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An 80s Pop Music Extravaganza: Absolute Beginners (1986)

I recently wrote about the often overlooked 1980s pop music extravaganza ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (1986) for The Cultural Gutter. The film has grown on me a lot over the years thanks to a central performance by the one and only David Bowie and a a growing respect for what (I believe) director Julien Temple was trying to achieve. Here’s an excerpt:

“The film’s ‘80s inspired neon color palette, bulky hair styles and modern fashion sense were an obvious attempt to attract the same youthful crowd that was watching the director’s videos on MTV but his auteur approach didn’t win him many fans. In the director’s attempt to appeal to such a large audience his film lacked focus, which only added to its jumbled narrative. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? Is it set in the ‘50s or the ‘80s? Temple’s film can’t seem to make up its mind. Despite its schizophrenic nature, Absolute Beginners has the distinction of being the first film to focus on the historic Notting Hill race riots of 1958 and use them as a dramatic backdrop. This was particularly daring at the time because the U.K. had continued to have race related problems for decades that were often overlooked by politicians and popular media. America was dealing with similar problems of its own that were being widely disregarded and these growing racial tensions would eventually erupt leading to events like the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The film’s serious side may have been easy to overlook at the time due to general ignorance about what it was addressing and its politics were undoubtedly overshadowed by the lighthearted musical numbers that seem at odds with the somber script. But today Temple’s highly stylized modern musical plays like a glossy attempt to address the complicated race problems that were quietly boiling under the slick veneer of ‘80s pop culture.”

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Please follow this link to read more.

January at the Movie Morlocks

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Had planned on posting this a few weeks ago but it slipped my mind. Still trying to get back into the swing of things around here. What follows is a list of my January posts for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog:

Peter O’Toole: A Hellraiser Remembered
Excerpt: “I can’t speak for my fellow Morlocks but I often find it very difficult to write about the artists I admire right after they’ve died. It can be a painful and revealing process that feels like you’re pouring salt into an open wound.”
Joan Crawford in The Best of Everything (1959)
Excerpt: “…director Jean Negulesco seemed determined to make New York look threatening and downright scary at times by shooting the towering skyscrapers like they’re unreachable monuments built to celebrate masculine dominance over commerce. The tall office buildings appear to swallow up the women who dare to enter them and cast great shadows over their activities throughout the film. It may not be a conventional horror film but there are plenty of monsters in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING and Negulesco’s stylized direction made me feel as if I was watching a thriller or a mystery at times.”
At Home with Joan Crawford
Excerpt: “Crawford’s streamlined but colorful apartment, particularly when seen along with the other overstuffed museum-like houses featured in Celebrity Homes, is a testament to her good taste. And the lifelong friendships she had with her interior designers tell us a lot about an actress that has too often become the subject of misunderstanding and the butt of bad jokes.”
In space no one can hear you scream: ALIEN (1979) vs. GRAVITY (2013)
Excerpt: “35 years have passed since Ripley saved the world from an alien threat but Hollywood still seems incapable of accepting the idea of a female hero who faces danger head-on without wailing about her predicament or relying on a man to guide her to safety.”
Hello Hello Conrad: A look at BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963) star Bobby Wayne “Jesse” Pearson
Excerpt: ” I’ve always found Pearson’s audacious performance as the confident rock star who seduces the entire female populace of a small Ohio town with a few swings of his hips and strums on his guitar to be one of the highlights of this madcap musical. But while doing a little background research on the man I was surprised by the lack of information available so I started to dig deep into various news and history archives in an effort to learn more about Pearson. What I found really surprised me and some of the facts seem to contradict information that can be found on popular sites like IMDB and Wikipedia so I thought it was worth sharing.”

In Celebration: Elvis Presley at 79

SpeedwayToday is January 8th and it would have been Elvis Presley’s 79th birthday if he was still with us. I often spend this day listening to my favorite Elvis albums so today I thought I’d share 5 of my favorite Elvis songs from 5 of my favorite Elvis movies. Enjoy!

“Jailhouse Rock” – from JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957)

“Crawfish” – from KING CREOLE (1958)

“Bossa Nova Baby” – from FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963)

“Viva Las Vegas” – from VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)

“Let Yourself Go” – from SPEEDWAY (1968)

*Bonus track! Because I had a hell of time choosing between this song & “Crawfish.”
“Trouble” – also from KING CREOLE (1958)

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Young Americans (1967)

The Young Americans (1967)

From my latest piece at the Movie Morlocks

“In 1968 five documentary films were nominated for an Oscar but you’d never know that from looking at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website. The site claims to feature a complete list of all the Oscar nominees and winners, but on the official web page for the 41st Oscar ceremony there are only four nominees listed instead of the customary five. James Blue’s A FEW NOTES ON OUR FOOD PROBLEM, Harry Chapin‘s THE LEGENDARY CHAMPIONS, David H. Sawyer‘s OTHER VOICES and Bill McGaw’s JOURNEY INTO SELF all receive credit but the original Oscar winning documentary of 1968 is suspiciously absent.

