Wednesday, September 12, 2007
It's actually very difficult to try and review a record from 1966 41 years later and judge it by standards of 1966.
Can you put yourselves in the shoes of a 17 year old kid in 1966? You just walked home from the local record shop and you're sitting down in front of the turntable. You slide your thumbnail along the plastic to open up the album and remove the LP from its paper jacket. You carefully hold the edges of the record with your palms and set it down, pulling the tone arm over to drop the needle into the groove.
The guitar stylings of George Harrison are what you hear first, as "Taxman" plays through your phono speakers, a great new Beatles tune indeed. After listening to more of the record you hear the heady symbolism of "Eleanor Rigby", the Beach Boys-like harmony of "Here, There and Everywhere", the horns-rich McCartney kicker "Got To Get You Into My Life" and the Lennon acid-trip-set-to-music "Tomorrow Never Knows".
Yes, there are many other great tunes on this album...radio favorites like "Good Day Sunshine" and "Yellow Submarine". And other greats like "She Said, She Said", a song based on something Peter Fonda is said to have said to John Lennon, "I know what it's like to be dead". How about "And Your Bird Can Sing" and Lennon's beautiful "I'm Only Sleeping".
And at the age of 17 in 1966, you do not yet know that "Got To Get You Into My Life" would help usher in a genre of music known as the Chicago-sound with bands like The Buckinghams, The Ides of March, The American Breed, Chicago and more using rich brass harmony. In 1966 you do not know that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was also sitting listening to Revolver, which in no small part spurred him on to create "Pet Sounds". And you don't realize that there are lush string quartets playing on "Eleanor Rigby". String quartets on your local Top-40 radio station!! How can "Eleanor Rigby" with string quartets be played on-air alongside "You Can't Hurry Love" by the Supremes or "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James & the Shondells. Those are two great songs, but how do they compare to the orchestration and imagery of "Eleanor Rigby"?
These guys were just the Beatles...a rowdy quartet from Liverpool, England, right? Not much different from Gerry and the Pacemakers or Freddie and the Dreamers??? Not anymore...not after Revolver. After Revolver, rock and roll changed. The music was now becoming Rock music, and bands like the Beatles were evolving into something new. British bands like The Yardbirds, The Who and The Pink Floyd were experimenting with exciting new sounds, and there was a whole new free-form sound in the U.S. coming out of San Francisco with bands like The Charlatans, The Great Society (later Jefferson Airplane), The Grateful Dead and others.
"Pet Sounds" came out in `66, and then "Sgt. Pepper" came out in `67...this sealed the deal. Rock music was born.
How could you not own the CD "Revolver"?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
One of India's important post-modernist painters, Sunil Das rose to prominence with his drawing of horses.
About 60 years of age, he can look back at his nine to ten phases of paintings, all of them marked by supreme skill and a sense of integrity. An indefatigable painter, Das jumped from one style to another easily.
Talking about his art style, he says, "To express my authentic feelings about reality, I have to interpret it, I have conceptualise it. The previous reality gets transformed in the laboratory of minds. Then, I bring it out on the canvas."
Das came from a middle class family and his father was just a small businessman. After completing school, he decided to become a painter and joined a local art school. "I am a good sports man," he says. "I like things which have a lot of rhythm and energy."
He doesn't ever use photographs or models for his painting. "I do a sketch before I start painting. I always struggle with colours and shapes, until they fall to desired pattern. Like a music conductor, I summon all my music instruments to play and orchestrate an aesthetic unit out of various experiences." He does not confine himself to using brush or pen while painting, and often paints with the palms of his hands or with his fingers.
A French art scholarship with the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts took him to Europe. It was in the course of his travels that he chanced to spend a few months in Spain, where he developed his passion for horses and bulls. Das' paintings have also been influenced by his study of sculpture at Santiniketan, Kolkata, and his study of graphic art in Paris. His paintings have a kind of structure and rigidity that one would typically find in sculpture and in the etchings of graphic art.
Das's paintings not only express the physical attributes of his subjects but also their associative ones. Every once in a while he paints human beings, but his depiction of the human anatomy is skewed, to a point that it almost borders on macabre surrealism. For example, his series on women with mysterious, tantalising eyes - all oil on canvas, the portraits convey, in various forms including the erotic, the pressures women are subject to.
Hardly ever painting in loud or warm colors, Das uses soft brown, mauve and white in the background to bring out the drama of life. He blends talent with hard work. He works by suggestion and minimalism. Quite absurd in form, his paintings are morbidly fascinating. "I delve a lot on man's inhumanity to man," he says.
Das has the distinction of being the only Indian artist to have won a National Award (the Shiromani Kala Puraskar) while still an undergraduate at the Government College of Art and Craft, kolkata. Besides having been featured in several exhibitions, his works are also a part of the collections of renowned museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, the Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan, and the Ludwig Museum, Germany.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Translating a graphic novel into the world of cinema can be a tricky business.
