Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Year 10, Day 226 - 8/14/18 - Movie #3,022

BEFORE: Well, the last few films have been fairly unkind to record company executives - these are the people that FORCE rock singers to go out on tour and earn MONEY, because they signed a very constrictive concert years ago.  And then they HAVE to make more albums to keep the money flowing in, and worst of all, then they have to go out on TOUR and PLAY those new songs, even though the fans only want to hear the classic stuff.  So basically they're evil bastards who sit in an office in New York or L.A. and collect all the money while the musicians are out there doing all the work, writing songs, going up on stage, being chased by fans and then having identity crises a few years later and realizing they're nothing but a commodity to the record industry.

But is all that really fair?  It seems like maybe I'm only hearing one side of that argument.  So once again, I'm looking for a little balance.  Let's see if I get any.  David Geffen carries over from "History of the Eagles".

THE PLOT: A look at the life and work of music producer Clive Davis.

AFTER: Well, this certainly paints a different sort of picture about record executives - or is it producers?  Clive Davis certainly seemed to have a lot to say over the years about the WAY that records should be produced, but at the same time he had no formal training in music or sound, he only seems to know what he likes and therefore what will sell.  So either he's a gifted savant, or he's incredibly lucky, or if neither of those are true, then it turns out the job of being a music company expert is very easy in the end.  Unfortunately there's so much ground to cover here in his long career that we're never given an understanding about the nuts and bolts of the whole process, it's really just a string of "Then we had a number one hit with THIS guy" and "Then we had a platinum album with THIS gal." 

From the day that Clive signed Janis Joplin, after he attended that famous Monterey Pop Festival where she performed, he's had an enormous, perhaps unmatched string of hits.  But by focusing only on those, one after the other, it's tempting to think that he's got the golden touch, that he can do no wrong when it comes to spotting talent, or matching the right song with the right artist and the right producer to make hit records.  This is the guy that told Simon & Garfunkel which track from their album to release if they wanted the biggest hit, the guy who signed Bruce Springsteen, the guy who finally got the Grateful Dead a Top 10 hit with "A Touch of Grey".  He engineered career revivals for Aretha Franklin in the 80's, Carlos Santana in the 90's, and then worked with all the "American Idol" winners in the 2000's. 

And then, don't forget Whitney.  Clive Davis "discovered" Whitney Houston, got her first record released, and promoted the hell out of it.  Then he stood by her through all the controversy when she got booed for sounding "too white" and then tried to help her when she was having problems with drug abuse.  OK, great, he tried to help her, which is more than what most people did, but maybe he didn't try hard enough?

(I'd seen Clive already in the "Whitney: Can I Be Me" documentary, but I didn't link this one to that one because there was no mention of Whitney Houston in the IMDB credits for today's film.  Which was a blatant mistake, because footage of her dominates about 15-20 minutes of this film.  It's too bad, because I see now how I really should have flipped this and the previous three films around, followed the Whitney doc with THIS one, and then the Glen Campbell documentary would have linked to tomorrow's film, and everything would have fallen back into place.  This is why film companies need to keep their IMDB credits updated.  I've submitted Whitney's name for addition to the credits of this film, along with 159 other people who appeared in interviews or in archive footage, so this won't happen to anyone else.)

And that's the main problem here, this documentary's subject can do no wrong, whether it's his opinions over how records should sound, or fending off lawsuits or allegations of wrongdoing, he always manages to come out on top and in the clear.  OK, so he seems like a nice enough guy, but how do I know that isn't just the way he wants to be seen?  Was Whitney Houston happy with her contract with Arista, or did she feel like it was too constrictive, that it put too much of a burden on her to do press interviews?  Was George Michael the only recording artist ever who felt like a slave? 

To be fair, a few of Clive Davis' misses are included here to balance out all of his hits - his label released the infamous Milli Vanilli album, for example, and nobody bothered to check to see if the guys they paid were the same guys who sang on the record.  Big crowds turned up for their live concerts and heard performers who sounded nothing like they did on their album, then it was revealed they were just a couple of actors lip-synching in their videos to someone else's tracks.  A couple of other bands that went nowhere are also mentioned, but there are probably hundreds, if not thousands of failures in this guy's career, right?  Logic sort of demands that for every hit record that connects with the audience, there must be at least 10 that don't. 

Unless it really IS much easier than it seems - I mean, one of the big record companies like CBS or Arista probably has more control over the marketplace than we realize.  And when you control what records are being released and marketed, you kind of control which ones people are going to buy - I mean, they can't buy ones that don't get made and don't ship to the stores, so on some level, people are going to go to the record store and select from whatever's there, even if it's shitty.  I collect comic books, mostly Marvel and a little DC, so I base my purchases on whatever Marvel's releasing, I can only choose the best of what's being released each week, with the characters I like, but that doesn't mean that the stories are going to be GOOD. 

So I think I'm not sold on the genius and benevolence of record company executives just yet.  Nice try, though - I almost fell for it.  This is what we used to call the "shovel approach" back in high-school when we were writing term papers.  If you pile on enough evidence to support your argument, and conveniently leave out any information to the contrary, you just might convince your teacher of the point you're trying to make.  Similarly, I think we're only being shown one side of the story here, the one where Clive Davis could never do anything wrong, and I wonder if there is a conflicting argument to be made. 