Despite the website snub, the fact remains that YOUNG AMERICANS took home the award for Best Documentary that year but director Alexander Grasshoff was forced to return his Oscar a few months later due to one of the Academy’s most notorious blunders. Thankfully the documentary still exists even if it has been forgotten by the Academy and it remains a fascinating relic from a decade that I too often categorize as “swinging” and “groovy.” I must point out that there’s nothing swinging or groovy about YOUNG AMERICANS. In fact, it’s an extremely square film but it offers audiences a unique and undeniably conservative look at American culture in the sixties that is as revealing as it is deceiving.”

If you’d like to read more about the film that helped kick-start the popularity of “show choirs” in America leading to the current success of the television show GLEE, just follow the link.

Scanning Life Through the Picture Windows: Young Americans (1967) @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog

I’ve also posted a video featuring a performance from the Young Americans TV special that aired in 1969. Fair warning – this will hurt your ears and possibly melt your brain but it is a lot of fun to watch!

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Winter A Go-Go (1965)

Linda Rogers in a promo shot from WINTER A GO-GO (1965)

It’s cold outside and like a lot of people I’ve got a case of the post holiday blues but I also have a cure. Make your way over to the TCM Movie Morlocks blog where you can find my latest post titled “Ski Buffs and Ski Babes on the Go-Go in the Snow-Snow!” I share my take on Richard Benedict’s silly ski-themed teen movie, WINTER A GO-GO (1965) and if that title doesn’t put a smile on your face you probably shouldn’t be reading Cinebeats.

“Ski Buffs and Ski Babes on the Go-Go in the Snow-Snow!” @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

I also created a Flickr gallery of images from the film that you can find here.

Velvet Goldmine: Celluloid Pictures of Living

vgfilm0 “Histories, like ancient ruins, are the fictions of empire. While everything forgotten hangs in dark dreams of the past, ever threatening to return.” – Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine

When Velvet Goldmine was originally released in 1998 it confused and frustrated a lot of critics who were turned off by its uninhibited style, hyper editing, abundant close-ups and nonlinear narrative structure. They also bemoaned the film’s playful take on musicals and biopics. This glam infused Citizen Kane homage didn’t appeal to a 1990s audience hooked on grunge rock. Ticket sales plummeted as many critics and the general public turned their backs on Velvet Goldmine but I embraced Haynes’s film.

I became familiar with Haynes’s work in the early 1990s after seeing Poison (1991) on video followed by Safe (1995) during its initial theatrical release. Both films mesmerized me but Velvet Goldmine turned me into a lifelong Todd Haynes fan. As someone who came of age in the seventies and later bummed around in various bands as a keyboardist during the eighties while struggling to find work as a music journalist, I immediately formed a deep kinship with the film’s main protagonist, Arthur (Christian Bale). Like Arthur, I went down the rock ‘n’ roll rabbit hole and managed to come out the other side but I’m also a little worse for wear. An unrestricted look deep inside the bowels of the music industry took a lot of the sparkle off the blinding light of celebrity. Seeing Arthur transform from a spotty, awkward adolescent kid seduced by the power of music into a jaded adult trying to sort out his past is all too familiar to me and Bale makes his character’s journey a convincing one.

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“Meaning is not in things but in between them.” – Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine

I also appreciate the way the director captured the downright dirty and dangerous side of rock ‘n’ roll. As a gay artist, Haynes knows what’s it’s like to be a real outsider and he understands the appeal of beautiful boys who are willing to bare all on stage while they exploit our deepest desires and fears. Unlike Cameron Crowe’s terribly hackneyed Almost Famous (2000), which supposedly offered viewers an “insiders” look at the life of a young “rock journalist” but is completely devoid of passion, Haynes’s film gives us a journalist’s down ‘n’ dirty romanticized fantasy populated by the shadows of seventies pop idols like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and Bryan Ferry that’s much more imaginative and heartfelt than Crowe’s incredibly benign and dreadfully dull creation.

Velvet Goldmine works because all the talented performers involved (Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Micko Westmoreland, Etc.) fully embrace the glamorous world they’re inhabiting and give 100% to their roles. And Haynes’s kinetic directing style gives the film genuine energy that should be a prerequisite when you’re making a film about the power of music.

