Friday, 25 June 2010

The Late, Great Peter Quaife of The Kinks

Peter Quaife, co-founder and original bassist of The Kinks, passed yesterday at 66. The cause has yet to be determined. Mr. Quaife had suffered kidney failure in the late Nineties.

Peter Quaife was born in Tavistock, Devon on 31 December 1943. He was raised at Muswell Hill in London. He attended William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School with Ray Davies. It was in 1961 that Peter Quaife, Ray Davies, and Dave Davies founded their own band, The Ray Davies Quartet or Peter Quaife Qurartet, later called The Ravens and finally The Kinks.

Initially the Ray Davies Quartet or Peter Quaife Quartet largely performed instrumental numbers, including material from The Shadows, Duane Eddy, and The Ventures. The group gradually began to include more rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues numbers. Eventually deciding they needed a lead vocalist, the group would go through a number of them in their early days, including a young Rod Stewart (they would only play one date with him at which it became evident they were incompatible). Just as the style of the band changed, so too would its name. The Ray Davies Quartet would become The Ramrods, then The Boll-Weevils (taken from Eddie Cochran's "The Boll-Weevil Song"), and finally The Ravens (inspired by the American International horror movie The Raven). The Ravens would unsuccessfully audition for various record labels before coming to the attention of American record producer Shel Tamy. It was perhaps largely due to Shel Tamy's influence that The Ravens were signed to Pye Records in early 1964.

According to Peter Quaife, the decision to change the name from The Ravens to The Kinks came about in December 1963, although they played under the name "The Ravens" until 1 February 1964. As to how the name "The Kinks" was developed there are several different stories. It is generally manager Larry Page who is credited with coming up with the name. In one story it is said that he saw old drunk in a pub look up at Ray Davies and Peter Quaife performing on stage, outfitted in black leather, and said, "Hey, look, there's a couple of kinks." According to original Kinks drummer Mike Avory, Ray Davies and Pete Quaife would go around dressed in cloaks, so that people referred to them as "kinky." It seems likely that the name was influenced by the character of leather clad Mrs. Cathy Gale on The Avengers. Indeed, in 1963 Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman recorded a novelty song parodying the character of Mrs. Gale called "Kinky Boots." In August 1963 the John Barry Seven also released a single titled "Kinky."

A recording contract and a new name would not guarantee The Kinks instant success. Their first single, a cover of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," released 7 February 1964, went nowhere on the charts. Their next single, an original entitled "You Still Want Me," released that April, also performed poorly. It was their third single that prove to be their first hit, not only in the United Kingdom but internationally. "You Really Got Me" would go to #1 on the UK singles chart, #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, #4 in Canada, and #2 in Australia. The song was also pivotal in the history of rock music. As one of the first songs built entirely upon power chords, it was one of the fundamental songs in the creation of the rock subgenre called "power pop (along with The Beatles' "She Loves You" and The Who's "I Can't Explain")."

The Kinks would go onto have more hits, including "All Day and All of the Night (#2 in the UK, #7 in the U.S.), "Tired of Waiting for You (#1 in the UK, #6 in the U.S.), "Set Me Free," "A Well Respected Man," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and "Sunny Afternoon." The band's first album Kinks (retitled You Really Got Me in the U.S.) was released in October 1964. Their second album, Kinda Kinks, was released in March 1965. Over the next few years, with Peter Quaife on bass, The Kinks would release The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Face to Face (1966, their first album of all original material), Something Else by The Kinks (1967), and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968).

Sadly, things would not go smoothly for The Kinks or Peter Quaife as their bassist. There was a good deal of infighting in the band, to the point that at The Capitol Theatre in Cardiff in May 1964 drummer Mike Avory assaulted Dave Davies on stage after Mr. Davies had insulted him. The Kinks would also find themselves banned from live performances or television performances in the United States by the American Federation of Musicians for "unprofessional conduct" in February 1965. The ban would remain in effect until 1969, effectively preventing The Kinks from adequately promoting their albums and singles in the United States. Indeed, after "Sunny Afternoon," released in March 1966, The Kinks would not have another hit single in the United States until "Lola" in 1970.

