The 2nd Post – “The always difficult second album syndrome has finally sunken in.”

1238825_613932128629066_1802144705_nAfter over a month I’m finally doing a second one of these weekly listening posts (even though I said this would be a weekly thing). A bunch of things just stopped me from doing this (chiefly among them being lack of interest to be honest). But whatever, if this becomes a “whenever I feel like doing one of these things” lists, then that’s what it’ll be goddamnit! Anyway, here’s some ramblings on what I’ve been listening to and watching this week that’s worth, perhaps, some sort of mentioning and maybe talking about if people feel like commenting.

Weekly Listenings

Dredg – The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion (2009)

I’ve always liked dredg but for some reason I’ve just really been digging this album recently. This, I think, is a really great melding of their more alternative and experimental tendencies with a more mainstream pop aesthetic and presentation. Though the band kind of dropped the ball on their follow-up record, 2011’s Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, and this one foreshadows a bit of the route they would take on that record, the more pop and r&b influences the band incorporated on this record never bothered me as much as it did on the follow-up. I think those who argue that this album is too long (it’s 18 tracks long/about an hour in length), it’s just impossible for me to resist these songs. The hooks just soar high on here. It’s certainly not the band’s most aggressive or weird record but for those who aren’t into the more poppy side, there are hopefully still a few tracks on here that will grab you. The interlude Long Days and Vague Clues is arguably the most intense and aggressive the album ever gets, with tracks like opener Pariah and Saviour being the closest the band gets to metal with actual songs. But, hopefully, your listening habits are not solely based on how heavy a band is (like I used to be in high school) because this is one is very good and a great album for those who maybe have that mindset and would like to bridge out (or in the opposite case, those who perhaps like more pop based music and are interested in something a little bit more eccentric and more “rocky”). Also drummer/pianist Dino Campanella is a total badass!

Thomas Giles – Pulse (2011)

With the release of the new Between The Buried and Me album coming out soon, I’ve been listening back to Giles’ solo album from a few years ago. While as a whole, the album doesn’t work – the first half is full of great, diverse songs. Bringing together an album that is more Radiohead than Dream Theater – Giles shows a range of influences and the ability to bring those varied ideas into a cohesive album. While “Reverb Island” is my personal favorite on the album, tracks like the acoustic ballad “Scared” or the Faith No More-inspired “Medic” stand out as well. It’s a solid album and definitely worth checking out if you happen to be a fan of more alternative and experimental rock albums.

Tool – Lateralus (2001)

What is there to say about this record that hundreds of other (far more intelligent and well-worded) people haven’t already said. It’s great. Tool is great. They aught to release a new album at some point. Opening with The Grudge, which may be the most driving and propulsive track on the entire album, the band then proceeds to descend down that rabbit-hole and deliver some much more progressive (more being the key word) and atmospherically oriented songs. Schism has one of the best basslines ever written (in my not so humble opinion) and is perhaps THE definitive Tool song. Parabola has those amazingly fuzzy guitar lines that never fail to give me goosebumps. Then the title-track makes reference to the fucking Fibonacci sequence (I always hated math but this song always kicks my ass). There are times when I think the interludes could be removed, but then I put the album on and they just help make it flow such much better. It’s awesome – as I’m sure every fan of rock and/or metal has already told you since it was released almost 15 years ago.

Weekly Watchings

The Paper Chase (1973)

This one is for all those people who thought law school was no fun at all! Maybe if you’re the one’s actually studying law – but this movie was actually really good. I didn’t really have any expectations for this one but it appeared in my Netflix account and it sort of piqued my interest so I watched it. I had seen James Bridges’ 1979 film The China Syndrome before but aside from that one I hadn’t seen any of his other work. This was a real surprise because the script was really tight and honest. Timothy Bottoms was very good as the lead man trying to balance his studies, friends, and his burgeoning relationship with the older Lindsay Wagner (really hot!). Most of the attention usually goes to John Houseman as the tough-as-nails professor, and while he is very good, I actually thought Bottoms was a really charismatic and open lead. He also had a really great mustache. A pretty underrated gem from the New Hollywood movement that I think is really worth checking out.

