Sunday, December 06, 2009

Another Soundtrack Sampling - Once Upon a Time in China

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon here in New York City as I sit here with an open box of clementines keeping me company (and somewhat sticky) as I type this up. I am sure it is chilly outside but with the sun streaming through the window it is toasty. I feel like a cat on a windowsill barely being able to keep my eyes open. Ah, it is less than a week to go till I head off to warm southern climes where a pool and many juicy mangoes await me. My pool reading arrived yesterday via Amazon - two French pulp novels of yesteryear - Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc and Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.

The other day I made it to two films in the James Whale retro at Film Forum - Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Both classics obviously though you have to watch them with the realization that they are over 70 years old. People were clearly much more mellow back then and much more easily frightened. I was thinking how much fun it would be to take my time machine into the past and sneak into a theater and show the audience something like Saw (which I confess I have been too weak-kneed to watch). Their heads would explode. I hadn't seen either film in donkey's years and so to some extent it was like seeing them anew (my fading memory being a plus in this regard!) and what struck me was almost how prescient Whale seems to be about the coming age. The early 1930's was the dawning of the terror of Fascism and both films had dark murmurings within though likely they were not intentional. Frankenstein (1931) takes place in a lovely quaint German village with the Baron's son trying to create a new race of man that goes horribly wrong. The old Baron represents the passing age of good manners and a paternalistic attitude towards the common people while the son is all about science, progress and obsession. Then later the village town people go from schuhplatting (no, not having sex - that is a German folk dance) to an angry hunting mob that was within a few years to turn its anger in real life on the Jewish population in the infamous Kristallnacht (1938) and all the horrors that followed. In The Invisible Man (1933 - the year the Nazis came to power), the character played by Claude Rains is a cheap suit echo of a mad ranting Hitler in his dreams to conquer the world - and is done in only by the snow as Hitler was on the snows of Russia. Ok - that may be a stretch but it was kind of eerie. The Whale retro continues all week long.

Hallelujah! Yesterday I finished the final episode of Alias. I loved the first three seasons of that show and a while back I went through the DVD' s like butter popcorn but with conspiracy piled atop conspiracy it began to weigh itself down with so much absurdiity in the forth and fifth seasons that it took me a long while to get through them. The final fifth season cranks up the nuttiness full throttle with Sydney (played by Jennifer Garner) pregnant and as big as a two story cottage bungalow hanging on to crains and saving the world. When one of her evil female nemesises is dunked into a Hawaiian Punch brew of Sydney's DNA and comes out not only looking like Sydney but speaking like her I groaned at how corny the series had become but still continued to the end.

Last night I had dinner with a friend and he mentioned in passing that an acquaintance of ours had died a few months back. I was sad to hear it as it felt like one more New York institution was gone. A weird institution mind you as this was the famous Roberta, an elderly occasionally cranky woman who was known to all the true movie fans in the city. Her life was going to the movies every day and she would put together a schedule of films for that day, their starting times and her route to get there as fast as possible. On some days she told me once she would see five films if the timing was right - otherwise only three to four. She would show up at nearly every one of our films at the New York Asian Film Festival and almost always wheedle her way in free. She truly loved the magic of movies and kept as a remembrance every untorn ticket stub she ever got. You had to pray for the unknowing usher who would tear her ticket up and face her wrath. Roberta was one of the subjects of a documentary about film obsessed people called Cinemaniacs, but the one time I brought it up with her she began sputtering like a broken faucet "They made me look crazy in that film!". Well, ya Roberta, but lovable crazy. She was one of a kind. I hope there are movie theaters in heaven with comfortable seats and free popcorn for her.

Here are some selections from the soundtrack to the truly classic film, Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China. Looking at the pictures that were included on the insert made me feel like I need to visit the film again soon - it is just a great movie - Tsui at his best and of course Jet Li as well. The main theme song is famous and always brings back instant images of Wong Fei Hung training his students on the beach. There are two versions of the song (written by the legendary James Wong) that is based on a Chinese folk song from the Ming Dynasty (according to Wikipedia) - the first here in Cantonese is from George Lam and the second is in Mandarin from Jackie Chan. The rest are instrumentals that I tried joining together with some software but I was unsuccessful. I thought it would be easier than having to click on each individual song, but such is life.


YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

"My pool reading arrived yesterday via Amazon - two French pulp novels of yesteryear - Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc and Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre."

Arsene Lupin!!! I think it's time you start delving into the words of one Hayao Miyazaki!!!!!

Glenn, kenixfan said...

"There heads would explode" indeed.

My grandfather worked in theaters in the Depression and was an avid moviegoer as a kid; I'm sure I heard his stories about women fainting in screenings of Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera when the mask was removed a dozen times.

I can remember when I dragged him to see Star Wars in 1978 as the film was reissued for the first time that summer.

He thought it was too flashy and he said he preferred Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger instead! (He encouraged me in all of my stop motion experiments when I was 11 or so).

I was thinking the other day what would he say if he saw Speed Racer or something?

I still prefer Bride of Frankenstein over the first film but the first film has more creepy bits.

Brian said...

YTSL - what is the connection there?

Glenn - while my mother who is way up there loves watching horror movies with me!

Btw - are people able to play the songs? For some reason I can't and was wondering if it was my computer or if the links went mysteriously dead.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

These links work for me.

Haven't tried the other ones lately.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Among Miayazaki's early works are:-

Lupin III (TV Series 1 and 2)

And the very fun Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro... :)

Brian said...

Ah, I see - so I assume you want me to send you the book when I am finished reading it!

sbk said...

Hi Brian,

I too am saddened to hear about Roberta's death. I have fond memories of talking with her over the years at the NYAFF. When I saw her I would say hi like I'd recently seen her. I'd ask her what films she'd seen that day that she would recommend and she always had interesting comments. Sometimes we'd chat in between movies, often in the ladies room.....I will miss seeing her and it makes me happy to know you compt her tickets all those years.

Brian said...

SBK - hi - she was such a character and loved talking movies - I thought she would go on forever like a force of nature.

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

"Ah, I see - so I assume you want me to send you the book when I am finished reading it!"

Well... you could just pass me that book when we next meet up in Hong Kong! ;b