Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from Chronological Snobbery. Rest easy, enjoy the holiday, be certain to watch some college football, and most importantly, stuff yourself with trytophantastic turkey (not unlike Superman is stuffing himself with burgers on the cover of Action Comics above).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fifteenth Anniversary: The X-Files - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (October 13, 1995)

Fifteen years ago today, on October 13, 1995, "The X-Files" aired what might be its best, and most philosophical, episode, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." Concerned with dilemmas presented by fate, and guest starring the late Peter Boyle, the episode garnered much popular and critical acclaim. We here at Chronological Snobbery remember this episode fondly, and for its fifteenth anniversary, we present this piece, which includes not one but four original interviews with members of the episode's cast, those being Dwight McFee, Greg Anderson, Frank Cassini, and Stu Charno (who played the villain, known only as "The Puppet.").

The fourth episode of the series' third season, it finds itself nicely situated in that period in which "The X-Files" had an immense amount of cultural currency but had yet to become the insufferable show with a myriad unanswered questions (which remained unanswered just to keep the show afloat and on the air). It was written by Darin Morgan and directed by David Nutter. Boyle played Bruckman, a psychic insurance salesman who can foresee the circumstances of other people's deaths (a helpful trait in that industry). The episode's plot was typical for the series; someone is killing phony fortune tellers, so Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) use Bruckman and his gift to try to foil future murders. But the episode is deeply philosophical, as it explores the possible futility of existence if everything is preordained and the paradoxes presented by the concept of free will. In so doing, Mulder and Bruckman discuss fate and foresight in the following exchange:
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: How can I see the future if it didn't already exist?

FOX MULDER: Then if the future is written, then why bother to do anything?

CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Now you're catching on.
It's that type of fatalistic dialog that makes the episode a true gem.

But the episode begins with a murder. In a fit of frustration or symbolism, the mysterious killer cuts out the eyes and entrails of Madame Zelma, a fortune teller. Late at the crime scene, a group of assembled police officers discuss the bizarre nature of the crime. They anticipate the arrival of a novel investigator with strange methods - not Mulder (as we are led to believe), but The Stupendous Yappi, a telepsychic, with a penchant for investigating crimes. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the scene, they are ultimately dismissed by the police, who prefer Yappi.

While the local police follow Yappi's would-be leads, Mulder and Scully stumble across Bruckman, who comes across their radar after he discovers the body of one of the victims. Bruckman possesses a great deal of knowledge about the killer and the killings, leading Scully to suspect that Bruckman may in fact be the killer, while Mulder realizes he is simply clairvoyant. Mulder attempts to convince Bruckman to help them catch the killer, but Bruckman is at first reluctant. But then he realizes that meddling with the future he sees in his mind might create a paradox that ultimately negates his own existence. On this point, he elaborates:
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Well, you see, that's another reason I can't help you catch this guy. I might adversely affect the fate of the future. I mean, his next victim might be the mother of the daughter whose son invents the time machine. Then the son goes back in time and changes world history and then Columbus never discovers America, man never lands on the moon, the U.S. never invades Grenada. Or something less significant, resulting in the fact that my father never meets my mother and consequently, I'm never born.
Upon that last thought, he reconsiders and offers his help.

Bruckman soon realizes that the killer has some type of psychic power of his own and that he, the killer, knows about Bruckman's assistance to the FBI. When this becomes apparent, Scully and Mulder put Bruckman into some type of protective custody at Le Damfino Hotel. But as the fates would have it, that is the very hotel where the killer works as a bellboy. Coincidence?

But even before that, Bruckman knows his time is up. "I'll be dead before you catch this guy, no matter what you do," he tells the two FBI agents. That prognostication proves correct.

Mesmerizing in his fatalism, Bruckman knows he cannot escape his fate. For him, the future is written and immutable, he can foresee it, and there is nothing to be done but accept it. Before he becomes entangled with Mulder and Scully's investigation, he doesn't bother to help others whose demise he sees, because to do so would be pointless. Were he to attempt to do so, he would only become an instrument of fate and, knowingly or unknowingly, bring about the precise future he had previously foreseen. Bruckman is not unlike the often written about time traveler from the future who knows that any interference with the past will only bring about the future that he already knows has occurred. (Technically, Mulder is able to escape Bruckman's prediction of his imminent demise, but of course, the main character gets to live.).

Reached by e-mail in November of 2007, before this site went on its extended hiatus, actors Dwight McFee (pictured above), Greg Anderson, Frank Cassini, and Stuart Charno, were kind enough to submit to brief email interviews. McFee played Detective Havez, who is ultimately slain by the killer while protecting Bruckman. Cassini played Detective Cline, a local cop assisted by Mulder and Scully. Anderson played a jaded crime scene photographer, while Charno, as aforementioned, plays the killer. For the most part, I asked all four actors the same set of questions, and so for the sake of ease and clarity, I've included them below collectively.