Also starring Clive Davis (last seen in "Whitney: Can I Be Me"), Dionne Warwick (ditto), David Foster (ditto), Sean "Puffy" Combs, Simon Cowell, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Aretha Franklin (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Kenny G, Berry Gordy, Jennifer Hudson (last seen in "Sandy Wexler"), Jimmy Iovine, Alicia Keys (last seen in "Amy"), Barry Manilow, L.A. Reid, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen (last seen in "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me"), Rod Stewart (last seen in "Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul"), Steven Tyler, Diane Warren, Bob Weir (last seen in Long Strange Trip"), Lou Adler, Jim Budman, Bobby Colomby, Tom Corson, Nicole David, Doug Davis, Fred Davis, Mitchell Davis, Anthony DeCurtis (last seen in "How the Beatles Changed the World'), Tim DuBois, Peter Edge, Kenny Gamble, Charles Goldstuck, Allen Grubman, Pat Houston, Leon Huff, Don Ienner, Larry Jackson, Steve Jacobson, Monte Lipman, Roy Lott, Doug Morris, Keith Naftaly, Richard Palmese, Neil Portnow, Jo Schuman, Joe Smith, Abe Somer, Arnold Stiefel, Julie Swidler, with archive footage of Janis Joplin (last seen in "27: Gone Too Soon"), Jimi Hendrix (ditto), Brian Jones (ditto), Rob Thomas (last seen in "Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago"), Terry Kath (ditto), Robert Lamm (ditto), Lee Loughnane (ditto), James Pankow (ditto), Walter Parazaider (ditto), Danny Seraphine (ditto), Robin Thicke (ditto), Whitney Houston (last seen in "Whitney: Can I Be Me"), Bobby Brown (ditto), Bobbi Kristina Brown (ditto), Cissy Houston (ditto), Kevin Costner (ditto), Oprah Winfrey (ditto), Joan Rivers (ditto), Merv Griffin (ditto), Katie Couric (ditto), Diane Sawyer (ditto), Paul McCartney (last seen in "History of the Eagles"), Elton John (ditto), Joni Mitchell (ditto), Carole King (ditto), John Belushi (ditto), Tony Bennett (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), George Michael (ditto), Stevie Wonder (ditto), Gladys Knight (ditto), Paula Abdul (ditto), James Corden (ditto), Bob Dylan (last seen in "Elvis Presley: The Searcher"), Robbie Robertson (ditto), Dave Grohl (last seen in "Amy"), Natalie Cole (ditto), Rihanna (ditto), Jay-Z (ditto), Lou Reed (last seen in "Jimi Hendrix"), Taylor Swift (last seen in "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me"), Ahmet Ertegun (last seen in "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars"), Bill Graham (ditto), Alan Jackson, Billy Joel (last seen in "Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul"), Jerry Garcia (last seen in "Long Strange Trip"), Phil Lesh (ditto), Bill Kreutzmann (ditto), Pink (last seen in "Janis: Little Girl Blue"), Clay Aiken, Philip Bailey, Fantasia Barrino, Beck, Toni Braxton, Kix Brooks, T-Bone Burnett, Eric Carmen, Vicki Carr, Kelly Clarkson, David Clayton-Thomas, Miley Cyrus, Ray Davies, Miles Davis, Taylor Dayne, Ronnie Dunn, Cass Elliot, John Fogerty, Justin Guarini, Taylor Hicks, Russell Hitchcock, Quincy Jones, Adam Lambert, Annie Lennox, Adam Levine, Craig Mack, Melissa Manchester, Johnny Mathis, Sarah McLachlan, Katharine McPhee, Meat Loaf, John Cougar Mellencamp, Mitch Miller, Rickey Minor, Fab Morvan, Notorious B.I.G., Ray Parker Jr., Alan Parsons, Dolly Parton, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass, Rob Pilatus, Busta Rhymes, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Graham Russell, Gil Scott-Heron, Carly Simon, Slash, Russell Simmons, Barbra Streisand, Carrie Underwood, Usher,  Luther Vandross, Scott Weiland, Kanye West, Maurice White, Verdine White, Andy Williams, Paul Williams, Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Ghostheads"), Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Hell or High Water"), Dick Clark, Mo Collins, Jane Curtin, Ann Curry, Sam Donaldson, Brian Dunkelman, Arsenio Hall, Harry Hamlin, Randy Jackson, Magic Johnson, Don Lemon, Nigel Lythgoe, Bill Maher, Michael McDonald (MAD TV), Garrett Morris, Bill Murray (last heard in "Isle of Dogs"), Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Burt Reynolds (last seen in "The Crew"), Melissa Rivers, Charlie Rose, Ryan Seacrest, Dinah Shore, Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Lily Tomlin (last seen in "I Heart Huckabees"), Ralph Waite, Mike Wallace, Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Black Panther"), Debra Wilson, Strauss Zelnick,

RATING: 5 out of 10 lifetime achievement awards

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

History of the Eagles

Year 10, Day 225 - 8/13/18 - Movie #3,021

BEFORE: Kicking off the second half of my 52-part Summer Music Concert Series / Documentary Investigation, and it's another long film tonight, this was made as a two-part series, one part covering the initial 1970's run of the band, and the second episode covering the reunification and subsequent touring, the time during and after "Hell Freezes Over".  It's really perfect timing, because I launched the whole thing back in July with the Beatles, the most popular British band ever, and now I'm starting the second half with the most popular American rock band ever.  Who's going to argue that point, it's the freakin' EAGLES, man, their music is everywhere, with its blend of country, bluegrass and rock it's just part of the fabric of our country.

And it's very easy to draw a comparison to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones - after about 10 years time, any band is likely to collapse under the weight of its own members' egos, along with other factors.  The Stones had "World War III", those five years when Mick and Keith weren't talking to each other, and working on solo projects.  The Beatles also broke up after just 8 years of recording, possibly for very similar reasons, and maybe after 15 years apart they might have reunited too, if not for Lennon's death.  Who can say?

I'm going to try to watch this all in one go, late night in the hotel at a Connecticut casino.  Maybe I should spread it out over two nights, but I don't want to slow down at this point.  Before watching this documentary, though, we caught a Meat Loaf concert on TV, on a channel in the hotel that I'd never heard of before, called AXS.  They seem to have a lot of rock-oriented programming, like Ronnie Wood from the Stones has an interview show, there's a travel show that goes to different rock festivals, etc.  This was a concert from Meat Loaf's "Guilty Pleasures" tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2004.  Earlier in the day, we'd watched a good part of a Peter Frampton concert, too - and together they raised questions about when an aging rocker should stop touring.  In the case of Frampton, he seems very happy, agile and vibrant on stage, but Meat Loaf (and this concert was recorded in 2011) was anything but.  He was shaking quite a bit while singing - I realize he's got a powerful voice and singing takes a lot out of him, but watching him shake, I was genuinely concerned for his health.  Most of the time he was lagging behind the beat, or singing the harmony part instead of the melody, I'm guessing because he can't reach the high notes any more.  In some cases, it sounded like he was singing a totally different song.

So, I have to ask the question, at what point should an aging rocker stop touring?  I'm going to say when the quality of the performance starts going downhill.  We saw Meat Loaf live in concert in 2003 or 2004, a tour called "The Last World Tour", and since then he's broken that promise by touring 11 times, so I feel pretty ripped off.  And speaking of farewell tours, let's get to the Eagles.  Record producer Glyn Johns carries over from "Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul", and so do two of the Beatles.

THE PLOT: The life and times of the super-successful American soft-rock band, the Eagles.

AFTER: This film was very informative about where the Eagles came from, how they met and came together, and how they developed their musical style.  There's also a lot about how they functioned together as a band, and in some cases how they failed to, which of course eventually led to their break-up.  A foot can only have one big toe, and a band can only have one leader - occasionally two, like the Beatles or the Stones.  Glenn Frey and Don Henley were and are the clear leaders here, they wrote most of the best Eagles songs (though there are exceptions and differing opinions, of course), and threw their weight around the most when they were unhappy with something.  They were also the first two members of the band, they met while backing up Linda Ronstadt and then built up the band around their pairing, adding THIS guy from Poco and THAT guy from the Flying Burrito Brothers.

All of this set the tone for the years to follow - band members would come and go (umm, mostly go) but without Frey and/or Henley, there simply was no band.  If Frey and/or Henley brought a song to record, the other members were expected to approve it, more or less, while other members had to fight harder to get their material considered for the new album.  This all is explained by putting the cream of all the Southern California bands together, taking the Alpha Male from each band and thinking they'll play nice together.  So was it just too many chiefs and not enough braves in the end?  That's probably a debatable point.

Of course, I had to buy the two Eagles Greatest Hits albums during the 1980's, when I was really getting into the rock Genre - I didn't have many 70's albums, but basically every record collection back then had to have their Greatest Hits I and Greatest Hits II.  But my knowledge of the band MEMBERS didn't really extend past Frey, Henley and Joe Walsh.  Before watching this documentary I knew a little bit about Timothy B. Schmit, just that he was the lead singer on "I Can't Tell You Why", but I didn't know when he joined the Eagles, who he replaced, and so on.  I also couldn't have picked Randy Meisner or Bernie Leadon out of a line-up, and didn't have a handle on what Don Felder's contributions to "Hotel California" were.  Now I think I've got a better idea on the whole timeline, at least.

