Category Archives: Movies

“Don’t Think Twice” – Movies borrowing Bob Dylan songs and lyrics

Most of the literate world is aware at this point that songwriter musician Bob Dylan was recently awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.  For those who don’t follow the news regularly there was some concern in the days following the announcement that Mr. Dylan couldn’t be found because he hadn’t formally commented about receiving this honor.  Finally he did respond publicly saying that receiving the award was “amazing, incredible.  Whoever dreams about something like that?”  It’s been reported that Mr. Dylan won’t be attending the awards ceremony, however, in Sweden on December 10 as he has another commitment at this time.

In the aftermath of Bob Dylan being the recipient of this award, I was reminded about seeing earlier this autumn two recent film titles that are lines lifted from Bob Dylan songs.  It made me realize how much his music has permeated our cultural consciousness.  These very recent films are entitled “Complete Unknown” (2016) and “Don’t Think Twice” (2016).

I began to wonder how many movies have borrowed their titles from Dylan songs through the years.  Here is a list of some films (as well as a few TV series):

“Forever Young” (1992)

“Corrina, Corrina” (1994) (Dylan didn’t write this blues/country song – his cover of it is well known)

“Just Like a Woman” – Three movies with this title since the late 1960s: 1967, 1992 and 2012

“A Simple Twist of Fate” (1994)

“Like a Rolling Stone” (1994) – Japanese film

“If Not For You” (1995) – TV series that ran 8 episodes

“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (1997) – German film

“All Along the Watchtower” (1999) – TV series that ran 6 episodes

“Tangled Up in Blue” – Three different full length films have been made with this title.  Their respective years of release were 2004, 2009 and 2011.

“Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast” (2005)

“Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan” (2006)

“Blowin’ in the Wind” (2007)

“One Too Many Mornings” (2010)

“My Back Pages” (2011) – Japanese film

I’m actually leaving out innumerable short films and individual television episodes (from a wide range of TV series) whose titles also borrow from Dylan’s repertoire.

Epilogue

In spring 2016 Rolling Stone magazine published this list of the 100 best Bob Dylan songs. Here is the online link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-bob-dylan-songs-20160524

And in providing some commentary in regard to these songs, writer/director Cameron Crowe states “Dylan’s stuff continues to inform every generation – it just lives and lives and lives…”

Elvis, liking his music (& also a movie about him meeting Nixon)

Elvis!   I was too young to understand what all the fuss was about when I was growing up – I grew up on the Beatles and the first wave of the British Invasion bands that followed and Elvis just seemed corny and out of date to me.

Then one nite, in the mid 1980s, I heard a song sung live by a local rock band in the city where I was living at the time.  This song was pure rock n roll, up tempo and very danceable – it dazzled me like a meteor roaring across the sky (to make my own corny metaphor).  Afterwards I asked someone in the band who wrote this song and the musician looked at me oddly – it’s an Elvis song.

After that I began to take an interest in this American icon of rock n roll.  Within that year I watched the film performance of his 1968 Las Vegas concert.  I began to realize Elvis contributed quite a repertoire of very likeable rock n roll songs to contemporary music.  While I didn’t make it a mission to seek out any other specific songs per se, I definitely had a new respect for Elvis Presley and his music.

Now recently I saw the movie “Elvis and Nixon” released in Spring 2016 starring actor Michael Shannon as the King of Rock n Roll and actor Kevin Spacey as the President.  It’s based on the real life meeting between Elvis and Nixon that took place sometime in  Dec 1970/early January 1971.  The film takes its premise from an infamous photograph of the two of them shaking hands when they met at the White House.  No one knows what their conversation, however, was actually about.  The movie extrapolates on this meeting by additionally focusing on friends of Elvis who possibly accompanied him to the White House when he traveled there and also on Nixon’s aides who (in this film version anyway) encourage Nixon to go and ahead meet this visitor, Elvis Presley.  “Elvis and Nixon” is ultimately kind of quirky and fun and possibly of interest to Elvis fans.

Anyway here is the song that made me like Elvis!

 

More Soundtracks…”Aloha”

The film “Aloha” was released in 2015, and before its release evidently this film was riddled with controversy.  Criticism initially stemmed from what is regarded as insensitive casting choices, and then in the wake of Sony studio’s hacked email communications, it was revealed that some studio executives believed the film was a mistake and the studio would lose money.

I saw “Aloha” on DVD the other night – it isn’t a great film, and in my opinion some of the plot lacks plausibility.  The chemistry among the actors was believable, however, and that kept my interest.

What “Aloha” does have is a cavalcade of good music ranging from traditional Hawaiian songs to selections by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, Eddie Vedder & his seven-year-old daughter, Harper, and more.  Given that the writer/director, Cameron Crowe is a former editor/writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, and Crowe’s other movies have similarly memorable musical moments, the abundance of music in “Aloha” is not all that surprising.

“Heart is a Drum” by Beck Hansen is a song in the film that captured me.

Soundtracks

I like to watch now and again movies that I saw some years ago when they were first released. If it’s been a number of years (25 or more), I often remember the film’s basic story line and not much of the details. Some movies I like to see more than once after it’s been a long time. A movie that I just saw for about the 3rd time since its initial release is quite full of music from an era of time when the film’s characters first met.

At this 3rd viewing of the film I thought about all the songs that are featured in it and thought of what my two top favorite songs are among them all.

Here are the songs that appear in the 1983 film “The Big Chill” that have emerged as my favorites:

“The Weight” by the Band

I wasn’t really aware of the Band until they broke up. I think it was the 1978 film “The Last Waltz” that introduced me to their music in a complete way, and ironically it was a film about this group’s final concert. “The Weight” is a song that has grown on me over the years.

“Gimme Some Lovin’” by Spencer Davis Group

I have loved this song and it’s uptempo beat since it was first released. This a song that will make a person want to dance! (and shout “hey!”)

In the film “The Big Chill” this song is played when there is a backyard touch football game going on.

I’m just realizing here that “Gimme Some Lovin'” is actually a fairly short (time-wise) song.

A film and a poem about AIDS

After recently seeing the now award-winning film “The Dallas Buyers Club” (with kudos to Matthew McConaughey for his best actor Oscar and to Jared Leto for his best supporting actor Oscar), it brought back memories of the years in the 1980s when the disease AIDS first emerged.   So much at that time was unknown about this frightening and then terminal illness that it was not only the general public who was mystified, the medical establishment was also in the dark.  News stories about the one drug, AZT, that seemed to ward off the disease for a time anyway, depicted the horrendous side effects that this medication inflicted on people who needed it.  There was also talk about how the U.S. FDA was too slow in releasing the results of the clinical trials for other AIDS medications.  This hampered terribly the availability of other approved medications in reaching the AIDS patients.  Much of this that went on back then is depicted in the real-life story of Texan Ron Woodroof that the film “The Dallas Buyers Club” is about.

Moving ahead to present time I wanted to feature, in honor of Women’s History Month, the poetry of the American woman poet, novelist and memoirist writer, May Sarton (1912-1995).  Contained with a collection of Ms. Sarton’s poetry I found this poem entitled “AIDS” written in the late 1980s.

AIDS, a poem by May Sarton

We are stretched to meet a new dimension
Of love, a more demanding range
Where despair and hope must intertwine.
How grow to meet it? Intention
Here can neither move nor change
The raw truth. Death is on the line.
It comes to separate and estrange
Lover from lover in some reckless design.
Where do we go from here?

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear

Our world has never been more stark
Or more in peril.

It is very lonely now in the dark.
Lonely and sterile.
And yet in the simple turn of a head
Mercy lives. I heard it when someone said
“I must go now to a dying friend.
Every night at nine I tuck him into bed,
And give him a shot of morphine,” And added, “I go where I have never been.”
I saw he meant into a new discipline
He had not imagined before, and a new grace.

