Saturday, 23 September 2006

Sir Malcolm Arnold R.I.P.

British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold, who won an Oscar for the score for Bridge on the River Kwai, has died following a chest infection. He was 84 years old.

Arnold was born in Northampton on October 21, 1921. He studied music at the Royal College of Music. He played with the London Philharmonic before eventually taking to composition. His first music composed for movies was for segments of This Modern Age in 1946. He would go onto compose music for such films as Hobson's Choice, The Belles of St. Trinian's, I am a Camera, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Suddenly Last Summer and the 1964 adaptation of The Thin Red Line. His most memorable score is probably the one he composed for The Bridge on River Kwai, for which he won the Oscar for Best Music, Scoring. He was the first British composer to win the award.

In addition to the Academy Award, Arnold also won an Ivor Novello Award for his score to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. In 1969 he was also made a Bard of the Cornish Gareth. He received the C.B.E. the following year. In 1993 he was knighted. Arnold also received several honourary doctorates.

As well as his film scores, Arnold wrote several tonal works and various concertos.

There are those film scores which stand out in one's mind, that one can hear in one's mind well after he or she has seen a film. These are the sort of scores Arnold composed. What is even more remarkable is that Arnold composed over 130 scores for films. A composer who was prolific and capable of great quality, he was certainly a rarity.

Friday, 22 September 2006

Suffragette City

One of my favourite music artists of all time is David Bowie. And my favourite Bowie album of all time is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. And my favourite song from that album is "Suffragette City." Indeed, it is my favourite Bowie song of all time (even more than "Space Oddity"). Just in case you have never heard the song (which given the air play it still gets, I think is unlikely unless you have never listened to rock music at all), here are the lyrics:

Hey man, oh leave me alone you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place

Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work's down the drain
Hey man, well she's a total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she... then she...

(CHORUS)
Oh don't lean on me man, cause you can't afford the ticket
I'm back on Suffragette City
Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you ain't got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight...she's all right

Hey man, Henry, don't be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can't take you this time, no way
Hey man, droogie don't crash here
There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes

CHORUS

Oh hit me!

CHORUS

A Suffragette City, a Suffragette City
I'm back on Suffragette City, I'm back on Suffragette City
Ooo, Sufraggete city, ooo, Suffragette City
Oooh-how, Sufragette City, oooh-how, Sufragette City, oooh-how
Sufragette

Ohhh, Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!

A Suffragette City, a Suffragette City
Quite all right
A Suffragette City
Too fine
A Suffragette City, ooh, a Sufragette City
Oh, my Sufragette City, oh my Suffragette City
Oh, Suffragette
Suffragette!

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a concept album relating the rise and fall of rock star Ziggy Stardust, a messiah from Mars who ultimately fails in his mission to save Earth. "Suffragette City" is the next to last song on the album. Following the song "Ziggy Stardust," which tells of the beginnings of Ziggy's downfall, "Suffragette City" continues that theme. As the song says, "...my work's down the drain..." At this point in Ziggy's career he had given in wholly to the excess of sex, drugs, and his rock stardom, destroying any chances he had as a messiah.

Oddly enough, even though "Suffragette City" is identified as one of the David Bowie songs and the best song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it was not written for the album. "Suffragette City" existed in some form as early as 1971. Indeed, if things had gone differently, it might not have even been recorded by David Bowie. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople. Rumours to this day persist that a version of the song recorded by Mott the Hoople exists.

The song itself is a mixture of various influences, both music and pop culture wise. Over all the song borrows a good deal from classic rock 'n' roll, both in its piano (borrowed apparently from Little Richard) and its "saxophone (actually an ARP synthesiser)." At the same time, it at times seems reminiscent of the surf music of The Beach Boys (who borrowed heavily from the rock 'n' roll greats as well). The catchphrase "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!" was the title of a song from jazz great Charles Mingus's 1961 album Oh, Yeah. Given Bowie's love of jazz, there can be little doubt that the borrowing was intentional. The song also makes reference to the classic novel and the movie adapted from it A Clockwork Orange in the line "Hey man, droogie don't crash here." In A Clockwork Orange "droog" is a term for a young thug or gangster.

