Friday Funny Pages: Dazzler’s Daddy Issues

Oh hello there!  I’m being told that this post is late, that it isn’t actually Friday, and that I’ve really slacked quite a bit this week.  My apologies, earlier this week I was tapped to be the starter at a race between a Delorean and a phone booth and when those suckers took off I was caught up in their backwash.  The tachyon eddies that resulted created a temporal vortex which sucked me through time and space sending me on a whirlwind adventure through the ages.  So technically as I’m posting this it is indeed Friday, though to all of you individuals who are firmly grounded in the present it might appear that this is actually being posted on Saturday.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Anyway, onto the comic book goodness!  Today’s panels come to us from way back in 1981 and Dazzler #2, with words by Tom DeFalco and art by the legendary John Romita Jr.  The cover of the issue reads “Last Stand In Discoland!”  and this is early on in the elaborate mythos of Dazzler, as the readers were still being introduced to her character.  As with most of Marvel’s heroes, young Allison Blaire, though she is a superhero she has her own real world hangups.  Here we discover that although Dazzler has mutant powers, is a rising pop star, a roller disco champ, a part-time superhero, and she’s friends with the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four, she receives little satisfaction from these achievements because her father is a curmudgeon.  In the grand scheme of things she’s doing really well for a superhero.  At least her father isn’t dead, she’s not an alcoholic, she isn’t haunted by demons (either figuratively or literally), she’s not trapped in a world she never created, and she’s not some conflicted triple agent trying to do the right thing in a bad system.

So her father thinks she should drop the song and light show routine and get a real job?  Big deal.  In a few issues she’ll be fighting Galactus (Dazzler #10) and I’m sure he’ll totally forget all about the other stuff then!  Also as a mutant Dazzler has really lucked out.  She’s already dodged a bullet by not being one of those grotesque mutants whose mutation effects their outward appearance  AND  her mutant abilities (transmuting sound waves into patterns of visible light) work out perfectly with her chosen profession! She can easily display her powers without drawing the suspicion of bigoted normals.  Heck, with the plethora of X-Men movies on the horizon Dazzler could even find herself portrayed on the big screen one day!

I say Dazzler needs to buck up!  She’s really got the world by the balls, and in this post-feminism age there’s no reason she should feel guilty, or postpone her dreams because of some arcane impression that she needs some type of male approval for her choices.  Am I right ladies?

I have no idea what I’m talking about, perhaps that time rift has effected me more than I previously suspected . . . .

That is all!

The Greatest Thing I’ve Seen This Week

Have you ever said to yourself “Man I wish there was a band consisting of Will Robinson from Lost in Space, the One Armed Man from the Fugitive, the hot mom from Freaks and Geeks, and Rousseau from LOST!” ?  You have?! Well than today is your lucky day, because I come bearing good news.  There is such a band and they are called The Be Five.  Something they all have in common is that they were also cast members of one of the best sci-fi shows of all time, Babylon 5.

Amazing.

Earlier this week a friend of mine, who is also a Babylon 5 fan, sent me a link directing me to the information about this album and my mind was blown.  Apparently back in 1998 Bill Mumy, Mira Furlan, Claudia Christian, Andreas Katsulas, and Peter Jurasik at the height of Babylon 5’s popularity came together to make an album, calling their group The Be Five.  I’ve known that Bill Mumy was a musician but I had no idea he ever got together with his other B5 comrades to make music.  Apparently Mumy wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album which are mainly blues/rock and the other cast members take the lead vocals on two tracks each.  As if that wasn’t awesome enough Patricia Tallman, everyones favorite Vorlon enhanced telepath, has several cameos on the album as well, as a backup vocalist.

Unfortunately the album was basically only available at various cons where one of the stars were making an appearance.  Later it was more widely distributed but not in great numbers and apparently it is still rather hard to find a physical copy of the CD.  Thankfully however this one and only album of The Be Five “Trying to Forget” is available for digital download on Amazon!  I would suggest checking it out and at least listening to some of the samples from the tracks.  Hearing Peter Jurasik who played Londo Mollari sing blues is simply golden and I was quite surprised by the dark sultry qualities of Mira Furlan’s singing voice.

