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Lewis Saul
Tucson, AZ
Lewis Saul (b. 1952) is a composer who lives in Tucson, AZ. He studied composition at Juilliard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.
Interests: Music, Film, Literature, Poetry, Judaism
Recent Activity
My favorite was the story about the domesticated birds who escaped their cages and taught their wild counterparts how to swear ~ I could see a whole short story there! GREAT stuff, Ms. Kelley!
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RELEASES #81-94 (2007-2012) 81. The Dub Room Special! (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20006, August 24, 2007) This is the soundtrack for a television program FZ put together in 1974 called "A Token of His Extreme." This planned show was released on DVD for the first time only recently. However, the basic television broadcast was actually one of the very first video projects released by FZ's home label, Honker Home Video, and was entitled "The Dub Room Special." It featured FZ in a video mixing room (wearing the bizarre "stereo" helmet seen on the cover!) and moving between clips of the '74 band at KCET and the '81 band (Palladium, NYC, Halloween '81). As stated above (#20), comparing the "Inca Roads" here with what ended up on the album is both instructive and awesome... 82. Wazoo (2CD, Vaulternative VR 2007-2, October 31, 2007) A special document of an underappreciated and very much under-represented-by-recordings era. FZ introduces the band: ... [Well, here we are in Boston, ladies and gentlemen. Just to fill you in on some of the zaniness that took place earlier this] ... afternoon. In the process of examining the stage to make sure that it was fit for human consumption, these large objects over here on the side with the horns on top of 'em—you know those speakers there?—they fell over backwards and completely mangled Jay Migliori's woodwind instruments. So Mr. Migliori is at a certain disadvantage this evening. We just thought we'd let you know. Fortunately, Mr. Migliori was not sitting there when the cabinets went down, so that part's okay. Well, now that we got that over with, I'd like to introduce the rest of the lads in the band—and the ladies in the band—to all of you here. Let's start up in the top, with trumpet number one, Malcolm McNab. And the indispensible Salvator Marquez. And on pygmy trumpet and tuba, Tom Malone. And Bruce Fowler on trombone. And Glenn "hands up, face to the wall" Ferris on trombone. And Kenny "always jovial" Shroyer on trombone. And Ruth "also jovial" Underwood on marimba. That's a jovial little marimba. And Tom "with one smashed hand" Raney on congas. And, over here in the wind section, you already know Jay. Play something, Jay. That one works. And Mike Altschul. Ray "The Phantom" Reed. Charles "up and down" Owens. Joann Caldwell McNab. Earle Dumler. Wait, wait. Try that one again. Can you hear him? That's a little bit better, yeah. Just a minute now. Jerry Kessler on cello. Ian Underwood on keyboards, et cetera. Jim Gordon on drums. Dave Parlato on bass. And Tony Duran on slide guitar. This is where you wanna go to check out the details on these fabulous live versions of the two big-band records of 1972 -- #15 and 16. Frank Zappa's Big Band Projects of 1972 and This reproduction of the Warners circular -- which Gail has reproduced in the liner notes herein. 83. One Shot Deal (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20007, June... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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RELEASES #68-81 (1998-2007) 68. Mystery Disc (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10580, September 15, 1998) All of this material was previously released on the two discs which accompanied the re-released materials on the first two Old Masters boxes (#43 and #46). Like #64, this disc is filled with nostalgic gems from the early days. Discs like these are certainly not for those new to Zappa. But once you have (burp) digested much the material that forms the corpus of Frank's work ... you tend to start feeling hungry for these sort of bizarre nuggets. For example, "I Was a Teen-age Malt Shop" features FZ on piano. The disc proceeds more or less chronologically. Several tracks from the Albert Hall show are here (#61). Things get zanier until coming to a tentative conclusion with "Harmonica Fun." 69. Everything Is Healing Nicely (CD, Barking Pumpkin UMRK 03, December 21, 1999) Essentially a kind of documentary companion to The Yellow Shark (#62), this disc certainly contains no "Valdez" masterpiece or the like. Instead, it is a collection of rehearsals, improvisations and bits that didn't make it onto Shark. Having stated that, this is actually a fine release with some, er, unusual works ("Master Ringo," "Wonderful Tattoo!") and pieces like "This is a Test," a short piece originally titled "Igor" which FZ had printed off the Synclavier and given to the EM as a sightreading test! Interesting that at times it sounds more like Milhaud than Stravinsky... Using the same conducting technique he used to employ with the original Mothers (hand signals indicated predetermined musical phrases, motifs, or cells; or noises of all types, etc.), "Jolly Good Fellow" (4:34) sounds like a written-out composition. Ali Askin: "... It looked as though Frank was playing the Ensemble like an instrument." "Library Card" (7:42) -- the first track on this release: Todd Yvega (Frank's Synclavier assistant): " ... Frank assigned several musicians to improvise spoken interaction. The pianist, Hermann Kretzschmar, whipped out his library card to use as a text. The distinctive timbre of his voice, the German accent, and the humorous pace of his delivery obviously struck Frank as a vehicle to be developed and utilized." Continuing with the same sort of idea, but this time reading from something a little heavier than his library card (the piercing magazine, PFIQ), Hermann has the EM (and FZ) in stitches with his readings in "Master Ringo" and "Wonderful Tattoo!" Warning: not for the faint of heart -- but it's also funny as hell! "T'Mershi Duween" (2:30) is also found on #52 and #56 -- all three excellent renditions! "Nap Time" (8:03) might just be that one unique track in the entire FZ catalog which defies description. It is unlike anything else in his catalog! Michael Svoboda is on alphorn / Rumi Ogawa-Helferich is on slide whistle and vocals / Rainer Römer and Andreas Böttger, percussion. Translation from the barely perceptible Japanese is here. "9/8 Objects" (3:06) was recorded in July '91, Frank's house, when the EM were visiting and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Close. Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58 (The Cow on the Roof). DL = one of the reasons I chose this subject was to try and expand your Zappa horizons. It seems like #12 is still your favorite -- and that's fine -- but I wanted you to know that there are NINETY-THREE other choices out there!! The "name" Josh Fogel rings a bell -- but I can't place him. I'll look for images.
