The Distance of California in Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying

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When completing Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying, only one word could describe my first reaction: distance. When reading Killing and Dying, you always feel like an outsider looking into the world of the people in the six stories. You never feel close to the characters, and the visual style has a sterile perfection to it that reinforces this sense of distance. Reality inspires the world of the graphic novel, but a genericness to the scenery makes every setting seem like a faceless suburb somewhere in California, giving way to a coldness in the delivery of each story.

However, this distance is not a bad thing, and it makes plenty of sense when you live here.

Yes, I’m late to this renowned graphic novel of last fall, but after living in California for a year, the atmosphere of the book makes more sense now than it would have in October 2015. This state has an abundance of beauty in it, and it still has an undercurrent of untamed energy that you can trace back to the wild west of the past, but California, despite the sun, mountains, trees, and ocean, has this palpable sadness to it. Maybe it comes from the lost hope from dreams that never came true or maybe from the interactions that never happen because so many spend a large percentage of time in their cars, making a sense of community feel far away, but regardless of the reason, this dourness lies just under the topsoil that sees the frequent sun. This gloom manifests itself in many ways, and one of them emerges in distance between people.

Adrian Tomine perfectly captures this sullen mood of life in California with his stories in Killing and Dying. Similar in its construction and tone to Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels, but with desperation and sadness stemming from a different place than the return of Hong Kong to China, each story has similar elements of compulsion and absurdity stemming from miscommunication or misinterpretation by people and their actions.

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The Cover for Killing and Dying with a composite of California and a Denny’s from Pasadena

 

In “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture,’Harold, a gardener, finds inspiration in the thoughts and work of Isamu Noguchi and begins a new creative enterprise, which he terms as “Hortisculpture.” Part formal sculpture, part horticulture, Harold’s art fuels a passion in him for his work, and this passion develops into obsession as his Hortisculptures fail to attract the attention and capital of his gardening clients, his colleagues, and his own family. The Hortisculpture fixation lasts six years, and it consumes his existence and tears up his family. In a state historically looked at as a beacon of opportunity, Harold’s story resembles that of every actor, actress, technologist, and inventor whose creations and work fail to gain the attention of people, making it an excellent opening story to set the tone of the book. He gives everything to his creativity, but it goes nowhere and takes him far too long to realize when his artistic dreams need to be placed on a hiatus.

In the title bearing story, the daughter in a family wants to test out comedy as a potential for a career. The mother offers unbounded support and gives the daughter the opportunity to try out this creative outlet, and the father, the pragmatist, offers his skeptical opinions. As we see the daughter’s development and failures in comedy, we also see how the mother’s illness shapes the father’s bitterness, the daughter’s fearlessness, and the mother’s optimism. The strongest of the six stories included in the graphic novel, “Killing and Dying,” condenses killing in a comedic sense, dying of embarrassment, dying of humiliation, and death into a quiet story constructed entirely from conversations and comedic performances, good and bad. The dream to become an entertainer makes “Killing and Dying” a California-centric story, and its disappointments coming from failures and life further place the story here.

Killing and Dying closes with “Intruders,” hearkening again to Wong Kar-wai, but this time, to the film Chungking Express. In between tours, a man returns to his home city. Unwelcome by his family and lacking a permanent home, he establishes a base camp in a hotel room, waiting to travel again. During this period, he gets the keys to his old apartment from a young woman who once house sat for him, and he begins to live in the apartment in the hours that the current tenant leaves it for work. Like “Killing and Dying,” “Intruders” toys with multiple interpretations of the term intruder, and it concisely sums up the book, for by the end, you also feel like you have intruded on the lives of all of the people in the stories, and as a result, you will most likely have one of two reactions. You may want to start narrowing this separation from others, or you may want to make it larger and only view people and places through your windshield.

Killing and Dying has received adulations from the literary and alternative comics world, and that praise is well deserved. Tomine understands the motivations, disappointment, and derailment of people, and he discusses them with minimalism and detachment that draws empathy without pathos, allowing you to see the underlying sadness of the setting, which exactly feels like modern day California.

California is a place where people can become larger than life. California is a place where people can fall far from grace. California is a place where finding your own identity and understanding yourself feels far harder than anywhere else because others always feel far away physically and emotionally, and Killing and Dying examines this distance and resulting melancholy with a sharp eye and efficient tongue, reminding all that not everything is golden on the edge of the Pacific.  

Killing and Dying is written and illustrated by Adrian Tomine and is available via Drawn & Quarterly. 

