California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Rosemead, Today's Small Town America

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 1, 2008 06:35pm | Post a Comment

This installment of Eric's Blog takes us to Rosemead. To vote for another Los Angeles neighborhood, vote here. To vote for a Los Angeles County Community, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Rosemead


First, a bit of background on the City of Rosemead. As is proving to be true of everywhere I go in Southern California, the area which now makes up Rosemead was formerly inhabited by the Tongva for thousands of years before the
Spanish came. I'm considering just saying in regards to my posts about Southern California, "Unless I say otherwise, this area was inhabited by the Tongva for thousands of years before the Spanish came." Anyway, the Spanish did come and built a mission there in what's now Whittier Narrows. Due to flooding, they relocated the mission to its current home over in San Gabriel in 1775.

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Happy Valentine's Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 14, 2008 12:51pm | Post a Comment


It's Valentines Day. Pshaw! A Hallmark Holiday, you say. Singles Awareness Day, another jokes. I guess every holiday has its Scrooge. I have my Ngoc-Thu. My friend Nick Pinto would gripe about Valentine's, Christmas or (especially) 4/20. He doesn't need holidays to legislate his behavior. And yet his love of Halloween never once carried into the rest of the year. Why not don a Boba Fett costume and go door-to-door stating "Trick or Treat!" in March, you rebels? Despite what cynics claim about the supposed commercial origins of Valentine's Day, the oldest known association of St. Valentine's Feast Day with romantic love occurs in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parlement of Foules which was published back in 1382. In it he wrote,

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chesehis make.

It was written to commemorate the engagement of the 13-year-old Richard II to 14-year-old (cougar) Anne of Bohemia. The "volantynys" or "valentine" is variously assumed to be either Valentine (Valentinus) of Rome or Valentine of Terni, who may've been the same person or, more likely, never existed. Valentines, from at least that point on, have held special significance for lovers. By the 1850s, Esther Howland was mass-producing and selling Valentines after taking her inspiration from an English Valentine. Hallmark, the Missouri-based mass producer of greeting cards, began producing Valentines 532 years after Chaucer's remark, making accusations that they're behind the holiday somewhat less than likely.


I suspect that the roots of the holiday go back further, since nothing of St. Valentine's legend makes any mention of love, chocolate or sexy underwear. I can't find any support for this on the internet but I recall Hillbillies marked the day peculiarly. I think Valentine's Day was the day that birds supposedly chose mates and Hillbilly farmers would rise out of bed and wordlessly (lest they decrease the fertility) sow seeds with nothing on but a gourd tied around their waist, placed in front of their crotches.

Before you laugh, non-Hillbillies engage in their own rituals, some with less obvious purpose:

Flowers. For example, nothing says "My old lady will henpeck me if I don't do this" like the passionless chore of buying a dozen red roses. At Valentine's Day, due to the demands of masses who care enough to send the very least, you can be assured that you'll pay top dollar for the worst roses South America has to offer. Lame variations I saw in my days as a delivery guy: 13 red roses (i.e. the extra mile), two dozen roses (you've got money to waste, twice the ego and zero imagination) and a dozen roses of mixed color (how wacky). Any version of rose-giving ensures that this Valentine's Day will be indistinguishable from every other, and you from every other lame ex. You could get a trumpet vase full of tulips that look much nicer for much less cash. And they don't have to be red. Or you could get something erotic and suggestive like an arrangement with antheriums. 

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Juno: Ghost World + Little Miss Sunshine x Wes Anderson divided by Welcome To the Dollhouse

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 8, 2008 10:14am | Post a Comment
Oh my blog, so, I like totally watched Juno the other night, Lite Brite, and now I totally can’t stop, you know, parlaying this guey. “Por k, Macy Gray?” you query. Welp, homeslice, it’s B-cuz I have had mine eyes opened when to the real deal Holyfield about how to rap like the post-tweens of today, OKizzle? Now normally I avoid quirk ‘n’ smirk like a bubble boy does a peanut butter factory; especially when it's strained, smug, masturbatory, self-worshipping and as heavy handed as Fisto holding a purse full of lead weights. Homie don’t play that, Krazy Kat. And from the trailers alone I was scared merdeless. A familiarly precocious kid has it all figured out like a pint-size Paul Haggis on shrooms. But then she finds out, in a major league curve ball, she’s still got more growin’ up to do, Mr. Magoo.

