Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2011 July 29 • Friday


Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)

Those are my two favorite headlines, but there are others that appear frequently.

In the above picture, you can see STATE BUREAUS MUST PAY RENT IN NEW OFFICES. That headline is also in Split Second and Sleepers West, among others.

3 NAMED TO FIX LIABILITY COSTS is in Mr. Moto's Gamble and Sleepers West.

U.S. DEBT TALK SEEN AS BASIS FOR NEW PARLEY is in Mr. Moto's Gamble and Slightly Scarlet.

Another one I see a lot is BILL AIDS OWNER ON FORECLOSURE. That's in Sleepers West and Garment Jungle and I noticed it in one of the other Mr. Moto movies as well.

BALLOT AWAITED TODAY AFTER AMENDMENTS is another regular. So far we've seen it in A Place in the Sun, Sleepers West and Champagne for Caesar.

Sleepers West has all but one of these headlines on one front page! It's like the Rosetta Stone for, uh, whatever this is.

2011 July 27 • Wednesday

Besides Max Steiner's great score, there are two other items of note in A Summer Place.

The first is the Della Walker residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Richard Egan's character owns it in the movie.

The second is another appearance of my favorite headline.

2011 July 25 • Monday

The 175th Soundtrack of the Week is Max Steiner's A Summer Place.

Steiner's theme for A Summer Place was a big hit when Percy Faith recorded it for an album. Faith played it pretty straight, staying close to the arrangement of the theme that Steiner prepared for several cues, such as "Bright Dreams/The Garden". The first version of the theme I ever heard was the recording by The Ventures, anticipated here by the use of Hawaiian guitar on for the version of the theme on "Reunion on the Beach".

The actual "Main Title" is masterpiece of film scoring in the style of the Golden Age of Hollywood, touching on several different moods and figures in the smoothest way imaginable. John Barry's theme for Somewhere in Time (1980) sounds rather similar to the "Main Title" for A Summer Place (1959).

The theme resurfaces in several of the cues—no surprise there. But this is one of Steiner's greatest scores, mining seemingly inexhaustible veins of romance, drama, suspense and lightheartedness. Each cue is almost like a miniature symphony, and Steiner's use of orchestral color is inspiring.

2011 July 22 • Friday

As expected, J. G. Ballard's The Drought (1964, a.k.a. The Burning World) has practically nothing in common with Charles Einstein's The Day New York Went Dry (also 1964).

One of the differences is that the front and back covers of my edition do have some connection with the text.

The difference in tone is apparent in the first line of The Drought: "At noon, when Dr Charles Ransom moored his houseboat in the entrance to the river, he saw Quilter, the idiot son of the old woman who lived in the ramshackle barge outside the yacht basin, standing on a spur of exposed rock on the opposite bank and smiling at the dead birds floating in the water below his feet".

Ballard's novel follows Ransom and a handful of other characters, including Quilter, as they adjust to a world without rain.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Ransom puts off the apparent inevitability of following everybody else to the ocean's shore. When he finally gets there, he finds that the military is desalinating ocean water while forcibly keeping back the thousands of people who want to get to the beach.

(A fascination with the ocean and its identification with human subconsciousness come up in Ballard's writing several times.)

Part two begins ten years later, where a settlement harvests ocean water and removes the salt with homemade stills. Ransom doesn't belong to the settlement but is a water pirate, stealing water from the organized groups.

In part three Ransom leads an expedition back to where he used to live and we discover what happened to Quilter and the eccentric architect Lomax.

The whole book has qualities of nightmares and anxiety dreams. People are stalked by lions and other predatory animals released from zoos. One character becomes obese from cannibalism. And Ransom's life among the salt dunes of part two is like something from Woman in the Dunes.

(Quite a bit of what I've read of Ballard so far reminds me of Hiroshi Teshigahara's movies of Kobo Abe's books.)

The Drought is dream-like, disturbing and hypnotic. Like a lot of Ballard's writing, the ending does not wrap things up neatly but leaves you with uncertainty and trepidation. Surreal imagery abounds. The book begins and ends with references to Yves Tanguy's "Jours de lenteur".