I had no idea this thing existed, but now that I do I can’t get it out of my head.  This made my week, and you’d better believe it is now at the top of my list of things to buy!

Here are a few links:

About The Be Five

The Be Five on Amazon

That is all!

Michael Giacchino: Musical Chameleon

This week has turned out to be busier than anticipated, plus my wife has an increased need of the computer for work so I have not been able to post many blogs recently.  I did however have the opportunity to see a couple of movies this week though and that’s what I want to talk about today!

Earlier this week the wife and I went to see Super 8 (while there we got a voucher for a free ticket so later that night I went to X-Men: First Class, but that has nothing to do with this).  I’ve been very excited to see this movie and with good reason.  J.J. Abrams has not disappointed me thus far, though he has had some projects that I don’t believe live up to the level of hype that surround them (Cloverfield and Star Trek), but I was extremely interested to see his take on a Spielberg-esque adventure flick.  As far as I’m concerned this self proclaimed love letter to Steven Spielberg from J.J. Abrams really did a great job of highlighting both directors best qualities.  The look, the feel, the sound, and even the way the movie was shot were very reminiscent of several of Spielberg’s early movies.  As an aside I think other filmmakers out there should take note that even though we have CGI and other super advanced special effects techniques it still makes for a better movie to keep monsters/aliens/whatever hidden from the audience as long as possible in order to really ramp up anticipation and suspense.  Too many movies these days love to have their CGI creatures out on parade throughout the entire length of the movie and after awhile you just lose interest as the movies devolve into a series of chase scenes or an unnatural and unrealistic volley of CGI fight scenes.

Anyway, enough about that.  Going into the theater I knew a few things about the production of Super 8, but I hadn’t researched everything.  Basically I read some interviews with Abrams and Spielberg about the movie and read a few details here and there on Ain’t It Cool News and Comic Book Movie.com.  Just enough to keep my interest up, but not really studying the production in depth.  I like to have a few surprises waiting for me when I finally sit down to watch a movie.  Well knowing what I did about the movie I half expected to hear some John Williams scoring set behind the action on screen.  I hadn’t read about Williams being involved, but then again I hadn’t really researched it that in-depth.  Either way as the movie started I was excited to hear what the soundtrack would be like.  A few minutes into it I realized it wasn’t John Williams, I’ve listened to enough of his work to be able to identify him a few bars in, but I wasn’t disappointed by the music that was there.  For the most part I was enthralled by the movie and didn’t really notice much of the score that was mingled among it, as it should be.  Then towards the end there were a few moments where I distinctly heard some unmistakable homages to Williams.  As the intensity was ratcheting up near the finale of the film there are a few sections of music that are classic Williams, several distinctive chords that have been used most memorably in Jaws (not the main “Dun, dun” theme that everyone knows but some of the more menacing reactive music that really builds up tensions) and was also used well in his Jurassic Park score, and a few others.  Also, given the nature of the plot of Super 8 it wasn’t unexpected to hear a few sections of music that sounded very similar to the theme from another certain Extra Terrestrial movie.

Giacchino at the premier of Ratatouille

By the end of the movie I was very interested to know where the music came from, as much as I enjoyed Super 8, I was now very curious as to who had written the score.  As the credits rolled it was one of the first names shown, and I could have kicked myself for not realizing who it was sooner, I really should have guessed.  Michael Giacchino.  For the past six years or so any time I come across a film score that intrigues me, but is unfamiliar to me, it turns out to be Michael Giacchino!  His music contains such a mercurial quality and he possesses a style not his own.  John Williams and Danny Elfman I can pick out within seconds of hearing them, but Giacchino is a chameleon when it comes to his arrangements, his music never has the same type of sound and his scores are always so well adapted to the production that it becomes nearly impossible to separate him, from the rest of the movie.

