Staff Picks Category: 1970s

Starstruck: Photographs From a Fan by Gary Lee Boas []

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I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the square amateur photo book that is know as Starstruck. I first discovered it in the little library of my friend’s basement/record studio. Often when someone is trying to get the tambourine part just right or the bass amplifier needs adjusting, I pick up a good book to browse… with pictures.

Starstruck is a collection of candid celebrity photos by Gary Lee Boas. The time frame ranges from 1966 (when the photographer was 15) until 1980. Boas was essentially an obsessed fan who would wait around Manhattan to catch stars going in and out of theaters, restaurants, clubs, etc. Although some shots are fairly washed out or rather out of focus, they’re all completely fascinating. There’s a charm to these shots and one can’t help but admire Boas’s obsession. Well, maybe “admire” isn’t the right word!

Even with images of massive celebrities like Katherine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Stewart or Jack Nicholson, the real star of this book is New York City. Accidentally, Gary Lee Boas gives us an excellent overall snapshot of the world’s greatest city at an electric time.

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Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter by Alyn Shipton []

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John Lennon once stated “Nilsson’s my favorite group.”

Harry Nilsson, the tenor with the golden, three and a half octave  vocal range/the brilliant songwriter/the ultimate interpreter of songs/the boozer/the raconteur/the sometimes screenwriter, lived the most of his 52 years. His life was a colorful one that began with much sadness. Despite his setbacks and despair, Nilsson managed to keep his spirits high and he chose the path of adventure. He sang the theme song to Midnight Cowboy, released a brilliant run of albums from 1966-1980 (with music ranging from ballads to Beatlesy pop to country send-ups to wild rockers to standards from the Great American Songbook to Calypso to rude comedy numbers), conceived the animated children’s classic The Point!, collected a couple Grammy’s, raised hell with Ringo Starr and other music royalty, started a film production company and eventually settled as a family man.

Using a myriad of resources, interviews and quotes from Nilsson’s unfinished autobiography, Alyn Shipton writes a loving biography without sensationalizing the life of this sensational artist.

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Made In California by The Beach Boys []

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Wow.

New paragraph: this Beach Boys box is something to behold. Set up like a high school yearbook with large glossy photographs, interviews, articles and fake advertisements, Made In California is a thing of beauty. We flip to the last page and we see six cds filled to the max with hits, album cuts, rarities, outtakes and live versions. The set commemorates 50 years of Beach Boysdom from Brian’s “Surfin’” demo right up to their 2012 single “That’s Why God Made the Radio”.

Made In California has enough newly unearthed material for completests, music scholars and other varying degrees of nerd. It is also consistent in high standards so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming for someone who is just discovering that this group isn’t a band that only sings about surfing and cars. You need not have to comb through sub-par tracks.

Obviously, the genius Brian Wilson is at the forefront of the productions here. We truly realize how special the body of work he had produced and see the heights of creative genius and musical innovation. Wilson can safely be put alongside Gershwin, Copland and Ellington in the Hall of Great American Composers (this building does not exist). His baby brothers shine as well; Dennis, the drummer/rebellious middle child, is represented with a multitude of brilliant heart-aching ballads (mostly unreleased until now) and Carl, the finest singer of the lot, is clearly the soul of the Beach Boys. The latter comment becomes evident as you make your way through the recordings… trust me on this.

If you’re familiar with their catalog, look out these newly issued gems “Sail Plane Song”, “Sound of Free”, “California Feelin’”, “You’re Still A Mystery” and “Where Is She?”. For those unfamiliar to the Beach Boys, how I envy you to be able to experience hearing this wonderful music for the first time.

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A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III []

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Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Katherine Winnick, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza and Bill Murray star in this dark comedy about a graphic artist going through a painful breakup and life crisis. Charles Swan (played by Charlie Sheen) is a Brandy Alexander drinkin’ guy who has eggs and bacon decals on his old roadster, but also dreams up wild visions of soft shoeing at his own funeral, singing a duet in Portuguese on television and being attacked by models wearing Native American garb. He simply can’t distinguish reality from fantasy.

Roman Coppola, yes son of Francis Ford and brother of Sofia, is the writer/director. The film is a homemade affair with Coppola using his house and office as key locations. He also worked as the director of photography on the picture. A Glimpse Inside, though never stating such, seems to be set during a groovy time in 1970’s: airbrush, velvet suits, cool hair, shades, snazzy record album jackets, etc. In addition, the character of Charles Swan is loosely based on a few airbrush wizards from the L.A. art scene and fittingly, Swan’s studio features the work of several of these artists (including Charles White III).

