Thursday, April 26, 2012


I was paging through Leonard Maltin's 2012 Movie Guide when I had a wild idea. What if I put the number of pages in the book - 1,643 - into a computer and had the computer pick a random page and then pick a random entry from that page. I would then seek that movie out, watch it, and offer my observations. Fun? You bet!

Tarzan's Hidden Jungle - 1955
An RKO Release
Directed by Harold Shuster
Cast: Gordon Scott, Vera Miles, Peter Van Eyck, Jack Elam.

I base my enjoyment of Tarzan movies - they used to run every Sunday afternoon on local TV when I was a kid - on how entertaining Cheta the chimpanzee is. This chimp in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle has a pedigree. He was  known as Zippy, a frequent guest on 1950s television with a recurring stint on The Howdy Doody Show and his own comic book.

                                            Tarzan , Chetah (Zippy), and Jane, uh - Vera.

As far as acting monkeys go, he's only OK. He's a pathetic ham in front of the camera. He constantly glances at the director/camera while performing a stunt as if saying, "Like this? Is this OK? When do I get my banana?".

Gordon Scott (1926 - 2007) plays Tarzan, his first movie role and the first of five consecutive films starring him as Tarzan, two of which became the largest grossing Tarzan movies at that time. If we are to believe the Hollywood publicity machine of the 1950s, he was discovered while working as a lifeguard at The Sahara Hotel and Casino in Vegas in 1953. Probably as he watched Lana Turner swim by. He is an adequate Tarzan, not quite Johnny Weismuller and a bit vacant in the acting department.  After his time as Tarzan he moved to Italy where he starred in several sandal and sand epic Herculean advenure films.

This glossy black and white film is significant in casting Vera Miles in her first major role. She played Janet Leigh's sister in Hitchcock's Psycho, but I remeber her best in a great turn as the bitchy wife who wraps her car around a tree in 1961's Back Street. She was a frequent presence in movies and network TV until her retirement in 1995. She brings Tarzan's Hidden Jungle up to a status it doesn't really deserve and her time in front of the camera as the jungle oppressed heroine helps the film breeze by. She currently resides in California and refuses to act again or grant interviews.

Gordon Scott and Vera Miles married during the production of this film. The marriage lasted five long Hollywood years.

In Tarzan's Hidden Jungle, unscrupulous animal poachers, posing as documentary filmmakers, led by renowned veteran actor Jack Elam (1920 - 2003), con their way into the animal kingdom of the Sukulu African tribe by befriending a mercenery jungle doctor played by Peter Van Eyck (1911 - 1969) and his assistant, Miles. Their objective is to shoot up as many jungle critters as they can.

It's a competent small scale Tarzan movie filmed on a Hollywood jungle set that looks like the future home of Gilligan's Island.  It's got the obligatory killer crocodiles, coiling cobras, rampaging elephants, man-eating lions, and - most kids' favorite part of a Tarzan movie - deadly quicksand! It even has the dark skinned native African tribesman, played by a Hollywood actor, who screams real good when he's being eaten alive.

                              Gordon Scott as Tarzan, right and Lion, left, square off for ferocious fight
                                                          in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle

Tarzan sails through the jungle on his trademark vines, swims like an Olympian, wrestles ferocious lions, rounds up the animal kingdom with his traditional call, and nurses a baby elephant back to health. All in a jungle afternoon.

It's no surprise when Chetah steals Vera Miles clothes as she's taking a naked dip in the lagoon. What's a Tarzan movie without a naked dip in the lagoon? Tarzan, the dumb mug, only laughs. She is later chased through the jungle by every imaginable creature on the continent. She rips her safari suit in the process and offers a bit of leg for the duration of the film.

                 Vera Miles rests after an exhausting day in the jungle in "Tarzan's Hidden Jungle".

It's a short 73 minute film. I personally could have withstood a few more rounds in the lion pit or another dip in the quicksand.

The best thing about it is Vera Miles. The next best thing about it is the fur, feather and tooth camolflague jungle masks worn by the natives which look like the genuine articles.

Gordon Scott (Tarzan), center, with friends in Italy in 1960s. You just know they called him "Gordy".

Favorite Quote: The leader of the global poaching operation drives into camp on his jeep to place an order with his subordinates. He says: "I want two thousand barrels of animal fat, a hundred lion skins, two hundred antelope heads and three tons of ivory delivered to Narobi in ten days.".

2nd Favorite Quote: From Vera Miles as she recognizes a friend of Tarzan: "Isn't that Tarzan's baby elephant?".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


There is something more to Record Store Day than long lines and overpriced albums.

Or so I said as I stepped into Record Theatre (one of Buffalo, New York's only 2 record stores), and saw a line at the register that snaked through the store, winding to the back wall, coiled around corridors of records, and seemed to go out the back door infinitely.

No way am I standing in this line, I said. And immediately, savage customers were scooping up a pink vinyl split 45rpm single of The Flaming Lips and Mastodon's recordings of The Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton". And there were only a few left. So I scooped up mine, defended it like a precious living thing against my chest, and an armful or records later, was the last son of a bitch in line.

We seemed a gloomy bunch, standing in line like they were handing out bread to poor people. It wasn't the festive, prize giveaway, raffles-galore, bargains! bargains! bargains! day described on the web sites. It felt more like waiting in line for Catholic Communion when you know you've sinned since your last confession.

The young and accomplished guitar band playing live in the store got little response from us when they finished a song. We were all holding records and had no use of our hands to applaud. I said as much to the kid guitarist when they finished their set and he informed me that he and his band, "were fucking great!", in case I hadn't noticed.

