My Top Ten Favorite Tom Waits Songs

I was twenty years old when I heard my first Tom Waits song. It was a live performance on David Letterman of “Lie to Me” off his most recent studio album, “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards”.

I remember being fascinated by his sound and persona, two halves of what make up this musical force on stage. It has the authority of a master in full command of his craft while at the same time a special quality that feels like the orchestration is going to completely collapse at any moment. It sounds human in a way I’d never known music could. It has the same precision with emotion that Charles Chaplin and Vittorio De Sica had in the cinema.

I thought he was weird, no doubt. But as time went by, I couldn’t get the performance out of my head. So I got my hands on the entire “Orphans” album and quickly fell in love with my first favorite Waits song, “2:19″.

10. “2:19″
Album: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
Best Lyric: On the train you get smaller as you get further away, the roar covers everything you wanted to say. Was that a raindrop in the corner of your eye? Were you drying your nails or waving goodbye?

What a bold, rough, nasty, sweaty, bluesy, funky, angry, window-smashing, brick-hucking sound! This song was immediately on loop on iTunes for me for about a week. I put it on mixes for people. I kept telling people to listen to it. And almost nobody loved it as much as me, but that’s okay. I’d be foolish not to acknowledge that it’s a very specific taste. But until that moment, hearing “2:19″ for the first time, I don’t think I ever heard a more perfect realization of everything I look for in a rock song.

After I listened to “Orphans” for a week or so, I decided I had to hear more. Right around this time I read an article about Waits in GQ which listed three albums of his which they deemed “essentials”. The albums were “The Heart of Saturday Night”, “Nighthawks at the Diner” and “Small Change”.

I was about to embark on a musical journey that would define my taste potentially for the rest of my life.

09. “The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone’s Pizza House)”
Album: The Heart of Saturday Night
Best Lyric: A solitary sailor who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers paws his inside pea coat pocket for a welcome twenty-five cents and the last bent butt from a package of Kents as he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes and marmalade thighs with scrambled yellow hair.

It wasn’t until I started listening to Waits’ 1974 Asylum release that I gained an appreciation for beat poetry and the possibilities that come with blending beat elements into other genres and mediums. Waits doesn’t sing “The Ghosts of Saturday Night”. He tells it like a great raconteur tells a story. The influence of Ken Nordine and Jack Kerouac is unmistakable, and being that this was my first exposure to such a sound, I could barely contain my excitement. Being a cinema junkie, I compared it to the feeling I got when I heard Tarantino dialogue for the first time… the feeling that I was discovering something entirely new and original, and yet so gleefully derivative and comfortable in its medium that one wonders how it could ever not have been!

08. “Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)”
Album: Nighthawks at the Diner
Best Lyric: Nighthawks at the diner of Emma’s 49′er. There’s a rendezvous of strangers around the coffee urn tonight. All the gypsy hacks and the insomniacs and now the paper’s being read. Now the waitress said, ‘Eggs and sausage and a side of toast…’

Never before has the feeling of being at a twenty-four hour diner been so perfectly expressed in a song. It’s not just the lyrics (although they are immaculate). It’s the sound of the faux live crowd on this studio release. It’s the image of Tom sitting in a lonely Naugahyde booth on the album cover. This release also possibly was recorded during my favorite period in the development of Waits’ infamous growl. It hits the sweet spot between his young, smooth tone in “Heart of Saturday Night” and the demon-roar that was to follow with “Small Change”. That little bit of nasally inflection really works to this track’s advantage, in my opinion. And I’m not gonna lie — every time I find myself at the Magnolia Cafe on SoCo at two-o-clock in the morning I inevitably start hearing those timeless lyrics, “Eggs and sausage and a side of toast…”

07. “Ol’ 55″
Album: Closing Time
Best Lyric: And it’s six in the morning, gave me no warning, I had to be on my way. Well there’s trucks all a-passing me, and the lights all a-flashing. I’m on my way home from your place.

I feel like “Ol’ 55″ is the perfect song to listen to directly after “Eggs and Sausage”. While “Eggs” is the happenings of the night, “Ol’ 55″ is the feeling you have walking home the morning after. Anyone who has ever made the walk/drive of shame at six a.m. back to their apartment knows this feeling… this bittersweet, dreamlike, half-asleep feeling… the silence of the early morning streets contrasted with the hustle-bustle of where you just came from… your tie loosened and askew around your neck. Again, Waits uses his seemingly magic ability to bottle a very complex feeling into one four-minute song.

06. “I Never Talk to Strangers”
Album: Foreign Affairs
Best Lyric: Your life’s a dimestore novel. This town is full of guys like you. And you’re looking for someone to take the place of her. You must be reading my mail, and you’re bitter cause he left you. That’s why you’re drinking in this bar. Well, only suckers fall in love with perfect strangers.

The first duet I ever heard from Waits was the first he ever recorded. Bette Midler supplied the feminine vocals for this heart-wrenching, fly-on-the-wall scene of a man and woman flirting at a bar. This song carries much of the same emotion for me that Charlie Kaufman’s script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind does, in particular Jim Carrey’s voice-over line, “Why do I fall in love with every woman who shows me the slightest bit of attention?” Waits acknowledges the foolhardy nature of that emotion in his lyrics, but doesn’t condemn it. Instead, he embraces the pain as a natural and essential part of human existence.

