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Monday, March 31, 2008

Film Review: Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse Finds The Sweet Spot

Review by Noah Mallin

The title sounds like something from the deep recesses of 70s porn. The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse is quite another thing entirely. Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and Claire Trevor head the cast of this late 30s dramatic gangster comedy. The three would later end up in the superior Key Largo together directed by Clitterhouse co-writer John Huston.

Unlike Key Largo though this is one of the few gangster pics in which Robinson didn't play a ruthless mug -- that's down to Bogie in a smoldering performance. Instead Robinson is an intellectual doctor with an interest in the physiological effects of criminality. So interested is he that he begins to commit robberies amongst his wealthy friends to study the effect.

While attempting to hock his hot stuff he runs into Claire Trevor, an awfully nice gang queenpin, and gang leader Bogart. Clitterhouse's quick thinking and sharp organizational skills propel him to gang leadership and a place in Trevor's heart, both of which rub Bogie the wrong way.

This is an unusual performance from Robinson, playing an off-kilter upper class man of science. He speaks mellifluously and approaches every situation with calm and reason. Trevor is very good, though after her early scenes she becomes less convincing as a crime overlord. Bogart had played hoods before and was a Warner Brothers go-to guy for the type at this point in his career but the menace and resentment he brings to his role here are first rate.

Some reviewers have knocked Clitterhouse for its mix of comedy and drama and its odd conclusion, which must have been perplexing during the Code-era. I found it to be a great deal of fun, not least of which for the performances. The ambiguity in Dr. Clitterhouse's character is quite modern, fascinated by doing wrong and drawn to it -- for purely academic purposes.

Ultimately there are dark byways of the soul that director Anatole Litvak leaves unexplored, but the light froth that remains is enjoyable in and of itself.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Architecture: Eclecticist Jean Nouvel Plucks Prestigious Pritzker Prize

Nouvel's proposal for a tower in New York on 53rd Street has been approved by the Museum of Modern Art, which jointly controls the use of the property.

By Noah Mallin

French Architect Jean Nouvel has bagged this year's Pritzker Prize, given out annually by a special jury to a living architect. Though he is best known for work throughout Europe, his Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis is amongst his finest. Nouvel first made his mark in Paris however with his work to help rejuvenate the ancient market district known as Les Halles and the fantastical Institut du Monde Arabe building (see below) , completed in 1987 and fitted with intricate and fascinating window designs.

His recent plan for the port of Vigo in Spain includes a stylized granite monolith the size of a small office building at the end of the main pier (see below):

His design for the Guthrie Theater (2006) (below) shows his disdain for a "signature style", instead choosing to shape each project for its use and its surroundings. This is not to say that he attempts to blend them in like a chameleon. In fact he often seems to employ contrast both within his designs and with their nearby buildings and physical locale.

Art: Dashing Dave Stevens, One of the Great American Comics Artists and Illustrators, Dead at 52

Appreciation by Noah Mallin

Dave Stevens will be best remembered for creating The Rocketeer, one of the most successful independent comic books titles of the 80s and one that, along with the Hernandez Brothers' Love and Rockets established the move towards a new appreciation of the format in ensuing decades.

The fantasy pulp 30s setting and premise of a deco designed hero with a rocket pack to match also would similarly be echoed within and without its genre, from literature to movies and even to the world of design.

The Rocketeer's girlfriend Betty was an obvious Betty Page homage -- obvious that is to the few who even knew who the 50s fetish pin-up model was. It was Steven's obsessive knowing portrayal of her that served to introduce her to the masses. Steven's himself was surprised to discover that she was alive and well and the two began a correspondence during the run of The Rocketeer. They became friends and as her fame began its resurgence he tried to help protect her and see that she benefit from the renewed interest. Mark Evanier, who knew Steven's, recounted him saying
"It's amazing. After years of fantasizing about this woman, I'm now driving her to cash her Social Security checks."

After selling the rights to The Rocketeer to Disney Steven's began to work more in the realm of illustration, often doing covers and stylized pin-up images. The film version of The Rocketeer is a great deal of fun, particularly with the apt casting of Jennifer Connelly as Betty, though it was a box office disappointment.

Stevens himself was an inspiration for illustrator and ex-girlfriend Laura Molina's work, specifically a series she called Naked Dave. Molina was quoted as saying:

There's something I've realized about why these paintings make people so uncomfortable. Dave Stevens is a "male muse", and an unwilling one at that. The traditional gender roles have been reversed. This upsets the order of things. Women are not supposed to have my technical skill or use it to toy with and objectify a male subject. I do this for the same reason that Dave and other male artists continue to paint and draw naked women.... Because I can."

Steven's was also briefly married to model and b-movie scream queen Brinke Stevens in the early 80s. She continued to model for him after their divorce.

His death came after a long struggle with leukemia. Reportedly he was working on a career retrospective of his work.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Design: Former Chrysler Designer John Herlitz Dead at 65

An Appreciation by Noah Mallin

Chrysler designer John Herlitz started with the company in 1964, just in time to experience the end of the Elwood Engel era and retired in 2000, just as the Tom Gale era was coming to a close. Though he didn't extend a reach as deeply and publicly known as the aforementioned design heads, he was a quietly influential and respected designer who moved through the ranks to become a top design executive.

During Chrysler's design revival in the late 80s and early 90s Herlitz championed a series of well-received concept vehicles under Tom Gale's direction that signaled the company's move away from the boxy boredom of the K-Car years. He insisted they be runners and many of them were harbingers of production vehicles like the Dodge Viper.

He first made his mark with the vehicle shown above, the Plymouth Barracuda SX Concept. Herlitz was on the team responsible for the second-generation Barracuda and the concept was meant to envision what the car would look like if it were given it's own platform rather than being built off of the Valiant. That would not occur until the third generation, one in which he had a direct hand in.

His own favorite and the one for which he's likely to be best remembered is the 1971 Plymouth Road Runner/ GTX (below). This was one of the last great designs of the muscle car era and reflected the best example of what Chrysler called "fuselage" styling -- a wide, low, long tapered smooth-sided look inspired by contemporary jumbo jets.
Check out the way the front bumper frames the face, and the draping sideline that extends halfway down the squared-off wheel arches. Then there is the fantastic roofline and pillarless side glass. Herlitz's death comes as the company he spent his career at is once again in the design weeds and facing the kind of product crises he helped lead it through in the late 70s and again in the late 80s.

Friday, March 28, 2008

TV: Would You Like Extra Cheese With That? Cheesiest 80's TV Shows

Compiled By Noah Mallin

The 80s were an innocent time -- a time of arms-for-hostages, junk bond scams, and Pac- Man. It was also the last great age of cheesy television before programmers discovered a new innovation the world would come to call ironic distance. Here are a few of the best 80's cheesy Television series for your perusal. Not for those with high cholesterol. As always, if the vids show up as not available, reload Planet of Sound (and Sight) in your browser.

1) B.A.D. Cats
This Starsky and Hutch knockoff starred two guys who are decidedly neither Starsky or Hutch, LaWanda Page as someone who is definitely not Huggy Bear, Jimmie "J.J." Walker as someone who is most assuredly not Chief Dobie, and Vic Morrow pre-decapitation (duh!) and is not to be confused with Internet scourge LOLcats. Oh yeah, there's also some unknown named Michelle Pfeiffer in it too. The important thing is that B.A.D. stands for Burglary Auto Detail which means way more car chases than Starsky and Hutch had.

2) Automan

Seeing a title like Automan might naturally lead one to say, "Hey, another show about Burglary Auto Details?" To which I would reply "Shhh! Don't speak..." That would be a patently ridiculous premise -- Automan in fact was a show that dared to grapple with the emerging world of computer technology. Nebbishy police computer nerd Walter er...Nebicher, creates a virtual superhero who can actually interact with objects and stuff in the outside world even though he's computer generated. Their pal Cursor floats along with them creating vehicles and such on demand.

3) The Powers of Matthew Star
Ever wonder what Academy Award Winner Lou Gossett Jr. did between An Officer and a Gentleman and the Iron Eagle series of recruitment films? Wonder no more! Here he played another military guy -- but from space! He's protecting alien Prince and total hunk Peter Barton (with Joyce DeWitt's hair from Season One of Three's Company).

