In honor the official meme of 2016 — the dumpster fire, I’ve also shifted my Best Songs of 2016 title from Killer Jams to Smokin’ Tracks. (Get it? Because the tracks are on fire!) I’m more than happy to light the fuse on this m’f’er known as 2016 and close the blast doors. As 2016 dealt blow after blow, many of us turned to music for solace. The year produced some of the most amazing music of the last decade. From the opening volleys of January until these last, merciful breaths of December, artists turned out beautiful, meaningful, socially conscious, melodic, energetic, hopeful, angry, militant, soul-affirming music — the soundtrack of 2016, the reminder that all is not lost — that all is never lost as long as there is music steering our ships through the blackest night. As one of hundreds (thousands?) of music writers churning out their “year end” lists, it’s our job as a collective community to make sure that all of this good doesn’t gets consumed by the quaking quagmire.
Commence the 30Hz 100 Best Songs of 2016 Countdown
Every year since 2005, my friend Mike at bsidesnarrative.com and I have been compiling our “Best of” lists. It’s a competition without a winner or a loser. It’s a way for us to communicate about music and share our thoughts without being able to chat as much as we’d like anymore. The above link will take you to his list.
2016 could have been known as The Year the Music Died. David Bowie, Glen Frey, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Prince, Guy Clark, Ralph Stanley, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones. The innovative. The inspirational. The poetic. Instead of mourning these legends, let us celebrate the music they gave us and the music they still inspire. Three of these artists appear on Best Songs of 2016 list, but their ongoing influence cannot be measured.
I always use this pre-show countdown to enter a disclaimer about how I consume and sample new music. I see no reason to quit a solid holiday tradition. My preliminary “Hits List” of any track that might fill a final spot on the countdown swelled past 300 this year, a new record… and I’ve been doing this for 11 years now. I obsessively listen to new release lists every single week in order to appear competent while compiling my “Best of” lists. This is serious business. And yes, it stresses me out, especially now, as I’m filling out the final roster with brutal, gut-wrenching cuts to songs that have been with me nearly all year.
Even if I were exhausted from listening to new music every week — and I am — I couldn’t stop. They never stop making new music. I do this because I listen to so many people tell me that “nobody releases good music anymore.” When someone tells me this, I can’t help but shrug and try not to offend. What they’re telling me is that they’re too lazy to do anything but turn on the radio or tell Pandora to play an algorithmically generated (read: soulless) playlist. The music is out there. You just have to look. A little.
Music is as vibrant and creative as its ever been… probably more so due to the unlimited avenues available for independent distribution. Here’s the flipside, however — there’s so much volume that it might be overwhelming. Find a writer or a blog or a bl-gger (ahem) that you trust, whose tastes align with or challenge your own. There are many great blogs out there that filter through the seas of information to pick their favorite tracks. A few times a month I visit Said the Gramophone and My Old Kentucky Blog. I read and consider reviews at Consequence of Sound and mock Pitchfork whenever possible. I write reviews infrequently for the Toronto-based Spill Magazine (as time permits). It’s out there.
Even if all you do is check in at the end of the year for my Best of 2016 list, I’m good with that, too. I put a lot of work into these countdowns and I’m happy you’re stopping by to hear/discover/enjoy music. After all, “Best of” is really just a misnomer. These are the tracks that moved me — a small cross-section of the music that filled my year, unfairly distilled into individual bullet points and rankings.
Christmas Stuff – Originals and Oddities Mixtape Battle
Twas the fortnight before Christmas when all through the Web,
Not a creative was stirring not even the celebs.
The playlist was slow jams, standards, the usual fare,
Hopeful that St. 30Hz would soon be there.
The audiophiles felt weary, one more “Silver Bells” would drive them to drinker,
While visions of Meatwad and Tom Waits danced in their thinker.
Mama in her yoga pants and I in my Guster tee
Had just settled our butts down to enjoy bread and a hot, bubbly brie.
Then out of the Macbook there arose such a clatter.
I sprang from my sofa to see what was the matter.
Away to the Facebook, I flew like a blink,
Tore open the notifications and clicked on the link.
The gift was a collection of rarely heard gems,
That reminded not all Christmas tunes were regurgitated phlegms.
What to my wandering ears shoulder appear,
But a playlist of 16 goodies from 30Hz that made me say “Oh dear!”
“Christmas Stuff – Originals and Oddities”
Mixtape Battle INSTRUCTIONS!
