13 June 2016

Blows Against the Empire

(Because the Audience Always Cheers for the Rebels)

Archival post: Originally published at ...And 
What Will Be Left of Them?, February, 2013.

Insert obligatory Leni Riefenstahl reference here.

Yes, K-punk – we know, we know.

Why would anyone be surprised by this? And what’s the purpose of harping about it? Seems obvious enough. But look at how that comments section stacks up. Not that it isn't a valid thesis, but really – it isn’t the sort that’s likely to go over well with that venue's readership, is it?

But maybe it's just a matter of perspective. For instance...

* * * *

When the first Star Wars film was released, I was eleven years old. Some six years later when Return of the Jedi came out, I was about to begin my final year of high school and wasn't feeling any pressing need to rush out and see the latter movie during its premier weekend. Me and a friend had a conversation about it; about what we knew from the adverts and the advanced promotion, and about our waning enthusiasm. What could we expect this time, the third, time around? I offered a list of predictions, based on a pattern that seemed to have already been set in concrete with the first two films:
1.  Han Solo will get a bad feeling about something,
2.  Darth Vader will will at some point proclaim that something-or-other "is now complete",
3.  There would doubtlessly be a gaggle of short, cloyingly cute aliens of some new variety or other, and
4.  R2D2's gonna get shot. 
We'd been of the ideal age when the first one - or the fourth one, or whatever - came out in 1977, and we'd been some of the first in line. Not only that, but we then ran out and bought the action figures when they began to arrive on store shelves, collected the several series of baseball-style cards that followed, and even went so far at one point as to buy issues of the dodgy cash-in extrapolatory Marvel Comics series that followed in its wake. But now we were a little older, and - as happens in mid-adolescence - our interests had drifted into other areas. We were "aging out" of what had become the franchise's target demo.

And perhaps we were also becoming prematurely jaded. But fuck it, we also remembered being subjected to that wretched Star Wars Christmas TV special – so who could blame us?

* * * *

Some sixteen year later, a good many other people would get a strong dose of that same "aged out" and left-behind feeling when the Star Wars "prequels" arrived in theaters. By reviving the series for a second trilogy of films, Lucas and company were looking to appeal to a new and younger generation of viewers. What’s more, the studio and its licensees trotted out an extensive array of tie-in merchandise well in advance of the release of The Phantom Menace, more and more people – far more than usual – started to take to the notion that the films were becoming little more than thinly-disguised, mega-inflated toy commercials.

* * * *

One thing about K-punk’s article that sparked some comments-section incredulity: the claim that Lucas was originally slated to direct Apocalypse Now. Yes, that’s true, although perhaps not widely known. Lucas had been Francis-Ford Coppola’s co-instigator when the latter decided to start up his own production company, American Zeotrope. Since the idea for the film started out between Lucas and writer John Milius, Coppola originally had Lucas in mind to direct the film.

The founding of American Zeotrope had been a "New Hollywood"-type upstarts' venture – the result of Coppola and Lucas bristling against the sclerotic and stifling pressures of the major studios. Speaking to an audience at the Rotary Club in his hometown of Modesto, CA in May of 1973, Lucas reputedly said, "The future is going to be with independent filmmakers, ...It's a whole new kind of business. We're all forging ahead on the rubble of the old industry." He would later decree:

"The studio system is dead. It died fifteen years ago when the corporations took over and the studio heads suddenly became agents and lawyers and accountants. The power is with the people now. The workers own the means of production."

But for various reasons, Lucas lost interest in Apocalypse Now, drifting off (after the dismal reception that greeted the Zeotrope-produced THX-1138) to make American Graffiti, and eventually pitching his dream project that would become Star Wars to various producers.

Both films, as many have noted are products of both personal and cultural nostalgia. American Graffiti was a winsome revisitation of the 1950s, to a prosperous and supposedly more carefree time before the turbulence of the 1960s; whereas Star Wars' basis in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials of Lucas’s own childhood. If they seem – when compared with problem like Apocalypse Now or Coppola's The Conversation – as "escapist," audience-pleasing fare, then it was by design. On his decision to walk away from Apocalypse Now in favor other projects, Lucas would later say:

"Before American Graffiti, I was working on basically negative films – Apocalypse Now and THX, both very angry. ...We all know, as every movie in the last ten years has pointed out, how terrible we are, how wrong we were in Vietnam, how we have ruined the world, what schmucks we are and how rotten everything is. It has become depressing to go to the movies. I decided it was time to make a movie where people felt better coming out of the theater than when they went in. I became really aware of the fact that the kids were really lost, the sort of heritage we built up since the war had been wiped out since the '60s and it really wasn't groovy to act that way any more, now you just sort of sat there and got stoned. I wanted to preserve what a certain generation of Americans thought being a teenager was really about – from about 1945 to 1962."

