Sunday, May 31, 2015
(September 1972, U.S.)
Hey there, people...after an unavoidable absence from my home and my computer...I'm b-a-a-a-a-a-c-k!!! I said would return and I have, and I've returned with my favorite rock band of all time, PINK FLOYD!
Now let's be honest for a moment...it's very easy and convenient for any lover of classic rock to say they like or love Pink Floyd. Sure, it's easy if you've repeatedly heard some of their most commercial hits on FM radio like "Money", "Wish You Were Here" and "Comfortably Numb". Hell, my nine year-old son has gotten caught up over the years in my love for "The Dark Side of the Moon" (my favorite rock album of all time, by the way!) and it's iconic image of the prism and the rainbow, but he still has yet to hear and appreciate the entire album from beginning to end. And quite frankly, as he's growing up in a sad generation that's come to appreciate the pop sounds of One Direction, Ariana Grande and even Taylor Swift (UUGH!!!), he'd be likely to consider my favorite album just a little too weird for his tastes, particularly the track known as "The Great Gig in the Sky". But to really know and love the band as I do, you have to go back to the days before the breakthrough of The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) to when the majority of their tunes were very progressive, eclectic and psychedelic. The average Pink Floyd fan of today is likely to neither know nor appreciate some of the early songs as "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "A Saucerful of Secrets" or even the entire album side of "Echoes".
PINK FLOYD: LIVE AT POMPEII is not your traditional live concert film. Instead of playing to an audience the band members of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason perform some of their most progressive tracks only for themselves and the crew inside the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy. And just like a cool music video at a time that was nine years before MTV would ever go on the air, there are startling images of the ancient surroundings of Pompeii history that is perfectly timed to accompany the incredible music we hear. But as I said, the music is not for your average FM radio Pink Floyd fan of today. A certain level of patience and appreciation is required for not only this film, but for the early (not too early, as in it's music that is post Syd Barrett) music, as well. When the band isn't playing, the rest of the film serves as a documentary of not only the band's relationship with each other, but also a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making The Dark Side of the Moon album at the famed Abbey Studios in London, as well. It's actually quite interesting to listen to them during their interview in how they have a great respect for one another, despite occasionally getting into professional squabbles, as bands often will. Listening to them in 1972, one would think they're destined to survive as a band for decades to come. However, those who follow the band and their history know that in the 1980s, their very existence as a band came to a disastrous end after years of inner turmoil, inevitably resulting in lawsuits filed by Roger Waters for legal use of the name Pink Floyd. Thankfully, the music didn't end there because their were two more Floyd albums in 1987 and 1994.
Like many of these sorts of films, I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen at midnight shows when I was in college. By the time I owned it on VHS at school, I was often apt to play it when I returned to my dorm room after a night of drinking. While I wasn't high from any hard drugs, the psychedelic sounds of the early Pink Floyd was just what I needed to end my night before sleeping until about 3 pm the next day. Ah, the irresponsible care-free days of college in the '80s!
Favorite line or dialogue:
David Gilmour: "It was very heavy back a few years ago. It's not so bad since, but I think some people still think of us as a very drug oriented group. 'Course we're not. You can trust us."
Favorite tracks performed:
"Echoes" and "A Saucerful of Secrets"
Friday, May 15, 2015
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
(November 2002, U.S.)
As a film title, Roman Polanski's THE PIANIST is almost anything but. What I mean is that as a World War II story of the Nazi occupation of Poland and the tale of one man's raw survival against unthinkable evil, it seems we very rarely get a real idea of just who Adrian Brody's character of Polish-Jewish Władysław Szpilman really is as a pianist. When we're first introduced to the man, it's the year 1939 in Warsaw and Szpilman is playing piano live on the radio when the station is bombed during the Nazi invasion which causes the outbreak of their involvement in the war. Foolishly counting on a very a quick victory, Szpilman celebrates with his posh family at home when they learn that Great Britain and France have declared war on Germany. However, German troops soon enter Warsaw and the Nazi authorities have implemented measures to identify, isolate and financially ruin and reduce the Jewish population in Warsaw, including the order for them to provide their own identifying armbands bearing the Star of David. As a viewer, there is a level of frustration in this because there is that moment when we know this family could have gotten out of Warsaw and saved their own lives. Bad judgement and false hopes will now cost them their souls!
Within a year, the Szpilman family and all other Jewish families in Poland have been removed from their homes and relocated to the overcrowded conditions of Jewish sectors, where they're meant to starve, lose their entire social structure and be left at the mercy of the Nazi guards. By the time the trains are rolling and carrying the Jewish population to what will ultimately by the death camps, Władysław Szpilman is separated from those he loves and forced to survive by his animal instincts and all the luck that human decency (wherever it may lie) can provide for him. What follows is years of survival and narrow escapes from cruelty and death. Szpilman is meant to be a hero, but not by any anti-war fighting (he does not participate in what was eventually to be called the Polish "Uprising") or even the passion of music that his been the soul of his life, thus far. Szpilman is a hero simply because he has the good fortune and determination to survive! Szpilman the pianist is not a crucial factor in his survival, his life or the story. There is one moment, however, when the pianist's true soul comes through and that's when Szpilman is alone in a deserted apartment that just happens to have a piano in it. Forced into silence, he can only sit at it, close his eyes and pretend to hit those black and white keys while we listen to the sweet sounds of music that are in his head. This is a powerful moment of passion and unfortunately, the moment doesn't last as long on film as I think it should have. Polanski (or his editor) chooses to cut this moment short and that's a rather tragic decision in film editing. As an audience, we're given a beautiful sequence of joy and then it's yanked away from us too soon. If there's an intentional cinematic point to this, I haven't figured it out yet.
