(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘movies

“The older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life.”*…

It’s that time of year…

Worried about your carefully chosen holiday presents languishing on a container ship somewhere? We invite you to consider these select Supply Chain–resistant items, up for bid from the world of Sylvester Stallone!

The exclusive auction event presenting the extraordinary collection of the international superstar and the Golden Globe Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor, screenwriter, fitness icon, author, artist and director’s most cherished treasures from his singular life and career, [is] taking place on Sunday, December 5th at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills and live online at juliensauctions.com.

Give a piece of Rocky (or Rambo or Cobra or…): “Slice Through the Clutter of the Holiday Giving Season With a Little Something From the Personal Collection of Sylvester Stallone,” from @JOEMACLEOD666, @tomscocca, and the good folks at @Read_Indignity. Do browse: lots of knives…

* Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa

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As we stock up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Edwin Land’s Polaroid Land Camera Model 95– the first “instant” camera, producing finished prints in about a minute– went on sale for the first time.  It was priced at a then-lofty $95 (to wit, the model number).

Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the camera. Fifty-seven were offered at Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store for the Christmas holiday.  Polaroid’s marketing department reckoned that the camera and film would remain in stock long enough to manufacture a second run based on customer demand.  In the event, all fifty-seven cameras and all of the film were sold on the first day.  Over 1.5 million units were sold over the next few years, before the company introduced new models.

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“I am sorry I have not learned to play at cards. It is very useful in life: it generates kindness and consolidates society.”*…

Day after tomorrow– this this Wednesday, the 27th– Sotheby’s will be auctioning the late, great Ricky Jay’s remarkable collection of magic publications and artifacts…

… You have the rare opportunity to get your hands on a complete guide to the base practices of highwaymen, sharpers, swindlers, money-droppers, duffers, setters, mock-auctions, quacks, bawds, jilts, etc. in eighteenth-century London. 

That text is part of The Ricky Jay Collection, perhaps the world’s greatest assemblage of books on magic, deception, and trickery. As detailed in this enjoyable New York Times report, the Sotheby’s sale is a cornucopia of oddities from the late conjurer.

What’s really for sale — beyond the Houdini posters, guides to card tricks, and beautiful landscapes painted by armless entertainers — is the source material for Ricky Jay’s storytelling.

Jay (1946-2018) was, by all accounts, one of the world’s greatest practitioners of legerdemain, a word that literally translates as light of hand [see here for its amusing etymology]. In other words, he did card tricks. But not just any card tricks: His 1977 book Cards As Weapons (available for free here!) begins with a letter to the Secretary of Defense explaining just how valuable his skills might be:

Drawing on techniques developed hundreds of years ago by ‘ninja’ assassins, I have developed my own system of self-defence based solely on a pack of cards,” he wrote. “I believe I have discovered a viable method of reducing the defence budget while keeping a few steps ahead of the Russkies.”

And Jay could indeed pierce the skin of a watermelon with a playing card from across a room. But when you came right down to what he did with his 52 assistants, the man was famous for moving pieces of waxed paper around on a table. The gulf between collating stationery and  “the theatrical representation of the defiance of natural law” was filled by his deep knowledge and ready wit.

One of his signature tricks was The Four Queens, in which the waxed rectangles with the Qs in their corners are blended into the pack and need to be reunited. Or as Jay framed it, “I have taken advantage of these tenderly nurtured and unsophisticated young ladies by placing them in positions extremely galling to their aristocratic sensibilities.”

You can really see the storytelling taking shape here in his Sword of Vengeance trick. What do shogun assassins have to do with cards? That’s exactly what you forget to ask until it’s too late:

Jay’s ability to unspool a story was clearly infectious, as his profilers couldn’t resist taking flights of erudition.

“He’s like someone carving scrimshaw while surrounded by Macy’s Thanksgiving Day dirigibles,” wrote Tom Carson in Grantland.

“His patter was voluble, embroidered with orotund, baroque locutions; he would describe the watermelon rind, for instance, as the ‘thick pachydermatous outer melon layer’,” wrote Mark Singer in The New Yorker.

