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Monday, November 28, 2022

When Seeing Stuff Was Really Work


The Everson Want-To-Watches of 1954

All Hail Films in Review, around and prominent from early 1950 until print publication ended in 1997 (web presence still). They sold comparative lots, as never did I pace a dealer room w/o stumble-over a box of FIR’s, a dollar-to-five generally, or take ten for a discount. Films in Review was for its time a best there was. Historians w/ industry background (Cat People’s DeWitt Bodeen for instance), still-active execs, like Dore Schary, contributed thoughts and essays. The National Board of Review was umbrella over FIR and lent prestige, reviews for current films with career profiles, many which remain definitive source on respective subject. This is to preface a piece I came across in March 1954’s issue, William K. Everson on “The Films I Missed,” his reflection of when rare meant unattainable, a list of can’t-sees surpassing what-can by fretful margin, Everson at the time given largely up on titles we slip into disc trays and play pristine. Lesson learned (we hope): Don’t crybaby on one or few that stay elusive, not when what Everson and kin sought are close as Amazon buttons. The historian tells of quest made for 100 titles he most wanted to see since boyhood in England (b. 1929) and how it took twenty-five years and counting to almost reach that goal. Would you go AWOL from armed service to see Sunrise? Everson did. Also snuck into a German theatre, forbidden to Occupation personnel, for sake of The Big Trail. Worth risking the brig? Who could say amidst latter-day horn of plenty. (Sunrise and The Big Trail both stream in High-Def and are available on Blu-Ray).

Everson was my writing role model from when a Statesville cousin got for Christmas 1964 The Bad Guys, WKE’s survey of screen villainy from silents to Dr. No. There was wit to his words and informative besides. It came eventually to me seeking every book he did, whatever the topic. His Films in Review quest is personal, Everson “getting” movies by age six, fully grasping the art by ten when he saw Stagecoach and Of Mice and Men in theatres. He wasn’t long realizing that greats had come before him, a silent era just gone when he was born, quest thus begun for films voiceless that too few cared to be reminded of. The wish list taken down at age eleven was sixty silents to forty early talkers, process from there mere matter of checking them off, a struggle amidst poverty of resource that was the UK of late thirties and early forties where they had much to worry over besides Bill Everson satisfying his film crave. Friendly showmen gave him promotional material (shades of Colonel Forehand sharing pressbooks with me) and he bought trade magazines where they surfaced. Everson got an industry job at age fourteen thanks to wartime manpower shortage and so found out about film societies active in the area, for which he was eventually able to book titles thanks to distribution contacts. First struck off the hundred list was The Blue Angel, a tall order to locate in midst of war and again thank our latter luck for having it handy, and in multiple languages. The Blue Angel floated long a sea of non-access. I had but one televised swat growing up, thankful for mere that. How long was wait for classics? As long or more than Everson had to wait, I’d guess, for certain titles at least.

Image Restoration Courtesy of Mark Vieira/Starlight Studio

And what of The Blue Angel, his-then and ours-later? I’ll guess Everson was able to see it on 35mm judging by impression the film made upon him. What we got was off Educational TV, a Tennessee station barely materializing for a single broadcast, essence of “making do.” Truth is, I only sort of saw The Blue Angel that age-sixteen night, and it would be years before repeat occasion. Such was reality of much I gave myself credit for seeing, service stripes earned but barely. I faint understood what these pictures were supposed to look like, so little exposure there was to quality presentations. Again to ask: How did we stay interested in this stuff against ongoing odds? And shouldn’t there be many more embracing classics just because they can finally be watched properly, spectacularly in fact? Everson’s first view of Intolerance, in tinted 35mm, a full, live orchestra performing the original score … a transforming experience. “I emerged into the sunlight afterwards quite stunned by it all.” He was convinced that day that Intolerance was the Greatest Film Ever Made. A friend of mine years later felt nearly the same, even as his Intolerance was 8mm and he was obliged to change reels twelve times. So much is in the how we watch, and adjustments that must be made to see greatness through crack-glass of compromised presentation. In most ways of course, we are ahead of Everson, but miss his thrill of pursuit and unexpected discovery. He saw The Covered Wagon as did I, mine and perhaps his a 16mm Kodascope. Kino presently offers Blu-Ray of vastly better quality. Trouble is me consuming latter casually, a happening not at all a Happening like those Everson routinely had.

