July 30, 2008

"The Continental"

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

"The Continental" was written by Con Conrad with lyrics by Herb Magidson and was introduced by Ginger Rogers in the 1934 film The Gay Divorcee (snicker). "The Continental" won the first Academy Award for Best Original Song to be awarded. Here is the scene in which it was used:

A way of dancing that's really ultra-new!

Comedian Allan Sherman performed "The Painless Dentist Song," a parody of the tune, and it was also used in a 1980's television commercial in the United Kingdom for Herta Frankfurters:

The lyrics so you can sing along at home, especially my U.K. visitors!:

"The continentals like their furters, and Herta's one they really like.
They like to grill them, it always thrills them, go on, take a bite.
Cold in the salad, or from the barbie, microwave them they're always out of sight.
For baked potatoes, just heat them, they're really wild with rice.
They make a feature on a pizza, make hot dogs very nice..."

You are welcome (in advance!) for that. Nelson Riddle applied his "rhythm of the heart" to it for the Sinatra version from the Chairman's 1964 album, Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River and Other Academy Award Winners. Another Sinatra arranger, Billy May, has a similarly swingin' version on Big Fat Brass.

And of course the wildly romantic sentiment of the lyric and the dashing bravado of the melody inspired the recurring Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken, appearing as simply, "The Continental":

July 29, 2008


I suppose this post is as much about my love for the music of John Williams (in this case, the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back) as it is about one of my favorite scenes from the very same film. Other than the "Carbon Freeze" scene or the beautiful, heart-wrenching final moments of the film, that scene would be the one in which the hyperdrive damaged Millennium Falcon (containing Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and C3PO) manages to escape from Imperial Star Destroyers by going straight into an asteroid field. First of all, you can't tell me the special effects in this scene aren't at least equal, if not vastly superior, to any computer-generated imagery in any film of the last ten years. And the fact CGI isn't used in the original version of Empire makes this an even more breathtaking sequence. I recently watched the entire movie (not the 1997 re-release) for probably the twentieth time and realized something for the first time. It's after this exchange:

Leia: We're going to get pulverized if we stay out here much longer.
Solo: I ain't gonna argue with that.
C3PO: Pulverized?
Solo: I'm going in closer to one of the big ones.
Leia and C3PO (almost simultaneously): Closer?

It's a small thing, but at that moment, I always thought C3PO is thrown into Chewbacca due to turbulent movement of the ship. I hadn't noticed until seeing it, like I said, for the twentieth-something time, that C3PO is actually grabbing and holding onto Chewbacca for dear life. That little detail makes me love the scene all the more.

And of course the whole time, John Williams' brilliant score is working its magic. Has there ever been such a perfect marriage between what is happening on the screen and the music playing beneath? The moment when the "Han Solo and The Princess" theme kicks in melts me every time. It's one of those times in the movie when I can virtually smell the theater in which I first saw The Empire Strikes Back on the day it premiered, some twenty-eight (OMFG) years ago, it's impression on me was so profound.

July 28, 2008

Leesville, Louisiana

looking down 3rd street in leesville  
Looking north down 3rd Street
I've been doing these small town posts for nearly three years now, and because I've focused almost exclusively on Texas, I've pretty much run out of unexplored territory (worth visiting) within a three hour drive radius. So, I've been focusing on our neighbor to the east, Louisiana. I must admit, I find myself missing those Texas Historical Commission medallions and plaques! I often feel as if I'm "flying blind" due to the absence of them in Louisiana.
the leesville leader
That is, until I walked the streets (in spite of the 100° plus heat index) of Leesville. The entire downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, so there are several "significant" buildings, each marked with a plaque. That makes it a lot easier to identify them! Leesville dates back to 1871 and was, in fact, named for General Robert E. Lee. It's impossible for "the South" to forget about the Civil War with things like that. But that's another story. Irregardless, most of this was constructed well within the lifetimes of many "eyewitnesses" to that event.
view down 3rd street
I'll start with the courthouse, which obviously is the building to the right, in the picture above. 

the vernon parish courthouse side view of vernon county courthouse
The Vernon Parish Courthouse was the third courthouse built, in 1907. It's Classical Revival style. 
former vernon parish sheriff's office door
This was the door to the parish sheriff's courthouse office until 1974. The plaque provides this information: This deeply worn step resulted from the tread of many thousands of feet by Vernon Parish citizens as they entered what was the Sheriff's office until 1974 when the new annex was constructed at the east side of the building.
vernon county courthouse walkway
first national bank building 
The First National Bank Building, c. 1907
the national hotel (lee and syril eissman building)
The National Hotel (The Lee and Syril Eissman building), c. 1907. I doubt it's always been that color. 

