Monday, September 27, 2010

Random Twitter Thoughts

I happened to come up with a couple of fairly clever lines the other day (yes, I am impressed by my own cleverness...), which I put on Twitter. As it happened, Eddie Izzard was playing a gig in St. Albans in the UK the same day, and he always announces when his Twitter page goes live on a screen in whatever venue he's in that night. That means the audience in that theatre can see all messages that are sent @eddieizzard, which normally only Izzard himself can see. I happened to catch him putting his screen live in time to post my witticisms from that morning...

"I caught 20 minutes of a documentary on Hunter S. Thompson this morning. Feeling Gonzo today. Rest of Muppets are jealous or horrified."

"If the distress signals on your car work intermittently, does that mean you have haphazard lights?"

Thank you, I'll be here all week, try the veal, don't forget to tip your waitstaff.

I also posted something three days earlier about Chuck Jones, director of most of the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons, and most of the really good Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck cartoons, plus some good Tom & Jerry's in the late 1960's...oh, I could go on...

Anyway, I posted "Chuck Jones 98th Birthday today...very cool, will watch some Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius...) cartoons in his honor tonight :)", which somehow got noticed and re-tweeted by comedian/actor/internet talk show host Kevin Pollak, who quoted my original tweet preceeded by "Yessss!" I was kinda flattered, considering he has almost 180,000 followers on Twitter...and many of them re-tweeted his re-tweeting of my comment...kinda like those Russian dolls that stack inside one another.

One of the people who saw Pollak's mention of my tweet was Jessica Kausen, and while that may not sound like much to you, she is the great-granddaughter of Chuck Jones! And she is apparently living in Astoria, Queens (a borough of New York City, just east of Manhattan), which is just a few minutes from where I grew up in Whitestone, Queens. Small world.

Pollak and I weren't done though. Just a few days later, I saw him mention being in Las Vegas. I tweeted at him, asking if he was really coming to Vegas to perform soon, and his public reply in a re-tweeting of my question was; "Next weekend at The Palms. Be there or fuck you. Ya know...?" I am now wearing that proudly as a badge of honor...

I also had a recent blog post of mine at Unseen Films get noticed by DeathStarPR, a humorous Twitter account that poses as the Public Relations firm of the Galactic Empire from the Star Wars films. Silly stuff like that is one of the reasons I'm on Twitter.

To close out the Random Thoughts theme, I give you a recent entry I wrote for Unseen Films on Ross Noble's immense DVD package, Randomist;

Most likely, Ross Noble has some terrifically funny material. Odds are, he's got some hilarious gags that would have you laughing until your sides hurt. Unfortunately, he never gets to it. Fortunately, what takes place on stage instead of prepared material is proof of why Noble may be one of the most brilliant comic minds in the world. There is a reason this 4 DVD set is entitled "Randomist". It isn't about running thru a set, it's about what's running thru his mind.

Noble seems to have acquired a version of Attention Deficit Disorder that allows him to articulate on whatever it is that has captured his fancy in such a funny way that you don't want him to ever be cured. For starters, if you're at all self-conscious and are going to one of his shows, whatever you do, don't show up late. He notices the latecomers, is distracted by them, and they become fodder for jokes for anywhere from a couple of lines to a running gag throughout the entire evening. And if you yourself suffer from ADD, this may not be the disc for you. Because Noble runs completely on stream-of-consciousness, you really have to watch the entire DVD straight thru in one sitting. Pausing or stopping to go out and do something else and then resuming the show later is practically not an option with this. It's the type of comedy that builds on itself, and gets funnier as it steamrolls along, and interrupting that flow of momentum will lead to a train wreck of monumental proportions. And you'll be really lost when you start the DVD back up again.