Lucas didn't want to be dark or angry, apparently; and just wanted audiences to enjoy themselves. Speaking to American Film magazine in 1977, he would say something very similar about his idea behind making Star Wars, couching it once again in some socio-cultural context, complete with even more dubious assertions...

"Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film, I realized that there was another relevance that was even more important – dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps – that you could sit still and dream about exotic lands and strange creatures. Once I got into Star Wars, it struck me that we had lost all that – a whole generation was growing without fairy tales."

So he did that first Star Wars film for us – for my generation. For me, effectively. Even though I know I already had a highly developed and active imagination as a child, and – to my recollection – was in no danger of going directly from The Six Million Dollar Man and Marvel Comics to stealing hubcaps or some other form of juvenile delinquency.

Sure, Lucas's remarks above might sound pretty self-aggrandizing, but I don't doubt he was speaking in earnest. Because ultimately, all he did was what any savvy artist or entertainer or businessperson aims to do. That being: You spot some gap or vacancy in a market or the culture at large – look for something that’s missing, for a need or a desire that's not being met. Look for a stimulus that's lacking and that people might be hungry for, and to then try and make or provide something that might satisfy that hunger. And judging from the response he received, he was pretty astute in sizing up the situation.1

* * * *

22 April 2016

On Zeitgeist (Sidenote)

Re, today's top story

[...] But ultimately, I guess the problem is me.

It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. That being: I harbor almost no nostalgia for the 1980s whatsoever. As far as it's pop culture and politics went, I regard it in hindsight as a low -- as a thoroughly dismal, insipid, frequently horrifying and depressing (or just plain boring), utterly crap decade. And that perspective tends to taint most of my memories of the era.1

As far as the music is concerned, I think hip-hop and the emergence/influence of Detroit techno are the only things from the '80s I've ever felt any glimmer of nostalgia for, that I felt any excitement about that carried down through the decades that followed. And pretty much to hell with the rest.2

At any rate, pardon my absence, of late. Recently took on a tedious job that’s been taking up the bulk of my bandwidth...both literally and figuratively. Activity to resume shortly.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Eh. On second thought, maybe I'm just still grumpy about not having gotten laid as much as I would've liked at the time.

Nothing like entering your early adult years just in time for the AIDS epidemic/scare to sweep the culture. Good times!

And Prince made it all sound so easy, so carefree. So dude definitely wasn't helping, in that respect.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

1  Case in point: When it was finally ushered out, it was by way of the Clintons blasting a Fleetwood Mac tune on the White House lawn. How fucking boring is that?

2   I’m speaking in the broadest, most generalized terms, of course. Naturally, there are a good many exceptions. But still, the prevailing aesthetics of the time were pretty much rubbish.

11 March 2016


And thus ends the bass thing, as far as this contributor is concerned. We now resume usual programming.

Myself, I was hoping that some other contributors would've kicked Mr. Reynolds some good example of classic basswork from the canon of first-gen roots rocker reggae. But alas, no haps in that area, whatsoever.  I might be able to offer a few personal favorites, but they'd be very arbitrary, given my spotty knowledge in that area.

So in lieu of that, let's just leave with the above, a bit of a oceanic "lover's rock" seance, that provides a seductive, head-nodding  rolling bass line that'll tuck this whole topic (and the listener) a proper nighty-night.

10 March 2016

Frequency Range, II

The second, and last, part of my 20-plus years of locale-specific bass musics travelogue. Last time I dealt with my years living in the American south. This time we head to parts north...

Chicago, 1993-4: What's That Sound?

At the time, I had no idea of what it was I was kept hearing -- something I occasionally hear booming from jeeps as they passed through the block. Hilariously uptempo, threaded on very tight loops of sped-up, stuttering vocal phrases, extremely minimal with only incremental shifts and modulations. At one point, I happened across it on local public access TV, some talent-show program with a bunch of southside high-school kids dancing to it -- slow, rolling bodily undulations passing from head to toe and back again, from limb to limb. I didn’t hear the music all that frequently, when I did it was only from a distance, and it seemed to have come and gone within a season of two. In retrospect, I thought maybe I was hearing an example of Baltimore's "dew doo" beat making an inland incursion, but years later (see last entry below) would realize that what I'd been hearing were local "ghetto house" tracks.*

Chicago, 1993-4, Pt. II: Jungle and Drum'n'Bass

U.K. import tangent, number two. Simon's already weighed in on jungle in a pair of posts, so I’ll gladly defer to authority on the matter.