"Jours de lenteur" — Yves Tanguy, 1937

2011 July 20 • Wednesday

Before reading J. G. Ballard's The Drought (1964, a.k.a. The Burning World), I thought it might be amusing to read Charles Einstein's novel The Day New York Went Dry, published the same year.

(Charles Einstein's Wiretap! was discussed briefly here on this site a couple of years ago.)

The Day New York Went Dry doesn't have much to do with its front or back cover. It's actually a light social satire, practically a comedy of manners. Don Marlowe is a young man who works for the World News wire service. New York Congressman Bert Arnold is worried about how a severe drought might end up leaving reservoirs unable to keep up with New York City's water use.

Arnold gets Marlowe to work for him, gathering information, talking to people, going places and doing things that a public servant couldn't. A romance develops between Don and the Congressman's daughter, Bess.

The other main character is an air-headed member of the jet set, DeLesseps Martineaux III, Delly to his friends. Delly is interested mostly in drinking and sex but manages to be an important part of the story, even meeting with the President of the United States at one point.

The book is divided into parts and chapters with names that suggest its light comic tone: "Autumn in New York", "In Vain the Rains Fall Mainly in White Plains", "West Side Story", "West Side Story (First Reprise)" and so on.

Several pages are devoted to technical explanations of how New York City ends up running out of water. What the book avoids almost entirely is what it's actually like in New York City as water runs out. There are a few snapshots of the residents of a housing project called Sterling Homes, but the people there, like the other characters in the book, focus on political maneuvering.

(One of the Sterling Homes inhabitants is sacrificed to introduce a cholera epidemic to the plot but this potentially momentous development is dismissed as quickly as it appears and doesn't affect the story much at all.)

Almost everything involves politics of one kind or another, and the silliness and selfishness of the players at times recall Yes, Minister in substance if not in style. The writing is practically non-stop banter of one kind or another, and Einstein can be witty.

Introducing a large advertising firm that Marlowe and Arnold hope will convince people to use less water—the ad execs come up with the idea of a Smokey the Bear-type character, Arthur the Otter—Einstein casually mentions that the company "had become, through that aboriginal form of human dishonesty known as the merger, the second largest advertising agency in the United States".

Consider also our introduction to Sterling Homes. "It was a tribute to the municipal thinking of postwar America, which said that tumbledown old homes, infested by rats and garbage, should be replaced by tumbledown new homes, infested by rats and garbage. The rats and garbage were not in the blueprints, but they got there shortly after the building inspectors."

There are also at least two chapters which consist of mail received by Congressman Arnold, a sampling that includes letters from bigots, crackpots, aggrieved constituents and political insiders.

There are also some interesting diversions, one about a blackjack system (only possible under obsolete rules) and another about how to profit by borrowing money to pay taxes.

The first line is "Something, equally secular and subliminal, made the class of Amherst '55 get married in hotels instead of churches; and few reflected this more acutely than DeLesseps Martineaux III, who in his eight-plus years since graduation had attended an endless panorama of hotel weddings, two of them his own".

It's not a bad read but it's not as good as the painting on the front cover.

2011 July 18 • Monday

The 174th Soundtrack of the Week is Summertime Killer by Luis Bacalov.

Django is probably my favorite Bacalov score and I'm sure we'll get around to that one of these days. In the meantime, here's his groovy music for an Italian/French/Spanish crime movie starring Robert Mitchum's son Chris.

The main theme, "Run and Run", was co-written by Bacalov and performed by a band called Country Lovers. It's a dreamy, sunshiney sort of song, a bit of American Beauty, a bit of Muzak. I like it. You hear it more than once.

Then there's another theme that gets a work out, called "Like a Play" the first time it shows up on the CD. This is another song, very, very similar to "The House of the Rising Sun".

Then there's "The Summertime Killer", a monstrous, guitar-heavy, driving instrumental.

The other common theme is "The House on the Lake", dramatic underscore that features the strings.

You hear all these themes several times in different versions. There are seven "The House on the Lake" cues, five "Like a Play" and so on. "The Summertime Killer" is heard in a lounge version and also in the track "Motorcycle Circus".

There's also "Lisboa's Tram", which features Portuguese-style guitar playing.

The movie's not as good as the album cover.

