The Grunge Noir Of 'Clerks'
Clerks (Dir Kevin Smith, 1994, Miramax)
Ladies & Gentledudes, I present to you Kevin Smith's 'Clerks', the prototypical 90s slacker movie. Concept: two college drop-outs called Randal & Dante hang out at the New Jersey convenience store and neighbouring video store where they work, spend entire movie rapping about sex and Star Wars, playing roller hockey etc. Dialogue is generally wise-ass & garnished with all sortsa super-hip pop culture references. Supporting cast is made up of junkies & dope dealers, a couple of whom are weed tokin' grunge punks custom-bulit for instant cult status and Mtv pop cross-over success. Soundtrack consists of early 90s US alt rock desinged to really max those Generation X CD sales. 'Clerks': the prototypical 90s slacker movie.
When I first caught 'Clerks' at a friend's dorm room in first year Uni (shout out to my man Rob Laverick), I knew almost nothing about it, and so I understood it only instinctively as an art-house experiment in no-budget black comedy, a fairly high-brow (though generally unpretentious) movie characterised by naturalistic performances, a wildly creative script and a distinctive aesthetic all of it's own. Basically I just thought it was pretty damn cool. I mean, it's shot in black & white: it's gotta be art, right? I loved all the 'Star Wars' stuff, there were alot of genuine laugh-out-loud jokes, I dug the whole 'entire narrative based in one location' thing (being a 'Resevoir Dogs' / 'Die Hard' / '12 Angry Men' fan) plus it just looked so great and different, this heavily distressed, punk, B&W lo-fi aesthetic: grunge noir.
Much of my favourite art is art which was created with hugely limited resources, and the things I love about them are frequently the consequences of those limitations. 'Louie Louie' by The Kingsmen is an awesome all-time garage rock monster precisely because it is sloppy, rushed and amateurish, NOT in spite of those things. The same is true, say, of Ed Wood's 'Plan 9 From Outer Space', or the Velvet Underground's first three LPs. It is the falling short of perfection that is interesting. And the fact that a particular look or a particular sound is the result of something as protosaic as budget restraints as opposed to uncompromised artistic vision, is totally irrelevent. Those limited resources are what gives the art it's character, they enforce a strict aesthetic, impose themselves upon the tone & look of the whole piece, and consequently the piece begins to warp, it becomes something other, wierd, underground... cultish.
It says alot about Smith's own taste in cinema that every explicit movie reference in the 'Clerks' is not to avant garde film or even to the pulp/cult/alternative canon quoted in Tarantino's contemporary Miramax work, but to the super-mainstream 70s high-concept blockbuster cinema of Lucas & Spielberg, namely 'Star Wars', 'Jaws' and 'Indiana Jones'. The allusions to this supposedly 'low-brow' school of cinema are central to the Generation X, post-modern tone of 'Clerks' - the generation 'Clerks' represents was brought up on 'Star Wars', not Swedish art-house, and more-over they are a generation who refuse to acknowledge notions of high & low brow, of 'the canon.' So when Randal & Dante discuss the moral & political subtext of 'Return Of The Jedi', Gen Xers cheer them on 'cos it reflects their own belief that 'Star Wars' is just as worthy of critical debate as 'Citizen Kane'. Maybe more worthy.(For the record, they're right. 'Star Wars' is waaaay better than 'Citizen Kane'.)
So it comes to pass that a Gen X director with a George Lucas addiction makes a movie, but 'cos he don't got no bread or no Hollywood connections he can't make his movie look like 'Star Wars', it's gotta look all grungy and badly lit and roughly edited. It's gotta be black and white. And it looks amazing. Not only that, but the one thing which no budget can affect - the quality of the script - is brilliant from beginning to end. You're lucky this review wasn't just a list of memorable quotes.
"Look at you, you can't even play! Don't pass to this guy, he sucks. You suck!"
Crazy Horses: The Osmonds Re-Evaluated
As far as I can tell, almost everything The Osmonds ever did sucked beyond all reason. They were the living end, a buncha perma-grinning freaks in glitter flares whose emptyheaded sub-Jackson 5 bubblegummery was custom built solely to distract America from the Vietnam War, social breakdown, Watergate etc etc...and yet, somehow they managed to produce THIS MONSTER, 'Crazy Horses', one of my all time favourite singles, a wacked-out psychedelic-soul stomper which comes fully equipped with insane wailing vintage synths, crazy guitar breaks, thumping drums and a fat brass section. Amazingly, a brief Googling has revealed that this is far from The Osmonds only acid-soul nugget, but until I dig all those out the crate, here's the quite-good-sometimes Osmonds, with 'Crazy Horses'.
