small blue flowers

Monday

Thanks for the memories


ok, this is just a short post which neatly ties together a couple of the things that I've mentioned so far in this blog. Well, one of them to this post. On wednesday I went to see Maria McKee in concert which was awesome. She played a cover of a track which I knew, though I'd forgotten what it was or what film it was from. The track that she played was In The Long Run, originally done by The Carrie Nations for the film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Two things should now enter your head. Russ Meyer and breasts. That's the man.

 Anyway, since the gig I haven't been able to get the song or the image of Maria McKee and long time cohort Susan Otten (who has the most amazing brown eyes and looks like Kim Deal) out of my head. So maybe this post is a kind of indulgent catharsis.

 Now, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is about a female rock group who get sucked into the seedy underbelly of rock n roll in the bright lights of Hollywood. There's even a mad promoter who gives a nod to Phil Spector. Originally the film was supposed to be a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, but ended up being practically a spoof of it. But like all of Russ Meyer's films there's a healthy sprinkling of sex. Mostly breast related.

 

(apologies for the dodgy dubbing) 

 

The other thing I'd like to get off my chest (a-ha!) is my first experience with Russ Meyer's films. When young, innocent and probably drunk, myself and a few friends (I can't remember the friends, but I'm sure they were there and it limits the sadness of this tale) I went to see Supervixens and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens in the Grosvenor cinema in Glasgow. What a double bill! (ouch!) I was pretty naive way back then and these two films were a bit of an eye-opener. In fact I guess I was pretty shocked given that my upbringing was fairly sedate and middle class. However, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens gave me an experience that I'd rather forget. In the film there's a woman called Junkyard Sal played by June Mack. She's involved in a sexual scene or two, which is fair enough. But it wasn't that that got me, it was her face. It's kind of diamond shaped, or looked like it in the film and for some reason I started retching. I was nearly physically sick in the cinema just because I was looking at a woman's face. Even with my eyes closed it was still an effort not to vomit. Having googled said woman, I can't really understand why it would have such a physical effect on me, in fact, on reflection, I don't think I've had a physical reaction as severe from a film (apart from maybe at Steve Martin's Parenthood when he falls off the horse......I uncontrollably laughed for ten minutes in the same cinema, I kid you not).

 

I should probably investigate a bit more about Russ Meyer - there doesn't seem to be a reason for his large breast obsession - but as I said, this is kind of a short, self-indulgent post. I hope my co-contributors don't mind

It's funny how events of today can send you back many years, I guess that's the power of music and film.

 

mp3 - In The Long Run - The Carrie Nations

buy - DVD / CD

 

 

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Sunday

I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.





This blog being divided up across the ‘pond’ as it is, I don’t know how much, if it all, my British counterparts follow the Academy Awards, or as they are casually known, the Oscars. But here in the States, to be a film fan of any degree involves some sort of relationship with the Academy Awards, whether it is trying to see all the Oscar-nominated films (like I do, but also for the Golden Globes and Independent Spirits), or simply participating in an Oscar-pool (like the one at FrankBlack.net, in which I came in 2nd place last year), everyone over here at least casually follows the festivities.

And sometimes, there are water-cooler moments determined by the wins, or more often, the snubs. How many people actually thought that after winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, Brokeback Mountain wouldn’t take home the coveted Best Picture? Or how many people, myself included, wanted to puke when Liz Taylor stumbled through the word Gladiator?

However, the most egregious snub in recent Academy Awards history is the loss of Goodfellas to Dances With Wolves at the 1991 Oscars. For those who haven’t seen either, Dances With Wolves was an overblown Kevin Costner directing/starring double whammy about an American getting in touch with Native Americans. Goodfellas was quite possibly the best film of the past 25 years, directed by perennial Oscar-snub Martin Scorsese, who last year’s host Jon Stewart pointed out, does not have an Oscar, but rap producers The Three 6 Mafia do. It is a dark and violent tale of being a gangster in New York spanning from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Star making performances by Lorraine Bracco, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci (to a lesser degree, he was already known for Raging Bull) anchor this sad, funny, and thoroughly entertaining film.

I could talk for hours about the intricate shots, the perfect casting, the cameos of at least 3 future stars of The Sopranos, or the glamorization of organized crime, but because there is a theme to follow here, I’ll focus instead on the music.

This is one of the many Scorsese films to not have a traditional score. All the music you hear throughout the film is catalog music – that is, older songs, not written for the film. And no one uses catalog music quite like Marty. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The first scene I’d like to talk about is significant because of the lack of music. Scorsese also does this quite a bit – he fills up his films with music, and then when the need arrives, drops all music so that nothing is front and center except for the dialogue. The film features such a rich database of music, that when it drops out, your attention is focused from and center. Watch this scene, featuring a partly improvised rant from Pesci, and notice how the lack of music really adds tension.



Only in a film so inundated with music would a silent scene stand out so much. That is the beauty of good music in a film - it matters just as much when it is not there.

Not long after this scene, we are introduced to Karen (Bracco), and a truly magical scene unfolds. On their second date, the first one where Henry (Liotta) actually cares, they go to the world famous Copacabana to see the "King of the One Liners" Henny Youngman. Henry shows off his connections in a very subtle way - leaving his car on the street, going in through the employee entrance, having a table put in front for the best view in the house. We can see Karen becoming intrigued and drawn into Henry's world - she's falling for him. And who could capture the sound of new love better than Phil Spector?



"Then He Kissed Me" by the Crystals is regarded as the real start to Spector's echo-laden Wall of Sound, the sound that would inspire Brian Wilson to keep layering, and then in turn, what inspired the Beatles to have to one up Pet Sounds and create Revolver, which would in turn influence all of popular music to follow. By using this pivotal piece of music in the scene where Karen's life undergoes a drastic change, coupled with the perfect 2 1/2 minute love symphony and the epic tracking shot (which apparently took over 3 days to get right, partly because at its conclusion, Youngman would keep forgetting his lines) makes for one of, if not the, greatest film/music combinations of all time.

That being said, later in the film the Copa scene is given a run for its money.


