Music Video of the Day: The Perfect Kiss by New Order (1985, dir. Jonathan Demme)


Rest in peace, Jonathan Demme.

New Order is a band that was formed by the remaining members of Joy Division after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis. To most people, they are probably best-known for their song Blue Monday. That’s how I know of them. I think this is the first time I have heard another song by them.

Obviously the video is notable for the fact that it runs just short of 11 minutes with credits. Visually, there is a disconnection between the members of the band, and themselves with their instruments. There isn’t even a shot of the whole band together till halfway through the video. There’s a solemn mood about the whole thing–from the walls, to the looks on their faces. It was apparently shot in the band’s practice room. You can see a Joy Division poster in the background, which adds even more sadness to the whole thing.

From what I have read, this was a live video. That would explain why their isn’t a lot of glamour here. Maybe if this were on a stage, and in front of an audience, then it would. But this is just in their practice room. There is a nice article over on Billboard magazine’s website that goes into more detail than I can, but it boils down to the same thing. It is a noteworthy live video that captures New Order–warts and all–performing an exhausting composition live, alone, and far from any kind of glamour or artiness of a Blue Monday ’88 or Regret. If I had to guess, the disconnection was intentional in order to visually convey the separation of the different artists’ parts in the song, the concentration that purges the individual to a well-oiled machine, and the fact that some of the song was performed on the fly, while other parts were pre-programmed.

Enjoy!

Jonathan Demme, RIP


I just saw, on twitter, that Jonathan Demme died today in New York City.  He was 73 years old.

It’s ironic that Jonathan Demme’s best known film was the dark and harsh Silence of the Lambs because Demme was actually one of the most humanistic directors out there.  Starting with his work for Roger Corman in the early 70s, Demme worked in all genres.  He did gangster movies, action films, quirky comedies, socially conscious documentaries, and serious prestige dramas.  His directorial debut, Caged Heat, features one of Barbara Steele’s best performances and is considered to be the standard by which all other women in prison films are judged.  His concert film, Stop Making Sense, is widely considered to be the best concert film ever made.  His work on Silence of the Lambs continues to influence the horror genre to this day and Philadelphia was the first studio picture to be made about AIDS.  Even his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was better than the typical remake.  No matter what genre he was working in, the thing that remained a constant was Demme’s own interest in the human condition.  His films felt alive in a way that few directors have ever been able to duplicate.  His influence is obvious in the work of everyone from Wes Anderson to Paul Thomas Anderson to Alexander Payne.

Demme may be best known for The Silence of the Lambs but my favorite of his films will always be Rachel Getting Married.

Jonathan Demme, RIP.

A Movie A Day #1: Stop Making Sense (1984, directed by Jonathan Demme)


stop_making_sense_poster_originalA pair of immaculate white sneakers, being worn by the lead singer of The Talking Heads, David Byrne, walk out onto a bare stage while an unseen audience applauds.  Byrne places a radio on the stage beside him and says, “I have a tape I want to play for you.”  Accompanied only by a drum machine and an acoustic guitar, Byrne launches into a performance of Psycho Killer that ends with him lurching across the stage like a marionette that is losing its strings.

So begins the greatest concert film of all time, Stop Making Sense.

As Psycho Killer comes to an end, Byrne is joined on stage by bassist Tina Weymouth.  While Byrne and Weymouth perform Heaven, the black-clad stage crew sets up a drum kit behind them.  Drummer Chris Frantz comes out for the third song, Thank You For Sending Me An Angel.  The fourth member of the Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison, appears on stage for Found A Job and is then followed by several touring members of the band, including legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Alex Weir, percussionist Steve Scales, and backup singers, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt.  It’s not until the concert’s sixth song, Burning Down The House, that the entire band is on stage.

Pieced together from three separate shows performed at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, Stop Making Sense showcases one of the most important bands of the 80s at their absolute best.  Eschewing any candid footage of the band backstage and only occasionally showing any shots of the audience, Jonathan Demme keeps the focus on the music and David Byrne’s amazing showmanship.  Even more than the music, what really makes Stop Making Sense stand out is Byrne’s physicality.  During one instrumental passage, Byrne even runs around the stage in circles before jumping back to his microphone without missing a beat.

Though the entire band is in great form, Byrne is almost always the focus of attention.  The only time he’s not is when he goes backstage during a performance of Genius Of Love by Weymouth and Frantz’s side project, The Tom Tom Club.  During that time, Byrne is changing into the “big suit,” the costume that continues to define the Talking Heads to this day.

Along with Burning Down The House, highlights include Life During Wartime,

Swamp,

Once in a Lifetime,

and Stop Making Sense‘s most famous moment, David Byrne performing Girlfriend is Better while wearing the iconic “big suit.”

