Father Dan Makes Gumbo
On not fanning the flames

Sunday Night Journal — April 22, 2012

Notes on a couple of movies I’ve seen recently.

Islands in the Stream

I saw this movie when it was released in 1976 or 1977 and liked it a great deal. I’ve thought about it occasionally over the years and wanted to see it again. Now I have, and I found it at least as good, maybe better, than I remembered. In fact I’m tempted to call it great. After watching it a week or so ago I looked around on the net for other opinions, and I found several people describing it as a forgotten and/or underrated classic. Not entirely forgotten, obviously, since it’s available on DVD. But offhand I don’t remember ever hearing it mentioned by anyone, critic or friend, since I saw it that first time.

It’s based on Hemingway’s posthumously published novel of the same name, which I hadn’t read in 1977 and still haven’t. I don’t think the critics had (or have) a very high opinion of the novel, and obviously I can’t speak to the relative merits of book and film, or the degree of resemblance between them. But if indeed it’s a mediocre novel, it’s one of those cases of a so-so book inspiring a very fine film.

The story is centered on an aging artist living in a sort of exile in the Bahamas, reasonably content but isolated. You might say it tracks his re-engagement with the people he loves, and the enlargement of that circle in a pretty dramatic way. He has three sons by two marriages who come to visit him for the summer, and a big part of the story involves the establishment or re-establishment of his relationship with them. Later the first of his ex-wives reappears. I really don’t want to say much more than that for fear of spoiling the story, which for me at any rate was very powerful when I was twenty-nine and is just as powerful now that I’m sixty-three. I remember on my first viewing thinking that it was a perceptive and accurate picture of the way men love, and I still think so.

George C. Scott’s performance as the protagonist, in many ways a typical Hemingway character, strikes me as simply perfect. And not the least of the film’s pleasures, by the way, is the Caribbean setting, beautifully photographed. It also has a score that seems to me at least considerably better than average.

I’d be interested in knowing whether anyone else has as high an opinion of it as I do.

We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen

One night six or eight weeks ago I was browsing around on Netflix and saw this available for online viewing. Out of curiosity I watched the first ten minutes or so of it. A few days later I found myself thinking about it, and went back for another ten minutes, and so watched the whole thing in ten or twenty-minute pieces.

The Minutemen, if you don’t already know it, were a punk band of the early 1980s, and theirs is one of the names that are always mentioned in any history of punk. I had paid almost no attention to punk at the time it was happening, and a few years ago decided to educate myself a bit on the subject. The Minutemen were one of the bands I had to hear, and I listened to the album which is generally considered their best, Double Nickels on the Dime (that is, 55 miles per hour on Interstate 10). I wasn’t greatly taken with their music, although I found it interesting. (You can read my review of it here.)

Yet I found this documentary fascinating. If punk is a musical style, I don’t care much for it. If it’s the expression of anger, or the simple desire to shock and offend, I don’t like it at all. But if it’s about the rejection of the entertainment industry, about people making their own music rather than passively accepting what the industry sells, and about artistic and personal integrity, I find a lot to like.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with rock-and-roll. A few minutes of watching the typical posturing of the typical commercially successful rock group are enough to make me never want to hear another note of it. The Minutemen, as they come across in this film, are refreshing, determinedly down to earth. There’s nothing of the usual sex-and-drugs-let’s-party rock-and-roll mentality about them. Watch the trailer below, especially that first bit, where the three members of the band are being interviewed. You might think at first that you’re hearing three kids who are just starting a band, but in fact that interview was made after they had become pretty successful—very successful, in the context of the “alternative” scene. They don’t seem to be trying to impress anybody; they’re still just being themselves, three guys who started a band. And look at and listen to Mike Watt, the bass player, the guy in the jeans and blue shirt whose reminiscences and reflections make up a big part of the movie: you’d never guess he’s a rock star. And of course he isn’t, in the sense that, say, Bono, is. He’s an impressive bassist and has been moderately successful since The Minutemen, but he doesn’t have anything like the stagey mannerisms and egotism (and, not infrequently, the apparent stupidity) that are too often the mark of rock musicians.

