Friday, August 29, 2003

Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944) B/B- Midnight (Leisen, 1939) A-/B+ Pillow Talk (Gordon, 1959) C

Meet Me in St. Louis has some great moments -- the Halloween sequence, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Tootie attacking the snowman, a beautiful zoom in to the ball -- so I can see why it's considered a canonical musical. But it's also a sappy celebration of cornball Americana that fills the frame with fussy pastels that seemed to come straight out of a Fragonard painting. Gimme The Band Wagon any day of the week.

Now Midnight I can get behind. The unflappable Claudette Colbert stars as a superhumanly poised Cinderella-type who finds her way into a lavish salon-party thrown by Mary Astor and the mugging John Barrymore. A rather predictable impersonation farce follows, but what distinguishes this underrated screwball comedy is the sparkling aristocratic wit, penned by the remarkable Brackett/Wilder team, and Mitchell Leisen's smooth direction of a terrific cast (including a hilarious Queer Eye turn by the forgotten Rex O'Malley). Is it realistic that a "normal" girl can just waltz into the elegant world of the Parisian aristocracy and trade Wildean zingers with rich layabouts without breaking a sweat? Does it matter when that girl is played with such knowing, playful sophistication by the graceful Miss Colbert?

But how did we get from Colbert to Doris Day as a popular romantic comedy lead? (Answer: Charm, wit, and sass are optional for big female stars by the late Fifties.) In the fluffy romantic comedy Pillow Talk, Day violates the first and second rules of the genre: (1) the audience needs to find the romantic leads attractive, or absent that, (2) we must at least be convinced that the romantic leads would find each other appealing. Bearing my rules in mind, imagine your pal's pinched-up Orange County soccer mom having sex. Not exactly palatable, right? Well, that's what it's like to see Day as the object of Rock Hudson's amourous advances. With Colbert, you always feel like she's in on the joke with you. With Day, you get the feeling that she'll purse her lips and reprimand you once you tell her what the joke is. Day's sexless persona sinks this intermittenly amusing but confused romantic trifle, which is far more interesting when it's viewed as the template for Down with Love, and perhaps for its summation of Eisenhowerian zeitgeist (in the way that Pretty Woman is a summation of the Reagan Era). And as a coup de grace, the rococo set design is downright repellent, ironic considering that Day's supposed to be a top interior designer

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Belle and Sebastian @ Greek Theater, LA Aug 23 2003

A dream collaboration between the bookish chanteuse Belle and Sebastian Bach (formerly of Skid Row), this pairing, surprisingly, does not result in power ballads with a Disneyesque twist, but in arch, rather precious Twee Pop. I own the superduo's If You're Feeling Sinister, an album stuffed with whimsical wit but also a rather fey sensibility that's always kept me from totally succumbing to the their charms. Live, their sound is richer, fuller, and dare I say...more muscular (that's what a five piece string section does for you). If you overlook Sebastian's acerbic prancing Scotsman shtick and Belle's mishaps with the Atkins Diet, their brand of highly melodic, Velvets/Byrds/Pet Sounds-tinged folk pop can be quite seductive. I even think I prefer the live "Like Dylan in the movies" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses" to the recorded versions. Still too fey and insistently pretty for me to fully embrace, but I can understand why they are the most popular band in the survey of my own friendsters.

B & S's drummer spinned at the Derby after the concert, mixing Euro hip-hop and a bit of dancehall. My eyes were directed elsewhere, as it were.

Sadly, perpetual lateness syndrome caused my group to miss the opener, buzz band and Unit-fave Bright Eyes. Too bad.

Scrabbel @ Spaceland, LA Aug 22, 2003

Scrabbel, fronted by Aislers Set member Ben Lee, traffics in dreamy, melancholic pop that, like B & S, is given body by a fine string section. A Bay Area band that often plays APAture events, Scrabbel's fine mellow listening on a Friday night. Cool people to hang with as well, these guys.

Soviet @ Spaceland, LA Aug 24, 2003

As befits a crowd that looks like extras in a Spandau Ballet video, Soviet is pure 80s retro, combining the straight-ahead synth sound of Depeche Mode with the hooks of Disintegration-era Cure and a vocalist who appears to be impersonating the lead singer of Simple Minds (god knows why). I couldn't discern a single post-Nirvana element in their sound, which means your mileage varies depending on how much you dig 80s New Wave to begin with. Me, not so much (yes -- Smiths, New Order, Cure; no -- pretty much everyone else; absolutely loathe Erasure). Fun, but eminently disposable.

The clattering retro punk band Babyland followed, a helpful antidote to the testosterone-draining music I've been privy to the last three nights. Only stayed for three or four songs (and, to honor Asian stereotypes, I was playing Galaga next to the bar half that time), but the big event is I introduced myself to Friendster celeb Tila Tequila, whom I saw at this show. A nice, wholesome girl to take home to Mom, that Tila.