05. “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)”
Album: Small Change
Best Lyric: It’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace and a wound that will never heal. No prima donna, the perfume is on an old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey. And goodnight to the street sweepers, the night watchmen, flame keepers, and goodnight, Matilda, too.

This is a song that many believe Tom wrote about exploring the city of Copenhagen in 1976 with Mathilde Bondo, the violinist of the duo Lasse & Mathilde. The best thing about this song to me, other than its beautifully painful melody, is the suggestion of a very special night in Tom’s life which we only have clues about. Waits himself has never confirmed nor denied the story, but it is very plausible that he and Mathilde had a romantic fling that night. But because Tom is a very private person, he changed the spelling of Mathilde to Matilda and gave the song a misleading title, making the listener believe it was the story of another Tom.

04. “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”
Album: Blue Valentine
Best Lyric: And hey Charlie, I think about you every time I pass a filling station on account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair. And I still have that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials, but someone stole my record player. Now how do you like that?

This is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. My roommate Joe puts it best when he suggests that Waits creates a deeper, more multi-dimensional character in less than five minutes with this song than most films do with their entire running time. The story told in this song is heart-breaking, bittersweet, funny, cute, and devastating by the end. Tom’s performance of the song at Austin City Limits in 1978 includes a little rendition of “Silent Night” before and after the piece, and the whole thing when taken together may just be the finest live performance I’ve ever seen.

03. “Invitation to the Blues”
Album: Small Change
Best Lyric: And you feel just like Cagney, she looks like Rita Hayworth at the counter of the Schwab’s Drugstore. You wonder if she might be single, she’s a loner, likes to mingle. Got to be patient, try and pick up a clue.

Great song about the moment where you decide whether or not to pursue someone you’re attracted to. That wrestling of thoughts and emotions within yourself. You know it will hurt, but you want the hurt. The good with the bad. How much bad? Hopefully no more than there is good. But the melancholy tone in this song suggests that Tom’s character is drunk and hopeless as well, not unlike his other heroes. Also this is just one of my personal favorite Waits melodies.

02. “(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night” 
Album: The Heart of Saturday Night
Best Lyric: Tell me, is it the crack of the poolballs, neon buzzin’, telephone’s ringin’ it’s your second cousin. Is it the barmaid that’s smilin’ from the corner of her eye. Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye.

The idea of “looking for the heart of Saturday night” came directly from “Visions of Cody”, in which Kerouac’s eponymous hero was “hurrying for the big traffic, – ever more exciting, all of it pouring into town – Saturday night.” Waits claimed he’d written the song in five minutes. His companion in this endeavor, Bob Webb, recalls, “We struck on Kerouac’s concept of wanting to be at ‘the center of Saturday night in America. We got caught up in that literary notion and decided that each of us would create something around the theme. I drove home and stayed up all night writing a short play about some denizens of a backstreet poolroom. Some time after I left, Tom picked up a guitar and wrote the lyrics and music for ‘Heart of Saturday Night.’ He had it the next day.”

01. “Jersey Girl”
Album: Heartattack and Vine
Best Lyric I see you on the street and you look so tired. I know that job you got leaves you so uninspired. When I come back to take you out to eat, I find you dressed up on the bed fast asleep. Go in the bathroom put that makeup on. We’re gonna take that little brat of yours and drop her off at your mom’s. I know a place where the dancing’s free. Come on girl, won’t you go with me?

The best performance of this song is his duet with Bruce Springsteen, the artist who popularized the song in 1981. Where do I begin with this track? First, it was written for Tom’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Kathleen Brennan, whom he met while working on the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart. It’s easily his sappiest, most optimistic song, but it comes from someplace real, like he couldn’t bare to keep it locked inside any longer. This song is Tom Waits shouting from the roof of a parking structure that he’s in love.

And isn’t that all he and his work has ever been about? Love?


My Favorite Films of 2011

As time has gone on I’ve cared less and less about creating Top Ten lists for particular years in film. So I’m adopting a format which feels much better to me this year. I’m not going to impose a limit on myself for the number of titles included on my list and I’m not going to rank them. I’m just going to place each title I’ve seen this year into one of five categories which should be rather self-explanatory.

Woody Allen's most optimistic movie since "Mighty Aphrodite".

I’LL REMEMBER FONDLY
Midnight in Paris
The Skin I Live In
Shame
Drive
The Muppets
The Artist
Moneyball

Like a modern Hitchcock thriller.

PLEASANT SURPRISES
The Adjustment Bureau
Source Code
Attack the Block
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Help

IN ONE EAR, OUT THE OTHER
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Beginners (to a lesser degree)

More mimicry than homage.

I WILL REMEMBER AS DISAPPOINTMENTS
Hanna
Tree of Life
Super 8
Cowboys and Aliens
Red State
50/50
Take Shelter

I WISH I COULD UNSEE
Battle LA
Transformers 3
Captain America
J. Edgar
Melancholia

I HAVE YET TO SEE
Everything you don’t see on this list.