Punk rock—well, rock in general—usually brings along with it some degree of left-wing politics, and that seems to have been part of The Minutemen’s conception of integrity. To the extent that that’s expressed directly, it seems to be the usual rather simple-minded stuff—hating Ronald Reagan, and so forth. But it isn’t overpowering, and insofar as it’s rooted in a dislike of the commercialization and mechanization of every aspect of American life, those roots are healthy.

The film as a whole is made more affecting by the fact that D. Boon, the brilliant guitarist and not-so-brilliant singer, was killed in an auto accident in 1985 at the age of twenty-seven and at the height of the band’s achievement. Mike Watt’s grief is still (the movie was made in 2005) real and evident. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is an engaging picture of a very likeable group of musicians. I don’t know that it made me like their music any more, but it made me like and respect them. I think anyone with much interest in pop music would enjoy it. 

Here’s that trailer:

  

And, by the way, the explanation of the title, from the movie’s Wikipedia entry:

The title is a lyric from their song “The Politics of Time.” It’s also referred to in a comment made near the end of the film by Mike Watt, in a 1985 interview, when the band is asked if they have anything else to say. He answers for them: “We jam econo.” Econo was local slang for economic and described the band's dedication to low-cost record production and touring. It also describes the band’s (and burgeoning underground independent music scene’s) do-it-yourself attitude and philosophy.

Comments

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I have put Islands in the Stream on my list and I will await your wisdom about Winter's Bone--probably. I think that Double Nickels on the Dime is a wonderful title. I probably will not watch the film about the Minutemen, but "down-to-earth" tempts me. That's about the nicest compliment that I can give anyone except holy. Holy, and then down-to-earth are the best and the combination is the best of the best.

AMDG

I think you'll like Islands. The Minutemen...well, you probably would like parts of it, but I started thinking, probably a fourth to a third of it is concert footage, much like the last bit of that trailer, and I don't think you'd care much for that. I don't know that I'd put "down-to-earth" quite that high on the list of virtues, but it's very definitely a compliment when I use it.

My preference probably has to do with knowing too many people that aren't. ;-)

AMDG

YES, The Minutemen. These last few years or so I've been in the process of rejecting most of the music I grew up with--punk, rock, "alternative," etc.--since my conversion to Catholicism (and subsequent conversion from leftism to some form of conservatism), but I still love The Minutemen. D. Boon was really, as you said, a brilliant guitarist, Mike Watt very down-to-earth (I grew up in Long Beach CA, a few miles from San Pedro where they're from--Mike Watt was around a lot; though I've never met him, many of my friends have spent some time with him and love him). Integrity, fidelity, humility, and an absolute LOVE of music, this is what comes to mind when I think of them. (The lefty politics sort of comes with the territory I guess)

The change in my life, and/or in my self, is still relatively new, I'm still working out what gets kept from "the old life" and what gets (to the extent that it's possible) discarded; I'm sure these guys will stick around, in some form. In fact, I think I'll probably download something tomorrow of theirs, I just got a new ipod.

Anyway, I don't want to go on and on. Suffice it to say: Minutemen=Good. I concur. :-)

Watching that movie, I felt like I would enjoy being around those guys, which is not generally my reaction even to artists I like. Dylan, for instance...well, I guess he has enough of a reputation for being unpleasant that most people would be wary of him.

I've been working on what to keep for several decades now.:-) So don't get discouraged.

Long Beach produced a lot of punk bands, didn't it? I thought it was interesting that the Minutemen said "Peedro" instead of "Paydro."

Sometimes it's surprising what you get to keep. I think people tend to jettison a lot of stuff when they first convert, but then get it back in a redeemed sort of way.

AMDG

Sublime, though not punk in the strict sense, came from Long Beach, but not much else (that I'm aware of). Mostly LA and Orange County.

From what I hear they were very easy-going guys, and Mike Watt still is. Last I heard he was hittin the bars maybe a bit much if you know what I mean (that might not still be the case) but he's still passionate about playing music.

Yeah, Peedro, everybody says it like that. These places (San Pedro, San Diego, San Clemente) aren't people for us Californians, they're just places. It wasn't until adulthood that I realized that San meant saint, and that they all referred to real people. And, though it's slightly embarrassing, it wasn't until you mentioned it that I realized San Peedro is...Saint Peter. Wow. I definitely should've known that.