There are few songs as well known from the classic rock era as "Layla." Eric Clapton (with his then band, Derek and the Dominos)'s not so subtle song of lust for his best friend's wife (Patti Boyd, the former Mrs. George Harrison) is known to my parents' generation as the song where Duane Allman and Eric Clapton got to trade licks; my generation knows it in its utterly boring acoustic rendition from MTV's Unplugged. But it is the original's piano coda, written by Dominos' drummer Jim Gordon, that Scorsese uses here to create mood.

Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) has been killing off everyone that connects him to the Lufthansa heist - at the time, the largest robbery in American history. We are shown a montage of the bodies being found - Carbone in the meat truck, the newlyweds in their pink Cadillac, Frenchy in the dumpster. And all the time, the mellow, piano and slide guitar outro is sharing its melancholy with us. This scene, despite its choreographed grace is where we see what a monster Jimmy really is. His friends, the people who actually did all the work in the heist, are all killed for two reasons: to keep Jimmy out of jail, and to keep his wallet stocked.

To call this the greatest mafia movie of all time raises feathers because of the fantastic first two installments of The Godfather. However, those movies show a glossy, Hollywood mafia from the top down. Goodfellas shows it from the perspective of a mid-level mafiosa and does a fantastic job of showing regular joes like you and I why people enter into that sort of life. http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifThis may be not only the best mafia movie of all time, but it deserves a spot, to me, in the Top 10 films of the 1990s, and perhaps, of all time.

Mp3s:

"Then He Kissed Me" - The Crystals

"Layla (Piano Exit)" - Derek and the Dominos


Commerce:

Purchase the Goodfellas Special Edition DVD


For "Then He Kissed Me," purchase The Crystals - Greatest Hits.

For the special, abridged version of "Layla,"purchase the Goodfellas Soundtrack

Saturday

warm up? we may as well sit round this cigarette

In the UK at least it doesn't get much more cult than Withnail and I. Written by the frequently hilarious (occasionally disgusting) Bruce Robinson this film documents the plight of two unemployed, but trained, actors as they drink themselves stupid through the rut they are firmly and most delightfully wedged in.

It has been said (I can't source it but it has been said... to me at least) that this is the most quotable film of all time and I can certainly see why. I'm frequently guilty of it myself and I am not a quoter of films. But, to every Withnail fan there is something inherently delightful about walking past, or daringly into, an old lady tea shop and telling your companion that you "want the finest wines available to humanity" It's not our fault. It's an illness I tell you. Only the other day I was watching a programme about drink drivers and when the officer asked if dodgy geezer number one was a bit tipsy I couldn't help but blurt out "I assure you I'm not officer, I've only had a few ales".

I've already said too much. This is a film one should never be forced into watching, it is a film you need to discover. It is a film you should feel you own so if you haven't seen it yet then please, for the love of all things good and glittery, stop reading now.

Bruce Robinson put a large portion of his life into this film. The character of I is based on Robinson and the Withnail character is based on Vivian MacKerrell, a drama school friend with whom he shared a house in Camden in the late sixties. Although Robinson has said that while nothing Withnail says in the film is a direct quote from Vivian, everything Withnail says could have very easily been said by Vivian. Robinson kept diaries of this period in his life and excerpts from this shows exactly what he means:

V. came back and said we should join the Conservative Party. "What for?" I said.

"Because they give you sherry."


Vivan MacKerrell died due to throat cancer. Robinson has attributed this to the time MacKerrell drank lighter fluid (sending him blind for days) which is a scene repeated in the film.

Richard. E. Grant who plays Withnail is unbelievably allergic to alcohol. He has once in his entire life been drunk and that was in preparation for the making of Withnail and I. He didn't like it much.

I don't drink. During the rehearsals for Withnail, the director insisted that I get paralytically drunk so I'd know what it was like. It was dreadful. I was so ill I vomited and passed out.

As the film progresses and the predicaments get more farcical, hilarious and tragic it is impossible for your heart not to go out to this grim anti-hero.



I would be neglecting my duty here to not mention the drinking game. Christmas 2004 I spent playing the Withnail and I drinking game. I matched them drink for drink, smoke for smoke and pork pie for pork pie. I can't abide whisky so swapped it for Gin, I was doing well up until the Pernod (which whilst not officially part of the game was there and I was already half baked) when things started to mix in my stomach in most unpleasant ways.

The rules: Simply match Withnail drink for drink. You'll need red wine (lots of), Sherry, Whisky, Cider, Vodka, Ale....... You will be sick though.

Intersting factoids: The film features the Beatles song While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It is pretty rare to get a Beatles song approved for anything, especially a soundtrack, but in the case of Withnail and I, George Harrison happens to be one of the producers....

The recording of Whiter Shade of Pale was recorded at King Curtis's last performance, according to the Withnail links page, he was shot in the car park straight after the gig. This song opens the film beautifully. Sigh.

You would be extremely fortunate to find the Withnail and I soundtrack, due to a licensing problem with the Jimi Hendrix tracks it was discontinued. It is Jimi Hendrix I want to focus on here and his cover of Bob Dylans All Along the Watchtower


"No reason to get excited"
The thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke"

This song is covered and covered and covered again. I've heard a dodgy U2 cover, a suspect Pearl Jam cover and the Dave Mathews Band. It was all very shocking.

The Bob Dylan original is gentle and folksy. The lyrics depict a conversation between two characters who predict a foreboding change of circumstance. Yet again, the song echoing the sentiments of the film to which it is attached. It is not, however, the Dylan original that we hear in Withnail and I but the Jimi Hendrix Experience cover which is, in my not so humble opinion at all actually, vastly superior.

At a party with Dave Mason from the band Traffic Hendrix commented that he would love to cover this track, being a long time fan of Dylan. That evening Dave Mason and Jimi Hendrix took this track on. The Hendrix cover is full in a way that Dylans original isn't. According to wiki "it features slide guitar, done with a cigarette lighter rather than a more traditional tube of glass or metal". Awesome. The guitar solos in the Hendrix version are designed to replace the harmonica solo from the original and Dylan has been known to play this version in his live sets now.

This version of All Along the Watchtower also features in Forrest Gump, A Bronx Tale, and tupac: resurrection. The Withnail and I soundtrack features a second Jimi Hendrix track - Voodoo Chile.