BEST PAST MOVIES I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2011
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
Aguirre: The Wrath of God
My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski
Stroszek
Grizzly Man
Shoeshine
The Fog of War
Best Boy
Murder on a Sunday Morning
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Crying Game
The Thin Blue Line

WORST PAST MOVIES I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2011
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Jules and Jim


30 Films in 11 Days

This is a cut-and-paste of a Facebook note I published on November 18, 2007. I soon will be embarking on a similar binge with $100 store credit at I Luv Video, a video store which puts Four Star Video to shame (as much as I adore Four Star).

Recently, Four Star Video Heaven, the best independent video rental store in the city, state, and possibly the country, held their 22nd anniversary. In celebration, the owner and employees put on a film trivia contest at the High Noon Saloon downtown. First place winners would each receive a $100 gift package to the store, $80 of which being Four Star gift certificates! Of course, my roommate Joe and I could hardly pass this up.

So we went and we won first place, thus officially naming us the biggest movie geeks in town (or so we like to brag). Anywho, we immediately drove over to the store and took a gander. Joe bought a few DVDs, including the newly released “Ratatouille” and the Criterion Collection edition of some Sam Fuller noir that I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of before. I, on the other hand, decided to knock some titles off of my “to see” list. Four Star only allows a maximum of six movies to be rented out at a time by any one customer, so I had to rent in shifts.

The following is a list of the films I rented and viewed over the course of about two weeks and what I thought of each of them. I refuse to issue star ratings for the titles, as I feel it skews what my true feelings are.

HOUSE OF WAX (1953) Dir. André De Toth
A decent oldie horror flick starring Vincent Price, who is by far the best and most entertaining part of the film. The film bows to a lot of different aspects of 50’s Hollywood filmmaking that I loathe with a passion, such as constant music through every scene even when it’s distracting, but overall, it was a fun story of a tormented genius gone insane. I was surprised how much it differed from the slasher-style 2005 remake.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) Dir. Tobe Hooper
Just plain awful. Tobe Hooper didn’t at all capitalize on the scary elements of a carnival funhouse. He instead decided to more or less recreate the family of murderers from his far superior “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and put them in a funhouse setting. Believe me, it’s not as cool as I’m making it sound. It’s really dull, actually, with periods going on thirty minutes with no action… just really, really lame attempts at character development. Skip this one.

BAD TASTE (1987) Dir. Peter Jackson
The movie itself is a fun romp filled with gore and comedic violence, but without a doubt the best part of “Bad Taste” is the making-of documentary included on the DVD, titled “Good Taste Made Bad Taste”. In it, Peter Jackson demonstrates how he accomplished much of the movie’s special effects on a shoestring budget. “Bad Taste” comfortably sits right between Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” at the ideal low-budget classics film festival.

DEMONS (1985) Dir. Lamberto Bava
Presented by Dario Argento and directed by the son and long-time first assistant director of Mario Bava… sounds awesome, right? And it is. Don’t go into this movie expecting subtlety, however. “Demons” is all about right-up-in-your-face-gore, complete with a cheesy 80’s soundtrack and the setting of a closed-down movie palace in which all the protagonists are trapped. The theatre itself is the antagonist, taking over the minds of its patrons with powers projected through a horror film being projected on the screen.

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) Dir. Wes Craven
There were two titles on my list that I was equally anticipating and dreading due to their intense reputation; “Last House” and “Cannibal Holocaust”. I think it’s safe to say that this is the better of the two. I thought I would hate “Last House”, to be honest with you, but believe it or not, when you get past the grotesque subject matter, it’s actually a pretty badass setup for a cheer-enducing revenge sequence in the end. Just to be clear, the gore is not as notorious as it’s made out to be.

SCANNERS (1981) Dir. David Cronenberg
I’d always heard this was a great movie, and to be honest, it was pretty sweet… until the very last shot. The last shot takes a ton of the wind out of the film’s sails, in my humble opinion. But Michael Ironside is just as badass as I’d always hoped he’d be, and the head exploding was just as cool as I’d hoped it would be. I wouldn’t go on saying it’s Cronenberg’s best film like a lot of people seem to think, but it’s probably his third best behind “The Fly” and “History of Violence”. Coulda used more exploding heads.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) Dir. Dario Argento
The first in Argento’s so-called “animal trilogy” is a pretty cool Italian giallo, but that’s all it is… pretty cool. It has some really interesting elements, and Argento’s potential to be great was definitely evident even in 1970, but I found myself looking at the clock a lot during the film. But what do you expect? It’s pretty cool for his first feature. Ennio Morricone’s score is sublime, however.

THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) Dir. Dario Argento
Since I couldn’t rent Argento’s second film “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” because it’s out of print, I moved right on to his third film and the conclusion of his “animal trilogy”. This one felt much more thrown together as an experiment to see what would stick and what wouldn’t. I loved the characters of the blind man and his granddaughter attempting to solve the mystery, but other than that, it just felt kind of crudely crafted. It didn’t help that I was viewing it on a particular print of the DVD that cut down Argento’s signature 2:35:1 aspect ratio to a lame pan-and-scan, so maybe this one will require a second watch down the road.