Part 1 of this documentary is amazing, I loved seeing the Eagles come together, and I think I also enjoyed watching them fall apart.  The famous on-stage threatening words between Frey and Felder makes for a great story, even the back-story of that one is good, it's one of those rock feuds that was simmering for years, and finally came to a head one night over something stupid.  These guys seriously seemed like they were going to kill each other - but again, on one level that's just alpha males reacting to each other.  There are situations where two male friends could punch each other out, then maybe have a few drinks and the next day be playing in the band together, like nothing had every happened - but since Felder got right into the limo after the show and drove away, things didn't get resolved for about 14 or 15 years.

For the record, as one Eagle stated at the start of the "Hell Freezes Over" concert, officially the Eagles never broke up in 1980, they just took a 14-year vacation.  Come on, nobody's buying that.  There's a good deal of material here devoted to the "solo years" in the 1980's, when Don Henley released "The Boys of Summer" and "Dirty Laundry", while Glenn Frey was busy guest-starring on "Miami Vice" and releasing "The Heat Is On" (from the "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack) and "You Belong to the City" and "Smuggler's Blues" (from the "Miami Vice" soundtrack.  That's probably how I first knew who Glenn Frey was, I watched a lot of "Miami Vice" when I was a teen.

Meanwhile, the other Eagles were scrambling quite a bit during the hiatus.  Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmit both went out on tour with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band at various times, and Schmit (who had the bad luck of joining the band just three years before the "vacation") also played and sang background vocals on songs by Toto, Richard Marx, Sheena Easton, Jars of Clay, Stacey Q, and toured with Jimmy Buffett and Dan Fogelberg.  Don Felder, meanwhile, found session work for Diana Ross, Andy Gibb and Barbra Streisand and wrote a couple songs for the animated movie "Heavy Metal" - hey, you do what you have to do to keep working, I guess.  Joe Walsh released solo albums that didn't achieve much success, and you have to wonder how much a part alcohol and drugs played in that.

Yep, it's the same old story here, even for the damn Eagles - alcohol, drugs, fights with record company executives (David Geffen again, fighting not once but TWICE with the Eagles) and that struggle for identity - are we a rock band?  Are we a country band?  Can our band survive without all of its original members?  Can we maintain both relationships and a busy touring schedule?  How do we achieve fame and success without feeling like a "commodity" controlled by Big Vinyl?  And how do we do all that without burning ourselves out?

But while Part 1 is a great thrill ride, Part 2 is too much of the same, over and over again.  I don't recommend anyone watch Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back like I did, because you're just going to hear the same songs again, mostly, once the Eagles get back together in 1994.  And then they really feel the need to play ALL of the good ones again, in order to prove that they sounded even better when they were older and sober.  "Hey, this is what we sounded like when we played "Take It Easy" after we got back together, isn't it GREAT?"  OK, fine, I get it, enough already.  "Hey, this is what we sounded like when we played "Desperado" after we got back together, isn't that one great, too?"  ENOUGH!
"Hey, wait, you haven't heard what "Life in the Fast Lane" sounded like after we got back together, here's that one..."  Jeez, if I wanted to hear the whole "Hell Freezes Over" concert, I would just watch that!

As for the Eagles group that's touring now, with only three original members left, they seem to have followed the example of that other huge American band, the Beach Boys.  As long as there's one original Beach Boy on stage, they get to use the name, and the other band members are hired guns, studio musicians, family members, friends, and John Stamos for some reason, if you're lucky.  The three official Eagles are now touring with Deacon Frey (Glenn's son), Vince Gill, Will Henley, Steuart Smith, and I presume a whole posse of hired guns.  By all means, go to see them now if you want, but be aware that there are now more former and deceased original Eagles than current ones.

Also starring Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon (last seen in "Keith Richards: Under the Influence"), Timothy B. Schmit, Jackson Browne, JD Souther, David Geffen (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Jack Tempchin, Irving Azoff, Bill Szymczyk, Kenny Rogers, Stevie Nicks, Steuart Smith, John Boylan, Gary Burden, Henry Diltz, Gov. Jerry Brown with archive footage of John Belushi (last seen in "National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), John Bonham, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, Tom Cruise (last seen in "American Made"), Roger Daltrey (last seen in "Janis: Little Girl Blue"), Keith Moon (ditto), Pete Townshend (ditto), Melissa Etheridge (ditto), George Harrison (last seen in "Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul"), Paul McCartney (ditto), John Lennon (also last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Elton John (ditto), Don Johnson (last seen in "The Other Woman"), Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Keith Richards (last seen in 27: Gone Too Soon"), Ringo Starr (ditto), Linda Ronstadt (last seen in "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"), Dee Snider, Stephen Stills, Sting (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), James Taylor, Philip Michael Thomas, Travis Tritt, Bill Clinton (last seen in "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me"), Hillary Clinton, Sen. Alan Cranston, Martin Luther King Jr. (last seen in "The Doors: When You're Strange"), Richard Nixon (ditto), Robert Kennedy (ditto), Ted Kennedy,

RATING: 7 out of 10 lawsuits

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul

Year 10, Day 224 - 8/12/18 - Movie #3,020

BEFORE: After tonight I'll have reached the halfway point in the Summer Music Concert series, this is movie #26 in the chain, with 26 to go.  I'll total up the standings here at the half, at least in terms of appearances.  We're going on a road trip for a couple of days, just up to Connecticut for a bit, and I'm taking Monday off from work.  Now that I know our screenings are going well in both New York and L.A., and my boss is on the road and he's not calling with any emergencies, I can take a day off from putting out fires.  My job sometimes resembles that of a rock band manager, and I assume they also sometimes need a mental health day off, once they know that the tour is in full swing and seems to be going well.

Songwriter Jimmy Webb is the connective tissue this time, he was interviewed in the Glen Campbell doc as the writer of "Wichita Lineman" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix".  I'm not sure what song he wrote for Joe Cocker, but since he's interviewed here, I guess I'll find out shortly.

THE PLOT: The story of singer Joe Cocker is told through archive footage and interviews with close associates.

AFTER: Well, the story's the same, only the name of the singer changes each day, here in Phase II of the documentary chain.  If anything's constant in the ever-changing music industry, it's the fact that the talent is the fuel that makes the machine work, only the fuel ends up being consumed by the engine, doesn't it?  Be it Amy Winehouse, George Michael, Whitney Houston or Glen Campbell, the combination of an exhausting tour schedule plus a record company that demands promotion work, combined with some form of addiction, along with a belief that they've got a handle on their drinking or drug use, it just doesn't work in combination.  Throw in some personal problems or issues on top of that, maybe an attempt to work in some kind of relationship or personal life, and there are going to be issues.  Then once some success is achieved, the star starts to feel like a "commodity" that's being packaged and sold to the public, this leads to identity issues, and alcohol and/or drugs are readily available to help take the pain away.

It's always too much too soon, isn't it?  Does anyone become famous at the "right" speed, get some kind of handle on what it means to earn a big payday from their first few hits, and do something sensible with the money?  In the case of Joe Cocker, the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour of 1971 was a 7-week affair during which he played 56 concerts in 48 cities, backed by a 40-piece band put together by Leon Russell, and traveled with a film crew documenting the whole affair, which then ended up being so costly that it didn't turn any profit in the end.  Once again, we see the madness of promotion, which never seems logical in the short term, but of course could pay off in the long run.  They say you have to spend money to make money, but that only works if you STOP spending money at some point.  Joe Cocker put out 22 studio albums in 43 years, which means he was always either touring, promoting the latest album, or working on the next one.  There's that hamster wheel again, and you can step off of the wheel for a short time, but not for a long time, unless you want the money to stop coming in.