1. You appeared in what is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of The X-Files. Looking back twelve years, how do you view it and your performance therein?
MCFEE: It's hard to believe that that was twelve years ago! However, I remember it clearly. Why do I remember it that clearly? The buzz on the set . . . was clearly that the show was taking off. The buzz was great and Mr. [Chris] Carter had nurtured the baby along with interesting and relevant stories. Cast and crew had been together for awhile, the enterprise was gelling. And now there was more money per episode. The time could be taken to make the episode as clean and perfect as possible. This episode had an several extra days to shoot. Sincerely, there was a feeling that maybe this was more than TV, but 'classic'. I don't know if you're aware of this, but each director, (in my case the inimitable David Nutter), had a small stable of actors who were used somewhat as a repertory company. In other words, we appeared in several episodes in different sized and kind of roles or voice overs. It was a thrill to be able to participate and contribute in the growth of the series. We were given the confidence of Mr. Carter and our director and it made us feel that we had a stake in making this series as good as possible. As to 'Clyde', it was early in the shooting season and it was like old home week. And we had Peter Boyle. The care that David Nutter took with the episode and the great story, well, I just knew this one was going to be good. As it turned out, my instincts were right. Regarding my performance: I did the best I could and felt it worked for the episode. I generally let other people do the judging.

ANDERSON: In all honesty, I have never seen the episode. I have seen the opening scene where I am flashing a picture of eyeballs.

CASSINI: Well, I do agree that it was one of the best episodes. It had a humor about it that was so intelligent and witty. I think it still stands up really well. Looking back at my performance is fun. Saying those lines with a straight face was challenging but it was the only way to do it.

CHARNO: I think that the idea of an insurance salesman who can see the future, is brilliant. Darin Morgan, who deservedly won an Emmy for the writing of the script, created (as he always does) some very interesting characters. Peter Boyle also won an Emmy, for playing that ironic insurance salesman, so marvelously. The Puppet, which was what my character was called in the script, "couldn't help" doing what he was doing. And all the characters he eviscerates, are fortune tellers, to whom he goes for help, to find out why he's doing these terrible things. With the first fortune teller we see the Puppet attack, played by Karin Konoval, he says to her, "you're a fortune teller . . . you should have seen this coming." Brilliant. From the view of trying to bring to life what Darin created, I took him to lunch to ask him some questions. Until that time, like the character I was playing, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. My lunch with Darin was no help. The writer's process and the actor's process aren't necessarily usefully coordinated. Darin (who is also a trained actor, and played a major character in one episode of the show) said that sometimes certain things the writer has to do, are just what the television story requires. It wasn't about the characters' logic. That was revelatory for me. As far as my performance goes, I always wish I could do it again. I see that as a general symptom of any artist, though. A performance (acting, playing an instrument, dancing, etc), is whatever runs through the artist at that moment, and looked at later, it will either "feel right" or not, to the artist. It's the unscratchable artist's itch, which continually drives them/us to make efforts/practice to improve. . . . I personally find acting, to be the most difficult art. Needless to say, this varies from person to person, but personally, I just don't like getting upset for make believe reasons -- which is what acting mostly is. If you look at anything on TV right now, you'll see actors "getting upset" for make believe reasons. Some people love doing that. I'm not one of those people. This is important, I think; I never intended to be an actor. I graduated music college, and had every intention of earning my way in the world, through music. I was sitting in a place in Manhattan, watching a friend sing, when a woman at a nearby table, who had been looking at me throughout the evening, sidled her chair over to my table, and asked, "Are you a comedian?" I smiled and said, "Well, I feel funny." She gave me her card. Yvette Bickoff was her name, and she was an agent. "Go study some acting. I want to represent you." A couple of months later, (and a couple of acting workshops later), she started sending me on auditions. I got three movies, back to back: The Chosen, Friday the 13th Part 2, and a TV movie for ABC. Now I had to learn the art of acting.
2. How did you prepare for your role as this character, and how would you describe him?
MCFEE: After I read the script and found the script ironic and kind of off beat funny, my first impression of these two detectives was that they were fish out of water. Kind of discombobulated over the whole thing. And the FBI were involved! Just think of the first scene. Camera pan to an eye in a tea cup with two federal agents! And look, I mean, the character's name is Havez. When Mr. Nutter and I talked we had a good laugh over that one. As Mr. Nutter said, this guy is even confused about his identity. My first thought was that we were going to dye my hair black and put a moustache on me (I had done that one on a double episode of "Wiseguy" with Paul Guilfoyle). But after talking with Mr. Nutter, he was right: It'll be funny and confusing to have a blond Havez. And that's where I started. Then it called to mind and I did a little research on those thirties and forties detective movies (Dick Powell, Cagney, Mitchum, etc.) where there are two detectives following the evidence while the lead really knows what's going on. The detectives are a bit klutzy and awkward, enamoured with the oddity of the situation and forgetting what they are doing. And I'd say that that was Havez. There he is, having to protect the star witness, and he's more concerned about whether he will die of cancer from smoking. And it's funny. The pulling of the cigarette from the ear and heading into the bathroom with a "Don't open that door." Then being attacked by the bellhop. Cut to a cigarette on the floor burning with a long ash. I did love that sense of seriousness and 'send up' in that episode. And with that character. One of the lovely things about that series and episode was that Mr. Carter used the supporting cast not just to deliver plot but was able to use the supporting cast integrally to establish the mood, the world that this series lived in.

ANDERSON: I remember being very happy to have this job. I also remember David Nutter saying to me, before we shot anything, "It's just a job and he (my character) is just doing his job." That is what I went for. The "seen it all before" thing. Nothing would bother me. Not even eyeballs and flesh on a table.

CASSINI: This was one of those roles where I relied more on David Nutter, the director, to guide me through because of the distinct style he was going for. Again, dry and straight. I saw the character as someone who wanted to do well. To solve this mysterious crime. So he went to work.

CHARNO: As an actor, the work that I learned (I trained for 4 years with Peter Frisch), was to put myself in a quiet creative space, and use my imagination to fill in a life for the character. With this character, I inexplicably kept coming up blank. My imagination supplied nothing. The lines in the script felt like I was just saying them -- like a puppet -- which is what Darin named the character. Suddenly, it made sense. Just saying the lines, like a puppet, with no "real internal feelings" about them, seemed the way to play it. That's all my imagination could come up with, to explain the terrible things my character was doing. He just didn't think about it. The director, David Nutter, in the scene with Peter Boyle in the hotel room, where [Bruckman] and I finally meet each other, told me to "play it very casually. Like it was no big thing." So that's what I tried to do/show. For me, some of the intensity of their meeting, is lost with that choice, but that's what directors do, to get what they want. So many arts and artists come together -- writing, acting, photography, music, sets, costumes, etc., -- and archived on film, that directing attention to any single art, loses the bigger "picture." Everyone who works, is part of what's seen, but few are actually on screen.
3. What was it like working with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson? Do you have any specific memories of him on the set that you would like to share? What about Peter Boyle?
MCFEE: I never really got to know either David or Gillian except to watch them work or with them in a scene or small chit chat waiting for the next set up. As actors, though, we got to know each other. For instance, because "Clyde" had a certain playfulness and off beat humour to it, shooting the tea scene opening was a lot of fun and you could tell David was having a gas. It was a kind of release. To be able to, I guess, not take it to seriously. Which was right in keeping with the script. It wasn't, in a way, as serious as the usual events for Mulder. But it became serious. So shooting that scene and [the Stupendous Yappi scene] was to be 'played' with for David. For Gillian, it was all serious all the time. Her work had a weight to it. Not unlike working with Richard Widmark or Cliff Robertson whom I had worked with just before this episode. However, watching them progress over the episode and the series, they had two contrasting styles. One loose and kind of improv and the other classical and straight. Which of course was perfect for the series, as well as the writing being excellent. In this episode, the two got to stretch it a bit and even they could be incredulous until they work it out. These are only observations from an actor watching and learning. Both created a thinking, working serious environment. And generous. Which was great.

As for Mr. Boyle, I had followed this wonderful actor's career since Steelyard Blues with Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda. After all, Mr. Sutherland was a Canadian. Way back then, I was doing a lot of theatre (still do) and in some instances, playing several parts in one play (not any more). Mr. Boyle played all the other parts in Steelyard and it was amazing. Plus, I had a few scenes with him! What more does a guy want. Mr. Boyle was (and you have to be when you've got a guest starring or large role when you 'drop in' on a series for one episode and a few days) totally focused on the role. Consummate in his concentration. Which is so helpful in accomplishing resonance and life in a scene. That kind of experience and craft and giving makes a scene percolate for all involved. He was a pro, God rest his soul.

ANDERSON: I had a great time on set. I remember David being very dry and funny and Gillian being very quiet. She would sit, and then all of a sudden, something very obscure would come out of her. They were both fun. Peter was great. Very intimidating. I have always been a fan of his. The thing I remember most is me coming out of my trailer and going to hair and make-up. It was very late, and the set was down town. Peter had just flown in and came from the airport to the set. I saw him, and he smiled, a tired smile. That was it. That smile and his messy hair.

CASSINI: Working with Gillian and David was great. They're both very professional and friendly. They both have the capacity to remember a lot of dialogue seemingly with ease. It was great to watch Peter at work. A real committed actor.

CHARNO: Peter Boyle was just a delicious human being. We went out for dinner one night, and a little kid came up to me and asked me for my autograph. There I was, sitting with Peter Boyle in a restaurant, and the kid wanted my autograph. I smiled, and started to look for paper and pen, when the kid asked me, "Are you Frankenstein?" I looked over my shoulder, at his parents, who were wildly gesticulating, trying to get their son to go to the other guy, Peter Boyle. Young Frankenstein. Peter happily signed. Most people don't know this; David Duchovny does a great Christopher Walken impression. He did it, under request duress, and we howled. I'd worked with David's brother, Danny Duchovny, who is a director, on some commercials over the years, also. A fun gene pool.
4. What do you think this episode says about the nature of fate, and do you agree with it?
MCFEE: What does the episode say? That all is pre-ordained? Is it? What IS inevitable? Certainly the ideologues of Globalization and corporate crony Friedmanite capitalism would have you believe it is inevitability. That all nature is Fate. I don't think that episode says that or that Clyde represents that. I think Chris Carter was saying that there is mystery out there. There are choices, choices we can't or don't make or even will make that all affect our lives. It's up to each one of us to have the strength and courage to respect that (which David and Gillian's characters have). That Clyde lives in fear of the unknown (after all the series was about fear of the unknown) and sometimes your mind can make these things happen. Maybe? Clyde sees his own death and it comes to pass! Why? We don't know. We can only be human and want to know the great mystery that is this world or dimension. If fate ran our lives and we knew how it was going to work out, then the life changing experiences like LOVE and discovery and enlightenment and eureka would not be what they are. Life changing. Fate is a rationalizationfor fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear of love. Fear of what's OUT THERE.

ANDERSON: Now, that is a hard one to answer. I remember reading the script and thinking this is cool. The fact that Clyde saw the murders, and then his own, and then to accept it. That ultimately is it, isn't it? To accept what you think you cannot change and then by accepting it, making it unchangeable?

CASSINI: I do agree with fate and that certain events cannot be pre-determined. Destiny has it's own course. In the case of Clyde, he had a gift to pre-pre-determine, which shows us it's better to not know, because in Clyde, we saw the effort and pain it cost him. The responsibility is too much to endure. He would mix things up which added to the humor, but when he did get it, it was very powerful. Great writing!

CHARNO: Fate -- or the assumption that things that happen, had to happen, I see as both true and false. We're all, both, out of our control, and completely in our control. I call this simuntaneous truth of opposites, "wiggle room." It's the amount of variation from one's natural, built-in habits, that's also, built in. "Wiggle room" is why some people can stop smoking, or lose weight, or change any behavior, and also explains why it's SO difficult to change. The way a human is built, certain behaviors are automatic, or controllable. Breathing , blinking or swallowing, are examples, as is thinking. These things will go on naturally, or they can be controlled a little bit. Wiggle room. So fate will determine your life, AND you're in complete control, at the same time.
Below are screen captures of Anderson, Cassini, and Charno:

The episode has sparked much critical commentary. (In fact, someone way more philosophical than I once analyzed this episode here.). Wrote Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:

The other performance that I take as a gift straight from Peter Boyle is his brilliant, Emmy-winning characterization as Clyde Bruckman, a lonely insurance salesman cursed with the ability to foretell the circumstances of other people’s deaths, and unable to stop conjuring up dream images about his own. In Darin Morgan’s amazingly lucid, limber and funny script for "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," one of the best hours in the entirety of the The X-Files, Bruckman is dryly amusing. But Boyle’s unique ability to access pathos without lapsing into embarrassing overmodulation, and the clarity of his stare as he doles out the most ominous information with the surety and matter-of-factness of a slightly bored salesman, is perfect to fully flesh out the painful comedy and longing buried between the lines of Morgan’s words. Boyle richly deserved the award he received for this episode, and the rejuvenated career that followed on Everybody Loves Raymond as a result. Thanks must go to Morgan for writing such a wonderful story as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” but even more so, I think, to Boyle, who, along with Gillian Anderson (Scully) and David Duchovny (Mulder), truly turned this into a classic stand-alone episode, one of the best of any TV show I’ve ever seen. Imagine this exchange between the three actors, and then go home and watch it. I can think of no better tribute to Peter Boyle, on the occasion of his death, from complications related to heart disease, than this.

Depicted above is the exterior of Madame Zelma's business, while below are the front and back of a collectible card that was based upon this episode of the series.

Some other fun notes about this episode:
  • Both writer Darin Morgan and Peter Boyle won Emmies for this episode.

  • Scully and Bruckman play cards, and of course, Bruckman, fated to die by the end of the episode, ends up the aces and eights, the dead man's hand.

  • The episode aired five days before Boyle's sixtieth birthday.

  • Damfino, the name of the hotel in the episode, comes from the name of a boat in an old Buster Keaton film.

  • Karin Konoval appears as Madame Zelma, a fortune teller murdered by the killer in the first two minutes of the episode. Efforts to reach her through her agents at King Talent in both 2007 and 2010 for an interview were unsuccessful.

  • The character, the Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker), would appear again in "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,'" which aired that same season in April of 1996.

  • The concept of prophecy is referred to in many forms, including from anthropomancy to tasseography.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kicking and Screaming - 15th Anniversary

Fifteen years ago today, on October 4, 1995, the film Kicking and Screaming was released. Three years ago, we here at Chronological Snobbery did a comprehensive piece on this film and our absolute favorite scene therein. You can read it here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Late Birthday, Chronological Snobbery.

We here at Chronological Snobbery forgot our own third birthday. Way back on August 27, 2007, this blog was born. On that date, we published our mission statement. Take a look, and continue to hold us to it (despite our apparent vacation from its daily duties). Fear not, though, dear readers, as the most substantive post ever written is prepared and in the queue for October.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Men at Work - 20th Anniversary (1990)

Twenty years ago today, on August 24, 1990, the film Men at Work was released. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the film stars Estevez and his brother, Charlie Sheen, as two eccentric California garbage men who find themselves caught up in some political and criminal intrigue. Fun fact: Leslie Hope plays the love interest of Sheen; she would go on to play Teri, Jack Bauer's wife in "24," with Estevez and Sheen's Young Guns co-star, Keifer Sutherland, eleven years later. Nearly three years ago, we here at this site did a piece on this film and our very favorite scene therein. See it here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Resquiat in Pacem: Joe Strummer (1952 - 2002)