Stop Making Sense is a fun, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting concert film and, given all the bad feelings that exist between Byrne and the other three members of the band, it’s probably as close as any of us will ever get to experiencing The Talking Heads live.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, I’ll be explaining why Blue Chips always makes me think of England.

Horror on the Lens: The Incredible Melting Man (dir by William Sachs)


Today’s horror on the lens is a science fiction/horror film from 1977!

In The Incredible Melting Man, the first manned spaceflight to Saturn does not go well.  Three astronauts went up but only one came down.  And that one astronaut is both kinda crazy and melting!  Seriously, it’s a big mess.

Apparently, one of the victims of the incredible melting man is played by director Jonathan Demme.  See if you can spot him!  It’ll be fun.

(I’m not really sure what Jonathan Demme looks like so you’ll probably have better luck with it than me.)

Enjoy!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Black Sunday, 8 1/2, I maniaci, Caged Heat


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy birthday to the wonderful and iconic actress, Barbara Steele!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

8  1/2 (1963, dir by Federico Fellini)

8 1/2 (1963, dir by Federico Fellini)

I maniaci (1964, dir by Lucio Fulci)

I maniaci (1964, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Caged Heat (1974, dir by Jonathan Demme)

Caged Heat (1974, dir by Jonathan Demme)

 

44 Days of Paranoia #42: The Manchurian Candidate (dir by Jonathan Demme)


For our next entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate.  (You can read my review of the original by clicking on this sentence.)

During the first Gulf War, when a platoon of soldiers is attacked by Iraqi forces, their lives are saved by Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber).  Raymond receives the congressional medal of honor and is eventually elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  In many ways, Shaw is continuing the family business.  Not only was his father a Senator but so is his powerful and calculating mother (Meryl Streep).  As the film opens, Raymond Shaw has just been nominated for the vice presidency.  A strife-torn America looks to Shaw to save the country.  After all, he’s a war hero.

Or is he?

Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), who was a member of Shaw’s platoon, has spent the last few years having nightmares in which he and the other members of the platoon — including Shaw — were captured, brainwashed, and had implants inserted into their bodies.  When Marco discovers that the other members of his platoon have been having the exact same nightmare, he starts to investigate on his own.

When I first started watching this version of The Manchurian Candidate, my initial response was to go, “Bleh!  Remake!”  There’s a reason why most film bloggers automatically despise any and all remakes.  Usually, they add little to the original version and they rarely improve over what was previously there.  Even worse, remakes often times seem to be directed by some of the worst hacks in Hollywood.  What’s more insulting — to have your movie remade or to have it remade by Brett Ratner?

However, Jonathan Demme is not your typical Hollywood hack and that became quickly obvious as I watched his remake of The Manchurian Candidate.  Both Demme’s direction and the screenplay by Daniel Pine and Dean Georgaris show a lot of respect for the original while also providing a few surprises of their own.  Demme creates a convincing portrait of a society that has been consumed by secrecy and is now running the risk of collapsing under the weight of conspiracy.

Unfortunately, the remake doesn’t quite capture the satiric bite of the original.  One of the things that made the original Manchurian Candidate so memorable was the fact that both sides of the ideological divide were ultimately portrayed as being empty, shallow, and ultimately destructive.  The ultimate message was that neither the left nor the right should be trusted.  The remake is a lot more specific about who the villains are and what they believe in and, as a result, its attempts at social and political commentary are a lot more predictable.  The original Manchurian Candidate could both entertain you and make you think.  The remake is very entertaining but never quite thought-provoking.

While it can’t hope to improve on the original, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate is a well-made and compelling action film that features a trio of great performances from Denzel Washington, Liev Schrieber, and especially Meryl Streep.  As her performance here shows, Meryl really should be playing more villains because her performance here is not only impressive but also fun to watch.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury
  40. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  41. Shattered Glass

6 Trailers For America


Flag (Erin Nicole Bowman, 2010)

Seeing as how its the July 4th weekend, this latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers is dedicated to America.

1) American Ninja (1985)

Let’s start out with this celebration of the fact that Americans always do it better.  Yes, the film was originally titled American Warrior.  Apparently, ninjas are more appealing than just plain old warriors.

2) The Last Hunter (1984)

From director Antonio Margheriti comes one of the best Namsploitation films ever.  How can you go wrong with David Warbeck?

3) Fighting Mad (1976)

What could possibly be more American than Peter Fonda getting mad and killing people?  This was an early film from future “mainstream” director Jonathan Demme.

4) Thunder Alley (1967)

Well, there might be one thing more American than Peter Fonda killing people and that would have to be Nascar.  I’m not sure if they called Nascar Nascar back in 1967 but the idea appears to be the same.

5) Blood Beach (1981)

Let’s celebrate another piece of pure Americana: the beach movie.  John Saxon and Burt Young apparently battle a big hole in the sand.

6) Django Against Sartana (1970)

Finally, what could be more American than a western from Italy?