DEEP RED (1975) Dir. Dario Argento
The cover art on the DVD for this film is very misleading. It makes it look like a gory Lucio Fulci film or something, and while it is gory, it’s actually another slow-paced giallo… and Argento’s second best after “Tenebre”, in my opinion. This movie is growing on me the more I think about it. It’s his first collaboration with Goblin for the music, and it’s just as unforgettable a score as they did for “Suspiria”. One of the most notable parts of this movie that I will take with me to my grave is the opening shot. It’s rare that a movie opens with such a genius opening image. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

KILL, BABY… KILL! (1966) Dir. Mario Bava
I’d never seen a Mario Bava film before this one, so in my researching about which one would be best for my introduction to the filmmaker, I discovered that many people including Martin Scorsese claim “Kill, Baby… Kill!” to be his masterpiece. I’ll agree that it was pretty badass, and has in it without a doubt the scariest evil little girl of all the evil little girls in horror cinema. Yes, even the ones in “The Shining”. The story is a classic haunted town story, complete with the “protagonist as fish out of water” setup.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
I don’t know if I can sum up my thoughts on this film in a few sentences. While I refuse to say that the movie is without artistic merit, I find it equally difficult to defend it’s purpose in the world. The film is particularly infamous for it’s depiction of real animal slaughter, and no, I’m not talking about documentary footage of real tribal rituals like in “Apocalypse Now”. I’m saying that Deodato and his crew killed six live animals on screen for your entertainment. Disgusting, I know. If you want to know my complete thoughts on the issue, check out this review I found and whole-heartedly agree with: http://www.braineater.com/cannibalholocaust.html.

INFERNO (1980) Dir. Dario Argento
The second entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, preceded by “Suspiria” and followed by this year’s “Mother of Tears”, “Inferno” is another acid trip down the Dario Argento rabbit hole. This is another supernatural horror film, not a giallo like “Deep Red”, and all the plot pieces don’t exactly fit together to form any logical story, but you don’t care. Argento’s use of the candy-colored cinematography he famously established in “Suspiria” makes this a movie you never get tired of looking at. Plus, it’s got some really cool murder sequences like his other films.

TENEBRE (1982) Dir. Dario Argento
My favorite of the Argento giallos, closely followed by “Deep Red”. This is Argento’s most comprehensible giallo, as well as his most entertaining. It’s shorter than “Deep Red”, thus is moves faster, keeping your attention better. Also, “Tenebre” really seemed to have a mission and a purpose that it was trying to get at, a trait missing from a lot of Argento’s earlier work, in my opinion. It’s a really cool story surrounding a string of murders meant to mimic those in an American crime novel in the film. The novel’s author then goes out to try and solve the mystery. Look for a great blood-soaked triple murder sequence toward the end of the film and a fun supporting role for John Saxon of “Black Christmas” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” fame.

THE BEYOND (1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
This is the second entry in Fulci’s unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy, preceded by “City of the Living Dead” and followed by “The House by the Cemetery”. I’d only seen Fulci’s “Zombie” before this movie, and I have to say I enjoyed “Zombie” a little more. That’s not to say “The Beyond” isn’t a good movie. It’s thoroughly enjoyable as an 80’s Italian splatter flick, but I just could’ve used more. I don’t really know how else to express what I mean other than that… in a very general sense, the movie could’ve used more… more gore, more scares, just more. Also, I feel I must point out that from what I’ve seen in “Zombie” and “The Beyond”, Fulci zombies are just about the least threatening thing in the world. They move even slower than Romero zombies, and that’s saying something.

DJANGO (1966) Dir. Sergio Corbucci
I’ve wanted to see this spaghetti western for a long time, and it lived up to my expectations. I still prefer “Navajo Joe” to it when you’re discussing Corbucci, but it’s definitely superior to the other Corbucci/Nero collaboration “The Mercenary”. I have to point out how wonderful Luis Bacalov’s score is… just the right mixture of Ennio Morricone feel with, well, Bacalov. And who knew Franco Nero could be such a badass? I mean, I got a little taste with “The Mercenary”, but watching him in “Django” I’d have to say he might be Clint Eastwood’s match if they ever met in some desolate western town as their respective characters. I can’t wait to see what Takashi Miike does with his “Django” homage film when it gets released here in the US.

THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY (1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
Part three of Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, “House by the Cemetary” lacks in a completely different way than most of his other work. I maintain that “Zombie” is Fulci’s best movie that I’ve seen, if only for the fact that I understand what the hell is happening in that one. “The Beyond” is nearly laughable in terms of plot. “House” suffers in the opposite way, in that we know exactly what’s going on at all times because every scene is a ripoff of another movie, usually either “The Shining” or “The Amityville Horror”. It’s really remarkable how unoriginal and uninspired this film is. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not missing much.

LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) Dir. Toshiya Fujita
“Lady Snowblood” is probably the best movie that I’ve seen thus far in the marathon. It’s a Japanese Chambara samurai movie that heavily influenced Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (QT even lifted the film’s main theme song, “The Flower of Carnage” by Meiko Kaji, as the DVD cover art proudly proclaims). This flick is heads and heels superior to other Chambara movies like “Shogun Assassin” or its sequel, “Lightning Swords of Death”, which are pretty much devoid of plot. “Snowblood” has a thoroughly enjoyable and easily followable revenge storyline and lots and lots of blood spraying from wounds like garden hoses. If you’re into this kind of flick, “Lady Snowblood” you mustn’t miss!

