Friday, October 18th, 2013
Genre Film #4: “Excalibur” (1981)
Lush, sexy and dreamlike, John Boorman’s insanely shiny, insanely violent and insanely anachronistic take on the Arthurian legend is also the version that comes closest to feeling truly mythological. Studded with future stars (Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, among others), it is Nicol Williamson as an idiosyncratic and enchanting Merlin who keeps the whole thing from flying apart. Quite simply one of the best fantasy movies ever made.
Saturday, October 5th, 2013
Genre Movie #10: “The Ten Commandments” (1956)
If your favorite movie is the one you’ve watched the most often, than mine might have to be “The Ten Commandments.” Every year ABC plays it in the spring, and every year I put it on while I do my taxes. By the time Cecil B. DeMille’s epic (remake) of his best know epic is over, I’m done filling out my 1040.
You can’t get much more epic than this: A cast of thousands! Yul Brynner! Chuck Heston as a Jew! Edward G. Robinson, see. And smokin’ hot Anne Baxter! So let it be written, so let it be done!
(Honestly, I can’t believe anyone hasn’t yet spit out a compilation of everyone in the movie saying “Moses, Moses” twice … come internet, don’t let me down! Oh well, guess we’ll have to settle for this trailer.)
Monday, January 7th, 2013
Album #50: “The Sound of Sight” — Ray Martin & His Orchestra (1964)
Does anyone remember stereo? I’m not talking about an audio element now so common it’s often dropped from the list of product features — I’m talking STEREO! Stereo as THE selling point of a record, stereo as a noun, stereo as a pickup line (“Hey, wanna come back and check out my —”), stereo as actual entertainment in and of itself. As sales of home sound systems took off in the 1950s and ’60s, record companies put out dozens of albums specifically designed to show off the proud new owner’s speakers. Some tracks where as simple and silly as a recording of a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth, while others recreated the experience of listening to marching bands pass by on the street. My dad had several of these records, and when we were kids my brother and I would lay on the floor in between the speakers and marvel at the stereo.
The most ambitious of these concept albums was “The Sound of Sight” by composer Ray Martin. Martin, a producer at EMI and the British equivalent of Henry Mancini, had written songs for numerous movies and TV shows in England, and used his experience to great effect in this epic LP. Dubbed “Music For An Experiment in Imagination,” “The Sound of Sight” was the soundtrack to 9 fake movies, each a different genre, each telling a story complete with sound effects and dialog — and all in STEREO! Westerns, tearjerkers, costume epics, film noir … Martin even included a cartoon short detailing the misadventures of a cat & mouse. No mere gimmick, many of the themes Martin penned were as good if not better than many actual soundtracks.
Finally, The Sound of Sight came with what is arguably the greatest album cover ever* — a fold-out wrap-around by cartoonist extraordinaire Jack Davis, with hundreds of characters exploding into view. You could look at this thing for hours and still come back to find little details you missed. (It was this cover, along with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, that made me want to become a cartoonist.)
You can check out the album’s blazing film noir take below — with the awful pun “Hoodunit” as its title— and a large version of the cover here. See you in the pictures shows!
*I will accept votes for Herb Albert’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights,” but that’s it.