the vernon bank
The first bank in Vernon Parish was built on this site in 1899. The Vernon Bank was constructed in 1907 (must have been quite a year in Leesville!). It did not fail during the Depression of '29. It was the first brick commercial structure on 3rd Street. And, oh yeah, it also has a pretty cool neon sign:

vernon bank neon sign
merchants & farmers bank building 
The Merchants & Farmers Bank Building, c. 1928
the leesville hotel 
The Leesville Hotel, c. 1907
? bldg. (next to the dreamland theatre) 
The plaque on this building was for the Dreamland Theatre:
the dreamland theatre 
The Dreamland Theatre, c. 1915
benson h. lyons house
This Queen Anne/Eastlake style home, the Benson H. Lyons House, was right at the end of 3rd St., on Union St. It was constructed in 1900.

leesville gas station
Finally, leaving Leesville on US-171, there was this lovely old service station, currently providing someone an office. I'm going to go out on a limb here (because I'm not 100% certain), and say this is an example of Streamline Moderne, or Art Deco.

leesville gas station's double canopies close-up of leesville gas station canopy

July 24, 2008

"Total Eclipse"

Nomi - sporting the latest in Elizabethan Era fashion

At the height of the New Wave, circa 1982, a group of friends and I gathered at somebody's house one Friday night to watch Urgh! A Music War. This was just as renting Beta and VHS tapes was becoming possible, so one planned weeks ahead of time to watch something on TV, because if you missed it, you missed it! Who knew it would all be on YouTube one day?! I thought it might have been shown on a cable channel (or maybe MTV), but it sounds like the old USA Network is where we most likely saw it (based on the Wikipedia entry). We talked about it at school the entire week before, all of us psyched to see "live" performances from The Police, as well as DEVO. I was also secretly anticipating seeing The Go-Go's, as I had the hots for Belinda Carlisle.

Truth is, we hadn't really heard of any of the other bands. So we had our minds blown and eyes opened by The Cramps (we had never seen anything so raw or crude, other than maybe footage on the news of the Sex Pistols a few years earlier), but mostly, the bizarre performer known as Klaus Nomi. We couldn't believe he was for real. We would spend the next six months or so trying to outdo each other with our Klaus Nomi imitations (singing this song in our very best, falsetto voices):

July 22, 2008

"Theme from Route 66"

Stiles, Milner, and that car

It was on TV for four seasons(!), but I've gotten the impression from what I've read about it and things my Dad (who watched it only because of the Corvette) has said that Route 66 was average at best. I've only caught glimpses of it when it was on Nickelodeon. But what a theme song! I love this tune. It can turn me into a finger snappin' fool. It's like one of the last, great gasps of the Big Band Era (The Beatles are coming very soon, America!). The production on it is so clear and pristine, melodically it's very cool, and it swings like a mother. No wonder, it's Nelson Riddle.

From the Wikipedia entry:

Nelson Riddle was commissioned to write the instrumental theme when CBS decided to have a new song, rather than pay royalties for the Bobby Troup song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." Riddle's theme, however, offers an unmistakable homage to the latter's piano solo (as originally recorded by Nat King Cole) throughout the number. Riddle's Route 66 instrumental was the first television theme to make Billboard Magazine's Top 30, and earned two Grammy nominations in 1962 (yay! for Nelson).

Here's the song, with slideshow accompaniment of beautiful things along Historic Route 66:

July 21, 2008

Sinatra in Cannonball Run II

It's nearly worth sitting through Cannonball Run II to see Frank Sinatra's three minutes on screen. I saw Cannonball Run II when it was released in 1984, and I have a clear memory of the "vibe" in the theater abruptly changing when Sinatra came onscreen. I also recall how it seemed like Sinatra's lines were filmed on a different film set, on a different day, without Burt Reynolds and the other actors being in the same room (although they were). I think all of this was attributable to Sinatra's charisma and heavy screen presence, apparent even to a teenager whose knowledge of the singer was primarily "Theme from New York, New York."

Seeing it again today, I'm almost embarrassed for him. But I think I've read somewhere Sinatra wanted to do more of the kind of cameos and appearances in movies and TV shows his pallies Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin often did, because he thought it looked like they were having fun. Perhaps he wanted to lighten up his image a bit. Around this time, he was being portrayed in the media with things like the biography His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra and the daily comic strip "Doonesbury" as a bullying, mafioso thug. Either way, I doubt he did it for the money.

He does manage to "leave the film" with his dignity pretty much intact, unlike Sammy and Dean. They look so pitiful and pathetic much of the time. I think Dean (who had spent his entire post-Martin & Lewis career pretending to be a lush) was really drinking at this point. But the film does have this historic value going for it -- writer/director Hal Needham managed to reunite the three of them on screen. And with appearances by both Shirley Maclaine and Henry Silva, Cannonball Run II feels at times a little bit like a bad Rat Pack film (4 for Texas, not Ocean's 11).