Sublime, though not punk in the strict sense, came from Long Beach, but not much else (that I'm aware of). Mostly LA and Orange County.

From what I hear they were very easy-going guys, and Mike Watt still is. Last I heard he was hittin the bars maybe a bit much if you know what I mean (that might not still be the case) but he's still passionate about playing music.

Yeah, Peedro, everybody says it like that. These places (San Pedro, San Diego, San Clemente) aren't people for us Californians, they're just places. It wasn't until adulthood that I realized that San meant saint, and that they all referred to real people. And, though it's slightly embarrassing, it wasn't until you mentioned it that I realized San Peedro is...Saint Peter. Wow. I definitely should've known that.

Well, when I wrote that last comment I wasn't thinking about what Pedro means, either. It's really sort of sad, the discrepancy between what most people (me included) think when they hear "Los Angeles" vs what it means.

I guess I'll delete the dup comment. I had one of my comments appear multiple times (like 3 or 4) a few days ago. Something not right with TypePad, apparently.

I thought I knew a little something about punk music, but I confess I've not heard of The Minutemen. Based on their name, I'd like them to service my car.

One day I should take the trouble to hear the "great" punk records. I believe that connoisseurs tend to put the glory days of the genre in the late 1970s: the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and so forth. My dislike of The Clash has dissuaded me from exploring the others.

The one punk band of whom I am quite fond is Rancid. (That's their name, not a description.)

My opinion of those: The Ramones are fun but a little goes a long way. The Sex Pistols are only interesting as a cultural artifact--their music is just boring and somewhat unpleasant. I like the best of the one Clash album I've heard, London Calling, though it's not something I want to hear very often. I also liked a song by Rancid that was on the radio some years ago. Don't remember the name but it was sort of ska-ish and quite catchy.

That doesn't much inspire me to hurry up and listen, but I do appreciate the advice. Rancid do have a jaunty kind of vibe to their music that might come out of ska or reggae. Their record ...And out come the wolves is my favourite.

These (linked to by a friend on Facebook) brought to mind a much earlier post about coloured photos from the 1940s: life.time.com/history/world-war-ii-london-in-color/

Yes! I ran across these some months ago and was going to post something about them here, but like so many things it sort of slipped away. These are great. Thanks.

I thought it probably wouldn't be hard to find the Rancid song I remembered, and sure enough it was the first search hit on YouTube: "Time Bomb". Definitely ska, but really fast.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jCA7F7aHxA

Here's something else that fits an earlier post I have no idea how to track down:
http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/2012/04/lefts-righteous-mind/521411#.T5Ueu_REPkU.facebook

Have to wait till later to reply--looks interesting

I've never seen Islands in the Stream, but will add it to my list.

I vaguely remember the Minutemen from my college days, but I was much more into "new wave" than punk at the time. Still, the documentary looks interesting.

On a related note, I've heard good things about "Control," the biopic about Joy Division's Ian Curtis.

I liked new wave, too, insofar as I was aware of it. Seemed to be a pretty vague term. A movie about Ian Curtis is probably somewhat on the down side. I like JD.

Paul, there's a lot to say about the piece you linked to, but for now I'll just say that it certainly fits with my experience.

"New Wave" was a sort of catch-all term for the music that developed alongside of, or in the wake of, punk in the late 70s and early 80s. That was the end of my high school years and the beginning of college. I was listening to stuff like The Police, Elvis Costello, The Smiths and Talking Heads. A little later came REM, U2, Chameleons and some of the other "post-punk" bands.

I tend to associate the term with synthesizers for some reason, and/or the sort of chilly off-kilter quality of Talking Heads and others. I heard most of the people you name but wasn't keen on them, apart from the first few albums by REM and U2.

Yeah, a lot of that stuff seemed really fresh at the time, but it hasn't aged well. I still think the first 3 REM albums are pretty good -- I listen to them fairly often. And I still like the Chameleons.

I haven't heard any of those for a long time so I don't know what I'd think of them now. I never much warmed up to either The Police or Costello. They're very good but for whatever reason they just don't do much for me. Well, there is a reason with Costello: his voice grates on me. Not familiar with the Chameleons.