The downside to that is that Giacchino doesn’t really have many memorable moments musically.  John Williams has countless memorable themes and melodies attributed to his work from Star Wars to Schindler’s List.  Danny Elfman has given us an unshakeable Batman theme even after it has long been abandoned by modern film revamping.  The great Howard Shore ramped up the heroic nature of the Lord of the Rings with his epic score and the iconic themes that are now just as familiar to Lord of the Rings fans as Bilbo Baggins is.

From my memory though Giacchino doesn’t really have such dramatic qualities about him, but that’s not to say that he is any less of a composer.  His music can be memorable even without a lasting tune running through your head.  In particular I recall his score for the Pixar flick the Incredibles which harkened back to jazzier film scores of the 1960’s, and I first really noticed his work during the Speed Racer movie.  Though some might bad mouth that movie, I really liked it and Michael Giacchino’s score was fantastic.  I was especially pleased that he didn’t overuse the classic Speed Racer theme, but instead teased it along through the majority of the movie until the very end.  Overall Giacchino does what any good composer should do, he makes his music a part of the movie, he helps the director flesh out the emotions and action that are portrayed on the screen.  Michael Giacchino, perhaps more than any other film composer today, seamlessly melds his music into the movies he works on in the same way the set designers have worked a building into a shot, or the costume designers have chosen the look for the actors.  Giacchino’s scores seem to adapt to every movie he works on, and though occasionally that sound can get lost within the greater scope of things, he certainly does his part to make those movies more than they would have been without him.  The best way I can describe his style would be to simply call it adaptive.

There are three things that tell me Micheal Giacchino is becoming a major property in Hollywood.  1) The dude’s already won an Oscar for his work on Up.  2) He seems to now be the exclusive go-to-guy for new Pixar properties, working on all the new titles since the Incredibles.  3) Like any good film composer he’s found himself a directorial partner.  Lucas and Spielberg work exclusively with John Williams, Tim Burton relies heavily on Danny Elfman, and it appears that J.J. Abrams’ music man is now Michael Giacchino who has provided the score for all of his movies thus far.

Michael Giacchino accepting his Oscar for Up

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite movies Giacchino has written music for:

The Incredibles

Sky High

Mission Impossible III

Several of the Pixar shorts

Ratatouille

The television shows LOST and Fringe

Speed Racer

Star Trek (the new rebooty one)

Up

Let Me In

Super 8

And also here’s one of my favorite sections from the Speed Racer soundtrack, have a listen.

That is all!

Save Us John Williams!

     Ugh!  This is completely off topic but  I just watched the Rebecca Black video on YouTube, you know the one where some random teenage girl is singing like a car alarm about a day of the week, complete with explanations of the subsequent days that follow.  Christ!  If you’re not convinced our nations creative culture has hit rock bottom then just go take a peek at the video for “Friday.”  My wife summed it up best in saying that that production was the outcome of children being coddled and told that everything they do is “awesome” and “special.”  Sorry kids sometimes you just can’t sing, no matter how much you dial up the autotune.  We can’t all be star athletes either.  Hard work and perseverance are a major part of achieving what we want out of life, but sometimes a measure of talent is needed to actually make those dreams a reality.  Play to your strengths. 

     Ah but why waste my breath right?  I mean that music video is awful, but it already has over a million views.  Sure many, like myself, have watched it simply to see how bad it is but that notion is lost on our commercialized culture.  A million views means a lot of eyes have seen this train wreck and when there’s an inevitable follow up there will be an immediate viewership response which means there can be some profit to be made on this shit.  I really don’t hold anything against the young lady herself, at best she has been misguided, at worst she’s a bit delusional.  But I don’t see it as having much to do with her. Someone with some film equipment noticed her genuine desire to be a star (talent aside) and the dollar signs started floating down from the heavens as the plans were set into motion to make her the next Justin Beiber/Disney-esque pop star.  There is so little class left in our culture.  Sigh