Foolish Wives
was always lost treasure. Erich von Stroheim took a first of career-to-come ritualistic beatings from it. Universal gelded his masterpiece even between first and second weeks of New York premiere play, again tampering between a second and third frame. What all of us have seen since 1922 is palest shadow of what Stroheim wished, but therein lay essence of him as abused and misunderstood genius, representing what art film could be if only talent were left alone to express themselves. Stroheim was that kind of hero to pioneer film scholars who needed martyrs they could admire and identify with. Historians who took cinema serious were outsiders too, so who better than Stroheim to speak for them, how good his films were a point quite beside the point. Now that movies have become at least somewhat more legitimized, we don’t need EvS so much, and it’s finally OK to call flaws where found. I enjoy Foolish Wives in ghost form, even as Blu-Ray barely helps, 143 minutes to remind me that despite tables cleared a hundred years ago, this was once a visual feast. Here too was chance to ID with Everson watching-as-act-of-faith, seeing through Stroheim’s heartbreak to what his goals ideally were, like going through an art gallery where canvases are bent, torn, splattered by mud. There should be award for traversing Foolish Wives today, honor the more as many if not most silent titles look so much superior than what once was hoped for. I almost expect Biograph shorts to seem shot yesterday, thanks to what surfaces at You Tube. Taking-for-Granted has become film appreciation’s worst enemy.

Movies had been around a comparatively short time when Everson made his list. Must-sees by his estimation seem less so today, not for selections being unworthy but because there now are so many more to draw from, plus modern inclination toward new to exclusion of old. His naming Sunrise at or near the top is something I don’t expect to see critics or historians repeat. Did Sunrise change or just people’s evaluation of it? Murnau as a name has not the magic once evoked, though his German output continues to surface from labels like Kino. Sunrise was released on Fox DVD as part of a Marnau-Frank Borzage box of silents that took Fox out of the big box classic business. There is a Blu-Ray import I’ll watch for spiritual connect with film canons as once were understood. Like Foolish Wives, Sunrise is not seen for fun (was it ever?), which explains why fewer with passing years see it. Where Everson was enviable to fans born later was 1947 and a sit through Mystery of the Wax Museum which neither he or anybody realized would be lost for a couple decades to follow. For said blighted period, he and that '47 audience would be seeming only humans to experience Wax Museum since 1933 when it was new. There were others Everson caught that few or none shared, outstanding among them London After Midnight, a fifties screening had but a decade before fire claimed MGM’s last surviving print. Everson bore witness also to A Kiss for Cinderella on pristine multi-tinted nitrate before whichever archive permitted it to rot. He’d later classify that boner with what happened at Balaclava Heights. No telling what else we call lost was watched at least once by him. In fact, Everson owned prints that were last of their kind, being an inveterate collector from New York arrival around 1950.

He would live in Manhattan, keep films like Egyptian treasure in an apartment spacious until he loosed an ocean of 16mm upon it. I went once to his Solomon’s mine, a reward for giving nitrate to the AFI once the amass of Moon Mullins. This was summer 1976. Everson hosted a day’s screening and lunch besides. As with favorite writers met, where fortunate, I expected Bill to be like his books, non-stop wit, fun unbound. He was a delight surely, if not the literary stand-up my immaturity figured upon. Everson the man, for me a star on par with anyone in movies, was kind and generous to a fault. Why should he have spent a day making this stranger’s dream come true? --- yet he did. We saw highlights of rarities. One was The Red Dance, a Fox silent directed by Raoul Walsh, with tints. I was invited to pick any feature from his library to see complete. Because Bill had lately written a Films in Review appreciation of Lady on a Train, I chose that, figuring under no circumstance could I ever see it elsewhere, as in for the rest of my whole life. Here was thought occupying us all during years when a one chance was often the only chance to snare a feature brought aground this precious once. Everson knew that sensation well, or better, than anyone. He had missed a mid-forties screening of Orphans of the Storm thanks to a second lieutenant that kept him on camp duty. This time Bill could not risk AWOL, so back went Orphans to MOMA in NY and he’d wait until 1953 to finally catch up with it. I pondered this while watching a hard-drive-preserved HD broadcast off TCM that Photoplay Productions restored from surviving elements. Another day … another watch taken for granted.

For Everson, for anyone in movie quest, it was like chase after serial villains. He hairbreadth-arrived to once-in-lifetime revival of The White Hell of Pitz Palu, as who knew if Leni would ever climb that mountain again? Racing two days across Germany, Holland, and the North Sea for a single screening, “my mental cross-cutting on that journey rivalled the climax of Intolerance!” Is there any film we would make such heroic effort to see? I’d say no, simply for so little left beyond our reach. Dan Mercer and I drove freeway clotted route to Ben-Hur (1927) with a live orchestra, something I’d not attempt today, if forever glad for journey taken then. I expect Everson’s movie memories were more precious than ours could hope to be. A thing got easy is not worth the getting, ancients said. By the by, he recalled in’54 that White Hell was “the only complete print … I have ever seen.” Reward for tenacity! So is Kino’s disc complete as well, or more so? We’ll never know. Everson winds up his essay with a plea for titles still elusive. Did Films in Review readership know whereabouts of A Woman of Paris, Mare Nostrum, Strike, or Hollywood? Three of the four are extant, in fact are available on disc. Exception is Hollywood, lost as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Could we be as eager to see it as was Bill? --- or have other totems been erected in its place? Note quote to effect that there are no “Archival Discoveries,” just films that were mis-stored, improperly labeled, never looked at despite years on site. Might Hollywood be amidst such overlook? Who’s for taking up spiral-bound binder and close inspecting every film in every archive? No more than a hundred years job that, so let’s get started.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Film Noir #16


Noir: Bob Le Flambeur, Bodyguard, and Body Heat

BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) --- European films are not like American films. We shouldn’t want them to be like American films. One thing you’ll not say about Euro is that they are predictable. I’ve yet to figure out one in advance, this where appeal largely lies. Ever wonder why art houses clicked in the 50/60’s? (besides saucy content of imports) I contend it was for playing by differing narrative rules … in fact no rules much of time. Bob Le Flambeur means Bob the Gambler in English. Writing director Jean-Pierre Melville, this his first helming credit, was a disciple of Yank crime stories, having a go for this instance at The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston’s film that impressed the Frenchman mightily. Whereas Huston cleared his Jungle precise, Melville takes time to know characters, the casino robbery a near-afterthought to planning, double deals from nearly a start, low-lives in/out of clubs and gamble dens the real location deal. Melville, like many of Euro origin, liked build-up more than pay-offs, and for seeing enough of his, so can we. Lifestyle of these French are a thing often to envy. They relax whether chips are up or down, pace never hectic even where commission of crimes are mere moment ahead. “Bob” of the title is so likeable that we want his scheme to work, and where it won’t, let bygones be so, and leave Bob to comparative leisure we might all be better enjoying. A copper friend in fact lets him know the botched heist will have little personal fallout, five years, more likely three, to which Bob speculates it is he who will collect damages for inconvenience. If only noir in the US could have wrapped this way, at least now and again. Bob Le Flambeur was released in 1956, has nudity, rough language (at least via subtitles), and is adult as audiences could hope for in still-shackled time. A flavorful music score, inflected with much mood and jazz, is a big plus. Being a quick convert to Melville once I discovered him, now it’s hawk eye out for any of his released stateside, Bob Le Flambeur available from Kino on Blu-Ray.

BODYGUARD (1948) --- Richard Fleischer wrote a fine memoir in 1993 where he gave directing account at RKO from 40’s forward, a walk upon tightropes to make anyone re-think such a career for themselves, however much we might aspire to film-make. RKO was in many ways a lowly address, at least that corner where Fleischer worked, him assigned to the Sid Rogell B unit, Sid a harshest of taskmasters who for whatever reason treated newcomer Fleischer more-less like a human being. Bodyguard was among cheapies met by the tyro director along his learning curve. Even at bargain negative cost of $274K, Bodyguard still lost money. Fleischer doesn’t discuss it specifically in his book. No one seems to have pretended since that Bodyguard is much good, being noir in threadbare sense, and not to be whispered along lines of Out of the Past or later things Fleischer did on spread wings (The Narrow Margin, Trapped, Armored Car Robbery). Bodyguard is titular Lawrence Tierney ported back and forth between drab sets, except when he takes to streets and RKO warehouses standing in for warehouses villainy can hide in. Tierney was a short fuse that everyone seems to have feared, playing tough guys and being offscreen tougher than fictional creations. Priscilla Lane, late of Warner galley, would have figured this impasse good as any to quit acting and try something else (retired east, hosting old movies on TV her closest point of re-entry to the biz). Bodyguard is evidence of it not being enough to identify, or be identified, as noir. Something of interest must go on, even where 62 minutes is extent of length and you think surely anything can sustain that long, especially where it’s RKO and L. Tierney leads. None such luck. Warner Archive offers a disc.

BODY HEAT (1981) --- Body Heat is now older than Double Indemnity was when I saw the newer noir in 1981. Notion then was that Body Heat put Indemnity and oldies like it in the shade, for this was noir souped-up with nudity and coarse talk to reflect what really went on between illicit couples committed to kill off an unwanted husband or wife. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan was set upon revive of genres to which he gave lavish 80’s spin, as note also Silverado, as splashy a big sky western as modern times would yield. Kasdan had a wand and waved it for maybe ten years before somehow it was taken from him. For making old tropes fresh again, he was the new decade's Bogdanovich, fated to end much the same. So how does Body Heat play forty years later? I’m stumped as to what we’re supposed to call such 80's twist. Neo, crypto, mere copycats? Were they meant to finally get film noir right, now that it could be done explicitly, minus mealy-mouthing earlier imposed? In many ways, Body Heat seems the better mousetrap, smart dialogue refreshing to hear again after so long, but with Body Heat at age 40+ and Double Indemnity pushing 80, which will catch current mice better? I mention the two in tandem because both derive from infamous 20’s incident where an adulterous pair offed the woman’s husband, the Snyder/Gray case a blueprint for much noir to come (this was where the snap-happy reporter captured Ruth Gray in mid-convulsion as she was electrocuted). Body Heat updates to extent of the woman as ultimate black widow (Kathleen Turner), undetectable, unstoppable … she’ll rig the crime and get clean away with it, the hapless man (William Hurt) left to hang, a design for killing and subsequent betrayal woven into seemingly all noirs to follow, as if Code of yesteryear were merely succeeded by a more rigid Code to modernly prevail. May we give Hitchcock and Vertigo credit for some of this? Body Heat lets K. Turner have her island paradise to reward murderous effort, for isn’t dire finish what all us men have coming? Such would seem the philosophy now. Days of Bogie/Bogey turning over Mary Astor to a punishing authority is over indeed, and I don’t expect it to come back.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Jazz Age as Definitively Captured?


Go Into Your Dance, Says Joan Crawford as Wild Child Diana

Our Dancing Daughters (1928) is Fixed and Fantastic

Remember how awful Our Dancing Daughters always looked? A one surviving 35mm print was said to be master to each that followed, disaster a result of MGM in early preservation mode overlooking most rudimentary clean-up of a scratch-ridden surface. Even curlicue hairs were in for seeming keeps, frustrated viewers to wish a Tex Avery dog might step into the frame and pluck pesky threads like in Magical Maestro. I construct this wall of tears as lead to surprise that was TCM broadcast of Our Dancing Daughters this past week. They have finally done a fix, the how which I dare not venture, digital wand-waving that novices of us could not easy grasp. Enough that it is done and result is fresh life for a silent favorite we figured more-less lost. I use the word “silent” advisedly, as Our Dancing Daughters fits more my definition of a sound film than one doing without it. Here was MGM's first go at a fully synchronized music and effects score, so trades trumpeted. Big towns, that is key dates, got most gravy of that, having equipped early for talk surely to come. Our Dancing Daughters did everything but speak for latter quarter 1928 play, but hold, there are words by way of scattered exclamations and song lyrics. Our Dancing Daughters introduced an original tune, “I Loved You Then as I Love You Now,” cued generously throughout the feature and reflecting dramatic situation between star Joan Crawford and John Mack Brown. Let new levels of selling commence!, shouted Leo, for here came Metro entry, if tentative, into audible arena they knew was shape of everything to come. Denials, more wishful than truthful, issued even from Thalberg, who said silents would stay, but had to realize that no, they probably would not.

Joan Crawford and Dorothy Sebastian. Image Courtesy Mark Vieira/Starlight Studio

Intent of Our Dancing Daughters, any jazz age reflection, was to get as much flavor of the time as technology would permit. Silent depiction needed actor vitality to capture fads and language spoke by people we saw and heard, or just might see and hear, in life. High-octane like Clara Bow’s was compensation for fact she did not speak, at least before talkies brought her to dead stop and exposed vocal limitations (could hearing Bow, or anyone else, please everyone?). Spoken voice from flappers and sheiks could be spared so long as music and movement prevailed. Titles with their epigrammatic quality were passable voice substitute, for maybe we recall better quips seen printed on a screenOur Dancing Daughters was a “silent” one could tap feet to. For all synchronization gave, there was loss of live accompany, at larger sites an orchestra to uplift visuals, the audience in receipt of something joyful to listen to if not look at. The term “silent movie” seems a misnomer anyhow, more so where hearing real instruments and singers was prime reason to attend cinemas, synchronizing music and effects more an economy move disguised as progress, theatres knowing they could save by ridding houses of pricey live musicians. Some complained, referring to “canned” accompany, audience interact to the pit and screen now an impersonal one. In fact, the pit was empty, room for more seats as management saw it. This came roughly under head of giving less and making us like it, or maybe fooling some of the people part of the time, or whatever it was Lincoln said. Fans were given wont only sometimes by an industry intent on having them think they got it all the time.

Most Theatres Are Located in Dry Territory, Warned Harrison's Reports, So Why Inflame Patronage with Scenes Depicting "Drinking and Debauchery"? Image Courtesy Mark Vieira/ Starlight Studio

September 1928: The Capitol Theatre on Broadway makes trade event of installing sound equipment, patrons tingling with anticipation. Well, curiosity anyway. First with the frill would be Our Dancing Daughters plus selected shorts, audible all, at least with music/effects. Some would talk, a Van and Schenck reel and Fox Movietone News. Attendance records were predictably broken, pleasure especial in an Our Gang comedy, The Ol’ Grey Hoss, which benefited from gags spiced by sound. Noted before was that while big theatres took pains with a main attraction, live accompany customized for whole of their feature, fun stuff added was too often randomly scored, musicians not having been rehearsed for what seemed a less important extra. Hal Roach shorts MGM distributed got a boost for adding music/effects to some of 1928 output, these enhancing laugh quotient and crowd satisfaction. Our Dancing Daughters at the Capitol took a resounding $95,000 for its first week, more than half the film’s negative cost ($178K) got back in one frame at a single site. Synced shows did not come free, that is as part of price showmen paid for the featured subject. Records to accompany, cost of preparing same, was passed along to theatres already spent down installing sound equipment. Break-even became distant dream to houses weighted by gimcracks expected by patronage for dimes but paid for with dollars management could ill afford. Added attendance for the Capitol was thanks to no expense spared for publicity, and their address being Broadway. Such ideal setting and circumstance was not enjoyed elsewhere in the country. For many humble and far-flung sites, it was enough, had to be enough, just paying rent on Our Dancing Daughters and never mind sound discs that large venues enjoyed along with it.

Deco Divine as Displayed in Our Dancing Daughters. Images Courtesy Mark Vieira/Starlight Studio

Struggles from then to eat off Our Dancing Daughters are forgot now, maybe as well, for as with any art, it’s what we are left to look at that matters, and with uptick courtesy TCM, this now is considerable. Any epoch is less meaningful from hindsight: we want to have been there to feel impact of a jazz age, but be assured, Our Dancing Daughters as now constituted will put you near as any time capsule extant. This is twenties happening in the twenties, a party but short seasons away from being crushed by pitiless history. Recreation of roar times seem always suspect, not a little patronizing, as who among writers today or for a past thirty years could possibly have known it firsthand? I read how Joan Crawford was a real-life hot mama, won loving cups for dance skill. Did she look back on all this as quaint and let’s move on? Had we met on the set of Berserk, could I have inveigled Ms. Crawford into discussion of Our Dancing Daughters and cultural imprint it left? Everyone assumes actors had no insights, that they just acted. I’m not so sure of that. Anita Page was around to discuss Our Dancing Daughters and whatever else occurred to her over ninety-eight years living. She was seventeen when Our Dancing Daughters was made. Just look at the performance she gives and imagine what went through this comparative child’s mind at the time. People seldom reflect when history is happening to them, let alone give time to do so later when other concerns take precedence. This was besides a quick-live era not patient with back-touring. Wonder how many gone-to-ruin jazz babies indulged thought of freewheel twenties before jumping off skyscrapers in the thirties …