Joe Cocker, of course, came to prominence at the famous Woodstock concert in 1969, singing a re-worked version of the Beatles song "With a Little Help From my Friends".  He slowed it down, sang it with his soulful, gravelly voice, and it became a hit again (Number 1 in the U.K., anyway), just 2 years after the "Sgt. Pepper" album.  Tons of people covered the Beatles' songs, of course (I should know, I collect those covers) but few people back then had the balls to re-work their songs into a different style.  Cocker had covered another Beatles song, "I'll Cry Instead" four years earlier, and then later also covered "Something", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Let It Be", and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away".  Then he did one last Beatles cover, "Come Together" in 2007 for the film "Across the Universe".

Because that's who Cocker was, not a singer/songwriter, but a great cover artist.  Maybe the best cover artist ever, because he made the most out of every song that he screamed/sung in his style.  "The Letter" by the Boxtops was a simple little ditty from the early 60's, but he slowed it down and gave it some soul.  Randy Newman wrote and recorded the song "You Can Leave Your Hat On" in 1972, but it took Joe Cocker's version, and its appearance in the 1986 film "9 1/2 Weeks" to make it a hit.  "Unchain My Heart" was a hit for Ray Charles in 1971, but Cocker's version in 1987 made it a hit again, and so on.  Traffic's song "Feelin' Alright" and Billy Preston's song "You Are So Beautiful" are more often remembered by people today as Joe Cocker songs.

I think I became aware of who Joe Cocker was through "Unchain My Heart" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On", but then I bought a few of his Greatest Hits cassettes (yes, there was more than one) and the 1992 album "Night Calls".  By that point his career had gone through many ups and downs, but of course I didn't know that at the time.  He'd been something of a joke, with John Belushi  on SNL impersonating his strange on-stage movements, or maybe something of an anomaly, because it's harder to be a fan of someone who just re-interprets other people's hit songs, especially during the singer/songwriter movement of the 1970's.

He also struggled with alcoholism, or more likely, didn't do much struggling at all, just kind of leaned into it.  A reporter for Rolling Stone magazine watched him drink a whole 6-pack of beer during an interview, which took place in the afternoon before an evening concert, and he probably drank all through that concert, too.  Band members and tour managers interviewed for this film report on not only how much Cocker could drink, but also how many times he was likely to throw up during an average concert.  Through all this, he found time to get married and buy a ranch in Colorado.  Eventually he decided to sober up, because he was finding it difficult to do that primal scream at the end of "With a Little Help From My Friends". Hey, whatever it takes.

He toured Europe with Tina Turner after her comeback in the 1980's (they had the same tour manager at the time) and became really popular in Germany, right around the time the Berlin Wall came down.   He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, right after coming off of tour, and died a year later. He's still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite Billy Joel's best efforts, but hey, you never know. I think that's a pretty tough call, whether someone gets in just for re-interpreting other people's songs - though he did that very well, it might not display the level of creativity that the induction process tends to favor.

Oh, yeah, those half-time totals.  After 26 music documentaries, the two people who have appeared the most are (no surprises here) Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, if I count today's "blink and you'll miss it" appearance of Macca at the Queen Elizabeth 2002 Jubilee Concert, where Joe Cocker sang, of course, "With a Little Help From My Friends".  Mick and Paul each have 10 appearances, and next comes John Lennon with 9.  Rounding out the top five are Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, each with 8 appearances.  It seems impossible to make any rock documentary without letting a Beatle or a Rolling Stone in there somewhere.  Can these two rockers can hold on to their lead in the 2nd half of the chain, or will someone else make a bunch of uncredited appearances?  I can't even predict this one, which is why the games have to be played out.

Time for a break, I'm off for a couple days but I can still get Netflix on my phone, so I'm going to try to watch at least one long film while I'm on the road, but I may not be able to post until Tuesday.  I'll try to double-up when I get back so I can stay on track.

Also starring Pam Cocker, Vic Cocker, Rita Coolidge, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Phil Crookes, Deric Dyer, Cliff Goodwin, Glyn Johns, Michael Lang, Chris Lord-Alge, Charlie Midnight, Jerry Moss, Ray Neapolitan, Chris Stainton, Ben Fong Torres, and archive footage of Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Roger Davies, George Harrison (last seen in "27: Gone Too Soon"), Nicky Hopkins (last seen in "Keith Richards: Under the Influence"), Bobby Keys (last seen in "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"), Brian May (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Paul McCartney (also carrying over from "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me"), Jimmy Page, Leon Russell, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Jennifer Warnes, Steve Winwood (last seen in "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars").

RATING: 5 out of 10 bottles of brandy

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

Year 10, Day 223 - 8/11/18 - Movie #3,019

BEFORE: I've been taking a (more or less) direct route so far, as it happens, each act sort of links to the next - Clapton played with the Beatles, Chicago toured with Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards put a band together for Chuck Berry.  That was Phase 1 of the chain, though, and things are getting a little more fractured here in Phase 2.  Sure, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga and George Michael all performed duets with Tony Bennett, but that's really a second-hand connection.  George Michael and Whitney Houston DID record a duet together, so I feel justified that I put their documentaries next to each other.  But now I have to link from pop music to country, and that's not easy.

Glen Campbell started his career as a session musician, playing on records for everyone from Elvis Presley to the Beach Boys, so you'd think that this recent doc might end up next to one of those acts, and maybe I should have found a better path to make that possible, but I needed some connection out of the Whitney film, and a connection to tomorrow's film, and this film provided both.  Naturally, I'm going to blame whoever didn't submit the proper credits to the IMDB, because if I'd known more about who appears in each doc, I could have worked out more logical links.  At least the credits list for today's film seems fairly complete already.

As it stands, I have to rely on archive footage of Johnny Carson tonight, as he carries over from "Whitney: Can I Be Me".  I'm not proud of it, but it satisfies the rules.  I'll get back to Clive Davis in a couple of days.

THE PLOT: As he struggles with Alzheimer's disease, country music legend Glen Campbell embarks on his farewell tour of the U.S.

AFTER: I went into this thinking I didn't know much about Glen Campbell's music, but then of course he turns out to be one of those acts where I knew more than I thought I did.  Just a few days ago, I got on the NYC subway and someone was blaring loud music, but not the kind you'd expect - instead of annoying rap or hip-hop, everyone on the car was being forced to listen to "Rhinestone Cowboy", in addition to John Denver's "Sunshine on my Shoulder" and other soft-rock classics.

I also went into this thinking this story was going to be unusual, and probably quite a bit sad - and of course it is, but it's more than that.  Maybe it was more uplifting when it was released in 2014, shortly after Campbell's farewell tour, but since he passed away just over a year ago (August 8, 2017) now it's DEFINITELY got to be really sad, right?  But it's both heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, something I would have thought impossible.  As I've learned over the last couple of nights, record company executives are evil, heartless bastards, especially from George Michael's point of view, and there are clauses in contracts that FORCE artists to do publicity tours as well as performance tours, and if they don't, then they haven't fulfilled the terms of their contract, and I assume there are financial penalties for that.