ConstruxNunchux has once again challenged 30Hz to a Mixtape Battle to end all Mixtape Battles! (That is, until we regroup for Mixtape Battle III in the new year.) Below you will find one playlist from me, 30Hz, and one from the Nunchux boys. Once you listen to both playlists (limited to a mere 60 minutes to holiday tunage), vote below for which collection you enjoyed more. The winner this week gets extra gravy on his mashed potatoes so please vote with your heart and vote with your head, but please, sirs and madams, just vote.
Sales Pitch: I aimed for a balance of sincere holiday warm fuzzies and Scrooge-y cynicism with a side of yuletide jollies. The ebb and flow of the playlist remained imperative. Though holiday songs often require a different mindset, a less critical approach, I didn’t want to sacrifice listenability or the overall playlist integrity. Holiday or otherwise, I needed killer jams that fit a collective compositional theme.
I kept the blaspheming to a minimum, though you’ll note a few choice phrases and mention of hookers, affairs with siblings and Scott Stapp (the horror!). Be careful not to become too blissfully complacent or seasonally merry. After you hear that Paul Kelly song near the end… if your heart doesn’t grow three sizes, you might just be a Grinch after all.
I hope your holiday season brings family together, friends closer and allows you to imbibe heavily. Share our playlists with others and make your own. Give the gift of good music. Also books. People need to read more.
ConstruxNunchux Sales Pitch:
Mixtape Battle #2 – X-mas Originals and Oddities: The second challenge between your humble bloggers construxnunchux and 30hz Rumble was an easy one to pick. We decided to dig into the void of obscure X-mas music and pull out of best (worst) holiday tunes we could find.
Ian and I put together a formidable collection of X-mas songs for you all out there. I sprinkled in a few songs about dicks, and other unsettling topic as I tend to do and it turned out to be a great collection.
I have to admit there were dozens and dozens of a amazing songs I’ve never heard before from artists I never expected. This was an incredibly fun one to do and incredibly difficult making cuts to “essential” songs. We asked Santa for a 60m tape in our stockings and he obliged!
We are giving you bonus songs for free! So please, enjoy, have an amazing X-mas (or whatever you’re into) and spread some of that surplus holiday cheer to everyone around you.
Nature of Ghost and Mr. Chicken Shame: Unseen Comedy Classic
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1960’s Before 1970’s
#31. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
The Horrific days of October have bled into the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m pecking away at this post while my daughters watch the rather dismal Hotel Transylvania 2, a rather potent distraction from composing competent thoughts let alone complete sentences regarding a movie I watched nearly a month ago. I lament the trend to compose bl-g-length posts rather than three or so sentences; I hope I remember this 11 months from now when I again embark on 31 Days of Horror.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken appeared on the 31 Days of Horror schedule as part of the wife-friendly horror marathon, and though the film lacks certain frightful elements… or really any at all… Don Knotts has brought to light an intrinsic link between horror and comedy. Many of our most classic horror films trade in absurdity, yet transcend that absurdity through horrific imagery. How distant is, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween from a parody of John Carpenter’s Halloween? Change to score from haunting synth to a Mickey Moused screwball riff. Swap out scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis for weak-kneed Don Knotts. What do you have? The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Comedy and horror make excellent bedfellows. How potent is a quick laugh in the face of quaking terror? What makes Evil Dead 2 such a successful film? The preposterous coupling of laughter and the innate terror of demons from another dimension coming to get you through the floor. Laughter breaks the tension, allows the viewer to more fully embrace the emotional strain of pure terror. Unrelenting horror often falls short of classic status. The broader audience cannot embrace something as dour and hopeless as Dead and Buried, just to name one recent example from my own 31 Days of Horror experience. And even though that film had a few laughs, it fell short of accomodating a lesser constitution.
The mirror image of Evil Dead 2 looks something like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Horror elements swapped for screwball. The comedic excesses swapped for creepy old mansions and inexplicable goings on. There’s really not much difference between the personalities of Bruce Campbell and Don Knotts anyway.
(This prattle makes perfect sense as I’m typing away, but I’m sure I’m shortchanging a dozen necessary components of this argument — the pint of 750ml Ommegang Three Philosophers I just downed likely has something to do with it. What can I say? It’s the holidays.)
Don Knotts plays Luther Beggs, a typesetter at the local paper with aspirations to be a fully-accredited news reporter. He believes to have seen a murder outside a local “haunted” mansion, but while he details the incident to his boss, the “victim” walks into the room. Luther’s a local joke, a man-child prone to histrionics. So when the opportunity presents itself, Luther volunteers to sleep one night in the haunted mansion. He’ll write about it and sell many papers with his tales of terror.
