ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE (BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT)

elvis book 6

ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE

By Shane Brown

July 5th, 2014 saw the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first commercial recording session, the night on which he cut That’s all Right, the song that would launch his career. Less than six months later, on January 8th, 2015, will be celebrations for what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. Since Elvis’s death in 1977, hundreds (probably thousands) of books have been written about Presley, but very few concentrate on the most important thing: the music.

When I first became interested in the music of Elvis Presley as a teenager back in the early 1990s, the first book I bought was Elvis Presley: A Study in Music by Robert Matthew-Walker.   It was hardly a hefty tome, but it did what I wanted at the time – it gave me some guidance through the minefield of Elvis’s legacy which was then being issued, slowly but surely, on CD. In 1995, Matthew-Walker updated his book, calling the new version Heartbreak Hotel, but much of the new material centred of details of Elvis’s life, rather than his music. In fact, even in this extended work, the author managed to discuss individually virtually all of Elvis’s recordings within less than one hundred pages. As far as I’m aware Matthew-Walker’s book(s) are the only one to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of all of Elvis’s music literally on a song by song basis.

Matthew-Walker’s A Study in Music was/is an important book, and it seems rather strange that other full-length works of a similar nature did not follow it.  Bearing this in mind, I hope that Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide will manage to be a rather more thorough critique of Elvis’s music. Working through from 1953 to 1977 one session at a time, one song at a time, the book discusses the remarkable (and yet often frustrating) legacy that Elvis left behind. All recordings released during Elvis’s lifetime are discussed, as well as those released posthumously where appropriate.

Why do we need a new critique? Well, times change and opinions change with them. Our views on Elvis’s music are still based on what critics wrote forty or more years ago. Of course, the critics who panned Elvis in the 1950s were quickly proven wrong as the years passed, but the accepted view of the 1960s and 1970s recordings is still based on contemporary reviews, often from rock critics who somehow couldn’t see how or why Elvis was recording material outside of rock ‘n’ roll. As I discuss each session, therefore, I make reference to, and quote from, those contemporary reviews from the 1950s to the 1970s – around 170 of them – in order to put into context my own evaluation of the recordings.

This is not primarily a book of facts or figures – there are plenty of other works on the market that can supply those. What there isn’t on the market is a “listener’s guide” to Elvis’s music, in which each and every master recording is discussed. I haven’t written this because I think people should agree with my evaluations or thoughts but because, as we approach what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, it seems important to take a fresh look at the one thing that seems to be ignored most: the music.

Elvis Presley Song by Song: A Listener’s Guide will be available in mid-August, 2014. The paperback edition will be 6in x 9in, and will contain approx. 320 pages. A Kindle version will also be available.  

The “gay cake” row.

cake

The “gay cake” row has been rumbling on for a few days now.  The BBC website states the following:

“A Christian-run bakery that refused a customer’s request to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage could face a discrimination case in court.

Ashers Baking Company declined an order from a gay rights activist, asking for cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie.

The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group called “Queerspace”.

The cake was ordered for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall, County Down, to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia”

The arguments on the web over the issue are becoming heated, which is rather surprising considering this appears to me to be a clear cut case of discrimination – just as in the case of the B&B that refused to allow a gay couple to share a room a few years back.  However, not everyone agrees.  Tina Calder of “News Letter” website write the following:

“While my personal opinion is to live and let live and I support everyone’s right to choose I have to say that includes the bakery.

I may think it is wrong for the bakery owner to refuse to make the cake but the solid facts of the matter are that this business proprietor had an absolute right to decline any order they didn’t want to service.

Surely serving a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?

If we are going to insist on fighting for equality then it’s important that we extend that right even to those we don’t agree with.

We may not believe in the same ethical principles as one another but it is important to respect people’s right to hold their opinion or beliefs.”

So, Miss Calder, the “serving of a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?”  Would you feel the same way if the cake owners had a sign in their window saying “no ethnic minorities?”  Would you feel there was anything wrong with that?  After all, it’s up to the discretion of the business owner who they serve, right?

Bollocks.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail (ever the voice of reason!) have rather exaggerated the issue:

“The challenge to the Christian-run Ashers Baking Company is the first likely legal case in which anyone has been told it is against the law to refuse to take part in gay rights publicity campaigns.”
Errr, that’s not strictly true.  They were being asked to provide a cake – that they were getting paid for.  That’s hardly the same as holding them at gunpoint and making them walk down the street in drag with a rainbow flag.

Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail goes on (and on…):

“Mr Lee was turned down not because of his sexual orientation but because of the provocative nature of the cake he wanted baked.”
Hardly provocative given that we are living in 2014.  We are talking about two characters from Sesame Street here.

Of course, the Daily Mail article has the backing of the “news”paper’s readers. “Daffodil” suggests that:

“the answer is ,,,Bake the cake and charge ‘em £ 1000.00. that should do it .”

This might be a great decision.  The bakery could then donate the £1000 to “Daffodil” so that she could go to evening classes and learn how to use full stops, commas, and capital letters.  A win-win situation.

Meanwhile, “Papillon” writes states that the situation is:

“forced tolerance. makes a lot of sense. I feel so guilty to be a white heterosexual male. I must be the bad guy.”

Well, Papillon might well be the bad guy.  He does, after all, have an avatar of a man cocking a pistol (oh, the irony).

“F2″ asks the following question:

“Should gay bakers be forced to make cakes with “Oppose Gay Marriage” slogans?”

Whether we like it  or not, that is a question that needs to be asked, even if the scenario is as unlikely as being asked to bake a cake with a slogan on it supporting gay marriage.

What seems most odd, however, is why a certain group of people believe that rules do not apply to them because they believe in a man in the sky.  Yes, they have a right to believe what they want – and I have no argument against that – but if they run a company (whether a B&B or a bakery) designed to serve the public, then that is what they should do.  The law that states that business owners have a right not to serve people at their own discretion is archaic and needs to be changed.   This may well be a test case for that if it ever gets to court.

The key thing here, though, is that religious beliefs should not be used as a valid excuse for discrimination.

 

 

 

Jeremy Spenser

 

jeremy 1

It’s interesting that the Network label have chosen to use the appearance of Jeremy Spenser as one of the selling points on the packaging of the DVD of Wonderful Things (1959), which was released last week – he “smoulders” apparently. It’s a film that hasn’t been seen for decades, it seems, and, having just watched it, we haven’t really missed a great deal. The script is limp, Frankie Vaughan makes a strangely unlikeable lead, and the songs are less than stellar. The one thing that makes the film watchable is Jeremy Spenser, in a supporting role as Vaughan’s brother. Even saddled with a clunky script, dodgy accent, and what appears to be an inability to button his shirt up, it is Spenser to whom our eyes are drawn whenever he is on screen.

Many will be asking “who is Jeremy Spenser?” Well, Spenser started out as a British child actor, progressed into a teen heart-throb, made a move towards leading man material, but then fells into smaller and smaller film roles before disappearing from the screen altogether. Following roles in Summertime (1955) and It’s Great to be Young (1956), it looked as if Spenser would make the transition into leading man material easily. But his career seemed to falter after Ferry to Hong Kong (1959).

Perhaps his best-remembered role is It’s Great to be Young, a charming little British semi-musical from 1956 featuring John Mills as a music teacher who gets the sack for playing piano in a pub, only for the kids at the school to stage a sit-in in the gym in order for him to be reinstated. Spenser plays the boy who masterminds the sit-in and sets the screen alight with slightly tongue-in-cheek youthful exuberance. The film was outdated by the time it was released (the kids love jazz not rock ‘n’ roll), but that doesn’t matter. It’s a sweet little film, and one that was shown with great regularity on UK TV during the 1980s and early 1990s.

He is slightly less successful in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), in which he stars alongside Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Spenser plays a young king, but the reserved nature of the role didn’t really suit him (not that I have ever liked the film much anyway). One could argue his sympathetic portrayal of Miguel Hernriques, an officer on board the Ferry to Hong Kong was one of the few redeeming features of that film – one in which Orson Welles gives an almost ridiculous performance. The romance between Curd Jurgens and Sylvia Syms is unrealistic, and Spenser’s portrayal of the vulnerable young officer is about the only thing that rings true in the whole film.

And then it was over, it seems. Over the next few years, his name slipped further and further down the credits of the films he appeared in, until his final appearance in Fahrenheit 451 in which he literally is seen eating an apple – and nothing else. What appeared after that appears to be a mystery, although the internet does come up with various theories and a forum or two has a member who claims to know Spenser and tells us he is alive and well. A couple of people report having played chess with him a decade or so ago.