Patience: Daniel Clowes’s Foray Into a More Whimsical and More Inane Territory

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If you’ve read my reviews in the past or spoken with me in person about comicbooks, then you most likely know that when it comes to Daniel Clowes’s work, I have never been able to take a final stand on whether or not I like his comics. Though Eightball as a complete series ranks high in my favorite comics of all time, I really dislike Ghost World, which debuted in Eightball. Clowes’s cynicism and ability to navigate the line between absurdity and reality always motivate me to take a look at anything he creates, but sometimes, he soaks so much contempt for humanity into the pages that I have to stop reading because as much as humans can cause frustration, pain, and anger, I myself cannot look at humanity with such bitterness and despise. I’m sure that says something about my character, but regardless, that optimism despite disappointment in humans (be it foolish or not) modulates my attraction or repulsion to any of Daniel Clowes’s work.

However, those sentiments apply only to creations before Patience, Clowes’s most recent book, which arrived in March of this year. Patience explores the all consuming power of love on the space-time continuum and presents a very different Daniel Clowes to his readership. Sprinkles of skepticism and wit garnish Patience, but overall, the book has a far more introspective tone. Clowes’s visual art stands tall here; in 2016, he has achieved his best artwork to date. His storytelling has more balance than ever, and his writing has a surprising and impressive fluidity.

Sadly, as much as Patience attests to Clowes’s continued growth in skill as a cartoonist, it simultaneously exposes the loss of boldness and subversiveness in his voice as a creator.

The cover of Patience shows us a brighter Daniel Clowes

The cover of Patience gives us a brighter Daniel Clowes

Jack Barlow has little in this world beyond his wife Patience. Immediately, when the book opens, we learn, along with the couple, that Patience is pregnant. Jack responds with joy, and Patience responds with happiness but with hesitance. The two love each other, but they may not have a stable income to support their child, which worries Patience. What initially looks like a projected concern for Patience emerges as an actual problem when the readers see Jack going to work, not at a desk, which Patience believes is the case, but at a sidewalk where he hands out flyers. Jack, aware of the multiple responsibilities of parenthood, also worries about his work situation and for that reason has avoided telling Patience about what he actually does to pay the bills, but everything changes on the night that Jack raises enough gumption to tell Patience the truth.

Upon returning to their apartment after work, Jack finds Patience dead. Someone killed her, but no clear suspect stands out. Jack conducts his own investigations for years but without any success. Time passes, and we meet Jack again in 2029 as a middle aged man. Patience still plagues his mind 17 years after her passing, and her unsolved murder haunts him, preventing him from moving forward with anything in his life.

After getting kicked out of his local watering hole, Jack prevents a woman from getting beaten by her boyfriend, and the two spend the evening talking. The girl turns out to be a prostitute and offers Jack a go for his help, but given his grief, he cannot handle such intimacy. Instead, they continue to talk, and the girl mentions how one of her clients has a time machine. Though Jack does not initially believe that the time machine exists, it is his only hope in trying to understand Patience’s death, and so he tracks down the man with the time travel abilities, and he manages to step back in time and into Patience’s life before him.

In his explorations into the past, Jack witnesses the events of Patience’s unspoken life history. The desire to prevent Patience’s murder drives every move he makes, but Jack also uses the time traveling as an opportunity to protect her in moments of sadness and pain that she had hidden from him, which weaves his middle-aged future self into her timeline into the future. Interference with the past usually changes the future, but oddly enough the steps Jack makes in Patience’s past do not drastically change the course of her life, and he eventually gets the chance to prevent her death.

Here, Patience proceeds in its ending toward the sanguine, a term I would not have expected to use when reviewing a Clowes book. Without getting into full details of the end, as the book closes, Jack describes the importance of every event in his and Patience’s life and in the universe at large, and this conveys a level of hubris that would warrant a torrential downpour and flooding from the gods. Every moment to Jack only begins to matter after he’s gone back and changed the course of time, and as he travels back and changes time, he even begins to think that his future self was meant to be part of the past, an arrogant and myopic viewpoint. All parts of life matter to Jack only when he finally gets his way, and this is an offensively bourgeois mindset because time and the world move beyond our minuscule existences, and who are we to determine what matters or not. If everything matters, then Patience’s original death had meaning to it, and claiming that the death occurs because Jack needs to travel back in time to prevent it and to learn more about Patience renders her death into more of a plot device, which is completely fine if the story aimed to simply be entertaining like Time After Timebut Patience culminates in a philosophical statement that only selectively applies to the book itself.

With his closing statement on life and the universe in Patience, Clowes almost seems to apologize for his previous contempt toward the world, but the apology comes from a place I find more offensive than misanthropy: arrogance. In 2016, Clowes is a highly accomplished author who can really do anything he wants. He has a son, even though he claimed he had enormous doubts about fatherhood. Life for Clowes has turned out extremely well, and now, the contempt of his earliest work disappears into a grandiose statement about meaning in life. Sure, we cannot all live in angst for all of our lives, but Patience ultimately feels like a book created out of  comfort, out of a bourgeois belief that one can control everything and that if we want something to happen, it will.