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RELEASES #54-67 (1989-1997) 54. You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 3 (2CD, Rykodisc RCD 10085/86, November 13, 1989) 25 Tracks Five previously unreleased tracks ("Ride My Face to Chicago," "Carol You Fool," "Chana in da Bushwop," "Hands with a Hammer," and "Nig Biz"). One dramatically different arrangement of previously released tracks: ("Bamboozled by Love"). Six years covered: '71, '73, '76, '81, '82, and '84. 55. The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (2CD, Barking Pumpkin D2 74233, April 16, 1991) Newer cover by Schenkel. Twenty-eight tracks of '88 documentation. Things really get going after an electrifying "Zomby Woof" segues into Ravel's "Bolero" (except on European CDs, due to copyright issues) ... and the band finishes off the first disc with some wonderful new versions of old favorites: "Zoot Allures," and "Mr. Green Genes" followed by a fantastic three-piece OSFA suite: "Florentine Pogen," "Andy," and "Inca Roads," and wrapped up with a beautiful version of "Sofa No. 1." Disc Two is quite shifty -- Hendrix and Cream covers ("Purple Haze" and "Sunshine of Your Love") followed by an energetic "Let's Move to Cleveland," with most of the remainder of the disc being a Jimmy Swaggart suite, of sorts ... "Lonesome Cowboy Burt": My name is Swaggart I am an asshole ... "Trouble Every Day," fresh and invigorating, as Zappa and Ike Willis seem to be improvising the lyrics: Wednesday I watched Jimmy Swaggart Watched him weepin' all over the place An' I watched him weepin' an' weepin' an' weepin' And that shit rollin' down his face (Oh . . . I sinned!) An' then I watched him weep some more An' he kept on weepin' again (Oh, forgive me, Assembly O' God!) And they smacked him on his little hand And he went out makin' more money UH-OH! and "Penguin in Bondage": You know it must be a Penguin bound down When you hear that terrible weepin' and there ain't no other Evangelist around all get special treatment in honor of the infamous televangelist's sexual escapades and subsequent teary apology. Finishing with yet another cover, the band belts out the Zep tune, "Stairway to Heaven" with real zest and energy. 56. Make A Jazz Noise Here (2CD, Barking Pumpkin D2 74234, June 4, 1991) The title comes from an actual line Zappa says during "Big Swifty." As the head winds down in anticipation of the solos, Ike Willis makes an "ooowwww" type of noise -- FZ gets the audience to sing along -- and at the exact moment when the last note of the opening melody is being held, he says: Make a jazz noise here ... This double-CD set -- the final document of the '88 band -- is an impressive release of mostly instrumental charts. And the 12 musicians in this band make it seem like a walk in the park. After a slinky guitar solo on "Stinkfoot," Zappa proceeds to politely embarrass Ed Mann. "When Yuppies Go To Hell" (13:28) is a fascinating piece,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
First I apologize that my comments on #12 are not more extensive. You can be sure that when the "long version" comes out, there will be more to chew on ... At 0:51 in "Happy Together" I can hear *at least* four -- possibly five -- distinct vocal parts. I might have counted EIGHT in 1971. Recall, if you will, the girl who leaked oil from her forehead; and the CLOCHARD who cursed me for all time; not to mention giving the Corsicans what they had coming! My initial comments about the Flo & Eddie period might seem to be negative -- but the average FZ fan has been typically predisposed to NOT LIKE this band. I've been on a mission to change that attitude for years now! Enjoy the rest of the posts and THANK YOU for the opportunity!
