May 2007 Archives

The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock

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One of the perks of working for the University of Minnesota is that you can take college-credit courses for free. This past Spring term I decided to take a class for the first time since I didn’t finish my Masters Degree in 1990.

My first venture back to school was an Art History film class: The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. It met one day a week and we got to watch Hitchcock films and discuss them in class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, got an A, and learned a lot about Hitchcock and filmmaking. So all and all, a pretty successful foray. I thought I would discuss a couple of things I learned about Hitchcock and his films:

The camera tells the story. Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the silent film era and it showed throughout his films. Hitchcock was very cognizant of what was seen on the screen and how that propelled the story or added texture to the characters. If you watch Hitchcock’s films carefully, you’ll find that there will be long passages of no dialogue, in essence, silent film making. There is one amazing sequence in Vertigo where there is no dialogue for nearly 20 minutes! However the viewer knows exactly what is happening, and is actually caught up in the actions of the characters.

Suspense is built by informing the viewer, not the actors. Besides Psycho, Hitchcock typically let the viewers in on the evil/bad things that were about to happen to the characters on the screen. It is described as such: Which is scarier, showing the viewer the bomb under the table with the clock counting down to zero while the some of the characters are unaware of the bomb, or surprising the viewers by having a hidden bomb suddenly blow up under a table? Certainly the later is more shocking but the former is more suspenseful.

There are a lot of good Hitchcock Films out there. Sure everyone knows about Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, etc. But there are a number of other less known, forgotten classics, most of are available at your local video store/Netflicks. Films you may not be aware of but are great include: Strangers on a Train (a must see!), Rebecca, Shadow of Doubt, Notorious, the 1934 version of the Man Who Knew Too Much (better than the 1950’s version) and the 39 Steps. The last two films were from Hitchcock’s “English? film career and are harder to come by at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. All these films are in Black in White by the way.

Finally I have to put a word in on Vertigo. I’d seen the film before but didn’t think it deserved all the accolades. Having watched the film with a critical eye and discussing it afterward changed my opinion greatly. Besides the aforementioned no dialogue for 20 minutes, the film really is a wonderful example of great filmmaking. From the wonderful cinematography, to the classic scenes of 1950’s San Francisco, to the obsession of Jimmy Stewart, the film is quite enjoyable, even with its rather bleak ending.

Also as an added treat, here is a link that discusses some the best long tracking shots in movie history, some with YouTube videos. A technique that Hitchcock virtually invented in his film Rope.

What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?

30 Best Loved Albums - Dust Bowl Ballads

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2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List.

Although I have stated that I’m not going to rank or place in order my favorite 30 albums, there is somewhat of a method to my madness. The first five albums were near and dear to me, some may not necessarily be an all-time favorite, but instead are albums about which that I had a lot to say. The next five albums included artists with long and critically acclaimed careers with many, many different albums from which to choose. My next five albums will be more related to “roots? music: folk, country, americana, etc. Don’t worry, no Big and Rich or Shania here, just good ol’ fashioned American music. With that, on to number 11!

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11. Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads (1940)

This could be considered the first “concept? album as the name really says it all: Woody Guthrie with guitar and harmonica singing ballads about the dust bowl, its just that simple. These aren’t just songs about the Dust Bowl, however. They about the poor sharecroppers, farmers, and family folk impacted by the dust storms of the 1930’s. Through these songs you can see the dust, taste it, smell it, feel it all over your body. The songs are that powerful. The first song (The Great Dust Storm) tells the story. You see that big dust cloud, you learn how the farmers reacted, how scared they were and you can’t believe how bad the storm was, that it could be related to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Dust Bowl Ballads contain songs that are probably familiar to most: Dusty Old Dust (So Long It’s Been Good To Know You) and Blowin’ Down the Road (I Ain’t Gonna Be Treated That a Way) are so familiar that they’re ingrained in our musical DNA. Pretty Boy Floyd has been covered by so many folk artists, its hard to keep count. A musical highlight for me is Do Re Mi, a song about the Okies moving to California and finding out it isn’t the paradise it was advertised as. The fact is that there were so many people moving to California that the local farming communities passed anti-vagrancy ordinances and the Okies had to prove that they either had a job or money (do-re-mi).

