There’s no such thing as an original sin.
There’s no such thing as an original sin.
Chuchito ValdÃ©s is the grandson of the late Bebo and son of Chucho, Cuban jazz royalty.Â The short version of my rule for music is that African + Iberian = Proof of God’s Infinite Love, so I listen to a fair amount of this stuff.
Tonight we caught Chuchito at Yoshi’s. I was playing hooky from a talk by Theda Skocpol at our annual Wildavsky Forum, and if all my colleagues had done as I did, it wouldÂ have been a Bad Thing, categorical imperative time, but they didn’t, and I got to hear one of those evenings of music I’ll remember all my life. Unfair, I know, but seriously, up there with The Doors live at the Fillmore East on my short list of times.
Valdes had a minimal band (percussion, timbales, bass and a trumpet player whose name I missed), so every note counted and you could hear them all.Â He played boleros and son to break your heart, mambos and rhumbas to wake the dead and restart the universe.Â In the middle he did a medley of A Train and Satin Doll for which Edward Kennedy Ellington and William Strayhorn came down from heaven and spoke to us in Spanish.Â If the horn guy gets the “last trumpet” gig for the apocalypse I want to be in the front row and will die happy, especially because at that time I will also see the wretched Florida Cuban reactionaries and their Republican toadies going to hell for keeping us from this glorious music for decades.
About regression towards the mean?Â The statistics lesson for tonight is that the principle, normally sound, apparently has exceptions.
[Free extra, not worth a post by itself: the joropo (Venezuelan/Colombian cowboy music) group CimarrÃ³n has an 2011 self-titled album that I just came upon. If you don’t know them, check it out.]
After Sergio Leone completed the â€˜Dollarsâ€™ trilogy in 1966, the studios granted him the license to make a Western without fear of studio intervention. The film that resulted, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), is this weekendâ€™s movie recommendation.
The film is set in a time of rapid industrialisation, when the railway barons raced to connect the coasts of America with iron track. The prospect held fabulously lucrative promise, and Leone constructs a world in which the laws governing the realisation of that prospect were frighteningly flexible. One such baron is particularly ambitious, and reluctantly hires a henchman with higher designs â€“ â€˜Frank,â€™ played by Henry Fonda â€“ in order to help him get the job done before tuberculosis denies him satisfaction.
Donâ€™t expect to see the moral probity of Juror Eight, Wyatt Earp, or Young Abe Lincoln in Henry Fondaâ€™s performance. Instead, Frank is a terrifying, psychotic character with an appetite for child murder, corruption, and an unquenchable thirst for power. Charles Bronson appears opposite Frank as an enigmatically taciturn gunslinger. He is identified by the only thing about himself he is willing to reveal from his past â€“ his hauntingly played â€˜Harmonica.â€™ Harmonica cherishes his instrument with as much attention as he does his burning desire to kill Frank, for reasons that heâ€™s willing to divulge â€œonly at the point of dying.â€
Frankâ€™s and Harmonicaâ€™s stories coincide in the town of Flagstone. There, they meet Jill and Cheyenne, played respectively by the stunning Claudia Cardinale and the charismatic Jason Robards. Jill is an ex-prostitute trying to restore her reputation as an honest woman of means, and Cheyenne is keen to clear his name for the murders â€“ perpetrated by Frank â€“ for which he has been framed.
Ennio Morriconeâ€™s soundtrack assigns a stirring leitmotif to each of the principal characters. The music matches each characterâ€™s idiosyncrasies beautifully: for Frank, the music is loud and jarring; for Harmonica, itâ€™s un-placeably morose; for Cheyenne, itâ€™s strangely whimsical; for Jill, the melodic soprano seems dissonant in the barren wasteland of Flagstone.
The feature of Leoneâ€™s work that I find especially compelling is his ability to construct a believable history for almost every one of his characters. There are very few character â€˜propsâ€™ without personalities â€“ Frankâ€™s venal henchmen, the licentious bartender, and the exasperated sheriff officiating the auction â€“ all are believable.
Make no mistake: Once Upon a Time in the West is brutally violent. Clocking in at almost three hours, it will also swallow a sizeable chunk of your weekend whole. It is an exhausting experience, but as the pinnacle of the spaghetti Western genre, it is deeply rewarding. Watch it if you want to see where the clichÃ©s come from: my favourite is the way the camera captures an extreme close-up of piercing eyes appearing from under the hat-brim as the head lifts, but youâ€™ll surely notice countless other examples. Just remember that while they may seem dated, Leone is justly credited with having made them the ice cool hallmarks of dramatic cinema that they are today.
For trivia purposes, I think Iâ€™m going to play this one a little differently, given that Once Upon a Time in the West is already such well-trodden turf. Iâ€™m going to ask people to contribute instances where they think the film has been directly referenced by other films in the comments section. It shouldnâ€™t be too difficult to provide a long list, especially given the love of Leoneâ€™s work by just about every director since (Tarantino in particular is a huge fan). The rules are that you must provide clear information detailing the reference between the new film and what scene or aspect of Once Upon a Time in the West to which it refers. Simply naming a film wonâ€™t do. Buona fortuna!
Actually, it’s 40 years (!) since the release of Dark Side of the Moon.
The Telegraph has a nice photo retrospective of Pink Floyd here.
March 3, 2013 UPDATE: IN CASE YOU WERE NOT FEELING OLD ENOUGH ALREADY, THE BEATLES RELEASED THEIR FIRST ALBUM ONE HALF CENTURY AGO TODAY.
Theme song of an African geothermal conference.