And the first step is concept art -- creating basic images of the characters, costumes, and important, visually-striking scenes. "300: The Art of the Film" is crammed with such images, detailing virtually every part of the movie... but it's very skimpy on explanations and information.
It starts off with a couple of prefaces -- one by an expert on military history, and the other explaining the purpose of revealing the concept art. Then concept art itself: it basically outlines the story, beginning with the "inspection" of newborn Spartan boys and ending with another battle brewing between the Spartans and Persians.
These include pages and pages of rough sketches and detailed drawings for the cinematographers, some representing only a few seconds (a fist hitting a slave's face). Then there are plenty of costume sketches, depictions of unreal-looking monsters, tents, and the gorgeous sets for things like Xerxes' opulent golden litter. Actually, it's more of a portable house.
But it has more than just concept art -- there are clay models, special effects shots, elaborate makeup and costume for things like the hunchbacked traitor, Xerxes' chain-porn costume, and things like knives stuck in an eye, and even green-screen shots before the CGI gloss was put on. And there are shots showing how they managed certain effects, like the people who controlled the animatronics "wolf."
And with every sketch and behind-the-scene shot, they show the finished result as it appears in the movie. A lot of them have the original art by Frank Miller as well, to show us how close the movie actually is to its source material. Visually speaking, it's a feast of behind-the-scenes information.
"300: The Art of the Film" suffers from a lack of background information -- they show us loads of information, but don't tell WHY they were done, or even the intricacies of HOW. Come on, they must have had some trial-and-error in this film. While we can see the art for ourselves, we're rarely told much about why they chose this costume, or that monster, and how they created some of the weirder visuals.
So while the book is visually rich, it feels incomplete, like they left a lot of the text out to keep the guide from getting too long. Sometimes pages and pages will go by with only a few sparely-written paragraphs describing the intricacies of the movie. "300" is a visual movie, but come on, there's more to it than that.
"300: The Art of the Film" has loads of art, but not much explanation in how it got from art to movie. It stumbles badly as a behind-the-scenes guide, but it's still an intriguing visual read.
Since we have quite a wait for the DVD (as of this writing), the best way to experience some of our favorite moments from KILL BILL at home is to get this CD. The opening song performed by Nancy Sinatra is here, along with Luis Bacalov's "The Grand Duel" theme, heard in the film during the animated "Origin of O-Ren" chapter. Bernard Herrmann's "Twisted Nerve" is here (begun in the film as the tune Daryl Hannah whistles in the hospital corridor). Al Hirt's rendition of "Flight of the Bumblebee," better known as the theme from "The Green Hornet," is on board (heard in the film accompanying the Bride's flight over Tokyo and arrival in Japan), as is Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity," the guitar riff and brass fanfare heard over the grand entrance of O-Ren and her party at the House of Blue Leaves (and used quite memorably in the film's first trailer). "The Flower of Carnage," the theme song from LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) sung by its star, Meiko Kaji, and heard in the film following the O-Ren/Bride sword duel, is on the CD as well.
Some great cues from the film are not on the CD or not presented as they were in the film. Missing in action is Ennio Morricone's memorable percussion-woodwind-and-vocal Italian western theme, "Death Rides a Horse," heard as the Bride and O-Ren first confront each other in the House of Blue Leaves. Also missing is the Lily Chou-Chou number, "Kaifuku Suru Kizu," the enchanting wordless vocal heard as the Bride gazes at the array of swords in Sonny Chiba's upstairs room. Only one number ("Woo Hoo") of the three or so performed by the Japanese female pop trio, the 126.96.36.199's, in the House of Blue Leaves sequence is on the CD. The Latin-flavored instrumental number heard over the O-Ren/Bride duel and performed by Santa Esmeralda is suddenly a vocal rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" on the CD. "Seven Notes in Black," heard during the Bride's ambush of the hospital orderly, is heard on the CD only under a rap song performed by the RZA, a number not heard in the film at all. (In fact, one wonders how the "Original Music" credit awarded to The RZA came about, since there doesn't seem to be any original music in the film.)
It's clearly time for a number of record companies to get on the KILL BILL bandwagon and reissue soundtracks and recordings that contain music from KILL BILL with a tag slapped on saying, "Featuring the music from KILL BILL." The first candidate would, of course, be Nancy Sinatra's 1966 album, "How Does That Grab You?" which contains the recording of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" used for the opening credits of KILL BILL. All it needs now is a tag stating, "Featuring the theme song from KILL BILL." The second and third candidates, of course, would be anything by the 188.8.131.52's and the fictional "Lily Chou-Chou." Calling all imports!