Woody Guthrie loved the movie Grapes of Wrath so much that he wrote a seven minute song (broken into two parts) that basically tells the entire Grapes of Wrath story. It’s just as heartbreaking as the book and movie. If you ever need a 7 minute refresher of Grapes of Wrath, you may want to check out Tom Joad I and II.

Woody’s voice is quite plaintive but ironically it’s his voice that really gives these songs their texture. The guitar and harmonica are simple, as are the lyrics. But it’s Woody Guthrie’s gift that he could take complex issues and boil them down to their very core. Very few songwriters have been able to do that and to do it over a whole album makes Dust Bowl Ballads a worthwhile place in my best loved 30 albums.

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the List.

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This week's list:

1. Liar - Sex Pistols
2. Reach Out/I'll be There - The Four Tops
3. It's So Obvious - Wire
4. Exit - U2
5. Surfer Girl - The Beach Boys
6. Hey There Little Insect - Jonathan Richman
7. Morning Crescent - Belle & Sebestian
8. Sleep! - Big Black
9. Good Squad - Elvis Costello
10. Emergency Exit - Beck

What's your top 10?

The Wimpification of Wisconsin

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I went to Milwaukee this past weekend with Shane and Cheesehead Craig to check out the Twins-Brewers series. I’ve gone to Milwaukee 5 of the past 6 years and it’s always a great time. This year was different as the Twins were the team that was struggling and the Brewers were making some noise in the win column.

We toured Milwaukee a bit and even went on a Miller Brewery tour. Saturday was a gorgeous day, 85 degrees a little muggy, very sunny. However as game time approached at about 6:00 a few clouds were rolling in. Imagine our surprise when we get inside the stadium and the roof is 2/3 closed! The Brewers were afraid of a little rain. By the 3rd inning the roof was entirely closed. After the game it appeared that maybe it sprinkled but only lightly and it was still easily in the 70’s. Oh yea, Scott Baker shut down the Brewers, Torii goes yard and the Twins had a nice win and take the first 2 games of the series.

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Miller Park 2/3 closed, then closed!

Sunday was a much brisker day – windy and cold. It was probably around 50 degrees when the game started. Again the roof closed. Not my favorite but a little understandable. However by the middle of the game it was sunny and probably about 60 degrees. Did the Brewers open the roof? No. We had awesome seats, the Twins got out to a nice lead then Ortiz remembered who he was and gave up the lead. Twins lost.

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Check out these seats!

Now it was bad enough to have the roof closed when it should have been open at least for all of Saturday and most of Sunday’s game but what was worse was the Brewers fans defending the closing of the roof! “It might rain on the field, it was chilly, fans expect to be comfortable…sniff? Remember these are people who would pack Camp Randall or Lambeau on a chilly November afternoon and think nothing of it. Clearly the roof at Miller Park is making Wisconsinites a bunch of weather wimps. Don’t be surprised if the Packers start looking into putting a dome over Lambeau, it’s only a matter of time.

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Funny, you never see this side of Miller Park in promo pictures

The over use of the roof at Miller Park is one of the main reasons why I’m glad the Twins aren’t building a ballpark with a retractable roof. It’s too tempting to always use it, even at the slightest provocation of bad weather. In Milwaukee the roof closed pretty quickly and quietly. They have obviously fixed its problems. There is no reason why on Saturday night they could have quickly closed the roof if by chance it rained harder than expected. Baseball is meant to be played outdoors in the elements and the roof should be used only as a last resort. If my kid’s little league team can play in a drizzle or in 95 degree heat, surely the pros can too?

Anyone else go to Milwaukee this weekend? How was it?

30 Best Loved Albums - Overrated Albums

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2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List.