Bob Dylan - All Along the Watchtower
Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower

Buy: Screenplay / DVD / Bruce Robinson / Bob Dylan / Jimi Hendrix

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Friday

Bamlet


I think it would be remiss of us to forget to post about some musical animated movies, especially as they have become so popular. Well, I say become, but I'm not sure if maybe that popularity is waning now. And what better one to dicuss than The Lion King, possibly the animated musical that started the resurgence (and also the one I've seen the most by a looooong way). It has everything, it's a coming of age story (Simba), a love story (Simba & Nala),  there's an evil villain (Scar) and even a comedy meerkat (Timon). Now meerkat's are ace at the best of times, but a comedy one? In a movie? Inspired. Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog are merely the icing on this celluloid cake. But as kitten points out and then forgets, we're a music blog, and this should be about relating the music to the film in some kind of meaningful way (as if!)

Much as the music fits the film perfectly, I'd be interested to know if people actually sit and listen to the soundtrack at home. While you might sing along during the film and even hum the songs while you're doing the dishes, do people actually think, "oh, I could really do with a blast of Hakuna Matata". Is it maybe just for the benefit of children that the soundtrack is bought? The two 'real' songs on this soundtrack -  the Academy Award winnning "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" you could imagine listening to if you like that sort of thing, but for me, the other songs would be best saved for children's parties. However, within the film they are fantastic. Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) sings 'Be Prepared' to a background of similarly evil (or just misunderstood) hyenas. Rowan Atkinson's character, Zazu, an avian advisor to Simba's dad, Mufasa, sings "The Morning Report" as he gives a report of the lion's territory. 

"The Circle of Life" which I maybe unfairly left off my real songs list seeing as it was Academy Award nominated, was written by Tim Rice & Elton John and pretty much provides the central theme for the whole film. That everything is there for a reason. The grass feeds the deer, the deer feed the lions and the lions, well, they laze about in the sun all day. But when the king is killed by his evil brother who then takes the throne (Hamlet anyone?) Simba (the king's son) then runs for his life, finds himself with the help of Timon and Pumbaa and then comes back to claim his throne (via a ghostly visitation from his father). Thankfully for the hearts and minds of millions of children across the world, it ends a bit better than Hamlet. But there again is the circle of life, the son succeeding his father.

I think the other trail that this film blazed was giving nods to past films in an attempt to appeal to adults. In fact the scenario painted at the inception of the film was 'Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet - Bamlet'. If you look at the IMDB entry there are  more than a few trivia entries, many of which refer to older films. Here's a few for those who can't be bothered to click on the link.....

The scar on Scar's face is in exactly the same place as it is on Al Pacino's character Tony Montana in the movie Scarface (1983).

Simba says to Scar (Jeremy Irons) You're so weird. Scar replies: You have no idea!, the same reply that Irons used in Reversal of Fortune (1990).

The scene of the hyenas goose-stepping in during the musical number Be Prepared is modeled directly from a scene in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens (1935).

If you do have the urge to sit at your PC listening to some hardcore Elton John/Lion King then here are some mp3's for your enjoyment. Remember, if you like them, buy the CD/DVD, if only for your children.

 

mp3: Circle of Life - Elton John/Tim Rice

mp3: Hakuna Matata

mp3: Be Prepared

 

 

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Thursday

You made a cuckold of me




People take away many things from bad dates: a chip on your shoulder, a wallet that has hemorrhaged 40 bucks (if you’re lucky), perhaps even a case of herpes. The worst date I was ever on, I took away some stuff too: resentment, a wasted long-distance bill, and a film that I would cherish despite the amazingly awkward circumstances that accompanied it.

The Royal Tenenbaums
was released in the tail end of 2001, and made its way to my then home of Pittsburgh, PA early in 2002. I saw it in a packed theatre, replete with Dolby Digital sound, buttery popcorn, and a girl who made that winter hell. But, this isn’t about the girl; it’s about the Dolby Digital sound.

Usually films like The Lord of the Rings or Titanic are best viewed in a theatre with a quality sound system, as they are lauded for their use of sound effects (on another bad date, albeit one with a lovely woman, I saw Titanic and marveled to myself at the sound of the boat actually cracking in half). Tenenbaums is certainly not going to win any awards for its sound design, but when within the first minute of the film, as the book opens and that music begins, I was taken aback.

Could it really be “Hey Jude?”

As Alec Baldwin gives the audience a brief history of the Tenenbaum family up until modern day, we hear the song chugging along; a song that was written for a child of parents in the process of a messy divorce plays under the tale of wasted potential, both giving a nod to what could have been versus the sad reality of how life really is for both Jude and Royal: disappointing.

I don’t know why it blew my mind that Mark Mothersbaugh had covered a Beatles song – people do it every day. I think what shocked me is that covering “Hey Jude” and opening a film with it is asking anyone with even a passing interest in modern music to take pause. It is asking us, as viewers, not to forget everything we have attached to that song, but to add to it this story as well.

“Hey Jude” is not the only time we are asked to do this either; there are songs throughout the film that are generally well known (Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard,” The Ramones’ “Judy is a Punk,” the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”) that take on totally new meaning in the light of the visuals.

The most vivid example of this is the inclusion of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” famously written for the timeless TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Tenenbaums is not a Christmas movie by any stretch of the imagination, and is used not to represent Christmas, or childhood, but sadness. Just as Charlie Brown was disillusioned during the Christmas season of the commercialization of that sacred day, Margot is depressed over how her genius life has unfolded: no longer a sought-after playwright, she now smokes alone, is in a loveless marriage and doesn’t know where to go. Eventually, she goes home.

This song, like “Hey Jude,” is such an undeniable piece of western culture that it gets an almost audible crowd response when heard in the film. We all get it – she’s sad. This was used again in the late, great television program Arrested Development, to show the lonely George Michael Bluth walking around, shoulders slumped and hanging his head (in fact, in one scene, he walks past a Beagle lying on top of a red dog house).

However, the most striking piece of music is one that is not quite as well known by the general populous from soccer moms to Ivy League intellectuals, but is still a famous piece of music.

