June 29, 2011

Art Du Jour

Blue Lou
©2011 RTunes68
Posted by Picasa

June 26, 2011

The Return To Form Of An American Auteur

Full Disclosure: I have an obsessive fascination with all things Paris in the 1920s and the Lost Generation.  So I secretly have a hunch – call it fantasy, if you must – that Woody Allen made in Paris especially for me, and no one else. 

For a while, I – like a lot of long-time Woody Allen fans – thought that Allen’s days of making classic, smart, insightful, biting comedies were a thing of the past.  Then he surprised everyone with Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  As if to prove that it wasn’t some late-career fluke, Allen follows up that cinematic triumph with another winner here.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter with literary ambitions, and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris with her stereotypically Republican parents (Mimi Kennedy, Kurt Fuller).  The conflict between Gil and his fiancée and her parents lies in the fact that he has romantic notions of giving up his lucrative Hollywood career to become a serious, full-time novelist in Paris while they want him to follow the money in Malibu and ignore whatever “fantasies” he may harbor.

One night, after a wine tasting, Gil walks alone through the streets of Paris.  At the stroke of , a 1920s-model Peugeot pulls up with a group of party-goers who invite Gil to join them.   At the party, Gil realizes that he has been transported to the 1920s where he is a sort of intruder in A Moveable Feast.  During the evening, he befriends Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).  Hemingway, who speaks to hilarious effect just as he writes in economical sentences, even promises to have Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) critique Gil’s manuscript.

In the following days, Gil spends much of his time walking.  During the daytime while he’s in 2011, he meets a storeowner, Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), with whom he shares a love of the 1920s.  His evenings are spent in the 1920s, where he meets such Lost Generation luminaries as Picasso, Salvadore Dali (played by a hysterically show-stealing Adrian Brody), and Man Ray.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie occurs when Gil confesses to his Surrealist friends that he is actually from 2011…and they find nothing particularly unusual about his revelation.  

Gil also falls in love with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who like Gil, wishes she lived in a bygone era.  Adriana pines for the romanticism of Belle Epoque, Paris’ Golden Age.  Similarly, a horse and carriage full of party-goers invite Gil and Adriana, and soon they are transported to turn-of-the-century Paris and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas.  Adriana is smitten with this era and proposes that the two of them stay. 

At this crossroad, Gil has an epiphany that while there is a “good old, glory days” comfort and romanticism to the past, it was never as perfect and memories have a way of rewriting history.  He decides that it’s better to accept the imperfections of the present and make the best of it.  With his new-found wisdom, Gil comes back to 2011 and makes a few decisions to improve his present and pursue a more satisfying future.   

In many ways, in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris – the city, the art, the literature.  In fact, the first two minutes or so of the movie looks like a combination of a film made by the Tourist Board of Paris and a Monet painting.  However, despite the Parisian setting, the characters and dialogue are very much Woody Allen’s chatty and illustrious New York City.  Owen Wilson plays Gil by channeling Woody Allen.  Clearly, no one but Allen could have written Wilson’s dialogue.  Inez’s parents’ repartee is intrinsically Upper East Side.  Inez’s friend, the insufferable pseudo-intellectual Paul (played hilariously by Michael Sheen), who is a self-proclaimed expert on everything is also pure Manhattan.  We’ve seen all these characters in other Woody Allen movies, but they are still extremely funny and watchable.

in Paris shows Woody Allen at the peak of his abilities as an auteur.  Bravo.     

June 23, 2011

A SuperHeavy Super Teaser

SuperHeavy have all the potential to be super cool:  Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley, and A.R. Rahman.  According to Jagger, their debut "fusion" album features songs that "range from reggae to ballads to Indian songs in Urdu" and is due out in September.

If only this teaser offered a clip of music....

Let's hope this new cast of musicians is the catalyst Sir Mick needs to recapture that sense of adventure and willingness to innovate that the Stones once possessed... 

June 18, 2011

Lenny Says "Come On Stand..."

The man who sang "Rock and Roll Is Dead" is about to prove that it, in fact, isn't.  On the very same day that the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album is due to drop (August 30), Lenny Kravitz is scheduled to release Black and White America. 

If the first single from the album - "Stand" - is any indication, it should be an album of super catchy retro-funk rock that we've come to expect from Kravitz.  "Stand" should be the soundtrack to the summer of 2011 with its opening stuttering guitar lines to its handclap beats.  It practically demands that you put the top down, turn up the volume, shift into fourth gear, and smile ear-to-ear, as the cutie sitting next to you dances in her seat. 

"Stand" and enjoy.

(note:  the song's brilliant lift of Three Dog Night's oldie "Shambala.")  

