Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Page 7 of 57

licensed to kill retro licensed gaming

Licensed to Kill: A Retro Gaming Bl-g

retro gaming licensed to kill

Licensed to Kill a Preface

As someone who constantly looks back on nostalgia with both loathsome wonderment and reverence, I’ve made an unofficial study of the balance between emotion and honest assessment. I can enjoy movies I know to be objectively bad because they meant something in my youth — they were vital components of my everyday existence. As our perspectives change, so too does the world around us.

licensed to kill rocky sega master system

Take for example Rocky IV, which I rewatched recently to prep for an upcoming Cinema Shame episode on the entire Rocky series. In 2017 this movie feels positively alien. It features a montage made up of montages and a “Can’t We All Just Get Along” Cold War plea.

In the late 1980’s, however, I watched Rocky IV on a regular loop. It wasn’t just the movie, though. It was the hushed buzz around the school when we talked about Ivan Drago killing Apollo Creed. It was that Russian crowd chanting Rocky’s name, our hero cloaked in an American flag, Survivor songs on an endless loop. A near-perfect calculation of sound and image — something I like to call synesthesia nostalgia.

Not coincidentally, Rocky Balboa has inspired video game titles as well, from 1987’s Rocky for the Sega Master System to 2002’s Rocky for the Playstation 2. The latter of which is actually a rather solid boxing sim. The former, well, we’ll likely tackle that in this bl-g at a later date.

No Nosta’algia

licensed to kill video game no nostalgia

I’m hoping Al Bundy sports this t-shirt in a future episode of Married With Children. Shout out to Eric Jones (@deacon05oc on Twitter) for inspiring this Photoshop diddling.

Nostalgia plays an important role in our angsty, modern lives. It shackles us to our youth. It transports us to a time and place when the most pressing matter in our lives was figuring out how to find the damned Screw Attack in Super Metroid. As long as we can still see forward to the future while we huddle in our closets filled with nostalgic baubles, nostalgia protects a necessary escapism that neither time nor tide nor better judgment can erode.

There is, however, a dark commercial underbelly to nostalgia that we scrub away as necessary. For nearly as long as home video game consoles have been a thing, so too has the licensed video game. These are games that borrowed the title of a film or television property in order to move half-baked video games that relied exclusively on the popularity of the source material to sell units. For every Batman (NES) there twenty (likely more) Goonies II‘s (NES) or Cool Worlds (SNES). These games milked our emotional attachment for every single penny.

A Plague of Amazing Failure

et atari video game licensed to kill video gameAnd, of course, you’ve likely heard the story about the legendary fate of Atari’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial video game. Thousands of units were buried in a New Mexico landfill because Atari had nothing else to do with the unsold masses.

The still-born game received widespread criticism and largely contributed to the first crash of the video game industry in 1983. The populous graveyard of movie-licensed video games features so many forgotten and largely unplayable titles that even as I was researching potential games to discuss in this bl-g series, I found dozens upon dozens of games I never knew existed. And I must confess I played a lot of (terrible) games in the 8- and 16-bit eras. As a young movie junkie, I often fell into the trap of the licensed video game. I had yet to learn some very important lessons about soulless commercialism.

LICENSED TO KILL: An Introduction

In this bl-g series that I’ve titled LICENSED TO KILL, I want to resurrect some of these games and place them alongside their cinematic counterparts — recalling the moment in pop-culture history as best as my foggy memory can muster. For some of you this might also be a trip through your own nostalgia. For others, this might be your first exposure to the unseemly world of greed and duplicity located at the intersection of movies and video games.

Photo by Michael Work.

For each LICENSED TO KILL column, I’ll play another licensed game and revisit the corresponding film or source material. I’ll play the game for a minimum of an hour — no matter how excruciating that experience might be. In bl-g form, I’ll talk about the game, trying not to become the Angry Video Game Nerd, record some gameplay and share my experiences. The best part — for you, the reader anyway — is that you’ll get to pick the games I play. Every time I need a new game for a column, I’ll go to my local used game store (the Exchange here in Pittsburgh is my regular haunt) and tweet out a new poll based on the video games available in the cabinet. After fifteen minutes the top vote getter walks out of the store with me.