Peter Quaife was seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1966. During his recovery John Dalton filled for him as The Kinks' bassist. He would not be absent from any Kinks albums, however, contributing to all of them up to and including The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation  Society. He would sing backing vocals on the song "Waterloo Sunset," and even contributed some material to the album  Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).

By 1969 Peter Quaife had tired of the constant bickering in the band, as well as having little input into it, and announced that he was leaving. He was permanently replaced by John Dalton. Peter Quaife went on to found the band Mapleoak. Mapleoak would tour both the United Kingdom and Denmark in 1969 and 1970. The band's only single, "Son of a Gun," was released in April 1970 but failed to chart. Their only album, released in 1971, also failed to chart. Mr. Quaife then gave up his music career and moved to Denmark. By 1980 he had moved to Belleville, Ontario where he made a living as a political cartoonist for the local paper and an airbrush artist. He would play with The Kinks only one more time, in Toronto in 1971. He would play at times with The Kast Off Kinks, a band composed of former Kinks members. In 1998 Mr. Quaife experienced kidney failure. He would write a book on his experience, entitled The Lighter Side of Dialysis.

While Peter Quaife's music career was not overly long, he had an impact far greater than some musicians with much longer careers. Indeed, as he co-founded The Kinks, it quite possible the band may not have ever come into being without him, at least as we know them. He was indubitably one of the greatest bassists in the history of rock music. It was his bass line that drove many of The Kinks' earliest hits, from "You Really Got Me" to "Sunny Afternoon." Indeed, when John Entwistle (arguably the greatest bassist of all time) was asked in an interview with Goldmine Magazine in 1996 to name his favourite bassist, he replied, "'d say one of my favourite bass players was Pete Quaife because he literally drove the Kinks along." Peter Quaife was not merely the band's bassist, however, as he sang backing vocals on many Kinks songs. Short of John Entwistle himself, Peter Quaife was the greatest bassist in rock history. Indeed, while The Kinks would continue to do great work for the rest of their career, the band was never quite the same after Mr. Quaife left.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Actress Elzbieta Czyzewska R.I.P.

Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska passed on July 17, 2010 at the age of 72. The cause was oesophageal cancer.
Elzbieta Czyzewska was born on May 14, 1938 in Warsaw, Poland. In 1960 she graduated from theatre school in Warsaw. The same year she appeared in the short film Erotique, which caused a sensation in Poland. She appeared in Hamles that same year. Over the next few years she appeared in several films, including Zuzanna i chlopcy (1961), Zaudszki (1962), Zloto (1962), and Gozina pasowej rózy (1963), Pasazerka.(1963), Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (1965), and Niekochana (1966). It would be her marriage to write David Halberstam that would effectively end her career in Poland. Mr. Halberstam had written an article on anti-Semitism in Poland, which resulted in him being accused of slandering the Polish government and being expelled from the country. When Miss Czyzewska married Mr Halberstam, he then became an outcast in her homeland. Andrzej Wajda would cast her in Wszystko na sprzedaz (1969), an action which would led to many denouncing the director. She would not return to Poland until 1980s.

Elzbieta Czyzewska would have a career in the United States, making her American screen debut in Putney Swope (1969). In 1973 she appeared in the Swedish film Den foerste kreds. Miss Czyzewska would appear in the films Limuzyna Daimler-Benz (1982), Running on Empty (1988), Rude Awakening (1989),   Music Box (1989), Cadillac Man (1990), A Kiss Before Dying (1991), I Love You I Love You Not (1996), OK Garage (1998), Coming Soon (1999), Hunters in the Snow (2000), Happiness (2006), June Weddings (2007), and The Hungry Ghosts (2009). She guest starred on such television series Sex and the City, Third Watch, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and Damages.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Filmmaker Ronald Neame Passes On

English director and cinematographer Ronald Neame CBE, BSC passed on 16 June, 2010 at the age of 99.

