Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Houston, Texas In The 1980's-Beatnik Edition

                                     click for crystal days mix  

It rarely got cold in Houston but every once in a while we would get something equivalent to ice or, if lucky, a tiny amount of snow.  I remember one day, probably in 1986 or 87, being off for an ice day - since ice and snow were so unusual in Texas, things tended to come to a grinding halt when we got either because no one knew how to deal with it, it's still this way.  I attended a Catholic Preparatory School in Houston so maybe we were off for a religious holiday rather than inclement weather, in either case it was definitely a cold day and we weren't in school.  So a good friend and classmate and I headed up to a local McDonalds in the Memorial area of Houston, where he lived, to meet another friend who went to Memorial High School.

This other friend might have had an an off campus lunch and planned on skipping out afterwards. He was actually more a friend of my classmates, he was a year older than us and more knowledgeable about books and literary matters, or at least seemed to be, in retrospect he might have been bluffing more than we realized.  But in general he was a good guy.  He was interested in the Beats and writing and he had two other close friends with whom he would often spend time hanging out at the neighborhood Denny's drinking coffee and talking.   Its important to point out that in the 1980's, in Texas at least, this was distinctly odd behavior for teenagers.  Coffee houses are commonplace these days, but in the 1980's there weren't really any coffeehouses, Denny's was as close as you could get, and even if there was one tucked away in some hipper area of Houston (Montrose), you wouldn't find teenagers there discussing books, music and films.

I have fond memories of this person, as he seemed like a character from a different time, out of the past, he looked very 1950's American, as if he could have been an original Beat character.  Thinking back he looked a bit like that actor from Dead Poets Society, Robert Sean Leonard, except more emaciated.  He would carry around little quotations in his pocket that he had written down from books he liked.  It sounds pretentious and I suppose he was a bit, but he was also earnest and sincere and after all we were only 16 to 17 years old, so the net effect was rather charming. But what struck me that day at McDonald's was when he pointed out that he was actually wearing two pairs of jeans, one on top of the other,  in order to keep warm.   I was strangely impressed with this homegrown ingenuity, and it didn't really look too strange, because one pair was much smaller than the other. I had never seen this before and have never seen it since.  It's odd the things that stick with you from the past.

On the way back from the McDonald's he showed me a short story he had written about a baby being dropped on its head.  It didn't make much of an impression on me, not that I had any facility for evaluating prose, for all I know it may have been good.  I was strictly a neophyte trying to learn and honestly I was probably more interested in what I imagined were the extracurricular activities surrounding a literary lifestyle, in a word KICKS, than actually trying to write or think too much about writing.  I was a pretty voracious reader though, but even the stuff I dug, like Kerouac, I didn't really get from a writing stand point till years later. I still have a book he gave me as a Christmas gift around this time, Mallarme's "A Tomb for Anatole" .

Of his group of neo-beatnik friends, one was something of a jerk; pointy face,  little round Lennon glasses, and a completely contrived attitude, almost the exact opposite of his cohort, suspicious and condescending where his friend was open and accepting.  I don't know what happened to this cat, nothing good I imagine.  I remember him dramatically and obviously over acting his intoxication during a shared trip, he was that type of character.  The third of the trio was this guy's girlfriend. She apparently had problems at home and had been taken in by his family, which was interesting and an odd set up for a suburban middle class family. Always the quietest of the group, she has apparently gone on to become a well known avant-garde musician/singer ( something of a contradiction in terms).  For a while she worked at a local record store here in Austin.  Sometime in the late 1990's I recognized her and knowing nothing of her burgeoning underground fame, said "hey I remember you, you knew D.L. back in Houston!"  She seemed embarrassed and blushing tried to end the conversation as quickly as possible saying something like, "oh yeah, yeah that was a long time ago".  It was awkward, for her, not me, I just thought, wow you were a lot cooler when you didn't think you were.

