Saturday, January 20, 2007:

body snatchers mix, part 8

Art Tatum -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (August 1, 1955)
A leisurely stroll down Vibraphone Lane. I can't help picturing this in a Woody Allen film, one of his light comedies, accompanied by a tracking shot with Allen and his love interest walking through Central Park.
[The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 3]

Art Tatum -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (September 7, 1955)
This time Tatum and his group have eight minutes to play a ten minute song; as soon as the last measure fades out, they throw down their instruments and dash outside to catch a bus.
[The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 5]

Ella Fitzgerald -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Feb - Mar 1956)
Ella Fitzgerald turns in an effortlessly classy big band version, strong and confident.
[Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook]

Tito Puente -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (May 2, 1956)
Puente leads a big band Latin jazz version: sax, trumpets, bass, drums, and piano supplemented with William Correa on bongo and Ramon Santa Maria on conga. The liner notes for this CD are both odd and brief, switching between defensiveness about Puente's body of work and scorn towards towards the perception of multiculti trendiness and the politically correct.
[Puente Goes Jazz]

Red Garland -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Aug 1956)
Red Garland leading his first album with the jazz trio. I enjoy this version more each time I hear it: the drums and bass step in and out at will; Paul Chambers delivers a solid acoustic bass solo; Arthur Taylor serves up two nice drum breaks; and the piano? If it's good enough for Miles Davis I'm willing to pay attention to it to try to figure out why. I'm sure I don't understand as much of it as Davis did, but I'm glad to give it the attention.
[A Garland of Red]

Julie London -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (1958)
I wish I had Girish's ear and could say something clever about this song's construction. It seems over before I expect it, and I'm at a loss as to how to describe the guitar.
[Julie London Sings Cole Porter ]

Anita O'Day -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (April 1959)
Anita O'Day delivers the line with a frantic melody, followed by some improvisation, scat and drum breaks, a sudden slowing and outro.
[Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May]

Mel Tormé -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Apr-Aug 1959)
This is not an unexpected delivery from Tormé, though if the date on this is correct I think it is an unexpected performance from his backup singers: the vocal style is a throwback to twenty years earlier (a style I enjoy quite a lot, but find in short supply for most post-WWII music).
[Night and Day: The Cole Porter Songbook]

Bill Evans -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (1959)
If music is the space between the notes, Evans is a master of feng shui, playing the melody like a familiar face in newsprint dots.
[Portrait in Jazz]

Apologies for posting so many tracks at once; this is not how I usually do it but I've started this mix so I want to finish it, and I'm feeling increasingly ready to move on to talking about songs which are not by Cole Porter.

In thinking of Ferrara's Body Snatchers, it occurred to me that Marti for some reason never attends school like her little brother, which led me to wonder why she was still at home, which in turn led me to wonder why I should assume that if she's old enough to have graduated then she should have moved. It's a cultural assumption about something that's not always true even in the U.S. Yet it's a useful assumption, insofar as it leads to questions about the various Body Snatchers works' inherent Americanness.

Siegel's 1956 version has been selected to the National Film Registry and honored by the American Film Institute, and yes, it seems informed by a distinctly American political landscape, whether the film serves as a metaphor for Communist or McCarthyist fears. But what about the other two films, and the text versions? I'm reminded of Stephen King's note in Danse Macabre that The Exorcist made little money in Germany, but that ticket sales for Dawn of the Dead were through the roof. King takes that as a sign of different culture: Germans were not particularly troubled by flower power and rebellious teenagers and so, lacking the cultural backdrop of The Exorcist, found the film uninteresting, yet Romero's satire of commercialism hit home. I wish I knew how the Body Snatchers films performed in other countries compared to other American releases. More than that, I wish I'd found some thoughtful writing about the cultural implications of the later two films, but most of the writings I've found on them either take the cultural background for granted or treat it in brief detail in service of a larger point.

I wonder, for instance, how a Japanese Body Snatchers might look, or what themes a Body Snatchers in The Netherlands would explore, or for that matter a Body Snatchers set in an English boarding school (think If.... as a horror film). I think the closest we got to that was Robert Rodriguez's The Faculty, based on an entertaining but hardly horrifying Kevin Williamson script.