     I could go on and on ranting, but that wasn’t actually what I wanted to write about today.  I came here with the intention of talking about my love for composer John Williams.  However after seeing that video this morning it just put me in a foul, pessimistic mood so I had to piss and moan a bit.  Anywho, on to John Williams.  Now there’s a classy dude.  I would not hesitate to place John Williams among the ranks of Mozart and Beethoven.  Traditional classical music scholars might scoff at the idea that a mere movie composer, who writes scores for films, would even be considered equal to the great symphonic masters of history.  But I say, really what’s the difference?  John Williams has written traditional symphonies, not many, but he has a few under his belt.  He is though of course most known for his memorable and moving film scores, which often complete the movies they are a part of.  Imagine Jaws without its soundtrack.  Not only the famous tensely menacing theme of the shark but also the incidental sections which highlight the adventure of the open water really add quite a bit to that movie.  Without that music Jaws would seem rather flat and somewhat dull.  It is impossible to separate the music from the action.  Now think about Mozart, Wagner, and Mendelssohn many of their best known works come from their operas and theatrical pieces.  The movies of their day.  I’ll grant you that in some cases these masters had a much larger role in the stories that were being portrayed on stage, but it was all about the music telling those stories, evoking the emotions and tensions that were being played out on stage.

Fact: I have seen John Williams in concert more times than any other band/musician.

     Let me just say that I do like to think of myself as having a rather eclectic taste in music, I don’t only listen to symphonic and classical music. I can appreciate pretty much all music and have it represented in some form or another on my ipod.  With the exception of modern country music, that shits awful.  Though even that has a few exceptions I suppose.  I realize that the only musical discussions on my blog currently are this, and a post about Handel.  I just think it’s important to understand the history of music, and appreciate the diversity of classical music that is out there.  There are some exciting and cool works to listen to, it’s not all chamber music and lullabies for your developing toddler.

     Now back to John Williams.  I have said for a long time that I believe the great film composers are the true legacy of classical music and the great composers of the past.  John Williams, Henry Mancini, Howard Shore, even Danny Elfman all draw on the past as well as adding something new to the sound of symphonic music.  I would love to hear more works from these and other modern movie composers played along with the Bizet and Verdi pieces that are played on NPR and elsewhere. 

     My fandom of John Williams and my overall appreciation of movie scores, began in 1993 at the tender age of twelve.  At that time I had very little knowledge of such subjects.  One weekend my dad told me he was taking me to a movie, we were going to see Jurassic Park.  As I sat in the theater watching the awesome scenery and effects of that movie one thing struck me which had never occurred to me about a movie before.  The music.  It was an “ah ha!” moment for me that has really effected my movie going experience to this day.  I remember exactly which scene it was that caught my attention, it was towards the beginning of the movie just before they reach the island, as the group is soaring over the ocean in a helicopter on their approach to Jurassic Park.  The music is perfectly timed with a cut, so that the music shoots up suddenly to sweep the viewer up and soar them along to this tropical location.  It is a memorable tune that had me paying attention to the rest of the music in the movie, but not distracting me at all from what was happening as people were getting chased and bitten in half by dinosaurs, in fact it enhanced that experience.  As the credits rolled I made sure to pay attention and see who had written that crazy awesome score.  John Williams, a name that would send me investigating all his other work.

Jurassic Park, both the movie and the book, changed my life.

     Back in modern times, the wife and I watched Jurassic Park again recently and I was reminded just how perfectly John Williams’ score weaves the action together as well as highlights the slower more emotional scenes.  I would argue that his work on Jurassic Park is his finest in terms of punctuating a movie, in doing the most heavy lifting to create suspense, and in establishing an overall sense of wonder.  As a kid I was obsessed with Jurassic Park and the soundtrack was actually the first CD I ever bought.  (Yeah I’m awesome.)  Through some searching I soon realized that John Williams was the man behind the music of my favorite movies of all time, Star Wars.  From there I discovered that John Williams was the sound of Jaws, Indiana Jones, and pretty much every Steven Spielberg movie ever.  I was hooked for life, and the rest is history.

