XTC – Black Sea

Virgin CDVX2325
1980 reissued 2001

Ah, good old Black Sea. This, along with Big Express (remaster), turned up used and cheap at Morninglory Music.
The Mummer remaster was lovely and made me re-evaluate a few songs, so I grabbed this quickly. Black Sea is the last really rockin’-out XTC album, one before the blossoming of English Settlement. On one hand that means it’s consistent in tone–the Black of the title and the deep sea diver cover really suit the dark music contained within. On the other, Andy Partridge’s skill at melody hasn’t yet developed and is still battling it out with his desire to aggravate with yelps, shouts, and mono-tunes over rock riffs (the interminable “Living Through Another Cuba”). It’s Colin Moulding’s songs that hold up best, which here include “Generals and Majors,” “Love at First Sight,” and the bonus track “Smokeless Zone.” The best Partridge songs turn out to be the singles: “Respectable Street,” “Sgt. Rock,” and “Towers of London.” It’s songs like “Respectable”, “Towers,” and “Paper and Iron” that look towards the dissecting of England that is to come on English Settlement.
Pros: The hardest XTC has ever sounded. “Respectable Street” rocks! As does “Travels in Nihilon”
Cons: Sonic palette not as varied as future releases.

Granta 86: Film – Edited by Ian Jacks

Granta Publications, Summer 2004
This summer issue of Granta is devoted to Film,
and there’s quite a lot of good reading here, mostly all of it non-fiction. Editor Ian Jack’s view of film centers around ’70s art cinema, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. There’s an lengthy excerpt from John Fowles’ diary dealing with the on-again-off-again making of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” which, typical to Fowles, disparages nearly everyone he comes into contact with. Interesting encounters with Dennis Potter, Harold Pinter, and more. There’s an account of being a rat trainer called on by Werner Herzog to populate his film Nosferatu with over 18,000 rats. Most die. (Being a Herzog film, many of the film crew nearly die too).
Jonathan Lethem’s piece on Cassavettes makes me want to rent several of his films (I’ve only seen Husbands, and I’m told this is not the place to start). There’s a memoir by Shampa Bannerjee about playing Durga, Apu’s sister in Pather Panchali, but this is mostly anecdotal. I also liked the remembrance by Andrew O’Hagan about his two years as the Telegraph’s film critic, from which he earned little respect.
It’s an easy read this issue, and brings back many names that used to be household (the trio of German directors–Herzog, Wenders, Fassbinder–who revolutionized their country’s cinema), if not for a reconsideration, but at least to blow the dust off the spines. But you may come away from the issue feeling that cinema has died and all that’s left is curation.

Sopranos Season Two

Prod. David Chase
It must have been hard to top Season One of the sopranos, and many episodes of Season Two aren’t as plot-driven as the first.
If this was a symphony, season two would be the exposition part after the statement of the theme. The characters of Richie (David Provale) and Janice (Aida Turturro) are brought in and slyly dominate the season, rounding out their stories very neatly near the end (a big shock, too, in how they did so.) One thing the show reveals is how by toying with genre, the program becomes open to all sorts of experimentation. The show is able to contain realism and surrealism without feeling off. It’s that most magical of shows, one that creates an entire universe. You believe that anything can happen.
Violence is treated realistically here, with short, brutal beatings that don’t last too long, unspectacular car crashes, bullets dispatched without witticisms, and plain knuckle(head) punches. And by doing so, the show never glosses over its characters’ lives of crime. The finale montage, showing the happy extended Soprano clan intercut with shots of ruined lives and illegal schemes run their course (the trashed offices of the ‘boiler room,’ the bankrupted sports good store, reminded us in a lovely cinematic way of the exactly what we’re celebrating. This is capitalism, baby, as we’re often reminded.
And, criminy, what other show would use a Pierre Henri piece on its soundtrack?
Also: My wife has been studying Carmela for pointers. I’m in trouble, I think.
Favorite episodes: The D-Girl (mainly for Alicia Witt–oofa!–but also for the parody of Hollywood), Knight in White Satin Armor, and Funhouse (obviously).
Favorite line: Unrepeatable curse when Uncle Junior falls over in the shower.
And finally: Adrianna (Drea de Matteo) is hot. As is Oksana Babiy (Irina, the mistress).

Sopranos Season One

Prod. David Chase
It took something like seven episodes before my better half got into the Sopranos.
(It took me three). That may be a long time for some, but understand that in learning English as a second language all those years ago, there was no week devoted to Italian-American Mafia slang and its sentence structure. Imagine getting your English down fluently and then encountering a line such as “For his mother a smoke he hires!” said in a rising tone.(Imagine you even know that a ‘smoke’ is a derogatory word ahead of time.)
No wonder she couldn’t get into Goodfellas a few years back…
So anyway, after years of people telling me that the Sopranos is essential viewing, the box set for Season One turned up at the library of all places, allowing us the leisure of watching all 13 episodes over the course of a week.
One of the great pleasures of the series is how it intersects with our shared cultural knowledge of previous gangster films. This intertextual referencing occurs within and outside the world of the Sopranos. While Tony Soprano’s crew talk about the Godfather and Silvio does impressions of Pacino, we also get a kick out of the fact that Christopher shoots the toe off a donut-shop vendor, replaying a scene from Goodfellas in which the same actor (much younger) gets his foot shot by Joe Pesci. Or how the attempted assassination of Tony is a homage to Don Corlione’s shooting in the original Godfather, with a smashed orange juice bottle alluding to Brando’s dropped bag of oranges.
That the Sopranos discusses all this marks the show as a major post-modern text, yet it’s a real drama, not diluted with snarky irony. James Gandolfini went from appearing in films as a heavy or a psycho (8mm for one) to appearing fully formed as Tony Soprano, simultaneously ruthless and vulnerable, with no winks to the audience, no grandstanding. These are the kind of breakthrough roles most actors never get.
The season arc–the taking over of Uncle Junior’s business and Tony’s mom’s plot against him–plays out slowly and satisfyingly. Once again the hour-long drama series shows itself to be the closest we get to a novel in film.
The finale sets us up for a Godfather-esque “massacre during christening” sequence, with Michael’s death in the woods, but then throws us a curve as Uncle Junior and crew are indicted. The closing scene, with the crew and family huddled inside Vesuvio during a storm was an oddly suspenseful way to round out the season, and keeps us on our toes for the next.
Favorite line: “Who do we blame for your hat?”–Paulie to Christopher, when the latter rushes in wearing a floppy fisherman’s cap.

Danny Gregory’s New Book

Oh man, everytime I think my childhood memory’s been tapped, along comes some other web site/documentary/book that reminds me of something I had relegated to the attic of my brain. This time it’s filmstrips, those little rolls of slide film that would teach you things about the world as you followed along to the audio. BING! Turn the crank for a new picture. BING!
Danny Gregory, master of illustrated journals, has just put out a book celebrating these notoriously cheesy strips. Me wanna. But does the book make a BING sound before I turn the page? One can only hope.