Executive Omission

David Hesmondhalgh’s mammoth, brilliant, funny, and carefully argued The Cultural Industries (3rd Edition) articulates its plan to explore the changes in Cultural Labour (among many other things) during the post-1980 era, both explaining and evaluating the changes and continuities within institutions and the texts they’ve created.  That’s great; H continues, categorizing cultural laborers as Symbol Creators, Technical Workers, Creative Managers, Unskilled Workers, and Owners and Executives.  When he gets to the detailed analysis of these groups, though, he spends the lions share of his time on Symbol Creators (as Makers of Texts) — and winds up ignoring “Owners and Executives” completely!

 

Am I supposed to take this personally?  I spent more than half of my 25-year career as a “cultural industries executive” (I prefer the term “Culture Industry,” but that’s a rant for another day) — so, David, what am I, chopped liver?

 

“Weird Al” Yancovic, “Take Me to the Liver”

(Starts at about 3:30)

 

Rev. Al Green, “Take Me to the River”

 

Talking Heads, “Take Me to the River” (from Stop Making Sense)

 

  • They make a nice chopped liver sandwich [Kenny & Zuke’s, pdf]
  • Like Bubbe made, only better — and they dare you to finish it [Katz’s Deli]

 

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Totally Rad(ley)

Reading David Andrews’s Theorizing Art Cinema — with its frequent references to his previous scholarly work in Softcore studies — put me in the mood to check out some Radley Metzger films, to re-familiarize myself with his “aspirational” art-core porn.  I’d started his 1970 Lickerish Quartet (available on Fandor) mostly to check out the library scene (I’m planning on swiping the decor, if not the wardrobe, for my new office, sometime during the summer), but started watching an earlier, inferior movie (Carmen Baby, 1967) more attentively.  I’m not sure why.  It’s a fairly standard narrative-number formula, mostly boring but spiked by one or two noteworthy scenes.  You might not look at long-necked bottles of Vino the same way again, thanks to one “erotic” dance sequence; there’s another protracted “love-making” scene in which the horizontally grinding couple is shot through multi-color cocktail glasses and brandy snifters (you can tell Metzger thought his tracking shot was pretty cool — he repeats the whole thing a second time for good measure).

I can’t really argue that it’s very good, but it has the virtue of being available on-call (like the film’s titular good-time girl) — and easily watched for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.  The price is right!  But don’t be too snooty if you don’t like it; you can read all about highbrow disdain for Metzger’s artsy-fartsy aspirations here, in Andrews’s Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Contexts, and feel bad about yourself if you are.  On the other hand, if you like to see pouty Italians roll their eyes as they rub up on one another, thrashing around in tight (shoulders-up) close-up reaction shots during acts of simulated oral sex — this one’s for you!

Carmen, Baby trailer — hope you like wine glasses!

Lickerish Quartet trailerwith excellent acclaim pull-quotes from Denby and Warhol (among others)!

  • Update!  You can buy Anna Biller’s Viva directly from her website! [Life of a Star]
  • I think I’m going to spend some time reading through Biller’s blog, too.  Pretty interesting, self-reflective stuff [Anna Biller’s Blog]
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Everyone’s a critic

According to David Andrews, “Personal taste isn’t the province of the film scholar.  It is the province of the mainstream film critic” (Theorizing Art Cinema, 33).  In other words, instead of constructing elaborate theories of or rationales about why the movies we love are the best ones and the most worthy of watching — that is, the movies that we think should be the most canonical — scholars should ward off the temptation to “articulate or defend that very personal form of connoisseurship” in favor of being “more detached, telling us what is going on and how that relates to what has gone on in the past” (33).

 

Well, sure.  But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.

 

My (academic) career traveled an old-school (ahem) route from the English Department to Film Studies to Media Studies, and many of my (aged) colleagues followed a similar route (kids today, they seem to jump right into “media studies” or something comparable).  The chief reason for people to spend a decade in grad school studying literature, as I recall, was that these folks loved to read the stuff; further, they (that is, the PhDs I left behind when I jumped into the Media Industry proper) specialized in the books they liked to read most.  Nobody suggested that the Dryden scholar, for instance, should be more “detached” and shouldn’t like and advocate the (unreadable, imo) works of the Restoration; in fact, text-based “taste hierarchies” were sort of expected of ’em (and part of how profs would compete and attract grad student followers).  For film/tv acads that trickled into the electronic disciplines from literature, then, the whole point of being in film and tv is to study (and champion and pontificate about) things they love most (full confession: in my own case, I preferred watching Hitchcock to reading William Dean Howells).  Yes, Andrews is right: it is “better” to step aside from the tangentially related discipline of “film (and tv) criticism” to be more critically removed — well, better if you’ve got an agenda grounded in Cultural Studies, Marxism, Political Economy or some other discipline that treats creative works as means to an end, texts to prove larger socio-political-cultural points (and Andrews’s unspoken assumption is that one should).  But didn’t “aca-fandom” make the (ivory tower) world safe for personal taste?