Why else would a musician suffering from Alzheimer's feel the need to tour in support of his assumed-to-be final album?  Why not just claim medical reasons and bow out gracefully?  Why would Campbell's wife and kids decide to all go on tour with him, beyond the contractual obligations and potential financial benefit of a farewell tour?  (And to Campbell's credit, this was a serious farewell tour, not like Cher or Kiss or Meat Loaf, who have each had 4 or 5 farewell tours...)  Worse, what if he goes out on tour and can't remember his own songs, or what city he's performing in?  To be fair, though, I'm sure many bands have called out the wrong city's name after taking the stage.  ("Hello, Chicago!  Wait, what?  We're in Detroit?")

But on some crazy level, packing up the kids as a backing band and going on the road with his family makes some form of sense.  Fans turned out in droves once they learned about his diagnosis, and they all wanted to see him perform one last time, even if there was an occasional break in a song, or a rambling story between songs that went nowhere.  As one fellow country musician says in this film, "So he plays Wichita Lineman twice in one show, who gives a rat's ass?"  And performing was therapeutic, up to a point - for the majority of the tour, he really seemed to come alive, once he started to sing and play guitar.  He did "Dueling Banjos" with his daughter, and that's a tough, tough piece - you're just not going to get through that song without accessing all your skill.  Unless, of course, that's all sense memory for him at that stage.

Then there's the footage of Campbell during meetings with his neurologists, where he can't say what month or year it is, and can't remember a list of four words long enough to repeat them back.  And if that doesn't explain how debilitating Alzheimer's is, it gets much worse by the end of the film, when he looks at a family photo and can't say anyone's name, falling back on the generic "my daughter" and "my wife".  Well, to be fair, he had four wives and quite a few children over the years, but still, it's incredibly tragic to watch anyone disappear like this, bit by agonizing bit.

On the up-side, though, he was 75 at the time of the farewell tour, and not many 75-year olds would embark on a cross country tour, unless they were driving an RV to visit all of their grandchildren one last time.  He seemed physically fit, if not mentally (he was aided greatly by teleprompters to remember his lyrics) and then even cut one more album before he was too far gone.  He got to play at the Ryman Auditorium, Carnegie Hall and even the Library of Congress on that tour - and he didn't make it to 90-plus, but 81 isn't bad, all things considered.

Also starring Glen Campbell, Kim Campbell, Ashley Campbell, Cal Campbell, Shannon Campbell, Dave Kaplan, Julian Raymond, Bobbie Gale, Steve Ozark, Dante Rossi, Clancy Fraser, Jill Fraser, Scott Borchetta, Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Don Randi, John Carter Cash, Sheryl Crow, Larry Gatlin, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Jimmy Webb, John Paul White, Jay Leno, Steve Martin (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2"), Paul McCartney (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Bruce Springsteen (last seen in "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"), The Edge, Chad Smith, Bill Clinton (last seen in "Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago"), Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Laura Savini, and archive footage of Willie Nelson, Taylor Swift, Brian Williams.

RATING: 6 out of 10 MRI brain scans

Friday, August 10, 2018

Whitney: Can I Be Me

Year 10, Day 222 - 8/10/18 - Movie #3,018

BEFORE: Damn it, I missed Whitney Houston's birthday by ONE DAY - she was born on August 9, 1963 so yesterday would have been her 55th birthday, if she hadn't made the terrible career move of dying in 2012.  And if I hadn't dropped in that film with Carl Reiner and Tony Bennett about people being active in their 90's, I would have hit it right on, too!  You know what, I'm counting it, because I started watching this film late on August 9, before midnight.  And yeah, I know there's another Whitney Houston documentary that got released very recently, early July I think, but I'm not going to the movie theater just to see that, not when I have access to this film at home. 

Whitney Houston carries over from "George Michael: Freedom", and so does at least one record company executive. 

THE PLOT: The story of Whitney Houston's extraordinary life and tragic death. 

AFTER: This one's from the same director as the documentary "Kurt & Courtney", Nick Broomfield.  It seems he's learned a lot in the 20 years since that other documentary, namely how to NOT make the film all about himself, and I approve of that.  He's nearly invisible here, and that may have more to do with the fact that this is mostly made up of archive footage of Whitney and her family and her entourage.  But in the interviews with her band members, friends and bodyguard you can't hear the questions being asked, and I think overall that's a better way to go.  And nobody's barging in to stores or businesses with a camera crew and being annoying. 

If I consider that my rockumentary is now in Phase 2, and I realize this is all very arbitrary, but let's just say that Phase 1 was all about the early days of rock music, the 1950's through the early 1970's, and focused on the biggest names of the time, and what substances they liked to ingest.  Phase 2 seems to be taking a slightly different track, though of course there were still drug users (Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and now Whitney) in the 1980's and 1990's, something being brought up now is a search for identity - who are these people as artists, and how does their professional image differ from what's going on behind the scenes?  Who were Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and George Michael as people, and how did that differ from their images, their on-stage personas.

Let's face it, with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, there wasn't a lot of mystery, what  you saw on stage was pretty much representative of who they were in private.  But now we're in a whole topic with George Michael and Whitney Houston, and if I compare and contrast there's another one of those heads/tails things, like with Chuck Berry and Elvis.  George Michael was a white guy who had some success on the R&B charts, and was accused of appropriating black music, while Whitney was a black woman who had big success on the pop charts, and some people complained that her music sounded too white.  (Don't you know, someone's always going to complain about something...)

George Michael came out as gay (even if it was basically a fait accompli by the time he did) but during the 1980's, he reportedly slept with women, too, and obviously had a ton of female fans.  Now with Whitney there were plenty of rumors about her and friend/manager Robyn Crawford, whether Whitney was a confirmed bisexual or not is now a question for the ages, but it's certainly possible. Here we see Oprah asking the tough questions to Cissy Houston, about whether she would have approved if Whitney was gay, despite being married to Bobby Brown, and that's not something that Whitney's mother would have approved of, that's one big reason for this to be a secret.  (But even still, lack of evidence is not evidence.)

The interviews with Whitney's former bodyguard (and semi-inspiration for the film "The Bodyguard") are quite telling, though for legal reasons they had to block out many of the names in his reports filed with Houston's management company, so whatever he knows about Whitney's relationships remains unknown.  Me, I'd be more concerned about a report on her drug use where the words "marijuana" and "vocal cords" are misspelled as "marihuana" and "vocal chords" - how is anybody supposed to take that seriously?  Now, Whitney's management - she employed mostly family members, which as we've seen, is a terrible idea - discounted these reports too, but probably not because of the bad spelling.  No, we now know that once a singer becomes famous, there are several companies or organizations that benefit from them being constantly out on the road touring or in the studio, pumping out more albums, or doing promotion work.  It's a rigorous schedule that can be deadly if the star is not in the best of health, so it's a case where people will kill the golden goose in order to get more eggs.