In the end, his whereabouts now is unimportant (providing he is happy and healthy, of course). What is known is that when Spenser’s brother, David (also an actor), passed away in August 2013, The Guardian reported that Jeremy was still alive.  What’s clear even from a relative dud such as Wonderful Things is that a fine actor, and even greater screen presence, ended his career (or had it ended for him) much too soon, and just at the point when it should have blossomed. It appears that even working with the likes of Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Dirk Bogarde couldn’t guarantee a successful career. Or perhaps it was playing supporting roles with those luminaries which caused the problem in the first place. We shall probably never know. However, when I saw this portrait of him recently, I realised he is clearly the greatest screen Dorian Gray that never was.

jeremy spenser

Braveheart (1925)

Braveheart_(1925)_-_film_poster

 

Braveheart (1925) has nothing to do with the Mel Gibson film of the same name – for which we should give thanks.  It is, instead, a rather strange mix of melodrama and action film that no doubt had good intentions but comes across as rather awkward when viewed today.

Braveheart is a member of a tribe of Native Americans who are involved in a dispute over fishing rights.  The Chief of the tribe is convinced that violence is not the way forward, and so Braveheart is shipped off to college to learn about law so that he he can return and defeat the businessmen in a court of law.  Mixed into this is Braveheart’s love for the woman he rescued after she fell from her horse (who, years later, just happens to turn up in the city where he is studying).  Also thrown into this is a subplot about football!

It’s an odd film that doesn’t entirely hold together.  Part of this is due to the episodic nature of the narrative – it almost feels like three short films tied together with a piece of string.  Also at fault, though, is the clunky way in which the film deals with racial issues.  That it deals with them at all should probably be applauded for a 1925 film, but it does so with a complete lack of subtlety.  One intertitle quotes a character as saying “He is an Indian – His people are scum.”  Yes, the line is intended to provoke hatred in the viewer for the guy that said it, but this bull-in-a-china-shop approach is not the best way to approach such issues.   The other problem here is Rod LaRoque.  Despite that wonderful name, an impressive barrel-chest, and (in this film) a very dodgy hair-do, LaRoque never manages to convince me that he is leading man material.  He always seems to come across as a pretender to Fairbanks’ throne, although I admit I often find LaRoque more likeable.

Silent film fans often have a difficult relationship with Alpha Video, who present us with prints ranging from the good to the downright unwatchable.  Of late, however, they do at least present us with at least some films unavailable elsewhere.  Braveheart is, though, available from Grapevine as well, but I can’t comment on Grapevine’s edition.  The running time is the same in both cases.  The intertitles for the first ten minutes or so of the Alpha edition are new ones that are inserted, but sadly are typed up by someone who doesn’t understand the use of capital letters or realise that there isn’t a space before a comma or full stop.  This does become a tad annoying, but the original titles are used after the first ten minutes or so.  The print is…well, it’s ninety years old and unrestored.  That said, it’s perfectly watchable (more so after the opening few minutes).

Braveheart is an enjoyable little movie to pass away fifty minutes or so and, while it’s no masterpiece, I often find that these “regular” movies are far more entertaining the more prestigious movies from the period that get released by the bigger companies.

(If anyone has seen the Grapevine edition and can comment on the quality of that print, I will be happy to copy and paste those comments at the bottom of this article)

Mortuary (2005)

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The 2005 horror film Mortuary suffers from a single, if significant, flaw:  it was made.   The following review contains spoilers.  But spoilers are only a problem if you intend to watch the film in question.  Believe me, you don’t.

Quite what possessed Tobe Hooper, the man behind such classics as Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to make such an horrendous film is rather baffling.  This is a film, after all, in which the storyline is basically about a mother and her two children taking over a mortuary that suffers from an outbreak of black goo-like moss that turns people into zombie-like creatures.  I would give you a reason for the existence of the goo, but sadly the film doesn’t give us one.  I’d tell you why there’s a madman living in a tomb, but there’s not a reason for that either.  Nor is there a reason why rock salt “kills” the goo, but that’s kind of just left to our imagination (or perhaps Hooper had caught an episode of Supernatural at some point).  I’d give you reason for the film’s existence, but that’s not clear either.