Every day now we meet face to face.
Every day now devotion is the test.
Through the long hours, the hard, caring nights
We are forging a new union. We are blest.
As closed hands open to each other
Closed lives open to strange tenderness.
We are learning the hard way how to mother.
Who says it is easy? But we have the power.
I watch the faces deepen all around me.
It is the time of change, the saving hour.
The word is not fear, the word we live,
But an old word suddenly made new,
As we learn it again, as we bring it alive:

Love. Love. Love. Love.

[1988]

 

 

Becoming Better Friends (a bit of surprising U.S. & British history found in a movie)

First off I’m not actually an Anglophile or a big fan of the British royals (other than former Princess Diana and her two now adult children).  Having seen the movie “The King’s Speech” about the efforts of England’s newly appointed King George VI (real name Albert) in the late 1930s to overcome a stuttering problem, I was surprised how happy I was to see him and his wife reappear in the 2012 film “Hyde Park on the Hudson.”   This time it is 1939, and following up on an invitation by President Roosevelt, King George and his Queen visit FDR and the First Lady, Eleanor, at their home away from Washington, D.C. in Hyde Park, New York.  In his invitation to the royals in late August 1938 FDR writes:

…”If you should be here in June or July you might care to avoid the heat of Washington, and, in such a case, it would give us the greatest pleasure to have you and Her Majesty come to visit us at our country home at Hyde Park which is on the Hudson River, about eighty miles north of New York and, therefore, on the direct route between New York City and Canada. Also, it occurs to me that a Canadian trip would be crowded with formalities and that you both might like three or four days of very simple country life at Hyde Park — with no formal entertainments and an opportunity to get a bit of rest and relaxation…”

The film “Hyde Park on the Hudson” is primarily about FDR’s relationship with his distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (rhymes with Bookley).  However the visiting British royals kind of stole the movie for me.   While not central to the movie’s plot per se, considerable attention is given to their visit with a highlight of it being a picnic held in their honor where they are served “hot dogs” to eat.  Neither the English King nor the Queen had ever eaten a “hot dog” and just between the two of them they are not sure if this is all on the level or perhaps to make fun of them.

King George VI, however, decides to be a good sport and heartily eats the hot dogs he is given, and this incident became a symbol of England and the U.S. becoming stronger allies and better friends.  Evidently much was made of this by the U.S. press.  What is true is the visit leads to FDR and King George VI becoming fast friends and this friendship, in part, is reflected in the U.S. becoming a staunch supporter of England as WWII began to loom.

Daisy Suckley, FDR’s close friend/distant cousin, also attended this same picnic held for the British King and Queen.  Interestingly, in June 1989 there was a 50th anniversary reenactment of this picnic at the Roosevelt home on the Hudson known as Springwood and Daisy, now age 97, attended this event also.  It turns out she and one other person were the only two remaining original picnic attendees that were still alive.  Daisy was able to give some insight on the British royals and the hot dogs, and in her eyes it was not a big deal and all rather silly.  Still, in honor of the occasion Miss Suckley, also a good sport, tasted a hot dog at the commemorative picnic.

                                              

What’s Been Left Out?! (television version…)

Film viewers beware! I watch movies on television (network and cable) a lot. I also do watch newer films, either on DVD (normally rented either from Redbox or the nearby public library) or via the “On Demand” service that is offered on cable.

Watching a televised version of a movie normally I’m not familiar enough with an older film to know if a scene or segment’s been edited out for TV. Not so with the movie “Thelma and Louise.” Now seeing this for the second time on television (and my third viewing overall since it was released 22 years ago now), I am disappointed that a scene from this movie is missing from the televised version.

Yes, gone, at least from the two televised versions I’ve seen now in the past 6-7 years. It’s the scene where deep into the movie Louise and Thelma are driving through the desert at night and the Marianne Faithful song “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” is playing in the background. I was so moved by this scene when I first saw this movie in 1991 that within two weeks I went out and bought the Marianne Faithful album “Broken English” where the song “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” appears. It is a song that made me want to go to Paris before I die (and finally in 2003 I was able to do this).