Cue an annoying Kimya Dawson (Moldy Peaches) song where she busts out with her urban-outfitted, practiced and studied amateurism. OK, we know it’s Indie Anna Jones when we’re confronted, finalmente gente, with the smiling visages of big Hollywood actors, since Indie film is like, totally like “alternative” was when that term went from meaning anything not on commercial radio from Husker Du to Husker Don't to specifically proto-Creed band whose singers yarl and show off their abs-of-steel whilst a creepy, masked, old geezer lurches around in a red and green-lit video that’s played in heavy rotation on empMTyV. Indie is now actually slightly more formulaic than Bollywood, nay, Nollywood.

”Lieben meine Affe-monkey!”

The story is about a 16-year-old Canuck who gets pregnant by her Canuck friend and then finds a couple to adopt her baby after a Canuck at the abortion clinic tells her in thickly-accented Canadian, “All babies want to be born.” Their Canada talk is never explained, I’m guessing because the actors had to devote most of their ability to contorting their brains around the graceless and over-written dialog. It kind of gives it a Degrassi High on Growth-Hormones feel -- only 1000 times more annoying. Only Juno’s dad seems passably Minnesotan. It’s also obviously filmed nowhere near Minnesota but that sort of authenticity rides Miss Daisy-style to the chauffeur/plot that's too busy stroking its "beef sword" (to borrow another barf-inducing Juno-ism) to deal with such obvious details.

Each character has one defining trait and then goes through a robotic transformation exactly one time. This passes for characterization and development, and I was totally bummed by some of the twists and the turns. In some Buñuelian perversion, one of the main characters who seems, like, totally cool turns out to be a total douche, which just depressed me partially because it came across like it was intended to be a revelatory shock but had me saying, "Oh God. Please say it's not going there" -- not because I used my C.S.I. Hollywood skills -- but because every twist is broadcast with wig-splitting obviousness.

Somehow Michael Cera is surprisingly likable playing the only role he's ever asked to play -- the familiar celluloid dork who is supposed to be an outsider but who in reality dresses like a bridge-and-tunnel hipster dressed up for a night of peacockery in Echo Park ... and make you want to call the Redneck Squad. The parents seem dorky but they're ok, it turns out. In fact, they don’t seem especially emotional in any way (no one does), accepting without any sort of anger Bleeker, the broham who's impregnated their daughter and all. In fact, the stepmom steps up to the ultrasound technician in a rant that's supposed to be revelatory but is just embarrassing. Jennifer Garner is the only surprise. Her character is set up as a soul-crushing square with clichéd suburban instincts. The joke about shades of yellow for the nursery seems like a woman-hating gag from a Carl's Jr ad. But she ends up soliciting the most sympathy in the least self-conscious performance.

The film, built on so little, is padded out to feature-length by sticking in an avalanche of references to the point where it’s like someone reading a thirty-something’s Facebook profile more than watching a movie. Juno and her best friend Leah talk in an annoying patois wherein they trip over themselves trying to out-clever each other. It’s like they cannibalized the girls from Ghost World and then shat out the charm and buried it behind Todd Solondz's house. The film represents the recycling of better films it borrows from without adding anything even remotely original or redeeming. In ten years, CGI cartoon animals will be talking like Juno in Dreamworks movies, allowing them to finally retire “Talk to the paw” and “Don’t go there!”

In 20 years Juno will be regarded like Love Story, Beat Girl or High School Confidential -- viewed with a mixture of embarrassment and ironic amusement at some Normal's failed attempt to capture hipness.

