Friday, May 28, 2010

Bonnie and Clyde

From 1932 to 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow took their gang on a crime spree across the American Southwest. Thirty-three years later, Arthur Penn made a movie about it. A combination of Prohibition and the Great Depression created the conditions necessary to breed a certain type of criminal; bank robbers, thieves, and kidnappers who evaded police and captured the imagination of a public that was predominantly composed of poor people who were none too happy with bankers and other monied interests themselves. John Dillinger was like a movie star to his public. Pretty Boy Floyd was immortalized in a Woody Guthrie song that transformed him into a modern-day Robin Hood. When Bonnie and Clyde hit the papers, they added a new element; sex. The two young and attractive lovers led the Barrow gang from state to state knocking over stores and banks along the way and the news reading public couldn’t get enough.

Although their story had been told on film before, once by the great Fritz Lang, this was the first time the story became a massive box office smash. It was the fourth biggest money maker of the year. Looked at from today’s standards it isn’t a terribly violent movie, but in 1967 American audiences hadn’t seen anything quite like it. It wasn’t as bloody as the films that Sam Peckinpah was getting ready to make and while Bonnie and Clyde got torn up by machine gun fire at the end it paled in comparison to the shooting of Sonny Corleone at a New York tollbooth just five years later. Nonetheless, it was a huge step away from the bloodless shootings that populated the golden age films of Bogart, Cagney, and Raft.

The film was nominated for ten Oscars and won two of them. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Director for Arthur Penn, Best Actor for Warren Beatty, Best Actress for Faye Dunaway, and two noms for Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard. The wins were for Best Cinematography for Burnett Guffey and Best Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons.

When I give my consideration for acting Oscars at the end of 1967, I will be considering the following group of people…

For Best Actor, Warren Beatty for playing Clyde Barrow.

Although he had received some notice for 1961’s Splendor in the Grass, it was Bonnie and Clyde that put him on the A-list. Beatty’s Clyde was boisterous and braggadocious, yet insecure and somewhat delusional about his future prospects. It was also very apparent how much he loved and depended on Bonnie.

For Best Actress, Faye Dunaway for playing Bonnie Parker.

This was her first major role and she took Hollywood by storm for several years and starred in great films like Chinatown and Network. She was one of the sexiest performers of the year. Her Bonnie Parker set many young hearts aflame and started a fashion trend.

For Best Supporting Actor, five performers will get consideration.

Gene Hackman for playing Clyde’s brother, Buck Barrow.

The newly married ex-con who joins his brother’s gang, tells the same bad joke over and over, and eventually becomes the first of the gang to fall. Hackman was perfect in the role, but Hackman is usually perfect, so that’s no surprise.

Michael J. Pollard for playing C.W. Moss, the young gas station attendant who joins the gang as mechanic and sometime get-away driver.

Pollard made Moss a very sympathetic character. Smitten by Bonnie and greatly admiring of his hero Clyde, he stuck with his fellow gangsters through all sorts of dangers and protected them in their time of greatest need.

Denver Pyle for playing Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

You probably remember him best as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard, but he had been an established character actor for thirty years before meeting Bo and Luke. He played Hamer as an angry and determined Texas Ranger who held his cool while captured. At least until Bonnie kissed him on the mouth.

Dub Taylor for playing Ivan Moss, C.W.’s father.

Dub was another long time character actor mostly known for Westerns. He was Cannonball Taylor in at least 50 westerns throughout the 1940s. He gave a strong performance as a man so worried about his son’s predicament that he would help Frank Hamer set up the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde using himself as bait.

Gene Wilder for his movie debut as Eugene Grizzard, the kidnapped undertaker who loses his car and gets left out in the middle of nowhere.

It’s a small role, but his anger as he chases the Barrow Gang and his stolen car, repeating over and over how he would tear those punks apart, turns so quickly to fear and anxiety as they turn the car around and pursue him. It was vintage Wilder. He was the king of the fit of anxiety as he would show in The Producers the very next year. It was just so good that I have to give him due consideration.

For Best Supporting Actress, I’ll be considering two people.

Estelle Parsons, who won the Oscar for playing Blanche Barrow, the wife of Gene Hackman’s Buck.

The real Blanche Barrow, who lived to see the film, wasn’t too happy with the performance. She said, “That movie made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.” Estelle was a bit over the top, but it worked for the role. Personally, I think she was the best part of the first big shootout with the police scene. Watching her scream her head off as she runs away with a spatula in her hand cracks me up every time.