And like in "Amy" we get to see Whitney here at her worst, when she's not giving the best performance, her make-up is running, or she's just on the verge of collapse.  By the turn of the millennium, there were reports of drugs being found in her luggage at airports, and Whitney was turning up late for interviews and rehearsals.  Footage here shows her rallying her dancers and musicians before a show, and calling upon Jesus to step in and give them all the strength they need - because that's so much easier than showing up for the show sober.  Her musical director also reports that they had to keep lowering the keys of the songs during rehearsal, so that she'd be more likely to hit the high notes during the show.  Then came a rehearsal for the Academy Awards where she was fired by Burt Bacharach, because she couldn't remember what song she was supposed to sing ("Over the Rainbow"), and sang a different one instead. Then on a TV special to celebrate 30 years of Michael Jackson's music, she looked extremely thin, and the rumors of drug use began again.  Finally in 2002 she admitted to drug use in a TV interview, confirming what everyone pretty much knew at that point. (Repeated in 2009 in another interview with Oprah in 2009...)

I'm not going to get a break from this topic, it seems, because I've got two more docs about deceased music stars coming up next, which will take me to the halfway point of my chain, but then I think I've got a few on the list that are about people who are still living, like Clive Davis and Bruce Springsteen.  Geez, I hope I didn't just put a bad hex on them.  Then in a little over a week I'll be covering films about Michael Jackson and James Brown, and that mark be the end of Phase 2.  Phase 3 could be a completely different animal, with films about the Beach Boys, the Who, Frank Zappa and David Bowie (or heck, maybe just more of the same...) but then I'll wrap things up with a look at heavy metal (Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Rush and more!).

Once again today, I've supplemented the IMDB listings for a music documentary - this one was lacking in terms of both interviewed subjects AND archive footage appearances, so there was a lot for me to do.

What makes keeping track of appearances more difficult is that for the purposes of an IMDB search, an appearance in a film via archive footage doesn't count as a real appearance, so the advanced search engine doesn't show them.  But I need to keep track for my purposes, so I have to that myself in a separate list, and then add them at the end of the year to acting roles - for, say, Kevin Costner.  Footage from the movie "The Bodyguard" appears in this documentary, so I say that he's also therefore IN this film, but the IMDB apparently disagrees.  Or at least it treats that appearance in a different way.  Meanwhile, if someone performs on a film's soundtrack, or has a song appear in a film, the IMDB counts that as an "appearance", even though that performs is not SEEN on film, and I don't count that.  So if I search my IMDB list for "appearances" by Whitney Houston I'm going to find every time someone used one of her songs in a film, and then I have to discount those results.  (I'll keep track of a performer's voice if it's used as the voice of a cartoon character, but not just a vocal appearance in a song, I've got to draw the line somewhere.) 

Also starring Kevin Ammons, Tony Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Michael Baker, Tina Brown, Doug Daniel, David Foster (last seen in "Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago"), Sharlotte Gibson, Toni Gregory, Frances Grill, Cissy Houston (last seen in "Elvis Presley: the Searcher"), Gary Houston, Michael Houston, Pattie Howard, Mary Jones, Ellin Lavar, Wayne Lindsey, Kenneth Reynolds, David Roberts, Allison Samuels, Laurie Starks, Kirk Whalum, and archive footage of Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Belinda Carlisle, Peter Cetera (also last seen in "Now More than Ever: The History of Chicago"), Kevin Costner (last seen in "Hidden Figures"), Katie Couric (last seen in "Sully"), Robyn Crawford, Clive Davis (also carrying over from "George Michael: Freedom"), Merv Griffin (also last seen in "Now More than Ever: The History of Chicago"), John Russell Houston Jr., Johnny Carson (last seen in "Lovelace"), Serge Gainsbourg, Don King, Julian Lennon (last seen in "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"), Lou Rawls, Joan Rivers, Diane Sawyer (last seen in "27: Gone Too Soon"), Mike Tyson, Barbara Walters, Dionne Warwick, Barry White, Oprah Winfrey (last seen in "Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Soul Train awards

Thursday, August 9, 2018

George Michael: Freedom

Year 10, Day 221 - 8/9/18 - Movie #3,017

BEFORE: I'm back on the music beat - a couple more days of pop music, and then I can venture back to rock and roll.  And a couple of days with acts that became famous in the 1980's, then I can get back to the 1970's, but I'm comfortable in both of those decades.  Once I venture into 90's music or anything later than that, that's where I feel I'm a little out of my depth.  I feel like I know much more about someone like David Bowie or Mick Jagger than I do about Lady Gaga or Amy Winehouse.  But of course, the whole point of this is for me to learn more, regardless of the subject or the decade they performed in.

Tony Bennett carries over - that's four in a row for him.  It was very kind of him to record duets with Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga and George Michael, which ultimately made this part of my chain possible.

THE PLOT: A frank and honest account of George Michael's professional life and career, made by the main himself with various artists adding to the narrative.

AFTER: Throughout this whole documentary chain, I've had a love-hate relationship with the IMDB.  Obviously that's what makes my linking possible, knowing in advance who's going to appear in each film, I could not have done this without that resource.  But many of the listings are incomplete, particularly when it comes to archive footage or otherwise "uncredited" appearances.  That's where I've been stepping in to try to pick up the slack, so if anyone comes along this way after me (and I don't know why they would) at least they'll have more of a road map, a more complete guide to who's in each movie.  Now, sometimes the omissions make sense, in a case like today's film somebody cleared put all the names of the people who were interviewed in the credits and on the IMDB.  It follows, those people spent time appearing on camera, so naturally the director or the production company would want to publicly thank them for their efforts in the credits on-screen and on the web.

But very few people whose images appeared in archive footage received credit - either someone didn't take the time to include them, or didn't feel the need because they weren't personally involved in the creation of the film.  And that explains why, despite appearing in every piece of footage in the first 10 minutes of this film, Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of the pop duo WHAM!, was not listed in the credits or in the IMDB.  I hope it's just an oversight, and not an intentional snub - imagine making a documentary about Simon and Garfunkel, spending the first 15 minutes on their time together as a duo, and then not putting Garfunkel anywhere in the credits, that would be unthinkable. So I've stepped in and submitted additional archive footage credits to the IMDB, not only Ridgeley's name, but also 19 other people, including famous duet partners like Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney.  The full list hasn't appeared yet, but based on my track record from the last 2 weeks, I'm very hopeful that these wrongs will be made right.

Now, five people who DO get credit for appearing in this film are famous models - you might remember the famous video for the song "Freedom '90" that consisted solely of beauties like Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista lip-synching to the song, instead of George Michael doing that.  It certainly had a bunch of people in 1990 scratching their heads, because they might check out the video to see their favorite singer, and then they were presented with something entirely different.  (As a 21-year old man, I certainly wasn't complaining about seeing beautiful women for four minutes, but I really didn't understand why it was the way it was, either.)  The song was all about George struggling with his identity (no, not that one, his artistic identity) so it seemed weird that when given a chance to appear in the video for a song about that, he wasn't there at all, he refused to appear in the video.  But then again, he WAS in the video, they kept showing the same shot of him looking through a movie camera, as if he were directing the video, only he didn't direct the video, David Fincher did, and then there was an end credit that read "Directed by ???" so it seems the main intent was to confuse everyone.

All five models were interviewed (separately) for this film, and I have to say, I didn't understand the video then, and I still don't get it.  Somehow it was supposed to be sexy, but the fashions were all very weird, like a corset with motorcycle handlebars on it, and that made no sense.  And the models were strutting down this runway, then some of them were fighting, while others were singing in bedrooms or bathtubs, it was just all over the place.  It seemed like it might be trying to be futuristic, or at least progressive, but what's less progressive than treating women like sex objects or merely eye candy?  And then being interviewed all these years later, the models have nothing constructive to say about the experience, except to relate what exactly happened ("I was sitting in a bathtub, covered in glycerine...")  That's OK, honey, don't strain yourself trying to think about what it all meant.  Just sit there and look pretty.

