Kool Kat of the Week: SEX BBQ’s Kate Jan Gets Scandalous Turning Up the Heat With a Debut Album, SEX NOIR CITY, and a Saucy Shindig at the Drunken Unicorn

Posted on: Apr 1st, 2015 By:
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Photo courtesy of SEX BBQ

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Kate Jan, New York transplant and guitar slingin’ skateboarding badass punk rocker chick and her beloved debaucherous band and partners in crime, SEX BBQ [current lineup: Kate Jan (vocals/guitar); Steve LaBate (guitar); Rob Bellury (bass); Steve Brown (drums); and Steve Albertson (everything else)] will be shakin’ a tail feather this Saturday, April 4, at the Drunken Unicorn, with Young Rapids and MammaBear to boot! So, come on down and have a smut slingin’ hell-raisin’ ruckus with SEX BBQ at the Drunken Unicorn this Saturday at 9pm!

Kate, not your typical psych-punk space cowgirl, has been slingin’ her guitar and writing music since childhood, major influences including Riot Grrrl punk rockers, Bikini Kill, as well as the Breeders, ‘90s skate thrash punk and even Chuck Berry. In 2012, Kate voyaged to the southern underground to continue her Neuropsychology education and decided to add a little rockin’ debauchery to the mix! SEX BBQ formed shortly thereafter and have shared bills with Hospitality, Single Mothers, Beach Day, Little Tybee, Concord America, Belle & Sebastian and Warehouse, just to name a few. They’ve also been featured in several national music outlets [PunkNews.org; Under the Gun Review; Speakers in Code; and Magnet Magazine]. SEX BBQ’s first single “Locus of Control” b/w “Wake Up” was recorded by Ed Rawls and Justin McNeight (The Black Lips; The Coathangers; Those Darlins) in the summer of 2012, with both tracks appearing on their new album, SEX NOIR CITY, debuting this spring. The album’s nine new tracks, recorded by Damon Moon [Rrest; Iron Jayne] in East Atlanta, are chock full of surf riffs and garage punk elements, destined to satisfy the retro rockers in us all!

ATLRetro caught up with Kate for a quick interview about SEX BBQ’s debut album, SEX NOIR CITY; her New York City underground roots; and her take on the band being described as “garage, surf, psych, prog, metal, dream pop, indie rock, Tom Waits-style junkyard blues, B-52s-esque, Spaghetti Western weirdness!” And while you’re checking at our little Q&A with Kate, get an earful of SEX BBQ’s vintage, noir rock ‘n’ roll sound, here!

SEX BBQ  murder by T.O. Lawrence

Photo Credit: T.O. Lawrence

ATLRetro: What a cool name for a band! Sex BBQ! Can you fill our readers in on the funky story behind the name and how you got together?

Kate Jan: Thanks! Steve L. and I started playing songs together in my apartment in Atl – we just started writing, playing and having fun. We gradually found Steve #2 (drums), Steve #3 (keys and percussion), Laura Palmer (vocals and organ) and Everett (bass) through friends. The extremely talented and creative Laura Palmer introduced the name SEX BBQ to our vernacular from a satirical guide to decoding your teen’s text lingo (SBBQ). After briefly entertaining and then ignoring the possibility that we’d be set aside as a joke band or a frat-rock dad-rock sextet, we embraced it as the best combination of all words ever. And so SEX BBQ was birthed.

As a skateboarding, guitar-slingin’ neuropsychologist and rockin’ New Yorker chick to boot, what brought you to The Dirty Dirty?

I came for a Neuropsychology Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Emory after getting my PhD, and stayed for the medium bowl at the Old 4th Ward Skatepark.

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Photo courtesy of SEX BBQ

The band’s sound has been described as having a “garage, surf, psych, prog, metal, dream pop, indie rock, Tom Waits-style junkyard blues, B-52s-esque, Spaghetti Western weirdness,” which of course sounds like a helluva good time! How would you describe your sound and your live show?

That pretty much nails our sound. Thankfully we’ve got tapes and records now! Our live show is a party all around. We don’t mess around with stage banter but we play, dance and mingle while we sling those axes and sing our hearts out.

We see that you picked up a guitar pretty early on. Can you tell our readers a story about how you got started playing music?

I got two stories. My mother was a huge Joni Mitchell fan and played acoustic guitar. She played and sang for me. My Dad played piano and actually now plays church organ, which is kind of weird because we are Jewish. But, you know, when music calls it calls. When I was 6, I picked up a guitar and wrote her a song for Mother’s Day. It went something like “I Love You. You’re My Mom.”

I took a few lessons when I was 12 or so, and learned the basics, you know – songs by The Muffs, Seven Year Bitch and most of THE CROW (1994) soundtrack. After that, lying on my floor devouring mid-90s punk and – after Kurt Cobain died – listening to Nirvana day & night went hand in hand with writing my own songs.

Album cover by Steve AlbertsonYour top retro influences are listed as the B-52s, Bikini Kill, the Pixies, Pink Floyd, and even film composer, Morricone, famous for so much, including his Spaghetti Western film scores. What influenced you the most with regards to such a wide-variety of music makers?

It’s a collective list from our variety of band members. I don’t even know who Morricone is, and I always liked the Breeders WAY better than the Pixies. I cried when they broke up way back when. Like bawled.  My major influences are Bikini Kill, Blake Babies and all of 1990s’ skate and thrash punk and NY Hardcore. Recently, I’ve been heavily influenced by The Delmonas, Chuck Berry (at least I hope) and Grace Slick.

As a musician coming from New York, the metropolis of underground music, how would you rate Atlanta and its rockin’ underground music scene? And who are some of your favorite local bands?

