Been thinking about Karen Carpenter today. Isn't this just the best?
Poor Karen, the submissive misfit in a controlling, perfectionistic family. Here's a frail looking Karen playing a huge drum solo on the Carpenters' 1976 TV special:
In the typically dull world of easy listening, Karen Carpenter really stands out as someone with great talent and passion for music, inserting both pathos and intensity into her singing and playing. She also appears to have been someone who never quite fit into that rigid, clean cut and repressed world and who was emotionally damaged in part by that realization. The sadness and the difficulties she faced seem to have been channeled into her creative endeavors, which no doubt added to her capability and appeal, but anorexia withered her away to the bone and she finally passed away due to its complications in 1983.
There's an interesting documentary about the Carpenters that's available on DVD, Close To You: Remembering the Carpenters, which in my memory is notable for Richard Carpenters' closed-offedness, constant creepy smiling and refusal to admit or recognize much of anything that might have been tragic or difficult throughout the career he and his sister had.
Even non-Bob Dylan fans should enjoy Todd Haynes' unorthodox and loosely structured Zimmerman biopic I'm Not There (out today on DVD) that fluidly captures the many sides of Bob Dylan with six actors each portraying the various slices of the life of the celebrated singer-songwriter from his early folk days through his much- publicized electric crossover stage and beyond. Even if you saw this film last year on the big screen, be sure to check it out on the newly issued 2 disc DVD version which includes audio commentary by director/co-writer Todd Haynes.
Actors who loosely play variations of Dylan include Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw and the young Marcus Carl Franklin, as an eleven year old who calls himself Woody Guthrie -- all of whom are complimented by a flawless ensemble that include the Joan Baez- styled character played by Julianne Moore and David Cross' inspired turn as Allen Ginsberg (see clip above with the Blanchett- portrayed Dylan).
As a Dylan fan, what moved me even more than I'm Not There's subject matter was how Haynes so beautifully structured this heartfelt tribute to the artist, effortlessly shifting from one Dylan incarnation and stage of his illustrious career into the next. Truly amazing film-making! My bet is that we will be seeing many future biopics that adapt this same unique approach pioneered by Haynes.
Kant said that there was a secret mechanism in the soul which prepared direct intuitions in such a way that they could be fitted into the system of pure reason. But today that secret has been deciphered. While the mechanism is to all appearances planned by those who serve up the data of experience, that is, by the culture industry, it is in fact forced upon the latter by the power of society, which remains irrational, however we may try to rationalize it; and this inescapable force is processed by commercial agencies so that they give an artificial impression of being in command. There is nothing left for the consumer to classify. Producers have done it for him. – p. 124-5, Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of EnlightenmentWhat got me ruminating on the star-spectacle was a double-feature of the star-studded quasi-biopic of Bob Dylan, I’M NOT THERE, and the quasi-star-studded BEOWULF. I’ll deal with the latter in my next entry. Contrary to the average Hollywood celebrity, Bob Dylan’s a star who largely created the stories surrounding him, sold his image based on those stories, but always resisted those stories once the media and his fans began to reflect him through them. In his film, Todd Haynes tries to walk the line between individualism (subjectivity defining itself) and his own radical semiotic belief that everything is just stories, signs signifying other signs. The problem here is that if there is no core Dylan that we can ever arrive at, only a series of stories that we compile, how can we understand or appreciate what was Dylan resisting against or why he was resisting it, since that rebel is nothing but another confabulation, no truer than the rest? As the title suggests, the movie tends to celebrate Dylan’s resistance to being defined, giving its subject what he wants, another story portraying him as he’s always portrayed himself, not responsible for anything he says about himself or others. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Dylan gave permission to use his music for the film. The irony here is that, despite its postmodernist structure of multiple narratives, the film divines a core Dylan-construct by giving into and clearly defending his side of the story, or stories.
Huh? I am not a bum. I'm a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends and... uh... my thermos. Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' down in Mississippi. – Steve Martin as Navin R. Johnson in THE JERK
Brad and I went to see I'm Not There this weekend and we loved it. He covered the Todd Haynes territory in this blog he posted earlier this week, but I thought I should chime in a little since I'm a big Dylan fan.
The movie is very stream of consciousness, kinda like most Dylan songs. If you have not seen it yet, please don't go to the theater expecting something easily followed, with a traditional narrative storyline, cause it's not like that at all. In fact, that was one of the reasons I really liked the film-- it was different and unafraid to be so. Throughout the film I wondered what others in the theater were making of the movie, and I wondered esp what those who may not be big fans of Dylan were thinking. It seems like it would be pretty hard to follow if you didn't know much about him. Dylan has always avoided being concretely characterized or pinned down by anyone or anything, and it was so cool to see someone as fantastic as Todd Haynes working within that fact and making it into something creative instead of trying to create a typical biopic.
There are 6 different actors each portraying a different aspect or period of Dylan's life. Cate Blanchett has been getting all the press for this film it seems, and she deserves it-- she's brilliant! All the details in the movie were just perfection-- it's obvious that Todd Haynes did a heck of a lot of homework to make this film happen. I have to admit sometimes I thought it was weird to recreate scenes from his life or to take things that have happened and refashion them when this really is about a real person, but overall I was willing to suspend my belief and just go with the film as another piece of art.
What I find surprising about this year is that there have been tons of great releases out throughout the year. I have not liked this many albums in one year in a very long time. Yet there seems to be nothing coming out this holiday season. There are still tons and tons of great albums out there. Thousands of great albums from years past. But just not much new out right now. So I have been trying to use this time wisely. I have been going back in time lately and discovering old albums from decades past. But I have also been spending this extra time catching up on all the great albums that came out this year. I am obsessed with that new Sally Shapiro album "Disco Romance" right now. It is the funnest album out this year since Lily Allen. Sort of like a more modern version of Stacey Q. Like a mix of all the great and fun things about 80's electro and freestyle. But still sort of relevant and exciting. I also am a bit obsessed with Pelle Carlberg. His latest album "In A Nutshell" came out about six months ago but I just found the time to give it a proper listen. And now I can't stop. It really is brilliant. Both Sally Shapiro and Pelle Carlberg are from Sweden. I guess it is just a coincidence. But maybe not. Two of my other favorite albums of the year also come from Sweden. "Night Falls Over Kortedala" by Jens Lekman and "West Coast" by Studio both come from the land of Sweden. Jose Gonzalez is also from Sweden and I am also in love with his album this year "In Our Nature." The Shout Out Louds are from Sweden as well. What is going on this year. Sweden is taking over my life. The Knife and Love Is All are also from Sweden and they both had two of my favorite albums from last year. And I always had a special place in my heart for ABBA. But I never really thought much about Sweden until this year when I started realizing all my favorite albums were from Sweden. So don't get too depressed if you don't think there are any good albums out this month. There are plenty of albums for you to catch up on. You can just spend a couple months getting to know all the great music coming out of Sweden alone. There are also two brilliant albums out recently on Italians Do It Better. Both "Night Drive" by the Chromatics and "Beatbox" by Glass Candy are absolutely fantastic. You will not be able to stop listening to them once you stop.
And while there may not be hardly any new release DVDs or CDs coming out this month or last. There are a ton of movies out in the theater right now. I just saw "I'm Not There" last night at the brand new remodeled Kabuki Theatre last night. I have been excited about this movie since I first found out about it a couple years ago. Todd Haynes has been a longtime hero of mine. I have loved every single one of his movies and they have all been completely different but all equally brilliant. The first film I saw of his was "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story." The movie has never been properly distributed and is sort of hard to find. It chronicles the life of Karen Carpenter and is all told with Barbie Dolls as the actors. Both Richard Carpenter and Mattel are not big fans of the movie and I am sure it is near to impossible to get this movie released on DVD. Maybe someday. I even did a whole paper for my independent film class on the the movie Superstar. The paper sort of turned into a paper on how hard it was to find a copy of the film on video. His first real movie "Poison" (1991) and his second "Safe" (1995) are also both out of print on DVD. Maybe there are some exciting reissues on the way. But we might have to wait until "I'm Not There" comes out on DVD next year. Safe remains one of my favorite movies and Julianne Moore is brilliant as a woman who develops multiple chemical sensitivity. Todd Haynes movies tend to come out every 3 or 5 years. But they are always worth the wait. His glam rock docudrama "Velvet Goldmine" came out in 1998. This movie had an amazing soundtrack just like his new film "I'm Not There." The Velvet Goldmine soundtrack included a mix of new and redone songs. However the I'm Not There soundtrack is all covers of Bob Dylan songs. There are 34 songs on this soundtrack. Songs by Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Calexico, Sufjan Stevens, The Black Keys, Antony & The Johnsons, Yo La Tengo, Mark Lanegan, Karen O, Mira Billotte, and John Doe. I know this will be a shock, but I am not really even much of a Bob Dylan fan. I have always loved him as a person ever since I saw "Don't Look Back." This was the documentary that the great D.A. Pennebaker made about Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England. I have tried for years to get into the great Bob Dylan. But nothing has worked for me. Until Now. The movie is just possibly one of the most amazing films that I have seen. And something is finally making me like Bob Dylan.
Todd Haynes continued to impress me with his film "Far From Heaven" in 2002. I saw this film on Thanksgiving in 2002. Almost 5 years ago exactly. This was a drastically different film since his film before this, Velvet Goldmine. Far From Heaven starred Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid living in 1950's suburbia. The film was nominated for four oscars but really should have been nominated for Best Picture as well. The film was brilliant because it was filmed in the style of those old 1950 films. It was very similar to "Imitation of Life" directed by Douglas Sirk. The film starred Lana Turner and came out at about the same time her daughter was on trial for murdering her boyfriend. While both films dealt with race relations in the 50's, Todd Haynes film also deals with homosexuality in the 50's. But it handles it in ways that would never be possible in 50's cinema. Far From Heaven deals brilliantly with a man dealing with his own homosexuality and coming out of his closet and also the anguish of his wife. But all in the style of a 50's film. It is not a spoof about 50's film or some pale imitation. Todd really captured the feel of a 50's film brilliantly. And Julianne Moore is always amazing. She also stars as Joan Baez in "I'm Not There." She was even good way back in her first film in 1992, "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." But after Short Cuts I was forever sold on the brilliance of Julianne Moore. Far From Heaven is close to perfect and not like anything you are likely to ever seen again.