Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fifteen

15 heiress

#15 — The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)

Technically, a period drama can be set in any past era, but the term immediately calls to mind a certain slice of the human timeline, long on corsets and stiff gatherings and short on electricity and rambunctiousness. In my informed but admittedly prejudiced view, a great many of these sorts of films are overly staid, buffed up with refinement and lacking in passion. The older the copyright date on the piece of cinema, the more likely my uncharitable prejudice is to be accurate, the confinements of still developing film stylings accentuating the already rigid, regimental narrative of classic fiction. My preemptive complaints are of course overly reductive, lumping every film with a mustiness to its air into a category of pronounced dullness. If nothing else, there are those works that sharply refute my generalization, and few do so with such ingenuity, insight, and panache as The Heiress.

Based on a stage play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, which itself is adapted from the Henry James novel Washington Square, the film focuses on a mousy young women in the New York City of the late eighteen-hundreds. Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) glumly sits at her well-appointed home, any overtures towards a life outside those walls — or anything approaching happiness, really — are met by the withering appraisal of her wealthy father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). In his painful assessment, Catherine is worthy of no one’s attention, and any thoughts she has that another might enjoy her company are tossed aside as delusional. That cruel conclusion persists, even when Catherine receives the attention of a handsome potential suitor, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). Certain of his daughter’s dire prospects, Dr. Sloper berates her for believing in the possibility of a loving life with this man who must only be after her fortune.

In some ways, the parameters of the story are familiar. It’s the execution that sets it apart. Under William Wyler’s astute gaze, the film proceeds with a cunning, unrelentingly truthful attention to the psychological underpinnings of all of the character, leaving a wonderful uncertainty to Morris’s motives and building a fully justified pathway to every pained and strained reaction of the different characters. Catherine is not merely a beset heroine, wrenching easy emotion from a troubling situation. She is a complicated person, the interactions with her father providing a traceable genealogy to every jagged chip in her being. The cast is exemplary all around, but de Havilland is doing something quietly majestic in her performance, building nuance and meticulous layering into the character, conveying a deep inner life just as assuredly as Clift and his method acting brethren did as they transformed the art of emoting to the camera. Without compromising the shrunken quality of her character, de Havilland invests her performance with the thrilling charisma of an actor who understands every bit of the task before her and carries the film forward because of it. With a lived-in characterization like this, The Heiress could never be a dusty museum relic. It’s as revolutionary as many of the more aggressively touted films that followed.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Film

College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, 8

8 garbage

8. Garbage, Garbage

I’m pleased that I sit in Madison, Wisconsin as I write this post. Seattle was the epicenter of the explosion of grunge rock that shifted, defined, and to a large degree eventually decimated college rock in the early-to-mid-nineteen-nineties, but the state capital of Wisconsin is connected to a murky asterisk in any geographic history of that shifting music scene. Madisonian Butch Vig had been in a few small, locally notable bands, Spooner and Fire Town among them. More importantly, as it turned out, Vig partnered with Steve Marker to open Smart Studios, a recording facility housed in a nondescript building on the city’s East Washington Avenue. It was there that Nirvana, took a first pass at many of the songs that would eventually populate the game-changing album Nevermind. Vig was their chosen producer, largely because Kurt Cobain and company liked the work he’d recently done with the Madison band Killdozer. To the degree that Vig was intimately involved with the formulation of the sound that swamped college and alternative radio, his next project as a band member was arguably a sort of atonement, or at least a counterargument that there was more to life than punky, sludgy guitars.

Vig openly acknowledged that Garbage was created in a part as an escape from the sonic rut he found himself. After many millions of copies were sold, Nevermind defined Vig, and his earlier work on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish only ratified his professional persona. In all fields of entertainment, success breeds uniformity, at least if the potentially pigeonholed person isn’t careful. Vig and his cohorts were growing numb from all the offers to work on albums for bang-and-bash bands. They started accepted different remixing gigs and found themselves intrigued by the liberation they were finding in the flurry of electronic sounds. Vig and Marker joined Duke Erikson (a bandmate of Vig’s in both Spooner and Fire Town) and started playing, deciding that the one missing element was a female vocalist. They found who they were looking for in Shirley Manson, a bonny Scottish lass who was the lead singer of Angelfish at the time. The quartet complete, Garbage went to work.

The band’s self-titled debut arrived in August of 1995. The lead single, “Vow,” perfectly established what Garbage was prepared to bring the the alternative rock smorgasbord: hooky songs, sensual vocals, quasi-industrial verve, and some real but lean instrumentation bolstering the digital studio effects. Garbage stood out, but that doesn’t mean they were an immediate success. Since Vig was the promotional hook for Garbage, the way the sound of the band conflicted with expectations was initially a commercial hindrance. Before long that changed, first with the burning fuse of “Only Happy When It Rains,” then with the hard punch of “Stupid Girl,” which delivered the band their sole trip to the Billboard Top 40. As different as it sounded from the norm, Garbage has its own unfortunate redundancy, locking into its groove too tightly. There are good songs across it, but it tends to morph into a bit of drone of buzzy pop and tenderly abstract lyrics. In a way that forecast what was to come, as each successive Garbage album was incrementally less exciting.

