The Auteur Completion Project rolls on. I never knew how to see Permanent Vacation until Criterion put it out a few years ago, and now that I’ve finally watched it, I might as well also finally see this Neil Young/Crazy Horse doc that I bought a decade ago. I have a weird attraction to buying concert DVDs and a weird aversion to watching them. Anyway, now I’ve seen every Jim Jarmusch film that I know of, and I feel good about that. Now to move to New York and see them all on 35mm instead of DVD.

Jim and Neil on the bus:

As far as behind-the-scenes musician docs go, this one is top-notch, not for any particular visual superiority (in fact, it was purposely shot on cheap film and video cameras) but because it lets the songs play out in full – even the long jammy ones – without impatiently cutting to some famous person telling us how great Crazy Horse is. If there’s anyone who can be counted on for patience, it’s Jarmusch.

A movie about the perfect 1960’s, where nothing bad happens. Less realistic even than Love Actually and yet based on the mildly-true story of the pirate-radio boats that served London the hottest rock records which the BBC was too uptight to play. The uptight BBC is represented by villainous bureaucrat Kenneth Branagh (and villain-in-training Jack Davenport, who is given a missed opportunity for redemption at the end).
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The boat is populated by a bunch of DJs and a mixed-up naive kid designed to lead us through all this anarchy (as if we needed him). From left to right:
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Captain Bill Nighy
The kid
Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords
I think that’s Tom Wisdom of 300
Thick Kevin
Nick Frost
some dude with about two lines
stoned Bob (secretly our kid’s missing father): Ralph Brown of Withnail & I, Alien 3
possibly Philip Seymour Hoffman (head missing)

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And dramatically featuring: Rhys Ifans! Of Elizabeth 2! He shows up and brings faux-discord to the ship. Oh, and Emma Thompson has a scene as the kid’s mom. Most impressive was the inclusion of sixty classic rock songs, which must’ve accounted for half the film’s budget. Thought it was pretty good, light, funny. Katy was disappointed that it wasn’t Julie and Julia, and called it a boy movie.

Katy told me Jack Black was in a depression after this movie failed, so I felt bad for skipping it and thought I’d rent it to cheer the guy up. Maybe it’s director Liam Lynch who’s in a depression… if your feature debut bombs, do you get a second chance? I hope he’s at least working on a second album (and more music videos).

The celeb cameos are as good as you could hope for – meaning the film isn’t weighed down by the awkward injection of whichever actors would say yes, but they actually have funny parts that work with the movie. Amy Poehler as a waitress: (“do we have to pay for all these refills?”, “No, you’re so pretty you get everything for free.”), Neil Hamburger gets about one line, Dave Grohl was apparently the devil, Tim Robbins is surprisingly good at silly comedy under lots of makeup – only Ben Stiller is a problem as a prophetic Guitar Center employee, and even that is only because his scene goes on too long.

After an outstanding musical intro (a kid who is perfect as a young Jack Black with Meat Loaf as his metal-disapproving father), the D members meet and perform open mic nights, but in order to win the big open-mic grand prize they’ll need the titular pick made from satan’s horn. It’s a mix of some original episodes (biggest fan Lee is in the movie; they borrow then trash his car) and music videos (the final scene is basically the “Tribute” video with a less catchy song, and there’s a hilarious shroomy Sasquatch sequence). Kept me entertained.

Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions (2002)
Ten W&G shorts. I think these were made to promote the full-length film… of course I had the chance to watch them back then and somehow put it off for seven years. Anyway these are cute – faves were The Snoozatron (a machine that dresses G. up as a sheep and flips him on a trampoline so W. can “count” him and fall asleep) and The Turbo Diner (a table-setting device exactly a la Charley Bowers in He Done His Best).