4) Street Hawk

This show imagined a world in which lone-ish crimefighters choose superfast black motorcycles as their steeds rather than superfast black Trans Ams that talk. Our hero is played by pornishly named Rex Smith, joined by a pre - Murphy Brown Joe Regalbuto.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Interspecies Relations: You Know What They Say: Big Foot = Big Crazy Internet Perv

Expose by Noah Mallin

Leon Harris was always a cheery upbeat presence back when he was on CNN and he brings that same twinkle in the eye to his current gig at DC area station WJLA. Recently they unearthed the story of a Stafford, Virginia gentleman who was convicted of trolling cyberspace looking for teenage boys as sex partners. He does have a good excuse though. Seems he was molested as a youngster by a Bigfoot.

As most psychologists will tell you, those that have been molested by Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) at an impressionable age tend to be more likely to molest youngsters as adults. The folks at WJLA do get extra special credit for tracking down Bigfoot experts for comment.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Film: Actor Richard Widmark Dies

An appreciation by Noah Mallin

Richard Widmark was the paradoxical nice guy offscreen who played bigots (No Way Out, with Sidney Poitier), right-wing nutjobs (The Bedford Incident as a submarine commander on the brink of starting World War III) and a chilling giggling psychopath (in his breakthrough role in Kiss of Death.)

Kiss of Death was his first film, and for many the impression it left was indelible. Like Javier Bardem this year in No Country For Old Men the depiction of implacable malevolence onscreen led to an Academy award nomination for Supporting Actor. The same role netted him an apt Most Promising Newcomer Golden Globe for 1948.

In 1950 he starred in Jules Dassin's ultra-gritty noir Night and The City, as dark and ambiguous a film as American cinema would create pre- 1970s. Widmark is outstanding as a man trapped by his own relentless scheming -- both grotesque and sympathetic.

The same year also found him starring in Elia Kazan's groundbreaking Panic in The Streets, one of the new breed of postwar Hollywood films shot entirely on location, in this case New Orleans. Widmark slots in to Kazan's vaunted realist style here as the driven scientist rushing to protect a major city from a potential plague.

Widmark joined Director Sam Fuller for the noir classic Pickup on South Street in 1953. Widmark is punchy as an amoral pickpocket who finds himself in possession of government secrets. An apolitical man surrounded by ruthless communist agents and capitalist both ruthless and non, he threads the needle of Fuller's tight suspenseful masterpiece.

In 1966 Widmark helped instigate the theme of John Ford's last western Cheyenne Autumn, an unusual film for Ford that turned the tables on the plight of Native Americans in the 1880s. Widmark starred as the conflicted military man sent to battle peaceful tribes.

Two years later he starred as the title character with Henry Fonda in Madigan, a top notch police procedural that spawned a TV series in the early 70s also starring Widmark.

In 1974 he starred along with a stellar cast in Sidney Lumet's version of Murder on The Orient Express. Widmark played Ratchett, the man whose murder sets the central mystery of the film.

His last film was 1991's True Colors playing a patriarchal Senator alongside James Spader and John Cusack.

Widmark was 93.

Clips (as always hit refresh in your browser if they show as unavailable):

Widmark on 50's guessing-gameshow What's My Line:

The trailer for Night and The City:

Here's a bit of his freaky-deaky nominated perf from Kiss of Death:

Design: Longtime Mercedes Design Kaiser to Retire

Report by Noah Mallin

Mercedes-Benz Head of Design Peter Pfeiffer will retire this year, after having been head of design since 1978. During that time he has overseen a huge expansion in Mercedes model line-up, from the tiny A-Class on the small end to the sport utilities, crossovers, and minivans on the larger scale. Through it all he has done an admirable job of overseeing the Mercedes design heritage while still staying in step with design trends.

Here are some of the best designs that were launched on his watch:

The lovely pillarless W126 S-Class Coupe from 1981

The 1983 190, which successfully took the brand downmarket for the first time

The 1989 SL which replaced the now classic previous model which had been in production for nearly two decades

In 1997 the A-Class took Mercedes down into an even-lower market rung. The executive class small car opened the door to the new Mini in the following decade and incorporated novel approaches to interior and mechanical packaging for space and safety.

