Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Films of John Cassavetes: Too Late Blues (1961)

Too Late Blues is quite the juxtaposition viewing when double-billed with the John Cassavetes previous picture, Shadows. Both films concern the unglamorous side of jazz musicians, but, whereas Shadows still feels spontaneous and edgy, Blues feels weighed down, never fully reaching the scales it’s attempting. The core problem lies with miscast Bobby Darin’s one note, though earnest, delivery. Darin, a truly energetic 20th century legend on the music stage, comes across stiff and uncomfortable on screen, making his scenes with Stella Stevens unconvincing. Still Blues is watchable because the Cassavetes script has major bounce when the plot veers toward an artist that is unwavering in his convictions—you almost wonder what more the finished product could have accomplished with Cassavetes, a damn fine actor, mouthing his own words (co-written with Richard Carr). And the supporting cast of Vince Edwards, Everett Chambers, and Rupert Crosse carry the picture over lulls making it worthwhile. Oh, and for jazz enthusiasts, there’s Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, Uan Rasey, and Milt Bernhart on the soundtrack.

SHADOWS (1959)
A moody Charles Mingus score accentuates this vivid look at several desperate lives via the debut lens of John Cassavetes. The grit seeps off the screen as Cassavetes positions his camera in seedy New York 1950's nightclubs and on the bouelvards for realistic brawls. The improvised vibe indeed feels very loose, in keeping with the Beat movement of the time, though we now know a lot of it was reshot after an earlier version didn’t pass the director’s high standards. Gena Rowlands said in a Guardian interview that her husband probably “would have kept reshooting and editing for the rest of his life!” The plot revolves around a woman (Leila Goldoni) entering into an interracial relationship and its consequences. She has jazz musician brothers (Hugh Hurd, Ben Carruthers) who look out for her while enduring their own hardships making a living and surviving the mean streets. Though wooden acting sporadically becomes unintentionally funny, this film still holds up and is a snapshot of life not to miss.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Short Stories, Poems, and Feeling Blue

I had the pleasure of publishing a brand new Rusty Barnes short story at the BEAT to a PULP webzine. Rusty is one of my favorite poets but this is the first time I've featured some of his fiction. Top notch, of course. And speaking of poetry, a colloboration of mine with writer Stephen J. Golds called "Waitin' Around To Die"  appears at Punk Noir Magazine. 

Lastly, I first became aware of Joni Mitchell’s Blue when Rolling Stone printed their instantly outmoded "Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years" in 1987. That her masterpiece was ranked at 46, I’d later learn, was one of the many problems with the male-dominated list, but I’m grateful they at least printed the final verse to “The Last Time I Saw Richard.”

I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes

Those lines hit me like a Joe Frazier right. This was dynamic poetry and I wanted to know more, hear more. Pre-internet, instant gratification was a rare commodity. I waited until pay day and then headed to Tape World where I purchased a cassette of Blue. Luckily, my car stereo had a tape player, so I could listen to my new purchase on the ride home.

To read more on Mitchell's classic, please read my full column at LitReactor.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Blue at 50

My piece over at LitReactor on Joni Mitchell's BLUE album is a bit eclectic—thoughts ramble on because I had so much to say about an album that has saved my soul on more than one occasion.

Monday, June 14, 2021

PINS at The Five-Two

PINS is based on a true crime that impacted me not just in the senseless, horror of the murder but the community’s inept social media responses. New York State describes a child under the age of 18 who does not attend school, or behaves in a way that is dangerous or out of control, or often disobeys his or her parents, guardians or other authorities, as a Person In Need of Supervision or ‘PINS’. Thanks as always to Gerald So for featuring my work at The Five-Two. Names of the damned have been altered.