June 12, 2011

Time Stands Still

My friend recently sent me an e-mail titled "Whereby I Ruin Your Productivity For The Day" with a link to a Web site called RockPaperPhoto.com.  He achieved what he set out to do.

For aficionados of iconic fine art photography, RockPaperPhoto is heroin for the eyes and imagination - instantly addictive.  The site, the result of a partnership between Guy Oseary (Madonna's manager and former head of  Maverick Records) and Live Nation, contains an encyclopedic wealth of photographs of musicians, actors, dancers, and artists from the 1920s through present day.  Seeing a vast collection of such photographs is a visual feast, but it also forces one to lament the possiblility that in the TMZ era of paparazzi photography taken with the lens of a smartphone, perhaps artisitc photography and subjects worthy of such iconography are long past their heyday.  

The same friend also once asked why photography should be considered art.  It's not creating anything.  It's mechanically documenting a subject.  It's the work of a technician, not an artist.  

I disagree.

Fine art photography, unlike vacation photography or a drunken-night-out-with-my-friends photography, does more than simply document an occasion.  It captures and immortalizes a unique moment, an emotion, a perspective and elevates it to a thing of beauty - however one defines it.  The photographer - artist - has the ability to discern the currency and urgency of that particular moment, emotion, and perspective and capture it - art - at the instant it occurs, knowing that once it passes, it's gone forever.   

Photography captures the moment in time.  Fine art photography captures a timeless moment.

June 10, 2011

I'm With You, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Major record labels are all but a thing of the past.  The album format is a lost art.  The last new American rock band worth listening to was The Strokes…in 2001.  The most popular singer of the last decade is named Auto-tune.  America’s biggest A&R reps are Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler, and the Red States.  Everyone’s gaga for Gaga because she’s the lone point of interest on the Billboard charts.  In this increasingly sad musical landscape, if you want to hear new music by curiosities known as “rock bands,” you either have to go on a quest for it…or wait every few years for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They may not be the sock-wearing, slightly off-key singing, proto-rap/rock band you remember from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but they are one of the few aspects of mainstream American music that has gotten better over time.  If Californication, By The Way, and Stadium Arcadium are any indication of the trajectory this band is on, then I’m With You (release date: August 30) should be the most anticipated album of 2011.  Read David Fricke’s latest Alternate Take column in Rolling Stone.

June 9, 2011

It Might Be Great

It Might Get Loud is an easy movie/dvd recommendation for anyone who’s a fan of U2, The White Stripes, or Led Zeppelin.  It’s also an easy recommendation for guitarists.  However, renowned documentarian Davis Guggenheim delivers a film whose lure extends to beyond just the fans of the aforementioned bands or their musical driving forces.  The movie is actually a must-see for anyone who is intrigued by the artistic and creative process.

Guggenheim separately profiles the ascendency of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and The White Stripes’ Jack White, each arguably the most influential guitarists/musicians of their respective eras and generations.  While there is enough of the expected rock-u-mentary footage tracing the histories of each of the guitarists and their bands to satisfy both fans and newcomers, it is the perspectives of the guitarists themselves that makes It Might Get Loud so compelling. 

The Edge
 For musicians, fans, and casual moviegoers alike, it is fascinating to watch The Edge revisit the very classroom where U2 used to rehearse after school, discuss his early influences and inspirations, and to watch him demonstrate his unique playing technique and his reliance on echo and delay effects to “fill in notes that aren’t there” that create that instantly recognizable U2 sound.  One fast realizes that Bono may get all the media attention, but without The Edge’s indelible sonic fingerprint, U2 is little more than an overbearing spoken-word act featuring an Irish guy who wears designer MC Hammer glasses.  By the end of the movie, one also wonders how a man who is co-author/composer of some of the most memorable music of the last quarter century and who performs in Monsterdomes across the world can be so refreshingly, shockingly, and boringly…unaffected and normal.

Jack White
 The viewer’s reaction to Jack White – probably the least well-known of the three musicians to the mainstream – will most likely be a combination of amusement and some annoyance.  Looking like a cross between Johnny Depp’s less attractive but equally Tim Burton-creepy little brother and the forgotten member of the Addams Family, one is not sure if White is doing old-black-bluesman-from-the-1920s comedic schtick or if he’s just actually an eccentric.  It becomes a bit hard to believe as White discusses how he purposely only plays through old, beaten-up, damaged, and difficult-to-play equipment, and that the key to his creativity and purposely-primitive-sounding-but-pristinely-produced music is somehow the result of coaxing something musical out of this self-imposed technical adversity.  You can’t help but wonder if White is trying too hard to be “eccentric,” and find yourself saying, “Dude, just be normal already!” He redeems himself only when he discusses his upbringing honestly, his salad years as an upholsterer, and his truly encyclopedic knowledge, love, and devotion to the blues.  His unaccompanied performances for the movie are extraordinary.     