 

Interestingly enough, the “detached” perspective Andrews advocates seems to be more descriptive of my former colleagues in television: it is the hallmark of a good tv programmer, as an example, that his or her personal preferences do NOT get reflected in the acquisition or scheduling of anything on a network (and the reverse — that revealing one’s taste on-air via scheduling or acquisition is a sign of amateurishness — is also true).  And for the record: I think Andrews might be a lot more believable on this “detached” score if he didn’t keep advocating the (crappy, at best) films of softcore “art-cult” filmmaker Tony Marsiglia — but to each his own, right?

 

Chantal (Marsiglia 2007)

Maybe you’ll love it?  Even more than Showgirls?

 

And I hope my (middlebrow? nobrow?) roots aren’t showing, but my favorite film in this sorta genre is Coyote Ugly:

 

 

  • I’m a Radley Metzger fan — where can I find me a copy of Anna Biller’s homage to his work, Viva?  Andrews makes it sound like fun! [YouTube]
  • Andrews’s book about soft-core sounds pretty fantastic too.  I’ll be checking it out post-comps! [Amazon]
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Gabba Gabba, Tod Browning!

Mikita Brottman’s first case study in her excellent discussion of what she calls Offensive Films is Tod Browning’s classic/cult-classic Freaks.  Browning’s horror/exploitation/melodrama doesn’t begin the book only because it was the first released (1932), but because it also sets the template for the remainder of the book and its central thesis: “offensive films” are vital films that “open the body” to inspection, arousing viewers’ bodily viscera (and not just their eyes) by a graphic display of the body’s detritus, its “waste,” “effusions,” and “debris” (11).  Fans of Freaks know that the film freely exhibits (and exploits?) its cast members physical abnormalities, differences, and defects, both summarizing cultural forms that preceded film (the freak show, carnivals, dime museums) and updating them for a new medium and century, making it a great launching pad for Brottman’s analysis of latter films (like Blood Feast, Snuff, and Cannibal Holocaust).

According to Brottman, offensive films represent an “authentic counter-culture” (178) that exposes the “inside-out of civilization, culture, and the body”; they’re the unconscious nightmare of mainstream cinema (13).  Brottman insightfully notes how the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s embraced Freaks (via the midnight movie circuit), an audience “for whom the term ‘freak’ suggested a radically democratic embracing of self-designated individuality and diversity” (21) — and Zappa fans who loved the album Freak Out! (1966) or heads who dug the underground comix of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (circa late ’60s/early ’70s) know exactly what she’s talking about.

Brottman could have connected more dots to a later counter-culture, though, if she wanted to: Punk.  Specifically, The Ramones provide the link between Freaks and the freaks that scared principals and moms in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  Brottman quotes a key scene in Freaks during which the beautiful (and treacherous) Cleopatra is mock-marrying the little person she’s intent on swindling and cuckholding, Hans.  The freaks, “welcoming” her to their family, “work themselves into a frenzy” and begin a “lurid chant”: “‘We accept you, one of us … gooble gobble, gooble gobble, one of us, one of us'” (17).  Ramones adherents recognize (and have memorized, and have luridly chanted themselves) these words as the signature element of the song “Pinhead,” a number which both expresses anxiety and anger about being “different” (“I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more”) and a resignation to the fate of being one of the family of misfits (“one of us!”).  We don’t wanna be pinheads; we know we’re pinheads.  And as those who pogoed during Ramones’s sets (and who turned “GABBA GABBA HEY!” into their battle cry/interpellation greeting) know well: it’s really better to be a pinhead than to be a normal anyway.