Even as a war film, which is never pretty, the film's ultimate message is of hope and survival for the future. Still, watching any graphic film of the Holocaust leaves the viewer no choice but to watch the screen with a rather blank, grim look on their faces (like me!). We know our history and we know of the millions of Jews that were murdered under Hitler's Nazi regime. What hope do we think we'll achieve from that? Survival, I suppose...the thought to live another day and perhaps claim one's right to their own future is the best we can expect. At the war's end, Szpilman survives (it's almost stupidly amusing to see that he's almost killed by Polish soldiers because he's wearing a German soldier's coat simply to keep warm!), is liberated and finally comes full circle with his music as he's seen playing a piece by Chopin on the radio again before a captive audience. Yet look closely at Brody's face and try to conclude exactly what he's feeling...
He has survived the horror of war and life for him appears to almost simply resume as it was before war claimed it. He's alive and he's playing music again, but at what cost? He's alone now, having lost his entire family and that's something that will haunt him forever. My only conclusion is that whether or not passion and joy is evident in one's manner or character, it's all we have sometimes in life even when all else seems hopeless...even the hopelessness of survival in a world you've witnessed gone wrong.
While I certain won't try to compare this film with Steven Spielberg's SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993), which ultimately hits our nerves and our guts on a higher level, Roman Polanski tells a very personal tale, and this is coming from a man who escaped Nazi Germany when he was a boy. It's a complex film of humanity, inhumanity, animal survival instincts, the harsh pain of loss and one's final redemption. This is a lot of emotion for an actor like Adian Brody to have to pull off on film and he does it splendidly, certainly earning his Oscar nomination for Best Actor. And yes, CHICAGO may have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2002, but in my humble opinion, it should have been THE PIANIST!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Wailing Woman: "Why did I do it? Why did I do it? Why did I do it?"
Halina Szpilman: "She's getting on my nerves. What did she do, for God's sake?"
Father Szpilman: "She smothered her baby."
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
(December 1940, U.S.)
In any traditional American screwball comedy that involves a love triangle, the key players are generally three, more often than not one woman versus two men. In THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, it's Tracy Lord (NOT to be confused with the 80's porn star, Traci Lords - LOL!!!) (played by Katherine Hepburn) verses three men; her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (sounds like a law firm!) (played by the always funny Cary Grant), her fiancée George (played by John Howard) and a snooping reporter who would rather be a serious writer (played by James Stewart - my favorite classic actor!) who just may be falling in love with Tracy while he tries to do his job for his magazine called, appropriately enough, SPY; sort of a prelude to real life tabloid trash like the National Enquirer! But even when the film begins, you know you're in for some real interesting characters. One can only feel a sort of empathy for Cary Grant in despising his soon-to-be ex-wife so much that he takes a whole lot of enjoyment in pushing his hand into her face and knocking her down to the floor after she's purposely snapped one of his golf clubs like a twig (why is it in the movies, when women want their revenge against men, they always go for their car or their golf clubs??). I can only think, "You go, Cary!" when I watch that!
As a Philadelphia socialite, Tracy's madcap wedding plans are about to be complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and the tabloid magazine reporter while she tries to constantly convince herself that she truly loves the man she's about to marry as husband number two. And so, the night before the wedding, Tracy gets drunk (one of the few times in her life) and takes what's supposed to be an innocent swim with Mike the tabloid reporter. When George sees Mike carrying the intoxicated Tracy into the house afterward, he presumes the worst (and probably rightfully so). Still, remember that this is the innocent year of 1940 and drunk women having sex with men in swimming pools the night before they're supposed to wed is still (practically) considered a no-no on the big screen when you're trying to make a family comedy. The next day, as would be expected, all parties involved in all of this wedding madness must come clean and confess what they've done and what they haven't done. By the time it's all over, Tracy realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin. George is gone, believing his bride-to-be will not be true to him and it's Mike (ex-husband) who volunteers to marry her (again), which she happily accepts. All is happy again, as it should be.
Okay...perhaps it's all a bit hard to follow in terms of some comedic soap opera, but perhaps when you simply consider two facts - that the triangle is now a square with four people instead of three and that it's all just a whole of screwball fun with gifted, legendary actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood who also knew how to be very funny when it was called for, then it's very easy to remind yourself not to get so hung up on every little detail and complication, and to just simply enjoy the witty, romantic laughs and the rather silly flavor of old high society elegance, in glorious black and white classic Hollywood!
Favorite line or dialogue:
George Kittredge (to a horse): "What's the matter, Bessie? You seem worried."
Dinah Lord: "Maybe that's because his name is Jack."