Methods to Madness

All games will be played on the Retron 5 game system with the original console controllers. I’d have insisted on the proper console experience but I no longer have a working CRT television with necessary analog inputs for all my old game systems. So it goes. Recorded gameplay will come from an emulator and QuickTime video recording on my laptop.

In a few weeks, my first column will feature Days of Thunder (NES) and will tie into to the #Bond_age_ Days of Thunder live tweet on August 30th. How better to celebrate a Days of Thunder licensed video game by tying it all together with a modern live tweet of the film. A successful cross-promotion for everybody and by everybody I mean me. And by success, I mean I get to spend more time typing words that someone will read.

days of thunder poster

Let’s see if any of these games are still worth playing in 2017 or if they should all be dumped back in the landfill of forgotten cash grabs. I hope you’ll enjoy the series more than I enjoy playing the games. Having already dabbled in Days of Thunder for a couple of hours, I don’t see how any other outcome is possible.

don't disturb the dead

Summer Reading Challenge: Don’t Disturb the Dead – The Story of the Ramsay Brothers

Don’t Disturb the Dead: The Story of the Ramsay Brothers
by Shamya Dasgupta
Harper Collins India (June 5, 2007)
238 pages
ISBN: 9352644301

Unwittingly my Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge jumped from the pioneers of American horror films at Universal Studios to the pioneers of horror on the subcontinent — the Ramsay brothers.

For those that haven’t been exposed to the Ramsay oeuvre, I’ll give you quick rundown of the fundamentals. Low-budget amalgamations of violence, gore, ancient curses, atmosphere, monsters, voodoo, skin and (always obscured) sexuality, and traditional Bollywood musical numbers. Until one has seen a Ramsay film, a Western viewer likely will not understand how all these pieces fit together. Even though I’d been aware of the Ramsays as filmmakers, I couldn’t wrap my head around the notion of a Bollywood horror film. And then I watched Veerana for my Halloween Horror Challenge last October.

The Ramsays were a family of filmmakers that discovered an untapped niche in the Indian film industry. Until the early 1970’s when the Ramsay’s conquered the market, no one in India made horror films. Despite their financial success, they met both cultural and market-driven barriers to widespread acceptance. Conservative viewers condemned their risqué output, and operating as independents outside the Bollywood system caused friction within the traditional chain of release. As a result, the Ramsays peddled their spook films to areas outside major metropolitan areas. Over the years their films became events, celebrated entertainment for the masses, but they also never gained the respect bestowed upon successful filmmakers.

Purana Mandir (1984)

Scene from Purana Mandir (1984) directed by Shyam Ramsay, Tulsi Ramsay

Before viewing Veerana, I knew the Ramsays only by reputation. India’s version of Hammer Horror. In as much as that rings true (they Ramsays modeled themselves after Hammer studios) it also sells their enterprise short. Using Hammer as inspiration they created culturally specific horror films that defined a generation.

Don’t Disturb the Dead breathes life into the Ramsay’s global reputation by focusing on the way the filmmaking collective assembled an internal team of directors, editors, cinematographers, costume designers, set designers and shot full-length feature films on shoestring budgets and cultural limitations.

As my exposure to Bollywood is limited, the names and places that Dasgupta spouts as reference points for the Indian film industry models of success and failure wash over me. At first I spent time looking up each name, but this grew tiresome and I soon left explanation to authorial context. As a comprehensive history, Dasgupta relies on familial anecdotes and therefore fails to convey a concrete sense of history. Many stories are undermined by the hazy or conflicting recollections among the surviving Ramsays. In many ways this seems fitting coming from an industry that even into the 1980’s believed that cinema was merely a transient form of entertainment. The lack of preservation has left us only with storytellers.

The English-as-Second-Language translation of Don’t Disturb the Dead could be viewed as a detriment as well. The narrative descriptions sometimes feel clipped from amateurish imdb.com synopses. Take for example the following description of the film Darwaza (1978):

“Let’s go over the story, though it’s more more fun – obviously – watching it; if nothing else, for the atmospherics of fear, the sheer spookiness of it, the effect of the hand-held camera sneaking up on you, which is something Gangu uses is many of the films very smartly. Ye, the screaming Ramsay leading ladies are all there somewhere, and so are some random bits, but it’s a taut screenplay, all of it leading somewhere, and, before the end, there are a number of questions that remain, which keep you hooked. And spooked.”

Long segments of interview with some of the Ramsay brothers appear unedited and these, translated into English, also offer some simple charms where translation has made an earnest attempt to turn Indian idioms into proper English. I made a point to mark a quote from Arjun Ramsay (editor): “You can’t only add chili in your food – thoda khatta, thoda meetha (a little salt, a little sugar) … and we did what we did and the aim was that the audience liked it.”

The structure of the book allows for an occasionally maddening centripetal nature. Don’t Disturb the Dead highlights the different parts of the production team, but as Dasgupta begins each segment he takes us back through the Ramsay filmography as it serves the topic. Rather than going film to film and organizing his thoughts chronologically, he continually circles back. While this allows each of the brothers to get a moment in his spotlight throughout the production chain, it also creates a Back to the Future-esque branching timeline for someone unfamiliar with the films and Bollywood players that float through the Ramsay’s story. From his perspective, this serves a specific end: the movies themselves stand as a testament to the family that made them and the stories they told and shared. Readers will note a specific, culturally-ascribed attitude difference toward the actresses in their films and the women in their family, but we must view these through an appropriate lens.

The Ramsays

The Ramsay family of filmmakers. Standing: Arjun, Kiran, Kumar, Gangu, Keshu; Sitting: Tulsi, F.U., Shyam

While not an especially exhaustive discussion of the films themselves (I did just read an encyclopedic textbook about every Univeral horror film), Don’t Disturb the Dead paints a specific picture of familial devotion and the closed-circuit nature of the Indian film industry. Little scholarship has been devoted to the Ramsays, and their films remain underseen curiosities in the West. I would be shocked if someone read the introduction to this book and wasn’t at least curious enough to check out a Ramsay movie… or at least a clip.

If Dasgupta manages to expand the Ramsay’s audience and finds a few more fans in the West, he’s done his job. Even though the movies will look rather cheap and more than a little silly to our eyes, there’s talent and devotion to the craft behind these escapades that welcomes sincere and ironic enjoyment in equal measure.

Luckily, the films are now available on YouTube for our enjoyment. Here’s the film that jumpstarted my curiosity in the Ramsays.

This review is part of my participation in the Summer Reading Challenged hosted by Raquel Stecher’s Out of the Past Blog

claude rains and gloria stuart in the invisible man

Summer Reading Challenge: Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films 1931-1946

Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films 1931-1946
by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas
McFarland & Company; 2nd edition (February 15, 2007)
608 pages
ISBN: 0786429747

When I dared to undertake the reviewing of six books about classic cinema in addition to my regularly scheduled summer fiction regimen, I should have had the foresight to choose something other than a textbook-sized compendium on every horror and horror-related film released by Universal during their first and second horror cycles.

I once claimed proficiency in these types of films. Now, I find that notion “quaint” and perhaps “simple-minded.” I’ve only scratched the surface. Sure, there’s the roll call of A-list monster titles that we all know and love. Dracula. The Wolf Man. Frankenstein. And my own personal favorite, The Mummy. But then there’s all the rest. I suppose I originally engaged with this book because I wanted to know about those gems that slipped through the cultural cracks.

Be careful for what you wish. (Using that, the grammatically preferable form of that statement, makes it sound positively Lugosian. Say it out loud. Claw-like hand gestures optional.)

Universal Horrors excels because the authors not only document these forgotten films (also orienting them in time and space with relation to the more popular films that overshadowed their existence), but they dare to offer a definitive opinion about every single film. Since many of these gems require a bit of hunting to track down, the opinions contained within certainly help focus my attentions on worthy searches. Only once do I recall the authors throwing up their hands in futility because they couldn’t track down a copy of a film. 

Deep Cut Universal Horrors

Some deep cut Universal Horrors dominate my Letterboxd.com Watchlist

Universal Horrors covers 86 films in great detail, diving into great detail about the behind-the-scenes production, the temperaments of the actors involved, and the contemporary reception upon release. Stories told to the authors by surviving cast and crew pull back the curtain on the Universal production demands of the era. Though I knew quite a bit about the rigorous studio demands on their creatives, I repeatedly found myself surprised by the regard (or lack thereof) with which Universal treated these cogs in the machine.

It’s particularly interesting to chart the course of the studio’s major players — Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. — as their careers carried on beyond the iconic roles of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man. The authors also, in no less detail, devote substantial sections of the book to the lesser stars of the era such as Gloria Stuart, Evelyn Ankers, Dwight Frye and Maria Ouspenskaya, just to name a handful of the players brought to life again on these pages. The tragic figures on the screen often mirrored the real-life tragedies of the people responsible for these beloved Universal horror films.

claude rains and gloria stuart in the invisible man

Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart in James Whale’s The Invisible Man.

Universal Horrors becomes a grind — as would any book of this nature — because it labors over plot synopsis for each of the entries. For certain films I welcomed the refresher course, but by and large, these retellings interrupt the torrent of more interesting bits of cultural context and production details. Thankfully, the authors quarantine the synopses, never burying interesting nuggets among the rote regurgitation, making them easy skips. You’ll welcome the opportunity to move along on page 400 or so during another middling entry in the Inner Sanctum series.

It’s possible that Universal Horrors would appeal mostly to die hard fans of the genre, but due to the depth that the authors go to document the era, the book should appeal to all fans of classic cinema. Hearing the words of Universal’s contract players and indentured filmmakers of the era sheds light on a time and place and a production style (movies written and filmed in under twelve days!) that seems alien by today’s standards. It’ll make you nostalgic for a moviemaking business that wasn’t so damn serious, when horror movie monsters were an ironic escape from the horrors of a decaying world.

This review is part of my participation in the Summer Reading Challenged hosted by Raquel Stecher’s Out of the Past Blog

u2 the joshua tree

Album Rumble: U2 – The Joshua Tree

u2 the joshua treeI last wrote about U2 after attending the 2011 concert at Heinz Field. I decided it was time to check back in with The Joshua Tree during this, the 30th Anniversary of its release. A version of this review first appeared on The Spill Magazine.

Music feeds nostalgia, it places moments in time, and for a certain generation, few records documented a time and place more precisely than U2’s fifth record, The Joshua Tree, in March of 1987. Impossible details remain vivid, imprinted forever.

Where were you when you first heard the opening of “Where the Streets Have No Name”? Can you remember how you felt when the Edge’s guitar first broke through that wall of synthesizer? Maybe you don’t quite remember the feeling, but you know where you were the first time you heard U2’s The Joshua Tree. Something as mundane as a placing a cassette in a car radio becomes epic poetry. The color of the car. The passengers. Maybe there were none. The smell of the Spring air, the type of flowers blooming… and you don’t even like flowers.

For someone born into an era of digital music, a sonic grab bag of unlimited potential, it’s perhaps difficult to comprehend the way a specific record release could freeze time, if only for a short while. Movies retain the power to unite a movement around an individual work of art, but by and large, those days in music have passed. Unlimited availability, fractured attentions, and the ways in which we consume and download music have eroded the event record.

It’s no longer my favorite U2 record, but the imprint of that moment of discovery remains; The Joshua Tree has positioned itself outside traditional criticism. The band has existed long enough to survive multiple shifts in tone and ideology. They’ve turned fans into naysayers (and vice versa), but the one constant remains that one record in the middle of their discography.

The Joshua Tree Track Listing:

Tinged with gospel, blues, and folk influences, The Joshua Tree would become U2’s greatest success, selling more than 25 million copies, but also the record they desperately longed to escape. Bono famously described Achtung Baby as “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree.” Bestowing further accolades upon the record seems futile. Instead I’d like to track back and take a slightly different perspective on the record.

The trio of songs that open the record reek of perfection – their omnipresence might diminish their luster to the point that they’ve become background music, easily tuned out. 30 years of constant airplay tends to turn even the greatest songs into Roger Williams.

Check back in with these songs one more time. Listen to “With or Without You” with your eyes closed. Tune into Larry Mullen’s subtle changes in cadence and Adam Clayton’s heartbeat bassline. The synth fills in the blank spaces followed by Bono’s lovesick vocals. “See the stone set in your eyes / see the thorn twist in your side.”  The swell before the damn breaks at the three-minute mark. Try to recapture that virgin listen, embrace the way that all the pieces of U2 fit together. Embrace the bothersome, overplayed perfection.

Too Much Respect?

Focus on the so-called B-sides of this record. “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You” don’t make this record a paradigm on their own, but it’s often difficult to see the lesser successes beyond those 800 pound gorillas.

The Edge’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” guitar solos over the years:

As The Edge channels Jimi Hendrix on “Bullet The Blue Sky,” it might seem as if the album takes a left turn, but in the context of the band’s discography, “Bullet” points toward the future, toward Rattle and Hum and eventually Achtung Baby, where guitar-forward became the rallying cry. After the slow-burn symbiosis of the album’s opening volley, “Bullet The Blue Sky” pulls the rug out, shifting and undermining expectations, just when the listener slips into complacency.

In my opinion, the album’s most important song doesn’t even reside on the overworked first side. “Red Hill Mining Town” was meant to be the album’s second single after “With or Without You,” but the band was unhappy with Neil Jordan’s video, and Bono had trouble performing the song during rehearsals. Recently he said about the song “I used to write songs that I couldn’t sing. And sometimes that was okay because the strains of the notes I couldn’t reach was part of the drama, but occasionally they would really just wreck the next show.”

U2’s first performance EVER of Red Hill Mining Town in 2017:

“Red Hill Mining Town” proved to be such a problem that U2 never played it live until May of 2017 in Vancouver for the 30th Anniversary Tour of The Joshua Tree. The politically potent track introduces the B-side with a jolt of melancholic energy that rises to a hopeful crescendo. Bono’s strained vocals included, “Red Hill” stands as a fascinating blemish on the record that shows Bono’s struggles as a songwriter reaching beyond his comfort zone – a comfort zone that had already made U2 one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Place in the U2 Discography?

Say what you will about the latter half of the band’s career, but no one could ever say that U2 became satisfied or complacent. Constant re-invention has been the only consistency. The band may never again reach the resplendent creative heights of this period in their career, but U2 remains relevant and perhaps undervalued – now thirty years removed from the album that made time stand still.

The 30th Anniversary Edition of The Joshua Tree is available in a number of different formats including a 4-CD Super Deluxe Edition, 2-CD Deluxe, and 7 LP Super Deluxe. All Deluxe Editions include the band’s live performance at Madison Square Garden on September 28th, 1987.

The Joshua Tree Verdict in 2017

You’d be hard pressed to find a U2 fan who claims The Joshua Tree to be their favorite record or even favorite U2 record. And I don’t believe this is a case of merely proving fandom through deep cuts, which is a legitimate nuclear hazard in music writing and appreciation. Denying value as a result of popularity turns discographies on their heads. In this case, maybe, because the band has released three career’s worth of records. That said, a U2 fan who denies the value of The Joshua Tree has just become embittered, jaded, perhaps senile. The Joshua Tree remains a vital classic that may have lost some of its luster over 30 years due to omnipresence. Time, however, has eroded none of its visceral ability to invoke some piece of you in 1987… or whenever it was that you first heard the slow build of that opening track.

