off to spot small parts from actors who went on to bigger things. Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Corey Feldman (Lost Boys, The Goonies) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Beverly Hills Cop) all put in appearances, but it is the film’s location that feels the most familiar. Filmed on the same Universal Studios backlot as the following year’s Back To The Future, the small town terrorised by the gremlins is essentially a modern-day Hill Valley. Even the cinema, where the gremlins gather to watch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, is in the same location as the one showing The Atomic Kid in 1955 Hill Valley.

RITA#622cRe-released by Mondo Records in 2016, this double LP is an incredibly well thought out package with design elements by Phantom City Creative reflecting the events of the film. The records – one disc on brown and white swirl mogwai vinyl, and one on green swirl gremlin vinyl – come in a UV sensitive gatefold jacket; when exposed to daylight, the cover reveals additional artwork. The inner sleeves are water sensitive as well, revealing additional artwork when exposed to a damp cloth.

Hit: The Gremlin Rag

Hidden Gem: The Shop

Rocks In The Attic #621: Monty Python’s Flying Circus – ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus (O.S.T.)’ (1970)

RITA#621I recently watched Holy Flying Circus, the BBC’s dramatisation of the events surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian in 1979. Portrayed by a bunch of lookalikes and soundalikes, including an uncannily accurate impression of Eric Idle by the comedian Steve Punt, Holy Flying Circus is overloaded with Pythonesque references and absurdist humour. The film finds the Python team and their management in the middle of a backlash from Christian groups and local councils against Brian, culminating in the now infamous television debate between Michael Palin and John Cleese versus Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark.

RITA#621aAs much as I love Python, their television sketches have lost a lot of their edge over the years; what was once irreverent now seems fairly quaint. More interesting to me is the behind the scenes story of the Python team themselves, and their journey from television sketch comedians to ‘blasphemous’ film stars and beyond. Holy Flying Circus doesn’t really add anything new if one is already familiar with the team’s 2003 autobiography or Michael Palin’s diary concerning The Python Years (2006).

Still, I could watch an Eric Idle sketch like Nudge Nudge over and over without ever getting bored. Or the sight of Michael Palin having the courage to repair bicycles in a world full of Supermen. Or Terry Jones dealing out religious justice as The Bishop. Or The Meaning Of Life’s impending doom from glorious slow-motion topless pursuers.

Hit: Pet Shop

Hidden Gem: Nudge Nudge

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Rocks In The Attic #620: Bill Haley & His Comets – ‘Bill Haley 1927 – 1981’ (1981)

RITA#620What if Elvis had never happened? What if Elvis had walked into Sun Studios in Memphis in 1953, but was prevented from making his first recording for Sam Phillips by a city-wide power cut? Of if he was hit by a bus walking over to the studio? The whole future of popular music and teen culture might have changed into an alternate timeline that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Two years later, Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock turns rock and roll into a household name, but there’s no good-looking teen idol to pass the flame to (up and comers Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis are all killed in a package tour bus crash). Instead, teenagers across America turn to Haley for inspiration, as he signs with manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. Tartan blazers become the hottest fashion accessory, and teens across the country turn to the emerging fast food restaurants to gain weight in adulation of their portly hero.

In 1957, Haley buys a large farming property, Graceland, between Memphis and the Mississippi border. A year later, Haley meets fourteen year old Priscilla Beaulieu and they marry after a seven year courtship. Haley becomes the most famous musician in the world, with his artistic credibility waning only after volunteering to join the army in 1958.

Throughout the 1960s Haley concentrates on acting and appears in a number of films celebrating middle-age. His return to music, the 1968 Comeback Special, renews public interest and reclaims Haley’s fanbase away from the British clarinet explosion of Acker Bilk. Dubbed the Fab One, Bilk had begun to alienate his global audience in recent years with music heavily influenced by his hallucinogenic drug use.

RITA#620aIn the 1970s, Haley becomes a staple of the Las Vegas casino scene. He switches draper jackets for white and gold jumpsuits, and it seems that his star will never fade with a million impersonators copying his gold wraparound sunglasses and kiss-curl hair-style. However, in December 1980 tragedy strikes when Haley is gunned down by an obsessive fan outside the New York apartment he shares with his Japanese wife, the artist Yoko Ono. Haley falls into a coma, and dies a few months later.

Haley’s legacy – the influential sound of rock and roll – can still be heard across pop charts to this day, and his lasting effect on fast-food culture is covered in Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, a celebration of the age of American obesity.

Hit: Rock Around The Clock

Hidden Gem: Rip It Up

Rocks In The Attic #619: Bob James – ‘Sign Of The Times’ (1981)

RITA#619Here’s a sign of the times. I was watching Walter Hill’s 1978 heist film The Driver the other day; part of my ongoing fascination with Edgar Wright’s wonderful Baby Driver from this year. I was watching the film in bed on Saturday morning, and my four-year-old jumped into bed and started watching with me.

There’s a scene towards the end of the picture where Ryan O’Neal’s character steps into a phone-box in the train station to make a short call.

“Look – he’s getting into a lift,” Isobel said.

“No,” I said. “It’s a phone-box. He wants to call somebody.”

Thus began a short conversation around the wonders of modern technology, and the fact that in 1978 when you’re made arrangements with criminals, you couldn’t just call them on your Samsung Galaxy. She thought it was a lift / elevator simply because of its shape and the fact that he stepped inside it.

The simple phone-box has all but disappeared from our screens this century; it made a final death rattle in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth from 2002. That film seemed like the last preposterous variation on the ‘peril within a space’ movie trope kicked off by 1987’s Die Hard (peril in a building), and copied by 1992’s Under Seige (peril on a boat), 1994’s Speed (peril on a bus) and countless others since.

Try and think of the last time a character in a film – set in the present day – made a call in a phone-box. It’s virtually impossible, simply because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But before the advent of cheap mobile phones around the turn of the century, it was commonplace.

The phone-box used to represent a form of safety. I’ll never forget the opening credits to television’s The Equalizer, when the panicked woman ran from an unseen antagonist into the illuminated security of a phone-box. And what would Bill & Ted have used as a time-travelling device if phone-boxes weren’t around? (We may find out the answer to that question if the long-rumoured third film ever gets made – perhaps it will be a smart-phone after all).

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Bob James, but it saves me writing about those horrible photos of him inside the record’s gatefold cover.

Hit: Hypnotique

Hidden Gem: The Steamin’ Feeling

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