Monday, November 20, 2006

VHS/Led Zeppelin

I’m sending a shout-out of gratitude to my dad.

I invited my parents to spend six months with me last year. When my American friends hear this, they first feign politeness and then their façade breaks down and they ask me in shock how one could possibly live under the same roof with one’s parents as an adult without going batty. I would’ve heartily echoed this sentiment in my twenties but to paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, time changes everything.

My dad has always been furiously energetic, and is always happier when he has his hands full. So, when they were visiting last year, my parents were always looking for things they could “do for me.” (I’m still trying to find some of the stuff they put away in “a safe place”!)

I have about 1500 VHS tapes that I made off cable, mostly TCM, over a period of about 10 years. As one of his projects, my dad put together a VHS library in an upstairs walk-in closet. He collected the tapes, numbered and indexed them, and arranged them in boxes. Months later, I am now realizing what a joy it is to have this large trove organized and easily accessible.

Before he shelved the tapes away, my dad (always the scientific thinker in the family!) asked me to divide them into three categories (A, B and C) based upon how urgently I needed access to them, thus arranging the tapes accordingly. So, from the relentless listmaker in me, here is a gratuitous sample of “A” items, the films I’d like to get to soon. Maybe I’ll be able to make a serious dent in them over winter break. None of them are available on region 1 DVD as far as I know:

Budd Boetticher (The Tall T, Buchanan Rides Alone, Decision Before Sundown); Frank Borzage (Smiling Through, Strange Cargo, The Mortal Storm, Hearts Divided); among the last few Samuel Fullers I haven’t seen (Fixed Bayonets, The Baron Of Arizona); ditto Fritz Lang (Human Desire, An American Guerrilla In The Philippines); Jean Renoir (La Marseillaise, The Little Theatre Of Jean Renoir; Woman On The Beach); a gang of Tod Browning (West Of Zanzibar, The Unholy Three, The Thirteenth Chair); King Vidor (The Crowd, Show People, The Champ); Glauber Rocha’s Terra Em Transe; Atom Egoyan’s made-for-Canadian-TV Gross Misconduct; Philippe Garrel’s Le Couer Fantome; Youssef Chahine’s Silence, We’re Rolling; Alain Cavalier’s Le Combat Dans L’Ile; Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates; Jean Gremillion’s Remorques; John Cassavetes’ Husbands; Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dynamite; and Frank Tashlin’s Artists And Models.

* * *

Yikes, synthesizers on a Led Zeppelin record?! Indeed. Here's one of my favorite Zep tunes, “All My Love” [mp3], on their unfairly maligned “commercial” record, their last studio release, In Through The Out Door (1978).

You know how as the years pass, a song can often fluidly change its appeal, different aspects of it shifting into the foreground and catching your ear and becoming more important for you? What I like best these days about “All My Love” is Jimmy Page’s rhythm playing, something I long heard only in the background. Not at all befitting his hard-rock pioneer cred, his guitar tone here is thin, brittle and stringy, almost ready to dissolve. He alternates (sometimes in the same bar) between a reggae-ish strum and single-note figures bent so strongly that he sounds occasionally like a pedal-steel player. All rhythm guitarists looking to learn how to play fills: look no further!

And then there’s that big, fat and beautiful analog synth solo at 2:35 that is the very essence of simplicity in single-note playing. (It often takes more courage to play simple melodies with forthrightness and respect than it does to play complex ones!) And when the band changes key in the closing moments (at 4:25), we float away on a small wave of 'pop' transcendence….

* * *

Coming next week: Roberto Rossellini goes to India.


Anonymous Darren said...

The typical 16-year-old saves up money from his part-time job to buy a car. I spent my savings on a Roland D5. As I recall, the first thing I did when I got it home was click through all of the pre-programmed sounds until I could imitate the string pad and synth lead John Paul Jones uses in "All My Love." But, you know, until after reading your post, I'd never really heard Page's rhythm playing.

November 20, 2006 9:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, my first keyboard was a Yamaha DX-21. I also remember being wowed by all the preprogrammed patches the day I brought it home. They sound so cheesy in retrospect (syn tom-toms? helicopter percussion?) but they sure sounded cool back then.