The dialog is annoying. But just to make things worse, there are pointless voice-overs offering and illustrating pseudo-profundities like, “Jocks always go for the goth types who play cellos.” Thanks for the heads-up and keep listening to Garrison Keillor and that Dan Le Sav Vs Scroobius Pip song, genius. Another cringe-inducing scene cuts away to images of bands and we’re just awkwardly and point-blank told to check out: The Stooges, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and the Runaways. It’s like being cornered by a smarmy R.A. or an assistant-manager from the Burbank Hot Topic trying to get in your pants. Again, thanks for the Q*Tip! Juno and a hip, older guy played by Jason Bateman squeeze in a film discussion to cover as many referential bases as possible. Hearing them debate H.G. Lewis versus Dario Argento is like watching Kevin Smith courteously give Quentin Tarantino a reacharound. Did you ever, just for lolz, watch Full House, where that little troll doll played by the Olsen Twins would put on sunglasses, flip da cap to da back and say, “Radical dude?” Did you ROTFL? If you did, then this flick is right up your Ally McBeal, Shaquille O’Neal. On the other hand, if you got all Nicolas Cage in 8mm squirming and sweating then you might want to turn any chances to see it, Downtown Julie Brown.

The only clever thing about the references is that while they’re all so safe, so market-researched, so infallible and universally accepted, they’re presented in a way designed to make the viewers (including Conservatives Who Cuss™ and the geriatric Academy Awards Judges -- *poke* *poke*) feel like they’re in a secret society of hipper-than-thou smugholios because they’re down with Poochy-D. It’s like pretending that McDonald’s is you and your friendsters' secret discovery that you worry Chowhound will blow wide open. Juno has a hamburger phone. We see this. She also tells someone during a conversation on said hamburger phone lest we miss what’s shoved in our face. Juno is like the unholy love child born from Veronica Mars getting D.P.ed by Dennis Miller and Scrappy-Don’t.

The first hour I seriously thought I was going to have to turn it off. My fingers were dug into the arms of the couch and my posture was rigid. It was like that clip in TV Carnage’s “Sore For Sighted Eyes” where they’ve edited it to make it look like John Ritter is watching Rosie O’Donnell do Down's syndrome in “Riding On the Bus With My Sister.” But I'm too legit to quit. Thankfully, Juno drops some of the annoying speech mannerisms when it’s time for the waterworks. Even though the film moves gracelessly back and forth between the comedy and drama mixture of dramedy, it grows so much more bearable towards the end as the jokes finally slow down that the improvement is kind of shocking. It’s such a Rolaids moment that it’s actually sort of enjoyable but it involves so much suffering to get there that I would've thought that the writer was a cenobite if I hadn’t already read that she’s a stripper. However, the shift in tone seemingly isn’t so much a reflection of deepening meaning as the writer's awareness that when it's tear time, the jokes get in the way of genuine emotions, so she kind of steps back and lets the viewer fill in the rest, which works if you're a love-worshiping wuss like me. I'm not sure it's really worth the effort, though, unless your Bob Flanagan. But, my hostess, the esteemed Ngoc-Thu Thi Nguyen, though normally hand-in-glove, liked it a good deal more, so take my ambivalence with a grain of Maggi.
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Vietnamese New Wave - Part I - German Euro-disco

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 8, 2008 10:14pm | Post a Comment
Vietnamese New Wave

Are any of my readers out there Vietnamese? I was turned on to this amazing genre by "the Jewel of La Puente," the one and only (OK, one of thousands but still one of a kind) Ngoc Nuyen. I have asked the experts here at Amoeba Hollywood about "Vietnamese New Wave" (also referred to as Asian New Wave at times) groups and no one seems even remotely familiar with any of them, with the exception of Chris Matthews, to whom "Modern Talking" sounds familiar ...

First of all, when people talk about Vietnamese New Wave, they’re not talking about Vietnamese artists (although there is Thu Thuy, Lynda Trang Dai and supposedly a tieng viet cover of a Night Society song), but rather a movement that includes mostly German Euro-disco, Italo-disco and English synthpop artists who acquired, through means that no one seems to understand (although it definitely involves mixtapes) massive popularity amongst Vietnamese in Cali, Texas and Canada (and maybe elsewhere).

And whilst there’ve been at least four or five documentarians who’ve explored the still supposedly strange popularity of Morrissey amongst Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, to my knowledge no one has yet delved into the mysterious “Vietnamese New Wave” movement in which (in addition to OMD, Pet Shop Boys and Gazebo's "I Like Chopin") four German performers, with no radio play, no MTV exposure, no Amazon recommendations, no local performances came, against all odds, to achieve stardom in the Vietnamese immigrant population.

