Tag Archives: new wave

Against Me! – New Wave

Against Me - New Wave album cover10 years ago as I write this Floridian punk rockers Against Me! released an album that was, for better or worse, to become a landmark one in their career, New Wave.

Following something of a falling out with indie label Fat Wreck Chords over their Searching For A Former Clarity record the band signed a deal with a major label, Sire, for their fourth (and then fifth) albums.

This instantly set them apart not only from the anarcho-punk scene they originally came from (though to many there even Fat Wreck had been too big a move) but also from their fans who had followed the band’s first three albums to whom a major label was seen as a hugely controversial move.

The whys and wherefores of all of this (from at least one perspective) are covered in Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography, Tranny, so here I’m going to focus more on the record itself.

From the moment it begins its clear that New Wave has a bigger production side to it, and with Butch Vig behind the desk that’s not a surprise. What it does though right away is hint at the difference between the outlook of the band and the plans of the Sire executives.

Against Me! circa 2007

Against Me! circa 2007

While the band, led by chief songwriter Grace (then known as Thomas Gabel), kept at least a semblance of their sociopolitical outlook, they had added to that an embittered streak focussing on the aforementioned punk ideals, the notion of ‘selling out’ and the criticisms they had gained from longstanding fans, there’s a strong sense that what Sire were looking for was the next generation of Foo Fighters.

While this gives the whole record something of a conflicted edge the dangerous side of the music gets lost in the deeper production, stifling what could have been a very impressive set of songs highlighting the ever-present clash between art and commerce. Title track New Wave, Up The Cuts and the supremely catchy Stop! particularly vocalise this, but it is a theme bubbling under throughout.

Politics remains a strong aspect of the lyrics, possibly in a slightly more abstract sense than in the past, but White People For Peace and Americans Abroad both have political overtones with the first dealing with war and protest singers and the second feeling like a very aware look at global Americanisation from the point of view of the band on tour.

Against Me! live 2007

Against Me! live in 2007

What all this suggests is that there are some good songs on the record and, in many ways it does continue where Searching… had left off two years previously, with the band developing a slightly poppier and more accessible tone while still having plenty to say, it’s just this came across far better with a slightly less ‘over produced’ sound.

That said a couple of tracks really stand out. The first is Thrash Unreal, the album’s second single, that takes the kind of topics often dealt with in teen pop punk but throws them askance issuing something of a warning of increasingly youthful excess but finally standing up as a celebration of teenage rebellion (with a very dark edge).

The other stand out track is the albums closer, The Ocean, that uses the advanced production for all its worth to create a deep and atmospheric piece that delves deeper than ever before into the Grace’s psyche and feelings in a way that has since become something of a premonition for not just the future of the band but her personal life as well (loosely anyway).

Thomas Gabel/Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! in 2007

Gabel/Grace live in 2007

This all leaves New Wave as something of a transitional record in Against Me!’s career, lacking some of the danger of the past and hinting at a possible more ‘corporate rock’ future that never really emerged (thankfully).

The follow-up, White Crosses, while also featuring some great songs also felt somewhat disconnected and eventually almost led to the collapse of the band before their next landmark moment on Transgender Dysphoria Blues that saw them take many aspects of what they were before but become something new and certainly become about as far removed from being the next Foo Fighters as a band could get while still playing pop-tinged punk rock.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Godfather

The Godfather posterWhat more can be added to discussion on Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Mario Puzo’s post-war gangland epic, The Godfather? Honestly, probably not a lot, but as I have only just got round to watching it here are my thoughts.

Telling the story of the Corleone family in New York in the years between 1945 and 1955 it falls strongly into the mold of ‘New Hollywood’ that began in the late 1960s as French New Wave inspired filmmakers began to break away from Hollywood’s traditional studio system and create more groundbreaking films, often with more extreme situations including violence and subjects previous generations of mainstream film wouldn’t have tackled (for another prime example see Bonnie and Clyde).

The Godfather’s subject falls totally into this category too as the character who is, ostensibly, our hero, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), has a story arc that doesn’t fall on the traditional ‘hero’ track (saying more would be somewhat of a spoiler, so for those who still haven’t seen it I won’t).