During his night in the house, Luther encounters secret staircases, creepy passages, self-playing organs and many things that go bump in the night. After writing about them all, Luther becomes a local hero, championed by all. (Apparently Kansas is short of heroes.) That is, until he’s accused of libel by the owner of the mansion and discredited by his old schoolteacher who claimed Luther was always “keyed up” as a boy.
Since this is a feel-good 1960’s comedy the outcome of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is never really in doubt. Romanticizing small town America, the championing of the average Joe, punishment of greed. Comfort food for the 1960’s loving soul. The difference between The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and a true horror movie feels like a canyon — and yet, how far does it actually stray from a haunted house film of the same generation? Compare The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with The Haunting (1963) or The Legend of Hell House (1973), two films that bookend Mr. Chicken by a few years on each side.
Better lighting in the haunted mansion. A slight shift in focus from the source of the spooks to the libel suit and the eventual Scooby Doo unmasking. Dial back the Don Knotts, of course. Consider the ways that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken builds and relieves tension through a Don Knotts pratfall. The real difference is just the repeated efforts to relieve the tension before it festers into something greater.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken remains a frivolous lark of comedy/horror film. Easygoing and legitimately funny (if you care for Don Knotts’ schtick — which I do), despite the soulcrushing weight of civic-sanctioned bullying. It’s a film that at once celebrates the oddball yet fails to condemn small-town America’s gossipmongering. Yet we forgive and enjoy, because 1960’s.
Nature of Dead & Buried Shame: Unseen (and two-years borrowed) Blu-ray
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1980’s Because Cinemonster told me to
#30. Dead and Buried (1981)
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters
I didn’t know anything about Dead and Buried when I borrowed it from a buddy of mine two years ago. He just told me I should watch it. Then when Cinemonster added it to the Bonus Requirements for Hooptober 2016, I expressed a measure of enthusiasm because I still had Dead and Buried up on the shelf. Dusty, maybe, but there. And I still didn’t know anything about it.
I still had no desire to pop it in for a watch.
As the CinemaShame/Hooptober 31 Days of Horror Challenge 2016 wound down, I had two movies left on the schedule — Dead and Buried and This Old Dark House. The first because I just didn’t watch it. The second because This Old Dark House remained the only film on my list I didn’t own or didn’t otherwise have in my possession. FINE! I’LL WATCH THE MOVIE. Dead and Buried had almost reached Titanic levels of stubborn refusal. (To be fair, NOTHING will ever reach Titanic levels of stubborn refusal. I still haven’t seen Titanic and I’m quite convinced I’m the last person on earth. Solidarity?)
Thankfully, Dead and Buried didn’t Trojan horse me Titanic; it was actually striking example of atmospheric horror with a side of stomach-churning gore. That syringe in the eyeball, though! At times Gary Sherman’s film recalled The Fog — lots of haze and small town xenophobia and paranoia. The horrors of Dead and Buried take on a far less supernatural form, at least at the outset. As the film progresses, the horrors of Potter’s Bluff remain grounded in the corporeal — humans doing despicable things — despite the threat originating from humans of an undead variety. It’s no small feat maintaining this grounded slice of terror. I attribute the film’s success directly to its pacing and atmosphere.
As grisly murders slowly encircle our small town sheriff, Dan (the Sheriff) learns that the murdered subjects eventually return to Potter’s Bluff as walking, talking, “living” townspeople. The whole town’s caught a case of the dead-ish — including Dan’s wife and now he’s got to find out what to do about it. It’s a tricky thing, convincing the remaining “living” members of a town that the walking dead are systematically eliminating them — especially when it’s the mortician behind it all. Who suspects the mortician? He’s already a creepy dude. And what a spectacularly creepy dude he is — played by the great Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).
The languid (though uneven) pacing coddles the terror, slowly building until you find yourself on the edge of your couch with a steadily growing sense of unease that becomes full-on paranoia. The unease broken only by cringeworthy fits when the undead brutally attack with boulders and sex tapes and eye-piercing syringes and gasoline and matches. They’ve got a healthy bag of tricks, all of which leave you squirmy.
But still… there’s that “but.” Dead and Buried sells such a perversely unrepetant tale that it’s hard to love it. Admire? Absolutely. Love? I’m not jumping at the bit to toss this one in again. I would like to revisit, if only to consider whether a second watch dulls the feelings of bridge-jumping hopelessness. Also, this merely reaffirms my notion that small town America will crush your soul and suck out your eyeballs.