To start with, the term “new wave” as used in music means many different things to different people. History records that Sire records head Seymour Stein was the first to borrow the term from the 1950s and 60s film movements from Europe to describe the bands that played at CBGB like Blondie and the Talking Heads. Before long it seemingly became applied to any band formed after 1976 and was applied to such musically dissimilar artists as Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, the Thompson Twins and definitely anyone with asymmetrical hair or '80s fashions regardless of their sound. By the late '80s, I don't remember anyone really using it anymore. "Alternative" had pretty much replaced it as the term for anything underground or bizarre (at least in Columbia, Missouri, where I was still living.) Anyway, in the context of Vietnamese New Wave, four performers loom large that are pretty much completely unknown by every non-Vietnamese I’ve talked to (except DJ Lance Rock, pictured below, with Vietnamese New Wave expert Ngoc-Thu Nguyen and some people who've never even heard of Modern Talking, including Amoeba blogger Chaz Reece).

Hi-NRG” was a term coined by the UK magazine Record Mirror which had a Hi-NRG chart and was used to describe songs with a staccato sequenced synthesizer as heard in Hazell Dean’s “Searching (I Got To Find a Man)” and Evelyn Thomas’s “High Energy.” This music, filtered through songs like Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” became known as Eurobeat to some, although I had never heard anyone arguing about the distinctions of these sounds until the age of the chatroom, many years later. There's arguements about what’s what and even Freestyle was frequently marketed as Hi-NRG in the US (as well as Latin Hip-Hop and who knows what else). Canadian band Lime was often considered Italo-disco. I’m not an expert but there is a common sound to the stars of Vietnamese New Wave, as I’m sure you’ll hear if you take the time to watch these awesome videos.

In my research I have found that they have a “New Wave Night” at the Shark Club in Costa Mesa on the first Friday of every month (in the Red Room) and it's specifically Vietnamese New Wave, so I’m going to have to check it out for further research and get back to you.

Bad Boys Blue

Bad Boys Blue was formed in Cologne, Germany in 1984 by producer Tony Hendrik and his lyricist wife Karin van Harren. The group itself was comprised of a Brit, an American and a Jamaican. They became most popular in Russia, South Africa and Ukraine.

C.C. Catch

C.C. Catch, born Caroline Catharina Müller in Oss, Netherlands, moved to Germany in the 1970s and eventually teamed up with writer Dieter Bohlen in 1985, who produced all of her hits (well, hits in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Yugoslavia) until they fell out in 1989.

Modern Talking

Modern Talking was formed in Berlin by Dieter Bohlen and Thomas Anders in 1984. They split in 1987 after achieving considerable popularity in Argentina, Austria, Finland, Iran, Scandinavia, South Africa and Switzerland. In the UK they were marketed toward fans of gay duos like Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys and trios Bronski Beat and Culture Club, despite their heterosexuality. In their videos and live performances they usually consciously appeared with a measured distance between them, fearing that their assumed gay image was holding them back. In 1985, Thomas Anders began wearing a necklace which spelled out his girlfriend’s name in gold letters.


Sandra Cretu (born Sandra Ann Lauer in Saarbrücken, Germany) was in the disco group Arabesque and before she began performing solo as Sandra in 1984. After teaming up with her then boyfriend Michael Cretu, she became immensely popular in Germany, Israel, Lebanon and Switzerland. In America she is still mostly known, if known at all, as the female voice in “Sadeness,” the hit single of her by-then-husband’s group Enigma. She’s the one whispering “Sade, dit moi. Sade donne moi.”


Go here for Part II of Vietnamese New Wave!

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Sweeney Todd

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 1, 2008 10:02pm | Post a Comment
Sweeney Todd is a villain who began as an urban legend sometime around 1800 and was, a few decades later, the protagonist of a penny dreadful called The People's Periodical, which was published in 1846. The issue was titled The String of Pearls: A Romance written by Thomas Prest, a popular writer who also wrote Varney the Vampire, which I've wanted to get a copy of ever since I was in third grade.

Another popular urban legend of Victorian London was that the unsuspecting victims ended up in meat pies.

There was no evidence of Sweeney Todd having been an actual character, nor that anyone turned up in the popular takeaway dish, but when the story was turned into a play in 1847 the advertising claimed that it was "founded in fact."