2011 July 15 • Friday

In Nu sha shou (1971, a.k.a. The Lady Professional), Lily Ho plays a top assassin who also owns a groovy bar where she spins records for the costumers.

There she is selecting the next LP. But what's that record in the front?

Play Guitar with the Ventures Volume 2! "The Ventures show you how to play by ear".

Is this a "music minus one" thing? Maybe Lily likes to practice her surf guitar chops in her spare time.

2011 July 13 • Wednesday

Speaking of John Milius, he's a major character in Zeroville, a great novel by Steve Erickson.

If you put Flicker, Being There and Forrest Gump in a blender you might end up with something like Zeroville. (Erickson first gave Zeroville life as a short story of the same name in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories.

Here's the first line, which I had a little trouble with. "On Vikar's shaved head is tattooed the right and left lobes of his brain." My problem was that I thought "is" should be "are". It took me a while to get past that.

Here's the whole first paragraph, which is important.

On Vikar's shaved head is tattooed the right and left loves of his brain. One lobe is occupied by an extreme close-up of Elizabeth Taylor and the other by Montgomery Clift, their faces barely apart, lips barely apart, in each other's arms on a terrace, the two most beautiful people in the history of the movies, she the female version of him, and he the male version of her.

Not only is that the first paragraph, it's also the first chapter. The second chapter is two paragraphs. Chapter four is one sentence. Each chapter gets a large number above it, and they count up to 227, at which point they start to count down, zero being the final chapter. (This is one of Dexter's favorite books!)

Chapter 227 is one sentence: "Vikar doesn't know it, but everything now has been reset to zero".

Vikar was born Ike Jerome and grew up in Pennylvania, the son of a "Calvinist father who allowed in the house no books except the Bible, no magazines, newspapers, radio or the then new invention of television".

His father believes that God "had one hour of weakness for which He has spent eternity paying, and that was the moment He stopped Abraham from proving to Him his true faith and devotion. Children are the manifestation of the sin that soiled the world with pleasure's seed and the Bible teaches us that sanctification lies in the deliverance of children from this life and from the sin of their birth and existence".

Abraham's son was Isaac—Ike to you. Vikar/Ike's father also believes that "all righteous fathers would be Abraham again, to guide our God the Father's hand in His hour of weakness".

Vikar survives this childhood and later in life worships cinema after seeing his first movie, which happens to be Goldfinger and Erickson is typically witty about Vikar's reaction. "He was transfixed by the sight of a beautiful nude woman painted entirely gold; her body was discovered by the spy who seduced and thereby doomed her. It was difficult for Vikar to be certain just how bad the spy felt about this."

To make a long story short, Places in the Sun, the source of the Elizabeth Taylor-Montgomery Clift scene tattooed on Vikar's head becomes Vikar's ideal. Vicker is the family name of Elizabeth Taylor's character in the film. John Milius—called "Viking Man" in the book—refers to Vikar as "the vicar" which is also how some people used to refer to the VCR, an appropriate enough name as Vikar is something of a movie machine—not a cineaste but cineautistic, as Milius calls him. (Vikar also has VCR-like record and playback functions.)

He goes to the movies all the time, new and old. He sees Performance, The French Connection, Preminger's Laura (for the third time), Murmur of the Heart, Gilda, Disney's Pinocchio, The Battle of the Algiers (with Viking Man, who's seeing it for the sixth time), Dirty Harry (for which Viking Man is writing a sequel), an old forties movie called Criss Cross where Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo drive each other mad across what seems to Vikar a fantastical downtown Los Angeles with trolley cars that glide through the air.

Vikar arrives in Hollywood just in time for the Manson family murders and gets a job as a set designer at one of the major film studios, where he meets Milius and Dorothy Langer, an editor who worked without credit on Places in the Sun.

One of the highlights of the book is the scene, taking up chapters 92–95, where Langer analyzes the construction of Places in the Sun for Vikar's benefit.

Montgomery Clift's eye dissolves into a shot of the rowboat and its passengers in the distance, a faraway glint of light on the dark lake that becomes a glint in Clift's eye before his face fades altogether. "Like with the close-ups, this picture did things with dissolves no one had seen, not in Hollywood pictures anyway. You had two images dissolving at the same time, one coming in and one going out. There have to be more dissolves in this picture than anything since Murnau."