Naturally critics loved Crowe’s Almost Famous, which has currently earned a whopping 88% of “like” votes on Rotten Tomatoes while Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine languishes at a mere 55%. It’s a sad reminder of how conservative and conventional film criticism was 10 years ago. Thankfully the predictability of film criticism seems to be slowly changing and that’s partially due to the onslaught of film blogs and film sites that are willing to champion lesser seen or forgotten movies that are often overlooked by mainstream critics. And speaking of Velvet Goldmine and alternative film sites … ejm

I recently had the opportunity to write a little tribute to Velvet Goldmine for Fandor. Fandor is an online movie service devoted to independent films where you can watch award-winning titles, festival favorites, and international gems. If you have eclectic film tastes and are looking for an alternative to Netflix I highly recommend giving Fandor a look. Fandor also publishes articles and news features about the films they program on their Keyframe blog.

Earlier this month, the editors of Fandor asked a group of writers to contribute a brief piece about a film that portrays a “vanishing way of life” so I decided to share some thoughts about Velvet Goldmine. It might seem like an odd choice and I suppose it was but I had just seen the film again recently so it was fresh in my mind and I wanted an excuse to write about it. Hopefully I’ll find the time to write a longer piece about the film someday since there’s much more I’d like to say about Velvet Goldmine but here’s a little snippet from my Fandor contribution:

“Todd Haynes‘ Velvet Goldmine is a love letter to a rock ‘n’ roll past that is often more fiction than fact, because the history of rock simply can’t be written. It’s told in tall tales exchanged in smoky bars where the drinks are poured generously and the music is so loud that you can’t hear what anyone is actually saying. Haynes knows this but he also wants us to believe that rock ‘n’ roll once had the power to change the world, or at the very least, it could transform the inner world of one teenage boy.”

You’ll find my full piece along with the others at the Fandor.com site: – Last Picture Shows: Essential Films About Vanishing Ways of Life


The fictional character Jack Fairy sings one of my favorite Roxy Music songs (“2HB”) in Velvet Goldmine

Shammi Kapoor 1931-2011

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From India comes the sad news that the beloved Bollywood star Shammi Kapoor has died at age 79 due to kidney failure. Kapoor has been called the “Bollywood Elvis” and his films helped define the swinging sixties in India. I’ve only seen a few of the movies that Shammi Kapoor appeared in but An Evening in Paris (1967) is a personal favorite. It features some fantastic musical numbers and it’s just a terrific looking production full of stylish ’60s era costumes, great period details and eye-popping stage designs. After poking around Youtube I came across some of my favorite musical numbers from An Evening in Paris featuring Shammi Kapoor and his female costar SharmilaTagore that I thought I’d share here and links to news articles about the actors death are posted below. Enjoy!


Title Sequence


“Zuby Zuby”


“Le Ja Mera Dil”


“Mera Dil Hai Tera”

Recommended Links:
Star Whose Moves Defined India’s Swinging Sixties @ The Hindu
Shammi Kapoor: The original Rockstar of Indian cinema @ Indian Express
India’s beloved Junglee No More @ Times of India

Vincente Minnelli’s Metaphysical Musical

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Barbra Streisand in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

Last week I had planned on writing about some romantic films in honor of Valentine’s Day but I never got around to it. I’m still fighting off that cold bug but this week I decided to share some thoughts about one of my favorite romantic movies, Vincente Minnelli’s metaphysical musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). This lush production has gotten a lot of negative press over the years and I’ve never understood why. I think it’s one of Minnelli’s best films and it features Barbra Streisand at her loveliest. It also contains some of the most beautiful costume designs ever created. Few films can boast the talents of Cecil Beaton and even fewer films feature the work of acclaimed fashion designer Arnold Scaasi but On A Clear Day You Can See Forever provided both men with an incredible canvas to showcase their artistry.
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Unfortunately audiences have never had the opportunity to see Minnelli’s original film. An entire 60 minutes of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever ended up on the cutting room floor before it was released. My thoughts on the film as well as my plea to see it restored can be found at The Movie Morlocks.
Vincente Minnelli’s Metaphysical Musical @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

Chase Away the Winter Blues with Ski Party

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Frankie Avalon and Deborah Walley in Ski Party (1965)

Happy New Year! Last week I took a much needed net break but I did manage to post my weekly Movie Morlocks update about a fun-filled ’60s teen musical comedy called Ski Party (1965). If you’re looking for a silly ’60s movie to watch during the cold winter months I recommend giving this mindless teen romp a look. It’s the kind of movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family but you might want to warm up some hot buttered rum before you watch just to lighten the mood a little.
Lets Have A Ski Party! @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog