Category Archives: Music/Performance

Expresso Bongo (1959)

“You’ve got a chip on your shoulder and a H-bomb in your pants.”

British pop idol Cliff Richard stars in an early film role in Expresso Bongo–the story of a naïve young, talented lad who’s discovered by an unscrupulous agent (Laurence Harvey). Set in Britain in the late 50s, much of the film gravitates around the beat cafés springing up on the London scene.

Talent agent Johnny Jackson (Laurence Harvey) lives off of the income of his patient, long-suffering stripper girlfriend, Maisie (Sylvia Sims) while he scours the dives, burlesque shows and cafes of London on the hunt for new talent. Jackson gets lucky one night when he hears the impromptu performance of young Herbert Rudge. While Herbert longs to play the bongos, his real talent is found in his Presleyesque crooning which drives the girls wild.

Jackson knows a good thing when he spots one, and so he decides to sign working class Herbert under exclusive contract at outrageous terms. Guileless and naïve Herbert doesn’t know any better, and soon he’s playing at gigs arranged by the pushy, exploitive Jackson.

With self-interest foremost on the agenda, Jackson tirelessly and unscrupulously promotes Herbert. There’s nothing he won’t sink to, and he eventually brings Herbert–now renamed Bongo Herbert–to the attention of Mayer (Meier Tzelniker) the head of Garrick records, and to a predatory, older American woman, “fabulous grafter” Dixie Collins (Yolande Dolan), who may or may not have Herbert’s best interests at heart.(“Much fancied film star stables unbroken street Arab.”)

Packed with lively witty dialogue Expresso Bongo really is a marvelous film, and it’s no wonder that Kino rereleased this crisp, clean print. On one level, the story, laced with humour and irony, explores the budding career of Herbert, but on another level, Herbert’s story is representative of any talent harnessed into show business. While it takes the slimy, streetwise Jackson to discover Herbert and promote him aggressively, it takes a bigger entity, possibly every bit as corrupt, to take Herbert to the next level of fame. Sub plots include Maisie’s tacky, talentless performances at a London burlesque show and her problematic relationship with Jackson. For fans of Cliff Richard and/or Laurence Harvey, Expresso Bongo is a lot of fun. On another note, some of the songs originally in the film are cut from this version. From director Val Guest.

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Cover Girl (1944)

“Keep your nightlife down and your hopes up.”

Fans of the glorious Rita Hayworth will want to check out her 1944 film Cover Girl, a musical directed by Charles Vidor and costarring Gene Kelly. In the film, Brooklyn chorus girl Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth), the love interest of theater owner Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) enters a competition to become cover girl for the 50th anniversary issue of Vanity Fair. Nervous and armed with malicious advice from fellow chorus girl, Maurine (Leslie Brooks), Rusty blows the audition with Stonewall Jackson (Eve Arden), the wry assistant to magazine owner, John Coudair (Otto Kruger).

When Stonewall and Coudair travel to McGuire’s small Brooklyn theatre to check out Maurine as a possibility, Coudair catches a glimpse of the lovely Rusty on stage. She reminds him of the woman he loved and lost 40 years ago, and he’s determined not to let Rusty get away. Rusty become Vanity Fair’s cover girl, and soon conflicts with Danny push her away from McGuire’s theatre to Broadway. Here she’s courted by the wealthy Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman).

Rita Hayworth sings and dances a number of songs here. The voice is not her own, but she still moves like a dream and what’s more she looks wonderful. My favourite Hayworth film is still Gilda, and Cover Girl is more of a wartime fluff piece than anything else. Cover Girl, with its theme that money can’t buy love or happiness, gives us another look at Rita (Mrs. Orson Welles at the time)–not quite as polished as she appeared in Gilda.

There is also one great dance sequence by Gene Kelly (on loan from MGM) as he dances with a shadowy alter ego. He makes a great dance partner for Rita, and in this film, the two main stars are teamed with a sidekick, named “Genius,” played by Phil Silvers. The film has shreds of humour, and Stonewall Jackson seems to have the best lines in the film:

“This mania you have for peering at these creatures in their native haunts.”
“I wear myself out wading through 10,000 girls, and out of the whole 10,000 you chose a red-headed nervous breakdown.”
“That one isn’t a girl–she’s a leaping thyroid!”

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Lifestyles of the Ramones (1990)

“Hurry, hurry, hurry, before I go loco.”

Fans of the Ramones should do themselves a huge favour and hit the order button for the video “Lifestyles of the Ramones.” It’s 58 minutes of terrific entertainment, and it will renew your passion for the band. The video includes music videos and performance footage of the following songs:

“Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”
“We Want the Airwaves”
“Psycho Therapy”
“Time Has Come Today”
“Howling at the Moon”
“Something to Believe In”
“I Wanna Live”
“I Wanna be Sedated”
“Pet Semetary”
“Merry Christmas”
“I Believe In Miracles”

The video begins with a voice-over that mimics Robin Leach–the host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”–and shows Joey in his lair. Songs alternate with interview clips & footage of the Ramones and their many friends. Interviewees include: Blondie, Anthrax, Chris Isaak, the Talking Heads, Joey’s mum, and many executives from the record industry. But obviously the very best thing about this video is the Ramones. Watching them brought back the very powerful feelings that their music always evokes for me–their energy, zest for life, and irreverent, outrageous sense of humour were amazing. I love the Ramones, and I’ll treasure this tape. To quote Richard Bingenheimer, DJ, “when the word ‘Punk’ was put in the dictionary, it was meant for the Ramones. This is real Punk Rock.”

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Antics in the Forbidden Zone

“I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention.”

The VHS tape “Adam Ant: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” includes videos of 13 songs from Adam and the Ants made between the years 1980-1985. Songs include:

1.Kings of the Wild Frontier
2.Dog Eat Dog
3.Antmusic
4.Stand and Deliver
5.Prince Charming
6.Ant Rap
7.Goody Two Shoes
8.Friend or Foe
9.Desperate But Not Serious
10.Puss N’ Boots
11.Strip
12.Apollo 9
13.Vive Le Rock

While Kings of the Wild Frontier is performed in the studio, the other 12 songs are music videos. Several of the videos are based around popular fairy tales, and these themes are perfect for Adam Ant’s flair for theatrics. Who can forget Adam Ant as a highwayman or as a medieval knight? Prince Charming is perhaps the most elaborate music video and includes Diana Dors as the Fairy Godmother–with flashes of Adam Ant dressed as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper, Rudolf Valentino, and Marlon Brando.

The music videos allow Adam Ant to show his acting ability, and he really hams it up at times–once even standing next a huge bodybuilder. Fans will remember these videos from MTV, and it’s great to see them again compiled together in this 50 minute VHS tape. While the images are not crisp and clear, the quality is not bad (the first sequence, Kings of the Wild Frontier, is the poorest quality). There are also a lot of good close-ups. So here’s Adam Ant once more–with all his wild energy, and zest for life. Will there be a DVD release? Let’s hope so, but in the meantime, this VHS tape is staying in my collection.

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Liberace in Las Vegas (1980)

“Well look me over. I didn’t dress like this to go unnoticed.”

Lovers of Camp sooner or later discover Liberace, and the videotape Liberace in Las Vegas, at slightly less than 90 minutes, is a Liberace performance at the Las Vegas Hilton recorded in 1980. With numerous flamboyant costume changes, and over-the-top special effects, it’s easy to see why Liberace was known as Mr. Showmanship. Liberace plays the piano, and sings while entertaining a rapt, adoring audience with his usual infectious optimism and unabashed, unapologetic rampant consumerism. One of the fascinating things about Liberace is the demographics of his fan base, and so watching him in action as he takes command of the stage is always an exercise in understanding Liberace’s phenomenal success.

The film begins with scenes of Liberace in one of his mansions. Then Liberace arrives onstage at the Hilton in a pink and silver classic Rolls Royce and wears a fur coat that trails several feet to the rear. But there is no shortage of glittery costumes, and Liberace even removes one of his cloaks to the sound of strip music at one point. He plays a range of music–boogie-woogie, a Strauss medley, and even some disco. Various other performers add to the fun–including the Ballet Folklorico de Nacional de Mexico and singer Mario Valenti. There’s a good deal of audience repartee centering on Liberace’s outfits and jewelry–naturally, there’s a High Camp Factor (HCF) throughout, and that’s why I’m a Liberace fan. After all, he’s “famous throughout the world for his candelabra.”

Liberace ends his performance with one of my favourites–the ever popular, I’ll Be Seeing You. The VHS film lacks sharpness, and unfortunately the colours are somewhat faded, but Liberace’s Joie de Vivre is still perfectly evident.

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Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks (2002)

“How can you ban words?”(John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten)

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is a behind the scenes look at the making of the GREAT Sex Pistols’ album. The documentary is about 50 minutes long (with approximately 40 minutes of bonus features), and includes interviews with surviving, original band members John Lydon, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Also interviewed are: Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McClaren, various rock journalists, record executives, and technical people who were involved in putting the album together. Some of these interviews include conflicting comments about the band (for example, on the subject of Glen Matlock’s departure), and the juxtaposition of these conflicting statements will fascinate the Sex Pistols fan.

There are also video clips of performances from several of the album’s tracks, and footage of the performance of EMI (as well as the background story to why the song was written in the first place). The film’s narrative covers some of the highlights in the Pistols’ career–the Bill Grundy debacle, the Jubilee barge on the Thames (John Lydon: “It was fun letting off a storm outside of parliament“), and the various record company contracts. The band members all comment on the addition of Sid Vicious to the Pistols, and Lydon expresses some insightful comments on Sid’s ultimate self-destruction. Steve Jones plays many of the now-famous rifts on his guitar, and his segments reveal a pleasant sense of humour laced with an element of nostalgia.

The interviews with John Lydon were the highlight of the DVD. Almost 30 years after Lydon’s Sex Pistols’ days, Lydon still has the same demented look in his eyes, and he is clearly an articulate, intelligent, freethinking rebel who possesses an amazing clarity of vision. His sheer force of character created many riveting scenes. Fans of the Pistols won’t want to miss this DVD.

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Sex Pistols: Last Winterland Concert

“To people like me, there is no order.”

The Sex Pistols broke up in 1978 at the end of the infamous, disastrous North American tour. Their last concert took place at the Winterland in San Francisco on January 14. The DVD Sex Pistols: Last Winterland Concert is the footage from that historic performance.

On the DVD, the Pistols perform the following songs:
God Save the Queen
I Wanna Be Me
Seventeen
New York
EMI
Belsen Was a Gas
Bodies
Holidays in the Sun
Liar
No Feelings
Problems
Pretty Vacant
Anarchy in the UK
No Fun
(performed in the encore)

The Sex Pistols are tired, and there’s an obvious lack of cohesion between the band members. Johnny maintains his demented look and excellent diction throughout the performance, and Sid sneers at the fans. In between songs, Steve Jones idly plays a few notes on his guitar while ignoring insults from the crowd. Throughout the show, the Pistols are pelted with various objects and the love-hate relationship they have with the fans is evident. Johnny’s deliver of the song EMI at Winterland should be compared to his performance of the same song on the DVD Never Mind the Bollocks: We’re the Sex Pistols. The contrast between the two live performances is staggering. When the Pistols perform No Fun for the encore, it’s obvious that this is an ironic choice–the band is discordant and far from their best. So it comes as no surprise that this was their last performance and the band broke up shortly after the Winterland show. Johnny terminates the concert with that famous line “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” A good companion piece to this DVD is the book, 12 Days on the Road with the Sex Pistols by Noel Monk, the North American tour manager. The Sex Pistols: Last Winterland Concert is about 60 minutes long, and it’s an essential addition to a Sex Pistols collection, and as evidence of the band’s final disintegration, it’s priceless. We all know there will never be a reunion show….

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