Nico’s “These Days,” written by a pre-spousal abuse Jackson Browne, is one of the great all-time sad songs. If an emo band wants a natural song to cover, here ya go Taking Back Sunday. Here, it accompanies a slow-mo shot of Margot, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, walking towards Richie, played by Luke Wilson, and you can see the love and pain between them like a haze on the screen.



“I go out walking/I don’t do too much talking these days/These days/ These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do/And all the times I had a chance to.”

One by one, the Tenenbaum kids return home to where their lives started, stunted and eventually, crumbled. Chas has lost a wife and gained paranoia, Richie’s career is over and has been love struck for the better part of thirty years, Margot just isn’t happy.

“Please don’t confront me with my failures/I have not forgotten them.”

Ultimately, none of our lives are how we pictured them. No parent holds a newborn child in their arms and dreams of their heartbreak. No child ever thinks of his or her eventual layoff. And that is why The Royal Tenenbaums and its soundtrack speak to me. I’m a generally happy person, but I look back on parts of my life (like the aforementioned bad dates) and wonder how things came to pass. I think that is a pretty universal feeling. And that being said, I honestly don’t know how the theatres around the country didn’t erupt in a loud chorus of “Na na na nanana na”s when Mordecai takes flight.

MP3s:

"Hey Jude" - The Mutato Muzika Orchestra

"Christmas Time Is Here" - The Vince Guaraldi Trio

"These Days" - Nico

Commerce:

Purchase the Royal Tenenbaums Criterion Collection DVD


Purchase the Royal Tenenbaums CD Soundtrack

Wednesday

What is old is new again...

bluets

Some songs are just destined to make their way into film if only to be but a whisper. It is in those quiet moments of song and scene that an entire emotion and sub-plot is played out without us even being aware of it. This is especially true when the song is not one we are familiar with. This is where the composer of film scores does his/her best work. But what about those songs that are familiar? Last time I wrote about songs written specifically for film, but what about the soundtracks that are comprised of all pre-recorded songs. Songs that you can bet at least half of the audience has heard before. The familiar can be an important tool, when setting mood. It must be handled carefully though. The ability of the mind to go into a sensory memory state can backfire if it contradicts the mood that is trying to be established.

For instance, I was in this play called, “Moo” in college. I distinctly remember the director’s choice of using the soundtrack to “The Piano” for scene changes. This happened to be the same year the movie was nominated for several academy awards. What was important about these scene changes was the fact it was the cast (not stagehands) that moved the stark set pieces in rhythm with the soundtrack. The scene changes were intended to be part of the movement of the play itself. I remember speaking to an audience member afterwards and was not surprised to hear that when he heard the music all he could think about was the movie not the play. It pulled him out of the play and back into the movie where his mind thought music belonged. I am sure he was not the only one to experience this. After all, mover goers many times tend to be theatre goers. In this case the soundtrack to The Piano was just too new to be used without it being too recognizable.

But sometimes the use of recognizable songs can bring new life to an old song. There is comfort in the recognizable like that smell of pipe-tobacco that automatically makes you feel happy because it reminds you of your grandfather and he always made you feel so loved.

One movie to use all previously recorded songs for its soundtrack is “Strictly Ballroom” which by the way is one of my favorite movies. As the title of the film suggests, Strictly Ballroom takes place in the world of ballroom dance. I have encountered some of these ballroom dance studios and I must say although characters are slightly exaggerated, they really are quite um….whimsical folks let’s say. The soundtrack of this film uses a list of very recognizable songs yet they are used in a way that doesn’t pull you out of the experience of the film. Of course they revamped and re-recorded them with different singers and slightly different arrangements, but the heart of the songs are all still there. Without giving away too much about the plot for those of you who haven’t watched this very quirky and delightful film here are a couple examples.

I think the use of “Time After Time” (originally written and sung by Cindy Lauper) was brilliant. They did not try to hide the fact it was recognizable. In fact the volume is turned up on this one in the scene it is used. I loved the fact they let the words of that song speak for the characters and in many ways they mimic the same mood and scene Cindy Lauper herself used in the video for the song. There was something beautifully nostalgic about it that worked for me.

Strictly Ballroom also used the song “Tequila.” This song is quite popular as far as soundtracks go. Anyone remember Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? Now think of the song Tequila for a moment and then Pee Wee Herman…If you were young and alive in the 80’s you might be one of many that can not help but do Pee Wee’s tequila dance every time you hear that song. It wasn’t difficult; everyone could do it that is what made it special. It was accessible. I do not know for sure if the sound designers of Strictly Ballroom were fans of the Pee Wee Herman, but I do believe they knew what they were doing when they added that song to the movie. Strictly Ballroom is a film about dance for goodness sake. Sometimes you can use those sensory memories to work for you in film. The use of Tequila might have been an attempt to remind you of the youthful and silly and to make you feel like you were in on the joke…an active participant in the film.

It is a talent to be able to use recognizable songs in film. It requires balance between the too old and too new--the over used and the just used enough. I certainly have much respect for the sound designers that are able to distinguish what songs fall in each category and why, and I for one plan on listening even more for their cues.

Tuesday

living like this is a full time business

Aged 16 I was every britpop cliché you could imagine. I had messy bobbed hair with a big floral clip, dresses your granny wouldn't wear, orthopaedic looking shoes (or green adidas gazelles) and a quite frankly amazing array of plastic jewellery. I had the glitter and the plastic coat. My style icon was Manda from bis. I owned a superman t-shirt and actually went to see Kula Shaker. I was pretty tragic on reflection.

Britpop and the mid nineties hold a special place in my heart that I will freely admit is deep rooted in nostalgia and when I was 16 the most exciting thing to happen ever was the release of Trainspotting. Directed by the painfully cool Danny Boyle based on the novel by Irvine Welsh Trainspotting is one of those cultural milestones that defines an era. It is so 1996 it hurts.