I have a Roland TR-505 now but I hardly ever play it; I've switched over almost entirely to acoustic piano. Jazz doesn't really work on synthesizers unless you're going to do cool textural stuff with it like e.g. Joe Zawinul....But I'd love to get myself a Fender-Rhodes some day.

November 20, 2006 10:23 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Let me guess, Girish, you didn't tape the Rocha and Garrel films off of TCM? (Were they on American TV at all, ever?)

As for LZ, I kind of prefer their folky/acoustic stuff to their rawkin' songs. And I can't say much more about the band than that. But I kind of liked this one that you put up--I don't know the album. (One of the funniest lines in the Simpsons that I can remember is when Homer & Marge are in England, Homer points down to two guys and says something like, "Hey, there are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, two of the biggest thieves of American black music." Totally unexpected!)

Can't wait for the Rossellini/India post.

November 20, 2006 10:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach ~ Awesome Simpsons line! Hadn't heard it before.

I dubbed the Rocha off a rental (remember Home Film Festival? Too bad they went broke. I rented a lot of stuff from them) and snagged the Garrel off the French channel TV5. Do let me know if you're interested, and I'd be glad to loan you my copies.

The Sirks you sent me are still on my night-stand; I'm psyched to watch them soon after finals end in a couple of weeks...

November 20, 2006 10:35 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

In Through the Out Door is one of my favorite Led Zeppelin albums. I'm an amateur contrarian, though, because "Down by the Seaside" is far and away my favorite LZ track. (If I were a professional contrarian it would probably be "Darlene," off Coda).

Feigning politeness, though? Is shock inherently impolite? (That's a sincere question, even if it shows a general ignorance of accepted social interaction.)

November 20, 2006 11:24 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, out of all of Led Zep's album, In Through the Out Door was always my favorite, and it's the only Zep album I still own. "Carouselambra" is pure epic Zeppelin, with about a million changes (and a lot synths as well). Page's thin tone on "All of My Love" is great; I wonder what he was playing. I know he used a Fender Strat on "In the Evening" from the same album; perhaps it was the Strat, or maybe a Telecaster. In concert footage, I've seen him play a cheap Danelectro, from which he produced a lot of brittle noise.

You make a great point about his rhythm playing. He was a total riff king, never content only to strum chords. He's really making his guitar cry at certain points in the song (especially during the break at 2:23).

Nice call on the key change. I never noticed that before.

November 20, 2006 11:29 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Three cheers for your dad for organizing your videos!! I keep telling myself that one of these years I'll organize the umptoodle boxes of videos I have. Did you know that I opened the first video store in the San Joaquin Valley back in the days when San Francisco had only one video store? Yes, children, I really am that old. Or that enterprising. I keep hoping to sit down and transfer all those videos to dvds (since I did a lot of splicing, dicing) and even hooked everything up to my computer to do so; but, am having this slight problem with the learning curve. It just won't flatten out.

Ask your dad if he wants to come visit San Francisco.

November 21, 2006 1:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa & Michael ~ And here I was foolishly thinking that I needed to go to bat for this record that everyone hated!

"Is shock inherently impolite?"

Tuwa ~ We feign politeness when we think our real response (of shock) might be construed as impolite!

Michael ~ Those are great points. I've often seen early-70s pics of Page with a Les Paul but it certainly doesn't sound like one on this track. And yes, you're also right about the epic-ness of "Carouselambra."

Maya ~ I didn't know you were an entrepreneur....You've sure had an interesting and memoir-worthy life!

I haven't figured out how to do the VHS-to-DVD conversion myself, but I use my VHS players a lot (for watching).

November 21, 2006 5:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--Tuwa makes a request and Zach responds with a post on Sweet Sweetback.
--Two interview posts with Tom Tykwer at the Evening Class.
--Reading Experience: The content and form of American fiction-writing.
--David Pratt-Robson on Akerman and Godard.
--Just discovered this new filmblog: Chained to the Cinematheque, run by Dave McDougall of Brooklyn.

November 21, 2006 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your tale has inspired me, Girish, to finally have one of my roommates teach me how to use our VCR to record things from TV. I'm literally frightened by technology (it will be years before I buy an i-pod), and all of the buttons and devices (none of which I own) on our entertainment center I've always preferred to keep my distance before. But I'm thinking now that to pay for TCM but then not committing any of the films they play to VHS posterity is to use on a portion of that resource. It's like I'm only using 10% of my brain or something...