Mabel Cavitt for playing Bonnie’s mother.

She was a local school teacher when the producers decided to cast her in the part. She had never been in a movie before or since. I’m going to give her consideration because she was just so real. When she gave her advice to Bonnie and Clyde to run away and never stop running, I couldn’t help but think how similar she was to many old ladies that I had encountered growing up in Alabama.

The film received great critical acclaim at the time and is today considered a genuine classic. I loved it. The soundtrack was wonderful, if a bit anachronistic. That kind of bluegrass didn’t actually come around until the 40’s. The cinematography, which won the Oscar, was tremendous. The cinematographer and the art direction crew were very fortunate in that most of the Texas locations where the film was shot hadn’t changed a great deal in the years since the Depression. Much credit must also be given to the costumers for capturing the period so well.

The story, while not entirely accurate historically, is highly compelling. The leads are very likable despite the fact that they do kill several people. Nonetheless, you root for them and are sad to see them die. All in all, a classic film that I highly recommend and expect to do well in my final 1967 list.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Thank you for your interest.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It is 1967!

I have consumed every last morsel of pop culture goodness out of the year 1966 and the time has come to do the same for 1967. This will be a momentous year seeing the musical debuts of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Traffic, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. The television debuts of The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Ironside, Speed Racer, and The Herculoids. There were be-ins and love-ins, protests and race riots. Khan fought Kirk and Ali was told that he couldn’t fight if he wouldn’t kill. There was Pop in Monterey and a Mothman in West Virginia. It was a big, full and memorable year.

I have decided on a list of 46 movies from 1967 that I will watch and review and when I am done, I will pick the Oscars the way the Academy should have. I hope for much feedback and many opinions from my readers. The list of movies follows. If anyone feels that I am leaving off a film that should be considered please leave a comment and let me know. Thank you all for your interest.

Bonnie and Clyde
Barefoot in the Park
Belle de Jour
The Billion Dollar Brain
The Born Losers
Casino Royale
The Comedians
Cool Hand Luke
A Countess From Hong Kong
Les Demoiselles De Rochefort
The Dirty Dozen
Divorce American Style
Doctor Dolittle
Don’t Look Back
Far From The Madding Crowd
The Fearless Vampire Killers
The Graduate
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Hot Rods To Hell
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
I Am Curious (Yellow)
I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname
In Cold Blood
In Like Flint
In the Heat of the Night
The Jungle Book
Point Blank
Poor Cow
The President’s Analyst
Smashing Time
The Taming of the Shrew
Thoroughly Modern Millie
To Sir, With Love
The Trip
Two for the Road
Valley of the Dolls
Wait Until Dark
Week End
The Whisperers
Who’s That Knocking at My Door
You Only Live Twice

Like I said, let me know if I left anything out.

1967 starts next…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Ten Best Albums of 1966

Number 1

Revolver – The Beatles

Released on August 5, 1966

Side One:

1. Taxman
2. Eleanor Rigby
3. I’m Only Sleeping
4. Love You To
5. Here, There and Everywhere
6. Yellow Submarine
7. She Said She Said

Side Two:

1. Good Day Sunshine
2. And Your Bird Can Sing
3. For No One
4. Doctor Robert
5. I Want to Tell You
6. Got to Get You into My Life
7. Tomorrow Never Knows

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Revolver tops the albums of 1966. The Beatles were the pre-eminent band of the period and they were at the height of their creative abilities, just on the verge of Sgt. Pepper. George Harrison contributed three songs to the album and his prominence here led Revolver to be one of the greatest guitar albums ever recorded. John and Paul also added some of the shining stars of the group’s catalog. Great moments abound on this album. Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows, and And Your Bird Can Sing have all made appearances on my song list. I also must give respect to the reverse guitar duet in I’m Only Sleeping, the full-on Indian vibe with sitar, tabla, and tambura in Love You To, the beautiful melody and Paul’s lovely vocals on Here, There and Everywhere, the exuberant happiness of Good Day Sunshine, that amazing french horn piece in For No One, and the horn section in Got to Get You into My Life. Revolver was the best album of 1966.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Thank you for your interest.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The 40 Best Songs of 1966

Numbers 5 to 1

5. California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas

Growing up in hot sunny Alabama and making my home here in the gray Pacific Northwest, I should identify strongly with this tale of longing for one’s warmer native lands, except I much prefer the cool overcast climate of Seattle to the humid inferno of my youth. Nevertheless, I can understand the desire to return to the Golden State. I once vacationed amongst the coastal redwoods of Del Norte County and cannot imagine a more beautiful location on the planet. The Mamas and The Papas made it to number four, their first hit single, with this classic. Their tremendous vocal harmonies complemented with a lovely flute solo garner it a place in my top five.