When a film is based on a book I would rather read the book first pretty much every time before watching it. I haven't read Trainspotting I have to confess. I saw it in the Oxfam in Palmers Green the other day and debated for all of half a minute whether or not to buy it before passing. Maybe I'm missing something but Welsh's style grates on me a little. A wise man once told me that it's annoying reading writing in a local dialect and I had to agree. Because he's wise. Irvine Welsh writes in a Scottish accent and it can be very difficult to penetrate sometimes. The last thing I want as I'm trying to read myself to sleep is to have to read words out loud to figure out what the hell they mean. The only Welsh book I have ever read is Filth and for me this was a trial. Not solely for the dialect issue but largely because I thought it wasn't very good. I'm not a precious girl and am fully aware there is a dark and seedy life out there. I can understand the value of writing about this as much as the blossoming romance between two star crossed lovers. IF, and this is a big if, it is done for a good purpose. I've read some nasty books, hell, I've read 120 days of Sodom cover to cover and wasn't as irritated as I was when I read Filth. If it was designed to shock it didn't, I found the shopping list of graphic violence and dirty sex to be more tedious than anything.

So this is why I avoided reading Trainspotting.

Harsh? Maybe, but I like the film. I'd rather not have it tainted.

At the time of it's release the film was surrounded by controversy for allegedly glamorising heroin addiction. Although, on reflection, anyone who saw any glamour in the depravity that Renton and his band of not so merry men sunk to is a weird puppy, and possibly some sort of kinky submissive. In research for this post I read that police in Canada bought up tickets to showing of this film and handed them out to youths to act as a deterrent against substance abuse. That's what I'm talking about. This film pulls no punches and despite the cool and comedic aspects provides a gritty and stark insight into the life of an addict.

I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin?

There are two volumes to the Trainspotting soundtrack because there is a ton of music in the film. It punctuates the coolness consistently. Whilst, no doubt, the instantly recognisable tracks in association with Trainspotting are Iggy Pop's Lust For Life, Lou Reed's Perfect Day and Underworld's Born Slippy, it is not these songs that I want to talk about. If I'm honest, Iggy Pop terrifies me (so stringy!), Lou Reed I don't really understand and I'm a bit sick of chavs shouting "lager lager" at every available opportunity. No, I want to go back to Britpop.

Blur were one of the bands of the britpop era I didn't get into until after britpop had died out. I wasn't interested in the big big house in the country and I didn't really give two hoots for the blur vs oasis drama. However, at an indie club many moons back when Steve Lamacq was doing his monthly DJ set I won two tickets to Leeds festival by sticking my name in a hat. One of the headline acts was Blur. My companion was more interested in this than I was and not relishing wandering round on my own that evening I went to watch them and was truly put in my place. I still hold no fondness for early Blur but they have some extremely inspired moments. Damon Albarn is a smarter bloke than I gave him credit for and whilst you would think Graham Coxon would have been the interesting one after Blur the most interesting music has come from Albarn. That dusky summers evening many moons ago, somewhere in a field in leeds, they closed their set with the contribution to the trainspotting (volume one) soundtrack. The truly sublime Sing.

So what's the worth in all of this
What's the worth in all of this

Sing to me


Blur - Sing

On the other hand, Pulp were a band I loved from the get go. Retro chic with lyrical poetry that make the (incredibly boring and over-rated) Arctic Monkeys look like a bunch of dribbling goons. Pulp sold me on a lifestyle. It's music that is urban living, it's working class, it's seedy and it's sexy but above all you can really wiggle about to it. Different Class was Pulps defining album with tracks like Disco 2000 and the super catchy indie anthem Common People capturing the imagination of just about everyone. Jarvis Cocker: skinny, bespectacled, arse waggling front man, is intelligent, literate and bloody charismatic. Also worth a mention is the album His 'n Hers with tracks like Babies and Lipgloss which seem to totally encompass, to my mind, what Pulp are all about. I've lived in Sheffield, it's not the most exciting of cities and if you flick through the photo's on the Pulp website of what Sheffield was like around the time of the bands formation you can truly visualise the atmosphere surrounding the music. Pulp didn't join a scene, Pulp were their own scence. You have a leadsinger who merrily swung his backside at Michael Jacksons self indulgent awards performance, you have some severe haircuts and a keyboardist with a name somewhat like a veneral disease. I love Pulp. The Pulp contribution to the trainspotting soundtrack stays true to their style and has a strong resonance with the film, it's a mess alright, yes it's Mile End.

I guess you have to go right down
Before you understand just how
how low
how low a human being can go


Pulp - Mile End


Buy: Trainspotting DVD / Book / Soundtrack Volume One / Soundtrack Volume Two

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Monday

Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?


Many years ago, in about 1990 I think, I had an argument with a friend of mine about Batman and the soundtrack album that Prince produced for the movie return to the franchise. At the time I was a huge Prince fan and I was convinced that no other artist could have captured the insanity of the joker and the darkness of Gotham City in one album so well. Mike, I was right then, and I'm still right now. For instance, the other contender to do the soundtrack album was INXS iirc. Now, much as I liked INXS - especially early INXS (yikes! all my skeletons are coming out now) - there is no way they could have produced an album with the relevance and sense of fun that Prince did. Jack Nicholson's Joker was the star of Batman and Prince was his musical alter ego. Just as INXS couldn't have produced an album of Prince's quality, so the alternative to Nicholson, Robin Williams, wouldn't have been able to reach the former's heights. In fact Nicholson seems to have been in two minds (haha) about taking the role until Williams was approached.

For the latest incarnation of the Batman films, The Dark Knight (2008), Heath Ledger is cast to play the Joker. Now, I can kind of see this  facially, but I'm just not sure he has the maniacal chaos inside him to be able to carry this off. Sure he's a great actor, Monster's Ball being one of my favourite films of recent times, but The Joker? In Batman? can't see it somehow. Robin Williams wanted it again, but always the bridesmaid, eh?

So who could do the soundtrack to The Dark Knight? Is a collection of songs from different artists the right way to go, or should we go back to Batman, and get one artist to do a whole concept album? I'd love to see a concept album, maybe by the Flaming Lips or even the Polyphonic Spree (where are they?). You see where I'm going with this, don't you? We need some chaos, some life, some energy, some fun. But we also need some darkness, sadness and grit. I'm pretty sure the Flaming Lips could do an awesome job.

mp3: Partyman   
mp3: Vikki Waiting

Buy the CD/DVD

Friday

how do you know it's love if you've never been in love before?