There's a lot of great writing about movies, and since the movies aren't always identified by name, it can be fun to figure out what Vikar is seeing from what he thinks about them.

(Erickson is also a film critic but I think this novel is the only thing I've ever read by him.)

When Milius is trying to persuade Vikar to come to Spain to edit his movie, and Vikar says he doesn't want to leave Hollywood, Milius replies:

"Don't you understand? This is Hollywood."

"What do you mean?"

"This godforsaken stretch of Gibraltar. The cutting room in Madrid. Paris, Bombay, Tokyo, fucking Norway, wherever—it's all Hollywood, everywhere is Hollywood, the only place on the planet that's not Hollywood anymore is Hollywood. You got a passport?"

Some of the best insights come late in the book, from Vikar's adopted teenage daugter, Zazi. She's the one who articulates the powerful differences between watching a movie by yourself at home and watching it in a theatre with other people.

"I mean, five hundred or a thousand people or however many it is in a theater—what are they going to do with a movie like that? There's too much common sense floating around the room, and what you have to do with a movie like that is give up your common sense, which is easier to do when it's just you alone. … That movie's like a ghost. Watch it alone and you become the thing or person it haunts."

Zazi also a brilliant take on the ending of Casablanca.

"But it was all pretty cool—except for this one thing."


"'Someday you'll understand that.'"


"He says, "Someday you'll understand that.' There at the end, when the Bogart guy is telling her why she can't stay with him, he gives this big speech about how their problems aren't worth beans and they have to do what's right and her place is with her husband because he's fighting the Nazis and it's important—and then he says, 'Someday you'll understand that'…and that was kind of infuriating, if you want to know the truth. Because if you want to know the truth, she's the one who's understood it all along. It's why she left him to begin with, why she's spent the whole movie trying to explain it to him, trying to get him to understand—and now he's telling her?"

I waited with trepidation for Vikar to happen upon Bigger Than Life, in which a drug-addled and psychotic James Mason attempts to murder his own young son after coming to believe that God was wrong to stop Abraham. This never happens, though. Perhaps it would overwhelm the book or Vikar or both.

Vikar understands almost nothing but movies—and about movies he's a little confused, thinking that Bonnie and Clyde and The Exorcist are comedies—but responds to punk rock as well, liking "I Wanna Be Your Dog" but nothing else he hears on the radio.

Later he finds himself in New York City where he becomes known as a dangerous slamdancer to the crowd at CBGB's in the 1970s. (Vikar brings a date there to slamdance, just as Travis Bickle brings Betsy to a porn movie in Times Square.)

It's a delightful book. I didn't want it to end. The actual ending is not as strong as I wanted it to be, side-stepping into an enigmatic mysticism that, to be fair, was regularly foreshadowed throughout the novel.

2011 July 11 • Monday

I'm somewhat ashamed that it's taken this long for Basil Poledouris to be the composer of a Soundtrack of the Week, but better late than never. SotW #173 is his score for Big Wednesday.

Once again, thanks to Film Score Monthly for releasing this and doing such a great job with it.

The movie is a daringly understated story about three young men, best friends and avid surfers, and their rough journey out of innocence and into maturity, ending with a look back that's wistful but without regrets.

The movie is divided into four parts, one for each season, and each part takes place in a different year. The story begins in 1962 and ends in 1974.

Incredibly there is no surf music in this movie about surfers in California in the 1960s. (There are some period songs from the likes of Ray Charles and The Shirelles.)

Instead Poledouris came up with a gorgeous main theme for time and tide that compares favorably with some of Jerry Goldsmith's and James Horner's most stirring music.

This is given several workouts in the movie, as is the "Three Friends Theme", which is ultimately heard with lyrics over the end credits.

There's also a kind of psychedelic rock piece that's played during a surf-movie scene—not a surf movie of the Frankie and Annette variety but of the Bruce Brown documentary style. (In real life Brown played Duane Eddy records and provided live narration for his silent surf footage.)

There's another song, a sort of bluegrass on tranquilizers number called "Crumple Car". Throughout there's also some sensitive slack key guitar playing as well as the Mexican folk song "La Golondrina".