"Woah...Rock & Roll": The role of popular music in Back To The Future
The following post started out as a simple 'Rock Encyclopedia' type entry for fictional Doo-Wop band, Back To The Future's 'Marvin Berry & The Starlighters'. It developed into a much broader look at the role pop-music plays in the movie, and how the differences between 50s and 80s pop music are used to reflect wider social changes.
.1. Marvin Berry & The Starlighters (Back To The Future 1 & 2) A locally popular RnB combo who played juke joints & high school dances around the Hill Valley area of California during the mid to late 50s, and who earnt themselves a minor footnote in the rock history books by virtue of bandleader Marvin Berry being the cousin of rock and roll godfather Chuck Berry.
The Starlighters are a great example of the accurately drawn genre band, they are an archetype, representing every small-time, but locally successful, RnB / Doo-Wop group of the era, of which there were 100s. They are: The Mid 50s Californian Doo-Wop Band. Crucially, the rendering of The Starlighters is not just accurate in a broad sense - the attention to detail and joyful use of genre cliches are a treat for anybody with an affection for the music or the period, which is of course a trait common to the entire movie.
(Biff's gang dump Marty McFly in the trunk of The Starlighters car. The band emerge from the vehicle enveloped in huge clouds of marijuana smoke)
Starlighter: 'the hell you doin' to my car? 3-D: Hey beat it, spook, this don't concern you. Marvin Berry: Who are you callin' spook, pecker-wood? Skinhead: Hey, hey listen guys. Look, I don't wanna mess with no reefer addicts, okay?
Dig the hip 50s slang. Brilliant stuff.
Music plays a huge part in the BTTF Trilogy, and the evolution of pop music culture from the 50s to Marty's Mtv 80s is a central theme. The very first words Marty McFly says are: "Woah...Rock & Roll," having being blown backwards by the power of the worlds biggest electric guitar amplifier. The Starlighters are but one of three different bands we encounter during the trilogy. Marty, of course, dreams of being a rock star, and has his own band, The Pinheads (another awesome name). The Pinheads are kicked out of a Battle Of The Bands audition ("I'm afraid you're just too damn loud") by a judge played by... Huey Lewis, of Huey Lewis and The News, whose song "The Power Of Love" The Pinheads have just performed. Playfull postmodernism certainly, but it also speaks to how deeply embedded music is in the fabric of BTTF. The trick is repeated in BTTF III, where impressively bearded boogie rock band ZZ Top play an impressively bearded hillbilly band jamming an 1885 version of their song 'Double Back'.
On top of which, the most enduring and popularly remembered scene is Marty McFly pullin' all sortsa wild Hendrix/Chuck Berry/AC/DC electric rock god moves at a mid 50s high-school dance and freaking everybody out . The differences between 1950s Hill Valley & 1980s Hill Valley are explored through specific characters & images that are directly reflected in both eras, and when the differences are presented to us we are encouraged to think about not only how Hill Valley has changed, but how US pop culture as a whole has changed over that tumultuous period. Music is one example, but politics (in the form of Mayor Goldie Wilson - "I like the sound of that"), cinema & politics (Ronald Reagan's ascent from movie star to President) fashion (much is made of Marty's Nikes), science fiction itself (Marty's Darth Vader inspired performance as a spaceman, George's pulp comic books), how you order a coke, cars, amongst other themes are compared & contrasted. If this were a straight period drama set in th 50s, then period authenticity would be expected simply for historical accuracy & visual interest, but this is a time-traveling movie, they show you both eras, and that allows BTTF to directly comment on the differences between the two decades. It is a meditation on change.
BTTF is one way in which 80s Action Cinema adressed, re-evaluated, and re-imagined Classical Hollywood. The trilogy is littered with references to the history of cinema; Clint Eastwood, Taxi Driver, Jaws, Star Wars, Leone movies, among others, are all quoted. This sort of commentary on cinema is quite common to The 80s Action Cinema, but BTTF's heavy focus on popular music is something quite special, and is a huge factor in the popularity of the trilogy. The same is true of the Waynes World & Bill and Ted movies, both 'rock' movies in subject matter & sprit. Fans of BTTF tend to be Waynes World fans. Pop music fans like BTTF, because it is film just as in love with rock 'n' roll as they are.