It was murder as the line inched through the store and every few feet a prominently displayed record screamed "Buy Me! Buy Me!". It was all I could do to get out of that store with my budget only shattered.

I feel obligated to go into a record store on Record Store Day. It's a commercial but earnest holiday championing one of my favorite past times. I like to consider it as a prep race for the upcoming Free Comic Book Store Day.

The other Buffalo record store is Spiral Scratch Records, so I ventured out to their new location on the West Side. Compared to Record Theatre, Spiral Scratch looks like a soup kitchen. Wedged in a trendy architecturally hip neighborhood next to a swanky Italian restaurant, coming upon the storefront is like being whisked suddenly away to a cheap laundromat where they cash checks.

And that's its appeal. It's a small, cool and comfortable store with a downstairs "dungeon" where local bands play. I caught a bit of solo artist Bill Nehill's performance and he was rather brilliant in a slow introspective "life in Buffalo sucks" set that recalled a young Tom Waite. Nehill is also the bartender and promoter at Buffalo's legendary rock club, Mohawk Place.

So the records. Like I need more fucking records -

I bought a RSD exclusive copy of Genesis' Spot The Pigeon. It's an EP (less # of songs than a regular album) that includes songs recorded during the Wind and Wuthering sessions in 1977, but weren't included on that album. It's been in spotty, limited release ever since.

And I bought a RSD split pink vinyl 7-inch of The Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", with band Mastadon on the flip side doing  (what seems on one listen) an unimaginative version of the song.

I also bought a RSD exclusive 7-inch by The Blues Project, beloved late 1960s psych-blues-rock band that features two live recordings, never before on vinyl, of the band playing at Howard Solomon's Cafe Au Go Go in New York City in 1965. It has the original Verve Folkways label on the vinyl and looks very vintage and cool. The record's A side, "Parchman Farm" is eclectic in its hippie minded fusion of rock, blues and folk.

And a new, sealed copy of Son, Ambulance's double album, Someone Else's Deja Vu, complete with a cool psychedelic poster and fake credit card with a code for a free download of the album. I first heard them on their split album with Bright Eyes, Oh Holy Fools. They hail from Omaha, Nebraska. If Big Brother doesn't swoop down on my blog you can hear "Juliet's Son" from the album on the widget at the top of this post.

And a nice used copy of Elton John's 11-17-70, a live recording from 1970 of a small rock 'n roll show at a New York City radio station studio with a very young Elton John and a roomful of howling fans. I saw Elton John early in his career and it's a reminder that he used to rock. His concert at the old Buffalo Auditorium, I believe, is the first concert I ever saw. I was a child wondering why the people all around me were smoking funny smelling cigarettes.

And a used record with a beautiful and shiny vinyl sheen of The Friends of Mr. Cairo by Jon & Vangelis (that's Jon Anderson of Yes and Chariots of Fire film composer Vangelis). It's a 1981 record with a killer title track that merges Hollywood nostalgia with progressive rock. There is a shortened version of the song on the widget at the top of this post.

With these last two album purchases I've reached my goal of repurchasing every record I've ever owned.

Till next year, wax nostalgia!

there's nothing i can do to stop a corporate swine from adding commercialism to various words on my blog.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Music Review: Peter Gabriel, LIVE BLOOD

Peter Gabriel's Live Blood is a 22-track double CD follow-up concert recording to last year's New Blood, an album in which Gabriel reinvented several of his and others' compositions for orchestra. Recorded live in London in 2011, Live Blood encompasses songs from Gabriel's entire solo career that began in 1976 when he left his home base as front man for Genesis.

It is no surprise that this is a stunning live album with pitch perfect interpretations enshrined by the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra as naturally as a gust of wind. A violin soaked Wallflower from 1982's Security (released as Peter Gabriel in the UK) is ethereal with the strings bleeding compassion for the song's theme of socio-global imprisonment and torture. It is a particularly fine rendition of a song that now seems originally designed for orchestra.

Likewise, Paul Simon's The Boy In The Bubble from 2010's album of cover songs Scratch My Back, (a proposed follow-up album And I'll Scratch Yours has yet to materialize), dramatically nails the heart of Simon's pop infused Afro-rhythmic view of social inequality with a sobering interpretation. Gabriel slyly and apologetically introduces the song by saying, "we stripped all the African blood out of it and we're left with another miserable white man's song".

The Magnetic Fields' The Book of Love and Lou Reed's The Power of Your Heart are given beautifully crafted string arrangements that sound simply heavenly. Downside Up becomes a danceable hand-clapping swirl of orchestra and band, and Mercy Street, inspired by Anne Sexton's poem of the same name, is a sad and ghostly lament of childhood lost that sounds alarmingly delicate when heard live.

One of Gabriel's most familiar songs, Solsbury Hill, is celebratory with the audience joining in on the "boom, boom, boom" vocal refrain and Beethoven's Song of Joy naturally drifting into the closing bars.

There is a genuine concert hall feeling to the album, although Frampton Comes Alive it certainly is not. Gabriel interrupts on several occasions to give credit to individual instrumentalists, vocalists, and arrangers, and finally gives a special mention to the tech and stage crew that is as heartfelt as Jackson Browne's The Load Out. You can just feel a tireless roadie beaming with pride at the probably unexpected acknowledgement.

Live Blood is the next best thing to being there, and for this music lover and Gabriel fan, a well deserved cosmic-psyche getaway for a rainy weekend.

this review was first published by me here