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Aquanauts - heroes of oceanic exploration

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 13, 2009 08:23am | Post a Comment


Aquanauts - What Are They?

Aquanauts, as the name implies to anyone with even the most basic awareness of Latin and ancient Greek, are the oceanic equivalent of astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and other nauts. However, there's more to being an aquanaut than wearing a blue blazer with gold buttons paired with white trousers. Nor are aquanauts mere scuba divers or snorkelers. Even donning a Breton sailor's shirt and Greek fisherman's cap, puttering around in a pressure-and-climate-controlled sub just makes you a submariner. If you want to be an aquanaut, you've got to get your hands wet. There's also an implication that you have to be indigenous to land because no one ever described a porpoise or a jellyfish as an aquanaut.

 

Famous, Real-Life Aquanauts

Although every documentary about the Earth's oceans points out how much more interesting the oceans are than space (and how we know less about it), aquanauts are never as famous as their spacegoing rivals. Whereas everyone knows the names of the first astronauts on the moon, who can name any of the crew who first descended the Marianas Trench? See if any of these "famous" aquanauts' names ring any diving bells:

Robert Stenuit, Bill Tolbert, Billie L. Coffman, George Dowling, Mike Meisky, Robert Sheats, Shorty Lyons and Wally Jenkins, Alina Szmant, Bill High, C. Lavett Smith, Chris Olstad, Harold Pratt, Ian Koblick, John Perry, Joseph MacInnis, Morgan Wells, Neil Monney, Phillip Sharkey, Richard Cooper, Robert Dill, Stephen Neudecker, Steven Miller, Sylvia Earle. Malcolm Scott Carpenter was both an aquanaut and and astronaut!

 

Aquanauts in Film

Sometimes, filmmakers decide that enough is enough and choose to relocate what are essentially space movies to an underwater location. When I was 11, I learned to scuba dive and got my first paying job (under the table... child labor and all that) at a scuba shop. A few years later, there was a spate of aquanaut films beginning with Deep Star Six. To me, any aquanaut film was held to the absolute lowest standards. I even purported to find The Abyss "not boring" even though I only remember one scene.


Special notice must be given to Chris Elliott (no less a hero than Scott Carpenter) who has done more than any other actor to raise the stature of ocean-centered films, having starred in The Abyss, played a submariner in an episode of Get A Life entitled "Neptune 2000," and a cabin boy in Cabin Boy. His autobiography, Daddy's Boy even begins, "The sea is a cruel mistress..." 

 

20000 lieues sous les mers (1907) and 20,000 leagues under the sea (1916) are two early examples of aquanauts in action. As you can see in the earlier version, a work of the always unrealistic Georges Méliès, the aquanaut seems to explore the depths without the aid of a breathing aparatus. Yeah right. Somebody's got nitrogen narcosis! The 1916 version is actually quite entertaining with reasonably amazing effects.

 

Undersea Kingdom (1936) holds the distinction of being Republic's lowest budget serial... and it shows. It could've been subtitled Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon underwater. As such, like the spate of aquanaut movies of 1989, it seems like little more than a gimmick and there's very little aquanatic action.




20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) is a classic that everyone knows and loves. No exceptions.

  

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) followed a few years later and had some superficial similarities (giant squid punch up), as did War-Gods of the Deep (1965) (another period aquanaut piece). Some would argue that Fantastic Voyage (1966) has no place in this blog, but blood and people, as we all know, are mostly made of water, it has submarines and scuba divers, so it stays! And then there's Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969).









  

For a while, the aquanaut genre lay undisturbed, like a giant wrecked Spanish Galleon silently resting at the bottom of the sea. The genre was revived in 1989 with the release of Deep Star Six. It and the films that followed had a notably different vibe than earlier aquanaut films. At that point they borrowed elements from horror and science-fiction and some would say owed a slight debt to Alien. Within a span of twelve months, Deep Star Six was followed by Leviathan, The Abyss and the inevitable Roger Corman production, Lords of the Deep. The following year, The Rift aka Endless Descent (1990) was cannibalizing all of them in its poster art, name, plot and almost appears to be a parody.









Sphere (1998) came out years later. I found it unintentionally funny at points, such as the Seinfeldian "Harry is Jerry!" "Harry is Jerry?" "Jerry's Harry!" Nick Pinto swears by it though.


Aquanauts on TV

There've been several examples of aquanauts on the small screen including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), Stingray (1964-1965), Sealab 2020 (1972), SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996) and Sealab 2021 (2000-2005). Note: Pacifica Radio DJ Rick Frystak has pointed out that there was a syndicated show called The Aquanauts in 1960 and '61 although it doesn't seem to've been about actual aquanauts and more in the vein of Sea Hunt.