I’ll be writing about the pathology/pathologizing of cult films and cult audiences as I move closer to my dissertation (to like a movie like Freaks, you have to be kind of a freak yourself, I’m thinking), but for the meantime it’s good to know that I can count on Offensive Films as a key resource.  As Freaks notes in its opening textual warning: “we present the most startling horror story of the ABNORMAL and the UNWANTED” (16).  Man, I wish I’d had a t-shirt printed with ABNORMAL and UNWANTED t-shirt in 1977!

Ramones, “Pinhead”

(Video cobbled together from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

  • Just between us: you can watch all of Freaks here! [Archive.org]
  • Every toddler needs to feel accepted (one of us!) [Rock.com]
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Power, Pleasure, and Peeping Pre-Porn

I’ve begun working my way through Linda Williams’s Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible,'” and I was particularly struck by her description of the difference between the gendered subjects of Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies; one of her arguments is that hard-core porn is present in the construction of cinema itself, at its origin, in the 19th century scientia sexualis (per Foucault) that evinces a compulsive “desire to see” that undergirds all of cinema (p 36-39).  I’m doing a disservice to the argument, of course, but I’d do an even worse job at summarizing her debunking of Laura Mulvey and siding with Luce Irigary over questions of essentializing women (the kind of Freudian analysis that made me bail on academia decades ago).  The point that intrigued me, though, was Williams’s description of the difference between Muybridge’s men and women: men are depicted in his famous, landmark motion studies as being “natural” in movement, with few, utilitarian props (baseballs, garden hoes, etc), while women are accompanied by borderline-narrative details and costuming (flouncy garments, chatty scenes of conversations, smoking cigarettes, etc).

Of course I had to hunt for some documentation, to see for myself — and this stuff is fascinating, hypnotic, and naughty — it’s perversely pleasurable, so to speak.  Surely I’m not the only late-night surfer whose frenzy of the visible makes him — and, duh, her — desire to see more?

 

Muybridge Collection: Female Subjects, 1884-87

 

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably gonna want to check out nekkid-fella hopscotch, right?

 

 

More, including two nearly-nekkid dudes engaging in some good, clean blacksmithing (around 1:50; does that seem “near-narrative” to you?  Does to me.  Hmm …):

 

Note: it’s not for nothing that Muybridge’s buddies called him “Eadweird” behind his back.

 

  • Gender-egalitarian Muybridge-style leapfrogging: animation for a better world, for sure [YouTube]
  • Faculty homepage for the scary-smart — and occasionally hilarious — Linda Williams [UC Berkeley]
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Welk This Way

I’m still wrestling  with Victoria Johnson’s Heartland TV*, but I was most intrigued by (maybe the same as “bored with,” paradoxically, which may be as the author intended) her fascinating(/dull) chapter about Lawrence Welk as avatar of Midwestern Squareness.  I’m no Welkian  (although I watched many an episode alongside my Bubbe during the ’70s), but I do think that the following assessment of his resistance to innovation is overstated, if not untrue: “He is also seen, in the 1960s and 1970s, as the only musical series star to counter the medium’s ‘current kick of exalting teenage beat music and the weirdos who play it'” (79; the internal quote is from a 1970 newspaper review by Pete Rahn of Welk’s “Red, White, and Blue Special”).

Well, maybe.

Submitted for your enjoyment: LW’s fantastic bass singer Larry Hooper teams up with Kenny Trimble and the LW Orchestra to tackle a brand-new rock’n’roll song that tore up the charts in 1963.  As you can tell, Hooper and Trimble double-down on the “weirdo” cred — the former as a fast-scattin’ beatnik, the latter as a what-the-fuck twin of Joe Besser’s Stinky.  Welk wasn’t the only music head who recognized how cool Mr. Bass Man was — the alt-folk/psychedelic/weirdo cult band The Holy Modal Rounders covered it after Larry W did (retitling it as “Mr. Spaceman”).