This week I am going a slightly different route and want to discuss albums that I didn’t like. Below is a list of albums that were generally well received either by critics or fans. They make top album lists or are considered fan favorites. For one reason or another I just don’t like these albums, think they’re overrated, or are just plain bad.

Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979) Talk about depressing dreck. This double album has one good song (Comfortably Numb) and a bunch of inane goobly-gook. If I never hear Another Brick in the Wall ever again, I’ll be extremely happy. (Rated 25th on the Definitive 200)

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (1972) While I agree that there are a couple of good songs on this album, it doesn’t deserve its lofty status as “The greatest rock and roll album ever.? As with most double albums, some selective pruning could have helped immensely. A decent album, but there at least four Rolling Stones album that are better. Classify this one under overrated. (Rated 6th on the Definitive 200)

The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (2006) This is an album that, based on my other musical tastes, I should like. However I just have never gotten into it. I’ve never liked Craig Finn’s sing-talking and the name checking of Twin Cities locales gets rather tiresome. An o.k. album that just doesn’t deserve all the praise it received. (Not on the Definitive 200)

Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005) This is another critically acclaimed recent album that I just don’t get. I love the song Chicago and could listen to that song all day long. The rest of the album just puts me to sleep. It’s boring, repetitious and, and inconsequential. (Not on the Definitive 200)

Anything by the Dave Matthews Band. This is might be cheating but I have never heard a song by this band that I didn’t just immediately hate - ‘nuff said. (Crash is ranked #48 on the Definitive 200)

What popular or critically acclaimed album do you not like or think is overrated?

First 10 albums reviewed:
Pretenders – Pretenders (3/12)
Replacements – Let It Be (3/19)
Nirvana – Nevermind (3/26)
Johnny Cash – American Recordings (4/2)
Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand (4/9)
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (4/16)
The Beatles – Abbey Road (4/23)
The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (4/30)
U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (5/7)
Elvis Costello – This Years Model (5/14)

Friday Random Top 10

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Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. In honor of Wilco’s cool new album Sky Blue Sky, I am doing an all Wilco Friday Random Top Ten. Here it is:

1. She’s a Jar – Summerteeth
2. Hell is Chrome – Yankee Foxtrot Hotel
3. Misunderstood – Being There
4. Nothing’s Ever Gonna Stand In My Way – Summerteeth
5. Casino Queen – A.M.
6. Monday – Being There
7. Airline to Heaven – Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2
8. Sky Blue Sky – Sky Blue Sky
9. At My Window Said and Lonely – Mermaid Avenue
10. Radio Cure – Yankee Foxtrot Hotel

What's your Top 10?

30 Best Loved Albums - This Years Model

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. Here's number 10. on the list:

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10. Elvis Costello - This Years Model (1978)

My momma has always said that if your nom de punk includes the name Elvis, you better have the songs to back it up. After the solid debut of My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello was determined to avoid the sophomore slump so he came out with both guns ablazin’ in this 1978 release that is just as furious and fierce as anything the Clash were putting out at the time. Not bad considering that it’s most memorable instrument is a Farisa Organ. In short, Elvis Costello did have the songs worthy of his name.

From it’s opening line of “I don’t wanna kiss you, I don’t wanna touch….. you? to the slamming “radio radio!" that closes the album, Elvis is spittin’ mad as his serpent’s tongue spews out song after song about fashion, relationships, and modern radio. Musically the album is spare with guitar, bass, that wonderful organ and simple drum backing. It’s Elvis’ first album with the Attraction and they provide nice background vocals and a tight midsection. Very little overdubs or studio tricks here. This album is lean, muscular, and cutting. And I loved every second of it.

When Elvis Costello made that famous SNL appearance in late 1977 I was watching at a friend’s house with his mom. Here comes Elvis with the nerdy Buddy Holly glasses, tight jeans, and a spastic, frantic stage presence playing Pump It Up. My friend’s mom thought it was a skit and was incredulous when we told her that no it was a real act. Later during the second song when Elvis stopped the first few bars of Less Than Zero and instead played Radio Radio instead, I was hooked. Unfortunately it took me a couple more years to finally buy this album. When I switched over to CD’s it was one of the first CD’s I ever bought. I probably have played it constantly for some 25 years and never get sick of it. What ever other musical genre I was currently into, whether it be punk, country, folk, jazz, old school rock and roll, Gregorian chant, sea shanty’s, etc., This Year’s Model has always been there.

Radio Radio of course is a favorite. As I said in my review of Elvis’ concert here at the Myth. They played this song perfectly. To think Elvis and the Imposters have probably played this song thousands of times over the past 30 years and to still just lay it down with such fury and conviction was just incredible. Unfortunately part of the reason may be that it’s words ring more true today than they did in 1978. Can you think of a verse more true today than …

You either shut up or get cut up/They don't wanna hear about it/It's only inches on the reel-to-reel/And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools/Tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel!

For that line alone, This Year’s Model deserves a place in my 30 most beloved albums? What’s your favorite Elvis Costello album?

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the List!

Friday Random Top 10

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Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This Friday's Top Ten:

1. Heart of the City – Nick Lowe
2. Getcha Back – The Beach Boys
3. Cocaine Eyes – The Rolling Stones
4. Into the Valley – The Skids
5. All You Fascists – Billy Bragg & Wilco
6. Teddy Bear’s Picnic – Jerry Garcia and David Gisman
7. Boogie Shoes – KC and the Sunshine Band
8. Running Scared – Roy Orbison
9. Pakt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box – Radiohead
10. Omaha – Counting Crows

Elvis Costello Live at Myth 5.08.07

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I just got back from the Elvis Costello concert tonight at the Myth Nightclub and boy what a nice show. Elvis is releasing a couple of greatest hits collections so the tour promised all hits, no filler, no opera songs, duets with Burt Bacharach, etc. Just Elvis Costello and the Imposters.

The show was to start at 8:00 and sure enough at 8:01 Elvis was on stage, a small wave to the crowd and they jumped right into Welcome to the Working Week. A delightful 110 minutes later as the last notes of What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding were ringin' in my ears, Elvis waved goodbye and that was it.

This was a show about delivering the hits. Very little patter, basic red and blue lights, no video screen, no dancers, no shout outs to Minneapolis-St. Paul, no "I wrote this song in the back of a truck while driving across Canada in 1981." The vast majority of the songs were from This Years Model, Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom (which I think is an overlooked classic) and Get Happy. Only a couple from My Aim is True. I was going to try to do a set list but I forgot my notebook. If I find a list on-line I will update this post.

Highlights include Beyond Belief which The Imposters built up quite nicely, Watching the Detectives, Lipstick Vogue (Tim B, if you still read this blog, you need to learn the bass part to that song!), and What so Funny.... Radio Radio was about as perfectly played as it could be live. Very muscular, fast version. If you ever have heard a band described as "tight" this was the perfect example of that. I would include Pump It Up in this description too but at the end Elvis was singing so fast that he outsang the beat that the rest of the Imposters were laying down.

Elvis' voice was in fine form, again during Radio Radio it was perfect,. Looked like he lost some weight too. The rest of the Imposters very very good. The keyboards were mixed very well so you could hear them, which is important for an Elvis Costello song. I was a little disappointed that they didn't use a real Farfisa Organ, it was an electronic machine. It sounded like a Farfisa, but it's just not the same. Also Elvis plays a mean guitar, I forgot that.

It was my first time at the Myth and I was impressed. Basically they took 1st Avenue and made it a little bigger, but the layout is very similar. The crowd was pretty old as you could imagine and the hot babe factor was pretty close to zero -- Less Than Zero perhaps? :o)

I saw Elvis Costello at Parade Stadium in 1982 and that was a pretty good show (I still have a picture of Elvis dressed in black on a sunny 80 degree day shaking his fist to the sky). This was just as good and quite satisfying. Well worth seeing.