All This And Rabbit Stew (1941, Tex Avery)
Tex’s final Bugs short before moving to MGM. Hooray, now that I’ve watched those John Ford movies I can recognize that the offensive black stereotype hunter is based on Stepin Fetchit. I tried telling myself that if he didn’t look African the character would basically be Elmer Fudd – but then Bugs gets out of being held at gunpoint by shaking some dice and that idea goes out the window. Ouch.
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Vivian (Bruce Conner, 1964)
If you liked a girl in the 1960’s, you made an avant-garde film of her. Harvard Film Archive: “An ecstatic portrait of actress Vivian Kurtz that features footage of a 1964 Conner exhibition and couches a humorous critique of the art market.” Set to a pop song called Mona Lisa, loads of fun and only three minutes long. This would go on my “best of a-g” gift reel if it wasn’t such a problem to make such a thing.
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Journey on the Plain (1995, Bela Tarr)
Poems about friendship loss, life and death, each with a long tracking shot (imagine that), written by famed Hungarian poet Sándor Petöfi and performed by one of my favorite film music composers, Mihály Vig (Irimiás from Sátántangó, in color!). Suddenly in one scene 20 minutes in, he’s on a truck loudly playing a doomed keyboard. An odd movie, peaceful and beautiful. I would gladly watch again, paying more attention to the words of the poems.

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Thriller (1979, Sally Potter)

A narrator goes over the story and characters of an opera, then analyzes it while staring into a mirror, memory and identity swirling about. Very art-film, told in black-and-white stills and scenes, narrator all heavily french-accented. Kind of entrancing, really, with repeated poses and images and phrases, never quite turning into something I can make sense of (though I hear it’s some kind of marxist-feminist critique of Freud and contemplation of human existence, thanks to a useful, knowledgeable and well-considered review on the IMDB – a rare thing indeed).

Sony Pictures: “a critical re-working of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, was a cult hit on the international festival circuit.” Sudden bursts of the shower theme from Psycho. “Yes, it was murder. We never got to know each other. Perhaps we could have loved each other.” I need to see it again, obviously, but I’m not dying to do so anytime soon.

from K. McKim’s great Senses of Cinema article

Potter’s 16 mm black and white cult hit Thriller (1979) overtly equates revision with survival; the film invokes formal conventions to interrogate the narrative necessity of Mimi’s death. Inscribing this inquiry within allusion to female murder victims (Thriller cites Bernard Hermann’s screeching Psycho score), Mimi questions the conventions that locate meaning in the death of a young beautiful woman. Scripted, edited, produced and directed by Potter, Thriller transforms the opera into, as the title suggests, a thriller that uncovers operatic form’s generic and gendered hypocrisy.

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Dottie Gets Spanked (1993, Todd Haynes)
Wow, this was great. Boy with a mommy complex idolizes an I Love Lucy-esque TV show, wins a contest and gets to visit the set. Movie swirls with repression and fantasy and budding sexuality.

The distributor: “anticipates … Far from Heaven with its excavation of placid mid-century surfaces and deeply-buried emotions.” R. Lineberger: “This short film was commissioned by the Independent Television Service as part of a search for short films about American television. The pairing is perfect. Haynes is subversive, but approachable. His film deals with ominous and disturbing themes, but he never comes out and says anything objectionable. For example, Steven’s father is suggested to be violent, or at least sharply critical, but we never actually see any aggressiveness from him. The whispered consequences and punishments exist in glances, or in Steven’s thoughts.”

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13 Screen Tests (1964-66, Andy Warhol)

Rented Warhol’s screen tests sorta against my will (I just wanted to hear the new Dean & Britta songs) then proceeded to half-watch ’em while listening to the music. The films were better than I thought (that Edie Sedgwick has got something, and Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper are funny) and the music was worse (standard instrumentals, a few new songs and some covers). I did try watching a screen test straight through, the way I’m supposed to, to see if I experienced a sudden tingly appreciation for the Cult of Andy, but it didn’t work; maybe I picked the wrong one.

G. Comenas:

Factory visitors who had potential “star” quality would be seated in front of a tripod mounted camera, asked to be as still as possible, and told not to blink while the camera was running. … Some of the earliest Screen Tests were those included in Warhol’s film The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys. … More than 500 Screen Tests were made. In addition to The 13 Most Beautiful Boys, some of the footage was incorporated into other compilation reels such as The 13 Most Beautiful Women (1964) and 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities (1964).

