Archive for March, 2012
Speaking of the genesis of The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, Albert Maysles says that one day the phone rang and it was Granada TV on the other end of the line, announcing that the band was landing at Idlewild in two hours, and, oh, did the brothers want to make a film about them? Albert, who was into classical music, was at a loss, so he kindly put the phone down and asked his brother David “Are they any good?” The result, after the filmmakers had followed the band around New York, Washington and Miami for three weeks, was this terrific 84-minute film. It’s fortunate, though, that both the Beatles and the Maysles were so good at what they did because, really, they could make it awfully hard to love them much as people. Albert Maysles is one of the greatest documentary filmmakers to ever walk the earth, but he can also be a pompous ass, and even if their every tenth joke is fall-on-the-floor funny, The Beatles couldn’t stop acting out all the worst scenes from Help!
That leaves the music, which is a gas. The band’s energy noticeably drops off in the last Sullivan show (the one in which Ed threw the Fab Four by relaying Richard Rodgers’ congrats to them), but the first Sullivan show and especially the show in D.C. were just killer. (Don’t believe me? Just check out the clip below.) Its innocence comes from it getting under the door in time to still be just about the music—not the war or the drugs or any of that other stuff—a still pure youth happening before it gelled into a Movement. The concerts also made for the best audience reaction shots this side of Jazz on a Summer’s Day. The shriekers and criers top the bill, of course, but there are also the Anthropologists—the girls (and certain of the guys) who only sit, chin in hand, soberly studying the scene even as it explodes all around them—as well as the Lost Souls (almost all guys), who look as if they showed up only because they were given tickets to what they thought was going to be a car show. In any case, you can’t help but love the two girls in the matching checked shirts.
The very Mulholland Dr.-ish short by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich. The “Gregg” who did the camerawork was Toland.
It’s amazing how quickly the industry began loathing itself…
The Internet’s a funny thing, the way it makes people you’ve never laid eyes on such a presence in your life. I first logged on to Table Talk, Salon’s now defunct (and deleted) message board, in ’97 or ’98, and it wasn’t long before one of the posters there made himself conspicuous with his promiscuous love of film and music. The poster’s name—he was never the type to hide behind a pseud—was Randy Porter. Because we were so close in age, and because our tastes (in old movies in particular) found themselves so often working off the same crib-sheet, it was impossible for me not to feel simpatico with him. Randy tended to shy away from writing long posts, but he had a gift for relaxed one-liners which, in combination with his prized avatar—a shocked-looking Hattie McDaniel—had the same droll effect on me even after I’d seen it hundreds of times.
When Table Talk became a pay service, a handful of like-minded posters drifted away, first to our own private forum, and then another and another, and Randy and Hattie—two class acts—were welcome sights at all of them. Randy chipped into the conversation only when he had something truly worth saying, and without ever looking like a wimp about it he always left the fighting to others. That last quality is the one that I find so remarkable. In the 13 or 14 years Randy and I shared a corner of the net, I never once got into a tangle with the guy; au the contraire, I always felt like he had my back even when the rest of the world was laughing at my boneheaded arguments. And it wasn’t just me: I never saw Randy fight with anybody on the Internet, which has to be a record for the period of time involved. It just wasn’t what the guy was about.
Randy often mentioned his twin brother, Terry, and it was an utter shock when he announced a year or so ago that Terry had died. In Sarasota Terry was known as a pop savant, one of those guys who, needing just a scrap of memory or two, could instantly name the album or movie you were thinking of, and Randy clearly loved him dearly. Terry’s death left Randy with a raw, naked welt of sorrow which he couldn’t hide, and when he mentioned Terry’s passing just a month or so ago, it was if it had just happened. Recently Randy began complaining of insomnia and unhappiness and the grief that wouldn’t die; indeed, some of his later posts sounded as if they were directed as much to Terry as they were to us.
You’ve probably sensed where this is going. Word reached us yesterday that Randy too has passed away, age 53 or 54, I think. No word yet on the cause of death, and frankly I don’t care—knowing that won’t change any of the things I care about right now, when all I want to do is say R.I.P. to a brother. You were one of the good guys, Randy, and I’ll miss you.
One of the earliest “symphony of a city” movies, it’s a gorgeous 11-minute short by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler (with an assist from Walt Whitman). I’d trade most entire movies for the two shots beginning at 9:59.