Williamson makes the odd choice of having one of his characters accuse Finney's story of being a blatant ripoff of Robert Heinlein's Puppet Masters, another Cold War novel about an alien invasion. I haven't read the book but from conversation with Sean at Said the Gramophone, and from various readings about the book, it seems apparent that the novel's Cold War setting is as far from subtext as it is from tasteful. Yet Body Snatchers and Puppet Masters have some apparent differences: in Puppet Masters the aliens are parasites which attach to humans to control their minds; in Body Snatchers the aliens replicate the human bodies and memories and destroy the originals. The Faculty, in its alien-parasite/mind-control angle, shows more similarities to Heinlein's Puppet Masters than Body Snatchers does, and so its accusations against Finney come off as a bit cheeky (which is perhaps to be expected from the screenwriter of Scream).

Of the three official film versions, Ferrara's is the only one to have a sympathetic psychiatrist and, as it turns out, the main character in the The Invasion, played by Nicole Kidman, is also a psychiatrist. As mentioned in an earlier post, The Invasion was originally based on Finney's story, yet after a number of plot changes the producers decided the film was no longer based on Finney's work. But imagine if it still were--or, for that matter, imagine other settings the story might have to allow some easy commentary about our culture and what it means to be human.

1) An intern working in a mental hospital--ostensibly studying schizophrenia but secretly studying confirmation bias in diagnosis and treatment--finds that the ward's patients mysteriously become completely sane, one by one.

Ferrara's version at the end notes that the human experience is much more complicated than simply allowing love; imagine a Body Snatchers unafraid to tackle existential despair. Prior film versions have had characters, horrified, rejecting the notion of a world without love; this one asks whether to reject a world without hate, impulsiveness, despair, and paranoia. And what about mankind's fundamental freedom to do anything at all, including make unwise decisions?

Budget: $15 million.
Key scene: a bipolar woman accepts the alien assurance of a world without misery.
Direction: a cross between Mario Bava and Ingmar Bergman.
Tomatometer: 73%
Cultural influence: film geeks remember it fondly; the film is mentioned in a footnote in a Master's thesis in mass communications submitted in 2012.
Recoups investment: two weeks into French release.

2) The Faculty suffers a few flaws, not least that the plot is fairly predictable and that the characters occasionally act more like chess pieces than people. Still, a high school or middle school would be a fantastic place for a Body Snatchers film, exploring what Ferrara touched on: adults don't listen to children, and children have little power. This remake sets the film in a typical U.S. high school and asks the audience to imagine a put-upon main character dealing with constant harassment, mounting anxieties, indifferent teachers, and unhelpful parents.

Budget: $25 million.
Key scene: The bullies allow the geek to eat his brownbag lunch without addenda, confrontation, or even a sidelong glance.
Direction: like a less careful but more cosmopolitan Steven Spielberg.
Tomatometer: 58%
Cultural influence: carvings on 3% of the nation's middle school desks.
Recoups investment: opening weekend.

3) The congregation of a Southern Baptist church loses its passion for Hallelujahs and Praise-the-Lords. They have dinner on the grounds; Mrs. Johnson fails to comment about the amount of onion in Mrs. Smith's casserole. Tithes go up as everyone begins contributing the 10%; SUVs become less common in the parking lot as carpooling increases.

Budget: $14 million.
Key scene: "Oh Hallelujah, Mrs. Sullivan! You had your baby already!?"
"Oh, no; Harold and I decided we didn't want it. Isn't that right, dear?"
"Yes, dear."
Mrs. Sullivan gets solemn, approving nods from most of the choir.
Direction: wildly variable, with a script that critics wish were a subtle satire.
Tomatometer: 6%
Cultural influence: The Unitarian Universalists condemn the film and Pat Robertson praises it, in both cases for being homophobic and witless.
Recoups investment: Twelve years after theatrical release.

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Great mixes! And I like your "analysis," too.

Really a great tune, and the versions you have posted really encompass the wide variety of versions. Have you heard the version by Hank Jones with Meridian String Quartet. It is really worth checking out. I can email you a copy if you don't have it.

Thanks, Anon.

Jeremy, that version is one of my favorites. It'll be in the mix, yes, a couple of posts from now.

Brilliant work sir!

Thanks. It was fun.

A reminder that there are signals of American culture encoded into these films which I'm undoubtedly missing (since I'm in the forest looking at trees):

'Greek civilization seems to have given us the basis for our Western idea that "main entry" ought to be "the author." This kind of entry has not appeared in any work that has survived from early Eastern civilizations. Even today in Asian countries the traditional entry for a book is its title. One Japanese librarian of my acquaintance once observed that the principle of author entry goes along with democracy, since it rests upon belief in the importance of the individual.'
--The Organization of Information, 2nd ed., Arlene G. Taylor, p. 51.

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