WBEZ | Sun Ra http://www.wbez.org/tags/sun-ra Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Summer reading: Books on film http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-07/summer-reading-books-film-107997 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/4867695239_7691071fb7_z.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="The best beach reading this summer is all about the movies. (Flickr/Simon Cocks)" />Summer, the most relaxing of the seasons, is also the time of year when many folks set themselves a major task: to catch up on their reading.</p><p>Count me in. When I was a kid, I&rsquo;d load up shopping bags with library books to keep me company on our annual trip to the cottage. These days I go for a book that can withstand my heat-addled attention span, not to mention liberal doses of sand and suntan lotion.</p><p>That doesn&rsquo;t always mean I&rsquo;m reaching for a trashy paperback. I&rsquo;ve just finished up three books that give serious props to some aspect of movie making. All of them provide great insight into the work of visionary artists. And all have a local tie or two, so I thought I&rsquo;d share them.</p><h2><strong>1. <em>The Best Film You&rsquo;ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies they Love</em></strong></h2><p>Chicago writer Robert K. Elder has once again combined his amazing prolificness with his seemingly all-access pass to Hollywood to put out a book of interviews with film directors talking about their second-greatest love: Not their own, but other people&rsquo;s movies.</p><p>The films discussed fall on the obscure or not appropriately appreciated side of things, and their range is remarkable: from experimental (<em>WR: Mysteries of the Organism</em>) and high-art films (<em>Eureka</em>), to American independent (<em>Who&rsquo;ll Stop the Rain</em>), to rare oddities and outright head scratchers (<em>The Chase and Can&rsquo;t Stop the Music</em>, respectively).</p><p>The book&rsquo;s title to the contrary, many of the movies discussed will be familiar to film geeks, though Elder is quick to point out that&rsquo;s intentional, saying he didn&rsquo;t want to write a book that was &ldquo;inaccessible, about films you couldn&rsquo;t see.&rdquo;</p><p>For me that was part of the pleasure -- revisiting some old favorites by way of another person&rsquo;s passion. To read John McNaughton (<em>Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer</em>) on the underrated <em>Who&rsquo;ll Stop the Rain</em> by Karel Reisz, or Richard Linklater (<em>Before Midnight</em>) on Vincente Minnelli&rsquo;s <em>Some Came Running</em> (really the best Frank Sinatra film), only deepened my appreciation for films I already love. And while it makes sense that &ldquo;outsider&rdquo; director Todd Solondz (<em>Storytelling</em>) admires <em>The Honeymoon Killers</em>, a raw, campy late-&lsquo;60s outing from Leonard Kastle, there are surprises. For example, I wouldn&rsquo;t have guessed that Kevin Smith (<em>Clerks</em>) was deeply informed by the austere and mannered <em>A Man For All Seasons</em> (which you can chalk up to a combination of his childhood Catholicism and his love for good dialogue).</p><p>The biggest strength of Elder&rsquo;s book, however, is that by getting these directors to talk about something other than themselves, they actually reveal a lot about their own characters. It&rsquo;s funny to read along as the brothers Quay (<em>Duet</em>) work themselves into a snit over the &ldquo;abysmal judgments&rdquo; of critics who don&rsquo;t appreciate the strange and intense beauty of <em>L&rsquo;Ange</em>, a film they believe &ldquo;tends to separate the men from the boys.&rdquo; Neil LaBute (<em>In the Company of Men</em>) proves to have a deeply nostalgic streak in his love for Paul Mazurky&rsquo;s <em>Blume in Love</em> and other films of the &lsquo;70s (an interview that could be subtitled, &lsquo;They don&rsquo;t make &lsquo;em like they used to!&rsquo;). John Waters&#39; (<em>Hairspray</em>) take on Joseph Losey&rsquo;s <em>Boom!</em> -- &ldquo;It&rsquo;s, in a way, really, really good. But at the same time, it&rsquo;s so terrible. I&rsquo;m confused all the time,&rdquo; proves that the most transcendent film experiences may well be those that are equal parts heaven and hell.