Saturday, April 27, 2024

Long-Time Moody Blues Keyboardist Mike Pinder Passes On

Mike Pinder, a founding member of The Moody Blues and the band's long-time keyboardist, died on April 24 2024 at the age of 82. He had been suffering for many years from dementia.

Mike Pinder was born on December 27 1941 in Erdington, Birmingham. As a young adult he joined the band El Riot and The Rebels, which included future Moody Blues members Roy Thomas and John Lodge. He served for a time in the British Army. After returning to England, Mike Pinder played in a band called The Krew Cats, who played at some of the same venues in Germany as The Beatles. It around the same time he was in The Krew Cats that Mike Pinder worked as an engineer at Streetly Electronics, in Streetly, Birmingham. Streetly Electronics is notable for the first models of the Mellotron in the United Kingdom. The Mellotron is an electronic instrument that would prove pivotal in the history of The Moody Blues.

It was in May 1964 that Mike Pinder, Roy Thomas, Clint Warwick, Denny Laine, and Graeme Edge formed what was then called The M & B 5. The band was soon renamed The Moody Blues. The Moody Blues signed with Ridgepride, a label that leased their records to Decca. Their first single, a cover of Bobby Parker's "Steal Your Heart Away" saw little success, but their second single, "Go Now," proved to be a hit. It reached no. 1 on the UK singles chart and no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies (released as Go Now in the US) was released on July 23 1965.

Unfortunately, The Moody Blues were unable to immediately follow up the success of "Go Now." Their single ""I Don't Want to Go On Without You" only went to no. 33 on the UK singles chart. "From the Bottom of My Heart (I Love You)" went to no. 22. "Everyday" would be their last single to chart for a time, only going to no. 44 on the UK singles chart. Clint Warwick left the band in July 1966, retiring from the music business entirely. Frustrated by the band's lack of success, Denny Laine would also leave The Moody Blues. Clint Warwick and Denny Laine would be replaced by John Lodge and Justin Hayward.

Having been playing R&B covers and original material along the same lines, The Moody Blues eventually changed their style. The single "Fly Me High"/"I Really Haven't Got the Time" (the latter of which was written by Mike Pinder) marked move towards psychedelia. "Love and Beauty" by Mike Pinder would mark an even greater shift in style for the band, marking the first time the Mellontron was used on a Moody Blues song. It was in 1967 that The Moody Blues' groundbreaking album Days of Future Passed was released. The album combined orchestral elements with rock music and established the style for which The Moody Blues would become best known. The album would also prove to be a success. While it only reached no. 2 on the UK album chart, it reached no. 3 on the Billboard album chart. It was Mike Pinder who recited the spoken lines on the album on the tracks "Morning Glory," and "Late Lament."

The Moody Blues would continue to release successful albums from the late Sixties into the Seventies. Mike Pinder sang and wrote many songs during this period, particularly those featuring a classical influence. He wrote the B-side for the band's 1968 single "Ride My See-Saw," "A Simple Game," for which he won an Ivor Novello Award. His song "So Deep Within You" was later covered by The Four Tops. For John Lennon's album Imagine he was a guest on the songs "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier (I Don't Wanna Die)" and "Jealous Guy."

The Moody Blues went on hiatus in 1974. Mike Pinder moved to Southern California that same year. He recorded his first solo album, The Promise, which was released in 1976. The Moody Blues regrouped in 1977 for the album Octave. Mike Pinder elected not to tour with the band, and he was replaced on the tour by Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who had been with Yes. Mike Pinder left The Moody Blues following the recording of Octave.

Mike Pinder then went to work for Atari Inc., where he worked on music synthesizers. He eventually released his second and final solo album, Among the Stars, in 1994. He also wrote two spoken word albums, A Planet With One Mind (1995), in which he recited children's stories from different parts of the world. A Planet With One Mind was followed by another spoken word album, A People with One Heart.

Mike Pinder was pivotal to the success of The Moody Blues. In introducing the Mellontron to the band, he was responsible in part for moving The Moody Blues towards the more progressive sound for which they would be known. Until he left following Octave, Mike Pinder was the band's primary music arranger. He wrote several songs for the band, and on those which he did not write he often contributed his skill with the Mellontron or even his voice. Ultimately, Mike Pinder's influence would extend beyond The Moody Blues and he would have an influence on the progressive rock and symphonic rock genres as a whole.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Seven Samurai Turns 70

It was 70 years ago on this date, on April 26 1954, that Seven Samurai was released in Japan. It is regarded as Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, as well as one of the greatest movies ever made. As for myself, it is my favourite movie ever made. Indeed, I consider it the greatest movie of all time.

