Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958, Mario Monicelli)

Categories: 1958 and Movies.

This is supposedly one of the classic Italian comedies, considered an all-time great film by numerous people. It is apparently a parody of Rififi, a classic film I have yet to see. So, one of the reasons it’s lost on me would be because I haven’t seen the target of its satire. Maybe that’s why it feels more like a farce to me. At this point, my dislike of certain aspects of Italian culture is well known to readers of this blog. Though  I love Antonioni and Leone, I struggle with just about every other major Italian filmmaker (oh, I Read More

Blues Kingpins: Elmore James (2003)

Categories: 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and Music.

This is a compilation of James’ recordings from the 1950s. It presents a relative variety of styles of blues and some of the music features a horn section. Listening to this, it’s easy to understand why James was dubbed “King of the Slide Guitar.” He shows off some pretty impressive traditional guitar playing as well and you can hear the reverberations of his style through so much rock and blues guitar playing since. The energy is also notable, comparable to the rock and roll and R and B of the time, which is a bit of a surprise. Because I Read More

Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (1998) by Ahmad Jamal

Categories: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1998, and Music.

This is an excellent survey of the live music of Ahmad Jamal and his trio in the late ’50s and very early ’60s. Jamal’s playing is so far from Monk – to my ears – that it’s rather incredible. His individuality in that sense is rather fantastic. Monk utterly changed piano playing and it must have been extremely tempting to play either in Monk’s shadow or to go back to pre-Monk playing. Jamal manages to do neither. And you can see the rather huge influence he’s had on other pianists, particularly cool jazz pianists. (And there’s an interesting chicken-or-egg question Read More

Ives: Symphonies Nos 2 and 3; The Unanswered Question (1966) by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Berstein

Categories: 1901, 1902, 1910, 1911, 1935, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1987, and Music.

This is a compilation of the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Berstein’s performances of the middle symphonies and The Unanswered Question, originally a piece paired with another but one that has found a lot of attention as a standalone. Bernstein was one of the great champions of Ives once he was “discovered,” but these performances are actually significantly later than the premieres, which were handled by other conductors in the ’40s. Apparently Bernstein made some somewhat radical changes to some of the tempi and these changes have entered the repertoire. That’s not something that necessarily bothers me, though I understand Read More

Epitaph by Charles Mingus, conducted by Gunther Schuller, Live at Walt Disney Concert Hall, May 16, 2007

Categories: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 2007, and Music.

What the hell do we do with Epitaph? Epitaph is a “jazz symphony” Mingus assembled in the late ’50s and attempted (and failed) to perform in 1962. I say ‘assembled’ because it contains multiple other Mingus compositions that he recorded individually multiple times (and performed numerous times) and because it contains music inspired by and quoting other composers’ music. And one of the reasons he failed to successfully perform it in 1962 is because the piece is monumental (that’s usually the word used to describe it): 4,235 measures long, which sounds like an awful lot. (I’ve also read somewhere that Read More

Ballad of Narayama (1958, Keisuke Kinoshita)

Categories: 1958 and Movies.

This film – which tells the story of a Japanese legend of villages exposing their elders to die during famines – is perhaps the most Kabuki-driven Japanese film I’ve seen to date, taking that theatre style and making it central to the execution of the movie. Filmed nearly entirely on sound-stages, the film has a heightened level of theatricality or unreality, despite how many people apparently believed that these legends were true. The deliberate decision to use sound-stags – a practice that was not as common in Japanese cinema in the ’50s as it was in Hollywood – turns out Read More

The Buddy Holly Collection (1993)

Categories: 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1993, and Music.

At the time of its release, this was, apparently, the closest thing a to “complete” edition of Holly’s work as existed. (So I have read.) So that alone makes it pretty good. Holly managed to bridge the gap between rock and roll and rockabilly on the one hand and respectable pop music on the other better than perhaps any other performer of his era. He brought a more sensitive side to rock and roll lyrics (befitting his spectacles, I guess) that was hugely influential – his influence on John Lennon in particular is immense – and wrote a number of Read More

Elevator to the Gallows (1958, Louis Malle)

Categories: 1958 and Movies.