Ronald Neame was born in London on 23 April, 1911. His father, Elwin Neame, was a photographer who would direct a few films in Britain in the Silent Era.  His mother was Ivy Close, an actress of the Silent Era who appeared in several films. He attended the the University College School in Hampstead and Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex.His father having died in an motorcycle accident, the family was low on money so that Mr. Neame took a job as a messenger boy at Elstree Studios when he was 16.

Ronald Neame was only eighteen when he served as an assistant cameraman on Blackmail (1929), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and considered the first British talkie. His first credit as cinematographer was on the 1933 film Happy. For the next several years he would serve as cinematographer on such films as Once in a Million (1935), Drake the Pirate (1935), King of the Castle (1936), Penny Paradise (1938), It's in the Air (1938), Major Barbara (1941), and Blithe Spirit (1945). Mr. Neame also served as a camera operator on the flying scenes in A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) and shot additional scenes for Brief Encounter (1945).

Ronald Neame formed the production company Cineguild with  David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allen. They produced such films as Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948).

In 1947 Mr. Neame made his directorial debut with Take My Life (1947). His third film would be The Card (1952), a Rank Organisation comedy starring Sir Alec Guinness. He would follow it up with The Million Pound Note, a Rank comedy starring Gregory Peck. He would go onto direct The Horse's Mouth (1958), Tunes of Glory (1960), I Could Go On Singing (1963),  The Chalk Garden (1964), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Scrooge (1970), The Odessa File (1974), and The Magic Balloon (1990).

Ronald Neame was gifted as both a cinematographer and a director. As a director he had an uncanny ability to coax great performances from actors, such as Judy Garland in I Could Go On Singing and Dame Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. He was also among the pioneers in Technicolour, both Blithe Spirit and This Happy Breed being among the earliest films to exploit its potential. He further exploited Technicolour in his films The Horse's Mouth and Tunes of Glory. Mr. Neame was among an extremely talented director, responsible for such classics as The Horse's Mouth, Tunes of Glory, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and many others.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ethnic Stereotyping and Classic Film

It is a sad fact of American society that for much of its history we have stereotyped several different ethnic groups. Many of these stereotypes developed even before the United States existed. Others would develop later. At their core ethnic stereotypes are generalisations of ethnicities, based on what is to be believed to be characteristics common to that ethnic group. By their very nature ethnic stereotypes tend to dehumanise the ethnicities they falsely portray, through asserting their inferiority to the dominant ethnicity of a culture. Ultimately, ethnic stereotyping is rooted in ethnic hatred and the belief that certain ethnicities are inferior to others.

From the end of the 19th Century into the beginning of the 20th Century, several different ethnic stereotypes were already well established in the United States. African Americans were stereotyped as child like, lazy, superstitious, happy, and ignorant (as typified by the characters played by actor Stepin Fetchit, shown above). East Asians were alternately stereotyped as malevolent, cunning, conniving, and sexualised, or as submissive, subservient, and docile. Native Americans were stereotyped alternately as hostile barbarians or noble savages at one with nature or quite simply drunks, and regardless of their ethnicity, in most movies prior to the Sixties Native Americans were always portryaed as if they were all Plains Natives. Here it must be pointed out that stereotyping was not limited to those ethnicities who had originated outside of Europe. The Scots were stereotyped as cheap. The Irish were stereotyped as drunks. The French were stereotyped as womanisers. Indeed, among the ethnicities to suffer the most from stereotyping in the United States were those of Hispanic descent. Mexicans were often stereotyped as slow, lazy, none too bright, and often drunk. Other times Mexicans were stereotyped as banditos, dirty, dishonest, irrational, and violent. Those of Spanish descent in general were also stereotyped as the "Latin lover," individuals who were highly sexualised, emotional, and often hot tempered. Ethnic stereotypes were very prevalent in the United States at the start of the 20th Century, appearing in advertising, comic strips, and the literature of the day. While many would fall into disuse shortly before the beginning or a shortly after World War II, others would persist well into the Sixties. Sadly, others would persist to this day.