The first time I heard jungle, via a mixtape I'd picked up, I had no idea what I was hearing -- was startled and bemused by the rush and clatter of the accelerated BPMs.** By the third spin, the music had not only clicked with me, but I had decided it was among the most immersively gorgeous music I’d ever come across. The undertow of the bass was what pulled me in, the way it moved at a fraction of the pace of the drums, provoking the sensation of being pulled into a temporal flux.

06 March 2016

Frequency Range, Interlude

At which point Simon delves into early hip-hop. Truth be told, I was planning on passing on that one. But since I spent most of the music’s “mid-school” years totally immerse in the stuff, I naturally have a few things to contribute on the topic...

(Caveat: Since you're listening to this on a computer, a decent set of headphones are recommended.)

What, no mention of Run DMC? The Tougher Than Leather album sported a number of tunes where the Run DMC took a turn away from the stark minimalism of much of their prior material, going with a sound that much fuller and more spacious. I recall a critic at the time saying these two tracks in particular sounded had taken up residency in outer orbit, rapping and mixing while springing off the the space-station walls in zero gravity. An image that has stuck with me over the years (particular when the reverb on the punctuating snare shot darts through the mix of "Run's House). Jam Master Jay was the man, but apparently the bass on the above can be partly attributed to co-producer Davy D..

Simon cites the Beasties. From License to Ill, I remember "Paul Revere" being the cut that dudes used to use to give their woofers a workout. Personally, I had a love/hate relationship with the Beastie Boys in those years, which had taken a dissenting tilt toward the latter by the time Paul's Boutique came out. A friend loaned me his copy, I gave it few spins, and my feeling was that if someone could somehow release an all-instrumental version of the thing, I'd probably be all over it. Thankfully, the production duo that was the Dust Brothers partially obliged me via a couple of 12-inch remixes. The bass bits on their overhaul of "Shake Your Rump" were particularly satisfying.

And as far as live-group era Beasties are concerned: "Jimmie James" was a tune that rode its smoked-out bass line mighty nicely.

A favorite block-rocker from what could be considered the golden era’s swansong summer that was the summer of '93, when the version that appeared on the b-side of the Masta Ace Inc.'s "Slaughtahouse" 12" became the definitive jeep beats of the season. An ode to the "quad"-pumping lifestyle and incivic disturbance coming from the most unlikely of locales -- the (previously) bass-anemic upper East Coast. Sure, the bass on the thing was dope, but I‘ve always found it deeply funny at the same time -- maybe because it sounds kinda "sick" in both senses of the word.

Speaking of jeep beats...

04 March 2016

Habitat, no. 12

From the looks of it, the architecture in Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise doesn’t much reflect that of the novel’s Brutalist-era 1970s setting. But in an interview from latest Creative Review, designers Michael Eaton and Felicity Hickson talk about how pulled from a variety of Retro- stylistic sources to give the film a particular type of unified atmosphere in terms of graphics and typography:

CR: What research do you do for a film like this, set in the recent past?

ME: It was a really fun one – from a design point of view, everything just looked so cool from that time. ...We had fonts on the office wall that Ben and Mark Tildesley, the production designer, liked – certain things would have their own font; the high rise itself, the supermarket and everything had a sort of ‘brand’ within the building. So from the start, you were aware of how you could stick to a certain aesthetic.

...We realised when we saw the shelves just how much it would take to fill the space. We looked at references for that – Andreas Gursky’s shots of supermarkets with loads of repeats of the same packaging, that was the starting point. We also looked at old images of phone books, any kind of instructional manual, toy kits.

We looked at covers of things, such as Penguin books and magazines. Also, the buyers on the film would be out buying props and every so often they’d come in with, say, a box of comics, or TV guides from the 70s. So we had all this great stuff lying around the office we could look through.

CR: [The products seen in the supermarket set] have the feel of Sainsbury’s own-brand packaging from the 1960s and 70s.

FH: They’re brilliant, I love the simplicity of the designs, they say a lot about the period and the quality of available printing methods at the time.

CR: Were you asked to reflect some of the more ‘atmospheric’ aspects of the film – its oppressive air etc – or was it more about reflecting a time?

FH: Both really. The ‘oppressiveness’ was in the fact that the products were pretty standard and generic designs that were quite quickly produced. I guess if everyone [in the block] has got the same thing, then that helps the feel of that era – and particularly what Ben was trying to create in that building.

I hadn’t realized that the film’s official site has a splash page meant to look like that of the architecture firm from the novel. And was also unaware that the idea for a film adaptation had been kicked around since shortly after the book’s publication back in 1975, with Nicolas Roeg being the first director in line for the job.

  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP