summer tour - mobile

sunrise today finds us in mobile, alabama, the gulf city that is the home to the oldest mardi gras celebration in the united states. in 1703, french settlers held the new world's first mardi gras party at the old mobile site and the revelry has continued, disturbed only by the civil war, for more than three hundred years now. through the centuries, a firmly entrenched segregation has resulted in two separate, and unequal, mardi gras celebrations in the city - one for the black community and one for the white community. each faction have their own mystic societies, parades, royal courts and coronations. interaction between the two groups is minimal. the system is indicative of the city's complex racial history and its inability to shake the spectre of its slaveholding past. if you would like to delve further into the colorful/checkered history of the event and the economic and social stratification surrounding it, you should take a look at margaret brown's insightful documentary, the order of myths (2008).

brown, herself a product of mobile mardi gras royalty, turns her camera on these two closely orbiting worlds to illustrate this particularly southern answer to the perplexing, persistent questions we face in twenty-first century, "post-racial" america. through her examination of the these traditions in the heart of this "last stronghold of segregation", brown ultimately reveals connections that underline the gray, rather than the black and the white. if you would like to see it, pbs has it available for streaming as part of their independent lens series. to view the film, just go here and press play. there is also more information about the filmmakers and the process of assembling the film. i saw this at sxsw a couple of years ago and was quite impressed with both the film and margaret brown's sincerity, wit and sensitivity in fielding questions afterward. highly recommended.


trailer tuesday: summer tour - greenville

ok, so it's wednesday. sorry about that. being on the road, it's easy to lose track of that sort of thing. we played a lovely poolside show this evening in greenville, south carolina with our friend, alexa woodward. the atmosphere was loose, the pool was inviting and inside, you couldn't make your way through the joint without stepping on someone's dancing shoes. this week's entry goes out to all the folks there this evening doing the official state dance of south carolina. ladies and gentlemen, zelda barron's shag (1989).

starlite a go go: summer tour - mclean

the july installment of our starlite cinema series in austin was an impossibility, what with all the moving and traveling. we don't give up that easily, though. we just moved our shindig fifteen hundred miles or so down the road and put up our screen in mclean, virginia. last night we held a post-music screening of one of my favorites, and an essential summertime classic, jacques tati's m. hulot's holiday (1953).

one of the few physical comedies that doubles as art film, this never fails to put a smile on my face. it's the first of four films that tati made with the hulot character and it remains my favorite. tati trains his gently observant eye on france's middle class as they begin to emerge from the shadows of world war II and go in search of leisure and relaxation. he gradually, gracefully introduces us to a number of vacationers, waiters and proprietors and the cheerful hurricane that is hulot. i love this film for a number of reasons. the physical comedy in it is brilliant. hulot lurches his way through the film like a giant bungling bird, alternately wreaking havoc on the more uptight travelers and completely endearing himself to everyone else who doesn't take themselves so seriously. it is a precise and subtle pantomime that opts to invest in the small joke that establishes character, rather than an ever-growing series of gags scrambling to keep your attention by making each punch line bigger than the last. it is a patient film that is as interested in the quizzical look on someone's face as they try to tune in a radio as it is a sight gag. it lingers on people strolling as long as it does a pratfall. my favorite aspect of the film is tati's generosity with his comedy. where other silent clowns, from keaton to atkinson, make themselves the center of the action almost constantly, tati willingly and regularly relinquishes the spotlight to these other minor characters. some of his best bits occur in the background of a scene and he is often not present at all. it typifies the gentleness and compassion with which he treats the objects of this sweet satire. he never adopts a mocking tone. it is obvious from the first frame to the last that he has a deep affection for these characters and he never treats them with disrespect. it is a film that could not be made today, it seems, as the comedy of awkwardness has become so inextricably linked with the comedy of cruelty. it's a wonderful tonic for those ills and a perfect film to share on a summer night with a group of new friends.

many thanks to my bandmates for making room in our tour schedule to allow me to do this and i want to extend my deepest gratitude to my friend eric and the kind community of folks at the mutated red barn for both hosting our band and allowing me to share my love of cinema with them. i hope we get to do it again some time soon.

starlite cinema returns to austin in mid to late august to celebrate alfred hitchcock's birthday so stay tuned for that. details coming soon. until then, i hope your summer is as full of good friends, music and film as mine has been.


summer tour - lowell

so, as we sit here in the van and debate the relative merits of playing a show to absolutely no one in the depressed industrial hamlet of lowell, i thought i would take a moment to tell you about another group who are far more dedicated than we are to bringing art into the lives of the denizens of this little mill town - the lowell film collaborative.

it's a labor of love from brett and suzz cromwell. they are doing a lot of great things on a grassroots level to promote film production and appreciation in the greater lowell area and i applaud them for it, because it seems like it might be a hard sell in this community. it's their third anniversary next month, and in that time they have offered screenings at venues all over town, organized their own film festival, reported on other regional festivals, brought in filmmakers for discussion and coordinated with other like-minded community organizations and businesses to present special events all with one goal in mind - opening lowell's first truly independent movie house. they are doing really great work and making lowell a nicer place for area film lovers. my hat is off to them. check out their site and if you have friends up here make sure they find out about it and support them. i'd like to see them get their theater.


summer tour - boston

we're about halfway into things now and that finds us in boston, one of my favorite cities in the world, and you can file today's entry under "life imitating art imitating life". in january of 1950, a group of eleven men pulled off what was, at the time, the single largest armed robbery in the history of the united states. they hit the brink's armored car company for a grand total of 2.7 million dollars in cash, checks and securities. things unraveled, as they are wont to do, and the gang disintegrated under mounting pressure from authorities, one even attempting to kill another one via paid hit. six members of the gang were arrested just five days before the statute of limitations ran out and, eventually, all eleven were either dead or imprisoned. it was hardly a total victory for the law, though, as the majority of them were paroled after fifteen years and only 58,000 of the 2.7 million was recovered. a few years later william friedkin adapted the story in the brink's job (1978).

it's one of my favorite heist films and the cast can't be beat - peter falk, peter boyle, warren oates, and gena rowlands, just to name a few. it plays down the more desperate circumstances surrounding the job but is a first rate bit of entertainment. and as a period piece, it is top notch, evoking a sense of eisenhower-era boston that is completely immersive. funnily enough, during production, one of the area residents was paid to remove an air conditioner from his window so that they could film on the street without sacrificing accuracy in the period details. when they showed up to continue filming the next day, every house on the street had a window unit in it. so you can see how they might celebrate a bunch of neighborhood guys pulling off the crime of the century, lovable mugs that botched the finish but still managed to keep the lion's share of the take. north end robin hoods.

enter another real-life group of bunglers. in august of 1978, fifteen unedited reels of the film were stolen at gunpoint. there was a 600,000 dollar ransom demand, but they had stolen nothing but outtakes and dailies. positive prints of the negatives were safely housed, hundreds of miles away, in technicolor's labs in new york city, so all these shenanigans were hardly a bump in the road for post-production and distribution. the ransom demand initiated an fbi investigation and a subsequent ransom call was placed during which friedkin told the thieves to "get a projector and enjoy the film, it is all yours". the ransom was never paid, therefore the reels were never recovered, so as i sit here right now, somewhere in a basement or attic in this town, someone has these things, possibly not even knowing what they are at this point. i like to imagine them sitting up in their attic running them over and over, taking minor consolation that they have the only copy in the world of a brink's job blooper reel.

go sox!


summer tour - brooklyn

today finds us in brooklyn and it would be remiss of me to spend a summer day in brooklyn and not give a nod to one of my all time favorites, spike lee's do the right thing (1989). i had always liked spike. she's gotta have it (1986) and school daze (1988) had a ragged charm that i loved, even if they weren't the greatest films ever made. then this thing arrived in the summer of 1989 and went off like a bomb in my brain. small town oklahoma is pretty much the polar opposite of bed-stuy and i had never felt so unmoored and agitated by a movie in my whole life, up to that point - a feeling i have been chasing to varying degrees of success ever since. i am not going to go on at length about it today because, eventually, this one is going to get a vital-graph entry all its own. i just wanted to take a brief moment to say thanks, spike, for giving me one of the most profoundly transformative cinematic experiences i have ever had. there is only one story we are all always trying to tell and that is the story of right hand, left hand. turn it up for radio raheem.


trailer tuesday: summer tour - mill point

we are moving down the west virginia highway today, spreading our particular brand of rock and roll delinquency, so i thought i would give you this, ben parker's teen-age strangler (1964).

that's pretty much how the shows have gone so far - soda jerks love us. this dusty jewel out of west virginia's cinematic past is a wonder to behold. most of the cast and crew were friends and relatives of parker, which is painfully obvious from the very first frame. as an added bonus today, here are some choice moments, courtesy of mst3k.


summer tour - thomas

today finds us in thomas, west virginia. it is a beautiful little mountain town on the edge of the blackwater river. as we are now locked into this pattern of travel, music and taking rest wherever we can find it, i give you a fitting lullaby tonight from my favorite west virginia film, charles laughton's the night of the hunter (1955). just outside my window tonight the river is drifting lazily along and i drift with it, music still playing in my head...


summer tour - hot springs

some say leland has hit the road and day one finds us in hot springs, arkansas. the restorative waters of the springs have been drawing visitors from the world over and from every economic class for well over two centuries. old hickory himself made the springs the first federal reservation in 1832 and since then the famous and infamous, including babe ruth and al capone, have availed themselves of the luxurious bathhouses that line the main drag. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the american bathing experience was a booming business. prior to the advent of modern antibiotics, the spas that blossomed all over hot springs were celebrated for their medicinal properties and were constantly busy. that has tailed off in the modern era, but it still maintains a couple of bathhouses and remains a bustling tourist destination. and you can still get a rousing workout with a medicine ball at the fordyce bathhouse museum.

on the film front, hot springs is a linchpin of the documentary community. housed in the historic malco theater, the hot springs documentary film institute has been toiling away quietly here in this corner of arkansas for twenty years to build a wonderful legacy devoted to promoting, showcasing and teaching people about non-fiction film. this october, the twentieth annual hot springs documentary festival is going to screen over one hundred documentaries from all over the world, both feature and short subject, both experimental and more traditional. for ten days, it will be the mecca of the documentary community. throughout the rest of the year the institute offers a soundstage, film and audio editing suites for community use, living space for visiting filmmakers and educators and does a ton of educational outreach work with arkansas schools. they are working to restore the malco theater and they have a documentary library of over 17,000 titles. the gentleman who did sound for us tonight is actually on the selection committee and, as part of the winnowing process, has watched over three hundred films that are eligible for selection since february. they are a devoted group and do mighty work in the name of non-fiction film. i go to bed tonight in the documentary capital of the world. pretty neat.


trailer tuesday

altman, i love you, but this is a mess. this week's entry is for robert altman's popeye (1980).

nearly as dark and bizarre as peter greenaway's the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover (1989) with a few harry nilsson tunes thrown in.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for olle hellbom's pippi longstocking (1969).


my favorite frames

ever since the first time i saw this when i was eight years old, i wanted one of my own.