What I’m trying to say here is that Mortuary is a pile of crap.  That’s not a description I often use in my reviews, but it’s very apt here.  And this comes from a guy who has recently watched more than his fair share of Elvis films over the last few months for a project I’m working on – in comparison, Kissin’ Cousins is Gone with the Wind.

What makes Mortuary slightly interesting (at least for this writer) is that it is one of two films from 2005 by horror maestros in which one of the teenagers at the heart of the narrative is gay.  The other film, Cursed by Wes Craven (hardly a classic, but better than this), makes more of a fuss about the gay issue than Hooper does here.  In the case of Mortuary a teenager announces to his friend that he’s gay, he says “that’s cool,” and it’s never mentioned again.  And that, in fact, is rather cool.   There is often a link between (homo)sexuality and horror, but it’s often implicit, and all too often links homosexuality with the monster at the heart of the film.  That’s not the case here, and the inclusion of a character who just happens to be gay in a teen horror film (well, I’m guessing it’s aimed at teens) is a welcome one, and it’s a shame it doesn’t happen more often.  Of course, the gay guy dies first – killed by a dead, hairy old man in briefs.  Don’t ask.

Horror films with gay characters normally end up being directed by David DeCoteau who, if you don’t know already, makes horror films in which attractive twenty-something males spend most of the film in their white boxers, writhing around in bed (alone).  In other words, he took the similar images from Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and made a career out of it.  DeCoteau’s films aren’t good.  In fact they appear to get worse as time goes on, but at least you know what to expect.  With a film directed by Tobe Hooper, one expects something that at least passes the time effectively.

Sadly the issues with Mortuary don’t end with the stupid plot.  The CGI effects are awful, and the pacing often makes the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a fast-moving action thriller.  The three teens at the heart of the narrative are at least likeable and slightly kooky, and the actors do well with what they are given to work with.  Sadly what they are given is a director who has lost the plot, and a script that should never have been filmed.

Mortuary was Hooper’s last film to be released for eight years.  Djinn (2013) was made in the United Arab Emirates and its release had been delayed since 2011.  Critics have not been kind to the movie – perhaps Hooper’s best days are far behind him.

Dear Anna – A Response to a Concerned (homophobic) Reader

Conchita-Wurst

I apologise for the personal nature of this post, but I hope my regular readers who are uninterested in such matters will forgive this indulgence and come back soon for a nice juicy film review!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for the blog about Eurovision, and the possible importance of Conchita Wurst winning the competition.  Today I received the following comment on that post (I have left spelling/grammar etc as is):

There is a huge cognitive dissonance at play. The media as well as the “gay community” have completely lost their touch to reality. Aks anyone on the street about the whole “Wurst” thing and you get at the very least 80% negative comments about it. Ppl are fed up by this endless promtion of gays etc., there are only 1-3% of the pop. who are not hetero sexual, yet that at best 3% is trying t indoctrinate the 97%!
my advice is to take it a whole lot slower, because if you gay activists keep pushing just a little more, ppl will have enough of that nonsense and they will be openly opposed to the whole gay thing and to call ppl who dont want to call a gay lifestyle good as mentaly ill (homophobe= irrational fear, ergo a mental illness) is not helping at all.
As far as I am concerned, pls go ahead with what you are doing, you are digging your own grave.

*

Dear Anna

It’s sometimes difficult to know where to start when one receives such comments (which is, thankfully, rarely).  However, you clearly think your voice is not being heard, so let’s give you some time in the sun and take your comments seriously.  After all, you have been spending your valuable time standing in the street asking people what they think of the “Wurst thing” and getting 80% negative comments about it.

This seems odd considering Eurovision is a  contest partly decided by public vote and Ms Wurst won.  Add to that the fact that statistics that appeared after the show tell us that the public vote was hugely in favour of Wurst.  The vote on the occasion was split in most countries between a televote and a jury decision.  In over twenty of the countries that voted, Austria was in the top 3 by the public vote.  In only four countries was Austria voted outside of the top 5.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder just where you have been conducting her poll.  Your email address is German, and yet recent polls from Germany show that 70% of the population support same-sex marriage.  Bearing that in mind, would the same people really care about a “bearded lady” winning Eurovision?  I doubt it.

