Film & Television Series Music SkeletonPete Says

The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water

My current immersion in the creative recording process with Dance Half Done made the opportunity to see an advance screening of “The Harmony Game”, a new documentary on the making of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, an all-the-more special treat. When my wife saw that this early public peek would be at one of our favorite venues, City Winery, we jumped at the chance.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” marked the pinnacle of S & G’s recording career as well as the dissolution of their creative partnership for many years afterward. This film was created specifically to accompany the 40th Anniversary Edition of that 1970 album which is scheduled for release on March 8th, 2011. It will have a limited engagement in theaters throughout the month.

Like The Beatles, as Simon and Garfunkel’s public popularity grew in leaps and bounds, their creativity and imagination in the studio (and the record company’s willingness to indulge it) grew concurrently. The film is an enjoyable mix of anecdotes and archival footage, some culled from the contemporaneous TV special “Songs of America”, of that process. Along with new in-depth interviews with Paul and Artie , the 70 minute chronicle offers talks with co-producer/engineer Roy Halee, “wrecking crew” drummer Hal Blaine, arranger Jimmie Haskell, and others.In particular it is great to see the unsung hero of sixties pop hits, bass player Joe Osborn, finally get some face time on screen. Based on his session-ography he deserves a documentary of his own.

Halee, credited as the sonic architect of the duo’s recorded legacy, relates in some detail the process he used to get the group’s unique vocal sound, and the amount of experimentation – especially with natural ambiance – invested in the project. Blaine tells the legendary elevator story, the “instrument” playing the solo in “The Boxer” is revealed, as is who fingerpicks its beautifully fluid opening run. Unfortunately multi-instrumentalist session player Larry Knechtel passed away in 2009. It is his piano work we hear on the gospel inspired title song; a track that was the culmination of a 3 day session to work out its arpeggios, counterpoints and turnarounds to perfection. There is no mistaking that perfection was the goal, putting that many uber-talented “type A” personalities in one room made for a creative pressure cooker but their talents thankfully went beyond note perfect to soul perfection.

To some extent the film follows the now familiar “classic albums” formula, but leaves us short of what is often the most enjoyable part – a trip through the multi-tracks. As Osborn relates in one segment, a finished track was often a pastiche of the best pieces of several takes and a listen to bits that got left out, experiments that failed, etc. would have been fun. That is not to say that the soundtrack does not include bits of alternate and/or early takes.

40th Anniversary Edition, 1 CD - 1 DVD

For those of us who have already owned the album in any number of formats and remastered versions since it’s first release, it is this documentary that will make the 40th Anniversary Edition worth owning. At a street price likely to be under $15.00 for the whole package it is quite a bargain.

For more information on some of the artists mentioned above visit:
Simon and Garfunkel Website
Roy Halee: An in depth interview circa 2001 in Mix Magazine.
Drummer Hal Blaine and Bassist Joe Osborn. Their session credits are mind-blowing.

Film & Television Series SkeletonPete Says

Blood On Satan’s Claw

What a pre-All Hallow’s Eve treat. The newest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, Dick Klemensen’s Anglo-centric horror film fanzine, arrived in my mail box this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for this issue with some anticipation since it was first announced that its focus would be “Blood On Satan’s Claw” (1971). LSoH is noted for their in depth coverage and loving attention to detail (bordering on obsession) that often produces the definitive texts on their chosen subjects. Though their output is low (25 issues in 40 years) it is always worth the wait and the issues are packed with interviews and information found nowhere else. In preparation for settling down and reading this volume of forgotten lore, I decided to unearth my musty VHS copy of BoSC (Paragon, circa 1982) and give it a fresh look.

Of the small group of period horror genre flix that came out of England in the early 1970’s “Blood On Satan’s Claw” happens to be my favorite. The plot follows the happenstance of a young farmer who inadvertently plows up a piece of the dark lord and triggers a chain reaction as the teenagers of the village “harvest” Satan’s skin from those it begins to grow on in order to reconstitute their evil master. While not as brutally sadistic as Michael Reeve’s “Witchfinder General” (AKA “The Conqueror Worm”) 1968, the malevolent glee which the youngsters exhibit as they carry out their duty is quite unnerving. The young cast gives really effective performances, sometimes with only a knowing glint in the eye, or an evil smirk.

Whereas the similarly pastoral “The Wicker Man” (1973) portrays a cat and mouse game of Pagan naturalism vs. Christian repression the nature of BoSC’s sexuality is the perversion of teenage curiosity into heightened morbidity. Linda Hayden plays central baddie Angel Blake and pulls off the portrayal with an amazing balance of subtle guile and flame eyed hysteria. While Angel’s attempted seduction of the local minister is probably the most talked about scene in the film (at least in fanboy circles) it is the ritualized rape/murder of character Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) that is most alarming. Her bewilderment that the “game” she participates in with her young friends has gone terribly wrong is palpable. In other word’s this ain’t the “Twilight Saga”. It’s more like “Spring Awakenings” – with rusty garden shears.

There are lots of wonderful character faces here, particulary Howard Goorney as the doctor, and director Piers Haggard utilizes them to great effect. They often peer down the lens at you bringing to mind Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” or “Vampyr” (1928). I love the punky teen who looks like a cross between Michael J. Pollard and Butch from “The Little Rascals”.

While some of the Hammer period films present sets that often feel too well kept (kind of like those clean Western streets of “Bonanza”), the pastoral setting and interiors of BoSC are well executed with the feel that someone took a handful of sod and tossed it at a Vermeer. The crow image underneath the main titles always reminds me of the cover of the first Black Sabbath album.

Marc Wilkinson’s score is superbly creepy and memorable (especially the opening title motif) and stands on its own as a listening experience, though some of the cues are quite short. I was thrilled to find I could stream it on MOG and have been listening as I write this piece.

Little Shoppe of Horrors #25 is available here, as are all back issues of the fanzine – some original, some reprint. If you have any interest at all in Hammer, Amicus, Tigon films they are worth your consideration. Klemensen is also taking orders for the two volume “Last Bus To Bray” a compendium of information on unrealized projects by the Hammer Films company.

Film & Television Series Music

“Stones In Exile” The Rolling Stones Documentary DVD

Stones In Exile
Director: Stephen Kajik
Eagle Vision DVD

Eagle Vision’s DVD documentary “Stones in Exile” follows the events surrounding the creation of The Rolling Stones’ now classic “Exile on Main Street” album. 40 years down the line it reveals how this seeming paean to the then disappearing “old weird” American came to be via previously sloughed tracks, the group’s financially forced retreat from their British homeland and a months long basement recording session/ endless house party in the south of France. Using contemporaneous film footage culled from Robert Frank’s “Cock Sucker Blues”, Dominique Tarle’s beautiful “fly on the wall” photographs, and a group of new interviews running from the informative to the ridiculous director Stephen Kijak (“Scott Walker, 30th Century Man”) does a credible job of separating some of the apocrypha from fact. Even though we find in the case of the Stones, “printing the legend” is often the same as printing the fact.

As a 2 LP opus released in June of 1972 “Exile On Main Street” exhibited the culmination of what The Stones had been stewing up from “Beggar’s Banquet” through “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers”. It represented the graduation of the band from students of the American music forms they revered – blues, country and gospel – to modern purveyors of those forms. Additionally it saw them turn a fun house mirror onto the topography of a post-sixties paranoid America. In one interview Martin Scorscese posits that the sixties actually ended in 1974, possibly thinking of his own documentary “The Last Waltz”, but he should know better. The sixties ended squarely at Altamont raceway in December of 1969. “Exile” laid out a musical landscape where the Devil’s Carny was set up right next to the traveling preacher’s tent show and the moral lines between them were becoming increasingly blurred. The Kent State shootings were past us and Watergate loomed ahead.

As Stones fans already know that the group records tons of material and stockpiles it for possible later use. During the course of the interviews both Mick and Keith try to convey that for them a Stones album is less a theme than a particular batch of finished tracks that happen to show up under one title and released on a particular date. Even so “Exile” hangs together as a dense gumbo of sin and salvation wrapped in the creepy Super 8mm frame blow-ups of Robert Frank’s film. Bringing that record home in 1972 was definitely a WTF moment for Stones fans, myself included. It was a beast with many heads that while daunting at first rewarded perseverance with unfolding mysteries even this far from it’s inception.

Dominique Tarle's images evoke the Stone's summer of exile

That “Exile” is the most Keith-centric of all Stones albums is revealed to be a quirk of geography rather than a musical statement since the recording studio was run out of the dank basement of Villa Nellcote, Keith and Anita’s rented residence. Other Stones were scattered hours away, which accounts for the shifting personnel on many tracks such as Mick Taylor on Bass guitar on “Tumblin’ Dice” and producer Jimmy Miller drums on “Happy”.

In what has become a de rigueur part of all “classic album” overviews, Mick and Charlie visit Jagger’s former home “Stargroves” and Olympic studios where many of “Exile’s” tracks were begun, to reminisce. It’s fun to watch Mick grudgingly delineate his memories as Charlie laconically disagrees. There is also some vintage footage of the “Rolling Stones truck thing” being hauled into the driveway of Villa Nellcote. Snippets of jams and studio dialog sprinkled here and there are a tantalizing peek at what we might have heard if the “Exile On Main Street” deluxe remaster had taken more of a “Jamming with Edward” approach.

Interviews with celebrities (“fans”) while totally superfluous in the body of the documentary are offered as lengthier edits in the bonus section and many prove to be quite enjoyable. Liz Phair’s devotion to the Exile album is palpable and I share her desire to never know what the actual lyrics to any of these songs are. Sheryl Crow, whose best work is informed by slinky Stones-ish rhythms, makes sense here too; Benicio DelToro and Will I. Am less so. It would have been nice to get some words from background vocalists Clydie King and Venetta Fields as part of the LA sessions section of the film. Their singing is often so far up in the mix as to over shadow Jagger.

I’ve read a couple of books and many articles detailing the summer at Nellcote over the years so I wasn’t sure I would glean much from this new DVD. I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to lots of footage and photos I hadn’t seen before. The documentary pulls all the info together in one place with nicely presented graphics and – mostly – informative interviews. I would have loved the ability to peruse Tarle’s images in a separate gallery one by one. “Stones in Exile” may also be the closest we’ll get to a quality look at Frank’s “CS Blues” footage; I think the naughty bits will keep it unreleased for a long long time.

Priced to sell, this piece warrants repeat viewings and should have a place in your collection.

Eagle has announced release of “Ladies and Gentleman, The Rolling Stones” the little seen film covering the 1972 tour, when the Exile material hit the road.. I’m especially looking forward to that one.