The 1998 CLK Coupe and Convertible were the best-looking Mercedes' of the 90s

The pert and pretty 1997 SLK had an amazing folding hardtop

The swoopy 2005 CLS kicked off the 4-door Coupe trend

Among the notable concepts are these:

The oddly upright 1981 NAFA microcar

The bulbous f100 from 1991 which accurately predicted the 90s trend towards tw0-box designs such as minivans and crossover/suvs

The amazing f300 concept from 1997 --a three-wheeled vehicles that leaned into turns like a motorcycle

The striking F400 Carving from 2002 applied the leaning concept to 4-wheels

The F600 Hygenious wrapped a fuel cell in a radical glassy body

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Politics: This is the Post Where You Can See a Midget Version of Hillary Clinton Gyrating and Speaking Spanish

More proof that this election diminishes us all...

Music: New Release Tuesday

The Raconteurs are voting for McKinley this year...

Those rascally Raconteurs rush release their new one, Consolers of The Lonely today. Naughty iTunes spoiled the retro unheard release fun by accidentally offering downloads over the weekend. Here's the video evidence, a new song called "Salute Your Solution":

The B-52's are all "Mwahh hah hah hah we're not dead fool!" with new release Funplex. Here's a fan video for the song "Funplex":

Reformed drug enthusiast Evan Dando delivers a remastered deluxe edition of his band The Lemonheads' most beloved album, It's a Shame About Ray. Check him out at the height of his indie-Fabio-ness in the "My Drug Buddy" video:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Music News: Universal Says No To Angry Girls -- Male Menacers OK Though

Be Your Own Pet try out their gangsta stares...

The retro-retards at Universal Music have put their foot down on Be Your Own Pets' new album Get Awkward, axing three songs from the U.S. version. The reason? The songs were too violent, so says the sanctimonious money hemorrhaging major label which is home to Eminem and 50 Cent, DMX and a whole host of others who sing or rap about shooting maiming killing etc.

Apparently violence is OK for boys, like the fellas in Hatebreed, but little girls like BYOP singer Jemina Pearl are supposed to play nice.

Guess what Universal? Most fans will download the songs and perhaps the whole album for free at any number of locations on the World Wide Web. The idea that you can cut off a continent from content is so 1991.

More important, the whole label system is in itself so 1991, unless you are an American Idol winner. Good luck finding new music when the most creative artists out there want nothing to do with your interfering ways.

Finally, girls kick ass, OK? Get used to it you election year brown-nosers.

Meanwhile, the songs are "Blow Yr Mind", "Black Hole", and "Becky" and they are quite funny. They are also all available on the band's MySpace page for free.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Music: Oh Astro Puts Lionel Richie in Blender Where He Belongs

Oh Astro are the "found art" kind of musical miscegenators who think its perfectly a-ok to make smashy with Lionel Richie's "Hello", Hot Chips' "Boy From School", and Fujiya and Miyagi's "Ankle Injuries." As if this flaunting of copyright conventionality weren't enough they have also dished out this video for their song "Hello Fuji Boy" which melds the whole potpourri to clips from the kitschy Kroft classic TV show "The Lost Saucer" starring Ruth Buzzi and Rock Hudson widow(er) Jim Naybors.

Oh Astro - Hello Fuji Boy from Oh Astro on Vimeo.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Music: The Deal Twins are, like, The Most Adorable Women on Earth -- Watch as The Breeders Toy with a Brit Hipster

I had a major crush on ex-Pixies bassist and Breeders mastermind Kim Deal in high school and college and man if she and twin sister Kelley just keep getting cooler. On the eve of the release of the new Breeders album Mountain Battles they sat down with an excited English chap and proved that you don't need dope to cackle. Check out the interview for The Culture Show and stick around till the end to see them perform "Here No More."

Film: Actor / Director Ivan Dixon Dies

Ivan Dixon was best known to the public for his role on the TV show Hogan's Heroes as radioman Sergeant Kinchloe, adept at spoofing the German voices of the POW camp's overseers.
Before Hogan's though he starred in one of the pioneer films of American independent cinema, the movingly brilliant and ahead-of-it's time 1964 drama Nothing but a Man.

The film, shot on a shoestring budget in southern New Jersey, took place in the deep south and centered on Dixon's character, a man who refused to be seen as anything but an equal. The performance is smolderingly intense and the issues it raised as the Civil Rights movement was gaining strength contributed to its unearned obscurity. Here's a clip (if you can't see this and you are viewing this on another site, click the link back to our site to enjoy. If you are here and the vid doesn't play, hit refresh).