Now, let’s get down to the whole indoctrination thing.  All the 3% want, Anna (and I hope you don’t mind me calling you Anna), is to be treated as equals. We’re not trying to convert you – heaven help us, looking at your comments most of the LGBT population are no doubt quite glad you’re straight.   What’s interesting though, is you don’t want us to “indoctrinate” you, but you are happy to give us the advice of taking it a “whole lot slower.”   My dear girl, it’s taken 2000 years to get where we are now, how slowly do you want us to take it?

Your definition of homophobia as a mental illness is indeed that – yours, not mine.  Either way, you clearly don’t spend much time reading my posts if you think that I view having a mental illness as somehow demeaning or offensive.  Homophobia is an irrational fear simply because it IS a fear.  What are you scared of?  So what if we finally persuade all of the Annas of the world that we simply want equality?  Are you scared of thatEquality?  I doubt that.

Your final sentence shows exactly where you’re really coming from – sheer vindictiveness.   After all, you do tell us to “pls go ahead with what you are doing, you are digging your own grave.”  You want us to dig our own graves?  This is nothing about you wanting us to take things slower – you simply don’t want us to exist.  Well, my dear concerned reader, I would like to confirm that I do not feel the same way about you.   Every time somebody like yourself writes a comment like yours, more people get outraged and realise that you’re in the wrong here – or, at the very least, irrational.  I’d like to assume that your issue here is simply a lack of education – but considering the nature of your comments and your choice of language, that simply isn’t the case.

Do I get angry with people like you?  Not really.  I feel sorry for you, Anna.  Sorry that you can’t live your life without being outraged by someone singing a song – and even more sorry that, four weeks on, you were still on the internet looking for articles on the singer you were outraged by and feeling the urge to write a comment.  Really and truly, have you nothing better to do? You call me a “gay activist,” something I would say is really not true.   I may well use my blog and twitter for political purposes from time to time and to put the LGBT viewpoint across, but that hardly makes me an activist.   You, on the other hand, seem far more “active” putting your point across than I am.

Now, I’m off to live my life, and I sincerely hope that you manage to find a way to live yours without worrying about the shocking behaviour of  1-3% of the population.

Best wishes

Shane x

Conductor 1492 (1924)

CONDUCTOR 1492.avi_snapshot_00.12.52_[2012.01.24_14.37.38]

 

Some stars of the silent era are inexplicably forgotten and neglected.  Comedy star Johnny Hines is a case in point.  Eclipsed by the “big three” of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, Hines is so forgotten that there is not even a page dedicated to him on Wikipedia, something which really should be remedied by a Hines fan as soon as possible.

Despite the fact that he and his films have largely disappeared off the radar, Hines was a popular star of the 1910s and 1920s, with his likeable, good-natured persona bringing genuine warmth to his vehicles.  Sure, he wasn’t the artist that Keaton, Chaplin or Lloyd were, but then not everyone is a genius, and you don’t have to be a genius to make a fun film.  For British audiences, Hines could perhaps be classed as the silent era equivalent of Norman Wisdom.  Hines entered the movies around 1913 or 1914, at just eighteen years old, and his years at the top ended abruptly with the coming of sound, although he stuck around in small character parts for another decade or so before retiring completely from the film industry.

Conductor 1492 is one of the best of his surviving and available films, and was written by Hines himself and directed by his brother, Charles Hines (as were many of his films from the period).  Here he plays a streetcar conductor who inadvertently finds himself trying to save the company from a bunch of crooks, while trying to attract the attentions of his boss’s daughter at the same time.  It’s relatively routine stuff for the most part, but highly enjoyable, and there are certain sequences that are wonderfully put together.  Perhaps most notable among these involves Hines’s attempt to jump the queue to the bathroom in the guest house in which he lives.  While mostly known for his affable characters, here he also shows some great comic invention and the sequence ends with the unforgettable image of Hines covered from head to foot in soap in the shower with a huge grin on his face.  That grin is likely to be on the faces of those watching as well.

The trade journal Film Daily gave the film a mostly positive review, calling it a “good comedy with a fine share of laughs”, and telling cinema managers that “if your folks enjoy laughing you can count on Conductor 1492”.  Interestingly, the article also suggests managers hiring a trolley car to promote the film.  Alternatively, there was also the possibility of hiring “an old horse car and have it going around the streets prominently displaying a slogan reading “This car is in charge of Conductor 1492”.  Yep, that would work.