My favorite Athens band is straight-up grit-dirty garage party rock trio Free Associates. They rock my world. In Atlanta I really dig Concord America, Todaythemoon, Tomorrowthesun and Jungol. I spent my teenage years going to CBGB, ABC No Rio and Tramps seeing bands like The Skabs, L.E.S. Stitches, Agnostic Front, Bouncing Souls and my friends’ bands. It was just way easier then – there was still punk and hardcore. I think all those clubs are closed now.  While living in Queens in the 2000s, I honestly couldn’t afford to go out. To be verrrrry honest, I spent lots of time writing electronic music on Reason in my tiny apartment. I was dating a hip-hop producer for awhile – shout out to Beatnik & K-Salaam – and got to go to shows and meet people like Talib Kweli, M1 from Dead Prez, Pharaoh Monch and Wordsworth. I almost bowled with Talib Kweli when Brooklyn Bowl first opened. I also hung out with a metal engineering crew and got to see and chill with Lamb of God and my favorite indulgence, nu metal stylies Killswitch Engage. If I had lived in Brooklyn it would have been different in terms of exploring underground/indie music, but holy rent!!

SEX BBQ sacrifice by T.O. Lawrence

Photo Credit: T.O. Lawrence

If you could put together a dream line-up of bands to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?

Free Associates, Gun Party, Blake Babies, The Delmonas, Jefferson Airplane, Sick of it All, H2O and The Black Lips. Because they all have unique ways of playing energetic shows and they’re all really great. And the Descendents.

You’re touring in support of your debut album, SEX NOIR CITY. Can you tell our readers a little about it?

We haven’t released tour dates for this spring and summer. We are playing April 4th at the Drunken Unicorn and that’s all I can reveal now. Tehee!

Anything scandalous planned for your shakin’ shindig happening this Saturday at the Drunken Unicorn?

I could tell you, but then I’d have to involve you in our Master Plan and you might get in deep, deep shit. Seriously though, once, during a Drunken Unicorn show we created our own micro-economy by distributing SEX Bar-B-Bucks. It was the genesis of the sharing economy and our gateway to taking over the world. It was Everett and Laura Palmer’s idea. In sum, expect wizardry.

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Photo courtesy of SEX BBQ

What’s next for Kate Jan and Sex BBQ?

We are SO STOKED for our release of SEX NOIR CITY, and we will have tapes and a limited run of white vinyls with hand-painted jackets for sale. I think we are even more excited about the new music that we’ve been writing in the meantime. I have a jam space and recording studio in my basement so I think we’re going to record an LP there soon in a collaboration with Jones Maintenance Revue.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

Music and medicine are both great, but growing flowers and raising a puppy rock too.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Q: What does your wisest and oldest mentor say about SEX BBQ?
A:  My grandfather is 94, fought in the Royal Air Force as a pilot after escaping Poland, is wildly into classical music, and recently discovered the genius of Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones:  “Keep enjoying, Katie, the world of music, which adds a disproportionally large percentage to human happiness on this earth.”

SEX BBQ playing cards by T.O. Lawrence

Photo Credit: T.O. Lawrence

 

All photos courtesy of SEX BBQ and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Really Retro: Sergio Leone Meets Norse Legend WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES at The Plaza & A Retrospective on Vikings in the Movies

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2013 By:

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (Iceland/Sweden 1984); Dir. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson; Sunday, June 23; 3 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Preshow presentation and weapons/crafts for sale by Sons of Loki; Sponsored by Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia; $8 general admission, $6 for SAFG members; PG-13; violence; parents should exercise caution when bringing children; Trailer; Facebook event page.

By Anya Martin

Vikings may come from cold climates, but Dark Age Scandinavians are hot right now, at least on screen. The TV series, VIKINGS, was such a hit that The History Channel has renewed it for a second season. With promises of capturing the authentic violence of the Vikings in Dark Age Britain, HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013) hits theaters July 5. The main villain in THE AVENGERS (2012) was Norse trickster god Loki, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a second feature about that Norse-God-turned-Marvel-Superhero premieres in November. Even Mel Gibson supposedly has BERSERKER, a “real and visceral” Viking feature in preproduction.

In the midst of this seeming Viking fever, critically acclaimed Viking adventure movie WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (HRAFNINN FLYGUR) will get a rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sun. June 23 at 3 p.m. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES recounts an Irishman’s quest for revenge on the Viking raiders who savagely killed his parents and abducted his sister. Ancient Norse gods figure prominently in the plot, and the prerequisite violence ensues. However, the film is as much a Western in its structure as a mythological saga with striking visuals of the desert replaced by stunning cinematography of the unique Icelandic landscape. Director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson describes himself as a disciple of Sergio Leone, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of all three is apparent. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES is evocative of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, in that a mysterious stranger Gestur (Jakob Þór Einarsson) plays off tensions between Thor and Erik, the two brothers who lead the Viking band.

Poster for EMBLA, aka THE WHITE VIKING.

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES has won several awards, including being voted one of the outstanding films of the 1980s at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Gunnlaugsson winning the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Direction, the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. It was also nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.The movie is the first of the Raven Trilogy, which includes IN THE SHADOW OF THE  RAVEN (Í SKUGGA HRAFNSINS, 1987) and EMBLA (2007), aka the director’s cut of THE WHITE VIKING (1991), which was originally edited by that film’s producers without Gunnlaugsson’s approval.

If the melding of real Viking lore and Leone couldn’t be cool enough, the screening will be preceded by a live weapons demonstration by the Sons of Loki. These contemporary Vikings will also be present in the Plaza Lobby before and after the movie with Viking handicrafts and weaponry for sale and to answer questions about Scandinavian culture in the Dark Ages.

Still over the history of Hollywood, Viking movies have been relatively rare, compared to other historic-based genres such as the Western or the sword-and-sandle epic. And good ones with any relevance to actual Viking culture even rarer. Therefore, at ATLRetro, we decided to dig a little deeper to excavate a brief saga of Norse-inspired cinema.

