Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TVD's Etxe Records Label Spotlight

Day #2 of TVD's Exte Records Label Spotlight continues with a homage to music and cinema from Greg Svitil of Exte's newest band, Night and the City. —Ed.

"Wax and Celluloid (waxen celluloid)" | My living room shelves are laden with records and videos. Among my records are a substantial stack of recordings that were birthed either partly or wholly by cinema. Certain albums that regularly spend days-long uninterrupted periods on my turntable might never have crossed my horizon in the first place had it not been for a chance viewing of one of the celluloid counterparts that planted their seeds. Likewise, taking a glance across my video shelves, I count more than a few dozen movies that are solidly music-based. Many of the films that have more than modestly impacted my existence would possibly never have entered my consciousness at all, had it not been for some piece of music providing a curious gateway to a motion picture by means of a lyrical reference or some other nod.

Hilary & Jackie / Jacqueline du Pré & Daniel Barenboim "Elgar: Cello Concerto / Enigma Variations" (Columbia M 34530)
Legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pré died from multiple sclerosis at the age of 42 in 1987. She gave her final concerts fourteen years earlier, by which time she was already having difficulty playing her instrument and even with putting it in its case. The disease ravaged her body and rendered her deaf and mute. Two decades earlier, she was drawing the highest of praise for her playing. Her recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor (conducted by her then-husband Daniel Barenboim) is so extraordinarily emotive that it is said to have driven Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the great cellists of all-time, to drop it from his repertoire altogether out of awe for du Pré .

This recording has soundtracked some fairly momentous occasions in my own life in recent years. I am largely ignorant of the world of latter-period romantic composers and their interpreters, and I most likely would never have heard a note of this music had it not been for a chance viewing of the movie Hilary and Jackie. The motion picture is based on the book 'A Genius in the Family,' written by du Pré's sister Hilary. Both the book and movie caused a stir among friends and family over sometimes unflattering depictions of both the living and the dead. Controversies aside, the film adaptation is overpowering, and features the matchless and magnificent Emily Watson as Jacqueline.

A Taste of Honey / The Smiths "Girlfriend in a Coma" 12" & "Louder than Bombs" LPx2 (Rough Trade RTT 197 / Rough Trade ROUGH 255)
The matrix grooves at the center The Smiths' 'Girlfriend in a Coma' 12" single contain the messages "EVERYBODY IS A FLASHER AT HEART" (side A) and "AND NEVER MORE SHALL BE SO" (side B). The b-sides are "I Keep Mine Hidden" (the final Smiths original ever recorded) and "Work is a Four-Letter Word" (a cover of an obscure Cilla Black song that, according to popular perception, was among the final straws that caused Johnny Marr to leave the band in 1987).

And who is that pensive woman on the cover? The Smiths are legendary for Morrissey's very deliberate choices of cover stars for their albums and singles; this woman in particular carries special weight in Smiths history. It's none other than Shelagh Delaney, who wrote the play "A Taste of Honey" at about the time that Morrissey was conceived.

Delaney was a teenager at the time, and the story centers around Jo, an adolescent girl whose life and emotions become increasingly complicated as the tale unfolds. "A Taste of Honey" was adapted for the screen by Tony Richardson in 1961. Both Delaney and Richardson are masters of depicting "life as it's lived," and the lines between what's horrible and what's humorous can be blurry, not unlike Morrissey's lyrics.

While being interviewed during the early days of the Smiths, Morrissey proclaimed Delaney to be responsible for "at least 50%" of his creative output. Sure enough, the first Smiths album and the early 12" singles are filled with Delaney's dialogue. From the early 80s until the late 90s, there are at least ten instances of the Mozzer tipping his hat to Ms. Shelagh, most elaborately with the song "This Night has Opened my Eyes," which is in itself a re-telling of "A Taste of Honey."

Shelagh Delaney also graces the cover of the "Louder than Bombs" compilation. I likely would have never discovered "A Taste of Honey" had it not been for its author staring at me through a cigarette on the cover of what I feel is the greatest compilation album ever assembled. Watching the film version repeatedly as a teenager gave me pause about where my priorities were and what I wanted to do with myself in the coming years. And while I've never been made pregnant by a sailor or had terrible rows over changing light bulbs, being a nineteen-year-old weirdo made it fairly easy to relate to A Taste of Honey as well as The Smiths' music.

Theremin / Clara Rockmore "The Art of the Theremin" (Delos DEL 25437)
A thereminist friend introduced me to this documentary on the history of the instrument and its inventor, Léon Theremin. This intriguing movie is loaded with performance footage of Clara Rockmore, possibly the most celebrated thereminist of all, and also explores her romance with Theremin. The body of music that makes up "The Art of the Theremin" (pieces by Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, and others) is striking in demonstrating Rockmore's technical virtuosity and the emotional depth in her playing.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg / Michel Legrand "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Philips PCC 616)
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was first recommended to me by one of my co-workers at Video Vault (legendary, and sadly recently deceased, video store in Alexandria that promised 'guaranteed worst movies in town') in the year 2000. Six years later, I finally sat down with this one-of-a-kind piece of cinema; more than a small portion of my outlook on the world changed on that evening.

Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are perfect. Jacques Demy brings his vision to life in vivid fairytale colors. The whole of the movie/valentine is wrapped up in Michel Legrand's score; every line of dialogue throughout Umbrellas is sung over his heartstring-pulling melodies and flawless arrangements. The soundtrack album is a gift in its own right. Of the several different pressings of the LP, my personal favorite is a lovely gatefold on deep blue board with pink text and a background pattern of dark blue umbrellas all across the front and back covers.

The cover centers in on a white-bordered photograph of Deneuve and Castelnuovo walking along a deserted street late at night. Open the gatefold, and you're greeted by Catherine in her yellow coat. A pink booklet containing the script in French with English translation is held to the center of the gatefold with a piece of dark-blue tape; behind it are two more stills from the movie. It's not every day that you see so much care put into the packaging of a body of music. Fortunately, there are still countless exceptions; Phil Elverum's packaging for Mount Eerie albums is consistently inventive and beautiful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely as always.