Dave’s Underrated Albums: “12 Angry Months” (2008) by Local H

 

Local H are a terrific example of a band that had one hit album (1995’s “As Good as Dead”), never achieved the same commercial success again, but stayed in the picture creating a later body of work that equaled, if not eclipsed, their best-known effort.

“12 Angry Months” from 2008 is a 12-song concept album about a difficult romantic breakup spread out over the course of a year.   The central theme is not only the range of emotions that accompany such a breakup, but the fact that the other party thrives and excels after the breakup.  It effectively portrays every conceivable emotion and stage that such an event encompasses: anger, sorrow, bitterness, jealousy, overcompensation, pettiness, despair … and … centered, but pointed self-analysis.

I don’t want to give away all the highlights, but here’s a few of my favorites:

The opening song “January: The One With ‘Kid'” starts off melancholy, the narrator sadly asking the now ex how their mutual friends will be divided up and then shifts mid-track into a brutal, angry punk screed cataloging of which albums / CDs belong to which party.  Yes, this is petty, but in a breakup, even if you know a split is coming, the eventual break can still be a shock to the system and one does not always act in the best of ways.

“February: Michelle Again” chronicles the pain with having to discuss the breakup with friends … endlessly.

“May: The Summer of Boats” is a relatively calm, but painful track with the narrator dealing with the news that his ex is moving to another city.  Key lyrics: “Life was perfectly sad … It’s perfectly sadder now” and “You’re moving on to Salt Lake … and no one will ask why.”

“June: Taxi-Cabs” is the inevitable next scene, with the narrator self-medicating, partying, and engaging in one night stands to block out the pain.  Key lyrics: “Welcome back, hijack a stool, your favorite bar with souls you know.  And forward fast to 4 a.m., a Nilsson disc covered in blow.”
“August: Jesus Christ! Did You See the Size of that Sperm Whale?” is what happens when one encounters the ex … looking great and doing much better than the narrator is.  And of course, the narrator disparages the improvements his ex has made, spitting out ‘And to think I used to f–k you!”

“September: Simple Pleas”  is the inevitable come down from such anger.  A rare moment of self-awareness and acknowledgment of despair.  Key line: “I always said you were too good, I always said you were too good, I always said you were too good … and now you believe … I think I always knew that you were gonna leave.”

“December: Hand to Mouth” is the epilogue where the narrator fully comes to terms with what has happened over the last year.  The narrator may not be happy, but you sense there’s been growth and that he might handle things differently the next time he’s in a relationship.  Key lyrics: “You’ll learn what really matters … you’ll know what really counts … you’ll hear the chitter-chatter they say … when you’re living hand-to-mouth.”

I may have painted “12 Angry Months” as a painful album.  In many ways it is, but it’s also hysterically, blackly amusing.  This is the musical equivalent of Woody Allen’s brilliant 1992 film “Husbands and Wives” … caustic, brutal, embarrassing, heartbreaking, and very funny at times.

 

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Best Moviegoing Memories of the Naro Expanded Cinema, Norfolk, VA

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During my review of the documentary “The Rep,” I mentioned that some of my favorite moviegoing memories from my youth and young adulthood took place at the Naro Expanded Cinema, a repertory theater in Norfolk, VA. I thought I would recount a few of them here:

1. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick
The very first film I saw at the Naro. After having been to the Naro several times, my Mom took my brother and me to see this revival of “2001” in a 70mm 6-track stereo print during the summer of 1981. At the time, I was weaned on “Star Wars,” so I wasn’t as impressed with “2001” as I would become in later years. But I still remember being impressed with the realism Kubrick conveyed in this vision of space travel. Fortunately, I got to see it several years later in another 70mm revival in Washington D.C. when I was more ready for it and was … finally … bowled over.

