Wednesday, August 10, 2005:

Cannonball Adderley, on film

Cannonball Adderley -- The Sleeper
Cannonball Adderley -- The Tune of the Hickory Stick
These two tracks are digitized from an LP which claims that it's Cannonball with John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, and Paul Chambers--but, well, I'm not sure I believe it. I'm inclined to think that some of the tracks are from the 1959 session with Coltrane but that others are from Cannonball's cover of Duke's Jump for Joy LP. The page at for the album, re-released with With Strings, has a sample of "The Tune of the Hickory Stick" which sounds exactly the same. (update: Girish confirms that "The Tune of the Hickory Stick" is from Jump for Joy, with Bill Evans, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton and Jimmy Cobb but not John Coltrane.)

I like "The Tune of the Hickory Stick" in spite of not knowing why it's a tune of a hickory stick. I like the strings, I like Cannonball's work around them, I like the structure, I like the phrasing. (update: boblinn says: "Taught to the tune of a hickory stick" is a variant lyric in the song, "School Days, School Days." The verse goes: "School days, school days,/ Dear old golden rule days./ Readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic,/ Taught to the tune of a hickory stick." This last line refers to being paddled or switched with a hickory twig. Not sure if there's a connection.) (Tuwa says: It's possible, given that Jump for Joy was intended to be an anti-Uncle Tom, anti-Porgy and Bess musical giving a truer reflection of black life in the South. Maybe I can find more about this at the library; I seem to have run my course with Google queries.)

"The Sleeper" is just what it sounds like. At first I was rather unimpressed with it, but it grows on you. Don't take it for what it's not: it's not revolutionary Coltrane or Cannonball; it won't blow the top off your head and douse your brainpan in kerosene. What it is is solid, well-played, promising early work; it's the kind of thing that would get a producer out scouting for talent to come backstage and strike up a conversation. In a Hollywood film that man would be David Axelrod, who'd be a wealthy well-dressed huckster, and Cannonball would be down on his luck, out of money, newly evicted, still burning with his childhood dreams of being a famous musician, but considering going back home to take up his old job. John Coltrane, if he'd been in the concert, would probably get a glance from Axelrod--a shot of him down a hall somewhere talking to someone, or maybe knocking back a shot of whiskey--then a quick dismissal with a comment that he's just "okay"--"but you, kid--you've got fire. You're going places." Which would be true about Adderley and horribly misleading about Coltrane, but Hollywood's hardly known for its historical accuracy.

I love movies, and I love tackling them through various lists of ones someone thinks people "should" see. There's Ebert's list, which tends towards the somber and slightly arty, and Maltin's, which tends towards the slapstick and family-friendly, and Videohound's, which tends towards the thoughtful, and TimeOut's, which probably lives in mortal fear of suggesting anything outside the canon. Then there's IMDb's, which for a certain subset (U.S./U.K., mostly anglophile, middle-class) tends towards pop appeal. Of all the various lists I've collected, I think the IMDb's has been the most consistently entertaining--not the most profound, or artful, or life-changing, not the most informative or historically accurate, but just the most consistently entertaining. They're also overwhelmingly male: of everything on their top 250 list as of the end of July there were 166 directors and co-directors (167 if you count the man whose work was all thrown away on Wizard of Oz) and only two of them were women. Unfortunately, that's a fair reflection of film-making itself.

There are other complaints you could make about the list (an under-representation of most "great" directors--Fellini, Truffaut--or even "great" works--Mitt Liv Som Hund, Au Revoir Les Enfants, An Angel at My Table; the elevation of pop entertainment or soulless technique over vision or brilliance), but the list isn't meant to be definitive. It's not anything other than a running poll of what a self-selecting population of internet-savvy people likes, with whatever implications that leaves.

You could approach that dogmatically, with a scowl and a bit of finger-wagging, but there's not much point to it. For the most part people would laugh at you, or suggest you pull the stick out of your ass (check out this MeFi thread for some on-point and amusing criticisms). Or you could approach that Hollywood/pop-film mindest with a sharp eye and a bit of wit, which is what Terry Pratchett has done in Moving Pictures.

I've been reading through the Discworld series in mostly chronological order (not always reading the next-published book, but always reading the next published book in the given sub-series, e.g. the Witches, or Death, or the Watch). The books have all been solid, but by the time Pratchett wrote Moving Pictures I think he'd loosened up a bit; the writing seemed easier, more relaxed and confident. The characters are well-drawn, the motivations inherent to the personalities, the conflicts arising naturally from conflicting goals. These are just requirements of solid fiction, but Pratchett's also a humorist, and a good one. Very few of the jokes are predictable; some of them are downright brilliant; and they're all on-point. Pratchett makes good work of early film history, moving a couple of films back a bit for inclusion (e.g. Blown Away, a film about a capricious Southern Belle in a Worlde Gonne Madde). On the whole the book is a quick read, and if some of the targets are too big to ignore, they're also worth skewering, and skewered beautifully.

... Most of this film discussion was prompted by seeing House of the Flying Daggers last night, which so far is probably my least favorite Zhang Yimou film. As far as I can tell, he's being infected by Hollywood. Or maybe I'm just more aware of Hollywood's influence than I was when I started watching his films. In any case, it's not a fun thing to witness. <multiple spoiler warning>Fcrpvsvpnyyl: jgs jvgu gur "abg ernyyl qrnq" ovgf? Vg pna jbex nf n cybg cbvag va mbzovr svyzf naq inzcver svyzf, naq vg jbexrq ornhgvshyyl va Qvnobyvdhr naq Oybbq Fvzcyr, ohg sbe gur zbfg cneg V guvax vg'f whfg qnzarq naablvat. V jbhyqa'g zvaq vs vg jrer arire ntnva hfrq ba n znva punenpgre arne gur pyvznk bs n svyz. Vg'f nyzbfg arire qbar jryy.</spoiler>

Next post: less film, more Cannonball--and more in keeping with his namesake.
[]: With Strings/Jump for Joy
[]: Cannonball and Coltrane

Labels: , , ,

Post a Comment

<< Home