They were one of those post-punk "big guitar" bands, like The Cure was before they went in their pop direction. I liked them because they were noisy but melodic at the same time. Plus they had reasonably interesting lyrics.

Fans generally agree that "Second Skin" is their best song. Personally, I think it's an 80s masterpiece. This vid isn't much but the post includes the lyrics, which is a plus.

Interesting thing -- in a reunion video from about 5 years ago at the point in this song where Mark Burgess repeats the line "someone's banging on my door," he knocks on his chest like someone's knocking on his heart, then he throws his hands up in the air and says "let him in, let him in, let him in..." Makes ya wonder, doesn't it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSyXorEmXqk

I like that. The instant the guitar and drums kicked in, you knew it was the '80s. Personally I always liked that general sound.

"let him in" Yes, could certainly mean something. A little before your time, maybe, but in the mid 1970s Paul McCartney had a song on the charts called "Let 'em In" (which I thought was "Let Him In." A good friend of mine who preceded me into the Church was at the time experiencing the first movements of conversion, and I remember him saying that the song seemed to be saying something to him. Mysterious ways...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1WAD1_jztg

Netflix tells me that there is a long wait for Islands in the Stream. A long wait for a 35 year old movie. I find that very strange.

AMDG

Not only that, but it costs $4.99 from Amazon on my Kindle. I've never seen anything that cost more than 2.99 before.

AMDG

If you had said that a couple of weeks ago, I would have figured it was because they only had one copy and I kept it for a month. But it should have been back there for at least a week now.

Music notes: the new Sigur Ros, Valtari, leans very much to the ambient side of things. Only gets loud in a few spots, but much of it is very lovely. This is probably the "biggest" song on the disc, and is just gorgeous (would love to hear this one live!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf1h2PMPCAo&ob=av2n

The other bright spot is the album "Bloom" by Beach House. A little Cocteau Twins, a little Lynchian dark retro, a little shoegaze (I know I've got Mac's attention!) Honestly, this is one of the coolest things I've seen/heard in awhile, and is very representative of the disc as a whole.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0MOcMPB5RQ

I heard the one with the ship video--I expect you know the one I mean. I liked it, of course, though I wasn't bowled over.

It's late so I'll have to wait till probably lunchtime tomorrow to watch/hear those. But yeah, you definitely got my attention there. I actually have heard one Beach House song, from probably their first album, given away on eMusic at the time. It was good but nothing very special. Sounds like they've improved.

Is that the one where the ship moves slowly across the screen? Yeah, that's an okay track, but not as good as some of the others on the disc.

After hearing a couple tracks from "Bloom" I went back and listened to some of the previous stuff. I found one tune I really liked ('Walk in the Park,' which has an extremely bizarre video) but most of it was just so-so. This record seems to be quite an advance.

After I posted last night I checked out the "official video" for 'Lazuli' -- well-done noirish sort of thing for another very good song.

Yes--the levitating ship.

I checked my enormous inventory of mp3s this morning and found that I have four tracks by them, none of which I recognized by name. A ridiculous situation. Maybe I started buying the first album a track at a time when eMusic's prices were still really low? I don't know...

I like the Sigur Ros. I was startled at first--I clicked the link, then brought another window to the foreground which hid the YT window, and this sort of generic pop-y music started up. Turned out to be the preliminary commercial.

And also the Beach House one. Interesting that Letterman holds up a copy of the vinyl album.

Newish video for the Beach House song 'Lazuli' -- I really like this tune.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfzFVbkutFE

Really nice. I didn't watch the video because I was busy doing something else, but I like the song a lot. I'll have to check that album out.

Yeah, I think you'd really like it -- not a bad song on it, actually, and it all has that same sort of retro feel to it.

My late spiritual director (obituary here) was a fan of punk rock.

(I see that the obituary now has a link to a eulogy by Martin Stone, someone known to Grumphy).

A sadly shortened life. Was he allowed to listen to punk rock in the monastery, I wonder?

And I wonder how he got to Belgium from Shreveport (Louisiana). Shreveport is not in the Catholic part of Louisiana. It's way up in the mostly Protestant northwest corner of the state. Away from the coast, Louisiana is more like the rest of the deep South.

Rob, I'm going to get Bloom tomorrow or the next day, when my eMusic subscription starts a new month.

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