2. “North by Northwest” (1959) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Another one my Mom dragged me to because she thought it would be good for me. Initially, being 12-years old or so, I groaned over seeing an “older” unrated film that would have no profanity, nudity or graphic violence. These reservations were instantly dispelled once I realized how much fun this movie was … one that combined action, suspense, comedy, and … yes … sex in a brilliantly sophisticated package. To this day, Eva Marie Saint’s character is still one of the smartiest, sexiest, most complex action heroines of all time. And Cary Grant … as Robert Evans once said, Grant had more grace walking backwards than everyone else had walking forwards.

3. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) dir. Steven Spielberg
I had already seen this multiple times before seeing it at the Naro on a double-bill with “Poltergeist” during the summer of 1983. But … what I remember the most is the glorious stereo soundtrack that the Naro properly showcased. When Indy cracked his whip in the streets of Cairo, I heard the sound of the whip start behind my head, carry through the speakers surrounding the sides, and then exploding upfront. The single most impressive display of filmic sound design I’ve ever experienced. Thanks, Naro!

4. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) dir. Jim Sharman
The Naro was THE best place to see “Rocky Horror” because back when I first saw it around 1985 or so, the theater owners allowed the audience to go absolutely bats–t crazy. The only rule was that you couldn’t throw anything at the screen. Otherwise, anything went. I’ve since heard things have changed, but that’s OK. Seriously, you don’t want to trash such a wonderful place to see a movie … but it was really really fun.  Especially on Halloween.

5. “Stop Making Sense” (1984) dir. Jonathan Demme
This classic concert film featuring the Talking Heads was nice to see on a huge screen with a booming, bass heavy sound. What was especially cool was the fact that so many people in the audience were taken with the music that they started dancing in front of the screen … which prompted the film to stop until people sat down. This happened at least 8-9 times before the film could finally end.

6. “Suburbia” (1983) dir. Penelope Spheeris
One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing Penelope Spheeris’s punk melodrama “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening at the Naro in 1985 (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive.  The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience.  My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us.  While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.”

7. “Blue Velvet” (1986) dir. David Lynch

I was fortunate enough to see “Blue Velvet” on its original theatrical run when I was one of three paying customers in the audience.  I’m so grateful for this particular experience, because I was able to accept Lynch’s vision the way it was originally intended … an unironic (but not unfunny), highly disturbing nightmare.  When I saw it at the Naro a few months later, the place was packed.  Unfortunately, it was packed with hipsters already predisposed to laugh at everything.  While I remember having a great time that night when I saw it in a packed theater, in retrospect, I also remember being a little pissed that they were treating it all as a big joke.  Again, the film is not unfunny … but it’s not a smug post-modern jokefest.  That night I learned that there’s a danger in thinking you’re smarter than the material you’re watching … especially before you’ve actually seen it.

8.  “Husbands and Wives” (1992) dir. Woody Allen

I remember seeing this at the Naro in early 1993 during a particularly dark period in my life as the second half of a double-bill with another film I don’t remember.  I distinctly remember the Allen film hitting me right between the eyes.  Yes, I remember laughing a lot, but I also remember being completely shattered at the end of it.  One of the most brutally cynical views of marriage and relationships ever created.  It’s no wonder this was filmed and edited during the height of Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s relationship “issues.” I think I skipped the invitation to have a beer after the film that night.

9. “Pink Flamingoes” (1972) dir. John Waters
The very last film I saw at the Naro … and I saw this during the film’s 25th anniversary revival in 1997.  I had seen the film more than a few times on video before and while I thought it was funny, I thought other Waters films (specifically, “Female Trouble” and “Polyester”) were much better.  However, seeing “Pink Flamingoes” in a theater brought a new dimension that I had never considered before … collective embarrassment.   Seeing this film with a paying audience on a huge screen made a lot of “Flamingo’s” notorious scenes seem way dirtier … and funnier.   One of the few times I remember actually convulsing in embarrassed laughter during a theater screening … while turning several shades of red.  Seriously, that s–t hurt!  But it was a lot of fun!

“Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession” (2004) dir. Alexandra Cassevetes

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Z Channel was a Los Angeles-based cable-TV movie channel that was active during the 1970s and 1980s. What made Z Channel different from HBO, Showtime, and other popular movie channels at the time was their eclectic programming and willingness to show films no one else was showing on television, cable or otherwise. The programmer, a man by the name of Jerry Harvey, was a hardcore cinephile and was diligent about tracking down the most obscure cinematic gems.  His intelligence, intensity, and diligence impressed (and sometimes annoyed) a lot of filmmakers, studio executives, and other creative types in Hollywood.

Z Channel was incredibly popular with the creative community in Hollywood.  Harvey was so well-respected, he was able to get the rights to show Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” during the 1977 Oscar season (while it was still in many theaters) which arguably led to its multiple Oscar nominations and wins.  He also championed Oliver Stone’s “Salvador,” which also led to its critical resurgence and subsequent Oscar nominations in 1986.  However, Harvey’s most important legacy was the promotion of the so-called “director’s cut” and “letterboxing,” which preserved the widescreen composition of films for viewing on non-widescreen TVs.  In 1983, he showed the original director’s cut version of Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” a film many considered a notorious flop, but a film that Harvey felt was a great film undermined by studio tinkering and the director’s own insecurity after the original director’s cut was severely criticized.  This led to premiering Bernardo Bertolucci’s 5 1/2 hour European (and in America, X-rated) director’s cut of his classic “1900,” as well as the European cut of Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece “The Leopard.”

Despite the professional respect he won by many in the creative community, Harvey was a very, very troubled man.  He eventually shot and killed his second wife, before committing suicide in 1988.

“Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession” is a great documentary not only about Z Channel and the early days of cable TV, but of Harvey himself.  It was directed by John Cassevetes’ daughter Alexandra Cassevetes and contains interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman, Paul Verhoeven, Vilmos Zsigmond, Henry Jaglom, Jacqueline Bisset, Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch, Theresa Russell, James Woods, Penelope Spheeris and many, many other directors, screenwriters, and actors who testify about the importance and influence of Z Channel.

While a lot of it is sad, the documentary is an orgy for film buffs, with lots of great clips and interviews.  This is one of my desert island films.

“Husbands and Wives” (1992) dir. Woody Allen

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A very close second behind “Crimes and Misdemeanors” for my all-time favorite Woody Allen film, “Husbands and Wives” is Allen’s abrasively funny, embarrassing, dark, and extremely uncomfortable look at two troubled marriages. Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis are a couple trying to have an amicable divorce until … well … real life takes over. Once they start dating other people, the fur starts to fly. Witnessing this meltdown are their married friends played by Woody Allen and Mia Farrow who start to have their own issues once things unravel for Pollack and Davis.

This film is best remembered as the Allen film that was released around the time Allen and Farrow were going through their own ugly and public breakup. Unfortunately, the controversy over their breakup in real life overshadowed what a great film this is. Allen is at his best when he’s flinging acid at the audience and while it’s ultimately a comedy, I remember being very disturbed by the film when I saw it back in 1992, a feeling I couldn’t shake for days.

“Husbands and Wives” is, arguably, one of the most influential films of the last 20 years. It’s single camera, pseudo-documentary style (which audiences at the time claimed made their stomachs sick) can be seen in some of the most popular and critically-acclaimed TV shows of the last decade (“Modern Family,” “30 Rock,” “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation”).

“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) dir. Woody Allen

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My favorite Woody Allen film is the thought-provoking, but despairing and chilling 1989 drama “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” In a modern-day update of “Crime and Punishment,” Allen explores the same themes of Dostoevsky’s classic, but comes to some different conclusions. In the world of Allen’s film, guilt does not always provoke a man to do the right thing, shallowness wins out over earnestness, and tellingly, the film’s most decent character (a rabbi) gradually goes blind by the end of the film.

Martin Landau is arguably the film’s lead, but was nominated for Best Supporting Actor instead of Best Actor that year at the Oscars. As much as “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorite films, Landau should have gotten his Oscar for his role as the morally conflicted doctor in “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” instead of his role as Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood.”