Patience perfectly positions itself with the indie rock, creative class Generation X members who seemingly have their lives under control and think that they can bypass death with children, finance, exercise, and organic juice. Maybe I’m too young for this and have a streak of nihilism in me that drives me in my mid-20s, but I just cannot agree with the perspective of Patience, and I hope I never will.

 

 

Lost Japanese Soldiers Train A Double Crossed Blaxploitation Hero In 1978’s Death Force

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James Ingelhart Learning The Bushidō

I don’t know too many men my age that never delved into the occasional Gilligan’s Island episode during their youth for a glimpse of Daisy Dukes wearing Mary Ann. A silly, yet borderline offensive show at times, Gilligan’s Island fit in well with the panorama of inane shows of The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres variety that intentionally seemed to have a bare minimum plot so that you could see an Elly May Clampett type parade around scantily-clad group of unwashed yokels to get an instant jolt of middle class superiority. There was perhaps one positive benefit from my years of watching the seven castaways fumble around the island trying to make batteries out of coconuts, and that came from of a 1965 episode entitled, “Sorry, My Island Now,” in which a lost “Japanese” sailor, ( “Japanese” because the sailor was played by Neapolitan actor, Vito Scotti) complete with super thick Mickey Rooney Breakfast At Tiffany’s-styled Asian glasses, holds the gang hostage as he is under the belief that World War Two was still an ongoing conflict in 1965. The episode is a morass of terrible racial stereotypes that were common for the time, so it is not worth hunting down, but the positive that emerged was that  twelve year old me wondered if such a thing had ever occurred, and I subsequently made my way to the main library to find out, and the truth was a tough one to swallow.

The “holdouts” as they would come to be known, were Japanese soldiers who had served in the Pacific Theater who were either stationed in remote islands or cut off from official communications, and as a result, they simply didn’t know that the war was over. Or, they were dogmatic fighters who refused to believe that the war was over, even though they had heard communications of the fact but yet held firm their military appointments without conflict or found another fight somewhere else and pretended that World War Two was still happening. What boggled my mind was that some of these “holdouts” held on until the early 1990s! The last of these men, Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka, returned to Japan from Malaysia. After the Japanese surrender, they joined with the Communist Party of Malaysia guerrilla forces to continue fighting against the British, only returning after the CPM laid down its arms and signed a peace treaty. The story of the “holdouts”  was not wildly reported on in Philadelphia, where I was an adolescent in the 1970s, but I imagine that this was commonly known in Manila, the hometown of Death Force director, Cirio H. Santiago.

I often refer to director Santiago as the “Roger Corman Of The Philippines” as the producer/director was not only a pioneer of blaxploitation films like 1974’s TNT Jackson and 1976’s She Devils In Chains but also a production platform that helped launch the careers of Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, and Carl Franklin. He can film action, and in the case of Death Force, he can, along with screenwriter, Howard Cohen, come up with some rich characters and dialog that is at times, dare I say, touching. Death Force begins with three American Vietnam Veterans, Doug Russell (James Iglehart, the hunky weightlifter from Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls), Morelli (Carmen Argenziano), and McGee (played by a pre-Penitentiary Leon Issac Kennedy), who have just stolen a ton of gold from Santiago’s native Philippines. Doug just wants his cut so that he could reunite with his gorgeous wife, Maria, and who could blame him as she is played by Jayne Kennedy, fresh from her appearance at the Miss USA Pageant, but Morelli and McGee want to take their cut back to Los Angeles and become ruthless crime kingpins, which suits Doug fine, so they board a boat with their new found riches and head for home. But boys will be boys, and McGee and Morelli, like five year old kids on Christmas Eve, cannot be patient and start their Michael Corleone fantasy trip on the boat as they cut poor Doug’s throat and toss him overboard so that the greedy jerks can keep his cut too. Michael Corleone at least waited until Fredo screwed him over before having him plugged on a fishing boat. Get with the program boys!

Amazingly (though not for blaxpolitation) Doug washes up on a beach with a pulse and is discovered by two Japanese “holdouts”(Filipino actors Joe Mari Avellana and Joonee Gamboa), an enlisted man and an officer. Even though they perceive him as the enemy, the holdouts nurse Doug back to health in the hope that he can at least help out with gathering coconuts on the island. Doug makes a smashing recovery, and the officer begins to see Doug’s immense strength and size as an asset, so he begins to show him the way of the Bushido and turns him into a samurai. It is in these early scenes that Death Force begins to stand out among the usual mid-1970s action film, as these scenes on the island, which may have gotten the Gilligan’s Island treatment in Hollywood, are done tastefully and more importantly are sympathetic to the holdouts and their code of honor. The holdouts instill in Doug their particular code of honor and teach him to use the katana, and he becomes one of them. After the enlisted man tragically dies in an accident and the officer commits seppuku when a group of Filipino soldiers attempt to peaceably locate holdouts on their island, Doug returns to Los Angeles where, as you can imagine, he is looking to get some payback on Morelli and McGee. The latter now hounds Doug’s wife and makes it impossible for her to get work as a singer after she remains loyal to Doug and rejects his advances. Doug wants revenge, but as his his Japanese mentor warns him, “You never win battles in anger.”