When I was growing up one of my favourite movies was (and still is) The Magnificent Seven (1960), a tale of seven gunslingers who band together to defend a small village from marauders. I would be a teenager before I learned that The Magnificent Seven was based on an earlier, Japanese film, Seven Samurai, in which seven samurai band together to defend a village against bandits. I would be in my twenties before I actually saw Seven Samurai. I had already seen Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), which I both loved. When my best friend rented Seven Samurai from 9th Street Video in Columbia, I was then more than ready to see it. It did not disappoint. In fact, even upon my first viewing I decided it was one my favourite movie of all time and what I considered the greatest movie ever made. I have seen Seven Samurai many time since then and my opinion has not changed.

Seven Samurai is certainly a marvel of cinematic technique. Asakazu Nakai's black-and-white cinematography is beautiful. Nearly even given frame of Seven Samurai would make for a great still photography. Akira Kurosawa's editing is also superb, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he edited the movie even as it was being shot. As to Akira Kurosawa's direction, it too is incredible. As much as I love Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder, I remain convinced Akira Kurosawa is the greatest director of all time, and Seven Samurai is his best work.

While Seven Samurai boasts fantastic cinematography, editing and direction, it may be the screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni that its greatest strength. The story is nothing short of compelling, as a small Japanese village in 1586 hires seven samurai to defend them against bandits who have attacked the village regularly. As might be expected, there are several great action scenes, but Seven Samurai is much more than an action movie. The characters are all fully rounded, from the samurai to various villagers, so that the interactions between the various characters make for several great scenes. Seven Samurai is also well-paced. The film clocks in at three hours and 23 minutes, but it hardly feels that long. In fact, when I first saw Seven Samurai I told my best friend it could be even longer.

Not only does Seven Samurai boast a great script, but also great acting as well. There is not one bad performance in the film. Toshiro Mifune, who gave many great performances throughout his career, gave what may be his best performance in his career as Katsushirō, a peasant who aspires to (and is eventually considered) a samurai. Takashi Shimura also gives a great performance as Kambei Shimada, the war-weary leader of the samurai. Kokuten Kōdō as Gisaku, the village elder whom everyone calls "Granddad," is remarkable. All of the actors in Seven Samurai give great performances, no matter how small their role may be.

Of course, Seven Samurai was revolutionary and remains highly influential. Japanese film expert Michael Jeck suggested that it was first movie in which a team of heroes was assembled for a mission, a trope that has since been used in movies from The Guns of Navarone (1961) to Star Wars (1977). In addition to The Magnificent Seven, it has also been remade several times. The film's pacing and visual aesthetic would also be influential on American and British action films from the Sixties to today. As strange as it might sound, films as diverse as the James Bond films and Saving Private Ryan (1998) have been influenced by Seven Samurai. Of course, various elements from Seven Samurai have been used in yet other action films, from the introduction of a hero in a scene unrelated to the plot to use of rain to large battle scenes have been borrowed by numerous other movies.

What appeals to me about Seven Samurai is that at its core is its humanity. The fact that its heroes, as well as the villagers, are all human beings with their fare share of virtues and flaws, makes the heroism of both the samurai and the villagers even greater than if they had been more traditional movie heroes of the time. As great as the film's cinematography, editing, and direction is, as good as its pace is, I think the reason Seven Samurai has remained influential seventy years after its release is that it is an epic, but at the same time realistic story of ordinary people who become heroes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Late Great Terry Carter

Terry Carter, who played Private Sugarman on The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Joe Broadhusrt on McCloud, and Colonel Tigh on Battlestar Galactica, died yesterday, April 23 2024, at the age of 95.

Terry Carter was born John Everett DeCoste in Brooklyn, New York on December 16 1928. He He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan in 1946. He attended Northeastern University and then studied law at St. John's University. He left to become an actor.

Terry Carter made his debut on Broadway in 1954 in Mrs. Patterson. In the Fifties he also appeared in Finian's Rainbow. He made his television debut in an episode of Playwrights '56 in 1955. It was only a few days later that he began his stint playing Private Sugarman on The Phil Silvers Show. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run. He also guest starred on the shows The Big Story, Playhouse 90, First Person, and Play of the Week. He also appeared in a television production of The Green Pastures.

In the Sixties Terry Carter appeared on Broadway in Kwamina. In 1961 he made his movie debut in Parrish. He also appeared in the movie Nerosubianco (1969). He guest starred on the shows Naked City, Breaking Point, Dr. Kildare, For the People, Combat!, The Defenders, Julia, That Girl, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Bracken's World, Mannix, and The Most Deadly Game. He began his stint playing Sgt. Broadhust on McCloud.