Here it must be pointed out that while ethnic stereotypes were common in film for much of the 20th Century, often particular ethnicities were played by members of other ethnicities. While the use of performers of European in blackface to play African Americans largely ceased with Birth of a Nation (1915) , it was not unusual for performers of European or West Asian descent to play characters who were ethnically East Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. Indeed, the practice of yellowface, in which individuals of European, West Asian, and even Native American descent played East Asian characters, was well established in Hollywood from an early period. Indeed, some actors, such as Warner Oland (who played both Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan) played several roles in yellowface. Indeed, while blackface would only rarely be seen in movies after the 1910's, yellowface would persist into the Seventies and has been seen as recently as the film Crank: High Voltage (2009, in which David Carradine played the head of a Hong Kong Triad). Similarly, Hispanics were often played by individuals of Northern European, Itlalian, West Asian, and Native American descent were, a practice Raqeulle of Out of the Past has termed "brownface." Indeed, rather jarring instances of brownface existed as late as Giant (1956, with Sal Mineo, Sicilian in descent, playing a Mexican American) and West Side Story (1961, Natalie Wood, who was Russian in descent, playing a Puerto Rican). Fortunately, the practice of brownface would decline with the Sixties. While the practices of yellowface and brownface were common in Hollywood and would persist well into the Sixties, perhaps no other ethnic groups were played by individuals not belonging to those ethnic groups as Native Americans. Indeed, prior to the Sixties one would often be hard pressed to find a Native American character in a film who was played by a Native American. I call this practice "redface." Many well known actors who were not ethnically Native American would play Native Americans over the years, including Ricardo Montalban (Castilian in descent), Michael Ansara (Syrian in descent) , Jeff Chandler (Jewish in descent), and Henry Brandon (who was German).

Given how prevalent ethnic stereotypes were in American culture from the 19th Century into much of the 20th Century, it was inevitable that many ethnic stereotypes would find their way into film. This presents a problem for the classic movie fan, who is often faced with offensive ethnic stereotypes, even in movies we love. Indeed, I cannot remember the first time I watched a classic film in which one or more stereotypes were present. I may well have been Gone With the Wind, with the character of Mammy, as a child. I do remember the first time I was extremely offended by the presence of a stereotype in one of my favourite films. The movie was Breakfast at Tiffany's. The stereotype in question was Mr. Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney in yellowface, complete with buckteeth, and speaking with an extremely bad imitation of a thick Japanese accent.

Like Gone With the Wind and many other classics, I had first seen Breakfast at Tiffany's as a child. As a child I knew that people of Japanese descent did not look like Mr. Yunioshi (who was downright cartoonish in appearance). I also realised that in reality the Japanese did not behave as Mr. Yunioshi does in the movie, highly emotional and prone to tantrums. That having been said, as a child it did not occur to me that Mr. Yunioshi was not only an ethnic stereotype, but an extremely offensive one as well. When I first watched Breakfast at Tiffany's as an adult, upon first seeing Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, I felt as if I had been hit with a brick. Indeed, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time he appeared on the screen. It wasn't that seeing Mickey Rooney in yellowface, looking downright cartoonish, and speaking with a thick, stereotypical Japanese accent was simply jarring, it downright offended me.

My experience with Breakfast at Tiffany's would not be the last time I would be offended by a stereotype present in one of  the films I had loved as a child. Sadly, there would be many more times. Given the prevalence of ethnic stereotypes well into the Sixties and the widespread use of actors to play ethnicities not their own, it is impossible for the average classic film fan to avoid seeing several films in which ethnic stereotypes are present or, at the very least, actors performing in yellowface, brownface, or redface. Sadly, this can make watching many classic films difficult for the classic movie fan, who may react in any number of ways. Many classic film fans seeing a movie for the first time which includes an ethnic stereotype may have a knee jerk reaction to the point that he or she ignore any of a film's finer qualities and focus entirely on the  presence of the stereotype, even if the stereotype only appears briefly As a result he or she might entirely dismiss the film. Other classic movie buffs may have a more complex reaction upon watching a classic film which includes ethnic stereotypes. While they may enjoy the film,  perhaps even love the film, he or she may well feel guilty for doing so, even if they were very offended by the stereotype which appeared in the film. Such mixed feelings were exactly what I felt when I first watched Breakfast at Tiffany's as an adult, not to mention numerous other films.