To include him in the pantheon of Great Wits is to recognize why he amassed The Ricky Jay Collection and what he learned from it. The shaggy dog story, as previously detailed in GWQ #101, is a psychological non-sequitur: You follow it at great length to eventually learn it goes nowhere. But in Ricky Jay’s dexterous hands, the story was an ideal way to distract you from his dexterous hands. His words were how he could really transport the audience into a world of wonders. It’s as if he harnessed the shaggy dogs and mushed them through the Iditarod… 

The wit that powered the tricks: “Ricky Jay’s slight of tongue,” from Benjamin Errett (@benjaminerrett)

* Samuel Johnson

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As we riffle and cut, we might send accomplished birthday greetings to Marion Eileen Ross; she was born on this date in 1928. An actress with a long history in film (e.g., The Glenn Miller Story, Sabrina, Lust for Life, Teacher’s Pet, Some Came Running, and Operation Petticoat), she is best remembered for her role as Marion Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days, on which she starred from 1974 to 1984 and for which she received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations. (That said, your correspondent will always remember her for her remarkable performances as Grandma SquarePants in SpongeBob SquarePants.)

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“To me, the ideal artist-to-audience relationship is a one-to-zero relationship. The artist should be granted anonymity.”*…

Wish granted…

Earlier this month a little piece of music history was restored. The news was easy to overlook. Sony Music Publishing announced that one of its outermost divisions would be rebranding: what had been EMI Production Music since 2011 would become KPM Music once again. The change may seem trivial, but it restores a name that has wielded a wide and surprising influence over popular culture.

The chances are you haven’t heard of KPM, despite its roots stretching back to 1780, when Robert Keith (the K of the name) set up a music shop in London. But you have almost certainly heard its music. Since 1956 KPM had been a producer of library music, which is not music to be played quietly for the benefit of readers, but music composed to a brief, kept on catalogue, and then used—in return for payment—to accompany something else.

You have probably encountered the work of KPM’s composers and musicians on television. In America the credits of “Monday Night Football” unfold to the sound of “Heavy Action” by Johnny Pearson; the melody for Channel 9’s cricket show in Australia was produced by KPM, though it was written with a news broadcast in mind. In Britain several shows have drawn on KPM’s library, including “All Creatures Great and Small”, “Mastermind”, “Grange Hill”, “The Two Ronnies” and the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon.

Even if you never watch TV, though, you will know fragments of this music, especially if you like hip-hop. kpm recordings have been a rich source of samples (a segment of sound used in another composition). Of KPM’s star composers, Brian Bennett has been sampled 114 times, by Drake, Nas, Kanye West and more. Les Baxter has been sampled 79 times by the Beastie Boys, Ghostface Killah and MF Doom, among others. Rap’s founding text, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, sampled KPM stalwart Alan Hawkshaw—specifically the song “Here Comes That Sound Again”. “Library music is sought after by producers, collectors and writers because it was played by people, not manufactured by [a] machine,” Mr Hawkshaw once [said]…

One of the most sampled songs in pop history came from kpm musicians playing together for fun in 1968. “Champ” by The Mohawks has a distinctive organ hook—played by Mr Hawkshaw—that was sampled by Eric B and Rakim and Afrika Bambaataa in the 1980s and is still being remixed by Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe and Nicki Minaj today. “People think that’s a black group from Detroit [playing the tune], but it was hashed together by session musicians in Yorkshire,” Mr Hawkshaw said.

Library music is not the rich trove of unexpected wonder it used to be. These days budgets are tighter and there is less inclination to hire whole orchestras for an afternoon, so there isn’t so much scope for the moments of brilliance a room full of musicians might create. Artificial-intelligence firms are also trying to muscle in on the market, offering computer-generated compositions to accompany video content for a fraction of the cost of real musicians. But there is still magic in the thought of those shelves, full of music composed and recorded for who knows what, sitting there waiting to be used for something else entirely…

Its artists aren’t famous and you can’t buy the records in shops; but its work can be heard everywhere: “KPM Music is one of the most important record labels in history,” from @TheEconomist.

* Glenn Gould

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As we honor the unnamed, we might send suspiciously on-key birthday greetings to Faheem Rasheed Najm; he was born on this date in 1984. Better know by his stage name T-Pain, he is a rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer. But he’ll surely be best remembered as the person who popularized Auto-Tune pitch-correction technology. Indeed, T-Pain became so associated with Auto-Tune that an iPhone app that simulated the effect was named after him.

Developed in 1997, Auto-Tune was used in 1998 in Cher’s “Believe” to create vocal effects (though the producers attributed the result to a pedal, treating Auto-Tune as a trade secret). Years later, T-Pain popularized the tool… which has become a controversial staple in the recording industry (as it allows recording engineers to turn the tuneless into accomplished singers).