THE VIKING (1928).

The first appearance of Vikings on film that we could find was THE VIKING (1928), a silent that chronicles Leif Ericsson‘s journey to the New World. The costumes apparently are strictly Wagner, the weaponry inauthentic and the actual history tenuous, but Leif’s father enthusiastically slaughters Christians and Princess Helga has a sexy winged helmet and heavy black eyeliner.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t return to the world of the Vikings until the 1950s when a sudden splash of features hit the big screen. The first, PRINCE VALIANT (1954), was based on the popular comics series, directed by Henry Hathaway (who would go on to direct TRUE GRIT[1969]) and starred a young Robert Wagner. It was a fun sword-and-sorcery romp with links to the King Arthur legend and the bonus that the sword actually sung, but the plot has virtually nothing to do with authentic Vikings. Always one to follow a trend as cheaply as possible, Roger Corman followed with THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT (1957). In this cheesy fantasy frolic, a young way-pre-FALCON CREST Abby Dalton leads a bevy of scantily clad Norse babes to battle a monster and rescue a missing man.

Then came THE VIKINGS (1958), the first actual epic Hollywood treatment starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. Full of battles and striking cinematography in Norwegian locations, this romanticized story of two brother vying for a Welsh princess was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA [1954]) and also benefitted from visual designs by Harper Goff, another 20,000 LEAGUES veteran as art director. Some time around then, by the way, was the only other Norse-inspired TV series, TALES OF THE VIKINGS, which ran about 19 episodes from 1959-60. Alas most of the footage is lost, but it lifted scenes and props directly from THE VIKINGS movie. You can hear the jaunty theme song here! Oh, wait, there was also the silly British children’s cartoon NOGGIN THE NOG which ran from 1959 to the mid-70s.

Italian giallo director Mario Bava (DANGER:DIABOLIK; BARON BLOOD) also tried his hand on two spaghetti Viking features, ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) and KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) with American action hero Cameron Mitchell, who would go on to become best known as Uncle Buck in 1960s TV Western series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. The first steals its tale of two brothers plot directly from THE VIKINGS, but is noteworthy for rich cinematography, strong action and dancing vestal virgins. California-based living history and educational group, the Vikings of Bjornstad point out in their wonderful Viking Movie List (see link at end), “This is a Viking-related movie. It’s 786 AD. The ships had red and white striped sails. Once in a while, someone yells “Odin!'” They go on to mention inaccurate costumes that even sometimes have clearly visible zippers, an “underground throne room left over from some Biblical Philistine movie” and a Viking village that seems to be made out of Lincoln logs. KNIVES OF THE AVENGER  is basically a spaghetti Western reset in the Dark Ages mixed with pirates, supernatural magic and lots of knife-throwing which the trusty Vikings of Bjornstad spare no punches to declare “Worst Viking Movie Ever!” As for Cameron Mitchell, maybe he aspired to be the Clint Eastwood of Italian Viking epics since he also starred in THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L’ULTIMO DEI VIKINGHI, 1961) and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (I NORMANNI, 1962).

Charlton Heston is THE WAR LORD (1965).

In general, the 1960s weren’t good to the Vikings on screen, whether outright fantasy or not. THE LONG SHIPS (1964) is a lightweight adventure about a Viking quest for a golden bell in the Holy Land. Directed by Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of THE VIKINGS, and starring Richard Widmark as a Viking warrior and Sidney Poitier as a Moorish king, the movie is not really very Viking except for the presence of a long ship and round shields. But the action scenes nonetheless are amplified by lush Yugoslavian locations, and the titles were designed by Maurice Binder who crafted the Bond openers. Not surprisingly, Charlton Heston also did an obligatory stint as a Norman war lord in THE WAR LORD (1965) charged with defending his Duke’s land again Frisian invaders, who are costumed to look like Vikings, not a far stretch considering they came from near Denmark and were eventually conquered. Despite the stringy chainmail and Hollywood backlot locations, The Vikings of Bjornstad give this one a thumbs up, noting that Heston is well cast and it’s “one of the few films that touches on the differences between the Christian Normans and the pagans they ruled.” They also wouldn’t mind seeing a better update of another Hollywood film that had potential, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), which starred David Hemmings as King Alfred and Michael York as Viking Chief Guthrum.

Britain’s Hammer Films, known for its high quality low budget horror, served up THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). The goofy plot is involves women wearing much too little to be comfortable in British climates, a Viking-Roman forbidden romance and a Brits versus Romans rebellion which evokes Celtic tribal queen Boudicca. Nobody obviously cared to check and see that Vikings didn’t raid the U.K. coast until long after the Romans had already left. Meanwhile, Danish film HAGBARD AND SIGNE (aka THE RED MANTLE/DEN RODE KAPPE, 1967)  transplanted a ROMEO AND JULIET storyline to two warring Viking families. Filmed in Iceland, Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, lean spare film…the sleeper of the year,” and the Vikings of Bjornstad overall give it a thumbs up for aesthetics and action for the time.

Perhaps mercifully the long ships barely got unmoored during the ’70s, with the highest profile feature THE NORSEMAN (1978) sinking at the box office despite starring a hunky Lee Majors, at the peak of his SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN fame, with a Tom Selleck moustache as Greenland’s Prince Thorvald. It followed the frequent Viking movie plot of a journey to the New Land, in this case to free his father King Eurich (Mel Ferrer) who is imprisoned by Native Americans, and the brawny cast also included quirky character actor Jack Elam, then a Western staple; NFL stars Fred Biletnikoff and Deacon Jones, and Denny Miller (TARZAN THE APE MAN, 1959). Oh, lest we forget, Walt Disney action-adventure flick THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) included a lost Viking colony.