A word about the mix that accompanies this post-it's a representation of some of the music we were listening to around this time, it's not supposed to be in anyway directly related to the Beats or beatniks.  There's a lot of great music from the 1980's I've discovered after the fact (the past 20 years) but I've resisted the temptation to include any of this to try and keep it faithful to what we were actually listening to at the time in question.  For instance, the Clean's "Beatnik" thematically would have been a nice addition, but that's not what we were listening to.  I've made an annotated track listing though to give a little background on my memories of these songs.

1. The Exploding Boy-The Cure- This B-Side to "In Between Days" is one of the best things the Cure ever recorded, I was in a cover band in high school and we would play this one.  I'm a sucker for fast acoustic strumming.

2. All In My Mind (acoustic)-Love & Rockets- I had forgotten this song and how much I liked it till I listened to the Express album again a couple of years back, it definitely brings me right back to my high school years.  A friend and I saw these guys at a very small venue in Houston, it was smaller than Cullen Auditorium, more theatre size with seating, and the band was not very good- Daniel Ash had a condescending rock star attitude that was obvious enough that the audience gave him some stick about it.  

3. 7 Chinese Brothers-R.E.M.- "Smell of a sweet short-haired boy" is how I always heard that opening line. Unless you lived through this point in the 1980's it's hard to understand that at one point Michael Stipe was cool and influential, there were a lot of want to be Stipe characters around at the time, the first time I saw REM live on the Fables tour (Cullen Auditorium on the University of Houston campus) there was a guy right up front dressed exactly as Stipe had been the last time he was in Houston on the Reckoning tour.  Where did all the Michael Stipe clones go?  

In any case enigmatic was the operative word, that and a sort of deliberate thrift store aesthetic. He did it well.  I remember reading as a child the Five Chinese Brothers book that Stipe is alluding to here, where one of the brothers swallowed the ocean, it stuck with me and hearing this song immediately connected with that memory in a way that made the whole song feel strangely familiar and nostalgic.  In their early interviews Stipe and Buck would talk of a lyrical strategy of re-contextualizing old sayings, cliches, and images from mythology, and childhood memories.  I was a fan and so I followed them through most of the 80's, but in retrospect they peaked with either this one or Fables.  Reckoning is still my favorite.

4. Hey- The Butthole Surfers- I bought the Butthole's first E.P. at Sound Exchange on a trip to Austin for my 15th birthday in 1985.  I remember my friend James and I played it on the wrong speed the first time through and it actually sounded pretty good at 35 rpm as well as its intended 45 rpm.  Its still the best thing they ever did, the blueprint for everything else they would do is all there in its seven songs.  "Hey" is a modern psychedelia at its best and probably one of the most gentle of their offerings. I remember my Dad shaking his head with equal amounts of dismay and amusement that their was a band with such a name.

5. Coney Island Steeplechase- The Velvet Underground- Unreleased Velvets finally saw official release in 1985-86 first with VU and then Another View.  The critical steam that had been building around the band since their demise was reaching its logical conclusion with these releases and the re-release of their first three albums around the same time. It didn't hurt that the Velvets were name checked by pretty much every worthwhile band at the time, most of these bands probably grew up reading their critical champions in the pages of Creem and Bomp and the like.  I particularly like Lou's lyrics in this one- "like a sister and brother who cling to each other when they find out their parents are mad, it would be so nice, like summer with ice".  Creem even put the Velvets on the cover of their November 1987 issue.

6. Rusholme Ruffians-The Smiths- A favorite from Meat is Murder centering around a riff adapted from Elvis's version of the Pomus/Shuman song "His Latest Flame".  The Smiths played in Houston, I think it was on the tour in support of The Queen is Dead and I remember thinking since I didn't have a car or any other way to get there that I'd just have to see them the next time, but the next time never came.  I dig the fairground atmosphere and the  picturesque narrative on "Rusholme Ruffians" and it ties in nicely with the Velvet's ode to Coney Island's Steeplechase

7. My Movie-JFA- Arizona's J.F.A. had one of the funniest names ever for a hardcore band, it stood for Jodie Foster's Army, see John Hinckley Jr. . They started out as a skatepunk band and developed into weird modern psychedelia on this My Movie single, which I still own in picture sleeve and colored vinyl.  Another childhood regret is that I never bought a JFA paisley skateboard, a beautiful looking board that now goes for a couple of hundred on ebay.  I did have a couple of paisley shirts circa 85-86 and when I wore them to school I was teased continually "hey there's sperm on your shirt", ahh schooldays.

8. Add It Up- Violent Femmes- The first Violent Femmes record got so much play in the 80's, you heard it everywhere (like Paul's Boutique in the early 90's), that it quickly became overkill, but its been long enough since I've heard this record that it sounds fresh again.  I don't think I owned the vinyl at the time, I just had a cassette dub.  Nice hypnotic rhythmic vocalizing and with the semi- acoustic backing it does conjure a neo-beat feel.

9. Somewhere Else-Doctor's Mob- These guys were out of Austin, I saw them perform this song in 1985 on an MTV show that IRS records produced called The Cutting Edge.  It was a more interesting predecessor to 120 Minutes, hosted by the Fleshtones' always enjoyable Peter Zaremba.  This particular episode, which I think was titled the austin music avalanche was (natch) a special on the Austin Music scene. I still have the VHS dub I made at the time, and it got tons of play. Unfortunately by the time I got to Austin four years later white funk and sub-buttholes noise bands were all the rage rather than these garage pop guitar bands a mid-80's Austin phenomenon that was loosely grouped under the title "new sincerity".

10. As It Is When It Was-New Order- Another song I had forgotten about till recently, I had Brotherhood on vinyl and used to listen to it a lot.  A lot of their songs play on a cloying melancholy, both lyrically and melodically, but it works, for me.  Their influence on Pavement, at least vocally, has been largely overlooked.

11. Crystal Days-Echo and the Bunnymen- I remember buying a second hand copy of Ocean Rain as a teenager, the cover really pulled me in and the music didn't disappoint.  Always a sucker for pop it had more immediate appeal for me than their other record I already owned Crocodiles - a great record as well (and another evocative cover) that just took me longer to appreciate. 

12. Garoux Des Larmes-Throwing Muses- I had the EP this is from, The Fat Skier  on vinyl, its still my favorite record by this band.  They seem to be largely forgotten these days but they were right up there at the time.  They were one of the American bands that were on 4AD for a while at least, which always seemed weird as 4AD seemed so, uhm, British.

13. Sound on Sound- Big Boys- I do believe that I purchased this record, Lullabies Make the Brain Grow, on the same 1985 birthday trip to Austin. Another interesting coincidence I haven't mentioned is that this weekend trip was the same weekend that MTV was in town filming the Cutting Edge special on Austin, there were flyers up all over the town for it.  "Sound on Sound" is not typical of the Big Boys sound, an Austin band whose music was diverse but usually stretched from hardcore skate stuff to a punk/funk hybrid that was surprisingly listenable.  

14. When the Shit Hits the Fan- The Circle Jerks- Why is American hardcore so much better than a lot of the English Oi stuff that inspired at least the seed of its sound? I dunno, it just seems weirder, funnier, and way more interesting and varied.  It has more personality, or at least the brightest lights did.  Or maybe its not as influential as I thought, it does seem to have developed at roughly the same time. Keith Morris is one of the greatest punk/hardcore singers ever.  I like the way this sits next to the following track.

15. Highway 61 Revisited-Bob Dylan- I had a store bought cassette of this album that received continual play in my first car in 1987.  We spent many a stoned afternoon after school driving around with no particular place to go listening to this at top volume.  In the 80's it was somewhat strange for kids to listen to Dylan.

16. Trails of Colour Dissolve-Felt- The first FELT record I heard was the compilation Goldmine Trash which was released in 1987.  It forever altered the way I heard music, it was a perfect distillation of most of the things I liked about pop, especially the way the guitars sound.  The bongos give it a bit of a Beat vibe and Lawrence was an enthusiastic fan of the Beats.  

17. Up On the Sun- The Meat Puppets- On this record the Meat Puppets channeled a stoned, more down to earth and funny version of REM, and it sounded perfect.

18. Second Guessing-REM- Again they loomed so large at the time, at least in my world (big fame was still a distant point on the horizon), that they easily rate a second song here.  I love all of Reckoning and was tempted to stick "Time after Time" on here just to fuck with S.M..  

19. Brave Men Run- Sonic Youth- I don't think Sonic Youth has put out a good record in over 20 years, but Bad Moon Rising, EVOL and Sister (their best) stand up nicely.  Daydream Nation is overrated but good, and after the "has its moments" of Goo it was all downhill.

20. A Few Hours After This- The Cure- Another great Cure B-Side, and now you've got their two best b-sides!  Robert Christgau had a funny and insightful line about the Robert Smith's songs, my taste differs greatly from Christgau's but he's always pithy and often funny- he said in a largely sympathetic and positive review of the Head on the Door "it's more like he doesn't know the difference between loneliness, solipsism, and satori". 

21. I Don't Owe You Anything- The Smiths- I didn't hear Sandie Shaw's version till years later but it clearly illustrates Morrissey and Marr's adeptness at composing an updated take on the 60's girl singer form.  This might be my favorite song on their debut album, my favorite record by the Smiths.

22. Ambiguity Song- Camper Van Beethoven- Another under appreciated band, maybe too funny and eclectic for their own good (historically speaking), but therein lay a large part of their appeal.  

23. Goin' Back- The Byrds- A sentimental choice, but I'm a sentimental person, so there you have it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

1966-Could You Walk On The Water?

Could You Walk On The Water? (< click) is one of those great, mythical "almost was" records. It was completed in late 1965 and the band hoped to release the record early in 1966.  It was set to include ten tracks, nine of which had just been recorded at RCA studios in Hollywood in a session that lasted from December 3rd - the 8th of 1965.  The tenth track "Looking Tired", perhaps referencing Brian (check out those bags), was recorded in an RCA session in September of 1965. Having suffered in the U.S. from patchwork albums that featured randomly thrown together tracks recorded in different studios at widely different times, this would have been their first of a piece record and the first that consisted of all original material, showcasing the rapid growth of the Jagger/Richards songwriting team. 

Decca balked at releasing a record with such an openly blasphemous and controversial title and by the time the band realized their label wasn't bluffing, they had recorded enough new material to fill out a very different record, which became that Summer's Aftermath.  In America in February of 1966 "19th Nervous Breakdown" was released as a single with the amazing "Sad Day" as the b-side.  Of the 10 proposed tracks for Could You Walk on the Water? only three, "Think", "Doncha Bother Me" and "Going Home" ended up on the American version of Aftermath, which continued the tradition of butchering the original British track sequencing for U.S. consumption.  The British version of Aftermath, released in April of 1966, included five of the ten songs, "Mother's Little Helper" and "Take It Or Leave It" in addition to the three aforementioned tracks that made it on the American version.

The proposed cover of Could You Walk on the Water?, taken at a water reservoir in Los Angeles (Franklin Canyon where the Sounds of Silence cover was also shot) and capturing the Stones at their visual mid-60's peak, was used in the U.S. that Spring for the nicely titled compilation Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass).  Many believe the color pictures included in the booklet for Big Hits were also supposed to be part of the packaging for Could You Walk on the Water. The cover features Brian Jones at his iconic best; bright red corduroys, black turtleneck, perfect hair, and very noticeable bags under the eyes.  Brian was still very much in the forefront of the band, Jagger's shrinking a bit behind him in baby blue and Keith's even further back with the nice suede jacket and hands folded demurely.  But Brian is right up in the camera, mouth slightly open, staring right into the lens, heavy eyed, wasted and defiant, basically encapsulating and embodying the whole Stones mythos.

The Stones output from 1964-1967 is my absolute favorite period of the band, in large part due to the presence Jones brought, first to their original image and R&B covers (high energy slide and harp), and then later the expert way he colored in their more pop and psychedelic excursions with exotic instrumentation that often makes the song; the dulcimer on "Lady Jane", the marimba on "Under My Thumb", the sitar on "Paint It Black", the recorder on "Ruby Tuesday", the mellotron on "2000 Light Years From Home" the list goes on.   With a band as well known and over exposed as the Stones it seems to strange to talk about under appreciated work, but for many of their fans the band really begins with trio of Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers (great albums to be sure) and the material before this is known mainly in cursory fashion for the bigger hits.  Especially neglected then are the deeper album tracks and b-sides from 1965-1967; "Who's Driving Your Plane", "Sad Day", "Blue Turns to Grey", "The Singer Not the Song", "Complicated", "Please Go Home", "She Smiled Sweetly" "Citadel", "We Love You", "Dandelion" and the like. These songs and records such as December's Children, Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Flowers, and Their Satanic Majesties, display a pop and psychedelic influence and sound that, perhaps because of the loss of Brian Jones, the Stones would sadly never revisit.

Though Aftermath is a overall a stronger record it's fascinating to think about this record, with this cover, title and track listing being released at the beginning of 1966 and the impact it might have had.  It definitely hangs together well as an album and illustrates how quickly the band was developing from their R&B roots to original and imaginatively arranged and produced pop/rock.  The title alone might have unleashed, similar furor to Lennon's comments on Christianity which resulted in death threats and record burning in the U.S. later in '66 and contributed to the Beatles decision to stop touring.  And in retrospect the title seems entirely appropriate for the amazing year of music that 1966 turned out to be, it certainly feels like some of these bands were approaching levels of miraculous inspiration. Consider just a partial run down of records released in 1966; Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds, The Byrd's Fifth Dimension, The Lovin' Spoonful's Daydream, Revolver, Face to Face, The Psychedelic Sounds of the13th Floor Elevators, Love, Buffalo Springfield and The Monkees.  And that's just scratching the surface.

I'm unsure whether or not the edited or full length version of "Going Home" would have been included on this record but I've chosen to go with the edited version as I find it increases the appeal of the song considerably, as their attempts to stretch out on that one fall somewhat flat.  So here for your consideration and the POP daydreaming potential of a period that passed far too quickly is Could You Walk on the Water?  

1. 19th Nervous Breakdown
2. Sad Day
3. Take It Or Leave It
4. Think
5. Mother's Little Helper
6. Going Home (edited)
7. Sittin' On A Fence
8. Don't You Follow Me (aka Doncha Bother Me)
9. Ride On, Baby
10. Looking Tired

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tomorrow Is Where the Past Is -1971's A Safe Place

                               to enter her mind click here--> A Safe Place Soundtrack 

I recently saw Henry Jaglom's A Safe Place for the first time and was completely floored by the experience, it's one of those films that sticks with you and resonates long after you've seen it. A film that makes you realize just how much the medium can achieve when in the right hands.  A Safe Place had been largely unavailable, having only a brief theatrical run and never being released on VHS or DVD, until Criterion's recent dvd box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story.  BBS was a production company created by Bob Rafelson, Burt Schneider, and Steve Blauner that in the late 1960's and early 1970's created some of the most distinct and innovative movies to come out of the New Hollywood;  Head, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens (all included in the box set along with Drive, He Said, The Last Picture Show and A Safe Place).

A Safe Place, based on a play originally written and directed by Jaglom in the early 60's, was first released late in 1971.  It's a complex movie, one that benefits from multiple viewings.  It's narrative is told in impressionistic fashion placing the viewer inside the mind of its main character, played by Tuesday Weld.  Jaglom explains, in one of several of the dvd's bonus features, that one of the themes of the film is how we perceive time in an emotional sense, consequently the films narrative is non linear, cutting back and forth from the past and present and returning to earlier motifs/scenes regularly to add resonance and meaning - as we often think back on the past in the present which is continually becoming the past. At times the audio played over the visual is from a different point in time entirely, it calls for attentive viewing, but the effect is not as scattershot or experimental as it may sound.  These kind of narrative techniques weren't new in film at the time, but Jaglom's handling of them and the overall impact it has (in other words just how completely successful he is of setting the viewer down inside the mind of the film's main character) is staggering, especially when you realize that this was his first film.

My first reaction to the main character of Noah, played by Tuesday Weld, was slight annoyance (apologies to Anais), as her suitor says she's "pretty, sad and weird as hell".   Her childlike world and her insistence on others meeting her there, if at all, seemed indulgent and often resulted in frustration and cruelty, for children can be as cruel and frustrating as they can be charming.  Whether or not the character and her attempts to preserve the wonder, magic and freedom she knew in childhood (a safe place?), is being celebrated or just depicted is up for debate.  Jaglom seems in the retrospective interview to be somewhat critical of the character's "peter pan syndrome" and the film's "romanticization of suicide" though as he notes it was indicative of the time.  On subsequent viewings its easier to appreciate the humanity in both the character and her plight, her fascination with wonder, her desire to infuse reality with her dreams, her fear of the loss of magic and her frustration at her inability to remember the formula for flying, which she swears as a child she was able to do.

The performances in A Safe Place are warm and naturalistic, incredibly so - this achievement is driven home by the bonus material that includes auditions of other actors in the main roles, all of which fall flat.  Tuesday Weld embodies the character so completely its difficult to not feel, and I mean to take nothing away from her great performance, that in some respect she is playing herself.  Jaglom has said that the character is a composite of himself, his former girlfriend Karen Black and Weld.  A personal favorite though is Orson Welles in his role as a magician in Central Park who is a friendly father figure to Weld's character.  Or is he simply a projection of her mind?  Orson Welles with both the great achievements and disappointments of his own life, can't help but imbue a pathos to this character, who wishes to make real as opposed to stage magic-he regularly attempts to make animals in the zoo disappear.

Philip Proctor, of Firesign Theatre fame, is also engagingly empathetic as the put upon suitor of Weld's character (in a way representing the viewer or male viewer at least), who struggles awkwardly to get close to her and her world.  Jack Nicholson, though receiving top billing, has a small but pivotal role, playing to type as a wise ass insensitive jerk that women find irresistible, he appears, quickly disrupts the lives of the main characters and vanishes (for a very different performance from Jack check out King of Marvin Gardens) .  And there are many wonderful smaller performances in the film, such as a strange and moving monologue by Gwen Welles (no relation to Orson), on degradation, isolation and suicide, which ends in the character speaking tearfully straight to camera.

The soundtrack of A Safe Place, (never released though assembled here for your enjoyment) which features poignant songs from the 1940's, adds considerably to the wistful mood and dreamlike trance of the film.   In the commentary included on the dvd Jaglom says he took a friend's collection of 78's and separated them into two piles, songs that made him cry and ones that didn't and then only used the ones that made him cry.  The juxtaposition of early 1970's Manhattan and the somewhat hippie-ish main characters with the wistful and romantic music of several decades prior is one of Jaglom's many strokes of genius.  The soundtrack to the film is strange, magical, and completely unique, with the music voicing, commenting on and intertwining with themes of the film.

Upon release A Safe Place met with indifference from the general public and divided critical opinion.  However, one of its notable champions was writer Anais Nin, who after a private screening went home and penned the following in praise of the film.  Notice how Anais Nin seems to posit the safe place as death, as opposed to the dreamlike world the main character attempts to live in.  One of the many beautiful things about this movie is just how open it remains to interpretation.


From the early beginnings of the motion picture, Antonin Artaud said that only films would be able to depict dreams, fantasies, the surrealist aspect of our experience. But very soon movies veered away from that magic power and turned to one-dimensional stories. Very few made attempts to penetrate the deeper layers of our way of experiencing life. Yet film was the perfect medium for capturing our inner life.