Nature of Bird with the Crystal Plumage Shame: Unseen (and two-years borrowed) Blu-ray
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1970’s Master Classers – Argento
#29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Guess what? YUP. This is still going on. My steadfast pursuit of an end goal that nobody even cares about impresses you, doesn’t it? No? Screw off, man. I’m working for the common good. Here I am, mid-late November still plugging words into bl-g posts about horror movies. Once the election happened, this all slipped into the background when I fell into a 24/7 news cycle of disbelief, conspiracy theories and #facepalm. Movies remain a sanctuary. Things make sense again. I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree in film theory for n0thing. NO COMMENTS FROM YOU, READER. Reader, dear reader. I’m sorry. Continue reading, maybe?
I believe in the powers of proximate viewing, especially when it comes to viewing multiple entries from the same director. Having viewed Deep Red (for the first time!) and Tenebrae (for the first time in ages!), my reading of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage shifted drastically. Elements from Bird reappear in both Deep Red and Tenebrae. And I’m not just talking about the giallo genre tropes either. Let’s focus on one element from each and contemplate how Argento evolves from Bird to the latter film in his filmography.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red & Perception
Bird opens with a man (Tony Musante) witnessing the murder of a woman inside a glass-walled art gallery. Right from the get, Argento foregrounds one of his favorite broad themes — perception vs. reality. But not only that. As we’ve seen in Deep Red, Argento also loves to explore art and interpretation. Art is at once a basic reality and the myth that you, the viewer, interpret based on your individual frame of reference. By setting the catalytic murder sequence within a modern art gallery, Argento is again directing your interpretation from the outset of the film.
Deep Red devoted lengthy bits of dialogue to the nature of perception vs. reality. There is not one reality; but rather millions of realities based on individual perception. What is real? Argento turns Deep Red into a meditation on art. He evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks with a nifty bit of set design and lingers on classical architecture and sculpture. Impressionist paintings play a major role in the narrative.
In his earlier film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento cares less about “Art” as a recurring motif and more about interpretation. Like Deep Red, his protagonist in Bird makes assumptions that direct his investigation of the witnessed murder. What has he seen? What does it mean? But Musante’s Sam doesn’t meditate on this interpretation; instead, Argento uses Sam’s perspective (and consequently our perspective) as a red herring. We, like Sam, witness the murder while trapped between two panes of glass at the art gallery. Face value vs. reality. Art vs. interpretation.
It’s not until Sam recognizes that he’s misled himself through his own assumptions that we, too, understand that our reading of the film has been improperly directed by cinematic tropes and expectations. Argento’s dastardly twist relies on the fact that we, the audience, understand the predictable language of the horror film. That we will also fall back on easy expectation and interpretation.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Tenebrae & the ‘Misogyny’ Argument
I regret that I’m reducing term papers into paragraphs, but thinking’s good for you and maybe if I don’t pummel you with thousands of words, you’ll revisit these films and form your own deep thoughts.
I glossed over some stuff at the tail end of the prior paragraph because spoiler reasons. The part I yada yada‘d concerns how we see horror films and specifically the giallo genre. Black gloved murderer kills beautiful young women. We try to figure how which woman-hating male has perpetrated the crimes.
Tenebrae acts as Argento’s response to the argument that giallo films hate women. He opens the discussion with a writer being interviewed by a particularly aggressive female journalist. She questions author Peter Neal about how his novels hate women since they’re regular victims, prey, chattel. Neal responds with an incredulous laugh. “You know me,” he says, suggesting of course that it’s absurd to consider him a misogynist. The reporter responds, more aggressively this time. But your books are — explain yourself.
Films in the giallo genre succeed when they undermine viewer expectation. What separates giallo from your average slasher is that the giallo is equally concerned with discovering the identity of the murderer as the murders themselves. The giallo is part procedural investigation and part slasher. Argento’s finest gialli follow the boilerplate but innovate and usurp expectations. One of his favorite ways to undermine expectations is to invert the sex of the murderer. In Tenebrae, Argento not only inverts the sex of the murderer, but he also examines misogyny from multiple angles.
Again I’ll stop short of fully explaining Tenebrae‘s ending, but the multiple twists force the audience to similarly examine these questions of misogyny from multiple angles. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (and to a lesser extend Deep Red) use our expectations as misdirection. Tenebrae, of course, also cares about misdirection, but the questions left when the credits roll intentionally inspire further reflection rather than gee whiz admiration for a keen narrative twist.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a terrific example of an early giallo that shaped the giallo genre. Like Bava with Bay of Blood, Argento’s first film has confidently elevated the form with a stylish and clever slice of intelligent exploitation. As a direct precursor to both Deep Red and Tenebrae, Argento provides much fodder for analysis and direct comparison. Together the three films provide a generous give and take of interpretation and narrative understanding. View them in close proximity and in order of release and prepare to have your giallo-loving mind expanded.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.