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RELEASES #41-53 (1984-1988) 41. Thing-Fish (3LP, Barking Pumpkin SKCO-74201, November 21, 1984) It will soon be 30 years. When this three-album box-set was released, many Zappa fans were severely disappointed. Many old tracks were simply re-recorded with overdubs: ("Torchum" and "Artificial Rhonda" from 1976; "Galoot Up-Date," "YAWYI," "Mudd Club," and "Meek," from 1980; "Clowns" and "No Not Now" from 1981-1982 as well the guitar outro to "Mammy Nuns.") The whole thing seemed outrageous and offensive. The album's storyline is inspired by Broadway theatre, AIDS, eugenics, conspiracy theories, feminism, homosexuality and African American culture. It involves an evil, racist prince/theatre critic who creates a disease intended to eradicate African Americans and homosexuals. The disease is tested on prisoners who are turned into "Mammy Nuns" led by the story's narrator, Thing-Fish. The story within a story is a satire of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant couple, Harry and Rhonda, who attend a play performed by the "Mammy Nuns," and find themselves confronted with their pasts: Harry presented as a homosexual boy, Rhonda presented as a sex doll brought to life (Wikipedia). In retrospect, Zappa may have pulled a fast one here. After years of imagining an actual production -- someone actually pulled it off in 2003. What a shame Frank didn't live to see it. 42. Francesco Zappa (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74202, November 21, 1984) The one and only Frank Zappa release without a speck of music written by Frank Zappa! Yes -- Francesco was a real composer -- check him out here. Zappa's assistant, David Ocker, helped him program the synclavier with what he thought might be "appropriate" patches for 18th century music. Naturally, Frank would come in the next day and change all of David's settings with more bizarre patches -- marimbas, spooky synths, etc. A toss-off for the average Zappa fan, this one continues to hold interest for the person deeply interested in the Complete Works of Frank Zappa. 43, The Old Masters Box One (7LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR-7777, April 19, 1985) For many years, a great deal of Zappa's early work was nearly impossible to obtain. In 1985, with the new medium of the compact disc creeping up on the music industry, Frank remixed nearly his entire catalog -- sometimes adding new bass and drum parts (#03, #05) or creating radical new mixes like #08). At $100 per box, this was an easy choice for most serious Zappa fans. Using high-quality vinyl and reproducing the album covers and booklets (cutely scratching out old addresses for defunct record companies, fan clubs, etc.) -- FZ put the first five releases in here plus the "Mystery Disc" (which later -- along with the "Mystery Disc" from #46 -- become a separate release, #68). 44. Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74203, November 21, 1985) At the time, watching Frank testify up on Capitol Hill, you just sensed that something amazing was going to come out of all this -- musically, speaking! This is it! Certainly, "Porn Wars" (12:05)... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
thnx John. "Princess" and "Girls" are just two hysterical songs about real people. I'm Jewish and I know *exactly* what he's singing about there! As far as Catholic girls -- don't have that much experience - but it sounds like it could be true enough! :)- (Zappa wrote songs about stupid GUY things, too!)
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RELEASES #28-40 (1979-1984) 28. Joe's Garage Act I (LP, Zappa SRZ-1-1603, September 3, 1979) 29. Joe's Garage Acts II & III (2LP, Zappa SRZ-2-1502, November 19, 1979) Originally, three discs covering two separate releases. The compact disc era compressed the material and today the CD is one complete release on two discs. These are the final Frank Zappa albums recorded in a regular studio -- after this, everything will emanate from the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, Zappa's home studio. As Zappa distanced himself from corporate control, he seemed intent on releasing a few new singles: "Catholic Girls" (Frank's response to the "Jewish Princess" critics) and "Joe's Garage." However, as we discussed in #18, getting his music on the radio was really not Zappa's highest priority! The "singles" were incorporated into an ever-evolving Project/Object which today we call a "rock-opera." Zappa himself referred to it as a "stupid little story about how the the government is going to do away with music." After "The Central Scrutinizer" (FZ) introduces himself, "Joe's Garage" surprises us with its undisguised sentimentality: Down in Joe's Garage We didn't have no dope or LSD But a coupla quartsa beer Would fix it so the intonation Would not offend yer ear And the same old chords goin' over 'n over Became a symphony We could play it again 'n again 'n again Cause it sounded good to me ONE MORE TIME! "Catholic Girls" is not only as hilarious as "Jewish Princess" -- but contains some remarkable passage work. "Crew Slut" has a dirty Chicago-blues feel to it which just keeps on grinding. "Fembot" (note the different titles on the LP and CD versions) uses a cool little theme which Frank liked so much, it became the opening motif of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" (#38), a complex orchestral work. Zappa also continued his work with xenochrony, splicing guitar solos