In the Seventies he continued to star on McCloud until the show ended its run in 1977. He starred as Colonel Tigh on Battlestar Galactica during that show's single season. He guest starred on the shows Search and The Cop and the Kid. He appeared in the movies Brother on the Run (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Benji (1974), and Abby (1974). 

In the Eighties Terry Carter guest starred on the shows The Jeffersons, Falcon Crest, The Fall Guy, Mr. Belvedere, 227, and The Highwayman. He reprised his role as Joe Broadhurst in the television reunion movie The Return of Sam McCloud. In the Nineties he appeared in the movie Hamilton (1998). He guest starred on the TV series One West Waikiki. He reprised his role as Tigh in Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming, a four minute short meant to spark interest in a movie sequel to the television series.

In 2001 Terry Carter appeared in the TV mini-series Hamilton, which the 1998 film with additional scenes filmed. . In 2012 he appeared in the movie Hamilton: I nationens intresse.

Terry Carter formed his own production company in 1975, which made documentaries. He directed and produced the documentary A Duke Named Ellington, which aired on the PBS series American Masters. From 1966 to 1968 he was a news anchor on WBZ-TV in Boston, making him the first Black news anchor in New England.

Chances are good that Terry Carter will always be remembered best as Sgt. Broadhurst on McCloud. Broadhurst tended to be a pessimist as contrasted with McCloud's eternal optimism, but always went along with McCloud, even when it contradicted Chief Clifford's orders. Of course, he'll also be remembered as Pvt. Sugarman on The Phil Silvers Show and Col. Tigh on Battlestar Galactica. He also played memorable roles in television guest appearances and movies. He was the only Black actor to guest star on Combat!, playing Archie in the episode "The Long Wait," a somewhat naive truck driver with no combat experience. In the Mannix episode he played Marcus Fair, the late husband of Mannix's secretary Peggy, in flashback. In the movie Foxy Brown he played Foxy's ill-fated boyfriend, a government agent who had gone undercover to investigate a drug syndicate. In Abby he played a preacher whose wife (the title character) becomes possessed by a spirit. Terry Carter always delivered solid performances, even when the material might not have been particularly good, and could play a wide variety of roles.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The 100th Anniversary of Sherlock Jr.

Sherlock Jr. (1924) remains one of Buster Keaton's most famous movies. It also remains one of the most famous silent movies of all time. Its special effects were revolutionary for the time, and still hold up today. Indeed, the effects in Sherlock Jr. look better than much of the CGI used today. It was 100 years ago on this date that Sherlock Jr. was released.

Sherlock Jr. centres on a poor, young projectionist at a small town theatre who is in love with the daughter of a wealthy man (Kathryn MacGuire). Unfortunately, he has a rival in the form of the Local Sheik (Ward Crane), who steals and pawns the girl's father's pocket watch, and then frames the projectionist for it. While running a film at the theatre, the projectionist falls asleep and dreams that he enters the movie being shown. Titled Hearts and Pearls, the movie is about the theft of a string of pearls. The Projectionist then dreams that he is a great detective, Sherlock Jr., who is called to find the missing pearls.

Buster Keaton would later state that the idea of his character walking into the screen of a movie being shown at a theatre was "the reason for making the whole picture ... Just that one situation." The movie was then built around that idea. The movie was originally titled The Misfit. Marion Harlan was originally cast as The Girl, but she fell ill. She was then replaced by Kathryn McGuire, who had appeared in such films as The Silent Call (1921), Playing with Fire (1921), and The Sheik of Araby (1923). The Girl's Father was played by none other than Buster Keaton's father, Joe Keaton, who had already appeared in several of his son's films, including "The Electric House" (1922) and Our Hospitality (1923). Ward Crane, who played The Local Sheik and the villain of Sherlock Jr., had appeared in such movies as French Heels (1922) and Destiny's Isle (1922). Erwin Connelly, who played The Hired Man (and in the movie within a movie, Hearts and Pearls, the butler), had already appeared with Buster Keaton in the movie Our Hospitality (1923).

Although often credited to Buster Keaton, there is some question as to who directed Sherlock Jr. In 1923 Camera! magazine stated that Buster Keaton was the film's sole director. The only directorial credit in the film itself belongs to Buster Keaton. Despite this, in Buster Keaton's autobiography he states that he wanted to help his old friend and co-star Roscoe Arbuckle, who was still reeling from the 1921 scandal involving the death of actress Virginia Rappe, and so he hired him to co-direct Sherlock Jr. As it turned out, Mr. Arbuckle's disposition had changed since the scandal. He was bad-tempered and even abusive towards the actors. Even having worked with Roscoe Arbuckle on several films, Buster Keaton found him difficult to work with. According to Buster Keaton, he was reluctant to let Roscoe Arbuckle go, but he felt he had to. He said that his business manager, Lou Anger, proposed that Mr. Keaton ask Marion Davies hire him for her next film, The Red Mill. The problem with this is that The Red Mill would not even start production until well after Sherlock Jr. was being made.