Jimmy Page - 1975
 I save Jimmy Page for last because, well…it’s Jimmy Page.  Now looking like a cross between a dapper British aristocrat (which he is) and Beethoven, it’s unbelievable that this soft-spoken, easy-going gentleman is the same rock god who once goose-stepped across the stadiums of the world in satin Nudie suits with embroidered dragons crawling up the legs and vintage German stormtrooper hats, all in a dazed and confused fog of Jack Daniels, cocaine, and Aleister Crowley mysticism.  Personality-wise, Page is a sharp contrast to both The Edge and Jack White.  Whereas one comes off entirely unaffected and the other you’re not sure if it’s schtick or authentic, Page makes no effort to promote or diminish his legendary stature.  He is perfectly comfortable and resigned to the fact that he is Jimmy Page, legendary British guitarist, aristocrat, millionaire, prototypical rock god extraordinaire.  Perhaps it is this aura that Page so naturally exudes that makes one scene, in particular, in this movie so endearing and smile-inducing:  filmed in the vast library of books and records in his house, Page puts on an obscure song from 1958 called “The Rumble” on his turntable and plays air guitar completely unselfconsciously, as he explains his love for the song and its profound influence on him.  It’s an unforgettable, touching, and innocently humanizing moment to see the “Wagner of our day” – as Robert Plant refers to Page – become a wide-eyed, awestruck fan. 

Jimmy Page - 2010
 For fans of Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page, the ultimate “YEAHH!!!” scene comes at the end of the movie in a segment called “The Summit.”  In it, The Edge, White, and Page all sit together in a room and show each other how to play each of their biggest hits.  The Edge shows the chord progressions of a U2 song.  White shows off a White Stripes songs.  As is typical whenever guitarists get in a room and play for each other, there is a mutual admiration and respect but, simultaneously, an unspoken and slightly defiant sense of “check me out”…and then Page shows off “Whole Lotta Love”…    

After listening to The Edge say earlier how U2’s initial motivations were punk influenced and directly in defiance of the bloated mid-‘70s sounds of bands like Zeppelin, The Stones, and Pink Floyd, and after being told what a blues purist Jack White is, it is a moment of absolute irony, humor, and joy to see The Edge of U2 and the Jack White of the White Stripes instantly become gleeful, wide-eyed, guitar-geek schoolboys upon hearing the unmistakable first five notes of one of the greatest riffs in rock coming from the hands and speakers of its composer.

Ultimately, what makes this movie so special is that Guggenheim shows in a most entertaining way that the joy of creativity and music is – to borrow a cliché – universal.  Music is so basic and visceral to the human experience that, stripped away of labeling and packaging and PR and legend, its effect and impact are the same to both its creators as well as its listeners.  In fact, they are one and the same.     

"The Summit"
It Might Be Loud.  It might be great.

June 3, 2011

I Need a Decent T-Shirt for $345

I stumbled onto the Hermes Web site and discovered this little bargain – a 100-percent cotton Hermes t-shirt for $345.  What differentiates this t-shirt from the three-pack of t-shirts one can purchase at Target for $10 – aside from $335, and two fewer shirts – is the Hermes label and the “H” embroidered on the pocket.  

In the spirit of this blog’s celebration of extravagant attitude and style, my initial reaction is to marvel at Hermes’ audacity and say, “Rock on!”  If you can afford to spend $345 on a t-shirt without qualms, I salute you and your decadence. 

Yet while I am generally a proponent for paying extra for quality, style, fit, comfort, and even frivolity and the perverse pleasure of sheer excess, paying $345 for a plain white t-shirt seems unnecessarily frivolous and perversely excessive.  In fact, it seems downright idiotic. 

I’m sure the salesperson at Hermes will explain that for $345, I am not only buying a white t-shirt, but I am buying a lifestyle, a prestigious name, and all that it personifies.  I imagine the salesperson might even point out the t-shirt’s extraordinarily high thread count.  I also imagine that as I gingerly run the t-shirt’s soft fabric lovingly across my cheeks, I will think, “High thread count?  Hell, it better be so high that this t-shirt’s bulletproof!” 

Ultimately, perhaps it’s Hermes’ equestrian and aristocratic preppy fashion sense, the stodgy lifestyle it represents, and its utter lack of any sort of edge that make it so unappealing.  The over-priced vanilla white t-shirt is simply emblematic of that.