Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Artificial Paradise: How the End of the Beginning Sounded

The lads, from The Beatles’ last photo session, in August 1969. (Photo: Ethan Russell)
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
– Lennon/McCartney, “The End” (1969)

“Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah. When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band.”
– David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust (1972)

When The Beatles released the last great pop masterpiece of the 1960’s, they were bringing to a close a remarkable collective waking dream. If only they had allowed their Abbey Road album, possibly one of their three best recordings, to be the band’s final release instead of returning to an earlier fraught effort and letting it out of the studio vault. The self-produced and then Phil Spector-mutilated Let It Be was a mess mostly due to the absence of George Martin, their brilliant guiding light for eight astonishing years together, while Abbey Road had glistened due to his return to the fold as their producer. It also signaled the arrival of a new kind of recording technology, with EMI’s advanced solid-state transistor mixing desk, which would usher in a kind of immediacy the following musical decade would eventually take for granted.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hollywood: Ryan Murphy’s Woke Fantasyland

Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss, and Laura Harrier in Hollywood. now streaming on Netflix.

This review contains spoilers.

Ryan Murphy’s latest offering, the Netflix limited series Hollywood (co-created with Ian Brennan), is so flat-footed and dopey that you watch it with a sort of indolent fascination, as if you’d been brained with a frying pan just before turning on your television set. It should be a camp classic, but it isn’t quite; still, it’s too stupefying to be boring. Murphy has chosen Hollywood in 1947 as the locale for a woke fantasy – an alternate history in which people of color and women and gay men manage, in the course of just a few months, to liberate themselves and make Hollywood the forefront of a cultural revolution decades before America got around to it. Despite opposition from a crew of two-dimensional bigots, while the head of Ace Studios (Rob Reiner) is hovering near death after a heart attack his wife (Patti LuPone) takes over the reins and, stirred by the pleas of her friend Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Harris), lets a young director (Darren Criss) cast his African American girlfriend (Laura Harrier) in the lead of a movie called Meg written by a gay black writer (Jeremy Pope). The producer (Joe Mantello) invents wide distribution to get over the southern boycotts; the movie is an immediate hit and wins a raft of Oscars, including three for non-whites. At the ceremony the writer kisses his boyfriend – a young unknown named Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) – on the mouth before going up to accept his. Hollywood changes overnight. All it takes is a few courageous souls.