While there are those who maintain that Roscoe Arbuckle directed all of Sherlock Jr., Kevin Brownlow and David Gill came to the conclusion that Mr. Arbuckle started Sherlock Jr., but did not finish it, as he was directing Al. St. John films at the time. This seems to be a likely explanation, particularly given Sherlock Jr. is credited to Buster Keaton and not Roscoe Arbuckle under a pseudonym (following the scandal, he used the pseudonym William Goodrich to direct movies).

Of course, Sherlock Jr. remains well-known for its special effects and stunts. Among the most remarkable effects in the film is that of Buster Keaton's character walking into a screen as a movie is playing. What makes the sequence even more remarkable is that the scenery often changes around Mr. Keaton. The effect was accomplished by Elgin Lessley, who had already worked with Buster Keaton on several films, including "Cops" (1922), "The Electric House" (1922), Three Ages (1923), and Our Hospitality (1923), among others. In order to achieve the effect of Buster Keaton entering the movie screen, surveyor's equipment was used so that Elgin Lessley could keep exact measurements for Buster Keaton's distance from the camera for each and every shot. Here I have to digress to point out that Elgin Lessley was born in Higbee, Missouri, making him a Randolph Countian like myself.

Elgin Lessley was not the only cameraman on Sherlock Jr., as Byron Houck also worked on the movie. Byron Houck had been a baseball player, having played with the Philadelphia, Athletics, the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, the St. Louis Browns, and the Vernon Tigers. Roscoe Arbuckle bought the Tigers and this was how Byron Houck entered the film industry. Sherlock Jr. would be his first film, He would later shoot Buster Keaton's movies The Navigator (1924),  Seven Chances (1925), and The General (1926).

While Elgin Lessley was responsible for many of the effects in Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton was responsible for one of the most amazing effects in the movie. During a chase, Sherlock Jr. jumps into a small suitcase and disappears. According to Buster Keaton, this was an old trick his father, Joe Keaton, had developed in vaudeville. In 1957 Mr. Keaton performed the stunt on The Ed Sullivan Show. Buster Keaton never revealed how he did the trick.

In addition to the special effects, Sherlock Jr. is also known for the many stunts in the film. What is more, as usual, Buster Keaton performed his own stunts. One of the most famous stunts resulted in an injury to Buster Keaton. In one scene Mr. Keaton is running atop a moving a train and then grabs the drop-spout of a railroad water tower. The water from the spout poured down on Buster Keaton with more force than expected, and when he was slammed to the ground his neck hit a steel rail. Buster Keaton was in intense pain and had to stop shooting later in the day. He would have headaches for weeks afterwards. Regardless, he continued working. It would not be until 1935 that Buster Keaton realized he had broken his neck in that scene, after a doctor uncovered a callus that had grown over a fracture through an X-ray. This wasn't the only accident Buster Keaton had while making Sherlock Jr. During a scene in which he was on a motorcycle, the motorcycle skidded and Buster Keaton was thrown into a car.

Buster Keaton previewed what was still titled The Misfit in Long Beach, California. Noticing there were few laughs, Mr. Keaton then re-edited the movie. A second preview proved even more disheartening, and so he edited it down to five reels. It was after the previews that the movie was renamed Sherlock Jr. It was released on April 21 1924. The movie did respectably well, but it made less money that the first film he had directed, Three Ages (1923). It also received mixed reviews upon its release. While The New York Times described it as  "one of the best screen tricks ever incorporated in a comedy," Variety claimed it lacked any "ingenuity and originality."

Since then many critics and movie buffs have disagreed with Variety and count Sherlock Jr. as a classic. In 2000 the American Film Institute ranked it as no. 62 on their list of "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs." Also in 2000, Time magazine included it in their list of the All-Time 100 Movies. As might be expected, in 1991 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "...culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films."

There is little wonder that Sherlock Jr.'s reputation would grow over the years. While some films do not age particularly well, Sherlock Jr. still feels modern even at 100 years of age. It was one of the first films to depict a movie within a movie, with Buster Keaton's character entering the fictional movie Hearts and Pearls. The movie even features an early pop culture reference. Sherlock Jr.'s assistant in Hearts and Pearls is named "Gillette." This is a reference to William Gillette, an actor known for playing Sherlock Holmes several times on stage and in the 1916 film Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Jr. also moves at a good clip, with several sight gags, stunts, and outright slapstick so that things never slow down. Sherlock Jr. remains one of the greatest films ever made by Buster Keaton, a director who made many great films.