In the ’80s, ERIK THE VIKING (1989) literally became a bad joke. Alas it was to be a Monty Python vehicle starring Graham Chapman, but while Terry Jones directed and John Cleese plays the villain, audiences just didn’t find it funny maybe because of the sheer unlikelihood of Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Imogen Stubbs appearing in even a satire of a Norse saga. Tim Robbins valiantly gave his best effort to star as Erik who ironically was tired of marauding and goes on a quest for a magic horn of peace.

Well, that’s in the English and apparently Italian speaking world of mainstream movies. In Iceland where Vikings actually lived, the 1980s produced a number of features that purported to be more authentic takes on Norse culture. The first was OUTLAW, THE SAGA OF GISLI (UTLAGINN, 1981), based directly on the Gisla saga. Then director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson embarked on WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES, the film which is playing at the Plaza and became the first installment of a Viking trilogy. Norway also produced THE LITTLEST VIKING (1989), a charming children’s tale about a daydreaming boy who seeks to end a feud with another clan. It apparently has lots of stunning fjord shots.

In the ’90s and 2000s, the mainstream Viking feature took a turn towards being more gritty and gory, allegedly to be true to the times or well, because, dark sells movie tickets. Several interesting ventures featuring high-profile directors and actors sailed onto the big screen. The first was ROYAL DECEIT (aka PRINCE OF JUTLAND, 1994), a supposedly period-accurate retelling of HAMLET starring Christian Bale as a sixth century Danish prince whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is murdered by a power-hungry uncle (Gabriel Byrne, who would be back in Viking robes as the surly old chieftain in The History Channel’s VIKINGS this spring). Of course, he has the hots for his hot mama (who else but Helen Mirren?!). The Vikings of Bjornstad like that the costumes, weaponry and sets are simple, hence probably more period accurate, but otherwise found it disappointing despite what would seem to be a strong cast. The European version is 17 minutes longer than the US/Region I DVD version.

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)

Next up is the uber-violent THE VIKING SAGAS (1995), directed by Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Martin Scorsese‘s RAGING BULL (1980). It starred Ralf Moeller (TV’s CONAN, GLADIATOR) and was actually filmed in Iceland. Alas, the acting and script are not much, but it has a mythic quality with a magic sword – as much a must seemingly for a Viking movie as a medieval fantasy one – and more of an authentic look than most of its predecessors, actual Icelandic movies excepted.

And then THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) nailed the look and feel of a Norse legend perhaps better than any Hollywood film that came before it. Originally titled EATERS OF THE DEAD and based on a Michael Crichton novel, it was meant to be a gory but realistic retelling of BEOWULF, but really more captured the spirit of a Robert E. Howard short story though its outsider hero, an Arab ambassador played by Antonio Banderas, was more spirit and intellect than Conan the Barbarian brawn. Unfortunately, director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR) was not allowed the final cut (the idea of a director’s version someday being released seems increasingly remote especially with McTiernan now in prison). However, enough of McTiernan’s vision remained that THE 13TH WARRIOR acquired a loyal fan following (including a high recommend from ATLRetro and an even better authority – the Vikings of Bjornstad).

Yeah, we are going to skip quickly over the disappointing PRINCE VALIANT (1997) – ATLRetro would love to see a PRINCE VALIANT that’s true to Hal Foster‘s wonderful comic which has been recently resurrected by masterful illustrator Gary Gianni, but this is NOT it. And no time is worth devoting to BEOWULF (1999) starring Christopher Lambert who at some point after GREYSTOKE did completely forget how to act. And the Vikings of Bjornstad say everything worth saying about BERSERKER: HELL’S WARRIOR (2004) in this phrase – “time-traveling immortal Viking vampires who wear sunglasses in discotheques…So overdone.”

The Vikings of Bjornstad rank Polish movie THE OLD FAIRY TALE (STARA BASN, 2003) as “the best Viking movie” for its historical accuracy. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, who has been called Poland’s John Ford, the 9th century story revolves around a wicked Polish king and a Viking-raised hero. Apparently, Viking reenactment is big in Poland, which the Vikings of Bjornstad think may have contributed to it, first, getting made, and second, its high quality. Also well worth a view for its stunning Icelandic scenery and interesting take on the quintessential Saxon/Norse legend is BEOWULF AND GRENDEL (2005), starring a pre-300 Gerard Butler and featuring some of the best Viking era costumes of any film.

In South Africa-filmed low-budget BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BLOOD OF BEASTS, 2005), Odin punishes a Viking princess (Jane March)  by trapping her in a castle with a beast. A Gallic bande dessinee hero finally gets big-screen treatment in the French animated comedy ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (2006) which seems to forget that Vikings weren’t around yet in AD 50. Robert Zemeckis‘s much-touted 3D BEOWULF (2007) honed so close to the original poem, probably thanks to Neil Gaiman being involved in the script, but yes, the animation even of beautiful Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s evil mother, is decidedly creepy.

PATHFINDER (2007) starred Karl Urban, who certainly looked mighty Norse as Eomer in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a Viking raised by Native Americans who ends up leading the tribe that raised him in battle against new Viking invaders. A crappy remake of a much better 1987 Norwegian movie, the story really comes from Lapland/Sammi mythology. Directed by Marcus Nispel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [2003], CONAN [2011] ), it’s gory melodrama with lots of mist. The same year (2007) also saw the release of the more serious and well-reviewed SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) travels back from the future to 8th century Norway in  OUTLANDER (2008). Viewers who ignore that this mash-up of Norse mythology and sci-fi is light on history may have silly fun. It features both laser guns and swords, a monster, John Hurt as the old king, Sophia Myles as the prerequisite sexy princess and Ron Perlman as a gruff Viking with, let’s just say, poor manners.

