More about the recently passed Sid Laverents.
Do Electric Sheep Dream Of Stardom?:
Introducing the singing tax attorney (well, I thought she was on the money, at least about this):
Even though this was done strictly for the publicity value, it strikes me as a great idea:
Jes’ pickin’ and idlin':
Thanks to WFMU for most of the links.
The other night the wife and I decided to take a little time off from the various crises and relax on the couch with an old movie. Netflix streams “Born Yesterday”, and it’s an old favorite of ours.
Quick synopsis: Broderick Crawford plays an uncouth millionaire junk dealer (also a crook and a liar) who travels to DC to bribe a congressman to write him an earmark. Judy Holliday plays his equally uncouth but sweet and loving fiancee, who Crawford decides to school in the ways of sophisticated government etiquette, so she doesn’t embarrass him during his big dealings. He hires a journalist played by William Holden to teach her the ropes.
This scene is wonderful; Holliday was so good it hurts, and Crawford was a perfect foil.
I haven’t messed with our Netflix queue in a while, because I haven’t been watching too many movies; so it came as a surprise when the wife announced that the latest red envelope had some sort of music documentary called Roots Of Rhythm, with Harry Belafonte narrating. and had I ordered this? Apparently I had, about a year ago, and now that the queue had caught up with my wild afternoon of additions in the distant past, I was obligated to watch it fast so my significant other could get back to her balanced diet of crime shows and white-dress girl’s films.
Hoping this would be as good as the description on the envelope, I plunked down on the couch and cranked up the 3-part documentary “tracing the history of Latin music from its African and and Spanish roots to its Caribbean and Cuban flowering and its continued popularity in America.” Performers listed were Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, The Miami Sound Machine, King Sunny Ade, Irakere, Ruben Blades, and more, hosted by Harry Belafonte.
I didn’t find the opening encouraging; first clip was The Miami Sound Machine and their 80’s stage show, complete with dated period production (although the wife loved it), followed by Harry Belafonte reading off the teleprompter, mattted in front of an outdoor scene and sporting some fabulous dental work.
I guess my fear with a documentary on material like this is that there’ll be condescension from the invisible hand of the creators; not that I’m such an expert on Latin music- I’m not – but whether you know anything about a documentary’s subject or not, you can feel the attitude toward the viewer behind the writing and presentation of the voiceover, the timing, the editing choices, etc. Aside from the matted background behind many of Belafonte’s shots – which seemed cheap to me, but which is a minor point, I know – I think on the whole the project rocks
I’d like to pause here for just a moment to answer the question I’m sure many of you are asking: Who’s Harry Belafonte?
And in case you can’t put the name to the song, here’s a clip from Beetlejuice you may remember:
And now, back to our story.
The DVD picked up considerably after the first 5 minutes; the African footage of various native musicians was filmed in the 60’s or 70’s by the looks of it, but the best part was that everything played out; very little was edited down because “a minute’s enough of that native stuff.” I found this encouraging. Belafonte’s voice-over (written by one of the producers, I assume), was informative, even if there was a bit too much of the “How This All Relates To The Wonderful Mosaic Of American Culture” for my taste. Nonetheless, there was tribal footage, King Sunny footage, and enough good African material (30 or 40 minutes, I think) to make me believe that the producers were knowledgeable and sincere, and worked with the adult attention span in mind.
For instance, here’s a segment from the film, dealing with Spanish influences, filmed in Spain and featuring Miguel Garcia Maldonado, who rhymes off the top:
What a band behind Maldonado, too; someone’s young niece or daughter kills it on castanets.
When the action moved to Cuba, the filmed material really kicked up:
It felt like Buena Vista Social Club-type stuff a while before most people ever heard of those guys. There’s a lot of heartfelt exposition and storytelling straight to the camera, framed with portraits of Fidel or Che over the interviewee’s shoulder. And the music was banging, with lots of full songs.
When the first segment of the film ended and the credits ran, the dime dropped; all the Cuban and New York footage had been filmed by Les Blank, one of my favorite filmmakers (check out the fabulous New Orleans culture documentary Always For Pleasure).
To my eye, it looked like a lot of footage had been originally edited together by Blank, and used of a piece by the producers here. Fine by me; it feels like better than half the three hours is Blank material, which is always a treat.
There’s Cuban footage of a full-on Las Vegas-style stage show, complete with barely clothed showgirls. Apparently, communist Cuba maintained this tradition for foreign tourists. Just like Vegas, except it’s followed by a representative of the People’s Revolutionary Collective of Showgirls presenting an award to a visiting dignitary.
Moving from Cuba to America, there’s vintage footage of Xavier Cugat:
Desi Arnaz And His Hair:
And (also from Blank’s vaults, I daresay, since he shot an entire film of him) Dizzy Gillespie, talking about percussionist Chano Pozo and how the two of them composed the tune “Manteca”:
The wife and I both felt that that the last 1/3 of the film was weaker than the rest; the part about New York/salsa. While there’s excellent information about the roots of salsa, it’s a shame there’s nothing anywhere from the Fania guys, other than passing namechecks of Pacheco and Willie Colon. I suspect the lack of footage may be due to licensing issues and the resulting cost, not a mistake or a deliberate move to overlook or ignore.
They say If you buy the premise, you’ll buy the joke.
I bought the premise,
Doubtless everyone in the world except me knows about this. Apparently it didn’t do well. The LeBron James joke at the end of the trailer makes me laugh.