(Fake Rock Band Encyclopedia entries for The Electric Mayhem [Muppets], Wyld Stallyns [Bill & Ted], Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes [Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope] and Jessica Rabbit [Who Framed Roger Rabbit] will follow shortly, and feel free to suggest any other great fictional bands from TV & Cinema, the more esoteric the better, so no 'Spinal Tap'. "No Spinal Tap? Denied!")
'He really is a groovy cat', or A Few Suggestions For A New Who AssistantRoger Rabbit: One of the problems with Martha is that she hasn't seemed very animated, so who better to replace her than a character who - check this - is LITERALLY ANIMATED. Yeah? And of all animated characters, who better than Roger Rabbit, a cartoon with a serious background in working with real life humans. Oh, it'd be the coolest. Judge Doom would make an AWESOME Who baddie, and even The Weasels who play Judge Doom's 'Toon Patrol' henchmen could cameo. You remember the 'Toon Patrol', doncha? I love those guys. Smart Ass, Greasy, Psycho, Wheezy, Stupid, the whole gang. "We godda reliable tip off that der rabbit was here. It was co-rob-eraded by sederal udders."
A couple of other possible cartoon Dr Who assistants with a background in working with real life humans up for your consideration -
Jerry from 'Tom & Jerry': dig his dance sequence with Gene Kelly in 'Anchors Aweigh'. That mouse can really dance. I mean, there's not an episode of 'Tom & Jerry' that goes by where I don't want my homeboy Tom to tear the smug little rodent bastard to bits, but man, can that mouse dance.
The Pink Panther: dig the 'real life' opening titles from 'The Pink Panther Show'. How great was the The Pink Panther? "Well here is: The Pink Panther! The Pink Panther! Everybody loves a panther that's pink!" Of course they do! "He really is a groovy cat! He's a gentleman, a scholar, he's an acrobat!" It's as plain as your nose! Awesome crime-jazz soundtrack, hipster animation style, great supporting cast - esp. The Ant & The Aadvark...I just read on Wikipedia that the original show ran for over 10 years between the mid 60s & late 70s, after which they experimented with a bunch of different Pink formats with names like "The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show" (seriously) and "The Pink Panther & Sons", where our hero was given two sons called Pinky & Panky. It doesn't really bare worth thinking about. Did somebody say 'Scrappy Doo?'
...and that cat from Paula Abdul's 'Opposites Attract' video.
Paul Fuzz Avoids Being Terroised By 80s Movie Bad Guy Phantasms By Not Sleeping
I think 'Last Of The Timelords' woulda been way better if instead of getting the entire human race to simultaneously think of 'DOCTOR!' in order to bring about the ressurection of their saviour, The Doctor had instructed Martha to have every living person simultaneously think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and then the series coulda ended on a high with John Simm being stomped by 112 feet of Mr Stay Puft.
To explain...I've got a crazy fever, a thermometer busting temperature, a head-ache like there's a Mika concert in my skull, I'm wacked out of my mind on triple strength cold medicine...and last night when I when I was twisting & turning in an evil cold sweatin' delerium all I could focus on was the above scenerio, repeating on an endless loop...I think I've gone sorta insane..."I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something that could never destroy us. Something I loved from my childhood. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!" As with Dan Ackroyd's Ray Stantz, I don't really know why I got stuck on Mr Stay Puft..."he just popped in there." I couldn't shake him. It was horrible. What if Mr Stay Puft haunts my fevered visions again tonight? Or what if Mr Stay Puft is just the beginning, and I'm plagued by visions of other 80s High Concept Action Comedy baddies? What if Biff from 'Back To The Future' turns up? Or that guy who says "The Quaterback IS TOAST!" in 'Die Hard'? I can't risk it. The only way I can ensure that I'm not terrorised by Dean Ed Rooney from 'Ferris Buellers Day Off' is by never going to sleep again. What the hell, right? I say sleep is overrated. Infact, sleep is for the weak. Join me next time, for Part Two of "Paul Fuzz Avoids Being Terroised By 80s Movie Bad Guy Phantasms By Not Sleeping."