What occurs next is what you would expect from a mid-1970s blaxpolitation film in terms of violence, but the pacing of the film becomes another positive aspect of the narrative. This could easily go down after the island scenes as a quick bang-bang revenge film, which was so prevalent in the post-Death Wish era, but Santiago allows the characters whom Doug meets to develop along with the plot, and you start to develop genuine empathy for not only our main protagonist but also those who aid him on his quest to find honor, where honor has been removed from his life. There are no quick solutions and as the film veers towards an ending, you have some much needed space between the beheadings (yes, there are a bunch) to feel the stories of all involved.

                                           Original Trailer for Death Force 

Though not as tightly put together as Mike Hodges’ masterfully crafted 1971 British gangster revenge film, Get CarterDeath Force does remain true to Doug, our hero, as Hodges’ film does to Jack Carter. Death Force is an impressive feat for a low budget film shot in the Philippines, which at the time was a breeding ground for many a schlockfest, which were quickly done to get the most bang for your dollar. Death Force is not Melville’s Le Samourai, but it does wisely incorporate the code of the Bushido, allowing that doctrine to energize the story and provide a interesting motivation, past simple revenge, for its main character which is more than I can say for any Hollywood production of its time.  One can only credit the influence of Bruce Lee and the proliferation of martial arts films in the West during the 1970s for the change in the stereotypical depiction of Asians in films here in Hollywood.  Sadly, this didn’t last long as the 1980s brought in an entirely new middle class generation that needed to pray on these outdated Asian stereotypes with characters like Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles and Ben Jabituya in Short Circuit.  After John Woo and the bullet throwing Hong Kong action films of the 1990s, there was a brief reprieve from the thick glasses and funny English found in the Asian characters of 80s films, but here it is, 2016, and we have Fresh Off The Boat and Outsourced.  I guess the only thing that Hollywood can ever respect from the East, is when they can depict violence like the West.

A Sweet And Sour Summer Antipasto: Generoso’s Caponata

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Now that summer is approaching, Generoso loves making this simple sweet and slightly sour eggplant and caper based antipasto that is quick to make (about 40 minutes) and delicious. For this recipe you will need one large Italian eggplant, 1/2 cup of capers, three medium sized tomatoes, five cloves of garlic, one cup of red wine, one red onion, two stalks of fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Let us know how yours turns out and thanks for watching! XO Generoso and Lily

Music: Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1

Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady: Pete Weston’s Advance Label 5-10-16

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Jackie Brown in 1975 On Advance!

 

Howdy Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners,

A lovely week of weather and good eating lead into the festive May 10th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady so we decided to do a deep and extended spotlight on Pete Weston’s wonderful, reggaerific ADVANCE LABEL which features top tune from Junior Byles, Alton Ellis, Shorty The President, Ken Boothe and many more. The spotlight, as always, begins in the middle of the show!

The show began with two sets of ska, beginning with Eric Monty Morris’s forthright tune for Duke Reid from 1964, Drop Your Sword!  Prince Buster and Hazel followed with World Peace, a top cut on Buster’s own Voice Of The People label from 1963.   Sammy and the Drumbago Band was next with You’ve Been Drunk which was originally released on Count John The Lion in 1963 and we ended that first set with the Spanishtown Ska Beats and King Solomon from 1964.   The mento set started with a track never before played on The Bovine Ska, a mento from the Chin’s label entitled, Not Guilty, which is amazing considering we have been doing a mento set for almost fifteen years!  A long rocksteady set was next and that began with a cool one from the vocal group, The Lyrics on Coxsone’s Studio One, called A Get It from 1966.  That set ended with a Tommy McCook instrumental released on Sure Shot in 1967, Soul For Sale.  We then got into the special one hour spotlight on the ADVANCE LABEL.

We do not know a ton about the Advance label, but we do know that it was a subsidiary of Micron Music, which was owned by Michael Johnston, Ronnie Burke, and Pete Weston. Michael Johnston and Ronnie Burke were roommates at Jamaica College who loved jazz, and the two founded Micron Music together. They soon brought Pete Weston on board, with Pete adding his production gift to Johnston and Burke’s distribution and promotion sensibilities. Pete Weston entered the world of production when he approached Herman Chin Loy. At the time, Pete wanted to leave his work in the insurance industry to become a producer, and Herman Chin Loy took him in, allowing him to work on Chin Loy’s projects. Quickly, Weston established himself as a strong producer, and he headed over to Micron Music. It is unclear when the Advance imprint opened up, but it must have been shortly after the creation of Micron and Pete Weston’s arrival because Weston’s productions dominate the releases. However, the label had some flexibility with production, and as a result, a variety of artists and producers released a handful of tracks for the imprint.

