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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Records films

page 18

Records films

Leon Redbone: on the Track

Andy Pratt: Resolution

A nice pair of albums essentially different both from the point of view of content and musical approach, but linked by the idiosyncrasies of their respective artists.

Andy Pratt, some might remember, is noted for Avenging Annie, a peculiarly-compacted 45 of some summers past, so stunningly jammed with good things that it needed two years to unravel.

Resolution, his third album, represents an elaboration and consolidation upon the high points of its predecessors. Unlike those, however, not one cut stands out as a single. What we are given instead is the most perfectly thematically united album so far this year, with its core the depiction of the artist coming to terms with himself expressed confidently and joyously. When one has at least five alter egos that's not the easiest things in the world to achieve. The raison d'etre behind Pratt's new found peace - cliched as it may sound in 1976 - is love, and love in the sense of celebration that marked it off as something extremely special in the Californian vernacular of a decade ago. That he can handle topics that would redden the face of your average rugby player so explicitly and with such candour is some small sign of his greatness:

"But when she strips me naked and oo how she can/

You see a fuzzy-brained little intellectual/

Who just became a real man".

Young girl smiling and pointing

The musical framework, considering the number of musicians used, can only be described as luxuriant, providing the bed for Pratt's, um, distinctive vocals, tracked and multi-tracked as he ranges across the various facets of interpersonal relationships. In fact, the whole album could possibly point up inadequacies in the classicist's rationale that most rock is rubbish, showing a fullness and a smoothness of sound comparable with that of the latter period Beatles. Pratt also utilises the apotheosis of that Californian sound from the Rolling Stones to the Beachboys - drawing upon them for inspiration and, surprisingly, despite the wealth and diversity of musical styles thus amalgamated the end result is neither a pastiche or a travesty. Pratt, quite simply, moved it all on to a far higher plane:

"It seems there comes a pair of hands to guide us /

In our own special way make us stay in love /

That's when miracles occur /

Suddenly doors open that you never thought were even there".

Leon Redbone is something of an enigma, a mystery man in the mainstream of American contemporary music, but one whose repertoire stretches as far back as Irving Berlin, Fats Waller and Hoagy Carmichael, and about whom word first filtered through the grapevine courtesy of Bob Dylan. His musical setting for some delightful ditties successfully evokes nostalgia for a bygone era: just the thing to confound Psychology students, even those at an advanced level. I'm not sure just how valid his tracery of the 20's great classics is, but it is an enjoyable and worthwhile listening experience all the same after the time necessary for assimilation. That's an important point, actually. Neither of these records is immediately accessible, they both demand time and concentration, Redbone more so than Pratt. What attracts me to Redbone so much, however, is an airy insouciance he sounds like nothing quite so much as a wobbly Randy Newman, crossed with a severely stoned J J Cale, sitting on a back porch somewhere in the Okeefeenokees warbling to the mangroves and the magnolias. The instrumentation is sparse and mainly acoustic, recorded beautifully and wrapped in a colourful cover, on the the back of which Redbone - posing as a brakeman - is wreathed in cigar smoke. Consider it a clue to the unpredictability of the programme.

— Patrick O'Dea

Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits

Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits makes magnificent listening. Displaying little of the swan song serenity of "What a Wonderful World', this is Satchmo at his most envigorating. If his genius can be explained, it must have something to do with the glorious depths of life with which he infects his music. His voice, his trumpet contain the whole gamut of emotions within a twinkling grin.

All of the tracks on this record were taken from concerts done in 1955-56 (with the exception of 'Cabaret' in 1966), but the original recordings date back to the 1920's. The production standard is remarkably high, with the audience noise kept to a bare minimum. Vocal work features almost throughout The only disappointment is that the album isn't big enough: inevitably it contains only some of his greatest hits (and for some unfortunate reason, only 12 of the 13 listed tracks are actually present).