BLACK SABBATH (1963) Dir. Mario Bava
This is the second Mario Bava movie I’ve seen after “Kill, Baby… Kill!”, and I have to say, he’s hit one majorly out of the park with “Black Sabbath”. This movie is the perfect realization of a movie I’ve wanted to make for years; a good horror anthology movie divided into three distinct parts. It’s even got a Walt Disney-esque personal introduction at the beginning from Boris Karloff! The segments definitely get better and scarier progressively from one to three, but none are bad by any means, and the third is downright terrifying. That woman’s corpse face at the end… if you’ve seen the flick, you know what I’m talking about and chills are running down your spine right now just from thinking of it. Those of you who haven’t seen it, do so immediately! You will not be disappointed!

DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Dir. Brian DePalma
“Dressed to Kill” was rocking my ass for most of the movie and I was really enjoying it. But as Donald Kaufman says in “Adaptation”, it all falls apart at the “third act denouement”. Nancy Allen was a fox in this flick, not to say she wasn’t in “Blow Out” and “Carrie”, but she was especially attractive in this role. I also love how DePalma has the habit of introducing a main character early on (usually a recognizable star) and killing them off in the first thirty minutes. It doesn’t happen very often in movies, but when it does, it’s a great way of letting the audience know that you’re prepared to do take them anywhere (he first experimented with this idea in “Sisters”). Michael Caine is also very good. Check it out.

THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) Dir. Sergio Corbucci
I have just seen Corbucci’s best work in this film, and quite possibly a candidate for my favorite spaghetti western ever. “The Great Silence” is unbelievably dramatic and rich and textured when compared to Corbucci’s other films. The only reason I can think of for this movie not reaching the mass audience that say “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” received, is that it is made with Corbucci’s usual messy camerawork and sloppy editing. But to a certain extent, the sloppiness of its creation is appropriate given the sloppy setting for the story. I know this may sound blasphemous and I know I am usually the first one to say no to remakes, but I’d kind of like to see an updated, cleaner version of this film. I think the ending would really impact audiences in today’s “endless, hopeless war” society.

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1974) Dir. Bo Arne Vibenius
There’s a story in Hollywood about when Quentin Tarantino was in pre-production on “Kill Bill”. The story says that Quentin gave Darryl Hannah a copy of “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” in order to help her prepare for her role as the notorious Elle Driver, a character heavily influenced by the one-eyed femme fatale depicted in the film. Upon viewing the picture, Hannah immediately phoned Tarantino to say, “You gave me a porno!” to which he replied, “Yeah, but it’s a good porno!” The movie is a fun exploitation romp, and is probably the closest thing to what the general conception is of 70’s grindhouse movies is at the moment that I’ve seen. There is a lot of graphic hardcore pornographic sex in it (if you watch the original 107 minute unrated cut), but if you’re cool with that, it’s not a bad movie to watch just so you can say you’ve seen it.

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) Dir. Mario Bava
While it may not seem so original in today’s cinematic climate, “Blood and Black Lace” was an extraordinary genre breakthrough in its time. Not only was it surprisingly explicit in the depiction of its violent scenes, but “Blood” also laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the modern slasher film. It was the first movie to employ the “body count” story structure with the entire plot primarily revolving around a group of sexy supermodels as they get brutally murdered one by one by a mysterious killer. The film is also commonly categorized as an Italian giallo, which is the beauty of the film. While delivering the goods for the current giallo genre, it also practically invented a whole new subgenre. Without “Blood and Black Lace”, we may never have had the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger or Jason Voorhees.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) Dir. Lucio Fulci
Ugh… I think this is the last Fulci movie I’ll be watching for a while. I’ve seen four of his movies now, and I think they all have major problems. His best is “Zombie” because it’s his most original work and seems to rely on more than just his gore effects. Everything else I’ve seen, however, is just the opposite. Instead of giving us engrossing, multi-layered characters whom we can identify with and become emotionally invested in, he gives us one-dimensional copycat characters from every single other horror movie we’ve ever seen, along with the same plots that we’ve seen a million times, and somehow expects his gore effects to hold up the film. The whole reason I watch lesser-known B horror fare is for their creativity, which is lost in much of the mainstream cinema world, but Fulci never seems to bring any originality to the table. Remarkably, there is a market of moviegoers out there who like this aspect of Fulci. I hate it, personally. I think he had the potential to be a really great director if only he could get his hands on that really great script. Alas, he never did.

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963) Dir. Mario Bava
This film is widely considered to be the first official Italian giallo film, and to be honest, it’s close to the best I’ve seen. There’s an old saying: Dario Argento may be the modern master of Italian horror, but that’s only because there’s no Mario Bava anymore. Very true. On a film to film basis, Mario Bava has impressed me far beyond Argento, a revelation I did not expect to have. Even Argento’s signature candy-colored cinematography originated with Bava. “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” is a wonderful black and white murder mystery with great performances from Leticia Roman and John Saxon. Also, the glorious, hum-enducing title song for the film, “Furore” by Adriano Celentano, is the very musical definition of the Italian giallo. This film comes highly recommended.

