Saturday, January 28


Odds and Shortends

All it takes is a week without a post for the items to pile up:

1. The SF Film Society had a party and press conference in Park City last weekend to unveil its big new plans to revitalize the Frisco film scene. It all sounds very ambitious, and I'm very curious to see how it shakes out.

2. Noir City 4 wrapped up at the Balboa the other night with an every-single-seat-filled double bill of the Killers and Gilda, neither of which I'd seen before. Between the Balboa and the Palace of Fine Arts, I logged a dozen films at this year's festival, a personal best. Ten of them were completely new for me, and the other two (Strangers on a Train and Thieves' Highway) were films I'd only seen on video before. The festival suffered a few minor glitches, such as when Warner Brothers shipped a print of the wrong version of the Maltese Falcon or when Charlie Hayden's Quartet West had to postpone its gig to an unspecified future date, due to some sort of scheduling conflict involving Elvis Costello. But in light of how much Noir City did accomplish, with all the beautiful prints screened, legendary guests interviewed, jazz riffs heard, and (on the first weekend at least) free drinks quaffed, it seems petty to complain. Apparantly Sean Penn's "surprise pick" was that most noir of Frisco films, Out of the Past starring Robert Mitchum. Time willing, I hope to write a little something about watching the low-budget Night Editor, my favorite from-out-of-nowhere surprise of the festival. But for now I'm just enjoying the fact that Noir City has in four years decisively proved itself to be one of the two or three best film festivals in town. Fedoras off to Eddie Muller and Anita Monga! (Now if only they'd play some Fritz Lang noirs one of these years...)

3. Two weeks is simply not enough to fit all the noir Frisco can handle, though. SFJAZZ comes to the rescue with a Jazz/Noir Film weekend at the Balboa May 19-21. Six slices of late '50s film noir featuring Jazz soundtracks will be screened, including Anatomy of a Murder featuring Duke Ellington, Elevator to the Gallows anchored by a Miles Davis score, and Touch of Evil, which Jazzhead and Orson Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum only allowed as "jazzy" when I asked him about Henry Mancini's soundtrack, but pure jazz or not there's no denying that Mancini's conga drum-infused music is like another character in the film.

4. Speaking of the Balboa, they've decided to switch to a shorter calender, printed more frequently. I recently listed most of the offerings on the current slate, but I might as well fill in the blanks with the rest. Yesterday they began a week-long run of a double-bill featuring photographers, Michael Almereyda's William Eggleston: In the Real World and Heinz Buetler's Henri Cartier-Bresson: the Impassioned Eye. Monday, Feb. 6 brings a screening of the documentary Bluegrass Journey, as well as a live concert. And February 27 is the theatre's annual birthday bash, always a lively event featuring a film from the theatre's birth year 1926. For this 80th birthday the film is Rudolph Valentino in the Eagle, based on a Pushkin story. Something for a future calendar is the March 15 return of Bertolucci's the Conformist, which has never had a proper home video release and is like Citizen Kane in its visual inventiveness and its influence on films made in the decades after it premiered (in 1970).

5. The Castro has shortened its calendar too, with this new one covering a month and change, and just getting printed in time for today's kickoff double bill of Strange Brew and Up in Smoke. Films about (and for?) substance users and abusers continue until February 1st when Naked Lunch plays. Then comes the IndieFest Feb. 2, Sing-a-long Mary Poppins Feb. 3-9, and the first foreign-language film to get a week-long release at the Castro in quite some time, Quebecer Robert Lepage's Far Side of the Moon Feb. 10-16. Check back later to see what's fills the programming hole Feb. 24- Mar.2; I guess the chaos in the theatre's booking staff still hasn't completely settled down. But March brings a tribute to Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker on the 4th, Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief 6-9, another MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS triple-feature on the 10th, and an inexplicably colorized version of Plan 9 From Outer Space March 11-12.

6. The Red Vic's new calendar is the same length as usual and is printed but not yet online. It's heavy on second-run screenings of the past few months' Oscar hopefuls. A few documentary premieres like Trudell Feb. 3-11. I'm glad to get a second chance at the graffiti art doc. Piece By Piece Mar. 17-21 and New York Doll about Arthur "Killer" Kane Mar 31-Apr. 1. I wonder if the screening of the original King Kong April 14-15 will also include a print of the Bugs Bunny film Gorilla My Dreams, like the Castro screening earlier this month did?

7. And finally, the new Stanford Theatre schedule is online now, and it includes some of Hollywood's most hallowed films: Gone With the Wind this weekend and next, Casablanca with the 1941 the Maltese Falcon (the one Noir City ended up playing) Feb. 10-12, and To Have and Have Not March 3-5.

Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand and Antonio Carlos Jobim are the most significant jazz composers to emerge in the last fifty years, no exaggeration.
This is empirically borne out by the frequency with which their compositions are now performed as part of the core jazz repertory. Don't let purists tell you otherwise.
(I know it's hard to tell but yes, I'm a Mancini fan.)
I wish you'd been there to console me when I asked the question a few years ago, girish! It was at a three-day Artist-in-Residency for Rosenbaum at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where he presented a different program each night; first the Wind Will Carry Us and the House is Black, then Great Day in Harlem with When it Rains and other Jazz-related shorts, and finally the re-cut Touch of Evil. Given the intimacy of the screening room, the lack of sell-out crowds, and sheer hubris, I couldn't resist asking a dumb question of Rosenbaum after each screening. The first two dumb questions were apparantly too innocuous for me to remember, but I felt mortified after asking him to comment on the use of Jazz in Touch of Evil only to have him respond something along the lines of, "Well, it's Jazzy, but it's Mancini" at which point I felt I'd just exposed myself as an unbearably ignorant person to associate Mancini with real Jazz. It still stings, but your words are like a soothing balm and I may just get over it yet.

To tell the truth, though I've always liked Jazz I've also almost deliberately stunted my knowledge of it; I've always thought, "oh it's something I can learn about later in life" which is probably not a very smart attitude considering how many important figures are retiring from the concert circuit or passing away every year. I was lucky enough to see Ornette Coleman last year and I don't suppose I'll ever forget it. Perhaps it's a fear of jazz hipsters that still keeps me at a distance; sometimes it seems like they're almost as territorial and condescending as film snobs can be!

I've never even heard of Antonio Carlos Jobim, that's how negligent I've been.
That's a great story, Brian.

"Well, it's Jazzy, but it's Mancini".
Seriously: I will eat my hat if you can show me a jazz musician worth his salt who condescends to Mancini.
It would only happen at the hands of a territorial jazz purist with closed, not open, ears.

Even Miles Davis and Lester Young, stung permanently by their abundant experiences of racism, held Sinatra in awe and were consciously influenced by him.
And Duke Ellington, always uncomfortable with the word "jazz", felt strongly that there are only two kinds of music: "good and bad".
So, in my experience, it's territorial listeners (much more so than musicians) who often end up holding reactionary and reductive notions about "what is jazz".

How lucky you got to see Ornette. I doubt if I will ever have the chance.

And Jobim is the greatest of those three I mentioned.
As a composer, he is almost single-handedly responsible for the entire (and considerable) Brazilian influence on jazz that occurred in the second half of the 20th century.
He's a giant.
Shall make you a jazz mix disc with Jobim on it. Off to go send you an email about it.
Wow, thanks, girish! Who knew there might be tangible rewards from blogging?

I watched Altman's Pret-a-Porter today and noticed the score was written by Legrand. A very nice Altman score. Now I'm thinking I ought to see Kansas City; have you seen it?

So, as a Mancini fan, what do you think of the use of Jazz in Touch of Evil (unfair to ask since I don't know if you've seen it recently, but might as well try)? How does this early work fit into the composer's career?

Might as well mention the Jazz noir films playing with the three I mentioned in the main entry (doesn't look like double bills, unfortunately): Sweet Smell of Success with music by Elmer Bernstein, I Want to Live! with music by Johnny Mandel, and Odds Against Tomorrow with music by John Lewis, respectively.

I've not seen the latter two, nor do Mandel's or Lewis's names bring up any associations.
Brian, I saw Kansas City when it first came out. It has a monster musical soundtrack with some leading "young Turk" contemporary jazz players (James Carter, Joshua Redman, Cyrus Chestnut) playing in the style of that period.

Ah, Touch Of Evil: it's been a while, and unfortunately I can't remember the specifics of the Mancini score though I do remember loving it.
My single favorite Mancini score might be the Peter Gunn soundtrack because it's the most jazz-steeped, both in terms of compositions and the number of well-known virtuoso jazz players in the ensemble. (I've never seen the TV show).

Mandel's a nice arranger (Point Blank, MASH) and wrote that wonderful MASH theme song ("Suicide Is Painless") but of late (the last couple of decades) has been leaning on the strings too heavily for my taste (jazz and string sections have a tricky relationship). John Lewis is a great old veteran, an important figure in jazz history because he was a founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet. I had no idea he did the score for Odds Against Tomorrow; I've never seen it.

I know it sounds quite square and obvious to say it, but my all-time fave jazz scores are probably Michel Legrand's for the Demy films, especially Rochefort and Cherbourg.

Oh and Duke Ellington's for Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder is a killer too.
It all comes back to Altman again, doesn't it? Won't be surprised if that song from M.A.S.H. plays when he walks on the Academy stage to accept his lifetime achievement award. Though I'd personally pick My Funny Valentine if it was up to me, I think.
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