By • Oct 1st, 2007 •

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Keith David and Christopher Frumkes

For two nights only – Sunday, Sept 23rd and Monday, September 24th – actor Keith David sang/performed his Tribute to Nat King Cole at Feinstein’s at the Loew’s Regency on Park Avenue in New York City. It was a warm, enveloping evening, drenched in David’s physicality, capturing the aura of Cole without ever devolving into caricature. I waited anxiously for a few of my favorite numbers, but I shouldn’t have been concerned; I can’t think of any he left out. Among Cole’s many immortal songs, “Nature Boy” stands out as the most unusual. Somewhere about halfway through the evening, there it was, and I still marvel at it, and not only for its unusual appearance in Cole’s repertoire. It’s an exceedingly abstract piece, filled with a haunting, indefinable melancholy. I’d love to know what the song’s composer was thinking when he wrote it…

While it’s true that very few FIR readers could have availed themselves of the opportunity to hear Keith performing Nat King Cole, since there were but two evenings in which to do so, if you want to get a mega-dose of his mellifluous voice, you should pick up the DVD of THE WAR (Paramount Home Entertainment), Ken Burns’ 15-hour emersion into WWII, which is dramatically narrated by the actor, with support from other, appropriate mini-narrators such as Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Eli Wallach and Kevin Conway. THE WAR is the latest, elegant, comprehensive documentary from Burns, who is an industry unto himself. I’m told the research department on his projects is truly prodigious.

For this mini-series, presented on 6 discs, I’m sure the challenge of encapsulating a subject of such magnitude must have had the director ensconced in his thinking cap for quite a while. And the brilliant solution he came up with was to give the war a provincial context by focusing on the lives of four average Americans from diverse areas of the country who joined the war effort and lived to tell about it, relating their harrowing life experiences in between passages of vintage B&W doc footage and still-montages that give us the other, equally visceral version. In this way, the subject becomes both expansive and microcosmic. In addition, there is occasional commentary by Burns and Lynn Novick, his co-director, a featurette, and deleted (is that possible…?) scenes. Over the years, a number of WWII disc docs have found their way onto my shelves. This one replaces them all.

And before we leave Keith David, I hope you’re never too far away from his cinematic keepers on DVD: his last man (?) standing perfs in THE THING & THEY LIVE (dir. John Carpenter); his benign force of corruption in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM ( dir. Darren Aronofsky); BIRD (Clint Eastwood); PLATOON (Oliver Stone); CLOCKERS (Spike Lee), and countless others.


No, not the 1934 John Ford film starring Victor McLaglen and Boris Karloff, but a musical group who I caught at The Cake Shop on 152 Ludlow Street in lower Manhattan.
Hailing from NY/NY environs, but performing widely around the country, the group is terrific. Their music is slippery and won’t be pinned down, though if I were taking a stab, I would say that at times I was reminded of Badalamanti‘s work for David Lynch, at times a Spaghetti Western homage or two, and at other times, further retro even than that. And in fact they have done film work, for Hal Hartley – FLIRT and BOOK OF LIFE. Haunting, melancholy, cinematic, well supported by Danielle Kimak Stauss’s voice. In fact it was Danielle who got bass player/co-founder/CD producer Stephen Masucci back into it after a long hiatus.
I was not overwhelmed by the acoustics at the club (when I announced to the ticket person that I was down for press passes she stared at me dumbfounded), but took that to be a failing of the club’s design and not the group’s talent, and was motivated to listen to more of their CDs (which can be had through thelost patrol.com) and was equally impressed by their range and by their development from disc to disc. They have a wonderfully pleasing sound, and I’ve listened to a few of the CDs many times.


I attended the annual Rue Morgue Fear Fest in Toronto August 24th through 26th, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I was there both as a guest, and to shoot footage for my upcoming THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, which I ended up doing little of since camera crews were ubiquitous at the fest, and I felt anything I might have captured would have been redundant. I did get a few surreptitious shots that no one else seemed to be capturing, but basically I ended up just enjoying a lovely visit to one of my favorite cities, partaking of the fine food, schmoozing with George Romero, and staying at the unique Gladstone Hotel, which I highly recommend for its Chelsea Hotel artistic ambience, it’s friendly staff, and its old elevator with its cowboy-outfitted operator.


Will we ever have such another month’s end than we did last July, with the passing of two great directors and one affable TV magnate. Merv, who followed them two weeks later, may have needed a good attorney to defend his walking in beside the other two as St Peter’s gates swing wide, but A) he could afford to buy God’s own legal council if necessary, and B) his contributions to the small medium, and his many other endeavors, are indeed a lasting legacy. Let us not forget the riotous punch line to the ongoing gag of the dreaded serial killer, his identity finally revealed in the elevator, in Steve Martin’s THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

As to Ingmar Bergman, his cinematic output was revolutionary and enduring. His work of the 50s and 60s defined the concept of the Art House film, and we were all enriched by it. He was very fond of Fellini (he loved LA DOLCE VITA), and found Orson Welles an empty fraud. If that strikes you as being unjustly hard on a fellow filmmaker, don’t let it; he was equally tough on his own work. In fact he only thought one of his films really succeeded – one made in 1962 (and available on DVD from Criterion). He was, however, a fan of Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola for their passion, and felt Tarkovsky was the greatest of all. He was decidedly mixed about Antonioni, though he liked BLOWUP and LA NOTTE.

And speaking of Antonioni, people tend to dwell disparagingly on his rightfully dreadful English-language fiasco, ZABRISKIE POINT, forgetting two other English-language films he made that captured his ethos marvelously – BLOW-UP and THE PASSENGER. I’d love to see a double bill of THE PASSENGER and almost anything by Hitchcock, which would serve as a mind-bending ying and yang experience.

And speaking of Hitchcock, Bergman also liked PSYCHO.

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