Brando (middle) and Coppola (right) on set

Brando (middle) and Coppola (right) on set

This story is backed up by a film that is shot and directed as a total cohesive work in the best of ways so that the choice of shots, sounds and music all come together to add to the story being told through the words and action. While this is something that it probably sounds all films should do, it is, in my experience, rare that mainstream, big budget, films do this today as more impetus is put on special effects and highlighting ‘stars’ than on creating cohesive movies.

That said The Godfather does feature one big star from the time (along with many stars to be) in the form of Marlon Brando. Having become a legend since his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone it was good to go back to this point and see what the man who would be Jor-El did to gain this status (obviously I am aware his reputation began 20 years earlier) and Brando’s performance here is truly extraordinary.

Pacino and Brando

Pacino and Brando

Portraying a man considerably older than he was at the time there is never a moment where this was apparent and, as legend suggests, he seems totally taken over by the character from the opening scenes to the last and, while it has been parodied in pretty much every form imaginable, the performance pushes all of these aside to stand up as one of the best I’ve ever seen.

While Brando stands above all, the entire cast of main characters are all excellent performances with Pacino almost reaching Brando’s level and James Caan and Robert Duvall close behind.

With a final set piece that pulls all of the above-mentioned elements together, as the Corleone family establish their dominance and welcome a new member of the family in excellently contrasting style, The Godfather is that rare thing of being a film that more than lives up to its hype and reputation as one of the best films I’ve ever seen (and they say Part 2 is even better!).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho Book CoverAfter catching Hitchcock in the cinema a couple of weeks ago I though I would re-investigate its supposed source, Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – a book first published in 1990.

I first encountered this book while I was undertaking an A-level media studies course where one of our main subjects on the film module was Alfred Hitchcock’s horror and shock masterpiece Psycho.

As is often the case with books encountered as part of a school course, I never actually read the whole book, instead picking out the segments relevant to the course so, this was almost like coming to it totally fresh.

The most striking thing about the book from the start is the remarkable cooperation of all the then surviving cast and crew members to talk about the film and to be very honest with it.

Stephen RebelloThis paints a picture of the film’s development from the stage of Robert Bloch’s first idea for the novel based on the news stories of “The Wisconsin Ghoul”, Ed Gein, through the development of the script, to filming and, finally, Psycho’s effect on cinema.

So we hear stories from stars Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, Bloch and screenwriter Joseph Stefano as well as various members of the production crew and archive of Hitchcock himself.

This paints a brilliant and in-depth picture of not only the creation of the film in question, but film in general, and gives us a unique eye into the world of the studio system that, arguably, Psycho speeded up the destruction of.

Alfred HitchcockThe specifics also tell the story of the film from being something considered a costly mistake by “The Master of Suspense” through to its reception as one of Hollywood’s first auteur pieces by the likes of Cahier du Cinema, which comes across as the Bible of the “Nouvelle Vague”, and, therefore, elevates Psycho to the status of art rather simply a “nasty little shocker”.

While the film this book spawned seemed intent on turning this story into a soap opera, here Alma Hitchcock receives very little coverage and there is no mention of Hitch being troubled by her having a possibly relationship with a screenwriter and, in my opinion, Hitchcock would have been a far more satisfying film if it had stuck more to the intrigue surrounding credits of design aspects of the film (often credited to Saul Bass more than Hitchcock) and the music as well as the wrangling with the studio and censors.

Anthony Perkins in PsychoWhat the book also adds which would never have fitted the three-act Hollywood movie structure is and exploration of the effect Psycho had on the career of Hitch.

It posits that while many have tried all, including the director himself, consistently failed to live up to Psycho and, as well as reviving Hitchcock’s energy for filmmaking, it may also have led to his decline as he switched studios from Paramount to Universal and lost touch with what had made his previous films what they were.

While there are elements of opinion in the book, and it clearly comes from a point of view of Hitchcock as auteur and certainly not a critical standpoint, it still paints a reasonably balanced picture of the creation of a classic in a way that I wish extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays would do more often.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,