Even Allen doesn’t spare himself. He plays a variation on the sometimes lovable neurotic he’s played in countless other films, but removes the “lovable” part. His character is like someone who never matured beyond his college years and his character’s pathetic stabs at being meaningful are seen as petty and grossly naive and immature.

The scene at the attached clip is one of the pivotal moments of the film, when Landau’s character goes back to the house where he grew up and flashes back to an intense discussion during a seder about faith, the nature of evil, and whether God has any meaning.

While critically acclaimed at the time of its release, it doesn’t get much mention these days. This is one of the best films of the 1980s and is in serious need of rediscovering.

“Saturday Night Live 1980” – Nathan Rabin’s “How Bad Can it Be? Case File #23”

http://www.avclub.com/articles/how-bad-can-it-be-case-file-23-saturday-night-live,84591/

Bad comedy has always intrigued me, which is why I found this article about SNL’s infamous 1980-81 season so fascinating.  Part of Nathan Rabin’s endlessly terrific “My World of Flops” series, Rabin analyzes the SNL season most people believe was the series’ worst.   This was the season produced by Jean Doumanian, right after Lorne Michaels (and the rest of the original cast) left, and she had to start over with a new cast and new writers.  After reading the detailed account of this season’s failure in Doug Hill’s and Jeff Weingrad’s 1985 book “Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live” many years ago, I had been trying to see these episodes for a long time.  Some of the episodes appeared on Comedy Central when repeats of the show were run, but many of them were severely edited.  It wasn’t until some DVD-Rs of this season mysteriously fell off a truck in a town I don’t remember that I finally got a chance to watch the season.

Yes, this season is pretty bad.  However, when you look at the show over its nearly 40-year history, there are other seasons that are arguably as bad.  What’s easier to see now (as opposed to back in 1980) is that the show goes through severe ups and downs, the downs usually being the years when the show has to start over with a new cast and writers.  It’s not that the performers/writers are bad during the down seasons, it just takes time for a new talent pool to gel, but watching that process can be incredibly painful (and interesting).  The 1980-81 season was one of those seasons, and Doumanian had an incredibly thankless job.  Because no one had ever seen this process before and because the first 5 seasons were so beloved, anything less than being better than the first 5 seasons would have been seen as a failure.

Despite these qualifications, the season is pretty terrible, though the obvious highlight is watching the introduction of Eddie Murphy.  Watching Murphy and how fresh and funny he was back in the day, it’s astonishing to think where his career has ended up over 30 years later.  Don’t get me wrong, the man still has enormous talent (“Dreamgirls”), but when you see the hacky comedies he’s become affiliated with in recent years (“Pluto Nash,” “Daddy Day Care”), it’s a sad reminder of how far he’s sunk.

The other fascinating person to watch that season is Charles Rocket.  Billed as a cross between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase and groomed to be the season’s breakout star by producer Doumanian, Rocket is a better talent than historians of the show would lead you to believe.  However, the pressure cooker environment of the show, coupled with the sky-high expectations put on his shoulders by Doumanian, likely contributed to him being immensely difficult to work with, as Hill and Weingrad allege in their book.  After being fired soon after dropping the “f-bomb” on live television, Rocket periodically popped up in character roles in movies and TV, usually very good and playing the kind of caddish roles that Wil Arnett specialized in before starring in “Up All Night” (ironically, produced by Lorne Michaels).   His 2005 suicide by slitting his own throat was especially sad, considering that before SNL, Rocket was considered an important figure in the Providence, Rhode Island arts scene during the early-mid 1970s, a scene that also produced Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and the Talking Heads.  (Rocket played accordion on the David Byrne-produced B-52s album “Whammy”).  Below is a link to an article from the Providence Phoenix that discusses this part of Rocket’s career.

http://www.providencephoenix.com/features/p_and_j/documents/05030762.asp

Doumanian later went on to become producer of then-best friend Woody Allen’s films during the 1990s and early 2000s, until an infamous falling out occurred, detailed in the Vanity Fair article listed below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2005/12/woodyallen200512