And then there’s VALHALLA RISING (2009). Director Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE) spares no punches with the ultra-violence in which Christian Vikings and a mute slave (Mads Mikkelsen, HANNIBAL, CASINO ROYALE) headed for the Holy Land get blinded by fog  and end up in the New World. An article in Movie Fanfare on the “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See” (see link at end) perhaps put it best: “VALHALLA RISING plays like THE VIKINGS co-directed by Terrence Malick and Italian gore specialist Umberto Lenzi!”

And oh yeah, there was some movie about a Marvel super-hero named THOR (2011).

For more about Vikings in the Movies, check out the Vikings of Bjornstad’s Viking Movie List, as well as Movie Fanfare’s “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See.” 

 

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 30: Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA Provides a Grand Guignol/Giallo Finale to the 2012 Buried Alive Film Festival, Courtesy of Splatter Cinema

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

SUSPIRIA (1977); Dir: Dario Argento; Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett; Sat. Nov. 10 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Presented by Splatter Cinema for the Buried Alive Film Fest; trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The fine folks over at Splatter Cinema are offering gorehounds and the gore-curious a chance to see SUSPIRIA on the screen this coming weekend as the grand finale of the Buried Alive Film Fest (Read our full festival preview here). They’re advertising this screening as a “Special Restored Edition” which suggests that this beautiful film will be presented without all the marks, scratches and chemical bleeds that might get in the way of the full SUSPIRIA experience. If you’re going, be sure to arrive on time, as SUSPIRIA also sports one of the best taglines in movie history: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes are the first 92.”

For hardcore horror fans, SUSPIRIA hardly needs an introduction. For many, just the first few notes of the main musical theme are enough to send them into vivid memories of their favorite scene, the most gruesome death, or the way they felt when they finally saw that famous last reel. “Cult” is a term that gets thrown around too easily with genre flicks, but SUSPIRIA is one of those movies that earns the title. There’s a church of the converted for this film. Critics overwhelmingly support the movie, and some (such as The Village Voice) even say it’s one of the greatest movies of the entire 20th century. That’s quite a lofty position for a film that’s more about mood than plot, lives on extraordinary violence and willingly, gleefully makes little sense.

What story there is revolves around Suzy (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student who arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy, only to gradually discover that the school is infested with a coven of witches. And while “a school full of witches” might invoke pleasant thoughts of Potions Class and mail-by-owl, Hogwarts this ain’t. These witches, led by headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, DARK SHADOWS), conjure dark forces and engage in sadistic rituals, pursuing bloody, prolonged murder for anyone who gets in the way of their sinister, yet oddly vague schemes.

Jessica Harper in SUSPIRIA (1977).

SUSPIRIA (the title translates loosely into “Sigh”) is one of the best-known titles from Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and helped to cap the short, intense heyday of the Italian giallo picture. The history of Italian cinema is built around trends, with hordes of opportunistic producers chasing any large success by flooding the cinemas with lookalike content. Just as the smash hits A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and DJANGO (1966) launched a tidal wave of violent, sweaty  (spaghetti) Italian westerns in the 1960s, the 1970s belonged to the Italian thrillers and early slasher films. Originally spinning off from the works of Alfred Hitchcock—the movie usually considered the first giallo, Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), was an obvious and unlicensed Hitchcock homage—the giallo genre increased the intensity and cheapness of the thrills, placing their usually-female protagonists in the path of knife-crazed killers, and combining the elements of a whodunit mystery with murder scenes extended beyond belief and buckets upon buckets of blood. Argento made his international name in the genre, and the artistic ambition and style of his films, such as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), inspired a rash of imitators and launched giallo’s peak in the early 1970s, when it extended into all areas of Italian culture, from film to music and literature. In fact, the term giallo itself means “yellow” and refers to the cheap, yellow covers of the typical Italian pulp slasher novel.

By the time Argento made SUSPIRIA, the giallo picture’s moment was nearly over, and the genre had drifted into some very weird territory by embracing the supernatural. Giallo had always favored style over story. Directors like Argento and Bava realized that the plots of their films were usually too silly or too convoluted to hold an audience, and so they treated the films as exercises in image and technique. For SUSPIRIA, Argento took this philosophy to its logical end, drenching the movie in vivid, saturated colors and horrific, grotesque gore. These elements, combined with the odd twists and turns of its story, give SUSPIRIA a dreamlike quality, like a nightmare you’re only half-aware isn’t real. These elements steer SUSPIRIA away from its exploitation roots and into a cinema of the surreal, a deeply affecting and harrowing journey through a landscape that should make sense, but doesn’t.

Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc in SUSPIRIA (1977)

Backing up this feeling is the film’s famous score, created by the prog rock group Goblin. The infectious, haunting music is as inseparable from the mood and effect of SUSPIRIA as “Tubular Bells” is from THE EXORCIST (1973) or John Carpenter’s main theme from HALLOWEEN (1978), itself heavily inspired by Argento’s work.

SUSPIRIA is an entertaining film, but it’s also an experiment into the effects of extreme cinema on something as primal as the horror movie. Unlike the blunt, mostly artless slasher films it inspired in the states, SUSPIRIA remains one of the prime examples—perhaps THE prime example—of the horror movie as art. There’s been talk of a Hollywood remake for the last several years, but it seems to stall at least in part because the act of remaking a film is largely about the story and the premise, and what makes SUSPIRIA so noteworthy is everything else.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Playing with Scissors, Dreaming of Unspiralled Stairs and Hiding Plastic Spiders with Jeffrey Butzer

Posted on: Mar 28th, 2012 By:

Jeffrey Butzer with accordion. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

Cinematic. Haunting. Minimalist. Unique. Perfect.  All of these words could describe Jeffrey Butzer‘s eclectic sound rendered with such unusual instrument choices as accordion, toy piano and glockenspiel. The motto of his live shows might be “expect the unexpected” in the best possible way, and his previous recordings and videos, solo and with bands The Bicycle Eaters and The Compartmentalists, have attracted praise from Canadian film director Guy Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) and film critic Roger Ebert. In other words, if all you know about Jeffrey is his Charlie Brown Christmas tribute show (read our article about it here), you’re in for a real treat at the release party for Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters’ new 7-inch HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS (The Great Big) this Saturday night March 31 at The Earl.

ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey recently to find out more about HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS, the influence of Spaghetti Western scores and scissors on his unique sound, and what it was like to wake up Roger Ebert in the middle of the night.

Just the title HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS suggests a story behind the music. What’s on it, how did you come to write the songs and is it true it will be on red vinyl?

This might not be as mysterious as a back story as one might want to hear, [but] the title refers to something my wife and I did when we first met. We worked together, and at our job we had a bunch of magnetic spiders that were a promotional item for a film and we would hide them from each other. It is a fond memory of us getting to know each other (13 years ago, now). It is on red vinyl; it looks like a Jolly Rancher.

This is the first release as Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters, these are all songs that I came in with the basic structure and melodies, and they “fixed them up.” Kristin [Jarvis] and Chad [Shivers] are amazing with melodies and counter-melodies. Eric [Balint] is like a secret weapon; he knows just what to and not to do and the right times. And William [J. Brisby] has played bass in almost every project and has never missed one single note. That is not a joke.

What was it like recording with a band and a producer?

It was wonderful. I’ve known Luci, the producer, for a very long time, and he is patient and a perfectionist. He slows me down in a good way. He really excels at everything he tries. He’s an amazing photographer, musician and a great dresser. And recording with a band in the past has been impractical. Normally I multi-track the parts, then bring in other musicians after the fact. On this, it was really nice being able to record with most of us in the room; it added a nice mood to the record.

How did you hook up with Gea who directed the video of Case of Unspiralled Stairs ?

I’ve known her for several years; we are both big film enthusiasts. I liked her artwork and asked her if she wanted to do a video for the record, and thankfully she did and it turned out really great.

So Roger Ebert posts the video for “Case of Unspiralled Stairs” on Facebook and says “I woke up in the middle of the night. Jeffrey Butzer had sent me this. That was the perfect time to view it. My mind was still halfway in dreams.” How cool was that and was that the response you had hoped for from it?

It was very cool! I didn’t really know what to expect. He had never really commented when I sent him videos before. I “know” him through a secret society that he and I are both members of. Along with Ken Keeler (FUTURAMA), Neil Gaiman and Guy Maddin.

Speaking of Guy Maddin, how did you meet him and get him to do alternate cover artwork for HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS?

I scored a film called BIRDCATCHER that Guy saw, and we sort of became friends. I am going to hang out with him in New York in a couple weeks! I saw the collages that he made, and he agreed to let us use [one of] them as cover art!

When your music is paired with video, it reminds me of a lost 1950s/60s existentialist French film. Can you talk a bit about how film has influenced your sound and visuals?

Film has always been the band’s biggest influence. All the greats: Buster Keaton, Fellini, Bunuel and Penny Marshall… well, maybe not her so much. I think when I first started making music I wanted to sound like certain artists. But as I got older, other mediums began to influence my music more, especially film. The instrumental music that we make is mostly about mood, much like the film style you mentioned. So I think the approach and what we are trying to achieve isn’t that far apart.

Some have heard the influence of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western scores. Are you a Spaghetti Western fan? What are your favorite films/scores from that genre?

I’m way more into Spaghetti Western music than into the films. There are several I really enjoy. They’re so style-driven that you can really just watch scenes from them isolated from the movie. If I were to name some I like: THE GRAND DUEL and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The other band I’m in The Compartmentalizationalists touches more on the genre than the Bicycle Eaters.

Scissors play a key role in your video for “Lucy 5’s Egg” and I understand you dangle them on stage as well in some of your gigs. Why scissors, and will scissors be part of this week’s show?

I wrote lyrics to a song a really long time ago that had the lines “on a pillar in the sky, a sleeping woman lies, dreaming of the garden of scissors.” I really liked the image. I wrote a screenplay and an album based on that line, and it has sort of stuck as a motif over the years.

An image from the haunting video for "Case of Unspiralled Stairs."

The toy piano, accordion and glockenspiel are unusual instruments for a contemporary musician. What drew you to them?

I like how whimsical they sound together. I never wanted to make music that is old-fashioned or heavily referenced by something from the past. But on the other hand, nostalgia interests me a lot. I first heard toy pianos used a lot by Rob Burger and Margaret Leng Tan.

Why the “Bicycle-Eaters”?

That is a bit of an inside joke. The short version is just that my friend Matt Benard, who plays bass with us, sometimes knows a guy who, in fact…ate a bicycle.

Your gigs are known to include the unexpected, but without giving any big surprises, do you have any special plans for this week’s show at The Earl?

We have a couple OF guest singers and an unusual cover song we are doing. If I tell you anymore, it won’t be unexpected. ZING!

When will your new CD “COLLAPSIBLE” be released and what can you share about it?

I’m not sure. I am hoping for a May release at the Goat Farm. It is a collection of songs played mostly with small arrangements. So far it is just a solo album. I have had a few songs floating around for a while and I record at night after my son goes to sleep. Some are new interpretations of songs I have releases before – only a few though.

I have an odd process. I always set out to make an album with a list of songs in hand. Then when I’m done, as with this one, I cut half of the songs I originally wanted on and record a bunch of new things. For this album, which has between 12-15 songs, I recorded around 35… so far.

What else is up with Jeffrey Butzer? We’ve heard you’ve done some interesting collaborations lately and even dipped into film and theatrical scoring. Any more team-ups planned with Molly Harvey (The Residents)? And aren’t you going to Poland?