Regardless, I have always loved the song. For me "Suffragette City" is not only one of the most accomplished and well done songs of classic rock, but a darn catchy tune as well.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Smith

Lately television seems to have developed a taste for thievery. Last season saw the debut of two short lived series centred on professional thieves, Heist and Thief. It is left to be seen if the similarly themed Smith has what it takes to succeed where those two series failed.

Smith features Ray Liotta as Bobby Stevens, a man with a double life. He is a family man with a wife (the beautiful Virginia Madsen) and two kids, who makes a living selling paper cups. But Bobby is also a master thief who heads a crew that only goes after high priced items (think Rembrandt paintings and the like), a side of his life his family is seemingly ignorant of. This is a show where the lead character might be getting onto his son about doing his homework one minute, only to be shown committing a daring heist the next.

Smith is well cast. Liotta is perfect as Bobby Stevens, believable both when he is in the midst of a robbery or interacting with his wife and kids. Virginia Madsen shines as his wife Hope, speaking more words with the look in her eyes than many actresses can with their voices. Bobby's crew is rounded out by well established actors of film and television, including Simon Baker from Red Planet (who plays Jeff, a cold blooded assassin), Amy Smart from Felicity (who plays con artist and forger Annie), and Franky G from the remake of The Italian Job (who plays Joe, one of the crew's transportation experts).

While I must say that I enjoyed Smith, I must also admit that I am a bit worried for its survival. Smith packed more action and suspense in its debut episode than many shows do in ten episodes. This is a very fast paced series. Worse yet, the show hardly has a linear plot. It can move from flashbacks to the present day with the ease that Quentin Tarentino does in his movies. It is left to be seen whether viewers, accustomed to more casually paced, linear series will take to what is a very intelligent, very complex show. As it is, my concerns may not be unwarranted. Tuesday night Smith was beaten in the Nielsens by both Law and Order: SVU and Boston Legal. Worse yet, its second half hour had lower ratings than its first, meaning viewers actually tuned away. I suppose it is possible for a show to be too intelligent for its own good.

At any rate, I liked Smith quite a bit. If anything else, it is a good change of pace from the police procedurals, reality shows, and talent competitions that have filled the airwaves for the past several years. I only hope that audiences are anxious for something that is daringly different as well.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Pat Corley R.I.P.

Character actor Pat Corley died September 11 of congestive heart failure. He was 76 years old. Corley was probably best known as Phil the barkeeper on the TV series Murphy Brown.

Corley was born on June 1, 1930 in Dallas, Texas. His introduction to the world of entertainment came as a ballet dancer in the Stockton Ballet. He served in the Army during the Korean War. Following the war, Corley moved to New York City. There he attended the American Theatre Wing. He and his wife both performed in summer stock. Eventually Corley scored his first role on Broadway in the Actors Studio production, Blues for Mr. Charlie. By 1969 he would make his first appearance in a TV series, in a bit part in N.Y.P.D.. His first appearance in a feature film would be in Super Cops in 1974.

The bulk of Corley's acting career would be spent on television. Over the years he guest starred in such series as Get Christie Love, Kojak, Lou Grant, Coach, and Moonlighting. Corley would eventually receive regular or recurring roles in various TV series. He was a regular in the series Bay City Blues (1983), Fresno (1986), and He's the Mayor (1986). His two best known television roles would be in two classic series. On Hill Street Blues he played coroner Wally Nydorf. On Murphy Brown he played Phil, the owner of Phil's Bar where the team of news magazine FYI relaxed.

Corley also appeared in several films. Among the movies in which he appeared were Audrey Rose, Night Shift, True Confessions, and Purgatory Flats. His last appearance on screen was in the film Come Early Morning in 2006.

Corley also had a career on stage. He appeared in the off Broadway play The Peace Creeps. On Broadway he appeared in Of Mice and Men and Sweet Bird of Youth.

I must say that I am truly saddened by the death of Pat Corley. Aside from Elden the painter (played by the late Robert Pastorelli), Phil was always my favourite character on Murphy Brown. He was the humourous sage who dispensed advice from his bar, the lone voice of sanity in Washington D.C. on the show. I also enjoyed his as Wally Nydorf, the coroner on Hill Street Blues. Even though it was not a regular role, Nydorf remains one of the most memorable characters on the show for me. In the Eighties and Nineties he was easily one of the most talented character actors on television. It is sad to think he is gone.