The film blends off beat comedy, staged fantasy and drama. Also, be sure to listen for Liam Hayes’s brilliant score.

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California Split []

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George Segal and Elliott Gould star in California Split, my all time favorite Robert Altman film and one of the best from the 1970’s. This dark, buddy comedy is centered around Bill Denny & Charlie Waters, two men who get sucked into the world of gambling. After Bill falls deep in debt to his bookie, he sells off several possessions so he and Charlie can make an all-in trek to Reno.  They eventually find themselves in a tacky casino and in a dramatic, high stakes poker match.

Segal and Gould are the ultimate on screen duo with a perfect comedic volley and excellent chemistry. Additionally, this 1974 movie comes in when Altman was on top of his creative game. The director’s signature usage of wide range audio recording gives the picture an incredible depth and a real sense of place. The conversations from the extras and bit characters are always audible and usually rather interesting.

Ultimately, the story of California Split asks, does money really equal happiness?

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Map Of Ireland by Stephanie Grant []

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Recently we had a display of books by Massachusetts writers and this particular book caught my attention. Set in the South Boston busing crisis of 1974, it is the story of Ann Ahern, a high school junior and her growing awareness of her surroundings as well as her personal coming out as a lesbian. Through her growing infatuation with her beautiful substitute French teacher Mademoiselle Eugenie who hails from Paris and is of African descent, she is drawn into the conflict of her times – both personal and political. An overall impressive view of a young woman caught in the struggle of identification as a Southie as well as her initial exposure to the world beyond her limited family and neighborhood.

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Stay Hungry by Bob Rafelson []

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There’s just something about the “New Hollywood” films of the 1970’s…  The budgets were smaller, but the films seem to resonate so much more than your typical, bloated Hollywood picture.  With less resources, the directors of these movies focused on telling stories.
Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry tells the story of a recently orphaned grown, southern man named Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges).   The opening shot is of the beautiful Blake estate and the narration of a letter read by Craig’s uncle advising his nephew to continue the family tradition and get into steel business.  The younger Blake ignores his relative’s advice and teams up with a group of shady real estate sharks to buy out the businesses in a downtown building to may way for an office high-rise.
His colleagues are quickly successful in securing the property and they impatiently await Blake’s seizure of the last independent establishment, a local gym.  Here Blake meets a cast of interesting characters including the beautiful, small town receptionist Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) and the zen body builder/fiddle player Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger).  After visiting on several occasions trying to get the nerve to make an offer from the manic gym’s owner, Blake, a man who recently lost those close to him, finds a surrogate family with the regular gym rats and also eventually falls for Mary Tate.
The struggle to seize the gym, a conflict between the various classes of wealth depicted, an upcoming Mr. Universe pageant, the sometimes troubled romance of Craig and Mary Tate and an exceptionally strange and lengthy fight sequence, make Stay Hungry a wonderful comedy/drama piece.  The principle actors all give some of the best performances of their careers and the film is full of unforgettable featured players.

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Tabloid by Errol Morris []

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This documentary feature recalls the strange adventures Joyce McKinney, a former Wyoming beauty queen.  Using interviews with the woman herself, a pilot, an ex-Mormon, a British tabloid reporter, a photographer and a scientist in the field of cloning, we learn learn the bizarre history of McKinney.  While mostly relying on these talking head interviews in front of a greyish background with archival footage and cut and paste animation, Morris creates a riveting, suspenseful film.
It recalls a period in the late 1970’s when Joyce McKinney became a British tabloid star after flying to the U.K. with a small crew to “rescue” her estranged Mormon missionary boyfriend.  She claims he was brainwashed by members of the church and so she took him to an inn for three days to deprogram his brain.  His story differs.  Kirk Anderson (who did not wish to be interviewed for the documentary) had claimed that he was kidnapped at gunpoint, tied up and then raped by McKinney.  After the news broke, tabloid papers looked into the beauty queen’s history and produced several scandalous pieces.
While viewing Tabloid, a particular scene from the film Head seemed rather poignant.  The Swami tells Monkee Peter Tork, “all belief possibly could be said to be the result of some conditioning. Thus, the study of history is simply the study of one system of beliefs deposing another, and so on and so on and so on…”  How will the story of Joyce McKinney’s life ultimately be documented?

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