Sweet Charity (1969)

Here we are, Bob Fosse’s feature film debut, 1969’s Sweet Charity. A loose remake of Federico Fellini’s classic 1957 film, Nights of Cabiria (one of my personal favorites from the man), Fosse takes a similar sort of premise of a working prostitute (here a dancer) in search of love and turns it into a musical. It has all the fantastical dance sequences that Fosse helped to pioneer and some really great songs (“Big Spender” and “If They Could See Me Now” anyone?) and is completely frothy and breezy stuff. At almost 2 and a half hours long, it can drag on a bit at times, but for the better part of its running time it doesn’t feel like that length. Though it doesn’t top Fellini’s classic in my book, it’s a perfectly fine remake/interpretation of the same story.

But I guess I can’t talk about Sweet Charity without talking about Shirley MacLaine’s lead performance can I? Now, I like MacLaine enough, I think she’s done some really spectacular work both prior to this film and long after it – and I think that Fosse does know how to direct actors to great performances (look at his following four features to get a measure of just how strong of a director of actors he was), but MacLaine here just really rubbed me the wrong way. If we’re comparing her performance to Giulietta Masina’s wonderful work in the Fellini film, MacLaine doesn’t come anywhere close to her. Though they are ostensibly playing similar characters, where Masina’s Cabiria Ceccarelli is a tough-cookie street-walker with a soft core who longs for love and a better life, MacLaine’s Charity Hope Valentine has that similar soft core but none of the harsher exterior. Instead we get a much more bubbly and, to some extent, annoyingly cheerful performance. It’s an odd direction to take the character and one that I think could have worked, but I don’t think that MacLaine was the right actress to play it.

sweet cabiria
Giulietta Masina / Shirley MacLaine

For one, I just don’t think that she has the voice for either this role. I found her singing to be a little off, as much as I enjoy several of the songs from this film, her voice does come off as a bit screechy to me. It doesn’t gel with the more vivacious and/or fantastical nature of the songs in my opinion. Then there’s the performance itself. Once again, in comparison to Masina’s portrayal of the character, hers is a performance that feels very natural and authentic (it’s honestly one of my favorite performances of all time, so perhaps I’m biased anyway in this regard) but MacLaine’s character feels like her character is so brittle that she could snap at any point in the movie and suddenly kill everyone. I think you can tell by simply the way both character’s smile. One looks soft and natural, the other seeming forced and close to snapping off entirely.

It’s also apparent that both films carry very different tones. While Fellini’s has a magical quality around the edges of his otherwise neo-realist tale, Fosse’s film is almost the exact opposite; and that isn’t simply because it’s a musical. Even with fantastical dance sequences and songs, Fosse’s film generally carries itself as a dreamier and more fantastical tale. Even with the slightly ambiguous ending (though not really, because it’s apparent as to what audiences were supposed to imagine at the end of the film), Sweet Charity is much less of a character driven piece and is more about the spectacle – which is fine, I have no doubt that Fosse understands what the audience was for this film, even if it did bomb when it was released. Fosse’s film is a much easier swallow to be honest though. For a general audience, there’s no question as to which of the two films will appeal more to. As much as Fellini’s film has a richer and more honest portrayal of a conflicted woman, as evidenced by the way the box-office looks today, I highly doubt audiences would want to spend 2 hours in the company of a woman like the one Masina plays (even during the awards season). Also, it’s in Italian – so there’s that as well.

There’s also a whole point to be made about whether or not the portrayal of MacLaine’s Charity Hope Valentine paints her as a female who’s entire happiness is based on whether or not she has a man to love her. Is that so wrong? No, but should that be her defining characteristic? If we look at Masina’s  Cabiria Ceccarelli, while she clearly wants a better life and being with a man who loves her and treats her well – that is not the only reason we can find in her existence as a character. One could imagine Ceccarelli living outside of the time frame that Nights of Cabiria, while, at least speaking for myself, Valentine feels like a construct whose purpose is to simply advance the plot (and songs) forward.

Now I am aware these are very different films and perhaps I shouldn’t be comparing them at all – but with similar story lines and characters who share a very common core, it was hard for me not to do so. Now I don’t claim to think the Fellini film is a masterpiece by any means (there are certain parts that strike me as being a bit drawn out or unnecessary, at least in my memory of the film) and I did enjoy Fosse’s re-interpretation of the film quite a bit but I don’t think there’s any question as to which one I would recommend in the end. But watch them both and feel free to let me know your own thoughts on the subject.


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