Somewhat surprisingly, Garbage has kept on going. Though there has been the occasional break, the band has largely been a going concern since their formation. Manson seemed a sure bet for a solo career, but different attempts at breaking out on her own ended in ruins with different albums scuttled before they were ever released. (She arguably fared a little better as a Terminator.) There were surely other opportunities that enticed for the various members of Garbage. even still, I can understand why they kept circling back to this particular home. If there’s once thing I’m learning right now, it’s that Madison beckons.


An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe
— 10: Yes
— 9: To Bring You My Love

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Music

From the Archive: Arachnophobia


I suspect I thought I was pretty clever for the way I structured the beginning of this review. If nothing else, I was probably pleased that I included a Supertrain reference. Arachnophobia was a movie I needed to work hard to see, since it barely eked into the box office top ten for the summer of 1990 (our debut radio show counted down that top ten). It’s entirely possible it was one of the first movies that made me wonder what the hell I’d gotten myself into by committing to a weekly movie review show. This review was written for the home video release.

The Edsel. The NBC TV series “Supertrain.” The thrill-omedy. What do these things have in common? If you saw last summer’s sorta-hit ARACHNOPHOBIA you probably know the answer is that they’re all things that just didn’t work. The first release from Disney’s Hollywood Pictures division was supposed to bring us thrills AND comedy. The problem is that it didn’t really bring us either. The film is set in a small town where a new breed of poisonous spiders is on the loose, and not even the exterminator played by John Goodman can stop them, even though he’s doing his best impression of Bill Murray in CADDYSHACK. The jokes aren’t able to generate any laughs and the only time thrills show up is at the end when one house is completely overrun with spiders from roof to basement. And star Jeff Daniels has to do battle with a spider the size of a good stewpot. For most of the time, though, this film creaks along with all the speed of a daddy longlegs on Valium. It’s not one to go after.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Film

One for Friday: Don Dixon, “Girls L.T.D.”

Screen shot 2015-09-11 at 8.48.44 PM

It sure seems like the most appropriate follow-up to last week’s One for Friday involves a song from Mr. Marti Jones. Most of the Girls Like to Dance But Only Some of the Boys Like To, Don Dixon’s solo debut, was first released in the United States in late 1986, only after it had proven successful as an import in Europe, where it had received distribution the year before. Making the journey seem even more arduous, most of the material on the album was first peddled to labels well before. As Dixon acknowledged at the time, practically every song on the album had been turned down repeatedly. But by the mid-eighties Dixon had a modicum of fame, at least among a certain subset of record-buyers. He’d co-produced the first two R.E.M. albums, both of which were widely viewed as instant classics, but he was maybe even more admired for shepherding the Smithereens’ Especially for You. It was that band’s label, Enigma, that snagged Dixon’s album for stateside release.

The album definitely plays like it’s made my someone who’s put a lot of thought into how to make songs sound good, especially the different methodologies that can be used to draw in the listener and hook them good. Dixon knows when to be brash and how to delve into achingly romantic emotions. He’s also appealing clever with a sharp ability to turn a phrase, best evidenced by the album’s title, which serves as the chorus for the song “Girls L.T.D.” I think it’s fair to say that Dixon was never able to stamp his name on the front cover of an album that was within striking distance of the very best efforts that benefits from his skills as a producer, but every one of his own releases has exciting peaks that speak to his ability to be more than the guy in the room behind the glass, turning all the knobs.

Listen or download –> Don Dixon, “Girls L.T.D.”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that the bulk of Dixon’s output as a solo artist, at least from that stretch of time, is out of print, at least as physical objects that can be ordered through and then purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. That includes the album with the lengthy title referenced in this post. Therefore, this song is shared in this space with the belief that doing so causes no undue financial harm to any worthy individual or entity. If I’m asked to remove it by anyone with due authority to make such a request, be it a person or an institution, I will gladly and promptly comply.)

Tagged with:
Posted in Music

He’s out slipping through Jesus’s hands

Fifty-ninth in a series


Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

Top 40 Smash Taps: “I’m Goin’ In”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

Jimmy Brooks was a student at Degrassi Community School, whose struggles with school, particularly English class, originally compromised his hopes to become a player on the basketball team. That eventually changed, and Jimmy become one of the star players on the team. He also came from a background of family wealth, which could cause strain with some of his friends, especially when Jimmy didn’t recognize how casual displays of his privilege could create challenging dynamics. Though Jimmy was the beneficiary of great fortune, he also suffered tragedy. Notably, he was the victim of a school shooting when a troubled student felt Jimmy had stabbed him in the back and exacted retribution with a bullet. Jimmy wound up paralyzed from the waist down. Eventually, that hardship has it’s own path to a sort of happiness when Jimmy fell in a love with another wheelchair-bound individual, a girl named Trina who he met in a physical therapy class. They became engaged. Jimmy was played by a young Canadian actor named Aubrey Graham. Graham later went on to release records under a pseudonym. One of those singles, “I’m Goin’ In,” peaked at #40 on the Billboard charts, in 2009.