Frequent collaborators, John Williams and Steven Spielberg.

     This blog has kind of gotten off track, I had a whole comparison ready to go between the Magic Flute and the ET soundtrack, but I’ve gone on too long at this point.  I have more or less just lectured about my love for John Williams.  I guess if I had to sum up this blog it would be to encourage any parents out there, or hip aunts and uncles, etc. to go out and purchase some John Williams music for some of the kids in your family.  Chances are they already like some of the movies he’s been a part of, so it is an easy in.  Start your kids off with something like the Star Wars soundtracks.  Their enjoyment of something familiar might encourage an interest in classical works, and the intricacies of large orchestral pieces.  That interest might than be translated into other music, be it classical or rock and roll or hip hop.  If kids have a good understanding of different sounds, and the building blocks of music they might be able to cultivate a genuine interest in music, instead of a desire for fame through music.  Maybe John Williams can even help our future generations avoid being bamboozled into making terrible musical decisions, like taking part in obnoxious music videos about random words.

That is all!

John Williams has been as equally important to these movies as the actors and directors.

George Frideric Handel: Musical Occultist (Sort Of)

George Frideric Handel. Best known for the Messiah, and the Hallelujah chorus, right? Sure I suppose, if you’re a classical music newb! Oh snap! Zing! Pow! Seriously though Handel has a great many works that are on par, if not better than the Big M, I think it’s safe to say that particular operetta simply gets more airtime due to its sacred subject matter. It’s always smart to write pieces of music that will fit nicely with prominent holidays of major religions. Keep that in mind all you young orchestral composers out there!

Anywho three of my favorite works by Handel have a much more occult flavor, and even venture into pagan mythology! Gasp! My favs include Xerxes, Hercules, and Solomon. First off Xerxes, yes that Xerxes, king of the Persians, great leader of men who marched across the mediterranean area and was featured prominently in the movies The 300 Spartans and 300. In this opera the king is not a villain, but is rather a symbol for Handel’s baroque ideals, transformed into a hero leader who fought against great opposition, beyond that the opera is just a Shakespearian type love story with mistaken words confusing the matter “She thinks he loves her, he thinks she should love him” etc.

"Who am I in love with?!?!?"

When it comes to Hercules, the great greek demigod hero of myth, Handel writes an opera that takes place after Hercs 12 feats, his return home, and his subsequent tragedy and death. Other than that I don’t know much about the plot points of this one, the recording I have of this is in german so I don’t know what the hell they’re saying.

The Incredible Hercules in the baroque style

Lastly, and perhaps my favorite, is the oratorio about Solomon, the king. Solomon is a very enigmatic biblical figure and is best known today among modern mystics as the father of occult ceremonial magic. Whether that title is fitting or not is another topic entirely. This piece however deals with the traditionally popular accounts of Solomon; the ruling to cut the baby in half, and his dealings with the Queen of Sheba. The overture from Handel’s Solomon is just a great listen, one of my favorites.

King Solomon

It is important to remember however that Handel himself, along with his audience wouldn’t really have associated any of these works with their subjects occult connections. Granted the connections are there and viable however, for the most part that just wasn’t part of the mindset of the baroque era. The focus of these works are heroics and great leaders, and Handel doesn’t really bother to go any deeper than that. Handel was setting these older tales in a modern setting for his time, drawing parallels between his ruling class and those legendary rulers from history. Though there might not be any hidden truth in these “occult operas” there is some great music and I encourage you to give them a listen if you’ve never heard these works before. Though I should warn you Xerxes and Solomon both were originally written for castrato (sung by women these days) so that might seem a bit odd to our modern sensibilities! Balls away!

That is all!
(I hope the upcoming Xerxes movie looks exactly like the video below!)