Joe Strummer
Lead Singer, The Clash
(August 21, 1952 - December 22, 2002)

This past Saturday would have been the fifty-eighth birthday of Joe Strummer, the lead singer of the Clash, who died in 2002 at age 50. I can't say that I was fan from the beginning, or even from the middle. I was too young to really be into The Clash before they imploded and sunk into the depths of pop culture history in 1985. I became acquainted with them in several ways in the early 1990s. My parents, of all people, introduced me to the 1989 Jim Jarmusch flick Mystery Train, in which Strummer appeared as a swaggering Memphis hipster soon to be on the lam. Some friends of mine used to cover "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" during their gigs back in early high school. Most John Cusack movies are littered with Clash references. Since then, though, I've gotten into them heavily and now own all of their records. I don't subscribe to all of that hype about them being the only band that mattered, but all of their tunes were fueled with an energy that is absent in most mainstream music. A few links for you:

Joe Strummer's Internet Movie Database Profile
New York Times Obituary for Joe Strummer
BBC Collection of Joe Strummer Tributes
Entertainment Weekly Obituary for Joe Strummer
Village Voice Obituary for Joe Strummer

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pump Up The Volume (1990)

Twenty years ago today, on August 22, 2010, the film Pump Up The Volume was released. Written and directed by Allan Moyle, and starring Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, the film chronicles the exploits of a pirate radio deejay adjusting to a new high school. The soundtrack was impressive, as it included Concrete Blonde, Soundgarden, the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Bad Brains with Henry Rollins, Peter Murphy, and the Cowboy Junkies. Not bad for 1990. Of course, I need not write the perfect nostalgic piece on this film, as that task has already been accomplished by someone else. On August 27, 2008 (coincidentally, the week of the film's 18th anniversary), Ryan S. at The League of Melbotis revisited the film and gave it the nostalgia treatment. Check it out, as we here could not have said it better ourselves.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Six Feet Under Ends (August 21, 2005)

Five years ago today, on August 21, 2005, the fine HBO series "Six Feet Under" ended its four year, five season run with one of the most melancholy and beautiful series finales in recent history. The closing montage (see above), set to Sia's "Breathe Me," is the standard by which all series finales should be judged, and few series in the past few years have come close to equaling the somber magic of those last few moments.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grizzly Man - Fifth Anniversary

Five years ago today, on August 12, 2005, the documentary film Grizzly Man was released. Directed by noted documentarian Werner Herzog, the film is a captivating look at the bizarre life of Timothy Treadwell, who chose to leave civilization behind, live with bears in an Alaskan national park, and pay the ultimate price for that decision. Nearly three years ago, I did a piece on this film and the issues it raised (in which I included a brief interview with the coroner featured in the film). You can read that post here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

This week, the blog Punk Friction waxes nostalgic about Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the third studio album by Smashing Pumpkins, released back in October of 1995. See more here.

To me, this double album seemed like more of an overreach than anything else, especially in light of the fact that nearly no follow-up effort could complete with the band's prior LP, Siamese Dream. But in the past fifteen years, Mellon Collie has certainly grown on me (although I still can't quite listen to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," as I'm still recovering from its heavy rotation on rock radio from back in the day). Of course, these days, Smashing Pumpkins is without its original line-up, and it exists more as a brand and vehicle for Billy Corgan than anything else.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Snake River Conspiracy - Sonic Jihad (2000)

Ten years ago, the ill-fated Snake River Conspiracy released its first and only LP, Sonic Jihad, an unfortunate album title indeed in light of later historical developments. At its core, the group was composed of former Third Eye Blind member Jason Slater and vocalist and Hot Topic model Tobey Torres, both of whom seemed dedicated to concocting the type of brash, but mostly inoffensive, post-grunge metal popular in the late 1990s. In the annals of music history, the release is mostly unremarkable, although the album did feature upbeat covers of both The Cure's "Lovesong" and The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" (in response to which Morrissey allegedly stated was a better version that his group's original version).

At the time, music critic J.D. Considine wrote:
Goth dance music is not a sub-genre with which folks in the MTV mainstream are likely to be familiar, but Snake River Conspiracy might change that. With a sound drawing equally from alt-rock, industrial and club music, the Conspiracy - actually, just singer Tobey Torres and synthesist Jason Slater - puts a bright, tuneful sheen on the music while somehow maintaining the dark energy of goth, a formula that gives "Sonic Jihad" the heft of a hit. While the duo's studio savvy adds luster to the languorously tuneful "You and Your Friend" and the kinky-but-catchy "Vulcan," the Snake River sound is strongest when applied to cover tunes; both the Cure's "Love Song" and the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" work wonderfully well in goth dance drag.1
At the time, Torres offered these thoughts on her band's Smiths cover:
In addition to "Lovesong," "Sonic Jihad" finds the duo covering the Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" It's far more recognizable than "Lovesong."

"Since I am a huge Smiths fan," says Torres, "I thought that Morrissey did a perfect job. I just loved the way he delivers the song, so I just pretty much sang it like he did. So that one is a carbon copy in a lot of ways. But I just couldn't do it any other way, 'cause I love Morrissey. I love the way he did it, just the yearning in his voice."

He's heard it, Torres announces with a giggle.

"He said, `It's better than the original.' I'm like `No way! Shut up!' But for him to say that ... 'cause you're always hesitant to do a cover song. You always wonder what the original artist is going to think. Are they gonna think that I butchered it?"2
The album doesn't hold up too terribly well ten years later, as it appears the band was more interested in being a part of a particular scene than creating fine music. Miscellaneous images of the band from its heyday can be found below (including a news clip featuring a photograph of Torres and Morrissey, in which Moz is quoted about the Smiths cover).

1. Considine, J.D. "Listen Up." Star Tribune. August 6, 2000.
2. 2. Ed Masley, "No Whining Snake River Conspiracy Goes for the Gutsier Girl Sound," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 25, 2000.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day.

"Bastille Day," by Rush, from the 1975 album, Caress of Steel.

There's no bread, let them eat cake
There's no end to what they'll take
Flaunt the fruits of noble birth
Wash the salt into the earth

But they're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Free the dungeons of the innocent
The king will kneel and let his kingdom rise

Bloodstained velvet, dirty lace
Naked fear on every face
See them bow their heads to die
As we would bow as they rode by

And we're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, oh choirs of cacophony
The king has kneeled, to let his kingdom rise

Lessons taught but never learned
All around us anger burns
Guide the future by the past
Long ago the mould was cast

For they marched up to Bastille Day
La guillotine claimed her bloody prize
Hear the echoes of the centuries
Power isn't all that money buys

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul McCartney and Superman (1965)

Just yesterday, the fun blog Pop Culture Safari posted the above promotional still from The Beatles' 1965 film, Help!. It depicts Paul McCartney at a three layer keyboard with a series of comic books where the sheet music would ordinarily sit. If you look closely, you can see that they are all DC Comics (naturally from the mid-1960s), and to boot, they are all Superman related. Yep, the series Action Comics, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and Superman, are all represented. Building upon Pop Culture Safari's post, I decided to attempt to identify the comics in question. Not all of them are fully visible, but some of them are apparent enough to identify the issue in question. From left to right, with a few issues missing because I couldn't identify them, they are:

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, #75 (1964)

Superman #164 (1963).

Action Comics #314 (1964)

Action Comics #304 (1963)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (July 11, 1990)

Twenty years ago today, on July 11, 1990, the would-be action comedy The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine was released in theatres. What to think of this film looking back two full decades? Directed by Renny Harlin, and written by a whole host of writers, , the film was shot and conceived in the dying days of the 1980s, and it shows. Brash, rude, and obnoxious, the film served as a vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, who at that time was attempting to mainstream himself in an attempt to reach greater stardom. His effort failed, and pretty badly, at that.

I remember seeing this film in the theatres, and the experience was literally an accident. I had won a free pass from a radio station contest for a showing of Air America, which was overbooked. So, the theatre usher suggested I see another film, that being Ford Fairlane.

I knew little about Andrew Dice Clay at that time, save for the recent controversy surrounding his appearance on "Saturday Night Live" just two months earlier and the chatter of a few middle school companions who had somehow familiarized themselves with his vulgar oeuvre.

But for a mostly dumb film about a rock and roll detective featuring a reviled comic, Ford Fairlane has an odd charm to it. Clay plays the title characters, whose investigation leads him through the seedy ins and outs of the music profession, meeting a bizarre cast of characters along the way. With a range of star cameos (including Vince Neil, Tone Loc, and Priscilla Presley) and featuring Wayne Newton as the villain, the film offers some amusing pop culture moments, though it's not great cinema. (Although the film does feature Ed O'Neill performing a dance called "Booty Time," which makes it certainly worth the rental, don't you think?).

Perhaps they thought they were creating a franchise? Few emerged from this experience unscathed. Harlin also directed 1990's Die Hard II, released just a week before hand. After the Cutthroat Island debacle, though, his career never really recovered. Clay's attempt at mainstreaming failed utterly, and he is mostly remember for being a vile comic whose career never made it past the early 1990s. For the most part, this film was the end of the line for him.

I remember being particularly fond of the soundtrack to the film, which featured a new tracks by Motley Crue ("Rock and Roll Junkie"), Queensryche ("Last Time in Paris"), and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora (covering Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary."). To boot, the soundtrack began with Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love," the video for which is probably the most remembered artifact from this would-be Hollywood comedy blockbuster.

The film even spawned a brief four issue comic book series:

Here is the trailer to the film, which is heavy on Clay's obnoxious behavior:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Peter Jackson should not make movies about murdered children. His The Lovely Bones, released last year and based upon the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, attempts to create some type of macabre suburban fairy tale about the immediate afterlife of Susie Salmon (the talented child actress Saoirse Ronan), who died at the hands of the vile and villainous George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Think of it as What Dreams May Come meets Little Children.

It's a little too creepy for a film about a child in the afterlife, and a bit too sentimental for a film regarding the hidden existence of a neighborhood child killer. Really, the film doesn't know exactly what it wants to be. Treatise on the hereafter? Murder mystery? Detective story? Coming of age story? Social commentary? Whatever the case, it didn't work.