Of course, now with some more background information, I understand that George Michael was feuding with Sony Music about what obligations he had to do to promote his work, because he felt that as a music creator, he had the right to dictate the way he could promote himself, and how much work that would entail.  So he did not agree to appear in his own music video (except there was footage of him in there, as I said, so I still don't understand it...) and suggested the models as an alternative.  Unfortunately, by not appearing he created a piece of film that then has no meaning at all.  It seems that he'd done so much work promoting his previous album that he wanted to pull back a bit, to keep from going insane.  The record company did not agree with his plan of promoting through non-promotion, the case ended up in court, with George Michael claiming that the standard record contract, by virtue of the clauses that dictate what a recording artist must do to promote an album, was a form of modern slavery.  Yeah, he lost that case, then had to buy himself back from Sony so that he could release more records on another label and have more artistic freedom.

The film also mentions the controversy that occurred when George Michael won a Grammy award (and a couple American Music Awards) for best R&B performance (Duo or Group) for a duet he recorded with Aretha Franklin, and it seems that no white man had ever won an R&B Grammy before, so the black community didn't take that well.  George fell back on the "I grew up listening to black music" line (known as the "Eric Clapton Defense") but still managed to piss off black artists, like Gladys Knight, who pointed out that it wasn't fair, because you don't see as many black artists achieving success on the "white" charts.  Oh, you mean like Michael Jackson?   This was a non-winning debate for all sides involved, because it just made people seem either petty or not apologetic enough.  It never works when you're a white guy and you claim some form of reverse racism is involved, you just sound like a crybaby.

(And if you've offended the black community before, by accepting an award traditionally won by only black people, maybe avoid using the term "slavery" later on when you sue your record company.  Just a thought...)

The best line of the whole film comes from interviewed subject Stevie Wonder, presumably when asked to weigh in on the controversy over George Michael winning an R&B Grammy, when he says, "Wait a minute, do you mean George Michael is WHITE?"  The most insightful comment on racism ends up coming from a man who literally cannot see the color of people's skin.  That's both funny and meaningful, we could all learn a lesson from that.  Why can't musicians be judged for their music, regardless of their color or any other issue?  Why does the record company have to pigeonhole everyone in order to market them?

Well, on the other hand, you're talking about a large corporation with many decades of experience in selling records, many people working on those issues with an eye on the marketplace, and maybe on some level they do know what they're talking about.  Yeah, maybe they should have given George Michael more artistic freedom and respected his right to not do interviews or appear in music videos. Or maybe they were on to something, and he should have just sucked it up, it's tough to say.  Sure, it stinks to have to do the same interview, answer the same questions, again and again for a large number of TV bubbleheads.  But at least the performer gets to control the narrative this way, they can choose which questions to not respond to, they can even come up with creative answers to bring about an intended result.

Here's what I would have recommended, back in what, 1990?  George Michael should have contacted his rep at Sony Music and said, "OK, I'll do the press interviews, because I really want to talk about my boyfriend, how he's the love of my life and my domestic partner, and how we would get married if it was only legal, and by the way, it's a shame that gay marriage is not legal, and efforts should be made to correct that, ASAP."  There's a fair chance that the Sony Music executives would have gotten back to him and said, "Well, this is a controversial subject matter, and we've decided that it would be better if you didn't do any interviews to promote the new album."  See, that way everybody wins!  The artist tried to fulfill his publicity obligations, but the record company waived their promotion demands, and the relationship between artist and management is maintained.

Because you can say whatever you want about the work produced during George Michael's contract with Sony, but at least I've HEARD of it.  I may not be a fan, but I know those songs, like "Freedom" and "Faith" and even "Kissing a Fool".  Everything after "Listen Without Prejudice", I haven't got a clue.  Gee, maybe a big record company does know something about successfully doing publicity, after all.  He released two albums on Virgin and Dreamworks labels, then went BACK to Sony for his final album - but I've never heard of anything from that album, either.  The problem with indie-type artistes when they work for major distributors (and I know this from working in indie animation) is that they always find some way to shoot themselves in the foot, so to speak, and not achieve mainstream success.

Like, my boss is off to L.A. this weekend to promote a movie that's opening in Santa Monica.  As a known animator and artist, he feels that he has to be there in person to greet the audience, introduce the film, and then lead a Q&A session after.  That's all well and good, but as his business manager, it falls on me to tell him that after he pays for his airfare, four nights hotel, and a car rental while he's in L.A., there's very little chance of making a profit from these screenings, not unless every screening is sold out every day for a week, and his cut from the theater somehow exceeds his travel expenses.  See, if you just look at the bottom line all the time, there are many things in the publicity world that don't make much sense, unless you factor in that all of those people he meets in person will feel more connected to him after meeting him, and after having a positive interaction they may be more likely to buy his movies in the future, whether on DVD or Netflix or in the theater.  That MIGHT make the trip worth it in the long run, but probably not on the balance sheet.  This is why we stopped going to San Diego Comic-Con, because outside of the publicity we got from being there, the convention, travel and shipping expenses were exceeding any profit from selling merchandise at the booth.

So at the end of the day, doing publicity really sucks, but nobody's come up with a better way to let people know about your product, whether it's an album, a film or a new toothpaste.  You've got to spend money (and time) to make money.  Complaining about that just isn't productive.

NP: What was up with that weird turntable (a Gyro SE, it seems) that was sitting next to all of the musicians being interviewed?  And then Stevie Wonder had some weird electronic instrument that allowed him to play along with it?  This might have been some strange sort of interviewing technique, but it was never explained, and I'd love to know what the heck was going on here.  Maybe the interviewed people were asked to play the record of George Michael's songs, and then tell whatever stories that the music evoked?  Why did the record have each person's name on it, were the song cuts different for each person?  Why did the record have to be on that strange platform, that made it look like a spinning cake?  My best guess is that this was some kind of experiment that just didn't pay off.

Also starring George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Elton John (last seen in "Gaga: Five Foot Two"), Mark Ronson (ditto), Nile Rodgers, Clive Davis (last seen in "Janis: Little Girl Blue"), Mary J. Blige, James Corden (last heard in "The Emoji Movie"), Liam Gallagher, Ricky Gervais (last heard in "The Little Prince"), Cindy Crawford (last seen in "54"), Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Emmanuelle Alt, David Austin, Tracey Emin, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Tatjana Patitz, Paul Russell, Tony Russell, Andy Stephens and archive footage of Andrew Ridgeley, Anselmo Feleppa, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin (last seen in "Elvis Presley: The Searcher"), Paula Abdul, Gladys Knight, Flavor Flav, Chuck D, John Lennon (last seen in "27: Gone Too Soon"), Paul McCartney (ditto), David Bowie (ditto), Freddie Mercury (last seen in "How the Beatles Changed the World"), Brian May, John Deacon, Roger Taylor, Liza Minnelli, David Frost, David Geffen, Prince (last seen in "Graffiti Bridge"), Björk, Jellybean Benitez, Margaret Thatcher.

