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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Top 3 from November 3, 2013

One – Harry Nilsson from Aerial Ballet

Brilliant song, brilliant arrangement. Rhodes piano, double bass, cello, flute, harpsichord. Eventually, the triple tracked lead vocals split apart in counterpoint. From Nilsson's truly genius period. The Aimee Mann / Jon Brion remake is brilliant in it's own way, adding vocal counterpoint and interpolations from elsewhere in Aerial Ballet, but this a true masterwork.

Street Hassle – Lou Reed

From the New York Times' “Music of Lou Reed” page
First heard this song in it's brilliant use in The Squid and the Whale. The string arrangement is fantastic, two each of cello and bass. Lou reaches back to the arty aspects of the Velvet Underground (not exclusively Mr. Cale's domain), which he didn't revisit as much as the rock 'n' roll or the pretty pastoral parts. Kudos to the Times for leaving in all the dirty words (and this song has all the dirty words).

Bigger Than Life – directed by Nicholas Ray (1956)

The film Ray made after Rebel Without a Cause, stars James Mason as a schoolteacher driven mad by his life saving medication. This craziness comes to a suburbia which I suspect Ray thinks is a bit crazy already, through a person who seemed due to be driven mad by something eventually. As we find him in the opening, hiding his second job from his wife and pretending he's not sick he hardly needs the drug's help. (As an aside, I think having James Mason play a taxi dispatcher and not hearing him at the job was a cop-out). Mason (producer as well as star) and Ray sometime seem to be not quite together, but there is some great stuff here, such as the scene where Mason drills his son (an annoyingly 50's type kid, on the one hand stupid, on the other spouting clunky grown-up dialog) on math problems in a harshly and unnaturally bottom-lit den, where Mason casts bigger-than-life shadows. After the top has been gone over, we get a too-pat ending, which Ray seems in a hurry to get through. The Criterion DVD has an insightful commentary from Jonathan Letham, much more engaging and insightful that the one that plays over the movie) and a 70's interview with Ray by a not-quite natural seeming Viliage Voice film writer.

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