Top tip: want to see me cry like a girl? Sit me in front of this film with a box of tissues on a rainy day. Hell, do it in the middle of summer and we're still talking many tears.

Luc Besson's Léon (sometimes referred to as The Professional) has often drawn comparisons from Lolita but to me it has more in common with Harold and Maude. It's a love story and it isn't a love story all at the same time. I tend to get a touch ranty about the portrayal of love in films because nine times out of ten I see glamour and little else. Léon has it's share of dark glamour, he's a hit man, a cleaner, there's murder, drugs, corrupt cops and Gary Oldman being truly frightening. This is the frill around the edges though. The true story is the burgeoning love between a young girl who has lost everything and a hit man who wants nothing.

The film I'm familiar with has many differences to the intended film. Léon is actually Italian (Leone) but because Jean Reno is so very French I never really realised that. The film was sliced and diced for the sensitive American audiences removing scenes of an uncomfortable if not improper nature. Matilda (Natalie Portman in her first starring role aged twelve) confesses to falling in love with Léon and yearns for a different type of intimacy. The cut version loses a scene where Matilda plays Russian roulette to force Léon to admit he loves her. We also lose a scene with them going to bed together. Going to bed in the most innocent of ways I might add. The lonely hit man is used to sleeping in a chair next to a gun but his relationship with Matilda and the love he has found for her, the very innocent love, gives him a new found joy in life. He wants to sleep in a bed and he wants to take care of her and she wants nothing more than to stay with him. It's beautiful. It's tragic.

So, after trying to make the point that there is nothing sexual between these two characters and that a simple love is a beautiful thing I'm going to talk about a song which on the most superficial level is, well, a bit filthy.

His wicked sense of humour
Suggests, exciting sex


Björk's Venus as a Boy is present in instrumental form during key scenes between Léon and Matilda. It's interesting because on the surface it's a sexual song, scratch the surface and it's still a dirty song. But, it's not just a dirty song. And this is the point. Written about her partner at the time Björk has said that this song is about finding beauty in all the places it lives but few people ever think to look.


the beauty of brushing your teeth and the beauty of waking up in the morning in the right beat and the beauty of having a conversation with a person

So I have lost most of my guilt in relation to wittering on about the films as well as the music because the more I look into these things the cleverer I realise most movie music is. The sentiments in this song echo the sentiment of the film. Whilst it might look like there's a sexual connotation to the goings on in both (overtly in the song, suggestively in the film) the real meaning behind both is about discovering that pure love or beauty or however you want to refer to it.

I like Björk. When this blog becomes more established you're bound to notice I don't really have a lot of love for female vocalists as a rule but how on earth can you not like Björk? She's mental, she has a simultaneously strong and fragile sound, she really cares about what she's doing and did I mention she's mental?

If there's one thing she's famous for (asides being mental) it's her generally pretty out there videos.



She gets very involved with the ideas and the making of her videos and Venus as a Boy is no different. This is where we get back to the sex. I'm not totally naive you know, but, whilst the underlying beauty analogy works well within the context film the erotic nature of the song is not to be denied. Venus is after all the goddess of love who is always naked in the paintings. This sexuality is, believe it or not, mirrored in the video. Honestly. She's not just rolling an egg about randomly you know. This video is directed by Sophie Muller and before it was made Björk gave her a copy of The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille to explain what it is she wanted. The novel is, according to amazon,surreal and sexually explicit...


Only Georges Bataille could write, of an eyeball removed from a corpse, that "the caress of the eye over the skin is so utterly, so extraordinarily gentle, and the sensation is so bizarre that it has something of a rooster's horrible crowing."
So now we know why the rolling about on the skin, but the egg? Amazon helpfully states that the "music video alludes to Bataille's erotic uses of eggs". Interesting fact, Story of the Eye was published under the pseudonym Lord Auch (literally, Lord "to the shithouse"). Thanks wiki for that one.

There wasn't enough time for the director to read the book before the video was made and this resulted in a not so happy Björk with the end result of the egg. Apparantly frying is bad.


No way is that book about a fried egg! I'm sorry. Poached? Okay. Boiled? Okay. Raw? Okay. Because it's too hard. It's rough and it's greasy, It should be about being sort of liquidy and wet and soft and open.....
Björk - Venus as a Boy

This track can be found on the album Debut and was released as a single on two cd's featuring various remixes and some bootlegs (such as fireworks) have alternative versions.

Just for the sake of completeness, for those who are so minded, there is a surprising cover. Horrendously smiley Corinne Bailey Rae, yes, summer dress wearing, bicycle riding, disgustingly optimistic Bailey Rae freaking me out by singing the words 'exciting sex'. She totally ruins that line for me. I've given a link. rather than a download because lets face it. No one wants to listen to that more than once.

Buy: Léon / Björk / The Story of the Eye

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Thursday

no gala


What have Pulp Fiction and Days of Thunder got in common? On the face of it nothing, on the seedy underbelly, probably not much either, but if you look at the soundtracks they both have a track by former Lone Justice frontwoman Maria McKee on them.

So, I'm going to use this month's theme (films, if you hadn't guessed) to let off some steam about something that bugs me. It shouldn't bug me as much as it does, but then that probably goes the same for 99% of people on this planet. So, what is it that bugs me? It's that one of my favourite artists, Maria McKee, is barely known outside of her two songs that have been on film soundtracks.
If you head over to Last FM you'll see that her two most listened to tracks by the members of Last.fm are Show Me Heaven from Days of Thunder and If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags) from the superb Pulp Fiction. Actually, it does redeem some small amount of my faith in human nature that the Pulp Fiction track is listened to much more (and that Show me Heaven is also on a 'womans' compilation).

Now they're both good songs (although nowhere near her best), and it stands to reason that film soundtracks may well sell more widely than Maria McKee's solo records, but why oh why hasn't the film exposure led to more album sales, greater recognition, riches beyond her wildest dreams? Maybe I'm being naive and the films have improved her career - without them she would be busking on the streets, destitute and on the verge of having to sell her guitar. But genuinely, I don't believe that. Maybe the royalties from the film soundtracks have given her enough money to keep on going, to do what she really wants to do, so in writing this I'm being ungrateful. Nope, I'm greedy, well greedy for Maria, and I think more people should be listening to her music. I suspect she agrees with me.