We know, we are aware of how our lives are an intermingling of dream, reality, illusion, fantasy, childhood influences, and wishes. As soon as I saw “A Safe Place,” I knew this was the film which attempted to penetrate that level and did so with unusual sensitivity and skill. It was a perfect fusion, the perfect superimposition of memory, dream, illusion, and the grappling with reality.

The writer-director Henry Jaglom accomplishes this extraordinary feat while situating his story in the most ordinary of all backgrounds: Central Park, New York, and the roofs of apartment houses in Manhattan. This magic transformation of reality by the dream, he tells us, can take place anywhere. It is in Central Park that the magician (Orson Welles), who so deeply affects the child in the woman, (Tuesday Weld), practices his skills. There is delightful humor, tender and wistful scenes, as when the girl shows her secret box in which she keeps her wish and the young man wants to open it. She knows that the day it is opened it might be empty, as the magician’s hands are occasionally empty. There is a beautiful scene in which she hides in a closet from the luxury and art of the young man’s background, which does not reach her, and where she contemplates the nature of love as it is expressed in different eyes. The writing here is that of a poet.

The theme, which runs through “A Safe Place” like a musical motif and gives the many-leveled story its continuity, is the constant return to the real bond between the girl and the magician. The girl bounces back from every encounter with love to the magician who performed for her when she was little. She is obsessed with the memory that, as a child, she was able to fly. She insists that the rational young man who loves her (Philip Proctor) should believe this. It is important that he believe this. The symbolism of what she is trying to reach, to assert, to seek, is deeply moving: she seeks a dimension in life in which dream and reality are fused. Everything in this film has to be interpreted as we interpret dreams.

One of the great seductions of “A Safe Place” is the perfection of atmosphere and poetic elements. The simplicity of the realistic scenes, a table at an open-air restaurant, a sun deck, and their facile replacement by a scene of fantasy. The hunger for magic. The girl’s recognition that she cannot love in a human way: No one has found the key to the locked box which she is for others. There is in this film great mobility, fluidity, a sensuous dwelling on color, light, facial expressions, with an original use of silence. The accompaniament of music and the flow of the images serve to connect these worlds which we have kept separate.

In most films, what takes place in our feelings, the imagery of our dreams around events, is rarely filmed. We know it is an external image, we know the dimensions are missing, that it is hard as a wall. We are not stirred deeply. The depths have been left untouched. In “A Safe Place” it is this depth which is touched, it affects one almost subconsciously. We become aware of what we aspire to, seek, may or may not find. All the subtle dreams and fantasies which colour our experience are captured here. The inner world of a young woman becomes as vivid as her outer world. Here is a dimension left out of other films. A new vision, more encompassing, of feeling, tenderness and humor.

The magician’s only failure is that he cannot make things disappear. In the world of childhood wishes they visit the zoo together, the most humorous part of the film. The elephant, the lion, and the Ilama do not disappear. He does make one lover disappear, but this is the lover who disappears anyway after each encounter (Jack Nicholson). But the wish to disappear has been transferred to the girl. When she meets with love divided, the lover who does not love, and the lover whom she cannot love in return, she thinks of disappearing. That she disappears in death seems natural. Magic has failed her, but at least she can disappear. For the first time in “A Safe Place” we find a description of the mixture we live by, this interweaving of dream, childhood wishes for magic power, fantasy interfering with experience, the constant transformation of reality by illusion. There is great tenderness and understanding of the power of the dream, a marvelous skill in seizing upon its subtle influence, a great daring in erasing the boundaries to immerse you in the very heart of it.