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965) Dir. Russ Meyer
Another famous exploitation flick that I’d always heard about but never seen, “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” has become pretty much the general public’s immediate idea of what an exploitation movie is. And it is boatloads of fun. With crazy characters, incredibly colorful dialogue, and a badass title song by The Bostweeds, this movie is another one to check out next time you’re having difficulty picking something out at the rental store. The story involves three badass bitches on their periods, no doubt, as they murder a man and kidnap his girlfriend so she can’t run to the police. The queen bitch leader of the trio is Varla, played by the unbelievably voluptuous Tura Satana, and although you are extremely entertained by her bitchiness throughout the length of the flick, you are just as ready to see her get her just deserves in the end. This movie has gone on to inspire countless modern exploitation fare, including “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Death Proof”.

TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970) Dir. Don Siegel
Another wonderful spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). I was amazed at how entertained this movie was, what with such a lack of violence. What keeps you entertained is the quick wit of the screenplay and the superb on-screen chemistry between Eastwood and MacLaine (As much as I adore them, I’m pressed to guess Eastwood has more witty one-liners in this film than in all three of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” films). This is a revisionist western that came at the beginning of the end of the “lone hero” trend, and although Eastwood is just as badass as he is in everything else, the film concerns itself more with dissecting his character and bringing more real-life discussion into the idea as opposed to just having him beat the bad guy in the end. Confronting a lone gunman of the old west with the religious ideals of a Christian nun is pure genius. If you like spaghetti westerns, this is one you cannot afford to miss!

BLACK SUNDAY (aka THE MASK OF SATAN) (1960) Dir. Mario Bava
Mario Bava’s first film, “Black Sunday” is the one with the famous scene of the spiked mask being forced onto Barbara Steele’s face with a sledgehammer. That opening prologue is in fact so good that the rest of the movie lacks by comparison. But it’s still really good. This is apparently the movie that made Steele a star, and for good reason. She plays two separate roles, the role of the villain undead vampire and the role of the healthy, sexy, host body that the villain comes for. This film is black and white, and like Bava’s “The Girl Who Knew Too Much”, I was struck by his skills as his own cinematographer. His movies look every bit as good as early black and white Kubrick films. Lots of people argue that if Bava had been in America, he’d have always been considered neck and neck with Hitchcock for the throne of “master of suspense”, although I tend to feel Bava is more of an outright horror filmmaker than Hitchcock was. Still, the comparison is more than warranted.

OBSESSION (1976) Dir. Brian DePalma
Another wonderful suspense piece by DePalma, “Obsession” is a true re-imagining of themes explored in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” written by Paul Schrader. I really love the slow-told, yet quick-paced feel to the picture, and Cliff Robertson is sublime in the title role. The movie is arguably DePalma’s most underrated work because it was released the same year as his breakthrough horror masterpiece, “Carrie”. A lot of DePalma trademarks are on display here, including his unbelievable knack for amazingly dramatic and emotional climaxes. What I love so much about the way he does his climaxes is how little you care if you can see the strings. Even if you can totally call exactly how the story is going to end, you don’t want to see DePalma’s visual realization of that ending any less. I’m really starting to become a big fan of this guy.

MASSACRE TIME (1966) Dir. Lucio Fulci
It’s so funny to me to think that a supposed horror auteur and innovator the likes of Lucio Fulci would have his best film be a spaghetti western. Everyone shits themselves over the supposed cinematic mastery of “Zombie”, “City of the Living Dead”, “The Beyond”, and “The House by the Cemetary”, but I swear to Christ, “Massacre Time”, a lone gunman western starring Franco Nero and released the same year as “Django” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” is his honest-to-God best movie. Maybe it’s just the simple dramatic structure of the western, which Fulci follows to a T (which shouldn’t surprise anybody who agrees with me that the man has about as much creativity and originality as a wet beard), but nevertheless, I enjoyed “Massacre Time”. That’s something I cannot say for his other work except for “Zombie”, which I still think holds some artistic merit. I still plan to view his two most famous gialli at some time, “A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin” and “Don’t Torture A Duckling”, if for nothing else than their undeniably badass titles. Maybe my lack of interest in his work says more about me than it does about him, but I’m more than willing to live with that.

SABATA (1969) Dir. Gianfranco Parolini
Another spaghetti western classic! Man, this subgenre is batting with a stupendous record right now with me. It seems every spaghetti western I see these days has many wonderful qualities and is incredibly entertaining. Lee Van Cleef stars in a role very similar to that in his other classic, “The Grand Duel” (so close in fact, I believe it is almost the exact same wardrobe!). But Lee Van Cleef will always be spectacular. The pleasant surprise in “Sabata” for me was the character of Banjo, played by William Berger, star of other spaghetti western classics like “Face to Face” and Parolini’s “If You Meet Sartana Pray For Your Death”. He was a wonderfully developed antagonist, who takes so much time in character development that it is never revealed that he is the villain until the last thirty minutes or so. I highly recommend checking this one out. It was followed by two sequels, which I will be watching shortly.


Belly Card @ Berry Austin

This video was filmed two days ago on Saturday, February 11, 2012. It was filmed at both Berry Austin locations.