Scouty Whyte was one of these producers, recording one of Advance’s earliest releases in 1971, Ken Boothe’s Make Me Feel Alright, which is the track that kicked off the spotlight. As a producer, Pete Weston attracted quite a bit of talent to Advance, and one of the major artists was Lee Scratch Perry. Their collaboration was solidified in 1975, and Scratch would distribute records through Micron, and he would also collaborate with Pete as a producer and as an engineer on the Advance label.

For news on the upcoming spotlights and fun discoveries tied to early Jamaican music, join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.

XO
Lily and Generoso

Here is the May 10th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Radio Show.  Please share!

Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady: The Rocksteady And Soul Of The Stag Label 5-3-16

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The Selectors On Stag in 1968

Hello Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners!

A lovely week led into the May 3rd, 2016 edition of The Bovine Ska and Rocksteady which featured a spotlight on the small, yet excellent rocksteady and soul label, STAG.

The show started with two sets of ska, beginning with a lost classic from Derrick Morgan and Patsy Todd entitled Money, which was released on Voice Of The People in 1964.   The set also featured It’s Impossible a pretty 1966 mid-temp ska on Studio One from the late great Delroy Wilson.  For our mento set, we started with a track, courtesy of our friend, and longtime listener, Scott, who years ago gave us a perfect copy of Scandal In Montego Bay, the 1964 Sue Label LP from Percy Dixon and His Merry Boys.  From that wonderful record, we played the tune, Balimbo.  We then went into a rocksteady set and the wonderful voice of keyboardist Glen Adams on S-H-I (I’m Shocking) on the Lee Label.  After that set of rocksteady, we rolled into our STAG label spotlight.

We’re not 100% sure of the primary owner of the Stag label, but we definitely know who was responsible the rocksteady sounds of Stag.  Lynn Taitt arranged and produced most of the singles released on the label, and as a result, you’ll hear some fine rocksteadys along with pretty soul cuts in this spotlight. Born in Trinidad, Lynn Taitt began performing and creating music on steel pan at the age of eight. Around the age of fourteen, Taitt hid a guitar for his friend who had taken it from a drunken sailor. His friend did not pick up the guitar for sometime later, and as a result, by the time he returned to get it, Taitt was already learning how to play the instrument, so Taitt simply purchased it from his friend. After he learned how to play guitar, Taitt joined a group called the Dutch Brothers for a couple of years and then formed his own group. This group received an offer to perform at the Jamaica Independence celebration, and on this trip, Taitt decided Jamaica would be his new home, and he joined the stage band known as the Sheiks, kicking off the beginning of his presence in the Jamaican music industry.  Despite not being labeled as the primary producer on countless rocksteady tracks, Lynn Taitt was in fact the arranger on a large percentage of that rhythm’s output from 1966-1968. On Stag, we do see him listed as a producer on the predominance of tracks, and we started off with two soul tracks from the vocalist Glen Miller backed up by the Lynn Taitt orchestra.

As far as the era we cover here on The Bovine Ska (1955-1975), Lloyd Robinson is an artist whom we love and have played frequently . During the Jamaican Rhythm and Blues, Robinson performed with Basil Gabbidon in the Mellowlarks. During rocksteady, he recorded as a member of the group The Tartans and as a member of a duo with Glen Brown, and during reggae, he recorded with Devon Russell and in dancehall, he saw fame as a soloist again.

For news on the upcoming spotlights and fun discoveries tied to early Jamaican music, join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.

Here is the May 3rd, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady and our spotlight on the Stag Label:

XOXO,
Lily and Generoso

Springtime Soup Galore! Asparagus, Crab, and Egg Make a Delicious Sup Mang Cua

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At every Vietnamese celebration, there is always a bowl of piping hot Sup Mang Cua. Incredibly simple, the crab meat of the soup has somewhat made the dish a delicacy for only special events, but whenever crab meat is on sale, I always think of this soup.

Overall, Sup Mang Cua is pretty light, making it a perfect soup for springtime, especially with the addition of fresh asparagus and the garnish of cilantro and scallions. Hope that it makes it to your table this May!

The City Troll: Not Quite Whit Stillman, Not Quite Jeffrey Brown

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After a bit of a hiatus from the blog due to a surge of event reporting, interviews, work, regular life, and the facelift of this site (we have our own domain now!), we’re finally back. During the past few months, I’ve picked up plenty of comicbooks and graphic novels, and they have piled up waiting for review. In the spirit of the content I post here, I figured the return should be a selection from the underground, and after a debate, I grabbed Aaron Whitaker’s The City Troll, a graphic novel I picked up at the hectic but fruitful LA Zine Fest 2016.

