Saturday, June 20, 2020

From the cutting-room floor: A Man Called Adam

Most film directors shoot far more footage than they'll ever use; the quality of the finished product is shaped via subsequent trimming and sequencing by the director and editor(s). Given that studio commercial considerations sometimes triumph over artistic preference, satisfaction can be obtained via later "director's cut" editions for home video and/or streaming release. But even those rarely use everything the director originally shot.

(Alfred Hitchcock was a notable exception. His vision of a film was so precise, that he almost never shot more than he used ... which made it impossible, during post-production, for potential "tampering hands" to mess with his cut.)

During the three years spent gathering films and TV shows that fit the parameters of this project, some were included more out of personal desire, than an adherence to my own fairly rigorous rules. When I ultimately emerged with a manuscript that was five times what my contract specified, and it remained almost three times too long after judicious editing, McFarland graciously permitted the single-book contract to be re-written as a two-volume set. But even though they tolerated a slightly higher per-book word count, I still had to trim some more text. The easiest — and least painful — solution, in order to retain the documents' integrity, was to lose some of those "marginal" entries.

They'll be resurrected here, from time to time. Think of this as an ongoing "author's cut," or a series of little bonus features. They'll also open a window to process, because these are the full-length, first-draft versions of each essay, prior to two rounds of editing. (Very few entries ran anywhere near original length, by the time of the manuscripts' final draft; I initially included a lot of production and/or plot detail — as you'll see here — that ultimately proved superfluous.)

I also get to include a lot more pictures...


Biographical dramas about abusive, mean-spirited and self-destructive jazz musicians were a cinematic cliché in early 2016, with three released within weeks of each other: Nina (Nina Simone), Miles Ahead (Miles Davis) and Born to Be Blue (Chet Baker). All share a spiritual ancestor with the independently produced A Man Called Adam, which covers much of the same overly melodramatic territory; the primary difference is that the title character played by Sammy Davis Jr. is fictitious. Since this is a fairly straight drama, with no criminal activity to speak of — although drug use is vaguely suggested at one point — its inclusion in these pages might raise a few eyebrows. [Of course, it ultimately wasn't included.]

Adam gets a pass because Jack Priestly’s occasionally arty black-and-white cinematography has neo-noir touches — if self-consciously pretentious ones — and also because, frankly, the jazz is too choice to ignore.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Lamentably overlooked: Le Deuxième Souffle

I know, I know.

How could I possibly have missed this one, for Volume One?

It's particularly baffling, given the well-deserved attention paid to so many of writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville's other jazz-hued crime films. But that's the nature of the game, and I knew it going in: the very definition of "falling through the cracks."

Thank goodness for blogs, and for being able to atone for such eye-rolling lapses.



A man is given but one right at birth: to choose his own death. But if he chooses because he’s weary of life, then his entire existence has been without meaning. 

So begins 1966’s Le Deuxième Souffle (Second Wind), writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville’s similarly brooding follow-up to his earlier crime dramas, Bob le Flambeur and Le Doulos. As with those films, the characters in Le Deuxième Souffle are defined less in terms of being “good” or “bad,” and more by whether they adhere to loyalty and honor; the “villains” here — regardless of their position on either side of the law — are those who succumb to avarice and betrayal. The film is based on Corsican-born, convicted killer-turned-author José Giovanni’s 1958 novel; he and Melville collaborated on the screenplay. The dour film noir atmosphere is enhanced by Marcel Combes’ gritty monochrome cinematography.

The story opens as career criminal Gustave “Gu” Minda (Lino Ventura) escapes from prison; he reunites with his lover, Manouche (Christine Fabréga), who runs a posh Parisian restaurant alongside her stoic and resolutely devoted bodyguard, Alban (Michel Constantin). Gu arrives just in time to dispatch two thugs sent by rival club owner Jo Ricci (Marcel Bozzuffi); as is Gu’s custom, he kills them without a second thought. Manouche wishes to abandon her dangerous career, if only Gu will accompany her; he’s unwilling to do so without financial security.

He therefore joins a gang planning to steal cases of platinum from an armored car transporting the precious metal along twisty and (mostly) deserted mountain roads; the caper is masterminded by Jo’s brother Paul (Raymond Pellegrin), who bears Gu and Manouche no ill will. The heist — the film’s centerpiece — goes down flawlessly, although the caper draws the attention of Gu’s longtime nemesis, Police Inspector Blot (Paul Meurisse). Despite operating on opposite sides of the law, Gu and Blot respect each other’s “honor code”; the same cannot be said about Ricci and Blot’s subordinate, Inspector Fardiano (Paul Frankeur), neither of whom bothers with principles. Melville methodically develops an atmosphere of grim inevitability; it’s obvious that these and assorted sidebar characters — notably the enigmatic Orloff (Pierre Zimmer) — are destined for a bad end.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The publicity machine wheezes into life

Promoting a new book was already difficult, in an era when reading seems to have turned into a lost art, and publishers have gone out of business in droves.

Too may people have designated physical media of any kind — books, magazines, newspapers, whatever — as "old school," and therefore not relevant. One can but wince.

Bad as things were, they got significantly worse as a result of COVID concerns and restrictions. Prior to this past March, authors always could count on a well-attended "coming out party" at a local bookstore, but such gatherings remain unlikely for awhile yet. Similarly, interviews with local newspapers and other outlets are conducted via phone, Skype or Zoom; best intentions notwithstanding, that lessens the collaborative dynamic that results from in-person chats.