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. Here's number 9 on the list:

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9. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

Grace
It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that
Changed the world

U2 is arguably the biggest rock act on the face of the earth and Bono is not only known to millions of music fans but has crossed over to become almost a world ambassador -- one who dines regularly with Popes and Presidents. It easy to forget, however, that by 2000, U2 was seen as an act that was past its prime musically. All That You Can't Leave Behind (ATYCLB) changed all that and propelled U2 even higher to the pop culture and political stratosphere.

Part of the reason why ATYCLB had such an impact is (counter intuitively) due to low expectations. The later half of the 1990’s saw U2 experimenting with a new sound and personae as Zooropa and especially Pop, although good, were not typical U2 albums. They focused on pop-cultural issues that a mega-rich and mega-popular band might find interesting. Bono’s character, “The Fly? was a cynical, pop culture-savvy character who cut a little too close to home. Their tours were in-your-face, multi-media extravaganzas that mocked and parodied the consumer culture that gripped the 1990s . Although interesting, these two albums didn’t have the personal resonance that albums such as War, Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree had. However as people recovered from their Y2K fears there were rumblings that U2 was coming out with a new album that was to harken back to the U2 of old.

We got a first glimpse of this old/new approach with the release of the single Beautiful Day and not only was it like U2 of old, it was a somewhat refreshing sentiment in light of a presidential election that focused more attention on the color of Al Gore’s suits than it did on what kind of temperament and policies someone like George W. Bush would bring to the White House. When the album was finally released all the hype was correct, U2 had gone back to making an album that was both poignant and meaningful, full of hope and courage.

What really sent the album over the top was that it seemed be a response to the events of 9/11, even though it was recorded a year prior to those events. Songs such as Beautiful Day, Stuck in a Moment, and especially Peace on Earth, New York, and Grace gave comfort to a grieving nation and Bono became our grief counselor, telling us everything is going to be ok, that we can stand up and move forward despite of all that happening around us. We can leave it all behind.

Don’t get me wrong, ATYCLB is not a dirge, it flat out rocks too. Songs such as Elevation, Beautiful Day, and Kite would be strong contenders on any U2 album and the Edge’s guitar work throughout the album is strong and the rhythm section really anchors the songs. One can listen to these songs today, forget about the events of 2000-01 and still find a strong, engaging album.

U2 has many great albums to choose from and it’s a lot of fun to chart their growth from Boy and October to War to Joshua Tree. One could quite easily pick any of those albums as a favorite. However for what it meant to me when it came out, how easily it was to listen to and feel better about the world, for giving us such classic songs as Kite, Peace on Earth and Beautiful Day, All That You Can't Leave Behind is one of my 30 best loved albums.

What is your favorite U2 album?

Place on the Definitive 200: 197

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This Friday's Top Ten:

1. Big Long Now – Nirvana
2. Cold War – Fred Eaglesmith
3. Hey Good Lookin’ – Hank Williams
4. I’m Left, You’re Right She’s Gone – Elvis Presley
5. Shakedown Street – Grateful Dead
6. The Sharpest Lives – My Chemical Romance
7. Trem Two – Mission To Burma
8. Kick Your Door Down – The Replacements
9. Wigwam – Bob Dylan
10. Jimmy Jazz – The Clash

Mission Accomplished!

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It's been 4 years since GW has said that combat operations in Iraq are over. Oops. I however place more blame on the press for falling down on the job for this ugly war, although admittedly the President is chin deep in his own incompetence and falsehoods. Last week Bill Moyers had a special on how fawning and uncritical the press was in the lead-up to the war. It can be watched here and is quite damning.

Want more proof of the press' culpability in selling this war? Below is cartoon from Tom Tomorrow and all the quotes are true. What is really sad is that most if not all these "pundits" are still on the job mouthing bromides for the Bush Administration. Sad. Really Sad.

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If the above is too small to read, it can be viewed here.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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