From start to finish, there is nothing entirely original about The City Troll, yet it managed to have this peculiarly engaging rhythm and momentum that kept me reading. After spending a few days ruminating on how to describe the novel, I finally realized why I continued to care about the characters in The City Troll: they vaguely remind of characters in Whit Stillman’s films.

Stillman’s characters tend to be criticized for their unrealistic dialog, but regardless of how you feel about the formalist and dialectic nature of the characters’ speech, the best Stillman characters capture the dysfunction and hypocrisy of young bourgeoisie adults trying to understand their own lives. Whitaker’s main characters, Ian and Paul similarly represent the modern young bourgeoisie with their actions and reactions to the various parts of life, and as a result, even though I cannot necessarily agree with the trajectories that they take, they do reflect the nebulous lines between morality, loyalty, and love that exist in our post-internet times. Thus, Ian and Paul probably resemble more of the leads of a Mumblecore film, and Whitaker does allude to this similarity to the indie talkie genre in the formation of Paul’s ideal love, but Whit sets the gold standard of conversation-focused films on young people, so I had his work most in mind as I read The City Troll.

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Cover for Whitaker’s debut graphic novel

Ian is a perfect being with one exception: his sad-sack, pathetic, self-loathing friend Paul. The two come as a package, so they both move in tandem, for better or for worse. Ian always falls in love, and Paul always pines for love, creating the foundation for an eventual disaster from conflicts between jealousy and loyalty. Amazingly, the two are in their late 20s, and a meltdown has yet to occur, but that entirely changes when Emily enters both men’s lives at separate moments. Ian completely falls for Emily and wants to spend his life with her, but Paul also believes that Emily is the long awaited girl of his fantasies. Ian, as expected, makes the first move, but Paul sneaks himself in between the two, forming a classic love triangle. The battle for Emily’s attention and love follows the course you would expect from all love triangles, making this narrative center the weakest part of the book, since you can predict the entire course that it will take between Ian and Emily, Paul and Emily, and of course, Ian and Paul.

If the core frame of the book fails, then why did I feel compelled to read The City Troll further? The answer: for Paul’s interactions with his father.

Paul struggles with his verbally abusive mother, and we see a few glimpses into that battle, but his relationship with his father is a loving one, even though the two very clearly do not understand each other, especially given that his father has met a hippie woman named Understanding who drastically changes his father’s lifestyle. As Understanding begins to play a larger role in Paul’s family life, we begin to see more of Paul’s evil alter ego, the City Troll, who survives on Paul’s own inability to handle any change and aims to destroy in order to feel satisfied.

This interaction with his father gives us the deepest insight into Paul, and the exchanges between father and son feel the most honest, uncomfortable, and relatable. Given his strained relationship with his mother, it is of no surprise that Paul struggles with the opposite sex, but how he finds shelter in non-romantic relationships with other males creates a far denser premise. Unfortunately, Whitaker focuses on the dysfunction with women through the trite device of a love triangle, pushing the relationships with Ian and the father to the side when they have the most substance to form a stronger narrative. But, tidbits of the father-son bond and the friendship with Ian do remain in The City Troll, and they encourage you to continue on to see what happens to Paul, even if the relationship with Emily feels far too cliché.

As a first graphic novel, The City Troll is unspectacular, but it is not awful. Constructed from Whitaker’s own screenplay, the book’s strongest asset comes from its deliberate yet empathetic conversations between characters, and the weakest comes from the romantic parts, which, sadly, are the most marketable in the film world. Alas, graphic novels and comicbooks do not require as much return on investment as a film does, so marketability should take lower priority than character development and investigation, but the need for a profit in the screenplay rears its head into the graphic novel creation. The City Troll shows that the comicbook medium could work for Whitaker, but he may need a little less American arthouse cinema in his work and more Clumsy era Jeffrey Brown.

The City Troll is written and illustrated by Aaron Whitaker. It is a self-published work. 

 

Dante And Arkush Make A “Corman” Movie: 1976’s Hollywood Boulevard

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Hollywood Candy Shooting

Candice Rialson From Hollywood Boulevard

Back in March of this year, I was fortunate to have chatted at great length with one of my favorite actresses of my youth, Mary Woronov, for an interview that I conducted for Forces Of Geek to help promote her appearance at a screening at The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles of the uproariously funny, 1982 dark comedy that Mary starred in and Paul Bartel directed, Eating Raoul. If you’ve never seen Eating Raoul, I highly recommend an immediate viewing; it is an outrageously funny, last nail in the coffin of the 1970s swinger scene in Los Angeles as its plot revolves around an exceedingly straight couple, played to eerie 1950s perfection by Bartel and Woronov, who pose as swingers to rob and kill oversexed deviants for the cash they bring as payment for a promise of fetishistic pleasure.

