Fred Katz

Written by Joe D on September 15th, 2013

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Damn! I really wanted to write a fan letter to Fred Katz! What a genius! He just died at 94 years of age, he really crammed a lot into his stay here on planet Earth, Classical musician, Jazz musician, Composer, Ethnologist, child prodigy on two instruments, maybe the first guy to play Jazz Cello! I grew up digging his score to Corman/Griffith movies like Little Shop Of Horrors, a great score, quirky, idiosyncratic, unique just like the movie. There is really no other score like it that I can think of.  Plus he played with the great Chico Hamilton, he even appeared with Chico’s band in the sublime Sweet Smell Of Success ( a reference to the marijuana that features so prominently in the plot) .

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Then he switched gears and became a professor of Shamanism, Mysticism, Magick! I wish I had taken one of his courses, I wish I had met him and told him how great he was. Too lAte! But maybe up in Film Music Heaven Fred can hear my compliments, I hope so. Dear Fred You were a giant talent and enriched my existence through your music, Fare Thee Well.

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Zabriskie Point

Written by Joe D on May 11th, 2013

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What a cool, crazy film. As the saying goes after you make a hit, you can make anything you want. Antonioni scored with BLOW UP so he got to make this non-commercial meditation on America, Death, Existence, Time, Humanity. The opening scne is a campus meeting of Radical Students and representatives of Black Power, talking about shutting down the campus, a common occurrence back in 1969.
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The way the people talk and dress is so real, they’re not actors, Antonioni used real people that he felt were right for the part. Amazing Imagery, amazing music, Pink Floyd, Jerry Garcia jamming out to images of a Love In in the desert. Roy Orbison singing about Zabriskie Point.
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The desert imagery was definetly an influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, where The Bride goes out to Bud’s trailer and where she walks through the desert, even the music of that sequence seems influenced by Zabriskie Point. Here’s the Bootleg Trailer I cut with Quentin for Kill Bill , the opening music is the music I’m talking about.

Another thing, ZP ends with a big explosion, a similar ending , actually a very similar ending occurs in Robert Downey Sr.s GREASERS PALACE, a huge explosion and a very long shot of a sunset. In Zabriskie, Antonioni is playing with persistence of vision, the shot of the sunset is on the screen unchanging for a long time, then it suddenly cuts to black, this creates an afterimage on your retina, very cool, very painterly, kind of a Rothko type trick. Super Cool. Check it out for yourself. It’s a comment on how the message is getting through to us, Persistence of Vision is how movie work, or rather why they work.
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Anyway I’m going to drive out to Zabriskie Point one of these days and check it out for myself.

Nancy And Lee

Written by Joe D on July 14th, 2012

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Here it is, on Youtube no less, the doc I saw at the Rock and Roll Film Festival a couple years back,Nancy And Lee. A glimpse into the life of Nancy Sinatra and her musical guru, Lee Hazelwood, as they put on a show in Vegas with Billy Strange as their conductor. Strange supplied the guitar for Bang, Bang, You Shot Me Down and Theses Boots Are Made For Walkling. He also played on the duet between Nancy and her old man, Francis Something Stupid. Hazelwood wrote Boots and a bunch of other hits, many with guitar man Duane Eddy. He was a Producer’s Producer. But here he’s just part of the act. This is a great peek into American culture and backstage at a big Vegas show circa 1972. A follow up to their album of the same name from 1968. Check it out, it’s pretty cool. Thanks to Ken Adamson for turning me onto this Youtube find. We were at the Rock Film Fest together and saw this film projected at the CineFamily. Tres Groovy!

I Walked With A Zombie

Written by Joe D on December 8th, 2010

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I went, I watched, I walked with I Walked With A Zombie. It was incredible! Really the best way to see this film is in a big theater with 35mm projection! There is no substitute, you pick up so many more nuances, the atmosphere becomes all pervasive, your psyche is opened up to the incredible images and fantasy pours in through your eyes and ears to your very soul! This is how the makers designed the film to work, they didn’t think about TV or video. To say the least it was a moving experience and it clocked in at a rocket fast 70 minutes!

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This film is crammed with ideas, Lewton and his team did exhaustive research and it shows, the music, the dancing, the Afro Caribbean culture give Zombie a rock hard foundation on which to build a castle of fantasy and terror. But terror in a Fairy Tale like way, sort of innocent yet savage, ruthless as Nature and as pure. This film is a textbook of studio filmmaking at a peak of artistry. The B&W photography,the lighting, the production design, the process photography, amazingly executed.

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The Great RKO Artisans of Storytelling-P.S. Check out the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the frame for a joke.