Stalking back and forth across the stage in his track-suit outfit like an overly-caffinated athlete warming up for a sprint around the globe, Noble only seems to approach something resembling material when he's reminded of a story he wants to share. But he's only telling the story because something the audience did or said remined him of it, not because he went on stage with the express intent of telling that particular story. Watching him at work is fascinating, following him from one tangent to another, and seeing him weave them together like some sort of psychedelic tapestry. Which brings up another interesting point; he's completely clean. Noble does not do drugs of any kind, which makes you really wonder about his brain all the more.

Due to not taking any drugs, his mental rolodex is in perfect working condition. This is extremely vital to his performing style, because Noble often distracts himself. In the middle of discussing one story, he's reminded of something else, and wanders off down that road. All is not lost however, as he does...eventually...return to the story he was originally telling. He is aware of whatever unfinished-story business he has going, and manages to wrap them all up in a race against time (and the closing of the nearby car-park). It almost comes across like a suspense film, as both the live audience, and the DVD watchers, move closer to the edges of their seats, wondering if he'll ever finish the story about the radio interview...

Noble may also be the most physically active comedian ever. There's a reason he wears a track suit at gigs, for he's constantly moving around the stage, even pacing when just telling a story. When he adds physical comedy into the mix, he's sometimes flat-out running. It's almost as if his body is trying to keep up with his mind. You'll be worn out too if you get this DVD set (his 3rd offering on DVD), as the 4 discs contain something close to 9 hours of material. The main show alone, filmed in Newcastle, England in December 2005, is 2 & 1/2 hours long. Then there are other shows included from the year long tour, commentary tracks from Noble on each show, separate documentary films for both the Scottish and Australian legs of the tour, plus another hidden show that can only be accessed by correctly answering a quiz based on having watched the contents of the DVD package. It's well worth getting a copy of this box set, as the laughs, and the massive quantity of them, will have you hunting down more DVD's from Noble. And you'll learn the proper way to tuck in an owl.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Slayer, Mr. Bungle, The White Stripes, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors (live), Hello, ZZ Top, Artie Shaw, Judas Priest (live), Eric Clapton, Huevos Rancheros, John Lee Hooker, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Henny Youngman, Blondie

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've had a rare Saturday off, and I've spent it exercising, playing video games, and spending far too much time at the computer (I have actually accomplished a few things though, and it's my time off dammit, I'll do what I want!). Been listening to music on the computer for several hours now (according to the Last Played list on iTunes), giving me some idea of how long I've been physically inactive...and explaining why I'm getting hungry...

But when a Björk track came on shuffle on iTunes, I decided to go to YouTube and look for a couple videos of hers, in particular the video for Big Time Sensuality. It was a track off of her first post-Sugarcubes solo effort entitled Debut, from 1993. A remix was used for the video version, which I always thought was far superior to the album version of the song. As for the video itself, it is fascinating in its simplicity. The entire 5 minute piece consists of her bounding around in full Björk-ness on the back of a flatbed truck, slowly meandering thru the streets of Manhattan. That's it. And yet, despite the minimalist approach, it is truly compelling to watch. Shot in black & white to boot (really driving home the bare bones approach), it's almost as interesting (to me) to watch the surroundings as it is to watch her. I'm always looking at it trying to figure out exactly which intersection of NYC they're going thru...or wondering what the people on the nearby bus were thinking as this big truck passed by, with this wacky female with the goofy hairstyle jumping around like some spastic idiot on the back. I also think how much I would have LOVED to have been one of the passerby on the street; I probably would've been arrested as I proceeded to follow the truck up and down the streets on its destinationless journey...

I have always thought she is an incredibly beautiful human being. I find her an irresistably attractive woman, even with her goofy golf-ball-knot hairstyle she used in that video (and she wore frequently in that Debut album era), although one of the most attractive pictures I ever saw of her graced the cover of Time Out New York back when Dancer In The Dark came out. Her one and only film, there are legendary stories of her fighting with director Lars von Trier that made her swear off ever making another, despite her winning the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. There's just something about that chin down, knowing smile, eyebrow raised, only one eye visible thru her flowing hair look that completely overpowers me. There aren't many women on the planet I'd be willing to kill for, but at that moment, she'd have been one...