Henry Silva, Shirley Maclaine

According to Sinatra: Behind the Legend:

The hope was to recapture some of the madness from the Rat Pack's sixties adventures. Burt Reynolds was along for the ride because of his box-office drawing power.

"It was a disgrace, of course," Shirley Maclaine said of the film, and even she is mystified as to why she took a role in this silly movie after brilliant Academy Award performance in Terms of Endearment. "Frank only worked half a day, and that was too long for him. He did one take
(in true Sinatra style!) and left. It looked like he had never been there at all.

"Dean had deteriorated. He seemed withered, drawn, with a graying pallor. I noticed he put five spoons of sugar in each cup of coffee. I chided him for it and said he'd better quit. The next day, he emptied a five-pound bag of sugar inside my trailer."

Dean after several cups of coffee, each having five spoonfuls of sugar?

This video is comprised of the three scenes (the "Oval Office scene" and two separate car scenes) in which Sinatra appeared. On a trivial note, the guy at the beginning is Sinatra's right-hand man, Jilly Rizzo.

And I just can't end this post without mentioning that the bouncy, synth-heavy tune heard in the car scenes is "Como Cannonball (Like a Cannonball)," from Menudo:

Would/could you be proud of this if you were one of them now?

July 18, 2008

Star Trek teaser posters

Clockwise, from top left: Nero (Eric Bana), Uhura (Zoë Saldana), Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto

Entertainment Weekly has images of five Star Trek teaser posters that are going to be given away next week at Comic-Con. Other than some grainy photos of Zachary Quinto as Spock, I don't think I've seen any pictures of the actors in costume yet. I can believe that is Spock, but I'll have a hard time accepting that that is Kirk or Uhura. Supposedly, Eric Bana portrays a Romulan, so they will have changed quite a bit by the time Kirk is captain of the Enterprise, a few years down the Star Trek timeline:

ST: TOS era Romulan

Of course a similar, impressive evolutionary leap(?) occured within the Klingon race between ST: TOS and ST: TNG, so there you go. It's only a movie, but I'll remind you of my personal stake in all of this:

EBiN at home in the mid '70s

July 16, 2008

"Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"

From the Wikidpedia entry (with editing done by moi):

"Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" is a song by Cole Porter, introduced in 1944 in the musical revue, Seven Lively Arts. The song became a jazz standard, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, as well as John Coltrane.

As well as being a very pretty song, Porter adds a little cleverness; as the lyrics say "major to minor," the tune changes from major to minor chords.

In addition to the great interpretations listed above, I also quite like the version Oscar Peterson recorded for Oscar Peterson Plays The Cole Porter Songbook (1959). Here is just a bit of that one. And here, Ella Fitzgerald's version underscores the parting of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Good grief:

July 15, 2008

The day George Harrison met Gerald Ford

1,000th post

At the invitation of President Gerald Ford's son, Jack, George Harrison visited the White House on December 14, 1974. Accompanying him were Ravi Shankar and Billy Preston. It was the day of big hair. Even the back of Gerald Ford's hair almost touches the top edge of his shirt collar (for shame!). This isn't quite as surreal as when Elvis met Nixon, but it's still odd.

July 14, 2008

Downtown for rent

mansfield theater
When I went to Mansfield, Louisiana, for the first time in November 2006, it was a city struggling to recover from the effects of Katrina. Note the number of empty windows and the overall conditions of the buildings in the photograph above. The Mansfield Theater is the building in the center.

So imagine my shock and surprise when I returned to Mansfield and found this:
mansfield theater dressed up as marshall theater
mansfield theater redone as marshall theater
It turns out the film The Great Debaters was partially filmed in Mansfield back in July 2007. The downtown area around the courthouse was done up to resemble 1935 circa Marshall, Texas. Mansfield may have been in need of renovation, but I sort of feet like it allowed itself to be defaced. So it goes. If what I saw in Smithville was typical, the coat of Hollywood will fade away sooner than later.

Here are some more pictures of Mansfield dressed up as 1935 circa Marshall. I kept wondering why I hadn't seen any of this my first time in Mansfield(!):

more repainted bldgs. in mansfield
gas lamp in mansfield different angle
a gas lamp on the courthouse grounds

laundry in mansfield
harrison county sheriff door
"Sheriff Harrison County" - Marshall is Harrison County Seat

bldgs. in mansfield painted for movie
bldg. in mansfield
This building was there in 2006,
but not with this on its side(!):

old bldg. dressed up for movie in mansfield
"How could I have not noticed this the
first time I was here??" I kept thinking...

coke sign done for movie in mansfield
Based on Smithville, I bet this'll be much worse for the wear in a year or two.

mockup in mansfield
mansfield as marshall

Finally, here are some pictures someone else took as the filming of The Great Debaters was being done in July 2007.