on top of unrelated backing tracks. His guitar playing is as exciting as any other time-period here, and he pushes his band to respond accordingly. "Keep it Greasey" features a section in 19/16 time (5/4 with one 16th-note chopped off the end of the bar!) "Watermelon in Easter Hay" (original title: "Playing a Guitar Solo With This Band is Like Trying to Grow a Watermelon in Easter Hay") -- a 9/4 magical ride into Zappa's most intimate guitar solo ever -- is a very special piece of music; as is "Packard Goose" which closes with Zappa's classic and eternal statement: Voice Of Mary's Vision: Hi! It's me . . . the girl from the bus . . . Remember? The last tour? Well . . . Information is not knowledge Knowledge is not wisdom Wisdom is not truth Truth is not beauty Beauty is not love Love is not music Music is THE BEST . . . Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct) Beauty is a French phonetic corruption Of a short cloth neck ornament Currently in resurgence ... You don't want to miss this one!... Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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RELEASES #14-27 (1972-1979) 14. Just Another Band From L.A. (LP, Bizarre/Reprise MS 2075, March 26, 1972) There is no incarnation of any Zappa band that did not incorporate large doses of FZ-humor into its regular repertoire. However, over the years, this band has come to be known as "Zappa's Comedy Group." They appear only on #11-14 (and a few posthumous releases). If the hard-core early Zappa fans stubbornly refused to give this band a chance -- they missed out on a quite a bit of incredible music! Everything on this disc was recorded on August 7, 1971 at Pauley Pavilion (UCLA). "Billy the Mountain" is a classic (CC: compare the versions on Release #60 and 91). "Call Any Vegetable" gets a unique treatment with a Gustav Holst quote thrown in for good measure, which cleverly segues into an historic high-octane guitar solo. 15. Waka/Jawaka (LP, Bizarre/Reprise MS 2094, July 5, 1972) With good reason, FZ put the words "HOT RATS" on the faucet handles. This is a sort of follow-up to the '69 masterpiece; it is an all-studio album, but it is also quite different than Hot Rats. There is no Ian Underwood, no Ponty or Sugarcane Harris. Zappa had been thrown off a stage in London by a crazed fan and was severely injured. He recuperated by creating two new masterpieces. "Big Swifty" (17:22) features an amazing five-piece band (FZ, guitar & percussion / Tony Duran, slide guitar / George Duke, ring-modulated & echoplexed electric piano / Sal Marquez, many trumpets & chimes / Erroneous [Alex Dmochowski], electric bass / and Aynsley Dunbar, drums) with tons of overdubs. The initial melody, stomps out an insistent seven, dissolving into long -- but never boring -- solos by Marquez and FZ. "Your Mouth" (3:12) is hilarious. By now, Zappa's producing abilities were enhancing his compositional skills -- like the weird little musical snippets which accompany the vocals here -- and creating an end product that sounds both slick and shockingly original. "It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal" (4:16) features FZ on "electric bed springs." The lyrics -- something about a frog with a satchel -- are partially recited with a Russian accent. This is wonderfully obtuse. "Waka/Jawaka" (11:19). Nine musicians make this track sound like a full big band! Masterful music with never a dull moment, despite the track's length. 16. The Grand Wazoo (LP, Bizarre/Reprise MS 2093, November 27, 1972) As Zappa's injuries healed, he rehearsed this large ensemble from his wheelchair, and began pondering the idea of taking this current band on the road -- which he ultimately did for two very brief tours at the tail end of 1972 (see Charles Ulrich: Big Band Projects of 1972). The five tracks on this record are all suberb -- the final one "Blessed Relief" (about pain meds, I heard once -- but it might have referred to the time when he could finally stop taking the pills -- he hated taking drugs in any form, other than coffee and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Next week will mark the 47th anniversary of Frank Zappa's first release, Freak Out! (#01)* (June 27, 1966). On December 12th, 2012, Gail Zappa released Finer Moments (#94), a beautifully-packaged double-CD of music from 1969-1972. To date, this is the 94th "Official Release" in the Frank Zappa catalog. (The term "official release" is used to distinguish the recognized canon from bootleg recordings, live shows taped by fans, compilation albums, etc.) In addition to the 94 LPs and CDs, Zappa directed two amazing full-length films (200 Motels [1971] and Baby Snakes [1979]); wrote two books (Them or Us [1984] and The Real Frank Zappa Book [1989]); produced numerous video compilations and played literally thousands of live concerts between 1966 and 1988. Thus the term “project/object,” which refers to the whole shebang: music (live and studio), films, books, interviews, public appearances, etc. The PO is held together by the musical, lyrical and Dadaistic connections of FZ’s universal language. Poodles, dental floss, the tritone, a gas mask, naughty televangelists – all figure into the mysterious, ethereal, ever-changing world that Frank Zappa created, nurtured and produced over an approximately 35-year period. Zappa used the term conceptual continuity to define the inner workings of his Project/Object. CC has a variety of usages in the FZ universe. For example, chronologically, the word "poodle" is first used on a track entitled "The Purse" from the posthumous 2005 release, Joe's XMASage (#75). (In the liner notes, Gail says that "there are over 19,321 clues in this one.") Al Surratt is reading a letter from some girl out loud to Zappa: 'Guess what? I have a French poodle. That's right. A pedigree. Apricot champagne French poodle. He was given to me as a present, gift from a man who raises them. He was repaying me for a flavor I did him once. I named the dog Duchamp, with a long A. He sure is a cute thing, and I -- and so well-behaved. He is six months old. I wish you could have see him. He is the prettiest color. George just loves him. And he is trying to spoil him something awful. Sometimes I feel he comes over just to see the dog.' 