(Completely coincidentally, it marks 10 years ago this week that Dancer In The Dark showed at the New York Film Festival. Dbborroughs is attending this year's NYFF right now as a member of the press, due to his dogged persistence with his site Unseen Films, which I am an occasional contributor to, and also editor of. Db tends to write very stream-of-consciousness, meaning punctuation is not his friend. I pretty much just go over each piece, put in commas, periods, and things of that nature, and make it easier for the average person to digest, so that his opinion of the film in question is what is noticed, not any missing punctuation or incorrect grammar. I think I'll have to write an entry for Dancer in the future for Unseen.)

My biggest Björk phase came in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Homogenic, her third post-Sugarcubes solo effort, came out in 1997, and to this day I still consider it to be a near-perfect album. Start to finish, every track is some level of wonderful, amazing, fantastic, and other superlatives I just can't come up with at the moment. It was a real turning point for her as well, because while Debut was comprised of songs she had written while in the Sugarcubes, and Post (her second post-Sugarcubes effort) was written sort of as a reaction to that, Homogenic was the first album she wrote as a completely clean slate. She felt her true musical direction was just starting with that era. It was radically different from anything she had ever done before...and indeed anything ANYONE had ever done before. The bizarre marriage of melodic and soft strings with thundering, throbbing, pulsing beats, combined with her beautiful but incredibly strong and emotive voice, made for a stunning album that I still find compelling today. I don't often listen to albums straight thru anymore, what with iPods and iPhones and iTunes always being in shuffle mode, but often when a track from that comes on, I'll switch over to hear some, if not all, of Homogenic.

And it didn't end there. Many artists, for European and Japanese releases, produce extra tracks that don't accompany the North American releases of their albums. Björk had put out enough b-side material for her first 3 albums to make 3 MORE albums. And the stuff for Homogenic was all incredible. There was a James Bond theme cover, You Only Live Twice, that was supposed to be released on a star-studded compilation album of Bond theme covers...only she pulled hers at the last minute, apparently because she felt it just wasn't good enough, or not as good as the Nancy Sinatra original, of which she is a big fan. As many artists are wont to be, she was being too hard on herself, because it's a beautiful rendition of a terrific song...and I'm not a fan of the Bond films. It was recorded in the Homogenic era, so I've always lumped it in with that, even though it wasn't "officially" done for that.

Another incredible Homogenic b-side song is So Broken, which is just her accompanied by 2 Flamenco guitarists...truly wonderful, and the live piece I've linked to is testament to her talent as well as just how great a piece of music it is.

There are other b-sides that range from whimsical (Scary) to angry (Sod Off) to gut-wrenching (her live cover of Gloomy Sunday), but the track that has the most meaning for me is back on the actual album. The final song on Homogenic, All Is Full Of Love, was remixed many times, including for the video...and all are vastly INFERIOR to the version that was put on the album. The album version (itself a remix by Howie B, which I can't seem to find a link to...) has a soothing, hypnotic quality to it that relaxes you to a point of being capable of opening up and seeing the beauty of the world around you. I have very vivid memories of specific wonderful moments that happened to me as this song was playing. One involved walking in a gentle rain shower on a warm summer day while delivering a route in a beautiful tree lined area of Long Island, New York, and the other happened as I was driving thru the plains of southern Quebec on my way to Montreal, and saw a rainbow off to one side. Both times, due to taking in the lyrics, the gentleness of the song, and the beauty of the moment I was in, made me realize how wonderful life could be, if you just let it.