LA Times:

Each test lasted as long as a single 100-foot roll of film. Each was shot at 24 frames per second and projected at two-thirds of that speed, a trick Warhol often used. Each took a little less than three minutes to film, and takes a little more than four to watch. The slow-motion effect adds a discernible flicker, heightens every movement and contributes to the dreamy, ghostly quality.

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I.
Movie opens exactly how I would’ve opened a Tom Petty movie, with a concert performance of “You Wreck Me”. And this is a four-hour movie, a four-HOUR movie, so I thought we’d have some breathing room and could afford the four minutes to hear the whole song uncut, set the stage for your epic Tom Petty documentary by letting us hear a whole Tom Petty song, just so we know what exactly we’re celebrating here. But P.Bog goes the obvious talking-heads documentary route instead, cutting into the song so people like Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, Dave Grohl and Johnny Depp can tell us that they love Tom Petty and his music so much. Damn, almost had something there. I guess P.Bog doesn’t want people tuning in and thinking it’s gonna be a straight-up concert, but still, I hope in the next four hours he finds time to play one song, just one song all the way through without voiceover. Can you celebrate a musician without actually playing any of his songs?

We may not get to hear a song uninterrupted, but we can enjoy watching Johnny Depp talk without any bothersome on-screen text saying “Johnny Depp”. But I didn’t recognize half the people who spoke, so if he doesn’t eventually start with the text, I’ll just never know.

But look at me complain. It’s an enjoyable show so far, talking ’bout Petty’s early obsession with rock music and his meeting Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench and early days in Mudcrutch. All songs I’ve heard before from the box set with nice home-movie footage to go with it.

II.
Tom drives to L.A. to find a record deal, gets a few of those, Mudcrutch breaks up because the studio wants Tom more than the rest of the band, and the Heartbreakers are quickly formed to replace it. Their record producer wrongly assumes that they mean the name Heartbreakers ironically. Tom is shot in arty black-and-white.

III.
First two Heartbreakers albums are out. There was all of one sentence about the second album being more difficult than the first before they cut to people raving about it. Some good live footage, some talk about drug use. And finally, one entire TV performance of a song with no cuts or voiceovers. Hoorah! A “required monthly test” on my tape cut out one talky segment. The band was initially popular in Britain before they caught on in the U.S.. Someone’s trying to convince us that Tom Petty was part of the Talking Heads/Sex Pistols rebel new-wave/punk movement, since the Heartbreakers’ roots-rock was out of fashion on the radio, replaced by bloated dinosaur rock and disco. I guess it’s a workable theory but I want to hear David Byrne’s opinion first.

IV.
Third album was a big deal. Jimmy Iovine shows up and tells us that third albums are always big deals. Petty found out he was being dicked around by his record company and he sued them… big unprecendented event, led to settlement giving Tom more control and royalties from his music and the eventual release of “Damn The Torpedoes,” feat Refugee, Even The Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. Movie plays nearly the whole album over the story.

V.
Some pressure for the fourth album, “Hard Promises”, another great one, feat. Insider and A Woman In Love. Very nice segment on The Waiting that starts with Petty singing it acoustic, cuts into music video / studio version, then after an interview piece closes out the song with Eddie Vedder on vocals during a live performance. We lost a bass player (no hard feelings), gained a new one (Howie Epstein), won another fight with the record company (over album pricing), dealt with Stevie Nicks, and played the great Stop Dragging My Heart Around. First time diving into Tom’s angry youth, his abusive father (plenty of hard feelings) and sweet mother who died during the recording of this album after long illness. Iovine presents his theory: missing mother + abusive father = rock star. Towards the end of 1982 I drove back to work blasting Insider with the windows open. Man, it’s only 1982… how long can P.Bog keep this up? Did he ever watch the whole thing at once?