</p><h2><strong>2. <em>Nice Guys Don&rsquo;t Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business</em></strong></h2><p>&nbsp;Curtis Harrington (1926-2007) is just the kind of director you&rsquo;d expect to discover in Elder&rsquo;s book - and in fact his 1971 camp thriller <em>What&rsquo;s the Matter with Helen?</em> is briefly invoked by John Waters. In many histories of American filmmaking, Harrington is more of a footnote than a recognized name. But he deserves better. As his memoir makes clear (published by local music label Drag City and edited by the Chicago writer/poet Lisa Janssen), Harrington worked both the outskirts and the epicenter of the Hollywood machine, and more or less lived to tell the tale (though he seems a bit ashamed by his association with some of the more sordid aspects of the business).</p><p>Harrington&rsquo;s career is a mass of contradictions. It&rsquo;s hard to come up with another filmmaker of the time who made avant-garde movies alongside other queer filmmakers like Kenneth Anger (<em>The Wormwood Star</em>) <em>and</em> made movies within the Hollywood studio system <em>and </em>directed episodes of American television (<em>Charlie&#39;s Angels, Hotel</em>). Harrington was more or less a nobody, an outsider. But he was a rapt student of old Hollywood, and he parlayed that knowledge into a remarkable set of connections that furthered his appreciation for great filmmaking and helped to advance his own career.</p><p>Was there anyone Harrington <em>didn&rsquo;t</em> know? He hung out with Maya Deren and Anaïs Nin at parties. The famed critic André Bazin introduced him to the legendary filmmaker Robert Bresson. Roger Corman, godfather of B movies and American independents, bankrolled some of his early filmmaking efforts. In turn, Harrington worked his own growing influence. He cast Dennis Hopper in his 1961 thriller <em>Night Tide</em>. He claims to have helped Katharine Ross win her role in<em> The Graduate</em> (she&rsquo;d appeared previously in Harrington&rsquo;s <em>Games</em>). And he helped to revive the reputation of James Whale, a director who had fallen far too soon into obscurity.</p><p>At times the name dropping is tedious. Though the insider gossip is delicious, it doesn&rsquo;t leave much room for reflection on how Harrington actually went about making his films, whose casts, costumes and set designs were thought out in painstaking and fascinating detail (I&rsquo;d love to inventory the art on display in <em>Games</em>, for example). But there are incredible moments as well. Harrington used his studio jobs to access as many old films as possible. His description of watching Josef von Sternberg&rsquo;s last silent film, <em>The Case of Lena Smith</em>, is haunting, especially when Harrington reveals the film was destroyed not long after his viewing.</p><p>In fact, the memoir ends with some of Harrington&rsquo;s best work: his index of von Sternberg&rsquo;s films. It proves, as if that&rsquo;s required, what great taste Harrington had. Unfortunately his aesthetic was precisely his undoing, the quality that made his inevitable move into directing TV movies and shows feel less like a chance for reinvention and more like a descent into commercial hell, what he describes as a &ldquo;slippery slope.&rdquo; In our current moment, when some of the best directors are finding new cinematic terrain within the confines of television, it&rsquo;s hard not to lament the loss (or at least the timing) of a talent like Harrington.</p><h2><strong>3. <em>Sun Ra + Ayé Atom: Space, Interiors, and Exteriors, 1972</em></strong></h2><p>Somehow I think Curtis Harrington and Sun Ra, though from very different times and places, might have felt an affinity for each other&rsquo;s work or style. Or at least that&rsquo;s my cursory conclusion after pouring through this beautiful new art book from local gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey.</p><p>Though mainly devoted to the Sun Ra-inspired murals of Ayé Atom (thanks to the rediscovery of a collection of photos documenting Atom&rsquo;s work in homes around the South Side of Chicago), the book begins with a wordless plunge into a series of stills from <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwNtxFH6IjU" target="_blank"><em>Space is the Place</em></a>, the 1974 science fiction film featuring both musical and theatrical performances by Sun Ra and his Arkestra.