The reaction a classic movie fan has when confronted with an ethnic stereotype can be even more intense when the particular stereotype is falsely portraying an ethnic group to which they belong. I cannot say I have a great deal of experience with this, as English and German stereotypes are more or less unknown in American cinema, while Cherokee stereotypes are rare. That having been said, being part Cherokee I do feel a bit of a kinship with other Native American ethnicities so that Native American stereotypes in general do evoke a strong reaction from me. Indeed, as much as I have always enjoyed the movie McLintock (1963), I cannot help but feel insulted at the portrayal of Running Buffalo (played by John Stanley), a stereotypical drunken Native whose primary concern is the presence of whiskey (the film also features a stereotypical, emotional Chinese cook in the form of Ching, played by H. W. Gim). I can imagine how a full blooded Comanche would feel seeing Running Buffalo's drunken antics on the screen.

Given the at times visceral reactions that ethnic stereotypes often evoke in viewers, it should be little wonder that many older films featuring stereotypes have been subject to self censorship by studios and television outlets in the past. Often this has consisted of simply cutting scenes which feature ethnic stereotypes. This was the case with the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons released by MGM in the Forties and Fifties. From 1940 (the very first "Tom and Jerry" cartoon "Puss Gets the Boot") to 1952,  Tom and Jerry's owner was an overweight, middle aged African American woman called "Mammy Two Shoes." Mammy Two Shoes was almost always shown only partially (she was only seen completely in three "Tom and Jerry" shorts), but she was voiced by actress Lillian Randolph using the stereotypical African American dialect. In the Sixties MGM hired Chuck Jones to re-animate Mammy Two Shoes' appearances in the Tom and Jerry shorts, replacing her with a slender, European American woman with a vaguely Irish accent (voiced by June Foray). The editing of the old "Tom and Jerry" cartoons to remove Mammy Two Shoes was not the only instance of a company making cuts due to concerns over ethnic stereotyping. In 1971 King's World Entertainment made significant cuts to the Our Gang comedies (syndicated under the name The Little Rascals), removing any humour derived from ethnicity. Feature films would even be cut due to ethnic stereotyping, as was the instance of many of the films which featured Stepin Fetchit. Often Stepin Fetchit's scenes would be cut completely from these films.

More extreme than simply editing sensitive ethnic material out of movies was the complete removal of films from circulation. At the same time that King's World Entertainment edited many of the Our Gang shorts, they removed seven of the shorts from syndication completely (including "A Tough Winter," which guest starred Stepin Fetchit). The removal of "A Tough Winter" from The Little Rascals syndication package should not be surprising, as Stepin Fethcit's films have not only been subject to editing, but to being taken out of circulation completely. Indeed, a  Warner Brothers short featuring Stepin Fetchit ("Clean Pastures") is among what has become known in animation circles as the "Censored 11," eleven Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies which United Artists removed from syndication in 1968 for ethnic stereotyping. Similarly, Walt Disney has never released the movie Song of the South on home video (neither VHS nor DVD) because of accusations of racism towards the film. Indeed, Song of the South was last released in theatres in 1986 and the film in its entirety has never been shown on television. A more recent case of films being removed from a television venue for alleged racism occurred in 2003. That year the Fox Movie Channel began regularly showing the Charlie Chan films each Monday as part of a summer film festival. Fox axed the film festival after complaints from Asian American activists.That having been said, the Charlie Chan films would later be shown on the Fox Movie Channel with round table discussions and still later released on DVD.