The extraordinary thing about Armstrong is that every song he sings seems to have been written for him. Thus we have 'Mack the Knife' which opens side one: the perfect vehicle for his gravly voice, with brass giving way to exactly appropriate lilting piano and percussion. This is the best version of the song I know. And "All of Me", well-known to Billie Holliday enthusiasts, which proves Satchmo can be as tender as the best. 'Cabaret' sacrifices the raucous vigour of the atmosphere to the philosophical strain of the lyrics. Ten years older, there is a slightly different artist at work here, more sophisticated but still in superb control. 'West End Blues' is a remarkable epitome of Satchmo's elusive style: he ranges from Dixie to Chicago without ever losing his own unique character. The liner notes claim this is a track every trumpet player tried to match him or and failed: an extravagent statement but I almost believe it. 'Back O'Town Blues', an Armstrong original built up around conventional bluesy verse with strong brass chorus lines, features the maestro at his most approachable, as he back-chats his way through with the bandleader:

'Lay it on 'em Satchmo

lay it on 'em.'

Shall I tell' em everthing?'

'Yeah you tell 'em everything'

'Ok boss —

Never mistreat your woman

Or its gonna bounce right back at you'

That ain't no stage-joke either daddy.'

Final mention must go to 'Basin Street Blues', a tribute to New Orleans in whch the words succumb to raspy gurgles of pure affection, in turn sacrificed to a rollicking trumpet one just knows will never be surpassed.

Simon Wilson.

Swept Away

Cartoon of a man eating chocolate sauce from a large tin

Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away is a love story posing variously as a didactic on class oppression, on sexual oppression, a comedy, and even (though this is purely a sideline) a photographic essay on sunsets. This might not be so bad if the political themes retained some measure of coherence, or even if the romance itself was credible or absorbing. None of this is the case in Swept Away.

Rafaella (Mariangela Melato) is the biggest bourgeois snob on the Mediterranean and Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) is a communist in the crew of her chartered yacht. As luck would have it, they find themselves adrift together on a rubber boat. The destination of the hapless pair is of course an island, their destiny an equally obvious love-match, and their eventual fate - you guessed it - forlorn separation in the real world.

Not much of a script to go on really. The depth seems to be coming in the beginning from a heavy-handed treatment of the class relationship of the two. Rafaella has spent her life abusing communists and the like for their stupidity and ineptitude; she now finds herself ina position where her reliance on the working class for her own existence is fully exposed, and she struggles to adapt. Gennarino realises the position he is in on the island and decides to give her an object lesson. His ruthlessness is to an extent justified, for it takes Rafaella a considerable white to get over the disrespect he is showing her.

But it doesn't take long for this theme to exhaust its possibilities, and the sexual theme is introduced. Gennarino drops his champion of the working class status and becomes a vicious chauvinist tyrant. As an illustration of de Beauvoirs point that the class struggle does not necessarily involve the sexual struggle, the development is valid. But if this is Wertmuller's aim it backfires disastrously. Because Rafaella is such a contemptible specimen, she becomes the object of a sort of savage humour. The cut from Gennarino throwing her his dirty clothes to her washing them is a visual joke, whose structure has already been established by two earlier such editing tricks at her expense. It is telling that the audience laughed loudest when Gennarino was at his most brutal.

However, the lack of serious commitment to political themes is nothing compared to the extraordinarily unconvincing emotional progression. We are actually asked to believe that Rafaella, after all the injustice inflicted on her, does come to love Gennarino, and that he loves her in return. She is not, as we might expect, merely engaged in an act of expediency, as the ending clearly shows. [Although they do return to their old lives, she to her class snobbery and he to his male complacency, they both suffer acutely the pains of being rent asunder]. What is her motive? Surely not his sexual performance, and even more surely, Wertmuller can't be trying to make some kind of comment on the natural felicity of human beings in isolation. After the patterned approach to the political themes sof the first half, this development is nothing short of a dishonest evasion of the tenets she herself has established.

To her 'somewhat dubious credit, Wertmuller has made good use of the sensory aspects of film. With summer coming on, who would not relish the sight of warm blue sea and fine sandy beaches at dusk; and the lyrical music score is pleasantly enticing.

Swept Away stands waist high to the successes of Wertmuller's earlier film, The Seduction of Mimi, and almost collapses where MIMI wavered. That is to say, as a vehicle for the talents of the charismatic Giannini it allows him scope to do little more than wiggle his eyebrows and revel in his star status, while Melato fights valiantly against impossible odds: she deserves better treatment. Although it provokes the odd laugh or two, as a film containing elements of a serious political stand Swept Away is dangerously beguiling.

Lina Wertmuller is the subject of much critical argument in Europe and the States. If her defendants are to secure their ground they will have to look elsewhere than this film for support.

- Simon Wilson.