Friday, December 22, 2006

Listen Up! The best of 2006 [I think].

Okay. Music was released in the past 365 days [or there abouts]. And since this is my blog, I’m going to give you my opinion as to what the best of it was.

My top ten, in no particular order:

This is ridiculous. Every time this guy releases an album, it's, at the very least, outstanding. Often it's groundbreaking. Usually it's genius. And this time around, he casually put out a three-disc set — the sort of thing that’s usually reserved for retrospectives and The Clash, when they decide they want to put out “Sandinista.” And “Sandinista” was pretty uneven. “Orphans” is pretty damn close to perfect. I recommend paying close attention to his rendition of “Heigh Ho,” which he first recorded about 20 years ago. Those dwarfs were pretty fucking creepy and he sings it accordingly. Other than that, it’s just Tom Waits being Tom Freakin' Waits. And that, ladiies and gentlemen, is a very, very good thing.

I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for about ten years now, and they’ve almost never let me down. [Check out “The Boy With The Arab Strap.”] When I heard they had a new album coming, I just figured they were going to do the same thing they'd done in their past couple albums. And by "past couple albums," I mean "entire career." Not that that was bad. But this time around, they replaced delicate melodies with volume. I’d always presumed that it never would have worked. I was wrong. Sue me. G'head. G'head. My counsel says you don't have a leg to stand on.

Last year, Sufjan Stevens put out “Come On Feel the Illinoise!” which was probably the best of 2005. This year he released its outtakes. How is it possible that an album of outtakes can be this good? I ask you, how? HOW???? Don’t answer. It was rhetorical. No, really, how is it possible? Answer me. Why is it every time we start talking about this, you find an excuse to leave the room? What about MY needs? Is it too much to ask you to listen to ME once in a while?? Y’know what? Forget it. I’m moving to Fresno to live with my parents.

I'm a big fan of this one for several reasons. The first being that the tracks are just plain great. The second being that Neko Case has an outstanding voice. Maybe the second-best around. I say “second-best” because of the third reason this CD is so good. One of her backing vocalists on this one is Rachel Flotard of the band Visqueen, who, for my money, has the best female voice in rock. [Buy Visqueen’s catalogue on iTunes.] The combination of the two voices is deadly.

Not much to say about this one, except, damn! I mean… damn! A friend of mine sent me one of their tracks with the message, “this is your new favorite band.” And even though that’s not quite accurate…. DAMN.

Ms. Marshall has put together a yet another package of songs. It's hard to top "We Are Free," but this one comes close. One thing, though: if you have a seizure disorder, treat the cover art like it's the sun. Reflective hot pink. Smart thinkin'.

The first music I can recall as a kid was Johnny Cash. I think it was “Live At San Quentin.” My dad has always been a huge fan. Anyhow, this one is an excellent farewell gift from the Man in Black. Worth it for "God's Gonna Cut You Down" alone. As much as I love his earliest work, an argument can be made that some of his best recordings were made in the last dozen years of his life. There’s something about the fragility of his voice that elevates the emotion and the meaning of the tracks.

Phil Spector's wall of sound meets kilts, haggis, and the Loch Ness Monster. That big, shiny sound hasn't sounded this great in years. Infectious tracks, seamless production. Camera Obscura used to be the stepsister to Belle & Sebastian. Not anymore. If you like hooky, smart songs, this is the CD for you. If you don't, I recommend Dave Mathews. Why? Because he blows. [Hey, I just calls 'em like I sees 'em. Admit it. You agree.]

There’s a reason Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan. It’s because he’s Bob Dylan. I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to the bands of the 60’s putting out new music today. I don’t think age should make a damn bit of difference. That said, it’s safe to say none of them is exactly in danger of topping anything they did in their collective prime. Nevertheless, I give ‘em a shot. Then there’s Bob Dylan [who, by coincidence is Bob Dylan]. I’m not a Dylan fanatic. But I do like him quite a bit. I own most of his albums; I actually like his voice; I think “Like A Rolling Stone” was one of the most important songs of the 60’s and it was a ballsy song to play at the Newport Folk Festival. But I’m not a student of the guy. HOWEVER! This album is tremendous. It’s a shining example of why Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of any era. [In other words, why he's Bob Dylan.] Even if you don’t like him, chances are, you’ll love this one. It would be the best of the year, were it not for…

...this tremendous work of art. Okay. I lied. I guess there is SOME order to this list, because I’m ending with the very best of the year. This CD is remarkably good and unexpected. Completely different than any other album on this list. It’s a brilliant album front to back. And I’m proud to say that it features the track "A Method," which I used in the "Chloe" project. In fact, it's featured in the key scene. And I’m forever grateful to TVOTR. Hats off, gentlemen. Buy this. Now. Go to iTunes and buy it.