'We are doing real good in football so far. We played Burroughs last Friday for our first league game. And beset them.' From that 1963 tape onwards, there are 16 additional and separate references to poodles on other releases, not including the clever title of Ben Watson's mighty tome, "The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play." 2. #14. (1972) On the high-energy remake of "Call Any Vegetable," Flo & Eddie engage in this brief rap over a repeating vamp: You know, a lot of people don't bother about their friends in the vegetable kingdom. They think, "What can I say?" Sometimes they think, "Where can I go?" / Where can I go to get my poodle clipped in Burbank? / At Ralph's vegetarian poodle clippin', where you can come this ... 3. #17. (1973) In the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
One more salient point: TAKE FIVE was recorded over a period of several weeks ~ perhaps 20-30 hours for composition, recording and editing. TRUTH IS FALLEN (how many of you readers have ever heard it? [The LP is Out Of Print and there is no CD]). Dave probably spent nearly 1,000 hours composing, COPYING (!), and rehearsing the massive combined forces for the performances and recordings. The disconnect between "good" jazz and "this-is-good-for-you" classical is a deep, uncrossable chasm. LS
Jamie, you nailed two very important points. First, Bartok and Stravinsky were doing things in odd meters in the first two decades of the 20th century -- at least 40 years before "Take Five." What Bartok and Stravinsky is (obviously) infinitely more complex than ANY Brubeck tune ~ but Dave studied that music with Milhaud (who's no slouch with time sigs, either!) and TRANSMORGIFIED that dynamic to the jazz slash pop-music world -- and he did it with elan, polish and style. And you were right (and brave) to admit that many many black pianists were ignored in the 60's while Dave basked in his Time Magazine cover glory. I think he felt much the same way as you did. He LOVED those guys and was most likely slightly embarrassed by all the (white)-media attention... One more great example: Check out Paul Simon's THE TEACHER from his CD "You're the One." In ELEVEN (6+5), but it sounds so perfectly natural and flowing that no one would think of it as an "odd" meter. That's what I meant by following, but "trying to make sense of the past." --Lewis
Very touching. OTOH, I thought the Mein Kampf joke was stupid, unnecessary and not very funny... All & all, great start to Season Five!
Thank YOU for the opportunity. If I turn ONE person on to Ozu, it will have been worth the effort.
Toggle Commented Nov 5, 2011 on Ozu7 by Lewis Saul at The Best American Poetry
*52. Akibiyori (Late Autumn) (11/13/60) (125 min.) [Sound Color] [buy it here] A girl lives with her mother. Though she has had opportunities to marry, she refused, preferring to stay at home. The widowed mother, however, feels that her daughter is sacrificing herself and attempts to find her a suitable husband. The daughter opposes this until she comes to believe, mistakenly, that her mother is motivated by a desire to remarry. The mother goes back to the apartment and begins her life alone. From the Late Ozu set on Eclipse. A remake of Late Spring with the mother threatening to remarry rather than the father. Three men make up an important unit in this film -- all splendid actors completely at ease with the Ozu style: Mamiya (Shin Saburi) Taguchi (Nubuo Nakamura) Hirayama (Ryuji Kita) As previously mentioned, sound (1936) and color (1958) were just two additional tools which Ozu used to create his masterpieces. In this instance, Ozu wants to take us from the memorial service to the post-service eating and drinking. Notice the number of pillow shots (six, more than usual) and how sound and color serve his purposes. Also, note how this film uses green throughout, similar to the way he used red in Equinox Flower and Good Morning. Mamiya is late for the service. He finds his way through the various rooms into the main room and joins his friends (who have saved a spot for him). 0:09:03: He completes a medium three-shot as he kneels next to Hirayama. (Sound: Bhuddist chanting) Taguchi: "You're late." Mamiya: "Yes, a bit." Hirayama: "It just started." Mamiya: "Then I'm too early." 0:09:16: The room where they had tea earlier. Notice all the different screen frames created by the door angles. Combined with the white tea cups and pot and a large dark urn at frame right, this is a magnificent, flat composition. [5 sec] 0:09:21: Hallway, more sub-frames; greenery interspersed on frame left. [6 sec] 0:09:27: Large, standing screen; red fire extinguisher and white tea cup on right. [5 sec] 0:09:32: (Sound: chanting stops, replaced by soft putt-putt of motorboat): Magnificent shot! On the far left and right of frame are the ends of the open shoji. A bridge, completely silhouetted in black against the dark blue sky, fills most of the frame. [8 sec] 0:09:40: Interior: Top of frame, centered, a painting of an old-fashioned bridge. The light, reflected off the sea, ripples against the wall with the painting. [6 sec] 0:09:46: Long pull-back into hallway. If you pay careful attention, the geometry becomes clear -- you can see the lefthand two-thirds of the bridge painting, which orients you from the previous cut. A maid crosses left to right; we hear men laughing [9 sec] 0:09:55: The party (L-R): Ayako Miwa (Yôko Tsukasa); Akiko Miwa (Setsuko Hara); Hirayama, Mamiya and Taguchi. Ozu does something very interesting in this scene. We will later find the men coming to the realization that in order to marry off Ayako, they are... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
In 1951, Keisuke Kinoshita's Carmen Comes Home became the first Japanese film in color. Two years later, Kinugasa's Gate of Hell became an international hit. Ozu did not like the way red turned out on Eastman Kodak film. It wasn't until he was satisfied with the Agfa red looked that he proceeded to make a color film. Kurosawa waited even longer. In his first color film, Dodesukaden, made in 1970, he was so dissatisfied with the way "reality" looked that he painted most of the sets with loud, garish colors so as to mute the harsh natural colors of his locations. Five years later, Dersu Uzala was made in beautiful 70mm widescreen; and finally in 1980 and 1985 we get the splendid gorgeous colors of Kagemusha and Ran. And so the rainbow bursts ... *49. Higanbana (Equinox Flower) (9/7/58) (118 min.) [Sound Color] [buy it here] A daughter wishes to marry the man of her choice, but her father objects. Her mother understands her feelings, however, as does her friend from Kyoto. Eventually, the father is won over. From the Late Ozu set on Eclipse. The credits themselves are gorgeous to look at -- bright red, white and black lettering. This is a large ensemble with a fantastic cast. The president of Shochiku himself more or less ordered Ozu to make this film in color to show off their latest beauty, Fujiko Yamamoto (Yukiko, daughter of Hatsu Sasaki [Chieko Naniwa]). Interestingly, Ozu doesn't give her the star role of Setsuko (Ineko Arima), but that of Yukiko, Setsuko's mirror image character ... Nothing has changed in Ozu's basic style, other than the complete elimination of any camera movement -- even pans and dolly shots. These introductory pillow shots are typical -- yet in color, they seem to visually reverberate with weight: 0:03:00: The railway station, clock at 2:50 PM. 0:03:09: Wider view 0:03:16: The automatic timetable which we've seen so frequently in the past few B&W films 0:03:25: A wedding party; beautiful clothes 0:03:31: Two porters, sitting on a bench taking a break. They're rating all the brides they've seen this day. 0:04:18: This is the first shot we have of the wedding, but Ozu has already started the sound of a monk chanting during the last cut -- a transition shot of the railway ... From here on -- in almost every single cut of this film -- you will see how Ozu has placed some object or piece of clothing which is bright red somewhere in the frame. For example, just now the wedding party walked by a painting of Mt. Fuji and a bright red carpet. In the next cut, we see red roses in the bouquets. In the next cut, two bouquets of flowers frame the wedding couple. Notice the deep, rich contrast between the various drinks on the table -- red wine, golden beer and orange soda (!). There is something incredibly powerful about all these colors. A few other glorious moments from this film: 0:05:08:... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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*45. Ochazuke no aji (Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) (10/1/52) (115 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] A middle-aged, middle-class couple experience a crisis in their marriage. With no children to create a bond, married life has lost its meaning in routine. They both attempt to improve and hence create a stronger marriage. All-regions DVD. This somewhat unusual film is sandwiched between two great masterpieces, Early Summer and Tokyo Story. Hopefully this pic is being considered as a Criterion Collection candidate. It is not in the same league as the above-mentioned films, but it is a very good film. Ozu pulled this script out of the drawer -- it is the same one that the Japanese censors rejected in 1941. The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family took its place. In the original script, the husband was going off to war. "Rather than the customary rich ceremonial food, they decide on a dish that is among the most simple, the most Japanese. It was to have been a gentle, intimate, reflective film, filled with observations of Japanese character in times of stress" (Richie, p. 227). Obviously, the script had to be radically altered in this 1952 version. The husband is going to Uruguay on business instead of going off to fight the Americans. The simple dinner happens as a reconciliation between a quarrelling couple. Nevertheless, the denouement here always brings tears to my eyes. Shin Saburi (Mokichi) is quite good as this rather subdued character. He made four other films with Ozu. Michiyo Kogure (Taeko) likewise, who