November 21, 2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oddly, I was listening to In Through the Out Door much of last week and contemplated posting about it myself.... It's not my favorite Zep album, but it is the one I'm most likely to listen to these days, if only because it's not so overexposed as the more famous ones.

"Carouselambra" is a great, underrated epic (perhaps for the first time, I was attending to the guitars behind the synths: nice). But I love "Fool in the Rain"--it's always been one of my favorite Zep songs. Plus, "Hot Dog" is a lot of fun.

November 21, 2006 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

The release of In Through the Out Door was a big event when I was in High School, and is one of those albums that makes me long for the days of vinyl. First, it came wrapped in brown paper, and there were several possible covers. (Was it six?) Then there was the record sleeve itself, which was a drawing that you could color by applying a wet paintbrush.

You just can't replicate that with a tiny CD case.

I haven't listened to the album in years -- I never even bought it on CD -- but now I've got the itch.

November 21, 2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

In case you haven't heard, Robert Altman died this morning.

November 21, 2006 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read the news on a messageboard I frequent and I choked on my lunch...

November 21, 2006 12:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh that's terrible...

November 21, 2006 12:54 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Shockingly sad news...I can't think of when I've felt so hollowed-out by learning that a person I never had a personal interaction with had died.

November 21, 2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

It's those Lifetime Achievement Awards. They get you every time. More than ever, I'm glad to have participated in the Altman blogathon, which taught me so much about this amazing filmmaker. May he rest in peace.

As for memoirs, Girish, in idle moments I conjure up titles: Should it be CONFESSIONS OF A DEMENTED JAGUAR? Or IDOL CHITCHAT? Or MAS O MENOS? I pity my literary executor who has to go through my journal entries even as I'm aware that the real coin to be made on my good name will be posthumous. I have got so much dirt on people, you can't imagine. Heh. But I'll be a gentleman. There's a stipulation in my will that none of the memoirs are to be published until 25 years after my death.

Andy, your post made me chuckle. I, too, resent technology. I bought a cell phone, finally, but refuse to use it. The buttons are too small and my fingers are too fat and, besides, I'm not really that communicative after all. Just when I consider that maybe I'm being too resistant, I remember Hal's voice and Julie Christie at the mercy of the Demon Seed.

November 21, 2006 2:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for your words.

Brian, I agree with you; I feel the same. I don't think a filmmaker's passing has affected me in quite the deep and sorrowful way that Altman's has today...

Tonight, more than watching an Altman film, I want to turn on the audio on one of his DVD commentary tracks and just listen to his voice, and feel like he's still around, in the ether.

November 21, 2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Heard the news. Suddenly I feel like the world's a lot heavier. Gary Graver died a few days ago, too.

November 22, 2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach Campbell posts a counter-canon of sixty films in response to Paul Schrader's canon in Film Comment:

"[F]or the purpose of education, encouraging people to see a variety is at least as important as getting them to see The Greats. So that's the first purpose of this list: not to winnow away toward's film art's great core (which I am unconvinced even exists), but to sketch an idea of this medium's powers & parameters."

November 22, 2006 5:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--Zach's been prolific: here's a great post on racism.
--Altman post at Greencine.
--Harry on Critical Fallacies: Complacency.
--Andy's thoughts on frat packs and spoilers.
--Two new Marco Bellochio posts at Michael Guillen's.

Michael, Great that you've been a journal keeper....Mas O Menos has a cool ring to it although I don't know what it means...

November 22, 2006 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Thom said...

Thanks for bringing up In Through The Out Door . Haven't listened to it in a while and it was nice revisiting it again. Page is one of my favorite players. I'll wager he's using his '59 Tele with the Parsons/White B-string bender to get those pedal-steel sounds. It shows his dedication that even on a track he didn't care much about he played a tasty rhythm part.

November 22, 2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Man, the wake of commentary following Altman's death is phenomenal!!

Girish, MAS O MENOS goes with the gesture of laying your hand flat and wobbling it from side to side like a rocking boat, and implies "More or less." I really should get my memoirs down, but I've too much living left to do!! Hee. (That always makes me want to break into that song: "There's champagne just ready for tasting...." But, because I like you, I won't.)