A nice bon enfant jingle for, say, other Luo socialist climate hawks:
What makes it even nicer is that every claim in the puff is true. East Africa is starting to exploit >15 GW of geothermal reserves under the Rift Valley complex, where the continent is slowly splitting in two. The reserves are the traditional and easily accessible hydrothermal sort, not the more widespread “hot dry rocks” targeted by the still experimental EGS technology. More with map in the latest newsletter of the American Geothermal Association.
Even war-torn newbie South Sudan, with dozens of rift valleys, showed up at the latest regional conference. John Kerry has an opportunity here for green peacebuilding, weaning the country away away from dependence on blood oil.
Based on its vivid colors and exaggerated gestures, one is tempted to dismiss Academy Award Best Picture nominee Les Miserables as a cartoon. But cartoons have clarity of line and a sense of direction, not to mention momentum from frame to frame. This movie is more like the result of dropping the Sunday funnies in a mud-puddle: smeared with detritus and coming apart at the seams.
Start with the source. The musical itself, though much beloved by aficionados of Glee and Smash, takes Victor Hugoâ€™s outraged critique of post-revolutionary France and turns it into a parade. While purporting to address the depredations and degradations of poverty, Cameron Mackintoshâ€™s production was staged so elaborately that it depended on $150 tickets to keep it running. Thus there was the awkward matter of cheering gaunt poor people on the barricades from plush seats in the orchestra.
Happily even overpriced movies like this one cost only $10 or so to see, reducing the contradiction between medium and message. But director Tom Hooper (The Kingâ€™s Speech) and his collaborators have replaced that one difficulty with a raft of their own: frying pan, meet fire.
A trial balloon that Obma will end the War on Terror, and a (British) patriotic sea-shanty.
But, now that efforts by the U.S. military against al Qaeda are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: how will this conflict end? It is an unconventional conflict, against an unconventional enemy, and will not end in conventional terms [….]
In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the â€œbeginning of the end.â€
I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point â€“ a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.
At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an â€œarmed conflictâ€ against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community â€“ with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.
At that point we will also need to face the question of what to do with any members of al Qaeda who still remain in U.S. military detention without a criminal conviction and sentence. […]
I suggested in February that Candidate Obama campaign on a declaration that Al Qaeda has been defeated and the War on Terror over. He didnÂ´t. But the idea has clearly moved from liberal corners of the blogosphere to a seriously entertained policy option.
Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.
When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?
Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.
Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**
Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.
The phrase “the best disaster songs” has an extra “s” in it. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Tom Rush.
Metrosexual Manichean Monster DougJ at Balloon Juice wants to know about “the best disaster songs.”
Okay. Reasonable request. But why the plural?
The Music Man is a joyous, funny and romantic musical that has been lifting hearts for decades. Iowa native Meredith Willson laboured for years to fashion the tale of a fast-talking huckster who comes to fleece the small town rubes of River City and finds more than he bargained for, including romance with the lovely local librarian. The role of the would-be con man, Professor Harold Hill, made Robert Preston a huge Broadway star. Cary Grant saw the play many times, and was asked to essay the part of Hill in the 1962 movie adaptation. He allegedly responded “Not only will I not accept the role, but if you don’t get Preston to do it I will not even watch the movie”.
Since at least the time of Clara Bow, Hollywood casting directors have debated whether particular actors have “it”. Well, whatever “it” is, Preston’s got “it” in abundance. Hill is not a nice person. He wants to mulct the town into investing in a boys’ band it doesn’t need and he hopes to seduce and abandon the goodly Marian the Librarian along the way. But the second Preston comes on screen, everyone is cheering for him to pull it off. He is not, truth be told, a great singer at the level of Gordon MacRae, but he is a great actor and an irresistible charmer on screen.
If asked to think of a fresh-faced musical film actress with great pipes and screen appeal, most Americans of a certain generation would come up with Julie Andrews, perhaps remembering Shirley Jones only as the mom on a TV show that their kids watched. But Jones, who plays Marian, was a very big star in her day, and deservedly so. And she wasn’t just effective at playing wholesome All-American innocents as in this film and Oklahoma!: She after all won an Oscar for playing a vengeful prostitute in Elmer Gantry. Of the principals of the Music Man, she is far and away the best singer, and she also conveys warmth, fire and depth as Marian, the unmarried small town lass with a much-gossiped about past.
Preston and Jones are the hubs of the show stopping numbers, including “Ya Got Trouble” and “76 Trombones”. Except for Shipoopi, with singing and dancing by Buddy Hackett (Ack! – but at least he makes a good comic sidekick for Preston), there isn’t a less than good song in the film, and the music grows on you with repeated listenings.
It is worth mentioning also, given that so many child stars came to bad ends, that little Ronny Howard has a nice part in the film. He went on as we all know to become one of the great movie directors of his generation, which based on the little singing he does here was a wise decision.
Some NYC and LA-based film critics have read this film as a condemnation of the ignorance and small-mindedness of Iowans, which to me seems like coastal snobby not borne out by facts. Yes, the people in the town are sometimes petty and are easily taken in by the conniving Professor Hill, but Wilson also shows us that River City is a place of simple decency, youthful idealism and of course honest, redeeming love in the person of Marian. The movie thus stands as one of the three best statements of everything that is good about Iowa (The other two of course being Field of Dreams and the nearly all-white 2008 democratic caucus nominating Barack Obama).
Here is one of the lesser known but still marvelous numbers from the movie, showing off Preston’s smooth con artist ways and the mellifluous voices of the Buffalo Bills:
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