The "Preparation March" is a snare-driven military piece that accompanies the main characters as they register for Selective Service. The Vietnam War is one of many challenges faced by the three leads.

There's also a cover of "Green Onions", fake Indian music used for a hippie vegetarian restaurant, some alternate takes and extended versions of cues as well as music used for the movie's trailer.

2011 July 08 • Friday

That's from the new Library of American Comics book, Tarpé Mills & Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944–1949, edited by Trina Robbins, who contributes an informative introductory essay, "Miss Fury and the Very Personal Universe of Tarpé Mills".

I've been looking forward to this for a long time. I first encountered Miss Fury in some old newspaper pages my parents-in-law gave me. (You can see some here.)

Miss Fury is, to quote the book's front cover, "the first female superhero created & drawn by a woman cartoonist". She made her first appearance in 1941, months before the arrival of Wonder Woman.

This book apparently collects what the editor and publisher believe are the best years of Mills's work. If it does well, there could be a second volume of earlier material. I bought one, now it's your turn!

2011 July 06 • Wednesday

If you really can't live without the lyrics for the "Beach Blanket Bingo" song, then you might as well pick up Ace's Hey, Beach Girls! compilation.

It opens with The Honeys' "Pray for Surf", one of my all-time favorite songs. It's a Brian Wilson production, with his post-Spector wall of sound. (Wilson's wife was a member of The Honeys.) It's really awesome, the best song on this CD. (Check out the Pet Projects CD on Ace for more of this kind of stuff.)

Then comes Donna Loren with "Cycle Set", a "Jan & Dean meet Lesley Gore" kind of song. Like most of the songs on this compilation, it's more hot rod than surf. Donna sings about raising enough money to buy a motorcycle and join the cycle set.

"(Dance with the) Surfin' Band" is by Hal Blaine & The Young Cougars but features a female vocalist ("Hey, everybody! / You've been a dancin' and a kickin' sand / So get your Levi's on / And come on down / We're gonna dance with the surfin' band"). Blaine's drum sound is huge.

After that are The Surfer Girls with "Draggin' Wagon", a cross between "Johnny B. Goode" and "Catch a Wave" or "Shut Down" or some vocal surf hit like that.

The Honeys return with another rocking song, "Shoot the Curl". It's something of a female empowerment anthem: "We're gonna rocket those boys right out of style / We're gonna shoot the curl / For one clear mile". This is a lot less dense than "Pray for Surf".

Then The Beach Girls sing "He's My Surfin' Guy", which is about the opposite of "Shoot the Curl". This time the girls are stuck on the beach while the boys go surfing without them. Cool organ playing, probably a Farfisa.

After this you hear The Angels with "(You Can't Take) My Boyfriend's Woody", kind of a whiny, monotonous song. You can amuse yourself with the double entendre possibilities. (In surf terms, a woody was a wood-panelled station wagon.)

"He's My Blond-Headed, Stompie-Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Guy" by Little Pattie & The Statesmen is something different, a novelty song with a distinctive sound to the recording and unusual touches, almost as if Yma Sumac's cousin tried to record a vocal number that sounded like "Tequila".

The Surfettes are up next with a cheerful song about "Sammy the Sidewalk Surfer". Then there's Susan Lynne's "Don't Drag No More", which is somewhat similar to The Goodees' "Condition Red" (though more of a pop song).

Westwood got my toes tapping immediately with "I Miss My Surfer Boy Too", a richly orchestrated song of lament. ("He moved to New York City / He's gone and I've been pretty blue".)

Dee Dee Sharp is up next with "Riding the Waves", another song about a girl in love with a surfer boy. ("There's a boy that I adore / But the boy loves surfing more.") Excellent "Pipeline"-style guitar playing on this one.

The next song is very different musically but not in content. "Hey beach boy / Beach boy / Beach boy / Beach boy, I love you" sings Andrea Carroll in "Hey Beach Boy". The melody is really nice and there's some cool 12-string electric guitar playing.

Then The Fleetwoods sing about being a "Surfer's Playmate". Not much new here.

Les Gams will grab your attention, though, if only because they're singing in French. The song is The Beach Boys' "Shut Down" but with French lyrics that match its title, "Attention! Accident! (Sur L'Autoroute de l'Ouest)".