“A Safe Place” is an impressionistic film, an X ray of our psychic life, which gives an insight instantly into the secret self. Those who may be irritated are those who have always feared the depths and who, in spite of so many proofs to the contrary, think we live in a rational world. Better to face the minotaur of our dreams and know their fragility and gain a deeper understanding of the human dilemma. What makes for loneliness, “A Safe Place” says, is our inability to share our dreams. Those who fail to understand this film will drive themselves and others to the safe place of nonexistence. The real magician here is Henry Jaglom, because our fantasy, for the first time, is set free on film.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In A Lonely Place-Soundtrack to a Gray Day


It was a gray overcast day, heavy with fog, as we made our way on US Interstate 90 south towards 
the border town.  Getting through Austin and San Antonio is always a great relief, as you watch the city of San Antonio disappear in your rear view mirror, and along with it massive traffic congestion and a freeway littered with roadkill, the land visibly opens up and the traffic thins and you know that you are entering the more rural and relaxed stretch of road that is I-90.  But something about the persistent low lying fog that day gave the whole drive an air of noirish intrigue.  

Other than the occasional passing car there were no people to be seen, only landscapes, though the landscapes themselves seemed to anthropomorphize at a surprisingly rapid rate taking on all kinds of portentous meaning.  We passed a solitary grove shrouded in mist and seemingly alive with palpable mystery, there was an air of foreboding in its countenance, as if it was whispering a warning to maintain a safe distance, to stay in the car and keep moving along.

It felt as if we were not only driving through space but that time itself was receding and we were journeying back into the past.  Everything we saw as we drove along had a look of age and dilapidation. Old rusted bridges, weathered windmills, Union Pacific rail cars and metal cattle on ranch signs all seemed to radiate with atavistic remembrance of down on their luck drifters, family secrets and recriminations passed down over generations, working men killing time in bars after hours of hard labor, and a small town torn apart by a never solved murder that passed into folklore and song.  The Corridas sung here detail death over spoiled milk.

The towns floated by trancelike, Castroville, D'hanis, Knippa, Bracketville, names that felt strange on your tongue when spoken aloud, like some ancient incantation. Somewhere between Uvalde and Bracketville we passed an abandoned brick house caved in on itself, lonely and haunted on the side of the highway. Gnarled trees were slowly encroaching on the broken brick with an almost imperceptible creeping, working their way inside and taking root, returning the structure to its natural surroundings.  The house was being reabsorbed by the landscape.

That night, after we finally reached our destination, and I laid down to sleep I found myself passing into dreams in which I wandered alone in similar desolate and haunted surroundings, the only sound was soft and familiar music playing somewhere in the background.  When I woke in the morning the music was still there and as the dream faded, I realized what had soundtracked my dreams was an all night station radio station seeping through the thin walls from the motel room next door.  I leaned over and flipped on the TV and a movie directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Bogart and Gloria Grahame was just starting.  I laid back on the bed to watch the film and let my mind slowly turn over thoughts on how the divisions between dream and waking, and past and present seemed somehow more porous in this part of the country.

1. Theme from the Conversation-David Shire
2. Yesterday is Here-Tom Waits
3. Solo on a Raft-Walter Scharf
4. The Lonesome Road-Frank Sinatra
5. Generique-Miles Davis
6. End of the Night-The Doors
7. Girl of My Dreams-Trevor Jones
8. One For My Baby- Oscar Brown Jr.
9. Bebes-Tindersticks
10. All of You- Helen Merrill
11. Strangers in the Day- John Lurie
12. Lost & Lookin'- Sam Cooke
13. Mort De Felix- Tindersticks
14. After the Lights Go Out- The Walker Brothers
15. If I Should Lose You- Charlie Parker
16. The Lonely One- Nat King Cole
17. To the Office/Elevator-David Shire
18. Ballade Pour Un Cloporte- Jimmy Smith
19. Lament for a Trapped Spy- Gerald Fried
20. Angel Eyes-Jack Jones
21. Are You Warm Enough- John Lurie
22. Joe- Scott Walker
23. Angelitos Negros-Eartha Kitt
24. Some Small Chance-Serge Gainsbourg
25. Stairway to the Stars- Johnny Hartman
26. Nosferatur- Tindersticks
27. Swordfishtrombones-Tom Waits
29. Paradise Cove-The Surfmen
30. Lipstick Traces- Benny Spellman