Time magazine quoted an unnamed Grammy-winning recording engineer as saying, “Let’s just say I’ve had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood cast albums. And every singer now presumes that you’ll just run their voice through the box.” The same article expressed “hope that pop’s fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade”, speculating that pop-music songs have become harder to differentiate from one another, as “track after track has perfect pitch.” According to Tom Lord-Alge, the device is used on nearly every record these days…

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“It’s like you watching a home movie of you watching TV”*…

Feeling fractal…

Welcome to Nestflix

The platform for your favorite nested films and shows.

Fictional movies within movies? Got ‘em. Fake shows within shows? You bet. Browse our selection of over 400 stories within stories…

Nestflix!

Homer: Wait a minute. You’re telling Moe’s story in Burns’ story in your story?

Lisa: Yes, dad. It’s like a play inside of a play, like Hamlet. [Homer is puzzled.] Fine, it’s like you watching a home movie of you watching TV.

Homer: [understanding] Oh yeah.

“The Seemingly Never-Ending Story”, The Simpsons

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As we put the “mmm” in “meta,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened at the Rialto Theatre in London (it premiered in the U.S, at the UA Westwood in Los Angeles, on September 26). Still in limited release forty-six years after its opening, it is the longest-running theatrical release in film history.

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“Something can always go wrong”*…

Blood Simple

When what’s old is new again…

When Dennis Lehane joked in 2011 that the only real difference between Greek tragedy and noir was that in the former characters fall from great heights and in the latter they drop from the curb, he was pinpointing something simultaneously mythic and fatalistic about the American crime fiction tradition: the idea of cautionary tales being told at street level. “Whichever way you turn,” broods the antihero of Edgar G. Ulmer’s axiomatic Detour (1945), “fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” The same anxious malaise inflecting detective stories of Depression-era novelists like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler—whose twisty plots doubled as picaresque guided tours through a newfangled urban wilderness—would manifest in the flow of postwar thrillers that either literally adapted their contents or else reconfigured their themes for a visual medium. Stories set in moral grey zones and gritty environments were transformed into cinematic shadow plays by filmmakers who recognized and exploited the material’s expressionist potential. A movie like Fritz Lang’s wonderfully wicked The Woman in the Window (1944) sutures the seams between the elegant, sinister poeticism of Weimar-era horror and the hard-driving, irrepressible energy of pre-Code American crime pictures, an unholy matrimony yielding plenty of significant offspring. In 1946, writing about a group of American movies previously banned in France during the Nazi occupation—mostly signed by European émigrés like Lang who’d fled for the Hollywood Hills—critic Nino Frank evocatively referred to them as “dark films,” a coinage whose actual originality has been debated but proved lingeringly evocative. The description was taken as a workable industrial template for decades by Hollywood studios and insurgent independents alike.

Though noir was and remains an amorphous concept, it does have a few instantly identifiable features: like any genuinely red-blooded and pleasurable entertainment, you know it when you see it. The commercial appeal of noir lay primarily in its natural conduciveness to sex and violence, both always lurking and often intertwined in defiance of everyday moralism and official censorship, while its critical viability owed to its existential dimension, a spectrum broad enough to accommodate a muckraker like James M. Cain alongside Albert Camus. The latter famously said that Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was a deep influence on his own 1942 L’étranger; in both books, outwardly mild-mannered protagonists momentarily get away with murder, imagining themselves privy in the act’s aftermath to some secret knowledge about what Camus’s narrator calls “benign indifference of the world.” Or, as a pair of noir addicts put it in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), a movie branded with the mark of Cain: “it’s hard to explain, but seeing it whole gives you some peace.”…

The Same Old Song: A Guide to NeonoirAdam Nayman (@brofromanother) leads us from Point Blank and Chinatown through Blood Simple and Night Moves to The Last Seduction and Momento.

* “Visser” (M. Emmet Walsh), Blood Simple

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As we get dark, we might send thrilling birthday greetings to Arthur Zwerling; he was born on this date in 1914. Better known by his professional name, Jeff Corey, he was a stage and screen actor and director (whose work included noirs like The Man Who Wouldn’t Die and the radio series The Adventures of Philip Marlowe).

Corey’s career was interrupted when he was blackilisted in the early 1950s, so he turned to teaching– and became one of the most influential acting coaches in Hollywood. His students, at various times, included Robert Blake, James Coburn, Richard Chamberlain, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Michael Forest, James Hong, Luana Anders, Sally Kellerman, Shirley Knight, Bruce Lee, Penny Marshall, Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman, Darrell M. Smith, Diane Varsi, Sharon Tate, Rita Moreno, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Forrest, Anthony Perkins, Rob Reiner, Robert Towne, Barbra Streisand, and Robin Williams. He resumed his acting career in the the 60s.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 10, 2021 at 1:00 am

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