The Last Picture Show

danieltalsky | Films,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Monday, October 27th, 2008

Peter Bogdonavich, wrote a screenplay from a novel called The Last Picture Show. He was a director with a few stinker movies trying to make his big break. He sees a teenage Cybil Shepherd on the cover of a magazine and says, "Holy Crap, I've got to have that girl as my hot young affai… I mean, leading lady!"

He finds the girl, casts her, has an affair with her, threatens to stop "giving her direction" if she doesn't agree to show her tits on film.  He sequesters the cast from the crew because he wants them to be uncorrupted by the riff raff.

Then he shot the first major motion picture in black and white since the early 60's, in 1971.  He shot it in the actual hometown of the guy who wrote the novel.  He even used one of the local kids who lived there in a speaking role.

Sounds like a recipe for total disaster to me, except the movie is truly a thing of beauty.  The stark, simple setting of a small town on the decline, gives a bunch of young actors who went on to be really big a place to shine, and every still is something you could hang on your wall.

It's not hard to imagine this kind of vulnerability, treachery and love happening in a real small town in the 50's.  Every scene has it's own secret rhythm.

Jeff Bridges' character Sonny walks into a pool hall owned by Sam the Lion.  Sam looks on while Sonny grabs a soda, some little snack, and saunters over to the pool table.  Finally Sam speaks, "You ain't never gonna amount to nothing.  You've already spent a nickel today and you haven't even had a decent breakfast."

It looks like it's going to be a simple, naive tale of a small town, but it's really about taking that small town and showing its little fish bowl of reality.  The town tart shrewdly works every situation for all it's worth.  The gay coach's wife courts a boy just out of high school.  The lady who owns the diner and will "probaby be making hamburgers for your grandchildren" calmly dispenses advice.

You can see it's not easy for someone to make a simple black and white movie with such heat and human warmth.  It's a masterwork, and every scene plays out with perfection and has its own special rhythm.  Each one could be it's own tiny one-act play.  Only one maudlin scene mars its perfection, with one tragic death too many.

I just read this and sadly realized I didn't get across why I love this movie so much.

Nina Simone – Sings The Blues

danieltalsky | Albums,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Artist: Nina Simone
Album: Sings the Blues

I had the chance to see Nina twice before she died.  The first time I had just got into this amazing album and I figured she must be washed up and not that great anymore by now.  When my coworker showed up the next day and told me how amazing she was, I kicked myself and vowed I wouldn't miss her again.  The next time she came, it was to Benaroya hall with $60 tickets that I just. could. not. afford.  There wasn't a next time.  She died shortly after that.

Could this be my favorite album of all time?  It's in the top five for sure.

This was Nina's first album after moving to a new record label in 1967, and she just laid down something so raw and beautiful here.  I just don't think there's any album quite like it.  Under any conditions, Nina is a master at work.  This album is just a power-packed collection of songs, some political, some sexual, some dangerous, but all with a similar potency and a direct and clear recorded sound.  These are simple, strong recordings, with Nina on piano, and able players all around.

I wish there were some way to explain the emotional power that she packs into each song.  You can listen to the best music released this year and I don't think you will hear another singer with the same kind of unique punch.   I've played Nina Simone for people for the first time before, and had them say after 5 minutes, "Is this a man or a woman?"

The key to the album is in how she closes it.  The last two songs are the Bob Dylan cover "I Shall Be Released", and the blues standard "Gin House Blues".   Many talented performers have taken the brilliant works of Dylan, and turned them into something much larger with their voice than Dylan ever could (see: All Along the Watchtower), and Nina Simone is up in that league for sure.  It's particularly intense, because it's a song explicitly talking about the world of men and it's accountability and disappointments, and there's Simone, belting it out like Dylan didn't mean "man" or "woman" when he said "man".  Compared to Dylan's version, it's even more heartbreaking.

She could have left it at that, and it would have been a great end to the album, but she turns it up to 11 and ends with Gin House Blues, singing like a belligerent drunk, "I don't care!  Give me my gin!"

Then there's the album opener, and it's companions, the sexy songs: Do I Move You, In The Dark, I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Buck (written by her husband at the time), and Turn Me On.  This is the smoldering suite, and these songs are truly pure, raw, uncut sex.  They have taken my breath away so many times I can't believe they still have the ability to do it.  The very first words of the album are from the Simone original:

Do I move you, are you willing
Do I groove you, is it thrilling
Do I soothe you, tell the truth now
Do I move you, are you loose now
The answer better be yes
That pleases me

That's right.  The answer better be yes.  This album shows her at her absolute best, and her best is pretty damn good.

Nina Simone – I Shall Be Released

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/16-i-shall-be-released.mp3]
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