Monday, July 27, 2009

Five important skill sets for aspiring actresses of the early 1970s

Sure, you’ve taken acting classes. You’ve enrolled in art school, studied at the feet of Uta Hagen, tested your mettle in avant-garde off-Broadway productions. But now you’re trying to make it in the movies, and none of that makes one lick of difference. We’re living in the ‘70s now, ladies, and all of that hoity-toity training has exactly zero bearing on the way real movies get made. If you want to know the actual scoop, take a look at this brief overview of the true skills any thoroughly modern actress needs to break into this beautiful business we call show.

Dancing spasmodically

The era being what it is, the odds are pretty good that your movie is going to involve some dancing. Your producer is a cynical creep in his sixties, and he believes that you’ve got to include a drugged-up go-go dancing scene if you want your picture to appeal to the kids. He may even have procured the services of some supposed up-and-coming rock band looking to spotlight their new single on the big screen. In any event, you should be able to flail and gyrate more or less in rhythm with the band, preferably while wearing a tight polyester microdress. Keep in mind that there’s a fairly good chance you’ll be called on to dance while simulating the effects of a psychedelic drug trip. Also, you may be topless, which brings us to our next category.

Having weird breasts

Maybe some day in the future, audiences will demand full, flawless, perfectly formed breasts in their nude scenes. As of today, though, strange-looking bosoms are the name of the game. Are yours pointy, low-hanging or barely tangible? Are your nipples strikingly large or dark, or do they point off at bizarre angles? If so, off with that top! And don’t ask if your nudity is integral to the plot. Nudity is integral to all plots. Haven’t you ever seen a movie before? And speaking of nudity…

Playing rape scenes

Look, we know it’s ugly and exploitive and potentially traumatizing. But hey, audiences today are a bunch of sickos, so whattaya gonna do? It’s a brand new era, and rape-as-entertainment is the latest thing. The kids who buy tickets to the drive-in feel cheated if they don’t get at least a little bit of the rough stuff. Hell, this is the ‘70s – the only company not playing the rape card these days is Disney, and even there you’ve got that pervert Bob Crane doing God knows what behind the scenes. So grin and bear it, and trust that your director is going to handle the scene with a tasteful, artistic touch. Or maybe not, because the producer says that kind of artsy shit doesn’t put asses in the seats. Well, whatever. You can chalk it up as a form of feminist statement or some such.


You’d think this one would be a no-brainer, right? You’re a woman in the movies – of course you’re going to be doing some screaming! But you’d be surprised how many girls come through the door with no clue on how to let go with a real blood-curdling shriek. Chances are pretty close to 100% that you’re going to spend the bulk of your screen time being chased by axe murderers, discovering dead bodies, having drug freak-outs and, as we’ve already discussed, being raped. You’re going to need a quality set of pipes to adequately express your consternation at the myriad misfortunes that continually befall you. If you need some motivation for mustering real horror, meditate on your next task.

Faking attraction to Charles Bronson

Look, every young actress wants to star opposite Robert Redford right off the bat. But Bob doesn’t do the kind of movies you’re working on, and the odds are that you’re never going to be working on the kinds of movies he’s in. No, one of your most important tasks will be using your sex appeal to distract the audience from the thorough unattractiveness of the male lead. Try to wrap your head around it by degrees. Lee Marvin might be your best-case scenario: not a good-looking dude by most standards, but he’s a tall, strong guy with a certain blue-collar Irish appeal. Or maybe consider George Kennedy, another big, meaty fella who won’t be gracing any pin-up calendars, but who carries himself with a confidence that passes for charm. If you’re really scraping bottom, you might end up in a Ross Hagen movie. Sure, Hagen could charitably be described as poor man’s Steve McQueen, but many a starlet has found herself powerless in the face of his wooden anti-charisma.

If you can imagine yourself lost in a soft-focus sex scene with any of those guys, you may be almost ready to scale Mount Bronson. That’s right, through some quirk of time and space, that mumble-mouthed, beady-eyed, saggy-faced geezer has become a viable leading man. There’s a distinct possibility you’re going to find Chuck’s mustachioed lips pressed to yours in the near future, and you’re going to have to act like it’s exactly what you’ve been dreaming of for your entire young, nubile, frequently topless life.