4. Try A Little Tenderness – Otis Redding

The King of Soul, backed up by the magnificent Stax house band, Booker T. and the MGs, transformed this old standard into one of the all-time soul classics. From the Memphis Horns and their opening dirge, the song builds a consistent Bolero-like momentum until Otis explodes into a staccato shouting of the lyrics. I often wonder what would have happened if Otis had lived and had the opportunity to play around with Funk and Philly Soul in the 70’s.   

3. Eight Miles High – The Byrds

It’s amazing what you can do with a twelve-string Rickenbacker, especially if you are Roger McGuinn. This was one of the first major hits to feature that raga-like sitar-tinged sound. It only made it to number fourteen, but that’s mostly due to the radio stations refusing to play it because of drug references. The band claimed it was about a plane ride to London. I think it was maybe a little bit of both.  

2. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles

It’s really amazing what you can do with a string octet, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. This sad story of lonely people is truly a work of art. It spent four weeks at the top of the British charts, but only made it to eleven here in the States. An unusual Baroque entry for the pop charts, it represented a huge step in the incredible evolution of the Beatles.

1. Paint It Black – The Rolling Stones

From those first hesitant guitar notes to Charlie Watt’s hammering drum intro, you knew this one was a little different. Arguably, this might be the Stones’ best song. This dark masterpiece was a number one hit on both sides of the pond and, in my opinion, the best song of 1966.  

Comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.

Thank you for your interest.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Ten Best Albums of 1966

Number 2

Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan

Released on May 16, 1966

Side One:

1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. Pledging My Time
3. Visions of Johanna
4. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

Side Two:

1. I Want You
2. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
3. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
4. Just Like a Woman

Side Three:

1. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)
2. Temporary Like Achilles
3. Absolutely Sweet Marie
4. 4th Time Around
5. Obviously 5 Believers

Side Four:

1. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

The second best album of 1966 was released on the very same day as the third best. May 16, 1966 was a momentous day in music history, as it gave us both Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde. Coming after Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited in little more than a year, it represented a peak in Dylan’s amazing career. Rainy Day Women and Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat have already made my song list, but there were several other true classics on the album. I Want You and Just Like A Woman were among his biggest singles. Stuck Inside of Mobile was an amazing song filled with one of Dylan’s more colorful cast of characters. Visions of Johanna and Sad Eyed Lady were simply gorgeous and deep on many levels. I also have to recommend the utter coolness of One of Us Must Know and Most Likely You Go Your Way. Incredible lyricism mixed with great tunes, including some fantastic piano work, marks this amongst the greatest albums of all time.


Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Thank you for your interest.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The 40 Best Songs of 1966

Numbers 10 to 6

10. Over, Under, Sideways, Down – The Yardbirds

If you’ve been following the list so far, it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for a really great guitar riff. This song has one of the best, played by Jeff Beck on the single, but by Jimmy Page in this particular live performance. I have to give props to Paul Samwell-Smith for some great bass runs as well. This was a tremendous celebration of the rock star lifestyle of the time and Keith Relf sang it as one who had lived it.

9. Substitute – The Who

One of the greatest early Who songs. It was pure musical perfection from Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon. Roger Daltrey exuded just the right level of proto-punk attitude. “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth” is one hell of a great lyric. It was a number five hit in Britain, but surprisingly did not chart in the States.   

8. Seven and Seven Is – Love

Speaking of proto-punk, this is a perfect example. Amongst the fiercest examples to come along before Iggy Pop started bloodying up the stages of Detroit. The drums and bass build up intensity so high that the logical conclusion can only be an explosion and that is exactly what Arthur Lee gives us before winding the song down into a peaceful guitar run. Beautiful.

7. I Feel Free – Cream

Cream was mostly a blues band, but every now and then they broke out some psychedelia. Clapton, Bruce, & Baker displayed tremendous chops on this single and barely missed the British top ten. This beauty of a love song draws you in right off the top with the vocal bopping leading into spacier keening and Clapton’s gorgeous guitar.

6. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

There’s that awesome theremin again. What a fantastic sound. Brian Wilson shows off even more of his amazing studio skills with this mini-symphony. Not a part of Pet Sounds, this stand-alone single topped the charts in the US and Britain and was their second single to go gold.  

Comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.

Thank you for your interest.