We start in Canada, in a Victorian office, snow falls furiously outside the window. Our Heroine (Francis Dee) is ta nurse being offered a job in the Caribbean, one stock shot of a big sailing schooner later we’re on board (thanks to process photography) with the boss of the plantation and his men, who sing a strange island song in the background. The scene here between Francis Dee and Tom Conway is a brilliantly written piece, it expertly sets the mood for the rest of the film. “It’s so beautiful” Dee thinks to herself only to be interrupted a second later by Conway telling her “It isn’t beautiful” Dee answers “You read my mind” , Conway replies, “You see those flying fish, they’re jumping in terror to escape being eaten, that phosphorescence in the water? The putrescent bodies of dead organisms, This is a place of death.” He sets a tone of unease, he unsettles Dee by reading her mind(supernatural), he belittles her naivety, he fascinates her with his honesty. That sets up their complicated relationship for the rest of the film. All in a couple of minutes.

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Then theirs a scene in the town of San Sebastian, probably the RKO backlot dressed up by D’Agostino and Keller. They filmed here maybe a day or two at most, it’s used a couple of times in the film but sparingly, you really get the impression that everything was planned out and organized with maximum efficiency, the budget was $134,000! A scene in a buggy (process) as an old black islander drives Dee to the plantation is also illuminating. The driver tells her how the slaves were brought to the island in chains on a ship, the figurehead of which is now prominently displayed at the plantation. “It’s so beautiful here” “He replies “If you say so miss, if you say so” She naively ignores the whole slavery aspect, the inherent inhumanity, brutality, focusing on the lush scenery. Lewton’s comment on Western insensitivity.

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Figurehead of St. Sebastian, a representation of the slave based history of the island

The story continues and some of the high points are, the first night at the plantation, Dee is awakened by a woman crying, she goes out to investigate and enters the Tower where the wife of Ellison is kept. It’s pretty creepy, the tower set is particularly effective consisting of a stone stairway slashing across a black frame. Dee climbs the stairs and is confronted by the wraithlike zombie wife of Conway, Jessica Holland. The zombie advances upon her and I swear they applied a skull like make up to her face, it’s shot in a long shot so you can’t see her too clearly but I want to watch it again and check.

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The next great set piece and my favorite scene of the film is when Dee brings Mrs. Holland to a Voodoo ritual, she leads the entranced blonde through a swamp, all artfully created on soundstages, the native drums beat ominously, they come across several talismans , a cow skull, a hanging goat, a human skull and finally a huge zombie guard, he reminds me of Gort from Day The Earth Stood Still.

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But due to their protective amulets , pinned to them by the maid at the plantation, they pass unmolested. The ceremony is great, excellent music by real voodoo drummers and authentic dancing that must have blown peoples minds back in 1943. Here’s another aspect of this film that added to it’s tabu appeal, the underlying hint of interracial sex, the way the maid wakes Dee up by tickling her foot, the fascination of the voodoo priests for the tall beautiful white zombie. The confession by Conway’s mother that she participated in zombie rituals and was possessed by a voodoo god! This is 1943! Lewton so skillfully implies all this and gets away with it! Genius! Also he employed a lot of black actors, including Sir Lancelot, the calypso singer who Lewton also used in Curse Of The Cat People and Theresa Harris who is wonderful as the maid Alma. She is funny and sexy and appears in Out Of The Past and many other classic films.

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The beautiful Theresa Harris-she is the crying woman that awakened Francis Dee on her first night on the Island. She was crying because her sister had a baby. The Islanders cry at a birth and rejoice at a death. The only freedom from their slavery.

There’s a transitional device used in this film that’s very subtle. I first noticed this technique in Cat People which was edited by the same person, Mark Robson. It’s a sort of a wipe, but it’s as if a black shape passed in front of the lens, in Cat People it feels like a black panther crossed very close to the camera, it creates a subconscious sense of unease, you’re not really aware of what happened, it seems like a quick fade out fade in but it isn’t. Watch Cat People and Zombie carefully and try to catch it. In Zombie it occurs late in the film, a transition between Dee talking to Conway at night at the plantation and Mrs. Holland trying to leave. Somewhere around there. A very subtle masterful stroke that I’ve never heard anyone speak of. The end of the film is a brilliant study in visual poetry, economy of storytelling, and the power of an ending. The drunk half brother kills Mrs. Holland with an arrow from the figurehead in the garden, just as the voodoo priest pierces the doll of Mrs. Holland with a pin.

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The half brother(James Ellison) carries Mrs. Hollands body away pursued by the giant zombie guardian. He walks into the ocean to escape the zombie only to be swallowed up by pounding waves.
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Dissolve to native fisherman spearfishing in the shallows ( a tank on a sound stage artfully lit and decorated) as they fish and sing they discover Mrs. Holland’s body,

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Studio Artifice

dissolve to them carrying her in a funeral procession back to the plantation where Dee and Conway wait. The END! No dialog explaining what happened, no happy ending with Dee and Holland rushing off to get married, we don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s ambiguous and it’s great! As a matter of fact there is no dialog at all in the last 10 minutes of the film! Pure visual poetry accompanied by music! Try that today. All I can say is thank you LACMA for showing this film in a theater, with 35mm projection! And every film lover out there should see it this way, it’s a blessing!