“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” by Donna Summer
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
“You Thrill Me” by Exile
“What Now” by Gene Chandler
“Put It in a Magazine” by Sonny Charles
“Got a Love for You” by Jomanda
“Stone Cold” by Rainbow
“People in Love” by 10cc
“Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” by the Four Tops
“Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
“You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” and “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics
“The Riddle (You and I)” by Five for Fighting
“I Can’t Wait” by Sleepy Brown
“Nature Boy” by Bobby Darin
“Give It to Me Baby” and “Cold Blooded” by Rick James
“Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond
“A Love So Fine” by the Chiffons
“Funky Y-2-C” by the Puppies
“Brand New Girlfriend” by Steve Holy
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Bonnie Pointer
“Mr. Loverman” by Shabba Ranks
“I’ve Never Found a Girl” by Eddie Floyd
“Plastic Man” and “Happy People” by the Temptations
“Okay” by Nivea
“Go On” by George Strait
“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road
“Birthday Party” by the Pixies Three
“Livin’ in the Life” by the Isley Brothers
“Kissing You” by Keith Washington
“The End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye
“Ticks” and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
“Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid
“Like a Sunday in Salem” by Gene Cotton
“I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” by the Supremes
“Call Me Lightning” by the Who
“Ain’t It True” by Andy Williams
“Lazy Elsie Molly” and “Let’s Do the Freddie” by Chubby Checker
“Second Fiddle” by Kay Starr
“1999” by Prince
“I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield
“Oh Happy Day” by Glen Campbell
“I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After
“Friends” and “Married Men” by Bette Midler
“Spice of Life” by the Manhattan Transfer
“You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” by Roger Miller
“Don’t Pity Me” by Dion and the Belmonts
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King
“Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” by Ciara
“All I Really Want to Do” by the Byrds
“Love Rollercoaster” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Just a Little” by Brenda Lee
“Sweet Maxine” by the Doobie Brothers
“Where You Lead” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel” by Barbra Streisand
“Charity Ball” by Fanny
“I’m Comin’ Home” by Tommy James

Tagged with:
Posted in Music

One for Friday: Angst, “I Could Never Change Your Mind”


By 1988, Angst was a band with a honorable history. Formed in San Francisco, in 1980, Angst put out multiple albums on seminal punk label SST Records, including a couple that were produced by the label’s co-owner, Joe Carducci, making it reasonable to consider the group one of the signature acts of the pile-driving music house. When I got to my college radio station, I didn’t know any of that. All I knew is there was an album called Cry For Happy in rotation that had a striking drawing of roses on the front cover. I’m pretty sure I even pronounced the band name wrong about half the time I played them, opting for a softer “a” sound which made me sound either pretentious or like I was mocking pretension. It was neither. I was just dumb.

I’d like to think I learned of my error in understanding before my tenure at 90FM ended, since I know I returned to Cry For Happy periodically over those years. I’m worried that I didn’t, meaning any time I ventured to offer information beyond the basic band name and song title in my raps I may very well have announced my ignorance, talking about this great band that only came out with one album back in the late eighties and what ever happened to them anyway, huh? It’s possible, even likely, that the other Angst albums were in the station somewhere (the punk stacks seems a likely home for them) but my frantic self-education didn’t venture wide enough to discover them.

At least I now know a little more about them, including the whatever happened part. The group dissolved shortly after the release of Cry For Happy, officially calling it quits after a European tour. And I’m appreciative in a slightly different way when a track from Cry For Happy, such as “I Could Never Change Your Mind,” shuffles up on my iTunes. There’s nostalgia for my radio days, but even a touch of wistfulness over a time when I had loads to learn and the necessary material for proper lessons wasn’t a simple click or two away. The discovery process was different then, filled with mystery. Ultimately, I prefer the bounty of information that we have now (and envy those student programmers who can actually correct their uncertainty before opening the microphone), but I also miss the old days, when sometimes all I really had to parse a band’s history was whatever was printed on the record’s sleeves.

Listen or download –> Angst, “I Could Never Change Your Mind”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that Cry For Happy is out of print as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the artist. I could be wrong. Those independent labels that have endured can sometimes surprise me with what they have in print and the unexpected avenues to get the music into fan’s hands. Regardless, I share this track here as a celebration of the band and its music, not as some way to swipe dollars from them. Therefore, I will gladly remove this MP3 from my little corner of the interweb if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

Tagged with:
Posted in Music
October 2015
« Sep    

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 313 other followers


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 313 other followers