Pop Culture Ephemera
- Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest (1929) (Knopf): “To get what he wanted, a man had to give other people what they wanted.” The Continental Op detective arrives in Personville (known as “Poisonville”) to meet with newspaperman Donald Willsson who ends up dead before he can meet with him. The Op, as a stranger in town, plays the different corrupt sides (police, gamblers, fraudsters, and bootleggers) against each other to solve Willsson’s murder and make some money for himself. The Op is a short, squat, no-nonsense, hard-boiled detective. He is constantly playing one side against the other to get information but he does have some good insights about life. “Compromises were things everybody had to make sometimes. To get what he wanted, a man had to give other people what they wanted.” Hammett isn’t Steinbeck or Hemingway in style. The book doesn’t pause to do much other than move forward the plot. I love seeing how it has influenced writers I enjoy like Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. It is hard to say that a detective novel, western or samurai story are that much different in regards to theme. It’s easy to see this basic scenario in different settings. And so we shall.
- Kaze No Yojimbo – “Gone With The Dust” (S.1 E.1) (Nippon TV) (2001): “They really did divide this place into Red Town and White Town.” – George. A stranger, George Kodama, arrives by train into the town of Kimujuku in current day and quickly finds himself caught between two crime syndicates. The character designs are certainly influenced by Cowboy Bebop but it’s hard not to see this as an early evolution of the Naruto animation style and action direction. The modern anime take on the Red Harvest story is interesting. The way George is going to play the two sets of gamblers against each other is direct from Yojimbo even if he bears little resemblence to Sanjuro. By the third episode, George is mostly referred to as “the bodyguard” The production throws in lots of wind sound effects like the Kurosawa and Leone films. George’s narration adds another level that’s closer to the Hammett writing in Red Harvest. There are 25 episodes and I’m going to continue on to see where this goes.
- Ennio Morricone / Peter Tevis – “Pastures of Plenty (A Fistful of Dollars Theme)” (1962) (from A Fistful of Dollars Soundtrack): “On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then / We come with the dust and we go with the wind.” – Woody Guthrie. Some songs have a long journey. First, there was a British folk song that was turned into an early bluegrass tune called “Pretty Polly”. In 1941, Woody Guthrie slows it down and writes lyrics that feel inspired by The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The song celebrates the migrant workers who travel the American South and West. You can feel the dust on your clothes and the clickety-clack of the train. By 1962, Italian Ennio Morricone arranges it for American folk singer Peter Tevis. It’s here I learn that the choral is “With the wind” and not “We can win”. In 1964, Morricone adds more whistles and bells (literally), changes the choral to “We can fight”, and loses the Tevis vocal for the introduction of The Man With No Name. The Woody Guthrie spirit is there for the love of the American West, as is the hints of death from “Pretty Polly”. We’re returned to the strength of a stranger with dust on his clothing travelling from town to town “with the wind.”
- Yojimbo (1961) (Directed by Akira Kurosawa): “I’m not dying yet. I have to kill quite a few men first.” – Sanjuro. The opening shot of the nameless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) entering what a first seems like an abandoned town, we see a dog carrying a human hand cross his path and know all that we need to know about this nameless town. The man will later give his name as Sanjuro, a name we have no reason to believe, and he will play two gambling factions against each other to make money before leaving town. As a yojimbo (bodyguard), Sanjuro will only ever make things worse for each group. There are elements of Hammett’s Red Harvest mostly in turning gamblers against each other and there being no redeeming characters in the town. But there’s so much more borrowed from John Ford’s westerns and traditional samurai films. It’s one of the best filmed movies of all-time. The long shots of the single road through town are right out of High Noon. As Sanjuro observes a fight between the factions from a tower, the angles of the shots are a lesson in filmmaking as storytelling that you don’t see much outside of Citizen Kane. This film influences the films that influence today’s cinema. It’s spectacular.
- A Fistful of Dollars (1964) (Directed by Sergio Leone): “Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.” – Man With No Name. The haunting Morricone theme plays as the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) arrives in a town on the Mexican / American border wearing a serape and riding a donkey. He defies our genre expectations by watching a young boy be tormented by grown men and not interfering. We learn through his interactions with a bartender that there are two warring factions in the town. The Man With No Name (sometimes called Joe, which we have no reason to believe is his name) will play each side against the other as a bodyguard after showing his prowess with his pistol. The plot is lifted wholesale from Yojimbo, with Eastwood’s serape serving the same role as Mifune’s samurai robe. These are two films with visionary directors and best-of-their-generation lead actors. In the end, both deserve equal attention. In Yojimbo, there isn’t a world or future outside of the bleak town. In A Fistful of Dollars, there’s a future for the young couple, and we feel like the sun shines on people who can cross the river. There are the same elements of Red Harvest but how do you compare a noir detective story that influences the story of a samurai film that is translating American westerns that serve as the inspiration for an Italian western that wants to take the samurai film and make it a different kind of American western? Makes your head hurt. Bottom line is that American westerns won’t be the same forever after this film and a handful of others in the 1961-1966 era. These aren’t always going to be the heroes who step in to save the child. They will watch like us.