Remember that lady that claimed to find a finger in her chili at Wendy's? Of course, she turned out to be a serial scam-artist and got sentenced to nine years. I think if I found an identifiable piece of meat in my fast food chili it would actually be sort of comforting like, "Hey- at least it's not the pig's genitals!" ... but meat-eaters are a crazy bunch with all sorts of hang-ups about what species are good (chicken, cow, fish, lobster and pig) and what are bad (cat, dog, horse, cockroach or person). So picky!


Anyway, back to Sweeney Todd.

A Pathe "news" clip promoting Tod Slaughter

In 1936 the first sound film adaptation (following two silent versions) was produced in England. Most of the "ingredients" of subsequent adaptations are present here: a love interest named Johanna, a meat pie-making Mrs. Lovett and of course Todd, his mechanical barber's chair and straight razors. The film starred Tod Slaughter, an actor famous for his over-the-top performances as murderous maniacs. As this clip above illustrates, his acting has pretty "hammy."
The next cinematic adaptation was 1970's Bloodthirsty Butchers.
In 1973 playwright Christopher Bond wrote a play version wherein new twists were added to the play. In his version Sweeney Todd was motivated by revenge, not greed. A judge wrongfully imprisons Todd and rapes his wife, which leads to her committing suicide.

Six years later Stephen Sondheim adapted it into a musical, which proved quite popular. In 1982 it was filmed and this version is available on DVD. 

In 1997 John Schlesinger filmed a version called The Tale of Sweeney Todd, which is currently only available on VHS.

In 2001, another version of the musical showed up. This one is a pretty bare-bones production from the look of it.

In 2006, another non-musical version was filmed. This version is, I've read, an attempt to inject a bit more realism into the over-the-top tale.

And now, Tim Burton brings us yet another version.

As with most Tim Burton films, a lot of attention obviously goes into the costumes and sets, which look  dark and lovely and pretty much just as you'd expect. And, as you'd also expect, there is ample cream-complected cleavage on display, a blond waif Christina Ricci-lookalike, a damaged woman with dark circles around her eyes, and finally a guy with large, improbable hair who seems to be a version of the guy Tim Burton must fantasize about being.

You can tell Burton casts largely for type, often at the expense of technical abilities. Sweeney Todd is so unmistakably like a Tim Burton film that it's kind of hard to get emotionally involved since every detail from the cast, the look, the subject and everything else is so... predictably and unchallengingly Tim Burton.

Tim Burton and his partners in hair (both blade-wielding hairdressers)

Burton's peroxided Innocents

and some of his his consumptive brunettes

First, since it's a musical, let me talk about the music. This was my first exposure to Stephen Sondheim. I'd heard wildly varying descriptions of his style but with Johnny Depp's thin yet appealing voice, it brought to mind Anthony Newley and his work with Lesley Bricusse. Overall, however, most of the songs didn't strike me as either especially melodic or memorable (except "Johanna") and sometimes the unprofessional voices delivered clever lyrics that I had to strain to hear over the bombastic score. And every number seemed to end in a clamorous crescendo.

I did like the story a great deal, having as I do a sweet spot for revenge, tragedy and 19th urban settings. At the same time, I squirmed in my seat more from the rather slow pace and from the fear that the singing would start again rather than from the grand guignol-style bloody action which unfolded in a manner that seemed strangely remote and dispassionate. It wasn't until the climax of the film when the apparently disparate strands of the film pleasingly yet predictably start to come together that I sensed any sort of heartfelt emotions from the characters. The final scenes were surprisingly touching and then it abruptly ends, just as it's getting good -- a mere two hours after it begins. Ngoc Nguyen, who is never wrong about such things, shared my opinions for the most part, as well as a headache.

So, I'm fairly ambivalent about Tim Burton's take on an oft-interpreted tale. He's made his share of flawless films - for example Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Ed Wood, and Edward Scissorhands. And yet, so many of his films seem lush and pretty but vacant and remote. His choices seem so unfailingly predictable and one-note. His next film is going to be Alice In Wonderland. I do like that book ... but I feel like, come on!  Does he perversely enjoy doing exactly what everyone expects?

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