Welcome to Hollywood, ladies!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Seven lessons learned from Prince's "Graffiti Bridge" soundtrack

I’ll confess right up front that I’ve never seen Prince’s 1990 film Graffiti Bridge in its entirety. I’ve never read a single good word about the movie, and as a big fan of Purple Rain, I’ve always feared that watching the sequel would taint my appreciation of the original. (I’ve also never watched Purple Rain while even remotely sober, which may contribute to my belief that it’s a cinematic masterpiece.)

I do, however, own the Graffiti Bridge album, a weird piece of work even by Princely standards. It’s not an awful album by any means. As Prince soundtrack albums go, it ranks well below the flawless Purple Rain and the minor classic Parade (Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon), but considerably above Batman. Whereas the first two would stand alone as excellent albums even if you didn’t know the films existed, the songs on Graffiti Bridge sound very much like pieces of a larger, disjointed narrative. It’s a mishmash of guest stars, skit-songs and tonal shifts whose whole is rather less than the sum of its parts.

Still, it’s an interesting listening experience with some scattered but worthwhile highlights. On my most recent spin, I realized that Graffiti Bridge even has a few things to teach us, some more vital than others.

Want to underline your sequel’s inferiority? Open with a weak knock-off of the original.

When Prince was writing “Can’t Stop This Feeling That I Got,” he was probably consciously trying to create a musical link between Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. Trouble is, he did it too well. His opening track sounds so much like “Let’s Go Crazy” (minus the awesome spoken-word preamble) that my primary reaction to it is to wonder why I’m not just listening to “Let’s Go Crazy” instead.

The concept of Prince featuring George Clinton is way cooler on paper.

There’s no question that Clinton’s brand of whacked-out space funk was a major influence on young Prince, but there’s also a considerable difference between their sounds. A confluence of these two powerhouses should have shaken the music world to its very foundation. Instead, “We Can Funk” is a pretty decent entry in the Prince dance track canon. The most Clinton-esque elements to be found are a long group chant toward song’s end and the awesome/atrocious lyric “I’m testin’ positive for the funk / I’ll gladly pee in anybody’s cup.”

Place them side by side and Morris Day can easily upstage Prince.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen Purple Rain or heard an early record by The Time, but Morris Day is one of the great showmen of his era. As wild and weird as Prince can be, Morris brings so much more manic energy to his couple of tracks, especially “Release It.” Granted he’s not half the musical genius Prince is, but when Morris starts bossing his "stellas" around and stealing nookie from his side men, I find myself wishing Graffiti Bridge had been his vehicle rather than his benefactor’s.

Once upon a time, there was Tevin Campbell.

Remember Tevin Campbell? That sweet-voiced pretty boy who ruled the R&B charts in the early ‘90s? He’s part of the bizarre Graffiti Bridge entourage, and he’s rather awesome. His “Round and Round” is both one of the best tracks on the album and a more enjoyable effort than Campbell’s future work. By this point, the Prince-Michael Jackson feud was pretty well wound down, but it would be easy to read Prince’s championing of a charismatic child star with a voice soulful beyond his years as one last shot across the bow.

Mavis Staples can do no wrong.

Prince being Prince, he probably could have recruited Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner or another top-tier mega diva to fill this role (he did allegedly pitch the part to Patti LaBelle). Instead he went with the less iconic but equally skilled Mavis Staples, and her brassy, classy presence gives the album just the boost it needs in its saggy second half. Her “Melody Cool” is an undeniable highlight of Graffiti Bridge, a swaggering slab of soul that’s one of the few blatantly cinematic moments that translates gracefully onto wax.

Prince should never dabble in hip-hop.

Sadly, Prince viewed the half-assed flow shoehorned into “New Power Generation (Part II)” not as a failed experiment in genre-bending, but as the gateway to several albums’ worth of hip-hop flirtation. It’s all pretty embarrassing stuff. “Cocaine was a thing that I took on / and Nowhere was a place that I was goin’”? Really?

“Thieves in the Temple” is no “When Doves Cry,” “Graffiti Bridge” is no “Purple Rain.”

Don’t get me wrong – Graffiti Bridge’s big single is a damned good song, maybe even a great one. But unlike its predecessor, it’s just not sturdy enough to hang an entire album and feature film on. As for the title track, it’s little more than a pleasant coda, utterly lacking in the majesty and passion of “Purple Rain.” You know that famous scene at the end of the first film, where Prince’s guitar neck erupts during the fadeout of “Purple Rain,” dousing the crowd with highly suggestive sparks? “Graffiti Bridge” is more like half-hearted wanking with no money shot.

- Ira Brooker