Ok, I realize this particular scene in “Thelma and Louise” must’ve been edited as it’s not considered pivotal to the plot. That’s a shame really as this song and scene lend poignancy to the movie, reflecting the dark turn (literally) that the lives of these two characters had taken. For anyone who remembers this song and this scene, here is a YouTube rendition (thank you Luis Luce for posting):

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110529/life-features/-Get-a-life-and-they-did.368033

http://fandangogroovers.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/desert-island-cd/

American-ness

Lately I’ve seen a couple of times the trailer for the forthcoming David O. Russell directed movie “American Hustle” (due to be released in December 2013). The film appears to take place in the 1970s and the trailer’s Led Zepplin song accompaniment lends an enticing energy to the film’s purported story.

Believing “American Hustle” is a movie I hope to see, I began to wonder about other movies with “American” in the title (& a 1950s film that didn’t put the term “American” in its title yet the book the film is based on has this term). In what context is this term used and when is it flattering and when is it not? (calling to mind both the rose known as “American Beauty” and the disparaging phrase the “ugly American”). How and when the term “American” appears in a movie title, is it in any way a sign of the times and era in the context in which it is used?

The first film I thought of is “American Heart,” a movie from the early 1990s starring Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong. Here an ex-con, newly released from prison and living in Seattle, struggles to make a life for himself and his teenage son who he barely remembers.

Another is “American Gangster” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe circa 2007.

How about a 180 degree turn and the fairly lighthearted “The American President” (1995) made and released when former President Clinton was in office with actors Michael Douglas and Annette Benning?

And then spinning again, there is “American Gigolo” the 1980 drama with Richard Gere.

For sex comedy and silliness there is “American Pie” (1999) and its subsequent sequels.

While not a complete list, here are some additional movies with “American” in the title – for the most part the term is used as an adjective. In some instances there are movie titles where the term is a noun.

“American Beauty” (1999) – Directed by Sam Mendes. Numerous nominations and awards including oscars for best picture, best director and best actor.

“American Psycho” (1999) – Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. An early starring role for actor Christian Bale.

“American Graffiti” (1973) – Directed by George Lucas. Considered now something of a modern classic, this features a cast of actors who later became very well known. This film is believed to “capture the innocence of America before the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War”, depicting a typical night in the life of group of recent California high school graduates before their lives begin to change.

“An American Werewolf in London” (1980) Directed by John Landis. Darkly humorous movie that became a cult classic.

“The Quiet American” (based on the novel by Graham Greene) — This movie was made twice: In 1958 starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave; More recently in 2002 starring Brendan Fraser and Michael Caine.

“An American in Paris” (1952) – Featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, this musical is about the life and romances of an ex-GI (actor Gene Kelly) who remains in Paris after the war to study painting.

“American Splendor” (2003) – A movie that weaves both fact and fiction concerning the life and times of real life comic book writer, Cleveland, OH resident, Harvey Pekar. Actors Paul Giametti and Hope Davis star; the movie includes also narration by the real life Harvy Pekar.

“An American Tragedy” (1931) ; “A Place in the Sun” (1951) – These two films are based on the 1925 novel An American Tragedy by American writer, Thedore Dreiser (1871-1945). The story is based on a real life 1906 event.
Made 20 years apart, the 1951 version “A Place in the Sun” starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, is the more well known. I’m not sure the reason why the book’s title is not used for this rendition — perhaps it is due to film title copyright concerns at that time. If not, perhaps the original book title An American Tragedy was considered too pessimistic for a time in America, the 1950s, when the country was booming with post-war optimism. Maybe upon deeper examination the ironic “A Place in the Sun” movie title lends the story poignancy. I wonder what Mr. Dreiser’s thoughts would’ve been on this.