 

jen gloeckner vine

Album Review: Jen Gloeckner – Vine

I don’t often post contemporary album reviews on the Rumble, but when I get offers of review copies of Jen Gloeckner records on vinyl I must reconsider. If you’re confident enough to splurge for the vinyl shipping costs, this is something that deserves a listen. Now that I’m spinning vinyl, it fits my page’s modus. So let’s continue.

jen gloeckner vine

Iowa’s Jen Gloeckner understands something that most artists can’t quite grasp. Pace and patience. Beware the record that opens with its best offering and follows with a steadily declining parade of grandstanders. For whatever reason, album construction hasn’t fully freed the shackles of the listening post. Ahh, yes. Recall the days when a music stores stuck towers or walls of headphones at the front of the store, ensnaring passersby with the allure of fantastic new music? Before the days of Spotify and streaming and unlimited access, listening posts were just about the only way to indiscriminately sample a new album. I also had a love affair with Blockbuster Music, who allowed you to sample any record in the store, but that is a reminiscence for another bl-g post.

Vine opens without fireworks, the album’s titular track lays downtempo groundwork with an electronic landscape. Digital seagulls, a sea breeze, Gloeckner’s sultry vocal bandwidth. It’s a perfect tease, something more than an intro but less than those listening post thumpers that hoped you didn’t listen beyond three songs. Gloeckner brought me back to the late 1990’s when trip-hop, breakbeat, and acid jazz ruled my 25-disc CD changer. We could also discuss the patently absurd “post-trip hop” categorization, but I’ll refrain from that micro-genre nonsense.

Sample Morcheeba’s “Big Calm” for a reminder of what 1998 sounded like:

The music of Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Lamb, and Tricky didn’t disappear; like most other sneakily-influential genre movements it become assimilated into pop music as prominent artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and U2 claimed it in the name of progress. Radiohead perfected the merger. With the exception of perhaps Massive Attack, original artists slipped further into the underground. Albums like Doprah’s otherworldly Wasting from 2016 prove a receptive audience remains for downtempo music featuring scattered bpms, sampling, electronic layers and ethereal vocals.

On Vine, Gloeckner’s third full-length LP, she severs her already tenuous ties to the traditional singer-songwriter genre. 2010’s Mouth of Mars experimented with jazz and layered production. A standout track on that album, “Trip,” takes on all the elements of trip-hop without the otherworldly sheen that comes part and parcel with the inorganic roots of the electronics and sampling.

But back to pace and patience. Vine fully asserts its on “Firefly (War Dance)” — the trance instrumental second track on the album — by barging through the door with a tribal soundscape that would have slipped nicely into the backdrop Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. It’s not until the following cut, “Breathe,” that Gloeckner drops Vine‘s thesis statement. Muffled female orgasm, uneven drum machine cadence, synth, and droning guitar that tests the shoegaze temperature before scaling back to white noise.

Gloeckner seems less confident in the dream-pop entries “Ginger Ale” and “The Last Thought” that anchor the middle of the record. Amiable confections that fail to rise to the weight or evoke the same emotional resonance. This segment requires some pace and patience from the listenerVine‘s pendulum begins its return on “Blowing Through,” a loopy woodwind and string-laden waltz that foregrounds some “Enchantment Under the Sea” romanticism.

Vine finishes as strong as it opens. Starting with “Counting Sheep” the second half of the record ebbs and flows, successfully weaving what the press release calls a “Twin Peaks vibe” with ambience, progressive guitar work, electronics, and even the strains of Americana that dominated Gloeckner’s early work. The wonderfully trippy “Prayers” and the AM radio “Sold” stand out as B-side highlights.

Either this is an artist that finally tapped into her wavelength or she’s placed her trust in muse-like producers with clarity of vision. Perhaps both. Producer Brian McTear has worked with Sharon Van Etten, Marissa Nadler and War on Drugs, and a certain relative retrospective throughline can be heard in all of these acts. Contemporary fans will hear Lana Del Rey (with a slightly less bombastic, more controlled vocal range) while others, like me, will be transported back to a time when trip-hop soundtracked our lives.

jen gloeckner

Perfecting the atmosphere of a record is a tricky thing. Jen Gloeckner may not have quite defibrillated the genre of Mazzy Star, Morcheeba or Lamb on Vine, but she did the next thing. She reminded us that the threads of their music remain vibrant and relevant. She also reminded us that proper pace and patience require attention and that that investment amply rewards.

Page 7 of 57

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Pin It on Pinterest