RATING: 5 out of 10 pairs of sunglasses

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast

Year 10, Day 220 - 8/8/18 - Movie #3,016

BEFORE: OK, I realize this is a bit off-topic, but please bear with me.  The problem with watching so many films about rock stars in a row is what I've expressed - so many of them have burned out and died young, or at least the ones that people have made documentaries about.  I've covered every member of the "27 Club" and then some, and it's very troubling, depressing.  It's starting to affect me, knowing that all these people who were talented and famous couldn't keep their hands off the booze or the needles out of their arm.  Sure, there's been some balance achieved by watching films about walking dinosaurs like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, but it's not enough.  I've peeked ahead at the schedule and there's more dead pop stars stacked up like firewood, just waiting for me.

So, what to do?  How do I keep my spirits up while mired in death and destruction, which seem to go hand in hand with the rock and roll lifestyle?  I look for an antidote - actually two antidotes, comedy and people with longevity.  After Tony Bennett turned up in the last two documentaries on Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga (and realizing he's in the next film also) I remembered that he also appeared in this documentary about people who are active in their 90's.  This just HAS to be the opposite of the "27 Club", it's the "90 Plus Club" - so I had this one down at the bottom of my list, with docs about Joan Rivers and Robin Williams (umm, yeah, more death and depression there...) so I'm moving this one up on the list in the hopes it's a very positive film, and thus I can achieve some balance.

Tony Bennett opens this film with his rendition of "The Best Is Yet to Come", so I think I'm making a smart move here.  It's helpful to know that I've got three extra slots before the end of the year, so I can drop this one in and now I only have to add two more horror films in October, and perhaps I'll finish 2018 right on schedule.   This one doesn't have to officially count as part of the Rockumentary chain, it's just a little break from it.  I'll get back to dead music stars tomorrow. 

THE PLOT: Carl Reiner tracks down several nonagenarians to show how the twilight years can be rewarding.

AFTER: They say in life you have to take the bad with the good - well, there's been much too much bad around here lately, so I needed something life-affirming, and this is going to have to do.  This is a portrait of some famous actors who are over the age of 90, but also some regular people who have also lived that long - a war veteran, a painter, a notable fashion designer and a few musicians (a pianist and also a harmonica player).  Society has told us that we need to retire at age 65, and that by the time we reach 70, we should be in a home somewhere, staring at the walls and complaining about the nursing home staff who we're SURE are stealing our loose change.  Well, screw that, because these geezers are dancing, doing gymnastics, performing at cafés overlooking Central Park, and they're keeping busy, despite the fact that they're essentially in EXTRA INNINGS time.

Surely there must be some collective wisdom to be mined from their experiences, right?  Tips on how to grow old gracefully, hell, I'd settle for tips on how to grow old at all, graceful or not.  Diet, exercise, daily aspirin - what's the magic formula?  Well, I guess that depends on who you ask, because there's no clear consensus on how these people GOT to be in their 90's, which makes the cynical part of me wonder if they were just lucky.  Sure, somebody's bound to make it to their 90's, I guess it happens to be THESE people.  But then again, the woman who started running when she was in her 50's seems to be a clear indicator that daily exercise should probably be part of everyone's plan.  Yeah, I'll get right on that when I finish all of my movies.  Seriously, though, I'm turning FIFTY later this year, and this does give me some hope.  If 90 is like the new 70, then maybe 50's the new 35 or something.

I've heard of ladies who live to be 105 or 106, and the news sometimes reports that their secret is a shot of whiskey every day, so there's hope beyond all the yogurt and granola, I think.  Of course, if I celebrate my birthday each year with a big plate of barbecued meat, I'm probably not doing myself any favors.  But who wants to live longer if you're not enjoying what you eat?  For that matter, who wants to live to be 90 if you have to waste so much time exercising in order to get there?  Nobody's dying words are ever "I should have exercised more..." so I tend to think the opposite holds true - you might live longer if you run five miles a day, but when you do the math, how much of your extra time was then wasted on running, instead of enjoying your life?

The title, of course, comes from the old joke about an elderly man's daily routine - "I get up, read the paper, check the obituaries, and if I don't see my name listed, I go back to bed."  I guess changing it to "eat breakfast" demonstrates a more positive attitude towards getting on with one's day.  But Reiner's got a great follow-up story in what happened one day when he checked the obits and he DID see his name there, or at least his picture.  Unfortunately, Reiner tips the joke by putting the follow-up story first, so that later in the film, when he tells the joke to an audience (at a special screening of his film "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid") then the joke doesn't land with the home audience.  I've got to call a NITPICK POINT here, they should have opened the film with Reiner talking to the audience and telling that joke in response to an audience member's question, then showed the follow-up story where he sees his own picture in the obituary column, then followed that with the opening credits.

And this celebration of longevity is marred a little bit by the realization that since this film was made, two of its subjects have passed away - Fyvush Finkel in 2016 and Patricia Morison in 2018 - Morison was in the last Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone in it, released in 1946!  The film also checks in with Kirk Douglas, who had a stroke 20 years ago but has not let that slow him down, he even performed a one-man show about his life, despite having difficulty talking.  Plus there are shout-outs to George Burns, Estelle Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld's mother, who are also no longer with us.

I wish that there could have been more in-depth analysis here about HOW these people managed to live so long, because if you just go by their interviews, you might draw the conclusion that they've stayed alive just by keeping busy, or by having a hobby or activity that gives them a reason to get up each morning.  How many of them have not smoked, drank heavily or not taken drugs?  Because after realizing how many drug users don't make it past 27, I'd prefer to make a comparison.  As it is, from all the Jewish nonagenarian comedians seen here, one might draw the conclusion that the secret to long life is eating kosher.  Eh, I'd give it a try, I love going to delis except I can't live without the Swiss cheese on my reuben sandwiches.

Maybe there's no special formula, except to have a positive attitude, keep busy and don't over-indulge on anything, except maybe dancing.  That seems to have worked for Dick Van Dyke, who's as limber now as ever, and in 2012 married a woman half his age.  (See, there's a reason to get up in the morning...)

So mission accomplished, I feel a little better now and I've achieved some kind of balance.  For every Jim Morrison, it's good to know that there's a Carl Reiner out there.  For every Janis Joplin, there's a Betty White.  For every Brian Jones there's a Stan Lee or a Norman Lear, and for every Jimi Hendrix there's a Dick van Dyke.  There's your new anti-drug campaign right there, you're welcome.

Also starring Carl Reiner (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Mel Brooks (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Kirk Douglas (last seen in "Lust for Life"), Fyvush Finkel (last seen in "The Crew"), Norman Lear, Stan Lee (last seen in "Avengers: Infinity War"), Dick Van Dyke (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Betty White (last seen in "The Story of Us"), Patricia Morison (last seen in "Dressed to Kill"), Dave Grusin, Jerry Seinfeld, Iris Apfel, Alan Bergman, Dan Buettner, Irving Fields, Stan Harper, Ida Keeling, Shelley Keeling, Eric Marienthal, Jim "Pee Wee" Martin", Raymond Olivere, Colton Pence, Tao Porchon, George Shapiro, Harriet Thompson, Arlene Van Dyke, Terry Wollman, with archive footage of or cameos from Conan O'Brien (last seen in "Sandy Wexler"), Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), Tom Scott, Nathan East, Queen Latifah (last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Leeves, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick, Estelle Reiner and Yul Brynner. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 talk-show appearances