Best of the Rest
- It might have been a victim of the Pandemic but in 2020 there was buzz over the revival of A Fistful of Dollars as a television series. Attached to a writer from Game of Thrones, I think that HBO could pull off a western ongoing but it would need to expand the character closer to the initial Red Harvest influence where there are even more sides to pit against each other and a love interest.
- I’m a fan of mashups. Especially when the mashees are both favorites of mine. So there was a 0.0% chance that I wouldn’t love the trailer for the fake Rainbow Connection with the teaming of Benoit Blanc and the Muppets trying to find the Baseball Diamond. Call the Continental Op.
- You don’t have to tell me twice that there’s a Hitchcock documentary that might hit theaters and streaming this year. The Mark Cousin’s film looks to be less “by the numbers” biography and more psychoanalytic weaving of Hitch’s themes through his films. He utilizes Alistair McGowan as Hitchcock in the voiceovers. I haven’t watched Cousin’s extra long The Story of Film: A New Generation but this subject and director combination excites me.
Sunday Morning Tuneage Flashback
- On the Sunday Morning Tuneage of 9/9/2007, I was coming off a sad football Saturday with the boys losing, Michigan and North Texas losing too. I had just started Curb Your Enthusiasm and was pretty excited about the first season as the sixth season was debuting this week. My #81 Favorite Movie was Goodfellas (1990). That’s a fair rating and would probably land about there if I redid my ratings today. Mostly, I was excited about late night performances by Joss Stone, the Bravery, and Modest Mouse. Speaking of music, there was something else happening that week.
- 2007 MTV Video Music Awards (MTV): This was somehow the 24th Annual Awards, and I’m surprised this mess wasn’t where they just called it quits. It was moved to Vegas at the Palms and they eliminated 13 awards to keep it short and focus more on performances. Well. It’s a huge mess. It starts with the universally panned Brittney Spears performance of “Gimme More” (one so bad that it would the next day spawn the “Leave Brittney alone!” viral video). Then during another off-kilter performance, this time by an unsteady Alicia Keys telling us that “everything is going to be alright”, Tommy Lee got suckered punched by Kid Rock. At one point, Jennifer Garner announces Best New Artist as Gym Class Fallout. I still don’t know who won. Big winners of the night were Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and Fall Out Boy. But award shows were set back 20 years. I didn’t watch this in 2007 but what an overproduced, terribly sung and humorless production.
1973 in Review
- Ennio Morricone releases the soundtrack to the Italian film Revolver (1973), which has outlived the film as one of the best thriller scores of the decade.
- Sergio Leone had the story idea of what would become the 1973 release of My Name Is Nobody, and he is rumored to be the Second Unit Director. Terrance Hill stars a “Nobody” and Henry Fonda gets his shot at the Spaghetti Western (even though much of it is filmed in the United States).
- After Littlefeather accepted the Oscar for Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards, Clint Eastwood would go on to present next saying, “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowobys shot in all the John Ford Westerns over the years.”
What the Hell Did I Put in My Mouth?
What a long strange trip it was to get to this point. First, there was Teem that wasn’t quite 7-Up or Sprite. Then from 1984-2000, Slice hit the scene with multiple fruit flavors but the main player was a lemon-lime flavor that was pretty good but more fruity. It was replaced with the remarkably terrible Sierra Mist until this past year. I went into this hoping that someone at Pepsi realized that a lemon-lime soda doesn’t have to be complicated. They nailed it. It’s been a couple decades since I had a Slice but this falls somewhere between a Slice and a 7-Up. A drink that should blossom once picnics start in the spring. Well played, Pepsi. I rarely if ever say that outside of their Mt. Dew label.
Takis Stix: Flare
The Stix is an interesting format for a brand that has the reputation for spiciness. The Stix are thin and short and hard to have much flavor. The Fuego version of these have a bit of spice. The Flare only come across as a lime-flavored corn chip to me. With maybe just a tiny bit of heat at the end. If you want to look like you are eating something hot based on the bag but really just having a lime corn snack, then these are for you.
Cocoa Pebbles: Crunch’D
I should have known something was up when I saw Barney with a keytar. They have somehow managed to ruin one of the best chocolate cereals. It’s valid to want to make a more crunchy version of the original Cocoa Pebbles. But these huge rocks of Cocoa Pebbles, while staying crunchy, have lost most everything I like about Cocoa Pebbles including the flavor. Now I have flavorless chunks of crunchy RockStars. It’s like watching Last Man Standing in place of Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars.
“It’s always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die” – Woody Guthrie