This is perhaps strange, for Peter Jackson, back in the day, made a fine film about children who are also murderers. That film, of course, was 1994's Heavenly Creatures, starring Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet as two teens who plot to kill one of the pair's mother.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (1995)

Last month saw the fifteenth anniversary of the album, Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morissette. Released on June 13, 1994, the album was huge. It was immense. For years there after, female rockers would credit Alanis and her success with this album for enabling their own success. You could not turn on the radio in 1995 without hearing one of the many singles from this album. In fact, in my mind, it is forever associated with the debut of 101.X, an alternative rock radio station which debuted in Austin, Texas in the summer of 1995 which played this album quite a bit. Alanis never quite captured that level of success again, though she attempted to return to the Jagged Little Pill well a few times since 1995, including 2005's Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, a full on acoustic version of the then ten year old album. Not too many people would admit it, but the original 1995 album was not bad, and it was certainly catchy pop rock, which is a fine thing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Off Duty XXIII

The prerequisites of daily toil keep me from offering you a substantive post today. So, content yourself with the image above, 1938's Action Comics #1, which features the first appearance of Superman. My favorite story told by comic shoppe owners - and all comic shoppe owners seem to have a variation of this tale - is the person who comes in their store in an attempt to sell a would-be copy of Action Comics #1, not realizing that it is a far, far more recent reprint, than the original issue, now worth tens of thousands. If that customer sincerely believed they had such a prize (and was not attempting to pull a fast one on the owner), they must look crestfallen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Species (1995)

Released 15 years ago today, on July 7, 1995, was Species, a mediocre sci-fi film remembered mostly for bringing the generically hot Natasha Henstridge to the attention of cinema-goers. You'll recall that Ms. Henstridge played Sil, the result of a scientific experiment gone horribly awry. Scientists, who have received a extraterrestrial radio transmission from outer space containing instructions on how to splice alien and human DNA, produce a human-alien hybrid, who ages very quickly, and ultimately takes the form of Ms. Henstridge. We must have been somewhat impressed by the premise - or Ms. Henstridge's looks - as the film reportedly made $119 million at the box office (at least according to the Wikipedia). Oh, my.

I seem to remembering renting this one sometime later in 1995, but who knows?

The fates have been cruel to the career of Ms. Henstridge, who has done very little of consequence since the mid-1990s. She certainly seemed to impress the residents of my dormitory in mid-1995, though, but fifteen years later, she's been replaced a dozen times over by whoever Hollywood elected to be the next shining young ingenue. Oh, well. Such is life.

Interesting, Species spawned a theatrical sequel in 1998 and a direct to video sequel in 2004. Then, in 2007, producers attempted to revive the "franchise" with the awful sounding direct to video Species: The Awakening (which is surely something The Signal Watch should be called upon to review at some time in the not too distant future).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Twenty One Years Ago: Nirvana at the Axiom

Twenty one years ago this week, on Saturday, July 1, 1989, the grunge band Nirvana played The Axiom in Houston, Texas. Were you there? This was well before Nirvana rose to national prominence with 1991's Nevermind, the album credited with taking punk mainstream. David Von Ohlerking - a staple of the Houston music scene - was also on the bill. Nirvana would return to Houston, of course. Their last gig took place on Monday, December 6, 1993 during the In Utero tour - just five months before lead singer Kurt Cobain would take his own life. Living in Houston at that time, I skipped that show, thinking that surely the band would return to Houston again on a non-school night. It was, of course, not to be.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Die Hard II (1990)

Released twenty years ago yesterday, on July 4, 1990, Die Hard II began the process of squandering the good will earned by the first film, released just two years before. Again starring Bruce Willis as John McLane, the film boasted a new director, Renny Harlin (who would also direct that summer's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane). The film attempted to hit some of the beats of the first film, and despite a brief cameo by Reginald VelJohnsen, the sequel did not have the heart and characterization that made it's predecessor more than a mere action movie.

This is not to say the film didn't at least try to be a solid action movie. Bonnie Bedelia returned as Holly, John's wife, and even William Atherton was back as the obnoxious television news reporter, Richard Thornburg. But the film was essentially a remake of the first film, this time set in an airport instead of a skyscraper office building. Like the Back to the Future sequels, it was fun, because we as viewers so enjoyed the first chapter, but in the end, the sequel felt too cheap and easy, like so many sequels inevitably do.

But back in 1990, we didn't know how awful this franchise would ultimately become. Just five years later, theatres would see the release of a second sequel, Die Hard with a Vengeance, about which we here at Chronological Snobbery blogged a bit on its fifteenth anniversary. But even then, this series of films had further to sink with its most recent sequel, Live Free or Die Hard.