Super Bowl Memories

We didn't have tickets, but we didn't care.

One year ago today, on February 5, 2011, three of my displaced Wisconsinite friends and I took the three-hour drive from Austin to Dallas just to get a glimpse of Cowboys Stadium prior to our beloved Packers battling in Super Bowl XLV the following day.

It was a wonderful piece of fortune that the Packers happened to be playing in a Super Bowl taking place a mere three hours from us. None of us had tickets (or the money to buy one), but how could we ever live with ourselves if we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to go breathe the air around Jerryworld and see the sights? We are hopelessly in love with our Packers.

We didn't want anyone questioning our loyalties.

We left my apartment at 7:00 in the morning. When we arrived in Arlington, we were greeted by a giant image of Clay Matthews III hunting down Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward plastered on the side of Cowboys Stadium. There was a gaggle of Sconnies in the parking lot across the road taking pictures of themselves in front of that giant place, so we pulled over and asked one of them to take a picture of us.

Let’s not forget the weather in Dallas for last year’s Super Bowl. I mean, this is Texas we’re talking about, but if you look at our picture in front of the stadium, you would swear that was taken in Wisconsin! There’s snow on the ground, for Pete’s sake! The roads were icy and I remember all the local Green Bay beat writers I had interviewed earlier in the year for my documentary Last Day at Lambeau complaining about it on Facebook and Twitter (they had come all the way south from the frozen tundra to encounter… another frozen tundra?).

We also found it interesting (if not entirely disappointing) that in the immediate vicinity around Cowboys Stadium there is nothing. And I mean nothing. We thought we’d at least see a similar sight to what one would find around Lambeau Field in Green Bay — a series of sports bars and cool local restaurants — but we were sorely mistaken. The best we could find for a late lunch was Buffalo Wild Wings (which was delicious as always, but one would hope for something more exciting when visiting the site of the forthcoming Super Bowl).

We approached the stadium with the hope of visiting the gift shop to acquire some Packers Super Bowl gear. But as we got close, we were turned away by security because they apparently don’t have the gift shop available the day prior to the game (we assumed due to last minute arrangements — but how can this possibly be fiscally wise? Don’t you want a place for people to purchase this stuff the day before?). So we shrugged it off and made it our goal to find another independent sports shop in town which would hopefully be fully stocked with all the Super Bowl swag we could hope for.

Natalie flips off James Harrison.

But first… the team hotel. We had heard the Packers were taking residence in the Omni Hotel in Dallas, so we headed that way. The geography of that area in Texas is such that Dallas and Fort Worth are roughly 30 minutes away from one another with Cowboys Stadium smack dab between the two, so it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the Big D. When we arrived, we were surprised to find a massive photograph depicting the Steelers defense on the windows of the hotel. There were Steelers fans all around us. No green as far as the eye could see — only black and gold. We had heard wrong. The Packers were in Fort Worth! We jeered at a couple Steelers fans, flipped the giant James Harrison graphic the bird and bounced.

Outside the Packers' team hotel in Fort Worth.

But before we did, we noticed a small sports memorabilia shop across the street with Super Bowl XLV logos all over it. This is what we had been searching for. We picked up some T-shirts, a couple game programs, and one or two Title Towels. It felt so weird to be able to buy so much Packers merchandise in Dallas, Texas!

By the time we made it over to Fort Worth, we saw that it was much smaller in stature than downtown Dallas. No big buildings. It reminded me of the west side of Madison when I was growing up. Suburb-like. My disappointment at this revelation was quickly replaced by adrenaline as a single flagpole appeared in the distance displaying our beloved green and gold G.

We found the Omni Fort Worth and a smattering of Packers fans huddled around the blocked-off entrance. We watched the likes of Greg Jennings, Brandon Jackson and B.J. Raji arrive or leave with family members and friends. It felt a lot like sitting behind the fence at the Don Hutson Center during training camp in Wisconsin — only in Texas.

It’s a pretty cool thing that being a fan of your favorite sports team can create such wonderful personal memories for you. That’s part of what being a fan is all about. It’s not about the players or even the team as much as it gives you a community to rally around and share life experiences with.

We all know the rest of the story. The Packers defeated the Steelers the next day in Super Bowl XLV and secured their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy. Today we Packers faithful will be seated on our couches watching the New York Giants and New England Patriots duke it out in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, widely considered one of the most entertaining and competitive Super Bowls ever. You know, I wasn’t going to watch the game today. I thought I was going to sulk, never able to remove the nagging thought in the back of my mind — The Packers ought to be here.

Bryan Bulaga enters the Omni Fort Worth with friends and family.

But now that the game is a mere five hours from kickoff, I’m kind of excited. Sure it’s not my football team, but it is football. And it’s the last competitive game of football we’re going to see until September. Who do Packers fans root for? You don’t root for the Giants — they are one of the reasons the Packers aren’t in Indianapolis in their place. And you certainly can’t root for the Patriots — they’re the evil empire. So who do you root for?

You root for the game and hope it’s every bit as entertaining as XLII. The Pack will be back next year, friends. And Super Bowl XLVII will be in New Orleans, a mere nine-hour drive from us here in Austin. More great Packers fan memories are ahead of us.


Belly Card @ Wahoo’s Fish Taco

This is a video I filmed and edited for Belly Card in Austin on Thursday.

Belly is an upstart business co-founded by my high school buddy, Ryan Jeffery. I bumped into Ryan at the wedding of a mutual friend in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this month and he told me he was flying down to Austin to open up the next market for Belly. Little did we realize we had actually booked tickets on exact same connecting flights to Dallas then to Austin!

He asked me if I’d like to produce some videos for them in Austin and I agreed. This one filmed at Wahoo’s Fish Taco was the first in the series (more to come!).

I’ll cut and paste his exact directions for the video.

we want the video to be super fun and energetic. Cool music, hot babes and some attitude. Can you dig it?
I don’t know if I got the “hot babes” in there, but you be the judge on the rest of it! Thanks again, Ryan — I look forward to doing more of these for Belly.

The Great Missed Opportunity

“4th and 26.” “The Catch II.” “The Randy Moss Moon Game.”

All are fan- and media-created monikers for NFL playoff losses by the Green Bay Packers over the years. Will last night’s debacle at Lambeau Field be known by a pithy title ten years from now? Or is it so painful that it will merely retain the dry, official game tag spoken with requisite distain and disgust (The 2007 NFC Title Game, The 2009 NFC Wild Card Game)?

I submit to you that the most appropriate alias for this game is “The Great Missed Opportunity,” or “The Missed Opportunity Game.” The Packers’ 37-20 loss to the Giants was not caused by any one play or player, so that makes the three examples at the beginning of this piece inadequate (I mean, what are we gonna do, call this “The Rodgers-to-Finley 3rd Down Disconnect Game”?).

No, this game was just a big, fat wasted opportunity. You could call it “The Choke Game,” and although the image of someone writhing on the ground with both hands over their throat serves as a good visual analogy for this game, the “choke” concept doesn’t fully express what I feel this morning. I feel like the Packers’ season genuinely shouldn’t be over. Yeah, I know the Giants showed up to play, but the Packers did too, right? Oh, they didn’t? Wait… after a season one loss away from being undefeated the team didn’t even show up? For the playoffs?

In my opinion, last night’s comedy of errors in Green Bay most closely resembles the 2004 playoff loss to the Vikings a.k.a. “The Randy Moss Moon Game”. Yeah, that’s right. I just compared a game played by a Mike McCarthy team with a 15-1 record and the presumptive league MVP to one prepared by the train wreck of the Mike Sherman regime. The truth hurts.

So all we as fans can do at this point is ask why. How the hell did this happen? Let me list my reasons:

1. The Giants Are Good - As fans of the losing team it can be easy to forget that the other team gets paid too. The Giants are on a roll mirroring the Packers’ last season and their own from 2007. I’m not saying the Packers weren’t the better team every other week of the season, but yesterday, the Giants took that mantle.

2. Lost the Turnover Battle - Simple. You lose the turnover battle and the road to winning the game morphs to a steep incline.

3. Dropped Passes - I don’t really understand this one. The team started to drop passes with James Jones last season and then almost everyone had one in Super Bowl XLV, but I always kind of assumed McCarthy and receivers coach Bennett would get it under control. It seems to be a widespread mental thing among all the players at the position on the roster.

4. Rodgers and McCarthy Both Lost Composure - You can debate me on this one and I might be wrong, but McCarthy’s play-calling felt reckless (and possibly panicked and/or desperate) all night. Yes, if they recover that first half on-side kick I’m jumping up and down for joy, but I’d still be thinking in the back of my mind, “What the hell was that?!” That might be the highest-risk, highest-reward play a coach can call… and you call it when the game is tied in the first half? Why? As for Rodgers, he appeared on television to have completely lost his mind midway through the third quarter. His passes were errant, he looked flustered constantly and he never checked down to the underneath routes which were almost always wide open. He seemed to want to make up a ten-point deficit with one throw.

5. Resting Players Ain’t the Way to Go - I trust McCarthy. So when he decided to rest the majority of the starting roster the final regular season game of the year I gave him the benefit of the doubt even though I openly stated it wasn’t the way I would go. Yes, I realize hindsight is 20/20, so with that in mind, instead of blaming McCarthy for resting players, let’s just take a lesson from hindsight for the future. McCarthy made a huge deal in 2009 about how he wanted momentum going into the Wild Card game against the Cardinals even though nothing good could come from winning their final regular season game. So he started everyone. Yes, the Packers lost the playoff game the following week, but I don’t think anyone could argue it was due to the Packers not resting players. The team showed up and played well. The game went to overtime and a fluke turnover (and uncalled facemask penalty) lost the game for them. Last night, the Packers resembled a team whose two primary playmakers on offense have been resting for 3 and 5 weeks respectively. Rust exists.

You’ll notice I don’t list the defense as a reason the Packers lost. Ironically, they weren’t. The defense played the way they have all year – not great, but not deplorably either. They were constantly given short fields to defend after turnovers by their offense. They forced multiple three-and-out series’ for the Giants. They forced a turnover. No, the defense did not lose this game. The offense played its worst game since the Sherman era, and I’d like to see the Ravens or 49ers defense try to extinguish that dumpster fire.


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