Molly and I are planning some shows. Some as a duo and some with a band. Other than that, I’ve got the score for PETER PAN at the Center for Puppetry Arts that starts playing April 5. I am recording a Compartmentalizationalists album with Claire Lodge and Nico from the band Places. Then I am taking a break in June when my second son will be born!  The Poland trip has been put on hold. Hopefully later on we will still go.

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Is What It’s All About: Jeffrey Butzer and TT Mahony’s Jazzy Musical Tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s PEANUTS Score Comes to The Earl & The Earl Smith Strand

Posted on: Dec 16th, 2011 By:

Jeffrey Butzer channels Schroeder & Vince Guaraldi in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, his annual holiday show with TT Mahony.

Not just nostalgic adults, but kids, too, will get to enjoy Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahony’s jazzy musical tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS this year with the duo presenting it at two Earls – first at The Earl Fri. Dec. 16 and Sat. Dec. 17 (both 9 p.m.) and then at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta Tues. Dec. 20 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.). All shows will feature an opening instrumental set by Jeffrey’s band, The Bicycle Eaters, and surf favorites from THE VENTURES CHRISTMAS ALBUM  rendered by Chad Shivers and Friends.

The seasonal sell-out shows of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS are clearly a labor of love for Jeffrey, a musician/composer whose solo works tend towards the minimalism of the simple Christmas tree in the iconic Charles Schultz special. Inspired by melodic French musette, pieces on two albums SHE TRADED HER LEG (2006) and THE GARDEN OF SCISSORS (2009), both released by Lona Records, incorporate such eclectic instruments as accordions, bass drum, piano, glockenspiel and—perhaps inspired by a childhood admiration for Schroeder—toy piano. His band, the Bicycle Eaters, takes a different bend, inspired by Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores, klezmer and gypsy, the former suggesting that their opening set will be more than appropriate for a vintage art deco movie theatre like the Strand. He’s also down a film soundtracks (Raymond Carr’s WILD IS THE WIND), collaborated live with Molly Harvey of The Residents and has ventured lately into the world of live scoring to Buster Keaton’s THE BALLOONATIC. And frankly that’s just a small taste of the musical adventures of this diverse Atlanta performer and affirmed cineaste.

Today though, ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey to chat about A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, what to expect at The Earl and The Strand, and what’s next for him with The Bicycle Eaters and as a solo composer/musician.

How old were you when you first saw A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS on TV and what did the show and its music mean to you when growing up?

I don’t remember a time NOT knowing who Charlie Brown was. It is like Bruce Lee, Elvis or Grandma, something that seemed to always exist to me. Growing up, it was always my favorite special. I liked how blue it was. Both literally and figuratively. Cartoon music in general affects you strangely. Like Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott with the Looney Toons, I wasn’t aware of them until I was older and started playing music. But again, it is hard to remember a time when I didn’t listen to that record every year.

How did you and TT Mahony get the idea of developing A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS holiday show, and for how many years have you been doing it?

This is year four. I approached TT after he played a Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits/Nick Cave tribute show I worked on. He is an amazing piano player, very witty , too. I had kicked around the idea of doing a holiday show in the past but never really knew a pianist that could handle Guaraldi. Robby Handley is the best upright bass player I know. Great hair, too. And here is an odd fact about TT. He can jump really, really high. I’ve told him he should find some way to compete. I once saw him jump from the ground onto the top of a Toyota.

I understand last year’s shows were packed. Were you surprised that so many adults were so enthusiastic about music from a 1960s kids TV show/Christmas LP? What kind of comments did you get after your performance?

Yes, we were hoping for the best, that our fans and friends would enjoy the show and hopefully some new faces would come out. But the response has been overwhelming. Last year we had to start doing two nights. As far as comments, the one we get the most is “Can you do an all-ages one too…for the babies?” The reason we haven’t is because. the mood we set in The Earl seems to really suit Snoopy and the gang. It is cozy, dark, and has energy almost like a rock show. We are really looking forward to adjusting it for a sitting crowd at The Strand. We love the room. It is like a miniature Fox Theatre. And playing for children will be a blast. My 2-year-old son Francis dances every time he hears “Linus and Lucy.”

What audiences can expect at The Earl this weekend?

Cookies, dancing… It is basically a big Holiday Party with 300 of your closest, newest friends.

What are you doing at The Strand to make it even more kid-friendly?

The show will not change much. We do have a kid’s choir with us at the Strand!

Why pair Peanuts with The Ventures?

Well, the albums were released around the same time for one thing. They are both classic ‘60s albums. They are both easy to dance to.

Jeffrey Butzer. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

And what about that opening set from Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters?

My band (The Bicycle Eaters) play Frenchy-Jazzy-Spaghetti Western-inspired instrumentals. We are releasing a limited EP at the show

What else are you and the Bicycle Eaters up to? Any 2012 gigs or recordings you’d like to tell readers about?

We almost all have children, so we’ve been laying low, only doing select shows. But we will have an official release for our new 7” at The Earl in March. I’m also working on a score for PETER PAN at The Center for Puppetry Arts. Then I have a solo record coming out named COLLAPSIBLE. Then off to play some dates inPoland.

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Retro Review: Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef Blaze Trails and Guns This Saturday at The Plaza

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach; Sat. Aug. 13; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

1966. After shooting up a storm at the European box office between 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS’ MORE, Italian movie-making maven Sergio Leone – against his deepest desires – agreed to make a third spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, growing tired of filming in Spain, was skeptical, but with major US money (from distributor United Artists) and a substantial salary, finally agreed to reprise his role as “the Stranger.” With Eli Wallach on board as the sweaty, foul-mouthed, primal bandito, Tuco, and Lee Van Cleef returning at Leone’s request, too, the film was a “go.”

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS established the tone of Italian Westerns to come with its callous violence. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE provided Leone with an expanded lexicon of cinematic storytelling which turned the classic American Western on its head. But with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, well, Leone turned a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-like story, a quest for hidden gold, into a unique film which reinvented the pasta genre he had created and redefined the cinema-going experience.