McFarland (and many other publishers), responding to fears of transmission via shared objects, have — in most cases — sent PDF review copies, rather than physical books, to potential interviewers and reviewers. In one sense, that can be preferable; under optimal conditions, PDFs arrive instantaneously, with no USPS delay. But as I've learned, folks aren't always savvy about attachment restrictions imposed by ISPs; a 17G file sometimes just "vanishes," without alerting sender or recipient. Days and weeks go by, with both parties waiting for the other to say or do something. I've had to micro-manage a few such, ah, issues ... in one case meticulously explaining email and attachment parameters to a recipient. (And boy, you'd think radio people would be more savvy about such things.)


Queries sent to roughly 40 jazz magazines, bloggers and radio stations prompted enthusiastic interest from just over a dozen: not a bad return. I've done three interviews thus far, all of them quite enjoyable:

• KCCK's Dennis Green — in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — was first out of the gate. We had a lively chat that aired May 8, and subsequently became available as a podcast. Dennis put a lot of post-production work into the result; he even managed to find a copy of Lalo Schifrin's title theme for the TV series T.H.E. Cat, which impressed me greatly.

• Our nearby NPR station — Capital Public Radio, in Sacramento, California — booked me for a live interview June 2, on the news/public affairs show Insight, hosted by Beth Ruyak. Unfortunately, rapidly breaking news left me with only half the time originally intended, but Beth and I made the most of it; the result, brief but packed with juicy tidbits, can be heard here.

• Back in 2012, I got a great interview and plug for my Guaraldi bio on Cocktail Nation, a weekly Australia-based podcast devoted to "All Things Lounge, Tiki and Swank," and hosted by the effervescent Koop Kooper. I'm delighted to report that Koop and his podcast remain an essential part of my week, eight years later; he and I taped an interview about my two newest books in mid-May, and you'll find it in last Saturday's installment of Cocktail Nation. Koop also knows his way around the music that occupied my life for the past four years, and he dug up some great tracks.

More to come (I hope). Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

A month of swing from TCM

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) was invaluable during my research phase; they had — and continue to have — numerous titles that couldn't be found anywhere else. Best of all, TCM occasionally offered "theme programming" that dovetailed nicely with my focus.

This month's TCM Spotlight is "Jazz on Film," which brings a smile. Monday and Thursday evenings through June 25 will feature jazz-enhanced cinema in a variety of categories: "Classic Jazz Scores," "International Jazz," "Jazz Noir" and several others. Full details, along with brief descriptions of all titles, can be found here.

Mind you, not all titles fall within my purview; I didn't include biographies, conventional dramas or musicals. But numerous entries are familiar friends, and — as often is the case with TCM — a few are new to me. (Looks like I may need to investigate early Japanese crime cinema!)

Monday evening (June 1) began with a powerful quartet: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Bullitt (1968). All are covered at considerable length in my first volume, thanks to awesome scores by (respectively), Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Duke Ellington and Lalo Schifrin.

Here's what we can look forward to, during the rest of the month. Entries marked with an asterisk (*) are included in my books.

Thursday, June 4
8 p.m. — Cabin in the Sky (1943) 
10 p.m. — Stormy Weather (1943) 
11:30 p.m. — All Night Long (1962) 
1:15 a.m. — A Song Is Born (1948) 
3:15 a.m. — High Society (1956)

Monday, June 8
8 p.m. — A Man Called Adam (1966) 
10 p.m. — Young Man with a Horn (1950) 
Midnight — The Five Pennies (1959)
2 a.m. — Some Like It Hot (1959)
4:15 a.m. — The Connection (1962) *

Thursday, June 11
8 p.m. — The Glenn Miller Story (1954) 
10 p.m. — The Gene Krupa Story (1959) 
Midnight — Sweet and Low-Down (1944) 
1:30 a.m. — Around the World (1943) 
3 a.m. — Ship Ahoy (1942)

Monday, June 15
8 p.m. — Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) *
10 p.m. — Farewell, My Lovely (1975) *
Midnight — The Man I Love (1947)
2 a.m. — I Want to Live! (1958) *
4:15 a.m. — Crime in the Streets (1956) *

Thursday, June 18
8 p.m. — The Warped Ones (1960) 
9:30 p.m. — Elevator to the Gallows (1958) *
11:15 p.m. — Knife in the Water (1962) *
1 a.m. — Pale Flower (1964)
3 a.m. — Black Orpheus (1959, and of significance to Vince Guaraldi fans!)

Monday, June 22
8 p.m. — Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)
9:30 p.m. — Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) 
11:15 p.m. — Jammin’ the Blues (1944)
11:30 p.m. — Shadows (1958)
1:15 a.m. — Mickey One (1965) *
3:15 a.m. — Blow-Up (1966) *

Thursday, June 25
8 p.m. — New Orleans (1947)
9:45 p.m. — Lady Sings the Blues (1972) 
12:15 a.m. — Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) *
2 a.m. — Blues in the Night (1941) 
4 a.m. — Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

If you missed any of Monday's quartet, bear in mind that most films on TCM also are available for streaming for a short period after they air, either via the TCM web site or the "Watch TCM" app for Roku or iPads. (One must already receive TCM via a TV provider, in order to access the app.) Films are available for one to four weeks, which varies. The stream includes the most recent host introduction.