Painting known as “American Progress” or “Spirit of the Frontier” by John Gast (1872)

 

“American Gothic,” a painting by Grant Wood (1930)

“On the Road,” the 2012 film & the “On the Road” poet

I finally recently saw the film version of the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road. Considered an autobiographical novel, since its publication in 1957 it has become almost a treatise documenting the freewheeling lifestyle of people who lived outside the perimeter of mainstream middle America in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The story is narrated by the character, Sal Paradise (in real life Jack Kerouac,) an aspiring writer who develops a friendship with a hard drivin’, hard lovin’, hard drinkin’ man, Dean Moriarty (in real life Neal Cassady) and the sensitive homosexual poet, Carlo Marx (in real life Allen Ginsberg). As these people, during the course of the story, join up at various points, their escapades include driving feverishly across America or hanging out together in Denver, New York or San Francisco. For the most part these adventures comprise much of the narrative. Joining with them are other characters who also impact their lives and the novel as well.

The movie “On the Road,” it turns out in my opinion, is not as good as it could have been, and yet it could’ve been worse than what it is. Some of the adventures/travels, given considerable description in the novel, are not portrayed in detail in film, and I found that amiss. Other situations or characters, however, when seen on the big screen, actually made more sense to me than what I got while reading the book. The movie does seem to have a lot of sex, drugs and jazz (as one IMDB reviewer succinctly states) in it, and while the depiction of such is no longer shocking to today’s audience, there is a sense that the intensity of such a life cannot go on indefinitely.

Much has been written about the Beat movement including the poet Allen Ginsberg whose famous 1956 poem, “Howl” was the subject of the 2010 film starring James Franco as Ginsberg himself. Not to give too much away, there is scene in the “On the Road” film when Sal smiles as he receives a copy of the freshly published “Howl” written by his friend, Carlo Marx.

Howl (the beginning lines of this poem…)
by Allen Ginsberg (aka Carlo Marx in the novel and film On the Road)

For Carl Solomon

I.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear,
burning their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares,
alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson,
illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn,
ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
in the drear light of Zoo,…

See: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381 for entire poem “Howl”

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No Man’s Land

no man’s land

n.

1. Land under dispute by two opposing parties, especially the field of battle between the lines of two opposing entrenched armies.

2. An area of uncertainty or ambiguity.

3. An unclaimed or unowned piece of land.

I’ve been reading lately a book entitled Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by writer Eula Biss.  A modern collection (published 2009), this woman’s pieces have something of the flavor of a memoir, ripe with insight with Biss’s unique observations about her life and family as well as the world at large.  I remember reading Phyllis Theroux (California and Other States of Grace) and Annie Dillard, and Ms. Biss has much of the same qualities of these two other writers.

What has stirred me recently is this term “no man’s land.”  While reading this essay collection, I actually didn’t give the phrase much thought until now in the past week I’ve unexpectedly watched two films where “no man’s land” was discussed and actually represented.  Not knowing much about World War I, the “Great War” as it was for a time described, it turns out that “no man’s land” was part of the vernacular of the battlefield where this war was fought.

In the 2012 film “War Horse” it was in “no man’s land” that one of the more dramatic scenes occurs.  It is there where Joey, the smart, staunch and persevering horse brought into battle by both the British and the Germans during World War I, ends up entangled in barbed wire.  As two soldiers, enemies in arms, work together to free the horse they meet together in “No Man’s Land” to do so.  This stretch of desolate land between the two opposing trenches now becomes the neutral place where some good can occur on behalf of another living creature.

The French film “A Very Long Engagement” (2004) tells the story of a young French woman whose fiancé is drafted into the Great War.  A lame woman of great fortitude, she and her fiancé grew up together and when he fails to return home after the war ends in 1918, she persists in the belief that he is still alive.  What she learns is that her fiancé and four other men, condemned to death by their own French army for shooting themselves either on purpose or accidently, were thrust out of their trench to fend for themselves in “No Man’s Land.”  As unshielded moving targets, the film slowly unravels how these five men coped with their exile in “No Man’s Land” and how long each of them survived.  In this film much attention is given to “No Man’s Land” as it is serves as the backdrop for these five men living or dying.

NoMan'sLandphoto