November 23, 2006 2:52 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish: I'm not sure if, in the time you've lived in the States, you've picked up our bad habit of eating to excess on Thanksgiving day. This morning my kitchen is scented with spiced pumpkin as I prepare empanadas de calabasa to take to Thanksgiving dinner. It remains, above all, a day of gratitude for me. And I wanted to be sure to tell you how thankful I am for your singularly, bright sensibility and what you offer the rest of us by creating this space where we can come and share our minds and thoughts and feelings, our fave raves and the dogs we want to walk off the cliff. Thank you for the friendship you offer so many. If I knew where to send it, you would receive this year's Thanksgiving mix, which has me bopping around my kitchen, tasting the pumpkin mixture to make sure it's not too sweet, and putting just enough beer into the dough to help it rise. Here's what I'm listening to this morning, with you in mind:

Peaches: Fuck or Kill
Michael Franti & Spearhead: Yell Fire
Gnarls Barkley: Crazy
James Iha & Kazu Makino: The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde
Pet Shop Boys: I'm With Stupid
The Coup: Shoyoass
Tigarah: Japanese Queen
Sonic Youth: What A Waste
The Strokes: Fear or Sleep
Be Your Own Pet: Wildcat!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Gold Lion
Arctic Monkeys: Riot Van
Field Mob: Blacker the Berry
Michael Franti & Spearhead: Hello Bonjour
Pet Shop Boys: Twentieth Century
Tigarah: Roppongi-Dori
Be Your Own Pet: Adventure
Sonic Youth: Do You Believe In Rapture?
Michael Franti & Spearhead: I Know I'm Not Alone
The Strokes: Ize of the World
Peaches: Tent In Your Pants
The Strokes: You Only Live Once
Bizzy Box: Dangerdoom (featuring Cee-Lo)
Lil' Kim: Shut Up Bitch
The Coup: I Love Boosters!
Morrissey: In the Future When All's Well
The Gossip: Standing In the Way of Control
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls
Arctic Monkeys: I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Way Out
Sergio Mendes: Samba de Bencao
The Coup: Laugh/Love/Fuck
Deerhoof: Spirit Ditties of the No-Tone (Edit)
Fountains of Wayne: Trains and Boats and Planes
Brazilian Girls: Lazy Lover
Franz Ferdinand: The Fallen
Magic System (featuring Brasco): Ambiance A Gogo
Beck: Rental Car
Dengue Fever: We Were Gonna
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Turn Into
The Strokes: On the Other Side
Arctic Monkeys: Fake Tales Of San Francisco
The Coup: BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy

Happy Thanksgiving!!

November 23, 2006 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oi, Happy Thanksgiving all you movie buffs! Alas, this is the one time of year when I don't raise objections to whatever movies my family members want to watch, so it looks like I'll be "celebrating" with The Benchwarmers...

November 23, 2006 7:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Thom, Michael and Andy.

Thom ~ Good to know that you're a guitar-head!

Andy ~ Hope you had a great Thanksgiving yourself, The Benchwarmers notwithstanding...!

Michael ~ Your words are moving....thank you.

And at this moment, I'm not very easily moved because I have over-consumed in the purest spirit of the T-giving tradition. I went to a friend's place for the ritual dinner and she insisted on packing an array of leftovers which will last me for days.

Your mix looks solid. As for your taste, I will simply say, "Yowzah!"

I've been listening to some of the same music recently: political hip-hop (Coup, Michael Franti); techno-pop (Pet Shop Boys); and the Fountains of Wayne Bacharach cover on your playlist.

Shall send a mix your way! I have your address...

Happy Thanksgiving, tout le monde.

November 23, 2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Phil Nugent's Altman tribute

November 23, 2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Kristin Thompson on acting in the movies:

"I suppose all movie-lovers have favorite quotations that become part of their everyday conversation. Norman Bates’s “One by one you drop the formalities” fits a surprising number of situations. The film-studies professors here in Madison often communicate with each other using lines from Howard Hawks films, especially Rio Bravo. “Let’s take a turn around the town,” “We’ll remember you said that,” and, of course, “It’s nice to see a smart kid for a change.” Any time David or I get a particularly small royalty check, we echo Hildie Johnson’s sour “Buy yourself an annuity.”"

