Author: Chelsea Spear

November 19, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do!, is a sleeper hit in the actor’s filmography. The film chronicles the meteoric rise of The Oneders, a suburban Pennsylvania based band who score a surprise #1 hit in the summer of 1964. While the film didn’t make a huge impact on its 1996 release, its winning story, appealing performances, and pitch-perfect soundtrack have raised its profile in the 20 years following its premiere.

The careers of the alternative-rock bands who recreated the garage-rock sound of the LBJ era mirrored that of the Oneders. Like the garage bands of the mid 1960s, Fountains of Wayne, the Gigolo Aunts, and Mike Viola were making music in the years after a revolutionary rock band had cracked the genre open, leaving a young audience hungry for new music.

March 1, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

When Magnet Releasing announced the above-the-line talent for their horror anthology XX, one name stood out among the five directors: Annie Clark. Better known as St. Vincent, the artsy songwriter and guitarist makes her directorial debut with “The Birthday Party,” one of the short films in this compilation.

For her fans, Clark’s cinematic avocation comes as little surprise. Her ambitious and engaging music videos, in which she appears as an audience surrogate in off-kilter narratives. In the striking “Actor Out of Work” (2009), for example, Clark reacts placidly to a series of actors auditioning their hearts out for an unknown project; her steely gaze matches the intensity of her music while her rigid posture and minimal movements suggest the control she has over her creative work. More formally narrative videos draw on the Wes Anderson school of filmmaking to subvert viewers’ expectations. Shot in saturated earth tones with richly detailed tableau staging, these clips take the audience on surprisingly eerie journeys, such as the kidnapping and domestic play-acting of the “Cruel” video. Even the more whimsical clip for St. Vincent’s first single “Jesus Saves, I Spend” has its disturbing moments, as when a kid tied up in a sleeping bag gets dropped on a conveyor belt amidst bucolic, proto-Moonrise Kingdom scouting imagery.

February 5, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

In the days following Prince’s death, a series of memes made the rounds comparing the songwriting and guest-appearance credits on the fallen icon’s albums to those of Beyonce’s recent release Lemonade. These charts reinforced the rockiest belief that artists who write their own songs and play all their instruments are true artists, where pop singers who collaborate with songwriters to achieve their vision are puppets in thrall to their record companies.

If Prince were alive to see these memes, he would probably respond with the same shady expression immortalized in so many reaction gifs. Though he wrote all his songs, played many of the instruments on his albums, and produced much of his recorded output, he had a strong interest in collaboration—particularly with accomplished female artists who had strong perspectives. Esperenza Spalding, Misty Copeland, Sheila E., and—yes—Beyonce worked side-by-side with Prince at different points in his career.

December 9, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

In 1987, Prince was coming off a three-year creative high. His feature film debut Purple Rain was a critical and popular success, and the film’s title track became a rock standard. In the wake of Purple Rain’s runaway success, Prince recorded two albums with his backing band The Revolution; wrote, directed, and starred in the ambitious narrative feature Under the Cherry Moon; and mounted a pair of world tours. Not all of his brainchildren endured, however. Under the Cherry Moon lost money at the box office and was nominated for several Razzies, and The Revolution were starting to experience some internal tension. After disbanding his legendary Purple Rain ensemble, Prince put together a supergroup of friends and associates, recorded an album that would be the best LP of any lesser artist’s career, and directed a concert film featuring music from that album.

September 8, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

Quick: name the first feature film about hardcore punk. If you guessed at something that got dumped in theaters in the ‘80s only to become a hit on VHS and cable, you are sadly mistaken. Green Room, the third film by Jeremy Saulnier, has the honor of being the first feature to take place in the hardcore punk scene. So many films about punk have resonated with audiences; why has the unkillable, tribal subgenre taken so long for its moment in the sun?

July 18, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

The Best Animated Feature category of the 2009 Academy Awards offered an embarrassment of riches to any fan of animation. Pixar’s UP, arguably their most poignant and endearing feature, was the favorite to win; THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Wes Anderson’s anthropomorphic stop-motion Roald Dahl adaptation, the multicultural hand-drawn Disney feature THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, and CORALINE, which grossed $125 million at the box office, were also nominated. The fourth picture in the category was THE SECRET OF KELLS, a wild card unknown to all but the most ardent fans of animated films. This entry from GKids and Irish studio Cartoon Saloon could more than hold its own with the other three features in this category, and is worth a second or a third look. 

Could any filmmaker be more associated with the New York punk scene than Jim Jarmusch? At the turn of the 1980s, he seemed ubiquitous on the Lower East Side—playing keyboards with the Del-Byzanteens; making the scene at Danceteria and the Mudd Club with fellow travelers like Basquiat and Keith Haring; and directing a pair of indelible features, PERMANENT VACATION and STRANGER THAN PARADISE. Jarmusch’s early work shares with its musical peers an off-kilter sense of timelessness and an honest depiction of New York City as a seedy enclave. You have to squint at the details that mark these films as contemporary with the early ‘80s, but the characters’ ennui and melancholy, their lived-in apartments and beat-up cars, and the apocalyptic milieu that enveloped them made these films seem as eternally stylish as your favorite Blondie deep cut.

April 18, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

In 2016, THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION is—if not quite a venerated classic—a beloved film in the contemporary cult canon. The vocal fanbase that coalesced around film in the VHS era peaked in 2006, when the film got a deluxe release on DVD after years of limited accessibility. Since then, venerated cinema blog The Dissolve devoted a weeklong series of blog entries and essays to BUCKAROO BANZAI, and no less an auteur than Wes Anderson tipped his red watchcap to the film in the closing credits of THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU.

January 22, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

In some ways, one could regard Laurie Anderson as the quiet innovator. Over the past three decades, she has built up a compelling, if fitful, discography of spoken word and experimental music albums; invented a handful of musical instruments; conceived of and performed several one-woman shows; and collaborated with a murderer’s row of East Village creatives, including Spalding Gray, William S. Burroughs, Peter Gabriel, and Adrian Belew. While her forward-thinking body of work earned her a place in Loves Goes to Buildings on Fire—the definitive text on the 1970s New York music scene—she is best known to the general public for her most private role: that of Lou Reed’s widow. Her second feature-length documentary, HEART OF A DOG, touches upon her brush with mortality—mostly through the waning years of her beloved terrier, Lolabelle.

November 6, 2015 / / Main Slate Archive

What precipitated punk rock? Frustration with pop music’s drift from relevance and sonic innovation to prog-rock bloat, Golden AM complacency, and disco; the unresolved paranoia coursing through America after Watergate; a sharp economic downturn that disproportionately affected New York City at the tail end of the 1970s. All these things point towards a need for a new subgenre with a pared-down aesthetic that gave voice to the fears and fatalism of the direction the culture had taken. In short, the New York Times’ argument that “without Danny Fields, punk rock wouldn’t have happened” seems a little overblown. However, a quick glimpse at Fields’s CV – which includes signing Iggy Pop and the MC5, editing the notorious teen magazine Datebook, and managing the Ramones – suggests that punk may have been a flash in the pan without his enthusiastic support.