Years ago, I made a custom, limited edition Aquanaut box set. If you bought it, I'd love to hear from you.

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Vietnamese New Wave - Part II

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 8, 2009 02:01pm | Post a Comment
Due to popular response, here's a follow-up to my initial blog on Vietnamese New Wave. For those of you who may not have read it, Vietnamese New Wave (less often called Asian New Wave) is not Vietnamese music. Think Northern Soul, a British genre of music that didn't come from British artists, but were beloved by 70s speed freaks for their common sound. At least, they didn't make it, but they took it, played it at dances, made bootleg mixes of it on tape and CD. The songs in the genre share easy-to-dance-to/syncopation-avoiding beats (setting it apart from Freestyle), easy-to-learn and obviously ESL lyrics, and are completely devoid of pretense or irony. My love and exposure to this amazing music is owed entirely to an amazing person, the flawless tastemaker, Ngoc Nguyen.


Vietnamese New Wave artists come from a variety of scenes including Italo-Disco, (English, French and Swedish) Synthpop and (German and Spanish) and Eurodisco. Beginning in the some time around the mid-to-late '80s, these bubbly, infectious tunes found an unexpected audience in the Vietnamese diaspora who disseminated these gems through the aforementioned mixtapes, parties and bootleg mix CDs which you can still find in Little Saigons around the globe.

We carry many of these artists at Amoeba. Most are found in the Freestyle section. However, a lot are found in, erm... Rock. So ask at info if you can't find something.


La Francitronique
- French synthpop
Where the French are widely known for their chanson and yé-yé, as well as their considerable contributions to Romanticism, house and rap (among other musical forms), their central importance in the development of electronic pop music is bizarrely less well known than, say, the Germans' or Italians' -- even though Jean Michel Jarre and The Rockets were making electronic pop music back when Kraftwerk were still bearded, flute-playing hippie longhairs. Nonetheless, most French synthpop was sung in French, thereby considerably limiting its audience. But at least two acts are firmly within the Vietnamese New Wave canon.

 
Début de Soirée


F.R. David

Kashmir (no video)

Magazine 60


Freizeithknast
-
German Eurodisco

Like most Eurodisco, the German variety is often lumped in with Italo, despite its Teutonic origins. Although musically it’s quite similar, there is an overall greater emphasis on pop song structures resulting in a slightly less club-oriented, keytar-dominated sound that takes it further away from its disco roots. Additionally, whether produced by Dieter Bohlen (Lian Ross, Modern Talking, Blue System, C.C. Catch, &c) or not, many German Eurodisco songs bear his influence, or that of others in his style. Whereas the Anglosphere proved fairly unreceptive to German Eurodisco, the artists found massive fame in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe; the Middle East, South Africa, and of course East and Southeast Asia.

Angela Lee (no video)

Bad Boys Blue


CC Catch

Cheryl Hardy (no video)

Fancy

Gina T


Jim Player (no video)

Joy


Kay Franzes

Kelly Brown


Lian Ross


Modern Talking

Mozzart

Sandra

silent circle

Stravaganza (no video)


Italio Stalio
- Italo-Disco

Initially, what came to be known (only in retrospect, mind you) as Italo disco grew out of a synthesis of Space Disco's sci-fi preoccupation and (usually) Hi-NRG's staccato rhythms. Although “disco” became a dirty word in the Anglosphere, much of the rest of the world wasn’t ready to give up the ghost in the arcade machine. Whereas rock and rap grew unhealthily preoccupied with authenticity and machismo, Italo remained blithely indifferent and the videos often featured heavily-made up or scantily clad figures chosen more for their figures than singing talents. Although Italo is often used to describe all music in the ‘80s Eurodisco scene, here it’s only used for genuine Italian artists…although I hesitate to use the words “genuine” and “artist.”

Den Harrow

Fake (no video)

Fun Fun

Gazebo

Kano

Katey Gray (no video)

Ken Laszlo

My Mine

Wish Key

Sabrina


Savage



El sonido Sabadell 
- Spanish Eurodisco
Unlike their Mediterranean neighbor, Italy; Spain isn’t nearly as widely recognized for their '80s Eurodisco scene. In fact, it's much more likely to be referred to as Italo than its German Eurodisco counterpart. To be sure, there is little to distinguish Spanish Disco from Italo-disco musically, but the Spanish variety is much more often sung in the performers' native language. In Spain, it was widely associated with the Catalonian city of Sabadell.

David Lyme (no video)

Night Society (no video)

Squash Gang

Viet covers

Of course, it was only a matter of time before Vietnamese performers (such as Anh Thuu, Lynda Trang Dai, Nguyen Thanh, Tommy Ngo, Trizzie Phuong Trinh, &c) and Cantonese singer Cally Kwong started covering the New Wave songs, although amongst fans, nearly everyone understandably seems to prefer the originals.




