Screening Room: ‘How to Build a Girl’

Caitlin Moran’s popular YA novel How to Build a Girl was about a geeky girl from the Midlands who takes a sharp left-turn into hipsterdom when she reinvents herself as a snarky music journalist in the 1990s. (You know, when Happy Mondays were a thing.)

The movie adaptation of How to Build a Girl, starring Booksmart‘s irrepressible Beanie Feldstein, opens this week. My review is at The Playlist:

At first, the gig is all champagne and caviar, despite the eye-rolling putdowns delivered by her editors, a posh band of professional haters who have a hard time taking a girl from the Midlands seriously. After giving herself a makeover (a sequence unimaginatively set to Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”), Johanna charges into nightclubs sporting fire-engine-red hair, a top hat, and the nom de plume Dolly Wilde, wielding her pen and notebook with more moxie than Lester Bangs…

Here’s the trailer:

Scene of the Day: ‘Woodshock’ (1985)

Richard Linklater’s first movie, Woodshock, was a 7-minute documentary short from 1985 about the Texas indie music festival. A couple minutes in, you can see a very shy Daniel Johnston getting ready to perform (“I work at McDonalds. This is my new album.”). Later diagnosed with schizophrenia, Johnston recorded some of the greatest, oddest, most heartbreakingly sweet music of the last few decades. He died this week at the age of 58.

Here’s Woodshock:

(h/t: Morning News)

Screening Room: ‘Woodstock’

No, not that movie called Woodstock. This is a different documentary, much shorter, and more about the planning and execution. So, less music. But, still: Hendrix.

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation opens this week in limited release, and should be broadcast in August on PBS’s American Experience.

My review is at Slant:

According to Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, the 1969 Woodstock festival seemed fated to fail. But a rare convergence of good luck, good intentions, and good vibes somehow snapped into place and crystallized over a few days in August the aspirations of a counterculture about to hit its peak…

Screening Room: ‘Babylon’

Asward’s Brinsley Forde in ‘Babylon’ (Kino Lorber)

Back in 1980, a movie about West Indian youths in London scrapping for a piece of something to call their own premiered in Cannes and promptly disappeared from sight over concerns about its controversial treatment of racism and violence.

Babylon is just now getting its American release. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s in many ways clumsy and ham-fisted. And yet, somewhere in between the densely layered dub and reggae soundtrack, Chris Menges’ evocative cinematography, and the sharp spark of political agitation, there’s something to the movie that cannot be so easily dismissed…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Fyre’

Fyre was supposed to be the great music festival of 2017. Instead it turned into a social media schadenfreude disaster. Now Chris Smith (of American Movie fame) made a documentary out of it. Sometimes we get lucky that way.

Fyre opens in limited release and will be available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Slant:

The video ads for the Fyre Festival looked amazing when they first rippled through the Instagram feeds of influencer models like Bela Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski in late 2016. For a certain kind of status-seeker, marooned somewhere cold and just waiting for the next warm-climate EDM gathering, the marketing for the music festival promised a bro heaven populated only by models…

Here is the trailer:

Nota Bene: The Prince Edition

The September 2017 edition of The Journal of African American Studies was devoted entirely to the study of one artist: Prince.

According to the editors:

It is our hope that this special issue will inspire readers to access previously untapped reservoirs of creativity, help reorient the thinking of those who endeavor to pursue similar ventures that place Prince at the center of analysis, as well as prompt scholars to devise nuanced and unconventional ways to probe, study, and analyze an artist whose persona and life’s work defied convention…

In Memorium: Grant Hart (1961-2017)

From Bob Mould’s Facebook page today, on the sad passing of Grant Hart, the brilliant drummer and co-lyricist for Hüsker Dü and ringleader of the great but underrated Nova Mob:

It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.

And now, probably Grant’s greatest song (make sure to play on repeat):

Reader’s Corner: ‘Shake it Up’

As part of the Library of America’s attempt to reach beyond their authoritative bind-ups of great American writers, here comes Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z, edited by Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar.

It’s in stores now and a necessary addition to your bookshelf. My review is at PopMatters:

…stuffed with everyone from Robert Christgau to Nick Tosches and Nelson George, this anthology is like some steam-powered hurdy-gurdy of sound and vision. In these gnarled curlicues of theoretical musings, cool-handed thematic unpackings, freakout rave-ups, and widescreen snapshots of postwar America’s sonic landscapes, this is a book that will remind you of just about everything you love about music.

Screening Room: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

florencefosterjenkins1

Meryl Streep’s latest role requires her to do some stretching, as it involves playing a woman who was absolutely terrible at doing the thing she loved most.

Florence Foster Jenkins is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

There’s an old joke about the difference that money makes for people suffering from mental illness. Most mentally ill people are just referred to as “crazy.” The ones with money, though, are tagged as “eccentric.” Very few statements have more clearly defined the advantages that wealth bestows upon those who have it. Until, that is, the release earlier this month of Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a dialed-in, feel-good period piece in which almost all the main characters bend over backwards to protect the fragile delusions of one extremely eccentric woman…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Music for Writing

In addition to politicians trotting out their newest talking points in between dodging questions, you can occasionally find writers on the Sunday talk shows flogging their newest book. This past weekend, viewers of Face the Nation were treated to the sight of former Reagan speechwriter and current dispenser of fatuous bromides for the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan talking about her new collection of columns. She did drop one decent piece of advice, if you need music when writing, try movie soundtracks:

Because other music would take me away from my work but movie music is meant to help the story along. And … when you’re writing a column or an essay, you’re writing a story.

You need to match the music with the material, of course. For a science fiction piece, the otherwordly Daft Punk soundtrack for the Tron remake is a fine choice. For something more fanciful, try Dan Romer’s beautiful music for Beasts of the Southern Wild. And John Corigliano’s lush score for The Red Violin works for just about anything.

Before you sit down and actually write on this fine Sunday, though, waste a little time with Dame Peggington Noonington from the good folks at Wonkette.

Reader’s Corner: What Lemmy Reads on the Bus

jeevesSo what do you do, if you’re Motörhead’s Lemmy and you need to unwind? You’re 69 years old, an aging metal icon, with a string of furiously guitar-slashing albums behind you and the status of somebody whose like will never be seen again. As The Atlantic‘s James Parker puts it, what you do “cannot be counterfeited or repeated“:

Lemmy once roadie’d for Jimi Hendrix; these days, retiring postshow to his tour-bus bunk, he reads P. G. Wodehouse.

We should all be so smart. Jeeves will take care of all. Even after the evening’s encore…