After Heroes Dixon did extensive directing work in film and television. he helmed episodes of shows like Rockford Files and Magnum P.I. His film work included the blaxploitation classic Trouble Man which spawned a killer Marvin Gaye soundtrack, and his masterpiece The Spook Who Sat by The Door.

The Spook Who Sat by The Door was a wild would-be blaxploitation fantasia that plays as an early 70s take on some of the central ideas in Nothing but a Man. Where his character in the earlier film is outwardly defiant in his insistence on equal treatment, the lead in the latter film is a man who makes it as the first black CIA agent through clever subservience. He then uses his training to radicalize black gangs to take over and bring down the white system of control. A cult classic. Here's the trailer:

Media: This Election is Tearing Fox News Apart!

Wallace having a friendly chit-chat re: journalistic integrity last year with some guy

Huffington Post has two clips today of Fox News ("We Distort, You Deride") correspondents fed up with anti-Obama bias. Now if only they'd tackle all the other rampant bias and distortion at Rupert Murdoch's White House endorsed sludge factory we can all go home!

First up is my ex-neighbor Chris Wallace. The man who Bill Clinton sucker punched (verbally) on air turns the heat up on his chirpy eye-brow impaired colleagues. Earlier there was a general melee as Brian Kilmeade's control chip malfunctioned leading to his deviation from the Fox party line. See both clips here.

Music Non News: Michael Stipe Queer -- and He's Gay Too

R.E.M.'s mumbly frontman Michael Stipe has been pretty much publicly gay since the mid-90s and yet People Magazine and others seem to think this is news. Whatever, is this any way to promote a new album? The enigmatic non-emoter is out in front of R.E.M.'s new one Accelerate which has been officially anointed as a return to the band's sound circa the sexually ambiguous days of the mid to late eighties. Whatever his orientation, a lot of what made him interesting as a personality was his mysteriousness. It's like when Bowie went straight. But not so much like Peter Buck.

Anyhow, People's lateness to this non-story is hardly a shock, they've been late on the scene scores of times. Just check out this picture that accompanied their 1976 profile on Paul Lynde -- altogether now -- AHEM!

Here's the cover :

Design: New York Auto Show -- Focusing in on The Micro in a Macro Show

The fender sweep with integrated air extractor on the Nissan GT-R

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the glitter, the lights, the free booze and food during the press days at an auto show. What's hard is to find those little snatches of detail or pleasing design cues that make it all worthwhile. Here are some of the nice bits that caught my eye at the New York Auto show:

The intersection of two side character indents on the massive BMW CS Concept -- one indent peters out in a slight upward flourish as the other dives just aft to echo the first one. The broad rounded shoulderline provides the metallic canvas.

The shoulder on the new Nissan Maxima joins with the a-pillar to form a plane that travels down the front end. The hood spills over the peak of the line formed by the outer edge of the pillar making an unusual undulating shape.

The wild organic looking confetti at the rear sides of Mazda's Furai concept. Though busy, they contrast nicely with the all business race car smoothness of the rest of the body. Pure decorative whimsy.

I've always been partial to Aston Martin's mirror mounts, from the metal V-shaped brackets of the Vantage (top picture) to the new carbon fiber ones below.

The superbly handled intersecting planes and shapes at the rear of Cadillac's CTS Coupe Concept. Note how well the trademark vertical taillamps are integrated into the play of sharp angles.

The rear of Toyota's new Venza crossover shows that the Japanese giant has been learning some slick design lingo. Look at the playful relationship of the upkicked bumper seam which visually points to the upper curve of the neat taillight. Meanwhile the wraparound edge of the taillight shoots off in the opposite direction to create a surface edge on the back bumper itself.

If Aston Martin is all about cool mirror mounts then Audi is the go-to brand for exciting headlight jewelry on production models such as the A5 (top) and a4(below).

Dear Nissan Forum,

I never thought this would happen to me. I attend a large Northeastern auto show and noticed your Forum Concept sitting there with it's door wiiiiiide open. I noticed the very cool relationship of the side mirrors with the front quarter window shapes when the opened door juxtaposes them. I'm a fan of curves and this effect gives us several from the mirror edge to the mirror surround to the window shape to the window trim.

When viewed from inside the spectacular leather, wood and chrome encrusted interior the mirrors echo the small pillar windows making a single lovely distended oval shape when viewed as a unit.