Asian-American Cinema Part VI - The 1970s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 25, 2009 04:16pm | Post a Comment
The sixth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

After short-lived attempts in the silent era to establish an Asian-American Cinema, for most of the in the first and second halves of the studio era, Hollywood single-handedly created and controlled almost all celluloid images of Asian-Americans. With the beginnings of Asian-American theater in the 1960s and its growth in the 1970s coinciding with the decline of the Hollywood studio system, all that began to change with the rebirth of Asia-American Cinema, albeit slowly at first. Only in the 1990s and 2000s has a large and diverse Asian-American cinema, Asian-American theater and Asian-American comedy scene truly flourished -- offering a viable alternative to Hollywood's continued stereotypes and ongoing homogeneity.



THE CHANGING FACE OF ASIAN-AMERICA IN THE '70S

In the 1970s, more than 130,000 refugees arrived from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, drastically changing the make-up of the Asian-American population. Broadly speaking, this wave of immigrants had more in common socio-economically speaking with most blacks, Latinos and Natives; therein challenging the mid '60s-born concept of Asians as "the model minority."


GROWTH OF ASIAN-AMERICAN THEATER '70S

The growth of Asian-American theater provided an outlet for APA Actors who found themselves out of work in Hollywood after a brief post-war fetishistic period in the studio era. During the decade, new APA theater groups including New York's Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and Asian American Theater Company and San Francisco's Theatre of Yugen encouraged a new generation to pursue acting. As a result,  first time in many years Asian-Americans began to appear on TV and films in increasing numbers, in roles that occasionally challenged the stereotypes and bit parts they'd been relegated to in mainstream America.
Wakako Yamauchi

APA TV IN THE '70S

On TV in the '70s, Hawaiia Five-0, Kung-Fu and M*A*S*H often featured Asian-American actors, albeit most often in non-recurring bit parts. However, Mr. T & Tina, starring Pat Morita, became only the second American TV series to star an Asian-American actor. Frank Chin's Year of the Dragon and Wakako Yamauchi's And the Soul Shall Dance were both adapted for television productions from plays.

BEGINNINGS OF APA CINEMA IN THE '70S

Following the popularity of San Francisco-born Bruce Lee, many APA actors found themselves cast in  martial arts-centered roles and still usually as portraying foreigners rather than Americans. But with the rebirth of Asian-American Cinema (actually made by Asian-Americans) that would begin to change.


Robert Akira Nakamura

In 1970, Robert Akira Nakamura founded Visual Communications, which is today the oldest community-based media arts center in the US. The acclaimed filmmaker and teacher is sometimes known as“the Godfather of Asian American media.” Nakamura was previously a photojournalist who switched to documentary film, Manzanar (1972), an examination of the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans.

Continue reading...

Like, Omigod! I Might Actually Enjoy 80s Music...

Posted by Miss Ess, May 15, 2009 06:23pm | Post a Comment
Going on a road trip any time soon? Looking for the perfect soundtrack to capture the giddy spontaneity of the road? May I suggest taking along epic 80s boxset Like, Omigod! The 80s Pop Culture Box as a way to bring the good times?


I'm just starting to get comfortable with being an actual fan of 80s music. (Brad will be proud!) My boyfriend, on the other hand, is well beyond the comfort level with his fandom, and is completely into rehashing every last radio hit from that era. In the past, this would have been met with little more than a blank stare from me; when he put this 7-cd box set collection on in our car, I admit I braced myself for impact, but turns out it was more entertaining and silly, more of a conversation-starter, even, than anything else we could have spent hours listening to in close quarters.

Track after track brought either squeals of recognition and memories, like Frank Zappa's "Valley Girl" and my total fave, Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," or was met with a vacant look by me and incredulous gasps by my partner in crime, who couldn't get over the fact that I had never heard "Pac Man Fever" by Buckner & Garcia or "The Look of Love" by ABC. What can I say? My parents sheltered me back in the 80s! While I of course appreciate gems like Prince and The Replacements, I've spent the last few years even further deprogramming myself and very slowly coming to terms with the fact that musically the 80s weren't complete and utter trash. Nostalgia aside, based on the tracks I had never heard before, this box set goes a ways in proving that singles from the 80s work hard and succeed at providing something pop music nowadays is sorely lacking: fun...which is exactly what you need when you are endlessly stuck in a two door car in the middle of nowhere!