VI.
Next album “Long After Dark” (the one with “You Got Lucky”) isn’t as good as it might’ve been. Producer Jimmy Iovine is blamed for his involvement. Next album “Southern Accents” (feat. Eurythmics-penned “Don’t Come Around Here No More”) isn’t as good as it might’ve been. Producer Jimmy Iovine is blamed for his lack of involvement. We get a full pretty-recent concert performance of the song “Southern Accents”, and a brief description of the drug-fueled two year period around the Accents album leading to Tom’s smashing his left hand into a wall. P.Bog uses an innovative cutting style during this segment, and intimate camera work reminiscent of his film “Texasville”. Haaaa I’m just kidding, it’s the same ol’ interview stuff. I turned it off after a black screen announcing the end of part one. I hope part two is on my videotape!

VII.
The album: “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” feat. Bob-Dylan-co-penned “Jammin’ Me”. Here in part two, Petty’s rock cred and history firmly established, we take an immediate P.Bog-style veer towards talking about all Tom’s Famous Friends. Tom and his group back up Dylan (who hadn’t played with a band since The Band), hang out with ex-Beatles and Jeff Lynne and Otis Redding and finally form the Traveling Wilburys, marking the point when Tom went from rebel-rocker to a guy whose records my mom would buy. I haven’t seen The Last Waltz but mentions of The Band got me wondering if this is P.Bog’s answer to that movie, a big rock statement blending his two main talents of reminiscing about the old days and namechecking famous friends. Oh but I shouldn’t be mean to P.Bog, don’t really know much about him.

VIII.
Wilburys record comes out and is a huge hit, then Roy Orbison dies so that doesn’t go any further. Tom alienates the band by making a solo-ish record in “Full Moon Fever,” but it’s the biggest hit of his career and the Heartbreakers play the songs live and they don’t seem so bitter anymore.

IX.
Tom continues to alienate the band, this time with the help of Jeff Lynne, “Into The Great Wide Open” producer who likes to record the band members one at a time instead of all together like they are used to doing. New drummer joins during “Wildflower” sessions and is asked to stay permanently when old drummer finally quits. They hang out with Roger McGuinn, Johnny Depp, Dave Grohl, Faye Dunaway. “Greatest Hits” sells ten million copies after Tom is finished grumbling about it. The band gets a little happier. I’m starting to be thankful that the movie is so long. It’s been nine lunch hours so far I’ve gotten to hang out and listen to Tom Petty stories, and I always feel like playing some Petty albums when I get back to work.

X.
I didn’t think I’d end up criticizing a four-hour doc for its omissions, but when it acts like it’s telling the whole story, those omissions seem serious enough to mention. Firstly, they didn’t mention the Petty/Heartbreakers soundtrack to She’s The One. I can see not wanting to spend a lot of time on it, but they could at least mention it in passing… it’s a great album. More importantly, Tom’s cameo as the mayor of Bridge City in the post-apocalyptic epic The Postman went unmentioned. “I heard of you, man… YOU’RE famous.” On the bright side, the band is back together. On the less bright side, nobody seems totally happy with “Echo”, least of all Tom, who was going through a divorce at the time of recording. Back up with a new wife and a hall of fame induction for “The Last DJ”, currently the Heartbreakers’ most recent album and a very good one. And then back down again as bassist Howie Epstein dies from drugs and is replaced in the band by original bassist Ron Blair. Oh, and the band backed up Johnny Cash on “American Recordings”, something else to be proud of.

XI.
Oh augh, the summary chapter. Would that the VCR chewed up my tape sometime between last time and this one. Tom is proud of “Highway Companion” but has nothing new to say about it. There’s some more concert and video footage, but mostly this is where we throw all the clips of people saying nice things about each other to leave us feeling good about ourselves and Tom and rock ‘n roll. Might work better if you’ve been spacing on the movie for four hours and gone through a couple six packs, but as a standalone episode it’s tedious. So I’ll keep my last words to a minimum: good flick, good tunes.