This of course brings up the wider question of what impact does having a successful track on the soundtrack to a successful film have on the career of an artist. Now, I may be wrong, but Bryan Adams' credibility dived after 'that song' despite the enormous success of both film (Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves) and single. You could even argue that Prince's career went into decline (with minor peaks following) after the Batman soundtrack which I've recently been listening to (or trying to). I loved it when it came out, can't anymore. Dare I mention Gary Jules' cover of Mad World from Donnie Darko? What happened to him, where has he disappeared to?(his website says he's just released a new album which I am now unwittingly promoting) Limp Bizkit...Mission Impossible 2. bleurghhhh. why?

So, sure, being on a film soundtrack, or even producing a complete one, isn't a recipe for stardom, but when you have an artist of the quality and integrity of Maria McKee you'd hope some people would at least look a little deeper.

Look a little deeper you saint
mp3: No Gala {High Dive}
mp3: Absolutely Barking Stars {Life is Sweet}
mp3: I'm Gonna Soothe You {You Gotta Sin To Get Saved}

Skim the surface you *&!%$£
mp3: If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags) {Live in Bremen 2003}

YouTube: Show Me Heaven

Buy: Pulp Fiction (CD/DVD) Days of Thunder (CD/DVD) Donnie Darko (CD/DVD) Batman(CD/DVD)

picture by Cabaret Voltaire

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Wednesday

Shakin not stirred…….

bluets

I personally think that movie themes can not be discussed without mentioning James Bond. I mean…seriously….Since Bond has already done the shaking for us…I will keep my first blog entry straight up…

Like any good spy movie let’s first start with a scandal (always a good reference point)…two composers forever connected by the dispute over who the composer was of the most famous move theme music of all times. How many people can say their song has made it into 11 (that’s ELEVEN) Bond films. This song has outlived every 007 actor starting with “Dr. No” The composers behind the unforgettable guitar riffed song are Monty Norman and John Barry. Norman has always been the recipient of the royalties and courts have decided twice against publishers that print even a hint that Barry is the true talent behind the song just as recently as 2001 (The Sunday Times).Oh well…Barry still can be credited for 11 scores in the James Bond series. I guess producers made up their own mind who was the real James Bond movie composer of choice. I also counted 47 (most likely I missed a few…many pardons) major film scores including Lion in Winter (Academy Award Best Music and Original Score), Mary Queen of Scots (Best Score, Academy Awards), The Cotton Club (Best Big Band Jazz Instrumental Performance, Academy Awards…I didn’t know that was a category) Out of Africa (Academy Award, Best Score) and who can forget the steamy “Body Heat” Does it really matter given all Barry’s success that Norman got to keep a few James Bond royalties?

When I think of James Bond title songs, some first to mind are “Goldfinger” and “A View to a Kill” (John Barry was also credited with score composer for both of those movies). Let’s start with the later. The year was 1985, and Duran Duran ruled every one of my junior high school dances that year. Simon La Bon and John Taylor plastered many of my female friends lockers….oh and probably some of the guys too. What a shame that just has this movie was being released and sailing high. Duran Duran as a band was splitting apart, but they managed to keep it together enough to contribute “A View to a Kill.” This single remains the only Bond theme to go to Number 1 on the U.S. charts, and it also remains the highest-placed Bond theme on the UK chart, reaching Number 2. Given the songs success it is not surprising to find several covers still floating about by such bands as; Lostprophets, Paul Oscar, Gob, and Custard.

As for “Goldfinger,” has their ever been a sexier song title? Shirley Bassey can be credited for some of that. Her voice can also be heard on such songs as 'Big Spender' 'I Who Have Nothing' 'Diamonds Are Forever ''This Is My Life' 'I Am What I Am' and most interestingly Shirely Bassey’s voice can be heard on “History Repeating” by the Propellerheads. The Propellerheads quite smartly used sampling from John Barry scores. Couple that with the use of a James Bond girl in her own right, and you have indeed history repeating in sounds and singer. It is as if both were brought back to James Bond for one final kiss. Goldfinger still lives on with covers by Perez Prado and his Orchestra, Dick Hym, Ten Masked Men, and my favorite Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers.

Finally perhaps the first James Bond song I was old enough to really remember when it hit the air waves was “nobody does it better.” I think this is a song you either love or have a heart of stone for. This is a song that unlike my previous mentions…I don’t care to know the covers of it. For me, this song is for Carly Simon and nobody else….I mean really?...could anyone do it better?

Tuesday

you got your good thing and I've got mine


We've all seen the films and the television programmes where the hopeful film maker goes to pitch his idea in the office of a big fat executive (usually smoking a cigar) and either gets snapped up or shot down. I can't imagine David Lynch pitching Eraserhead to anyone and getting anything but strange looks and possibly a visit from security.

There's this guy, he's “on vacation”, he lives in a room in a desolate looking city...

OK so far..

He has a love interest he hasn't heard from for a while and he assumes it's all over when he gets invited to the family home for dinner...

So it's a romance?

Well no, she's given birth to this.. baby.. thing.. after a very brief pregnancy and she moves in with him but the thing won't stop crying so she leaves. Then there's this man in the moon, this Lady in the Radiator and a seductive woman across the hall. Oh and his head comes off into a pile of blood and then...

Security!

Yet the film did get made (thanks to a small grant from the AFI and donations from friends of Lynch) and the film is all these strange things and more. Sparse and haunting it is one of the most surreal things ever put to tape and in parts is truly disturbing. Many people have tried to describe the plot but the blurry line between dream and reality makes it a near impossible task. Many have tried to interoperate the films meaning but Lynch has gone on record as saying that never has he read an interpretation that matches his own. Exactly what the baby is no one is saying, I've heard theories ranging from blood covered calf's to plucked chickens. Whatever it is, that thing isn't normal. It's uncomfortable watching but dash out my brains if it isn't bloody compelling.

Eraserhead qualifies for Cult Classic status. It's received praise from the likes of Bukowski, Kubrick and now me. What more do you want?