Jon Moritsugu - Original BB in da house

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 14, 2009 02:38pm | Post a Comment

Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis

Jon Moritsugu
is an American filmmaker who's enjoyed a long career of critical acclaim and underground fandom. Many of his films feature actress/wife/Scumrock co-writer/sometime bandmate Amy Davis. Although best known for his cult classic Mod Fuck Explosion, he's consistently and constantly made films that challenge and entertain with his unique style. As part of a series of interviews with groundbreaking Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry, he graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Eric Brightwell: Since it’s Asian/Pacific Island American Heritage Month, I’ll start with some questions related to that. First of all, how’s your APAH Month so far? Does it mean anything to you?

 
nori in its green glory                                                             "wok on over" and "taste the joy"... I don't get it!

Jon Moritsugu: APAH?... Ah... I did eat a buncha nori my mommy sent me... I think every day should be a day of awareness, be it racial, cultural, environmental or personal. No, but I digress...to me APAH is two for one Panda Express for me and the lady.

EB: It seems like in the past two decades, there’s been a fairly healthy explosion in the number of Asian American movies (albeit mostly within the indie sector). With the diversification within the works of Asian-American filmmakers, do people still tag you with the “bad boys” thing? Who were the “good boys of Asian American Cinema?” Wanye Wang and Peter Wang? What do you think about the current state of Asian American film?



JM: The current shade of Asian American film is pissy wissy yellow dolloped with EXTREME neon chartreuse. I dunno what people label me as...maybe Old Bad Boy? Original BB in da house? I am still labeled as a BAD ASS and I guess to me Wayne Wang and all the Eat a Bowl Of Freckled Rice types of Asians are the good boys.

EB: Do you get the sense that the role and representations of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry are changing at all?



JM: I think M Night Shyamalan was one of the only curry-scented yellow men doing something original in the field and he totally lost it... I do like Bobby Lee and Sandra Oh as far as actors go... And right on for Justin Lin (Director) for getting inside and making H-wood films. The opportunities now for Asians are so much more plentiful than twenty years ago...time to burn the rickshaw at both ends!


from Terminal USA

EB
: Do you get much feedback or criticism about your atypical and maybe oblique way addressing Asian American identity? I’m thinking specifically of Mod Fuck Explosion, Terminal USA and Scumrock, which each seemed to approach the issue from fairly different directions.



JM: I don't get much negative feedback because in these modern times my stuff is pretty au courant. 10 or 20 years ago, I did get bad reviews. Now, I get normal feedback and I think perhaps the critics have chilled out and/or the world has gotten a lot weirder.


Mommy, Mommy, Where's My Brain?

EB: One thing I’ve heard more than once about your films (i.e. Der Elvis, Mod Fuck Explosion and Hippy Porn) is that they bait a subcultural audience and then defy their expectations. Is there a deliberate agenda to confront people’s preconceived notions with the titles?


Trailer from Mod Fuck Explosion

JM: There is a deliberate DESIRE to confront all narrow minded people who live, breathe and DIE for their COOL. I was all the asshole characters in my movies...I AM MILES MORGAN. "RED DOT DON'T PLAY ME" (from Scumrock) is a total picture of me as RECORD GEEK...UBER RECORD GEEK.


a clip from Fame Whore
 
EB: In the past you’ve been an outspoken proponent of the democratization of filmmaking that has resulted from cheaper, more accessible means of production. But as a result, it seems to me that more and more often independent films seem designed to show how well they can imitate Hollywood. On the other hand, Hollywood seems to have effectively transformed Indie film into a genre with its own set of clichés (e.g. quirky ensemble casts, hand drawn titles, &c) Where do you and other underground filmmakers fit in?  

JM: Hollywood has actually made it easier, not harder, for the freaks like me to get a deal. I feel I could get a deal tomorrow. I know I could keep making films even if I don't get one. I can make a film for 50 million or for 5 grand. There are pros and cons, but ultimately life for folks like myself is better now than in 1985 when I started out. There are so many more venues, cheap equipment, and DIY ways for all filmmakers to get their work out there.


Trailer from Scumrock

EB: In interviews, everyone always asks you about your use of music, but you’ve been in several bands yourself, right? What bands have you been in and what’s the current state of your musical endeavors?

JM: Here are some bands I've been in:

SPRAY RAY URBAN BAND (1982-83)
THE URBAN BAND (1983)
SEX DRUMS (1984-85)
ALIEN BUFFET (1985)
BIG SKID (1986-87)
HATE FAMILY (1986-87)
FURBALL (1988-1990)
NONOBOY (late 90s - I don't remember...)
DREAM CHILDREN (2006-2007)
LOW ON HIGH (1993-2009)


LOW ON HIGH is me on guitar/vox/drums and my wife/leading lady Amy Davis on bass/vox. This is where the action is right now. We have a song on a new SWISS compilation w/ folks like SKULLFLOWER as well as a full-length album coming out later this year. LOW ON HIGH also has a 4-song 7" single coming out soon in France on SHIT IN CAN RECORDS.

For Sale at all Amoeba locations and other fine stores:



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