On a related note, for some reason, most, if not all, of the women who have ever been in my life have had an extreme dislike of Björk. I've never really understood why...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Björk (...duh...), John Frusciante, Blondie, Scatterbrain, The Slits, Pearl Jam (live), The Beastie Boys, The Waitresses, Alice In Chains, The Chemical Brothers, Santana, The White Stripes, Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains, Testament, The Misfits, Social Distortion (covering a Bo Diddley track), The Ramones, Joe Walsh, and most of the Homogenic album by Björk

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Comedic Writing For Unseen Films

Although the website is called Unseen Films, A) it is not limited to just films, and B) it is not entirely about things that are necessarily unseen either. Since both the Overlord Of Unseen Films and myself are based in the United States Of America (although on opposite coasts), we are approaching the site from an American perspective. With that in mind, many of the items presented on Unseen Films have been under-appreciated by an American audience, despite having achieved great success in many other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Unseen may not be entirely the right moniker...but for our purposes, it comes pretty damn close.

Today I present a piece I wrote on a DVD release by comedian Tim Minchin, originally posted on Unseen Films in late June:

Aside from the fact that Tim Minchin is a brilliantly gifted lyricist who writes & performs wonderful comedic songs, the biggest key to the success of his material can be summed up in one word...timing. His timing, both comedically and musically, is perfect. He has an uncanny ability to know precisely how long to pause for effect, to know just how many words he can squeeze into a line and still keep the rhythmn of the song, and to know just how long that piano solo should be.

Minchin (an Australian living in London), relies on visual effects for much of his comedy as well. By visual effects, I mean mascara. He wears a large amount of thick eyeliner to accentuate his facial expressions, which is key to the success of his comedy. When you are WATCHING a Tim Minchin performance, you will get much more out of it than just listening to it. That is something you could find yourself doing, as it is music and comedy combined, 2 forms of expression that don't HAVE to have visuals to be successful. You will still find Minchin enjoyable if you do wander around the room doing things while the performance plays, and you'll find yourself singing parts of songs long after the DVD has ended. The chorus to the opening number, "So Fucking Rock", is insanely catchy. But if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded by some great facial expressions that fill some of the on-purpose gaps in the music. And, in reference to the opening number again, a great deal of mime is involved as well, so you'd BETTER be watching, dammit!

Minchin is very funny when singing songs at the piano, but he is capable of being just as funny when standing naked (as in sans piano) center stage and performing, not merely reciting, a poem entitled "Angry (Feet)". His skills as an actor shine thru beautifully in this piece, as well as being a showcase yet again for his impeccable sense of timing. But the bulk of the show, and his true strength, lies when he plays the part of demented cocktail lounge piano player, belting out tunes such as "Inflatable You", "Rock N Roll Nerd", and his self-professed favorite song to perform, "Peace Anthem For Palestine". It is a treat to watch him play piano as well, as he does seem to be remarkably talented on that instrument. And when you take into account the sheer volume of lyrics some of his songs contain, his talent seems to grow exponentially. The first lines alone of "Some People Have It Worse Than I" are, "Well I wake up in the morning at 11:47 and I can't believe I have to face the horror of another fucking day. And the magnificent magnitude of my morning erection merely mocks me like the sun in its optimistic greeting of the day." You try singing that, let alone playing piano as well...

This particular release was an Australian only DVD entitled "So Live" that came out in 2007. It contains most of the better songs and bits from his first 2 shows, "Darkside" and "So Rock", which were released as CD's only. As brilliant and funny and witty and revealing as it is, a slightly more polished version of basically the same show was released in the UK the following year entitled "So Fucking Rock Live". There's really no point to owning both, it's just a matter of which is easier to hunt down. Personally, I would recommend "So Fucking Rock Live", as the little changes do make a difference. It is interesting to compare the 2 to see where Minchin felt things needed improvement, and I find it compelling to see a professional hone his skills and work at his craft, but being a student of comedy I WOULD find that interesting. The rest of you, who just want to enjoy the show, can pick up either version and be quite happy.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Nirvana, Scott Reeder, Fugazi, Black Sabbath, & whatever I was listening to when I first wrote the Minchin piece...which I'm sure would include So Fucking Rock...