Our Dancing Daughters
presents a mosaic of moral positions from which we may select examples to follow. One might ask if it speaks truth to today. More relevant would be to inquire if human nature has changed since 1928. Well of course it has, many might glibly answer, stance endorsed by crowd reaction to old film and pressure within ranks to agree. Remarkable how movies can be one thing with an audience, different entirely when you watch alone. How many seem quant because we are told they are quaint, dared in fact to think otherwise? (Essence of great melodrama: Laugh at it in public, cry with it in private) Our Dancing Daughters is of “three girls” formula where each embody choices wise or reckless, a set-up used late as the sixties. Bet ancient Greeks staged it in their amphitheaters. Moral certainty as expressed, as felt, was not solely product of a repressive “Code,” Our Dancing Daughters ’28 evidence to that, values here embraced without fear of recoil. Joan Crawford’s “Diana” is lively, a tease to extent, wily toward winning “Ben Blaine” (John Mack Brown), but honest enough not to seriously mislead him. “Beatrice” as essayed by Dorothy Sebastian has baggage (prior men) fiancée “Norman” (Nils Asther) accepts once she confides truth to him. “Ann” is Anita Page, spawn of a grasping mother who encourages her to marry Ben/Brown whatever devices needed to land him. Ben being heir to millions is incidental to Diana’s regard for him, but central to Ann’s pursuit. It is for the audience to sort out right/wrong, guided if not subtly by morality not nuanced. We may choose or not to comport like models here, take comfort in realizing others most certainly should. Viewers liked soothing mantra of Don’t Do as We Do, Do as We Say, hypocrisy of us all a shared secret between Hollywood and its public.

These Daughters are not teenagers, but young adults (notwithstanding Anita Page being but seventeen). They each are at marriage crossroad, the plunge taken advisedly or otherwise. Parents are disinterested, some predatory (Page’s mom steals her clothes and expects to live off whatever rich husband her girl gets). Central idea is to manipulate men into social obligation to marry, as simple a matter as spending too many night hours on a beach with an eligible member of their “set.” Our Dancing Daughters thus proposes marriage as entrapment practiced by cunning girls with sometimes help of family, a theme we’d not expect of three credited scribes Josephine Lovett, Marian Ainslee, and Ruth Cummings. Did these women understand facts of life we’ve forgot, or been told to forget? I don’t pretend attitudes such as here are irrelevant now, or best discarded because we’ve progressed so far. That trivializes reality as it was accepted at a time and among a class that exists still, Our Dancing Daughters dramatic-licensed sure, but aware it must connect in meaningful ways with those expected to identify with men and women as each appraised the other in 1928. Our Dancing Daughters may (in error) be dismissed as trivia, but I’d not dismiss it by assuming all that happens could not happen in life, then or today. Films did not emerge so profitable as this by telling lies.

Greenbriar Archive stops in on Dorothy Sebastian (1/1/2006) and Anita Page (6/18/2006). Also Daughters follow-up Our Modern Maidens (1/1/2008).

Monday, November 07, 2022

Just Face It --- Rock and Roll Can't Last!


The Fad Taking Seventy Years So Far to Fade

Rock and roll was a threat not just to parents but a thinking mainstream everywhere. Even ones calling themselves hep drew lines here. Not only was R&R disruptive, it was plain bad music. Why this wasn’t real music at all! Most papers it seemed had at least one columnist to lob grenades. Cincinnati’s was Dale Stevens, born 1921, so it wasn’t an altogether generational thing, and besides, he did show biz on a side, playing comedy, even doing records, with a pal (Jack Clements), “The Weird and the Beard” their club label for tunes like "Talking Horses" and "The Dog Doctor" (both at You Tube on Fraternity label). Why a guy who identified so with kooks and edge-cut humor would so disdain new-arrived music was anyone’s guess. Was teen age to age thirty-five so wide a leap? I bet Stevens listened to modern jazz and liked it. But as for so many others, younger even than him, R&R was going too far. The Cincinnati Post was where Stevens hung his writer hat, and he’d zero on whatever Big Beat jamboree came to town. Late fifties was an era of itinerant acts bundled for sake of shared costs, umbrella held by likes of Alan Freed or Dick Clark, but road mishaps, cancelled dates and the like made profit uncertain. There was always fear of community action queering plans, Freed especially traveling always under a cloud. Stevens’ was no crusade however, just slow drip of disapproval for a vogue that just had to end sooner than later for this critic’s piece of mind. How many in their mid-thirties embraced rock/roll? The fad seemed exclusive to youth. How many over eighteen attended an Alan Freed show? Dale Stevens was curious enough to find out from horse’s mouth that was Mister Rock and Roll himself.

Freed took inquiring calls from local press, this preferred to police reps inviting him to scat and stay gone. To grease a known columnist was to buy peace for short time spent in Cincinnati. Occasion was April 14, 1958, event at the Cincinnati Gardens, site to commune with known worst acoustics in Middle America. Here Stevens found Freed amidst 6800 kids come to see all-star assemblage that was Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, more talent than one could shake legacy CD box sets at. Imagine R&R historians transported back to that. They’d die of rapture. Column header thus, Rock-and-Roll Originator Says: “I Didn’t Count on This, Freed wise enough not to fudge aim of his game. “Rock and roll has changed music. In the beginning, it was 100 percent negro music,” this dating to earlier in the fifties when Freed first spun shellac on radio and popularized rhythm-and-blues for young white listeners. “The market for negro music was then very limited.” Rather than widen appeal for these artists however, Freed opened doors for “freak acts, the commercial copy-cats, and imitators.” Jerry Lee Lewis exemplified this to his mind, country singers and “rockabilly” slid deftly under cracks while Freed “thought I was bringing something new to the white people.” He was never a fan of rock-and-roll, did not choose it for leisure hours. Freed saw a like mind in Dale Stevens. “We’ve got a few years of (rock-and-roll) ahead yet. Most of these music eras are ten-year things.” Freed noted college students among following, “in another few years, we’ll have an overall college trend to rock-and-roll.” This all was vaporous but kept kids happy, he said, safer for them to do than “roam the streets.” In time, tastes would improve. “They have to start somewhere in music, and I think they’ll go on to better things,” said Freed.

Dale Stevens may have had scant enthusiasm for rock-and-roll revues, but as they had become fact of his life, he would report if not thump for them. Upcoming, he said, was more of same, a next week’s stand at the Garden to feature Frankie Avalon, La Verne Baker, and the Royal Teens. Same venue also put out feelers for a package to include Tommy Sands and Sal Mineo, Post readers invited to vote yay or nay as to booking for this bunch. R&R jamborees, you see, were never a sure thing. Stevens meanwhile plied his also-Post trade as a film critic, this more to his aesthetic liking, and that of theatre-men he called friends who’d let him in on coming attractions. Insider dope re Cincinnati handling of Raintree County made Post readers feel they ran cinemas of their own, for Stevens kept them current on business ends of house management and push to keep seats filled. He was clearly more into movies than music (currently popular music at least). Stevens would later initiate a film society that to this day operates in his name. Cincinnati was a show town any of us could embrace. Theatres and drive-ins with loaded bills made it seem as though decline facing the industry had somehow bypassed the town. I came by ads circa fifties into sixties and swooned over likes of Randolph Scott in person with The Tall T at the Twin Drive-In. What was protocol for outdoor personal appearances? Did Scott walk among parked cars and greet customers, or take position at head or tail of the canteen line? Tim Holt showed up at our Starlite Drive-In, a personal favor to owners it was said, this in 1954 after he had retired from westerns. I wonder if nature and under-stars enhanced the real Randy sighting that awaited Twin patrons. Would indoor handshake somehow confine, even diminish, such granite persona as his? There too was “The Daredevil Flying Valentines” at the Oakley Drive-In, them as seen in Trapeze, a 1956 hit. Was wire hung on site for the troupe to perform? Did they swing in front of the great white screen to contrast their figures in flight? I imagine this as akin to ancients doing myth-things in Greece of old.

Later April 1958 saw “Rhythm and Blues” back at Cincinnati Gardens, this time with headliners Clyde McPhatter, Lloyd Price, Frankie Lymon, and the Coasters. Dale Stevens reported “there weren’t too many people in attendance,” but he seems to have dug this show more than the previous one. “There is much of the freak or sensational involved in these performances,” but on a plus ledger, “the showmanship was effective in working up the crowd, frenzy-wise” (had this been written two years later, I would have thought Dale just came back from a screening of The Apartment). He had praise, if backhanded, for Bo Diddley, who as Stevens put it, was the “best” of the “good” ones,” a quote I doubt Bo kept among his souvenirs. Observed Dale: “Bo simply turns his electric guitar volume up past the distortion level and creates a remarkable amount of excitement.” Lloyd Price of “Stagger Lee” fame captivated the audience “by bringing the entire orchestra down front and shouting over them.” Dale Stevens wasn’t all sarcasm, for he saw bigness of the Big Beat and did forecast that this epoch would be remembered. “The cops and the ushers may say they hate it, but I suspect someday they’ll be telling their grandchildren about the fun they had back when rock-and-roll was the thing,” operative word being was, for who imagined in 1958 that rock-and-roll would be a permanent thing? At most they gave it ten years, far less by majority’s reckoning. Did Jerry Lee Lewis dream that he would perform until old age would no longer let him? Dale Stevens was very much of baffled witnesses to a genuine upheaval of music standards as most understood them.

We assume youth gathered round the rock-roll tree, but did they all? Surely there were ones that shunned the Beat. Sirius radio features a Sunday hour of Pat Boone spinning song, I said Pat Boone, and he’s swell. Stories between, reminiscence by a maybe longest and healthiest survivor of the times. Pat recently recorded sides with Ann-Margret (those State Fair sweethearts together again!), also paid tribute to his Bernadine co-star Janet Gaynor, a name not uttered by media since before the siege of Troy. We may now assume that anything is possible in a still thriving rock-and-roll world (Pat Boone incidentally is 88). And hold … Neil Sedaka is 83, and he’s on Sirius too, a regular, and as engaging as Pat. There also comes miracle of music reclaimed from scratchy surface of 45 RPM, a best there was for lo the years until technology enabled hardest-core fans to turn monolithic mono into stereo utterly like the real thing and an only way I will want to hear these tunes from now on. Thank Hit Parade Records for the revolution, produced by Bill Buster with sound sweetened by Mark Mathews and Walt Weiskopf. The process is called DES (the “New” DES) which breaks down to Digitally Extracted Stereo, the result of “endless patience and many hours of repetitive listening and spectral analysis by renowned reissue engineers.” What they entice from old records is not to be believed. Seems relics of music like elderly of movies play better than ever. The “Hard to Find Jukebox Classic” series on CD is available from Eric Records. Each disc contains thirty or so songs, and numerous volumes are so far released. So don’t be all purist about mono integrity of original recordings. These are as real a deal as if they had been multi-track recorded when new, a true listening revelation.

And yet there is much that technology can never give us back. What progress won't recapture is emotion felt when revues, film, TV first made hot voodoo that was voice of teens which till then were regarded as children. Scare was put into hearts of many, and not just parents. Much of movie advertising amounted to threat toward way of raising offspring. Alan Freed saw hazard of Rock Around the Clock overlaying credits for violent youthquake that was Blackboard Jungle. This would do rock-and-roll no service, he warned. Cincinnati needed all the reassurance of personal-appearing Randolph Scott they could get. And there was more for balm. Jerry Lewis came to town on behalf of The Delicate Delinquent, itself a comfort, for if goofball Jerry could break up a bad teen gang, then surely there was hope for the culture. Till-then backwoods clown Andy Griffith showed up on behalf of A Face in the Crowd, latter an alert to television as a possibly malignant force. I’m guessing Griffith performed “Mama Guitar” for stage benefit of Cincinnatians, the tune a mean riposte to perceived decay that was rock-and-roll. Better toward virtue for all was the Lone Ranger filling Garden arena for a “Big Action-Packed Show” with horse “Silver” and Lassie the Dog to accompany. A free silver bullet was issued to all children, better to ward off increasing encroachment of rock-and-roll? A thing worth noting is peak popularity of TV and movie westerns at a same time Beat was beating us. Were cowboys a best defense against R&R’s onslaught, being traditional defenders of entrenched values?

The Dick Clark Caravan touched Cincinnati ground on 10/5/59 and Dale Stevens was there. Performers included Jimmy Clanton, Paul Anka, and “one of the big attractions” Annette Funicello, late of Disney’s “New Kind of Horror Movie … Horribly Funny,” The Shaggy Dog. Stevens got boxoffice tally of 3100 in attendance, $8300 in paid admissions, resulting $2000 loss for promoters. They “weren’t sure” why the show failed, as Clark's tour did better elsewhere. Maybe it was overexposure of certain artists, ones that seemed to turn up at all R&R shows, or perhaps, as one candid insider pointed out, these singer/shakers were “short in talent, so people don’t come back for a second look.” Stevens realized, as did managers, that talent (should we say "talent"?) was learning on the job. What yesterday may have been sophomores in high school were now teen idols expected to duplicate in person their effect as carefully controlled recording artists, minus protection the studio and attendant amperage gave. The Skyliners and the Jordan Brothers “obviously don’t know what showmanship is all about,” Stevens wrote, Paul Anka virtually an only one “sharp at handling an audience.” Much as he sympathized with “very pretty young girl” Annette, Stevens found her “a decidedly poor singer,” not aware perhaps that what voice she had was triple tracked for release on records that gave three Annettes for the price of inadequate one. Personal appearances were cruel in exposing limitations of neophyte pop stars. If ability no longer mattered, what did? Stevens never mentions the audience getting up to dance for these exhibitions as they often did at theatres where swing music thrived during the forties. I assume Cincinnati kept a tight lid on too-engaged watchers, all limited to bleachers or metal chairs and role of passive viewership. Was this what eventually burned out the travelling rock and roll revues?
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