Then Donna Loren sings "Beach Blanket Bingo", the theme from the movie of the same name. "Take a blanket made for two now / Add a boy and a girl / That's a game for me and you now / Yeah, let's give it a whirl."

The Wailers & The Marshans are up next with a number that manages to sound like a bossa nova/calypso version of "Let's Spend the Night Together". It's called "We're Goin' Surfin'".

Little Pattie & The Statesmen return to tell us about "Drag Race Johnny", an aggressive rocker with tough, rockabilly-like vocals.

Then it's "Surfin'" with The Orlons, bringing their mix of rock, doo-wop and pop to a surf song. I like it but it doesn't sound like their hearts are in it.

Westwood comes back for "Will You Love Me (Like You Did Last Summer)?", another curiously melancholy song. There's something special about their sound. I'd like to hear more of them.

Carol Connors's "Lonely Little Beach Girl" starts out with an island/exotica sort of sound before the melody brings us back to Beach Boys territory. "Surfer Girl", as you might expect, is the song that comes to mind.

After that is the most surprising artist on the CD, even more surprising than The Orlons. Who knew that The Supremes did a surf song? But here they are with "Surfer Boy", and you won't need to hear more than a few seconds to know it's them. Wild.

The King Pins follow with "Rod Hot Rod", a guitar-heavy song that's almost an instrumental but not quite.

Speaking of guitar-heavy, The King Pins are followed by Duane Eddy backed up by female back-up singers The Rebelettes, singing "Your Bayb's Gone Surfin'". Features typical Duane Eddy baritone guitar stylings.

The collection ends with Ellie Gee & The Jets' "Red Corvette", another novelty song with a male vocalist singing weird backing lines while engine sounds zoom in and out of the speakers. "He ain't good lookin' and his clothes ain't sharp / He's always broke and he ain't too smart / But he's the biggest man in town / The girls all hang around / His red corvette."

2011 July 04 • Monday

The 172nd Soundtrack of the Week is Les Baxter's score for Beach Blanket Bingo, the fifth Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon "beach party" movie.

My original idea was to watch all of these movies before reporting on this CD, but after watching the first one, Beach Party, I lost my motivation.

I love Les Baxter's music, though, which sounds great on this CD. Since La-La Land Records couldn't, "for licensing purposes", get the rights to the vocal performances of the songs, which are by Jerry Styner and Guy Henric, the songs' backing tracks are thrown in as a bonus.

The "Opening" varies between pop grooves with surfy guitar and bass guitar and some dramatic background. "Erich Von Zipper" starts out pretty goofy, with laughing timpani and Keystone Cops-type harpsichord. Then it hits a couple of other moods, the "Beach Blanket Bingo" groove and another antic-sounding cue.

"Parachute Jump" is a soaring piece for the orchestra, with some interesting use of the organ. The second half is has sparser, more dramatic writing.

"Stop House Band" goes through several changes: straight up rock and roll, a march bit that's probably for Erich Von Zipper, an ethereal Muzak sort of section and then a return to more guitar-driven rock.

"Beach Walk" is another ethereal cue and "Parachute Jump" is reworked (with more guitar) for "Frankie's Parachute Jump".

"Von Zipper Bit" recycles more of the music we've already heard. The same ethereal melody returns for that as well as "Bonehead Hears the Music", though the latter also features some dramatic underscore, some more rock grooves and even some circus-sounding music.

"The Big Cheese" features the piano and sounds like silent-movie accompaniment. Perhaps this is because Buster Keaton is in the movie.

"Bonehead's New Love" is a dreamy, sappy tune. Nice use of organ or vibes or both or something else, though. Then it goes into a surprisingly harsh and aggressive rocker with sharp guitar and blaring horns.

Next up are the backing tracks for the songs. You can do karaoke!

You get the instrumental-only versions of "Beach Blanket Bingo, "Fly Boy", "I Think You Think", "I'll Never Change Him", "It Only Hurts When I Cry", "New Love", I Am My Ideal" and "These Are the Good Times".

They're all really cool numbers and some of the melodies will be familiar from the score.

2011 July 01 • Friday

The Graduate (1967)

5 Against the House (1955)