While I am offended by the appearance of ethnic stereotypes in films and I feel sympathy to others offended by ethnic stereotypes, I cannot say I am in favour of either editing classic films for content, removing them entirely from circulation, or, as I have seen a few suggested, rating them "R." One small objection I have to editing classic films, withdrawing them from circulation, or rating them "R" due to such content is that it seems to me that at times there is sometimes disagreement as to when a particular character is a stereotype. Okay, I think all of us can agree that Gold Hat in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Running Buffalo in McLintock and Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles are extremely offensive stereotypes. With other characters in classic film it is not so clear. The perfect example of this is Charlie Chan. Many Asian American activists have long claimed that Mr. Chan is an ethnic stereotype. They claim that he is submissive, non-aggressive, and even emasculated. In short, he is an early manifestation of the model minority stereotype. On the other hand, Charlie Chan's many fans, including myself, insist that he is not a stereotype. Indeed, having watched the entirety of the Charlie Chan series, it is hard for me to understand how he can be considered a stereotype. For one thing, while he may be overly apologetic (as a Southern gentleman I can be as well), Charlie Chan was not submissive. Not only in the films does Mr. Chan take charge of crime scenes, but it is not unusual for him to bark orders to individuals of European descent. Similarly, I think to describe Charlie Chan as non-aggressive is missing the mark. It is true Mr. Chan was not a violent man, but he was among the most dogged of detective in pursuing criminals--nothing could deter him. Finally, Charlie Chan was definitely not emasculated--he is hardly comparable to Mr. Yunoshi or Long Duck Dong. Charlie Chan was married and had ten children. He was also known to flirt with women on occasion.

In the end, the only thing I find about Charlie Chan that can be considered stereotypical s his somewhat stilted English (after living in Hawaii for so long, one would think his English would be flawless). While I must admit I am  offended by the fact that Charlie Chan has primarily been played by Europeans and European Americans, I must point out that this was a very common practice at the time and was largely an outgrowth of the studio system. While that does not necessarily make it right, it at least makes it understandable.While I realise that there are many who disagree with me (and I am sorry if I have offended anyone with my defence of Charlie Chan), the plain truth is that I don't see Charlie Chan as a stereotype at all.  Since there are a few characters such as Charlie Chan that no one can seem to agree is a stereotype, the idea of editing movies or removing them entirely from circulation seems wrong to me.

A much more serious objection I have to editing classic films or removing them from circulation entirely is the simple fact that in doing so it is nearly the same as saying that racism in film never happened. Certainly ethnic stereotyping is wrong. Certainly it offends people (myself included), but I cannot condone anything that essentially comes down to ignoring past wrongs. As for myself, I prefer a different approach to movies featuring ethnic stereotypes, one that does not pretend it never happened but at the same time makes it clear that it is unacceptable. On Warner Brother's Looney Tunes Golden Collection volumes of DVDs there is a disclaimer from Whoopi Goldberg explaining that while ethnic stereotyping is wrong, the animated shorts included in the collection are an important part of film history and editing the shorts would in effect be denying that such racism ever happened. While I do not believe the character of Charlie Chan to be an ethnic stereotype, I have to applaud the Fox Movie Channel for airing panel discussions to accompany the films. As I see it, by continuing to show films which include ethnic stereotyping while making it clear that such ethnic stereotyping is wrong, we can not only open up dialogues between various ethnic groups, but also insure that ethnic stereotyping never happens again.

To a degree I think we must approach classic films with a degree of cultural relativism, a sociological and anthropological principle in which an individual's beliefs and behaviour must be understood in terms of his or her culture. I think most of us can agree that ethic stereotyping is wrong. I think most of us are offended by ethnic stereotypes, even when it is not our ethnicity which is being stereotyped. In the end, however, I think we must accept that ethnic stereotyping was prevalent in the United States for much of the 20th Century and as a result ethnic stereotypes permeate most of the films made during this period. This is not to condone ethnic stereotyping and especially not to say that ethnic stereotyping is acceptable. Instead , it is an acknowledgement that ethnic stereotyping took place and was even very common for some time. In this way I believe we can move forward and insure that such ethnic insensitivity never happens again.