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Joi Lansing Web Of Love

Written by Joe D on April 5th, 2010

Jerry’s Video Store- The Grabs

Written by Joe D on February 16th, 2010

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Wow! I just got an email from Mary, wife of Jerry, proprietor of Jerry’s Videos! Attached was an amazing song tribute to a bygone video store: Jerry’s ! I wrote about it when it closed here. Jerry’s Video’s closing left a big hole in our community and I’m so glad somebody did something to mourn it’s passing, namely Eleni Mandell and her band The Grabs. This song rocks ! It kicks ass! Check it out! Here is the link to the Grabs website. VHS!

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I think this is the album with Jerry’s Video Store on it

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Eleni Mandell-an incredible singer, songwriter

Santo and Johnny-Sleep Walk

Written by Joe D on February 14th, 2010

For your dreaming and listening pleasure, the great Santo and Johnny perform their hit Sleep Walk.

Django Reinhardt

Written by Joe D on February 5th, 2010

Check out this film of the great Django Rinehardt, the incredible thing besides his amazing musicianship is that his pinky and ring finger on his left hand were paralyzed in an accident and he still played like a genius! Inspirational.

Primal Sky- Caballero Del Mar

Written by Joe D on February 1st, 2010

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I got a great album from a guy by the name of Tim Smith that I’d like to turn you on to. It’s called Caballero Del Mar by the band Primal Sky. There’s a lot going on in this mix of Surf, Latin, Jazz, Acid , Mancini, Morricone Music. The first track starts with a slightly laid back killer groove, with flute and sax calling and responding, acoustic guitar crashing like waves on the beach and then an amazing chorus of voices comes in like a 60’s Italian Spy Movie. The music just keeps on getting up, it never gets repetitive there’s do much going on, constantly evolving. All the tunes are great and very different. The 2nd track Rota La Ola has a really cool Spanish recitative vocal that grabs you and doesn’t let go and a cool almost New Orleans drummer working out underneath, a banda type accordion solo comes in, you just don’t know what to expect and that makes the album a lot of fun to listen to. It would make a great soundtrack for a cool beach party or it’s great to listen to while working on something, I’ve been playing it while I write lately.

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Mr. Smith Goes To Huntington!

Tim Smith wrote and produced almost all of the tunes and he plays guitar on them as well, all the musicians are top notch, there’s a kick ass violin solo on Eres Hermosa, like I said you just don’t know what is going to turn up next! There’s a heavy surf connection to this album. I guess they are all beach living surfers that can jam, it comes across especially on Hijo Del Mar a kind of Caribbean Herb Alpert Groove. And Flamenco Beach rocks out like a Spaghetti Western soundtrack, hipped up and narrated by a demented Matador. Check it out. This is a great album, get your hands on a copy, apply liberally to your ears, you won’t regret it.

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Extra Added Bonus- Tim with The Great Jack Palance!

R.I.P. Kitty White

Written by Joe D on September 3rd, 2009

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The great L.A. born vocalist Kitty White has moved on to the next dimension, she’s singing up among the stars now, harmonizing with the music of the spheres or more likely soloing over it. She sang a duet with the King (Elvis Presley) in King Creole, dubbed the vocal of the lounge singer (Mady Comfort) in Kiss Me Deadly and sang the Farmhouse Lullaby in Night Of The Hunter. You can’t pick three more influential 50’s films to be involved with, from a super-coolness perspective! Fare Thee Well beautiful voiced Kitty, we’ll all hear you again in the Promised Land. I thought she had dubbed the little girl’s voice in the boat as they float down the river but I was mistaken, thanks to Preston Neal Jones author of the fabulous book Heaven And Earth To Play With, The Filming Of Night Of The Hunter for pointing this out.

Night Of The Hunter- Kitty’s vocals come in at 1 min. 42 secs.

Here is her voice in Kiss Me Deadly at 7 mins 39 secs. in from the top

Michael Jackson-DEAD

Written by Joe D on June 25th, 2009

Jack Nitzsche told me he really dug Michael Jackson’s song Ben the theme from the movie about a rat. I think this song says a lot about what it was like to be Michael Jackson. Here ’tis.

Franco De Gemini- Once Upon A Time In The West

Written by Joe D on February 5th, 2009

Here’s an interview with Franco De Gemini, he played the harmonica on the soundtrack of Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West. It’s in italian but even if you don’t speak Italian you’ll get a lot out of it. What an incredible movie and what a magnificent score. I went to a screening of a restored version of this film last year, my friends at Triage Motion Picture Services did the restoration and it was beautiful. You can really see the attention to detail Leone put into making this film when you watch it on a big screen. But check out Franco and dig his playing of two notes that clash and how he bends notes and how he gave a voice to The Man With The Harmonica.