But before I begin once more to forget that this is a music blog, I shall get to my point.

If there is one aspect of Eraserhead that has captured the imagination of the musical community it is The Lady in the Radiator.



The Lady in the Radiator, is she a metaphor for Death? I don't know. I'm not really one to overthink meanings when I feel that things are better left at face value. Speaking of face value, she's got some awesome looking cheeks, no? The lyrics are simple and repetitive...

In Heaven
Everything is fine


The tune is barely there so what makes this song so very interesting? Probably just that combined with the surreal magnetism of the film. Covers tend to be by alternative/punk bands and we know how arty they are.

Artists who have covered this song include Devo and Bauhaus but the best known and to my mind best covers of In Heaven - The Lady in the Radiator Song come from the Pixies. I admit to a bias, but what are you going to do? Frank Black/Black Francis belts out this song turning completely changing the feel of the whole song.

(In Heaven) The Lady in the Radiator Song - Pixies (Live at the BBC version)

Although in the reunion shows it is usually Kim Deal who takes the vocals for this one which makes for an effect not dissimilar to the original almost insipid siren call of the Lady in the Radiator.

(In Heaven) The Lady in the Radiator Song/Wave of Mutilation - Pixies (Live version 13/04/2004)

Buy: Eraserhead / Pixies (Live at the BBC) / Pixies (Complete B Sides)

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Monday

for me they will always be glorious birds

If you know me well and haven't seen Harold and Maude yet then I don't like you very much. If I made you watch it and you didn't like it very much; chances are you don't know me well anymore. I rate it that highly. Whilst I know it's terribly superficial to set standards by this sort of thing, I'm fairly certain those who don't love this film are dead inside, evil, or in the case of my father, both.

The intention of this blog is to be about music. I know that. The film is just the pictures for the soundtrack as far as this blog is concerned. I know that. But, I will take a moment just to explain that if you haven't seen this film or don't love this film, you my friend, are really losing out. In the day of blockbuster, endless remakes and blatant emotional manipulation a simple story of love and life should not be overlooked. Hal Ashby's style is one that is often copied but rarely attained.

Without the soundtrack this film would still be a very good film, however, factor in the soundtrack and you have fabulous squared. For why? Cat Stevens is why. This is my childhood right there. Sometimes childhood music however holds only sentimental value and when I first saw Harold and Maude, aged 17 in the granny annexe of a friends house, and heard the distinctively open voice of one Steven Georgiou I was extremely satisfied to discover that the music still stood up. Nowadays of course he is known as Yusef Islam and if he holds interest or mention it is always in relation to his conversion to Islam. I never hear Cat Stevens on the radio. This strikes me as a sad thing indeed.

Now, I say soundtrack in relation to Harold and Maude even though an official soundtrack does not exist. All songs have subsequently been released on other albums but only two tracks were written specifically for the film.

If the film has one unifying song, a theme song if you will, it absolutely has to be If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out. Present in all major aspects of Harold and Maude this song is simple and uplifting with a beautiful little melody and warming lyrics which captures the intented message of the film.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are




This is not however the song that grabs me most from all those that feature on this film. I cannot hear this song anymore without welling up thanks to Harold and Maude and I cannot imagine Harold and Maude without this song. I'm trying not to spoil the film for those of you who haven't seen it (weirdos) but there is a turning point in the plot at the end and it tugs on the heartstrings for numerous reasons. There are two schools of thought attached to the way this situation plays out, whether it is painful and heart wrenching or if it is another life lesson that had to be learned. As much as I can see the validity of the lesson analogy; I side with heart wrenching.

Trouble originally from Cat Stevens most acclaimed album Mona Bone Jakon is one of those songs that is heavy with emotion. It used to be one of my favourties even before I had the association of the film. I'm not the only one to feel this way about the song as there are covers by Pearl Jam, Kristin Hersh and Elliot Smith to name a few.

For your aural pleasure:

Trouble - Cat Stevens (LP version)
Trouble - Kristin Hersh
Trouble - Elliot Smith

Buy: Harold and Maude / Cat Stevens

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Sunday

Blue Movies




Welcome to Bluets. Do you like the flowers?
This is the first post on the film theme and it's such a bugger. What to write about, will it be good, what songs? Then it hits you (well, me), we're called Bluets, the theme is films, um, so films with Blue in the title.

What comes to mind then.....The Blue Lagoon? easy tiger. Derek Jarman's Blue? I watched that. Really. The Blues Brothers? Bingo!!
I'm not sure I can write anything about The Blues Brothers that hasn't been said before, well, unless I said it was shit *gasp*. It's not, so settle down. It may not be the greatest film ever, especially if you take the music out, but what it is is the best marriage of music and film that has ever graced the silver screen. I know, no matter how many times I watch it, when the Blues Brothers strike up the chords to Everybody Needs Somebody in the Palace Hotel Ballroom, and Elwood starts talking over it, hairs will stand up on the back of my neck. Hell, even if I'm not watching the film and I hear the song, I get a little shiver.
But that's the power of music and film together, they can enhance each other, a symbiotic relationship if you will. You may never see the film without the music, but if you hear the music without the film, those images come flooding back. Like a double whammy on your senses. Why do you think bands pay so much to have a decent video for their singles?

Speaking of music videos, the previously mentioned Derek Jarman is responsible for many examples of that genre, including The Smiths - Panic, There is a Light That Never Goes Out and The Queen is Dead. All were part of one short film first shown at the Edinburgh film festival in 1986 which was then divided to provide the promotional videos for each song.
In many ways Derek Jarman's Blue is the opposite of The Blues Brothers. Nothing to stimulate the viewer/listener beyond his/her interest in what they can hear. And yet, Jarman made it into a film? It is 80 minutes of blue screen with Jarman's voice and sound effects playing over it. As AIDS ravaged his body blue was the last colour he could see and in the film he relates that colour to his life and eventually his death. So we get a taste of Jarman's life not just through what he tells us, but what we can see. It's hard going, but then so is dying of AIDS.


mp3: The Smiths - There is a Light.......
mp3: The Blues Brothers - Everybody Needs Somebody

Buy: The Blues Brothers CD/DVD The Smiths Derek Jarman

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