Let's hope there's not another chapter in the works.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day. To think, we live in a country so free that someone once thought it would be a good idea to adapt a musical about our nation's forefathers into a major motion picture. We're that free. Marvel at that while you drink your flagons of beer today.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

25 Years Ago Today: Back to the Future (July 3, 1985)

It was 25 years ago that the film, Back to the Future, was released. A mythology was born (although the film would be diluted by two unnecessary sequels). To be certain, there will be much discussion on the Internets today regarding this film's place in the public memory and the hearts of the children of the eighties. But for a film, this one seemed to have particular influence. More children requested and received skateboards and guitars for Christmas in 1985 as a result of the film's release and popularity. One wonders how many children developed an interest in science as a result of the portrayal of a scientist-protagonist and the physics of time travel. Very few adolescent boys in 1985 failed to develop a crush on Lea Thompson. Sitting here today, I'm not sure I have a specific memory in my mind of seeing Back to the Future in the theatre, although I know for certain that I did (and shortly thereafter, I trekked to the local Sound Warehouse to by a cassette of the film's soundtrack). Looking back, the film remains what it was then: a clever and fun big budget Hollywood movie, something we see fewer of each year.

Happy birthday, BTTF.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Today is the Friday before the Fourth of July, and many of you may be skipping work or school to get an early start on your time off. As this festive weekend begins in earnest, we at this site wish all of our dear readers a happy and safe holiday, Please, drink only enough booze to bring yourself into a pleasantly wistful and nostalgic state so as to better experience decades old popular culture. Enjoy some fireworks, and think back to your favorite Fourth of July holiday experiences from the 1980s and 1990s. That's what we'll be doing, anyway.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bishop Allen's "July" EP

Since we do not celebrate the tradition of July Morning here in the United States, we must pause to reflect upon the arrival of the seventh month of the year in some other fashion. My suggestion: try to listen to Bishop Allen's 2006 EP, entitled July, released in, of course, July of 2006. Part of their one EP per month project that year, the July EP features "Click Click Click Click," which would later appear on their 2007 LP, The Broken String.

Bishop Allen is considered to be an indie rock band, although they do not have many of the morose staples of such groups, despite their being from Brooklyn. Indeed, there is occasionally a joy and panache to their music that is absent from many low-fi or undercooked modern rock.

That means that their music is especially appropriate for the summer months.

So, dear readers, as you find yourself a few short days away from the holiday, take a moment or two today to investigate this now four year old EP (more about which here).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, and the Space Vampire (1980)

Above you'll find a fun image from the late 1970s, early 1980s television show, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," featuring the actress Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering and Nicholas Hormann as the Vorvon. This episode, called "Space Vampire," originally aired on January 3, 1980. I remember watching this frightful episode, although I must have seen it later in reruns.

See here for a not to be missed clip from the episode in question.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Krull (1983)

It's always fun to go back and watch 1983's Krull, directed by Peter Yates, written by Stanford Sherman, and starring Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn, the hero king who sets off on a quest to rescue his bride and his kingdom from an evil creature known only as The Beast.

Fun to watch mostly because of the nostalgia that accompanies such viewings, Krull is not, standing alone, a masterful cinematic achievement. Indeed, it has not aged well. But part of the joy of revisiting the film is to see how awful special effects were in the early 1980s.

And boy, were they awful in this film. Truly, truly bad. The best part about the film is its powerful and inspiring score, done by composer James Horner.

But the most curious thing about Krull is attempt to mix the then fashionable space opera genre with the always familiar fantasy genre. Perhaps the pitch meeting went something like this: "It's Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that's the ticket." And in many ways, it is an attempt to combine those two films, but the sum is far, far less than the parts assembled to make it.

It's set in your typical sword and sorcery fantasy kingdom. There's no technology; there's certainly no way to communicate with faraway friends. People live in small villages or large castles. Humans fight with swords or axes. Magic exists. You know the drill.

But The Beast, the enemy of the world, is from OUTER SPACE. That's right. Did you remember that part? His large, menacing mountain fortress is actually a spaceship which carried him to Krull, which is the name of the planet on which the film takes place. A mighty and powerful creature known only as The Beast lands on this relatively primitive planet in his immense spaceship, and no one seems fazed by that fact. Sure, they are scared of The Beast, who's one bad dude, but they don't seem the least it concerned that this villain came from a galaxy far, far away. In fact, the citizens of the planet Krull had actually heard of The Beast before his arrival, despite the relative lack of satellite technology, television, or a Krull version of the Internet.

So how do they know about the Beast before he arrives on Krull?

It's not like they have their own Krull version of NASA.

Oh, well. It was 1983.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sonic Youth's "Goo" (June 26, 1990)

This past weekend saw the twentieth anniversary of the release of Sonic Youth's Goo album, which originally hit stores on June 26, 1990. That was about the time I first became aware of the band, whose "Titanium Expose" would appear on the soundtrack to that year's film, Pump Up The Volume. Featuring "Dirty Boots," "Kool Thing," and Disappear," the album had a number of Sonic Youth staples (though the band apparently rarely sees fit to play them in concert any longer). Arty punk, the band's music is simultaneously powerful and pretentious.

Interestingly, the album cover is based upon this famous photograph:

That photograph depicts Maureen Hindley (sister of Moors murderer Myra Hindley) and her then husband, David Smith. The photograph was apparently taken in the mid-1960s when Maureen Hindley and Smith, trial witnesses, were in their car. You may have seen the film based upon Myra Hindley's life in which actress Samantha Morton played the villainess in question. Or, you may also be familiar with The Smiths' song, "Suffer Little Children," about the Moors murders themselves. Whatever the case, what a creepy aesthetic choice for an album cover, eh?