Three men. One cache of Civil War gold buried in a coffin – story concepts don’t get more simple than this one. But it’s how Leone plays out the three strands of the stories, the three characters and their respective actions towards acquiring the goal which makes this movie special. Leone’s deliberate pacing – punctuated by shocking, explosive moments of unexpected violence – took a new turn. In certain sequences, seconds become minutes; preparation, psychologically and physically, became the calm before the storm. No director of Westerns had ever attempted what he achieved with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

The Good (Clint Eastwood, L), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, R), and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, center). Copyright United Artists, 1966.

Whether you love Westerns or the films of Clint Eastwood or not, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also is a film which was designed to be seen and experienced on the big screen. The Civil War sequences are the most striking ever visualized, and the climactic scene will make your heart race (fans of the film know exactly what I’m referring to here; for those of you who haven’t, prepared to be wowed).

The copy screening at The Plaza this weekend is a pristine print of the 2004 remastered Director’s Cut,  struck from the original negative with the basic mono sound adapted into a crisp stereo mix. In 1967, when first released, United Artists cut 18 minutes from the original version to save on print costs and so they could squeeze an extra screening per day at US movie theatres. So this version of the film has barely been screened in American cinemas. A terrific experience all around. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

ATLRetro Movie Trivia –

  • Although Leone’s first three spaghetti westerns are frequently referred to as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, Eastwood’s “Stranger” is called three different names over the course of the three movies: “Joe” in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; “Manco” in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and “Blondie” – as Wallach’s Tuco loves to derisively call Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (although Clint’s chestnut-brown hair hardly qualifies him for Marilyn Monroe status).
  • Speaking of La Monroe, rumor has it that when Eastwood first saw the Italian version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and heard how the Roman dubbing artist had changed his voice – slower, more whispery – he decided to start delivering his lines like Marilyn (but with balls instead of boobs). So without the inspiration of a real blonde and an Italian actor who made money redubbing Americans, Dirty Harry would have sounded quite different…

And don’t forget that between the 3 PM and 7:30 PM screenings of this classic, revisionist Western, The Plaza is giving a free show (donations encouraged; remember, The Plaza Theatre is a nonprofit entity): COMING SOON! 35 Minutes of 35mm Trailers at 6:35 PM, a special, rare opportunity to see some of Plaza Manager Ben Ruder’s private collection of retro celluloid teasers! Give generously or pig out at the concessions stand!

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the The Night Crew, a podcast created and run by film journalists Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell. Over the past few months, Phil has presented “Philip Nutman’s THE WILD, WILD WEST” a multi-part, eclectic primer on must-see cowboy movies. The final installment will be live within the next two weeks.

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Retro Review: Eastwood Returns to The Plaza FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE

Posted on: Jul 8th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Lee Van Cleef; Sat. July 9; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

In 1965, following the spur-burning European success of his second film as director, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone returned to the genre he had unwittingly created with 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS – the “spaghetti western” – again working with a young actor named Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was yet to become an international star and was still working on the hit US TV show, RAWHIDE, as cattle wrangler Rowdy Yeates. But outside of America, FISTFUL had been a huge box office hit, and Eastwood as “the man with no name” was already becoming a cinematic icon – so much so, Leone was immediately given the green light to make the second of what would become known as his “Dollars” trilogy (The Plaza will screen a restored print of the ne plus ultra of the sequence of films, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY on August 13).

Eastwood dons the poncho again, this time with Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS can be considered the template all further spaghetti westerns would follow: mysterious, amoral, cynical stranger either arrives in a small town and upsets the status quo, playing the various sides against each other, or said amoral, ethically-questionable stranger is after the money…the only item of value in an emotionally and politically corrupt landscape where a fistful of dollars (or more) are the only things worth fighting for…and death is always lurking outside a saloon swing doorway. The first film in Leone’s trilogy can also be considered as an experiment; with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the director escaped the typical curse of a lame sophomore effort to transcend his groundbreaking western debut and set the stage for the cinematic shake-out which he would deliver in 1966’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The three films were finally unleashed on an unsuspecting American public in 1967, and Eastwood finally escaped his career doldrums and became a full-fledged movie star.

Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

The plot of DOLLARS MORE is as simple as that of A FISTFUL, but in this case, the film delves into a psychological/motivational grounding the former film lacked. It is the work of a filmmaker finding his footing as he reinvents a genre as old as American movie-making itself. The movie sets up a potential conflict between bounty hunters – Eastwood’s squinting, cheroot-smoking nameless stranger and Lee Van Cleef’s steely-eyed Colonel Mortimer.  After conflicts, the two loners team up to go after the psychopathic killer bandit, Indio (perfectly played by Gian Maria Volonte). The final scenes are killer – literally. But whereas Eastwood’s stranger is just after the money, Mortimer has a personal score to settle with scumbag Indio.  No spoilers on ATLRetro – go do yourself a favor and support the Plaza and enjoy a classic movie, even if you’re not a fan of westerns or Clint.

ATLretro Movie Trivia: Eastwood, who is highly anti-smoking, is on record as stating that if Leone wanted him to turn up his bad-ass volume, all the director had to do was get him to stick one of those stinky cigarillos in his mouth and light up. No wonder Clint had no problem shooting so many sleazy outlaws…

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the cinematic podcast The Night Crew, and for the past few months has discussed “The Wild, Wild West,” his eclectic, personal primer on cowboys movies every film lover should watch. His current verbal essay is on the other Sergio – Sergio Corbucci – director of MINNESOTA CLAY, THE HELLBENDERS…and one of the other greatest spaghetti westerns, 1968’s THE GRAND SILENCE (Here’s wishing the Plaza would screen that!)

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