The midnight screening of Eating Raoul drew a full house, which seemed to surprise Mary and her costars from the film who were also in attendance, Robert Beltran and Susan Saiger, who were visibly touched that so many people came out to this old film that they viewed as more of a lark when they starred in it over thirty years ago. I, for one, was not so surprised, as I still find the film as funny and as audacious as I did when I watched it for the first time in the dorm room of my friend Ian Koss during our freshman year of college back in 1986 when we were forced to reside in a sub-leased hall at Emmanuel, a Boston-area all-girl Catholic college (it sounds cheekier than it was). I have always been indebted to Ian for picking that film out of the video store rental racks from a shop in the school’s neighborhood, the Fenway, which was, at the time, a predominantly LGBT area in Boston (again, sounds more daring than it was, but it oddly fit the film that we were watching). OK, I will say that the location of our 1986 screening made watching the film a better overall experience (Catholic guilt kicked in there), but it was the pairing of Bartel and Woronov that made it a movie that I will always turn to when I am feeling a bit off.

From my conversation with Mary earlier this year, there were a few surprises that came up whenever I mentioned her multiple collaborations with Paul Bartel. Most surprising was her hatred for a film of theirs that I have always loved, the Mazursky-esque 1989 film, Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills, which Mary loathed due to Bartel’s desire to make a more “serious” film with no improvisation, and her love of their 1976 Roger Corman/exploitation film send-up, Hollywood Boulevard, that was co-directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame and Allan Arkush, who would later direct Mary and Paul in the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.  I was surprised by this opinion from Mary, as even though I love both her and Bartel, I had never heard of this film, but based on her effusive review, I quickly hunted down a copy.

The backstory for Hollywood Boulevard is nutty, even by Roger Corman standards… Producer Jon Davison wagered Corman that he could create the least expensive movie in the history of Corman’s New World Pictures. Corman gave Davison ten days to shoot this magnum opus and a budget of sixty thousand, which, again, is low for even mid-1970s Corman standards. As per usual in the Roger Corman factory, young talent who were already working for Roger and who were eager to direct something with any budget were brought in to helm the film. In this case, Allan Arkush and Joe Dante were tabbed for the honor of assembling a narrative from clips of New World’s previous exploitation films and whatever acting they could get out of a cast in the aforementioned time period allotted.

Our film opens when a stunt woman is killed after her parachute fails to open much to the disaffected dismay of Miracle Pictures director, Eric Von Leppe (Paul Bartel). If they are going to finish this movie, they are going to need a new stunt woman and quick. We soon meet the buxom Candy Wednesday (Candice Rialson), who has just landed in Los Angeles in the hopes of making it as a actress, and like a true exploitation thespian, Candy meets her up to no good agent Walter Paisley (the eternally shifty Dick Miller), who signs her up to replace the recently squashed stunt woman for his friends at Miracle Pictures. It’s the classic Hollywood story you’ve come to love with the bonus sleaziness of a 1970s Roger Corman production.

Candy takes to her new role as a daring stunt woman and makes friends with her fellow starlet, Jill (Tara Strohmeier) and the screenwriter Pat (Jeffrey Kramer), but Mary (Mary Woronov), the grand dame at Miracle, isn’t too happy with the way that Candy is quickly fitting into her role and becomes quite threatened. Despite the tension from Mary, the crew is off to the Philippines to shoot Machete Maidens of Mora Tau with the help of a lot of footage from previous Corman films with bigger budgets to add that certain something, but the production takes its toll as Jill is shot in the stomach. No matter, the show must go on, and they wrap this classic and head home, where they attend the premiere of their new film at a local drive-in theater. The night turns into disappointment when Candy finally realizes that she isn’t making the next Citizen Kane as she is horribly disgusted at what she sees, but she still stays with the company, even though it soon becomes clear that someone else is also not too happy with Miracle Pictures as some other foul play wreaks havoc on the set of the next film, sending everyone into a panic while they continue to work diligently to finish the film.

You almost have to invoke the Tarantino “Grindhouse” rule when watching Hollywood Boulevard, meaning that when you are making a movie that emulates something that is inherently flawed, you have the a lot of latitude in making it as messy as you want and believe me, Hollywood Boulevard is messy as it parodies the shambolic New World universe, but it is really the stars who carry you through the film. Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley as a wonderfully sweet sleaze, a kind of affectionate uncle who appears to means well, but might “accidentally” grab your friend’s ass when he is saying goodbye. Paul Bartel as the pompous director and Mary Woronov as the psychotic lead actress steal the film away , as they do in many a Corman production with their wit and larger than life presence, from the supremely adorable but bland lead character. Mary’s performance as the villainous soon to be forgotten starlet in Hollywood Boulevard recalls the absurdity and expressiveness of her role as Calamity Jane in Death Race 2000, overshadowing many of the other performances because Mary is just too entertaining in her caricature of the maniacal actress taken to the extreme. Candice Rialson does the most with her role as Candy, but, again, invoking the “Grindhouse” rule, she is, like most leads in an exploitation film, a lovely woman for you to put in the middle of the poster to sell more tickets.