is here asked to make a fairly major character transformation. This is rare in Ozu -- most characters never go through such dramatic changes. This is her only appearance in an Ozu film. Keiko Tsushima (Setsuko) also makes her only Ozu appearance. The score is by Ichirô Saitô -- 147 IMDb credits! He scored two other Ozu films (Record of a Tenement Gentleman [1947] and The Munekata Sisters [1950]) as well as three great Mizoguchi masterpieces, Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953) and A Geisha (1953). His score here is very fitting. Like the film, it moves and sweeps and is certainly more upbeat than most Ozu scores. For example, the overture, played over the opening credits, is most unusual for an Ozu film, containing dramatic ups and downs, big crescendi, deceptive cadences -- until it finally settles on a major chord -- pause -- (director's credit) -- he puts the third of the chord on top ... Taeko and Setsuko are in a big touring car (jaunty, almost jazzy piano) Some outstanding moments: Aya, the "modern girl" (Chikage Awashima) owns her own dress shop. 0:08:27: Aya and Taeko have hatched a conspiracy to go away -- girls only -- to a spa. Taeko calls her husband at work, ready to lie to him, but he isn't there. Where is he? Ozu shows us his empty desk ("Machinery Dept.") ... 0:08:34: The workplace; filing cabinets, backs of men working, windows ...... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I don't mind the labor. The love is something so difficult to express via that massive toolbox of yours -- WORDS! I do love these films. I hope my scribblings will at least pique a bit of curiousity in those who think this might interest them.
Toggle Commented Nov 2, 2011 on Ozu2 by Lewis Saul at The Best American Poetry
*41. Kaze no naka no mendori (A Hen in the Wind) (9/20/48) (90 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] A destitute woman is awaiting the demobilization of her husband when her child falls ill. She prostitutes herself to pay the hospital. When her husband returns, she tells all. He knocks her down the stairs but later apologizes, suddenly realizing all she has been through. The DVD is all-region. Kinuyo Tanaka is excellent as the wife. Once again, we have the sick child and the wife freaking out because there is no money for the hospital bill. (Health care debate, anyone?) The melodrama reaches a boiling point. The screen time between his pushing her down the stairs and the end where all is forgiven and they embrace is just a few short minutes. However, if we contemplate the situation deeply, we might come to the conclusion that this man -- who probably committed, or at least witnessed, some pretty terrible atrocities himself in recent years -- has realized that his wife's transgression is petty in comparison -- even honorable! The print is in excellent shape. *42. Banshun (Late Spring) (9/1949) (108 min.) [Sound B&W) [buy it here] A young woman, somewhat past the usual marriage age, lives with her father in Kamakura. She is happy with him, and when she hears of one of his friends remarrying, she disapproves. The father, however, feels that he is keeping her from marriage. She refuses several offers. Then her aunt tells her that her father is thinking of remarrying. She is disturbed, but believing that this is what he wants, she agrees to get married herself. Father and daughter go on a final trip together to Kyoto. When they return, she is married. The father, who had no intention of remarrying, is left alone. This Criterion release is a 2-disc set, which includes an excellent booklet with two essays; audio commentary by Richard Peña, program director of New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center; and -- best of all -- Wim Wender's tribute to Ozu: Tokyo-Ga (1985). One of a half-dozen or so Ozu films universally considered a masterpiece. I cannot find any real information about how Ozu and Setsuko Hara actually met, but there can be no doubt that he saw her work prior to 1949 -- including her star turn (one of the very few "female" pics) for Kurosawa in 1946 in No Regrets for Our Youth. Just as we had a "Kihachi" trilogy, this film is the first of the "Noriko" trilogy. This is the only film not to use the burlap weave background behind the credits since A Story of Floating Weeds. Instead, we have what looks like an aerial view of dried, cracked mud... Ozu begins the film with four extraordinarily beautiful pillow shots: [11 sec] Sign in Japanese and English: "Kitakamakura Station." We hear the ticking of a telegraph and a bell sounds... [6 sec] Railroad tracks, fence, trees and sky in background... [6 sec] Unlit signal light... Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Today: *36. Hitori musuko (The Only Son) (9/15/36) (87 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] *37. Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka (What Did the Lady Forget?) (3/3/37) (73 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] *38. Todake no kyodai (The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family) (3/1/41) (105 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] *39. Chichi ariki (There Was a Father) (4/1/42) (94 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] *40. Nagaya shinshiroku (Record of a Tenement Gentleman) (5/20/47) (72 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] ~~~ 34. Kagamijishi (6/29/36) (24 min.) [Sound/Silent B&W clip of 17:36 here] Ozu's only documentary was commissioned by the Japan Cultural Association to promote indigenous culture abroad. Kagamijishi is a lion dance in kabuki, about a court dancer who becomes possessed by a lion mask, and transforms from coy young maid to a fierce being with flowing mane. Shot in two parts, the dancing scenes were filmed in June 1935 using synch sound by the Tsuchihashi system. The silent, second part, shot in May 1936, takes place in the dressing room and shows the celebrated leading man Onoe Kikugoro IV reciting a poem. At the preview, guests commented on the unnatural expressions of the dancer and the authorities decided to withdraw the film. It is astonishing to watch the very first Ozu images combined with live sound! However, instead of family conversations, we have beautiful Japanese orchestral music and some really amazing dancing! An excellent use of eighteen minutes of your busy day... 35. Daigaku yoitoko (College is a Nice Place) (3/19/36) (114 min.) (Silent B&W NEP] Ozu called it "a dark film" making the title ironic. The graduates return home and begin a hopeless search for jobs. *36. Hitori musuko (The Only Son) (9/15/36) (83 min.) [Sound B&W] [buy it here] A woman whose husband is no help to her at all raises her only son by herself, working hard so that he can be graduated from a university in Tokyo. Later, she spends most of her savings to visit him. She finds him married and with a child, and he, in turn, spends most of his money entertaining her in the capital. Another excellent Criterion release; paired with There Was a Father (1942). First feature film with sound. No commentary; but excellent interviews with Tadao Sato, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Ozu scholars. The song Old Black Joe is incorporated throughout the score and is used at the very end as a kind of ironic commentary on the story... The background behind the credits is similar to the burlap weave which he began using in A Story of Floating Weeds. He does use the traditional weave for the intertitles. Ozu immediately lets us know that heavy business is to follow with an initial intertitle (in his first talkie!): "Life's tragedy begins with the bond between parent and child. -- Ryunosuke Akutagawa" (Akutagawa wrote the short story that Kurosawa turned into Rashomon.) The son's name is Ryosuke. An intertitle gives us the place... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Today: *29. Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy) (9/17/33) (101 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here] *30. Haha wo kowazuya (A Mother Should Be Loved) (5/11/34) (93 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here] *31. Ukikusa monogatari (A Story of Floating Weeds) (11/23/34) (86 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here] *33. Tôkyô no yado (An Inn in Tokyo) (11/21/35) (82 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here] *** *29. Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy) (9/17/33) (101 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here] A subtle and beautiful film about a boy and his father who live together in a tenement, the father working, the boy going to school. The father is attracted to a younger woman, and though nothing comes of it, the boy is worried and disappointed. Offered a new job in a distant town, the father goes off only to leave when halfway there to return to his son. This boxed Eclipse set also includes "I Was Born, But..." and "Tokyo Chorus" ... The Sosin score is, like the other two, a perfect compliment to this silent film. The first in the so-called "Kihachi" series -- named for the main character, played by Takeshi Sakamoto, who appeared in 24 Ozu films between 1928 and 1948. Chishu Ryu appeared in 33 (acc. IMDb; Ryu himself claimed he was in every Ozu picture but two, for a total of 52). Ryu would eventually pick up where Sakamoto left off in the portrayal of the Ozu alter-ego character... Both Sakamoto, who was Iwasaki, the boss, and young Tomio Aoki, who played Keiji in I Was Born, But... give beautiful, naturalistic performances here. Ryu plays the naniwabushi "singer" in the opening music hall sequence. There are three main gags in the scene, which is notable for Ozu's quick introduction of characters and the swiftly panning camera: 1) Kihachi finds an empty coin purse and it gets passed around; 2) Everyone gets attacked by biting fleas; and 3) The way the barber applauds... A lovely transition: Tomio is helping his hungover father get dressed. His pants are torn and he smooths out the rip with his hand -- cut -- CU: Otome (Chôko Iida) is sewing the pants; cut to a medium shot where we see Tomio eating in the background... In a variation on a typical Ozu theme, the father plays hookey while the responsible son goes to school... The scene where Tomio unleashes his furious rage at his father is one of the most powerful moments in all of Ozu's films... Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. After making up with his son and giving him 50 sen spending money (a huge sum ~ remember the rice curry in Tokyo Chorus @ seven sen per plate?), the kid gets sick from eating too much (orange pop, jelly, cookies, fried cake, toffee, watermelon, and of course the cold sake Kihachi force-fed him). In the scenes leading up to Kihachi's departure, Ozu punctuates transitions with shots of exploding fireworks... The final scene recalls a shared father-son joke and ends on... Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2011 at The Best American Poetry