A film like this is why the French New Wave is celebrated. How a first time filmmaker made something this assured, this original, this unique, this unbelievably cool, I will never know. The film takes noir conventions and revitalizes them with location shooting, confined spaces, a very judicious use of technique and, of course, the classic Miles Davis score. Malle uses a classic device – a man stuck in an elevator – but combines it with another classic (noir) device – mistaken identity. The two play off each other reinforcing the tension (which is also reinforced by the sparseness of Read More

Ashes and Diamonds (1958, Andrzej Wajda)

Categories: 1958 and Movies.

This is the first Polish Realism film I have seen and I must say I’m very impressed. It shares many characteristics with the great French and Italian realist/neo-realist films of the decade prior but, unlike (most of) those movies, it was made in a Communist country, and therefore feels like even more of a miracle. Like numerous other realist films of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, it suffers a bit with age: the violence is not realistic at all and some of the acting has dated given how much naturalistic acting we’ve been exposed to since. But the film is Read More

The Definitive Collection (2008) by Billie Holiday

Categories: 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 2008, and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz (as you know). This is a compilation of 22 tracks over the course of Holiday’s career. I have no idea how definitive it actually is, as I do not know her at all (beyond her reputation as one of the great singers of the century, and “Strange Fruit”). I also have no plans on listening to her entire oeuvre (and, given when she recorded, curation is necessary anyway, because much of her music was recorded pre-album). Read More

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1998) by Bernard Herrmann, performed by Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by John Debney

Categories: 1958 and 1998.

The conductor, John Debney, would have you believe that this is one of the great film scores of all time. I don’t agree with that. It’s less inventive than many of Herrmann’s best. But it’s still way more interesting than most Hollywood film scores of its era, and it’s also very much a piece of music that can be listened to without any knowledge of the film. It reminds me of some late 19th century Romantic programmic pieces which were supposed to suggest a plot to you through music. It’s certainly good, it’s just not quite among Herrmann’s greatest moments. Read More

Dig It! (1962) by the Red Garland Quintet with John Coltrane

Categories: 1962 and Music.

This is a 1962 rarities album posing as a genuine session, essentially. The recordings were cobbled together from three separate dates in the late ’50s, and those dates were led by different people (not always Garland, as the attribution claims). And it’s hard to get excited about 1957-8 Trane on a 1962 album. He had moved so far forwards by ’62 that he barely sounded like the same person, if he did at all. Hell, Coltrane doesn’t even appear on every track. The music is pretty straight ahead hard bop / bop and it’s more interesting as a historical record, Read More

Basie [aka The Aomtic Mr. Basie] (1958) by Count Basie and His Orchestra

Categories: 1958 and Music.

I get why lots of people love this, I do. And, even without knowing Basie’s catalogue, I think I can see why it surprised a lot of people at the time. The arrangements are good, Basie’s playing is nothing if not note perfect for those arrangements, and some of the soloists really show off (within these confines). But that being said, I can’t help but hear the conservatism in this band, even in something that seemed – to some contemporaries anyway – to be something radical. Certainly Ellington was already reviving big band as something vital at this time, I’m Read More

Michel Brault: Oeuvres 1958-1974

Categories: 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1974, and Movies.

Though not every film is absolutely stand out, this collection is mostly filled with great stuff and very well worth watching, especially for Canadians. We can see that the Canadian film tradition was a little richer than more recent NFB material might have led us to believe. Here we have engaging, sometimes provocative, examinations of both minor and serious issues within our culture. Brault’s work should be far more well known outside of Quebec than it currently is. It should be watched in schools. Here are the films included in the collection. Titles in quotes are shorts and italicized titles Read More

The 50th Anniversary Collection by James Brown (Polydor 2003)

Categories: 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1988, 2003, and Music.

James Brown’s importance can not be understated. He is on The List of the most important musical figures of the twentieth century (along with Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, Miles Davis, Dylan, Duke Ellington, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Frank Zappa and maybe a few others). This compilation of his hit singles gives a very good idea of his progression and how he turned gritty soul and R and B into funk and thus got sampled more than any other band leader ever. The one downside is that this compilation of his hit singles is missing one of his biggest hits. Hard to understand that Read More