November 24, 2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--A nice tribute to Betty Comden by Victor Morton.
--Forrest J. Ackerman blog-a-thon at Flickhead's.
--A links post at Andy's.
--The Siren on Marie Antoinette (1938).
--Peter Nellhaus reports from the EU filmfest in Thailand.

November 24, 2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I love reading Peter's reports from my old stomping grounds, Chiang Mai. That EU Film Festival was one of my few opportunities to see foreign-language films subtitled in English during my 15-month stay there.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone!

November 24, 2006 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug, g!

November 24, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Brian and Flickhead.
And I hope Forrest Ackerman gets wind of this online labor of love in his honor.

--Let me link again to Zach's counter-canon post: An interesting discussion has sprouted in the comments.
--A clutch of typically insightful capsules at Steve's.
--Concert pianist Jeremy Denk writes a sketch on the "death of classical music".

November 25, 2006 9:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And via Keith Uhlich at The House Next Door, here is an interview with the always-interesting Camille Paglia at Bright Lights Film Journal from a couple of months ago.

November 25, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Whoa, some meaty reading for lunch: More on Zach's counter-canon in the comments at Andy's.

November 25, 2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And Harry Tuttle proposes another counter-canon, with 111 films on it.

November 26, 2006 7:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I miss my regular diet of Matt-reading: here he is on Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.

November 26, 2006 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Mikey D. said...


Great post! I always love reading about your parents. I'd love to meet them the next time they are in Buffalo.

The Led Zeppelin tune is terrific. I had heard that song a lot on classic rock radio stations growing up but never learned whose song it was. I too love the analog synth solo in the middle- it sounds a lot like classical music lines.

November 26, 2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Mikey--It was fun to get together the other day. Let's do it again over winter break; maybe stay up late and spin some tunes....?

November 26, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The counter-canon discussion fans out in the blogosphere: now in the comments at Tram's.

November 27, 2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--David Bordwell on "network narratives".
--Jonathan Rosenbaum on Bobby.
--Quiet Bubble: Borat no like.
--NYT: Dennis Lim on the Austrian Cinema series at Lincoln Center.
--Pacze Moj on how Western sci-fi films have not taken into account China and India's ascendancy.
--Just discovered this great database of online articles on filmmakers.

Working on an alt-weekly deadline today for an a-g film review; tomorrow is an all-day teaching day; and the Rossellini post should be up on Wednesday.

Two more weeks of class--can't wait for winter break. Got a little taste of it over the long and relaxing weekend. Not sure about the rest of the country but the weather here in Buffalo is stupendous today--in the 60s, sunny, spring-like, totally blissful.

November 27, 2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I just had to say, hooray for The Coup and Be Your Own Pet. Both of those albums are among my favorites of the year. It's been a weird year -- if you'd told me that I'd like that Justin Timberlake CD better than the new Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan releases, or that my favorite disc of the year would be a chunk of oddball spiky indie-pop (Destroyer's Rubies), I wouldn't have believed you. Shows what I know.

Also, much thanks to you, Girish, for the continued support! Always nice to know my scribblings are being enjoyed... :-)

November 27, 2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Steve, I was shocked to find myself a huge fan of the first Justin Timberlake CD (Justified)--a brilliant record, IMO. But I haven't heard the new one yet. Very glad to hear you endorse it.

Everyone--Steve's looking to meet up with those who might be at Rivette's Out 1 in Queens in a couple of weeks. (I'm gnashing my teeth in disappointment as I write this, of course...)

November 27, 2006 8:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--David Lowery on the year 1999 in American cinema.
--Acquarello on Luc Moullet's Genèse d'un repas.
--Noel on Bresson's A Man Escaped.
--Great Altman tribute by Weeping Sam at the Listening Ear.

November 28, 2006 6:36 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Oy--thanks for the add!

I swear I get a better response from you than from Senses of Cinema...

November 29, 2006 4:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

You're most welcome, Noel!

November 29, 2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger George said...

hi girish,
I'm tempted to add Friedkin's Sorceror to the list; however, strictly speaking, it's had a DVD release, albeit an egregious pan-and-scan version.

December 04, 2006 1:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi George--I had been looking forward to Sorcerer on DVD; too bad it's pan-and-scan! What a disappointment.

I remember seeing it in the theaters as a kid in India...

December 04, 2006 6:39 AM  

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