Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
Short Story #18: “The Property of a Lady” — Ian Fleming (1963)
What, you thought it was all going to be sci-fi?
“The Property of a Lady” was one of Ian Fleming’s last short stories to be published, and has James Bond … going to an auction. That’s it. No shootouts, no seductions, no supervillains — just secret agent 007 as part of a counter-espionage team quietly and carefully taking down a spy network by … paying attention to details.
There was a time when I was obsessed with the James Bond movies — partially because of their pop culture cache, but mostly (I deduced later) because my parents wouldn’t let us go seem them when we were growing up. They were forbidden, taboo — and therefore of course irresistibly alluring. Eventually I saw all the Bond movies, some multiple times, and finally came to realize they were all pretty much ridiculous.*
The books on the other hand … the books are a fascinating time capsule of the Cold War, and for all the over-the-top plotting of the various megalomaniacs intent on world domination, Ian Fleming’s spy novels are constructed on a substrate of actual spy craft, meticulous detail and procedure. Fleming’s greatest creation isn’t even supposed to be an interesting person. The author once described James Bond as “an extremely dull man to whom things happened.”
Among all the martini-shaking, product placement, explosions and Bond girls, this got lost along the way (although the one film that holds up great as a movie, and a Bond film — 2006’s “Casino Royale” — is the one that also adheres the closest to Ian Fleming’s original novel.)
*Except for the music composed by John Barry. That’s still fucking awesome.
Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Comedy #20: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966)
On the day after our biggest New Year’s Eve party ever, my wife and I awoke to a thoroughly trashed apartment, several unconscious friends, and a well-earned hangover. Not wanting to move further than the remote, I turned on the TV to discover that “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” had just begun. It was the perfect movie to watch as we lay about in the ruins of the night before.
Seriously, how can anyone hate a movie that rhymes “pantaloons & tunics” with “courtesans & eunuchs,” and has one character order a “sit-down orgy for 12”? For the next several years, we started every New Year’s Day with this film.
Stephen Sondeheim’s very first musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester (who will appear on this list more than once) coming off of back-to-back Beatles movies — so you know there will be lots of chase scenes, cross-dressing and broad jokes. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a parody of the sex farce, as much anti-musical as it is true to the form. Songs are poorly sung — deliberately — dances are awkward, and whole thing is incredibly silly. (Ironically enough, until HBO’s Rome came along, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” also happened to be one of the most accurate visual depictions of what life looked like in a Roman city in a Hollywood production. Well, except for the mare sweat.)
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.