Honorable Mention:

Their first major label effort — often just what a band needs in order to suck. This one manages to escape sucking, and then some.

I thought "You Are the Quarry" was great. This one is better. Plus, it has the lyric, "Take anyone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania just spare me." He hates Pittsburgh because we/they bitch about him. The problem is that we/they bitch about him because he always cancels shows there. But it still makes for a great lyric.

Great CD, but an even better title.

The track "Funeral" is featured in "I Remember Chloe" because… because… well, because I like it. This is a good'un. Buy it and you'll be happy.

I had no choice. It’s Declan McManus and he’s gonna make the list no matter what.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Without whom none of this would have been possible.

I’ve mentioned several times how tremendous Steve Parys, Jeff Garton, and the crew were, but I’ve never talked about the talent in front of the camera.

Eryn Joslyn, Alex Hooper, and Theo Allyn — three actors who made the biggest impact on the project, performance-wise. But more than that, they taught me how to direct. Yeah, I’d directed before, but they taught me more in twelve days than I’d been taught in the years since my time at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

The point I'm clumsily trying to make is that great actors create great directors.
[Above, Theo, Eryn, and Alex on the set, prepping to shoot "Some Bad Fish."]

The single most important lesson I learned was that actors should learn their lines frontwards, backwards, and every other kind of wards imaginable. Then forget them. Given the option, I’d rather an actor go with his or her intuition than to follow the words I’ve written on the page. Unless, of course, I want mediocre performances. And given the three actors in question, a mediocre performance was highly unlikely. Had we the time, they could have created whole scenes only roughly based on the writing.

Having worked with her closest, my lead actress, Eryn, taught me the most. She knew exactly what questions to ask and how to ask them. She navigated the dialogue with seemingly great ease. And she always brought her own ideas to the the part and the set. In short, she became Chloe. So much so, I don’t even remember what my image of Chloe had been for the six years prior to production. She managed to erase that image and replace it with her own interpretation.

Eryn was the lynch pin to this whole thing and I’ll forever be indebted to her. I’d take her over any actor anywhere. Bar none. She was meant to play the role and the very fact that I found her when I did is beyond belief.

So let me give you some advice: the next time you want to make a movie, give yourself one week to find all of the actors, be dissatisfied with the choices for the lead role, search for a choice you can live with and do so during Fourth of July weekend (when the rest of the world is on vacation), go online to find someone you can live with, convince her you’re not a stalker, audition her, come to realize — within the first thirty seconds — that she’s exactly the actor you’ve been looking for, and give her the role on the spot.

Successful casting is that easy.

Los Angeles is a work of fiction.

Not just because of all of the augmentation, of which there is much. It’s also fiction because so many of the people are synthetic, which is in no way a shock, but it always makes for interesting viewing. Everywhere you go there are people posing as stars and selling themselves – or I should say, their souls. Everybody wants to be somebody. Somebody should tell them that they’re vapid, but somebody’s too busy trying to be somebody. [I think I just pulled a muscle.] There are a lot of people walking around with meaningful pouting on their faces, auditioning for the next U2 album cover. And that’s a lot of pouting — I mean, “The Joshua Tree” alone... The problem, I suspect, is that they don’t realize that “star” isn’t a respectable job. “Actor” is much more respectable and, on very rare occasion, far more lucrative.

Then there are what is referred to as “star-fuckers.” You, me, and most of the free world refers to these individuals as “ass kissers,” [it’s my understanding that the Swiss do not] but, hey, when in Rome, right? In any case, the star-fuckers are the ones who kiss up to Doogie Houser, whom I saw at a restaurant, surrounded by a group of people comprised entirely of the aforementioned type of individual. This said, I, evidently, am not a star-fucker, because I could have cared less. (I think I could take him in a street fight. No, wait— I KNOW I could take him. And if that little bastard would have so much has glanced at me oddly… well, let’s just say he’d have needed that medical degree. Fictitious or otherwise. Neither Harold nor Kumar could have helped him. [I’m like a wildcat. Don’t cross me.]

Fortunately, I’ve been meeting with genuine people. Managers, agents, and directors — people you’d expect to be fake, but, strangely enough, aren’t. It’s possible I could get work out here. To be more accurate, without going into detail — well, avoiding detail like the plague — things have gone unbelievably, insanely, ridiculously and outrageously well.

In fact, I’ve found my calling. And that calling is to be Neil Patrick Harris’ personal assistant.

I start the first of the year.