</p><p>Shot on location in Oakland, Calif., the storyline (by John Coney, who - get this! -&nbsp; was then a producer/director at the public television station KQED) involves Ra&rsquo;s efforts to create a black space colony, a new eden that would provide an escape from time and &ldquo;the sounds of anger, guns and frustration&rdquo; that fill the air down on planet Earth.</p><p>The stills are an interesting mix of the fantastical and banal. Clad in what one reviewer has called &ldquo;<a href="http://366weirdmovies.com/space-is-the-place-1974/" target="_blank">goodwill Pharaoh garb</a>&rdquo;, Ra stands, solemn-faced and poised, in a parking lot. His tie-dyed robe swirls in the wind, his Egyptian-style headdress, complete with a giant translucent orb, reaches toward the heavens. Off in the distance, you can see a school bus and other cars (a white Chevy Nova?) behind him. In other images, Ra waits quietly on his &ldquo;planet,&rdquo; a lush jungle landscape, home to floating jellyfish-type creatures, and long horn-like instruments that appear to have tongues.</p><p>In my favorite image, Ra can be found stage right, slightly out of focus, looking as if he&rsquo;s about to glide right out of the frame. It speaks to the way Ra, who did so much with and about the moment he lived in, wasn&rsquo;t quite in step with the times, but always one or two extraterrestrial strides ahead of the game.</p><p>So that&rsquo;s my list, now what about you - what are you reading this summer? Share your picks in the comments section.</p><p><em>Alison Cuddy is WBEZ&rsquo;s Arts and Culture reporter and co-host of <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-changing-channels/id669715774?mt=2" target="_blank">Changing Channels,</a> a podcast about the future of television. Follow her on&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy" target="_blank">Twitter</a>,<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=tn_tnmn" target="_blank"> Facebook</a> and<a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport" target="_blank"> Instagram</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Jul 2013 11:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-07/summer-reading-books-film-107997 Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele: Space jams http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-04/music-thursdays-tony-sarabia-and-richard-steele-space-jams-98152 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/space jams flickr Robert Couse-Baker.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong>Tony Sarabia:</strong></p><div><p>Today is the worldwide celebration known as Yuri&rsquo;s&nbsp;Night. The event is held on April 12th&nbsp;every year to commemorate space exploration milestones and is named for Yuri Gagarin, a Russian who was the first human to launch into space in his Vostok 1 spaceship in 1961.</p><p>So for this week&rsquo;s Music Thursday, Richard Steele and I offer up some of our favorite space-themed songs. These are tunes about flying into space, visits from space, intergalactic love, rock n&#39; roll and space and more. Strap in and take a sonic ride with us.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/1EPP3gkh_00" width="480"></iframe></p><p>I bought the debut album by the B-52&rsquo;s after seeing them on <em>Saturday Night Live</em> in January of 1980. I was smitten by the dancing, the music and the lyrics. Kicking off the album is &quot;Planet Claire&quot;&nbsp;and what a way to begin an album.</p><p>The walkie talkie beeps, along with the reference to the theme of the old TV show <em>Peter Gunn</em>, lend the song its overall distressing feel. The song&rsquo;s vocals begin with that eerie &lsquo;ahhh&rsquo; from Kate Pierson, giving way to Fred Schneider&rsquo;s robotic and menacing storytelling.</p><p>&ldquo;Planet Claire has pink air, all the trees are red, no one ever dies there, no one has a head&quot; is a lyric that makes me want to take a spaceship to that faraway place. This album became the party soundtrack for me and my group of friends.&nbsp;I was back at Val&rsquo;s&nbsp;Halla Records in April of that year to snap up <em>Wild Planet</em>, the follow up to the B-52&rsquo;s debut and one that continued with the dark danceable music with yet another space themed song.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/KjovZd8HkTA" width="480"></iframe></p><p>Let&rsquo;s travel from &quot;Planet Claire&quot; to Mars. When we decided on this theme I naturally gravitated to David Bowie&rsquo;s catalog. There are many choices; from &quot;Space Oddity&quot; to &quot;Life on Mars&quot; and &quot;Ashes to Ashes.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Five Years&quot; may not seem like a natural for lots of folks but for me it makes perfect sense.&nbsp;This is the opening track off the classic, &ldquo;The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s a concept album that tells the story of an alien who comes to Earth with a message of peace, love and hope as earthlings face the last five years of their existence. The alien becomes Ziggy Stardust the rock star who self-destructs; &quot;Five Years&quot; sets up the whole drama.</p><p>The song tells the reaction of one person who realizes that the earth is facing its inevitable end. Bowie&rsquo;s songwriting is beautiful and poetic and the song is quite sad. This version is taken from a British music television show called the <em>Old Grey Whistle Test</em>.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/c139yqQOqGU" width="480"></iframe></p><p>Time for love of the intergalactic kind: &quot;A Funky Space Reincarnation&quot; is from Marvin Gaye&rsquo;s 1978&rsquo;s <em>Here My Dear</em>. This was the album he cut to pay for alimony and child support for his ex-wife Anna Gordy - hence the name. Gaye had planned on recording what he called &quot;a lazy album&quot; because the royalties wouldn&rsquo;t be his anyway. But the emotions of his ill-fated marriage to Anna took over the music, and it ended up chronicling that period of his life.</p><p>This song though seems to break away a little bit from the overall theme, but it could be argued that it&rsquo;s a song about hope. It&rsquo;s basically about a parallel universe where in the future Marvin is the captain of a &quot;space bed&quot; and he meets a woman that reminds him of Anna.&nbsp;It clocks in at over eight minutes and did peak at #23 on the R&amp;B charts. Not bad for an album that upon released was panned as bizarre. Today though, <em>Here My Dear</em> is considered a classic.</p><p>&quot;Two Little Spacemen in a Flying Saucer&quot; is a gem of a novelty song by Ella Fitzgerald that was released in 1951. I don&rsquo;t know much about the song&rsquo;s composers Elaine Wise and Arthur Pitt, but the song is included on a compilation I own called <em>Ella Fitzgerald 1951: The Chronological Classics</em>. What is clear from the lyrics is that these two little men don&rsquo;t think much of us earthlings. As a matter of fact, they think we&rsquo;re pretty stupid.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/-KZMg-fvn-s" width="480"></iframe></p><p>For my last pick we head to southern California for a song where an earthling is begging an alien to take him away. &quot;Mr. Spaceman&quot; comes from the 1966 album <em>Fifth Dimension</em> by The Byrd&rsquo;s. The country sound is a precursor to the bands deep exploration of country music on its classic <em>Sweetheart of the Rodeo</em> with the great Gram Parsons.</p><p>Upon its release, some in the music press termed the song &ldquo;space rock.&quot; But it does have more of a country feel. Mr. Spaceman was written by Roger McGuinn as a sort of meditation on extraterrestrial life. Mr. Spaceman peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.</p><p>There you go, a fun and wild ride into a musical space-age.</p></div><div><strong>Richard Steele:</strong>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/YuA-fqKCiAE" width="480"></iframe></p><div>This very weird 1962 recording was done by a British band called The Tornados. It was a novelty instrumental with sound effects that were supposed to connect&nbsp;to&nbsp;the new&nbsp;Space&nbsp;Age. The&nbsp;song&nbsp;was named after the AT&amp;T communications satellite called Telstar&nbsp;that went into orbit the same year. Somehow the record-buying public&nbsp;&ldquo;got the message,&rdquo;&nbsp;and the record sold millions of copies worldwide. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/fYnmVmmN2Gg" width="480"></iframe></p><div>Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) legally changed his name to Le Sony&rsquo;r Ra.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Whatever his name, he was a jazz composer, piano and synthesizer player, bandleader and&nbsp;&ldquo;cosmic philosopher.&rdquo; There were many variations on his name, but he made the legal change while he resided in Chicago from the mid-&lsquo;40s&nbsp;to the early&nbsp;&lsquo;60s. The band that he had during that period reflected his belief that he was from Saturn (based on a life-changing spiritual experience he claimed that he had earlier in his life).&nbsp;He and his band wore&nbsp; costumes that had a science-fiction theme with Egyptian influences.&nbsp;The&nbsp;1972&nbsp;composition &ldquo;Space Is The Place&rdquo; was initially written for a film that was part documentary, part science fiction and part black exploitation. Part of the story was about Sun Ra discovering a new planet. I&rsquo;ll leave it at that! &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/2YbnYkHL0Ek" width="560"></iframe></p><div>Clearly,&nbsp;Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra is&nbsp;one of the best versions of this ode to the Moon.&nbsp;The list of performers who&nbsp;have&nbsp;recorded&nbsp;&ldquo;Fly Me to the Moon&rdquo;&nbsp;is enormous -- everybody from Doris Day to Marvin Gaye to Rod Stewart. One of the most significant anecdotes about this recording is that it was played by the astronauts of Apollo 10 on their lunar-orbital&nbsp;mission and then again on the Moon itself by astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 landing. He was among the first humans to&nbsp;fly to the Moon and then actually&nbsp;set foot on&nbsp;it in&nbsp;1969! &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/6rR3YDj-lME" width="480"></iframe></p><div>This 1976 gem, &ldquo;You are my Starship&rdquo; by Michael Henderson,&nbsp;was recorded on an album of the same name by drummer Norman Connors, but the vocal work was done by Michael Henderson. The song&nbsp;has a beautiful &ldquo;other worldly&rdquo; quality.&nbsp; Henderson is an extremely talented musician who not only wrote and sang the composition, but he also sang all the background vocals, produced the record and was the bass player.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/YH6j63lhAAc" width="480"></iframe></p><div><em>Lost in Space</em> was kind-of a cheesy&nbsp;1965&nbsp;family&nbsp;TV&nbsp;show about &ldquo;The Robinsons&rdquo; being lost and roving around the galaxy in their spaceship.&nbsp;It ended up a pretty successful Saturday morning show for kids. The thing that&rsquo;s so interesting about the show&rsquo;s theme music was its composer: John Williams went on to win five Academy Awards for his film scores.&nbsp;See if you recognize any of these films: <em>Star Wars</em>, <em>Jaws</em>, <em>Superman</em>, <em>Indiana Jones</em>, <em>E.T.</em>, <em>Home Alone</em>, <em>Jurassic Park</em>, <em>Schindler&rsquo;s List</em>&nbsp;and recently, <em>War Horse</em>. His theme music includes NBC&nbsp;Sunday Night Football&nbsp;and the&nbsp;NBC Nightly News.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>As that list relates to&nbsp;Lost in Space...you&#39;ve got to start somewhere!</div><div>&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/5kZiQf3kCXk" width="480"></iframe></p><div>Most everybody&rsquo;s heard a lot about&nbsp;the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They&rsquo;re pretty unique in that they were one of the few groups that really made major innovations in rock/pop/funk music, and later in hip-hop by literally doing a successful mash-up of all those different styles. On stage they really &ldquo;blow it out.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Subway To Venus&quot; was recorded in 1989 and it was on the album&nbsp;Mother&rsquo;s&nbsp;Milk. It went on to become the first gold record for&nbsp;the Red Hot Chili Peppers.&nbsp;Their version of Stevie Wonder&rsquo;s&nbsp;&ldquo;Higher Ground&rdquo;&nbsp;got some attention and airplay, but for my money, &ldquo;Subway to Venus&rdquo; was&nbsp;the&nbsp;best example of their rock/funk DNA.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/fhQZKWBVxDA" width="480"></iframe></p><div>As an added bonus: enjoy a favorite of intern Caroline O&#39;Donovan&#39;s &nbsp;from The Carpenters.</div></p> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-04/music-thursdays-tony-sarabia-and-richard-steele-space-jams-98152