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Posts Tagged ‘Godfather of Soul

The Master meets the Godfather…

“From high art to low trash, and back again!”– Media Funhouse has been dishing it out on Manhattan cable access and on its blog for over a decade-and-a-half.  The work of Ed Grant (editor of The Motion Picture Guide and Movies on TV), it’s a continuous stream of appreciations, oddities… an enthusiast’s delight.

Consider, for example, this recent episode:

A Deceased Artiste tribute to three very talented individuals. This time out, it’s three individuals who took a powder at the very end of last year. First up, I salute Eartha Kitt with her sexy performances from the stilted but invaluable musical New Faces (1954). Then it’s on to an auteur who was known as a specialist in “Southern children” pictures and portraits of moon-eyed horny teenagers, Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Summer of ’42). My favorite film by Mulligan, featured here, is the underrated, low-key neo-noir The Nickel Ride (1975) starring Jason Miller. From Mulligan’s doomed noir hero, we move on to the man whose plays were landmarks in English (and world) theater, the master of modern mis-communication and strategically-placed silence, Harold Pinter. Despite his stylization, Pinter’s confrontations are as raw – although not as verbally violent – as those of his successor, David Mamet. The Deceased Artiste department of the Funhouse is one of the few places these folks could meet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, there were other places that unlikely folks met.  Consider The Mike Douglas Show:

The show was 90 minutes long and on five days a week, so the guests had to be stacked up like cordwood, and very often they had nothing whatsoever in common with the week-long “cohost”…  [the clip below] features a [1969] daytime talkshow appearance by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch has nominally come on to promote what might be his worst American film Topaz, and gets to shake hands with the three guests who are already on the panel: bestselling poet and songwriter Rod McKuen (“Seasons in the Sun,” Listen to the Warm), Joan Rivers (when she was a mousy housewife comedian you could look at without wincing), and the One and Only James Brown. Yes, the two legends from completely different disciplines were on the same stage, just because the bookers decided that was the best day to get ’em both on the air.

More wonderful weirdness– essays, clips, podcasts– at Media Funhouse.  [TotH to @jessedylan]

As we Say it Loud! I’m Fat and I’m Proud!, we might refrain from mowing the lawn in birthday tribute to Walt Whitman; he was born on this date in 1819.  Whitman grew up in Brooklyn, where over time he moved from printing to teaching to journalism, becoming the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846.  He began experimenting with a new form of poetry, revolutionary at the time, free of a regular rhythm or rhyme scheme, that has come to be known as “free verse.”  In 1855, Whitman published, anonymously and at his own expense, the first edition of Leaves of Grass— which was revolutionary too in its content, celebrating the human body and the common man.  Whitman spent the rest of his life revising and enlarging Leaves of Grass; the ninth edition appeared in 1892, the year of his death.

Whitman and the Butterfly, from the 1889 edition of Leaves of Grass (source: Library of Congress)

Please, Please, Please…

He was “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “the Godfather of Soul”– James Brown.  Immensely popular with audiences from the mid-Fifties (when “Please, Please, Please,” above, was a hit), he was a tremendous influence on popular music, with admirers who included jazz greats like Miles Davis, and emulators like Sly and the Family Stone, Booker T & the MGs and “soul shouters” like King Curtis, Edwin Starr, and David Ruffin (of The Temptations).  He was a famously-tough task master as a band leader; but it served his musicians well, as their education at his hands laid the foundation for several successful solo careers (e.g., Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson, Hank Ballard, Bootsy Collins, and Carlos Alomar).  And he was the ur-source of Funk (e.g., admirer George Clinton cast Brown alumni Fred Wesley and Bootsy Collins centrally in the seminal Parliament-Funkadelic).

But Brown made what was arguably his most influential contribution with his feet: he was, as anyone who saw him perform can attest, an astonishing dancer.  As a child, he’d earned pocket money buck dancing to entertain troops headed to Europe at the outset of WWII.  Over the years he made that traditional form uniquely his own– inspiring performers like Michael Jackson and Prince, who modeled their moves on his, and prefiguring the current vogue of dance-centric pop performances.

James Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006.  But happily, he left behind a guide to the moves that made him famous.  The holiday party season, with its fraught occasions to dance, looms; but there’s no reason to fear, Dear Readers– just watch and learn.  Michael Jackson did…

 

As we trip the light fantastic, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 (when James Brown was 13 years old) that Walt Disney released Song of the South, a feature film based on the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, in which live actors frame animated enactments of the adventures of Br’er Rabbit– like the story of “The Tar Baby.”  The film won the Best Song Oscar for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”; but, while the film was re-released theatrically in 1972, 1981, and 1986, and has been released to home video in Europe and Asia, it has never been released to home video in the U.S.— perhaps because Disney executives feel that it might be construed as racist.

James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus, was the first black actor hired by Disney to play a live role.  He was unable to attend the film’s premiere in Atlanta, the event hotels there would not have him. (source)

 

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