Who’s the square now?  Dig it, daddy-o, and decide for yourself:

Lawrence Welk & Co, “Mr. Bass Man”

More of LW “not chasing the teen demo” with his version of “Hey, Jude”:

… and here’s Larry Hooper the Hipster again in 1962’s  cover of the Orlons’ smash “White Watusi” (uh, sorry, I guess it’s called “Wah Watusi.”  My mistake):

 

 

… like LW says, let’s “Rock Around the Clock” …

 

 

… and a real mind-blower: Larry goes hippie, circa 1969 (in which LW “flips his bippy”):

* There’s lots of stuff I’m not sure about in Heartland TV.  The chapter on MTM shows as “Heartland” irked me, more than once: as a there-the-first-time viewer, I’m not sure I really associated the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” with the “Midwest” or a regionally specific “Heartland,” but rather a near-fictional “not New York” — a place where there was still lots of snow and a cityscape, but not so many African Americans (other than Gordy, of course).  In fact, I’d argue that there was a lot more continuity between the “Dick Van Dyke Show” (and Mary’s white-bread New Rochelle) and “TMTMS” — including a thick vein of Yiddishkeit that ran through both shows (unsurprisingly — to me, anyway — MTM’s creative team of James L. Brooks, Alan Burns, Stan Daniels and Ed. Weinberger are all East-coast Jews.  And, of course: “Rhoda”).  And as for MTM locating its shows (and their sensibilities) in the Heartland — well, what about “Paul Sands in Friends and Lovers” (NYC), “Rhoda” (NYC, duh), “The White Shadow”(LA — although I guess you could argue that the lead was a “Heartlander” who played for the Bulls), “Tony Randall Show” (Philly), “Phyllis” (the character was a SF native who returns to her coastal home), “Lou Grant” (LA again), etc.  I guess I’m also grappling with the distinction between “Heartland,” “Rural,” and “Southern” — at one point Johnson suggests a claim for Jimmy Carter as a “Heartlander” (in a reference to the “emergence of Jimmy Carter as ‘small-town virtued …'” 113), for instance — and the theme of anti-urban agrarianism that runs through the 20th Century starting with “I’ll Take My Stand” which lurks behind a lot of “Heartland-y” programming.  Was “Heartland” a re-location program for nonurban shows when “Southern” became too racially charged a geographical setting (in the post-Civil Rights era)?  By bet is so …

 

 

 

  • Larry’s gone, but you can still party on at one of his resorts! [Welk Resorts]
  • Get Stinky … or I’ll give you such a slap! [YouTube]
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Currying Anger

Maybe it’s because I just flew through Hoberman and Rosenbaum’s Midnight Movies, but I couldn’t help thinking about Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos when I stumbled upon Tim Curry’s disturbingly 1979ish “Paradise Garage.”  Why shouldn’t the NYC underground of the ’60s have collapsed into the Rocky Horrorified new wave of the ’90s?  I think I remember seeing the video for “Paradise Garage” paired with Curry’s similarly fantastic “I Do the Rock” at the Uniondale Mini-Cinema the first time I saw RHPS, but that was a very long time ago, and I might have dreamed the whole thing (by “whole thing,” of course, I mean 1979).

“Paradise Garage”

Kustom Kar Kommandos (Anger, 1965)

Lagniappe:

“I Do the Rock”

 

  • I wish I could have attended this RHPS event at the Mini-Cinema, but I was busy wasting my time as a freshman in college [Rocky Music]
  • Get Institutionalized! (Or cut out this button and tape it to your computer, like I’m doing) [Cinema Treasures]
  • SIX classic Anger films — watch Puce Moment (1949) right now! [Ubu]
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Supreme Minister of Gender-Reassignment Calypso Ditties

A perplexed Louis “The Charmer” Farrakhan riffs on the then-current Christine Jorgensen sex-change story, asking the question on everybody’s/nobody’s mind, “Is She Is or Is She Ain’t?”

 

  • The Christine Jorgensen Story theatrical film, 1970 [YouTube
  • Let Me Die a Woman (Trailer for Doris Wishman’s 1978 shockumentary) [YouTube
  • “The Origin of Love,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001) [YouTube
  • “Christine Jorgensen Is Back at 55 — As a Singer,” Weekly World News, March 24, 1981 [WWN]
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1,000 Points of Red Light, Green Light

Kishore Kumar, “Red Light, No Green Light”

 

 

Attention rabble-rousing fashionistas: to avoid the clutches of militaristic cops, dress yourself in the latest taser-equipped, mini-light bejeweled Nudie suits.

 

  • Meet Nudie Cohn, Country Music’s Sparkle King [Tablet Magazine]
  • Explore the vinyl vaults of DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid [XRAY.FM]
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Una Paloma Polka

“… no one can take my freedom away …”

 

 

The spray-paint-graffiti accordion is my candidate for the most punk musical instrument EVER (apologies to Woody G’s Machine That Kills Fascists).

 

 

 

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