Original Trailer for Hollywood Boulevard

During our interview, Mary brought up Hollywood Boulevard to exemplify the comedic talents of her late friend, Paul Bartel, who she claims was one of the funniest people whom she has ever met. As the audacious director of slop in the film, Bartel delivers every line of ridiculousness with deliberateness and the slightest touch of surprise; Bartel knows what he is saying is absurd, and he says it with contradictory seriousness and humor. A man who could improvise brilliantly at the drop of a hat to make anyone in the room burst out with laughter, Bartel proves that here and in the countless films that he and Mary starred in together for years to come, and although Hollywood Boulevard may be purposefully or accidentally rough around the edges, I am still glad that I gave it a watch.  Thanks Mary.

 

Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady: Lord Tanamo Memorial And A Sugar Label Spotlight 4-26-16

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Sugar Label B

1970 Classic From Richard Ace On Sugar


Howdy Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners,

For those who love music like we do, this last week has been a tough one to take.  On April 21st, Prince and Lonnie Mack passed away.  Two days later Philly soul legend Billy Paul also passed at the age of 82 and a few days before them all, the great vocalist, Lord Tanamo died at the same age of 82 as Billy Paul.  A sad week indeed.

Lord Tanamo was born Joseph Abraham Gordon and was raised in Denham Town in Kingston. He began singing mento on the street and then in hotels with Cecil Lawes, a rhumba box player but eventually Tanamo would cut great mentos at Caribou. With ska quickly becoming the island’s national rhythm, Tanamo, along with Doreen Shaffer and Jackie Opel, would eventually become one of the main singers of The Skatalites.  In fact it was Tanamo himself who gave the band their name as he would proudly tell me himself whenever we met.

I first met Tanamo back in 1998, when The Allstonians, who did a great job his backing band at the time, graciously brought him down to WMBR where I got a chance to interview him.  I would chat with him on a few occasions after that over the years.  A great singer and performer. He will be very missed by many.  

Before the April 26th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady, Melanie Gordon, the daughter of Lord Tanamo, kindly asked me to read the following statement before our tribute on our program:

Speaking on behalf of my family ..we would love to pass our heartfelt appreciation and thanks to you and your listeners for their tributes and kind words.  We celebrate with joy, dads music forever.

We honored Lord Tanamo by opening our show with four of our favorite tracks that he sang on. Three amazing skas:  You’ll Never Know (caribou-1965) , If You Were Only Mine (caribou-1965) , and Come Down (SEP-1965) and a superb mento, Little Fist (caribou-1955).  R.I.P. Tanamo.  Thank you for all you did.

Anglo-Indian Charles Ross as a producer in Jamaica, Charley Ross was best known for his rocksteady productions from his Flame label and from the records that were distributed in England on the Blue Cat label, a subsidiary of Trojan. Given Ross’ reach to England, it is no surprise that he would continue to work with labels there, and in 1969, the Sugar label, a subsidiary of Pye Records, the label responsible for releases from Lonnie Donegan, The Kinks, and Petula Clark, opened, and Ross was named as the production director of the label.

Ross would produce the records in Jamaica, and Pye Records would press and distribute the records in the UK and then Bell Records would distribute them in the U.S. For reasons unclear, this deal with Pye somewhat came to a close, and Sugar was then under the supervision and control of Decca. Hoping that Sugar would be Decca’s definitive reggae arm, the label giant became disappointed in the very short lived output of the label, and Sugar’s last record would be released in 1970.  

Sadly, that was the last the music world heard from Charley Ross, and it’s such a shame because his productions were recorded exceptionally well. We kicked off this spotlight with the beautiful vocals of Joe White and My Guiding Star from 1969.

Sugar released two full-length LPs in its final year: Claude Sang’s World of Reggae Volume One and Charles Ross Reggae Combo’s World of Reggae Volume Two.  The Two  Zorro Five tracks that we played on the spotlight before our favorite cut from Sugar were supposed to be released on Sugar toward the end of the label, but given its mysterious termination, the Zorro Five singles were transferred to Decca.

For news on the upcoming spotlights and fun discoveries tied to early Jamaican music, join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.

XOXO,
Lily and Generoso

Here is our April 26th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady which featured the Lord Tanamo Memorial and spotlight on the Sugar Label: