“The Millers”, the in-house drumstutor band Archives. In Memory of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. Our tributes to Big Band artists, movies and reviews:
Tenor saxophone, singer, band leader Born: February 12, 1914 in Fort Worth, Texas Died: May 30, 2000 in Costa Mesa, California
He was born Gordon Beneke in Fort Worth, a birthplace which earned him the familiar nickname ‘Tex’. He played soprano saxophone as a child and began his professional career playing in territory bands of the southwest including two years with the Ben Young Orchestra (1935-37). He joined the Glenn Miller and his Orchestra the following year where his own contribution brought him individual awards in the influential polls conducted by magazines like Down Beat and Metronome in 1941-2. He recorded with the Metronome All-Stars, an annual band made up of the winning musicians in the Metronome poll, in 1941.
Although he subsequently found himself in dispute with the bandleader’s estate, Tex Beneke played a major role in establishing the trademark Glenn Miller sound as one of the most successful inventions of the big band era. His tenor saxophone solos and amiable vocals featured prominently on many of Miller’s biggest hits, including ‘In The Mood’, ‘String of Pearls’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, ‘I Got a Girl in Kalamazoo’ and ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree’, and he was a key member of the saxophone section in his four years with the band.
He joined in 1938 having been recommended to Miller by drummer Gene Krupa. Krupa had left the Benny Goodman band and was looking for talent to form his own first band. One night he stopped in a ballroom to listen to the Ben Young band and wound up taking two or three musicains with him back to New York, but he had no room for Beneke because his sax section was already filled. Krupa knew that Glenn Miller was forming a band and recommended Beneke to Miller.
Tex remained with Miller until the trombonist disbanded the unit when he entered the armed forces in 1942. Beneke was never a member of Miller’s final Army Air Force Band which was based in England prior to the bandleader’s mysterious death when his aircraft disappeared over the English Channel while on a flight to France in 1944. Instead, the saxophonist toured in the USA with The Modernaires, the vocal group formerly associated with the Miller band. Beneke played very briefly with Horace Heidt before joining the Navy himself, leading a Navy band in Oklahoma Glenn Miller’s widow approached Beneke to lead a reformed version of the posthumous Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1946. It had a make up similar to Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band with a large string section. The orchestra’s official public début was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three week engagement on January 24, 1946. Henry Mancini was the pianist and one of the arrangers. Another arranger was Norman Leyden who previously arranged for the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
The band was an immediate success, touring intensively to wildly enthusiastic audience responses and racking up a sequence of hit records all in the classic Miller mould. Tex led the band until 1950, but eventually rebelled against the strict managerial insistence on playing Miller’s music exactly as the trombonist conceived it. He broke his relationship with the estate to form his own band and toured under the banner “Tex Beneke and His Orchestra Playing the Music Made Famous by Glenn Miller”.
With this ensemble Beneke introduced some of his own ideas and began to experiment in a way prohibited by the Miller estate. The break led to his being left out of the film version of The Glenn Miller Story in 1953, although he had appeared in two earlier films which featured the band, Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942).
After breaking with the Miller camp, Beneke led his own bands into the 1990s always working in some variation of the Miller sound. He was featured on American television’s Cavalcade of Big Bands in the 1960s and also worked with occasional groupings of former Miller musicians in bands like The Glenn Miller Singers in the late 1950s, and the Big Band Academy Of America in the late 1980s.
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Quentin Tarantino loves, loves, loves movies. The filmmaker has made this abundantly clear not only through the various and obscure influences gleaned in his own films but also in his many lengthy discussions on any number of topics relating to film. Tarantino makes a point to go to the movies as often as possible, and recently he has taken to publicly publishing a list of his Top 10 movies from each year. He took 2012 off since he was understandably busy working on Django Unchained, but his 2011 and 2010 lists were gleefully varied, with movies like Midnight in Paris and The Social Network ranking right up there with The Three Musketeers and Jackass 3D.
It appears that Tarantino plans on publishing another full Top 10 list later this year, but he’s gotten a jump on things and released a list of his 10 favorite films of 2013 thus far. As expected, there are more than a couple of surprising choices. Hit the jump to take a look.
Courtesy of The Tarantino Film Archives, here is the filmmaker’s Top 10 Films of 2013 – So Far, in alphabetical order:
Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
The Conjuring (James Wan)
Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Kick-Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow)
The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)
This Is the End (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)
Midnight in Paris topped Tarantino’s 2011 list so the inclusion of Blue Jasmine isn’t a big surprise, and he also singled out Kick-Ass in 2010 so it’s fitting that he would throw the sequel in there this year, but QT is likely one of the very, very few to single out The Lone Ranger. Nevertheless, this list is wonderfully eclectic, with a nice mix of indies, dramas, comedies, and blockbusters. Again it would be nice to see some sort of explanation for each choice, but it’s nice to get a peek into QT’s current tastes regardless. It’ll be interesting to see what makes the final cut after the next few months.
This past summer’s Man of Steel marked a big step forward for Warner Bros. with regards to its DC Comics properties. Following Marvel’s massive success with interconnected superhero movies, WB has been trying to find a way to take a similar approach to its DC characters. Green Lantern was a swing and a miss, and Christopher Nolan made it very clear that his Dark Knight Trilogy was a standalone set of films not set within a larger universe. But with Man of Steel, WB finally has a hit with a rebooted DC character, and the studio is moving forward with a follow-up that brings Batman into the fold.
Obviously the endgame is a Justice League movie, but WB has been toying with that idea for years. Director George Miller came extremely close to getting his iteration of Justice League in front of cameras in 2007, but the plug was prematurely pulled. However, a leaked version of the script for Miller’s film has now landed online. Hit the jump for much more.
Back in 2007, George Miller was preparing to begin production on a Justice League film in Australia with a young cast that included Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) as Batman, D.J. Cotrona (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as Superman, Common as Green Lantern, and Adam Brody (The O.C.) as The Flash (watch Hammer excitedly talk about the project here). Sets were built, costumes had been created, but just as filming was gearing up to begin, Warner Bros. put the project on hold. Obviously the film never did come to fruition, but Miller’s Justice League is one of the great “What If?’s” in movie history.
Now Superhero Movie News (via The Playlist) claims to have gotten a hold of the script, which can now be read in its entirety. I haven’t had time to read the script, but here’s The Playlist’s rundown:
The script focuses on the seven superheroes’ relationship to an all-powerful satellite system that Batman rigged to spy on them, and jumps off from that into some social commentary mixed with your usual high-stakes action setpieces. It also poses an curious bizarro universe of the present superhero flick landscape—one in which Miller attempted the gargantuan task of a much-rushed, ensemble superhero experiment, and very likely could have temporarily killed adaptations in the same way that Batman and Robin did in 1997.
Not a great comparison, but I’m still interested to see what Miller had planned nonetheless—assuming this is indeed the version of the script that Miller intended to shoot. Warner Bros. still plans on making a Justice League movie at some point, but right now the studio’s focus is on Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, which could very well lead to another Batman reboot sooner rather than later and very likely lays the foundation for a Justice League movie.
Speaking in a keynote address at USC recently (via THR), Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara reiterated the studio’s intent to get the Wonder Woman property off the ground, saying “We need to get Wonder Woman on the big screen or TV.” With female-led films doing big business at the box office, studios are finally started to come around to the idea that women can lead blockbuster franchises too. Chronicle scribe Max Landis has stated his intent to pitch a Wonder Woman movie to WB, but there are no doubt countless others who “intend” to pitch a comic book take to the studio—don’t go thinking Landis will be the one to bring Wonder Woman to the screen just yet.
For now, we wait. Since Batman vs. Superman is melding DC’s two most popular characters, that film will likely be a bellwether of what’s to come with regards to WB’s future superhero movie slate. As such, I expect we’ll have a much better idea of what the next few DC movies look like after we start to learn more about Snyder’s film.
Raymond “Ray” Eberle was a vocalist during the Big Band Era. Eberle sang with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
I’m vexed by Vexed – is it moonlighting as Moonlighting?
Vexed: Episode 1
Lucy Punch and Toby Stephens star in Vexed
Proclaiming your new show as a “Moonlighting for the Noughties”, as director Matt Lipsey does on the BBC Comedy blog, proved to be something of a double-edged sword as Vexed‘s debut left me feeling genuinely, well, vexed as to whether this was merely a shaky start for a series with potential, or simply not that good. Even now, 48 hours after watching the first episode, I’m still unsure.
Drawing comparisons with the ground-breaking 80s show starring the then unknown Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd certainly sets the bar high. As I have said in a previous blog, Moonlighting was a wonderful show with a distinctive style featuring rapid-fire, dialogue-heavy scripts and an experimental nature which would, for instance, see characters address the viewers direct or burst into song at random. It laid out a template which has been often imitated since.
David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) – the original and still the best
In short, Moonlighting was ground-breaking. Vexed is not.
That’s not to say the series does not have potential – it does – but much of it is frustratingly untapped in this debut episode.
Vexed promotes itself as a comedy-drama, a cop show that isn’t really a cop show, but is more about the relationship between its two ill-matched central protagonists, Jack Armstrong and Kate Bishop, played by Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Robin Hood) and Lucy Punch (The Class, Doc Martin).
With police procedurals flooding our TV schedules – and with ITV demonstrating with Law and Order that it is very easy to produce a pale imitation of its US parent – the lack of emphasis on this aspect is welcome. The case around which the episode loosely revolves – a serial killer who is targeting lonely single women via purchases made on their loyalty card – is simple enough. (And if you hadn’t identified the killer before the mid-point of the episode you were probably half asleep.) But the heart of the story is the nascent will-they-won’t-they relationship between Jack and Kate as they are thrown together for the first time. Jack is the equivalent of Willis’ David Addison, the detective for whom the job comes a distant second to his personal mission of chasing women and having fun; Kate is Shepherd’s Maddie Hayes, his uptight, by-the-book and unwilling partner who initially appears to have nothing in common with him.
Toby Stephens as Jack Armstrong in Vexed
It is here that the series’ wobbly foundations start to show. Whereas the relationship between Moonlighting‘s David and Maddie crackled with energy, Jack and Kate’s arguments struggle to muster even the slightest spark (a problem which also confounds the murderer’s attempts at self-immolation). The duo have an escalating argument in a car which ends with each attempting to talk over the other – very Moonlighting – but that is where the similarity ends. David and Maddie would have exchanged four times as many quips at twice the speed, and then jumped out of the car, slammed the doors simultaneously and continued the argument right into the next scene.
Worse still is the apparent lack of chemistry between Stephens’ and Punch’s performances. Individually, there was something endearing about both Willis’ David and Shepherd’s Maddie, but together their relationship was explosive – it just worked, brilliantly. For me, Stephens appears to be trying a bit too hard to instil some quirkiness into the character of Jack, who is neither particularly funny nor sympathetic, and Punch’s Kate doesn’t really evoke any reaction from me one way or the other. Combined, I can see what writer Howard Overman (Misfits) is attempting to set up between the pair, but the chemistry simmers rather than sparkles, and at times it appears the two actors themselves are unclear whether to play a scene dead straight or to insert tongue into cheek, and consequently settle on somewhere vague in between.
Lucy Punch as Kate Bishop in Vexed
And perhaps this is Vexed‘s biggest problem, that it rarely deviates from the middle path in search of the extremes, where the best TV shows often reside. It is neither funny enough to be a comedy – although there were enough genuine laughs to keep me interested – nor serious enough to be a drama; instead it ends up being a slightly confused mish-mash of the two. Jack and Kate are certainly different people with different outlooks on their work, but they are nowhere near the polar opposites that David and Maddie were, which is what generated the real sparks in the dynamic between them.
The writing and characterisation don’t overly help either. Jack’s maverick nature is underlined by the fact that he is willing to forego investigative work for a suit fitting appointment. (What a rebel!) Kate follows the rule book to the letter, but is consistently portrayed as being a bit dim, only to jump to conclusions about her husband in true ditzy blonde style and then behave every bit as unprofessionally as Jack does. There isn’t much depth for Punch to work with here. And overall, the plot feels pedestrian and flabby, and in desperate need of an injection of pace.
It’s not all bad, though, by any means. We do see glimpses of what the series could become if it can up the comedy quotient (Jack’s inept supermarket chat-up line: “Costa Ricans – good people” is genius) and continue to self-referentially poke fun at the police show genre (such as Jack’s admission that he doesn’t know how he can afford his swanky bachelor pad on a policeman’s salary).
Overall, Vexed‘s opening episode is disappointing because so much of it is a one-paced, one-note affair which would have benefitted both from being cut down to a running time of 45 minutes rather than 60, and from a critical eye to sharpen up the story and characterisation. It is doubly frustrating because the format does possess great potential to play with the hoary cliché of the straight cop/edgy cop partnership in a self-knowing, gently self-mocking way.
If you like this and want to see what Vexed aspires to be, track down the DVD box-set of Moonlighting. If it can become half as good as its role model in its remaining two episodes, it could yet be a very good series. It isn’t yet, though. Not by a long chalk.
Vexed continues on BBC2, Sunday at 9pm.
- Vexed, BBC Two, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- TV review: Vexed and Stephen Tompkinson’s Australian Balloon Adventure (guardian.co.uk)
50s Movies and Music
Today’s moviegoers are a jaded bunch—it seems to require 3D visuals and advanced audio systems just to get a rise out of them. But it wasn’t always this tough in Tinseltown; there was once a time when something as basic as color film was sufficient to blow an audience’s collective mind.
The Early Days of Colorization
Film audiences have actually been enjoying color movies nearly as long as film itself has been around. The very first such technique required each individual cell be colored by hand, utilizing extremely fine brushes and water-based translucent dyes. This method was extremely labor-intensive and could only be applied after the black and white film stock had been developed. As such, early hand-shaded films tended to be exceedingly short—typically no longer than a few hundred feet of celluloid in total—such as the works of Georges Méliès. And even at the practice’s height of popularity in the 1920s, only the biggest blockbusters of the day—such at 1924’s Greed, 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera, or The Last Days of Pompeii in 1926—received this treatment.
Not only was hand-coloring film tedious and exacting work, the results would vary from frame to frame as differing concentrations of dye would often be applied. These drawbacks led production houses to begin looking at more efficient ways of adding color to their film stocks in the early 1910s, specifically with the use of stencils.
The basic idea behind stenciling was the same as hand coloring—apply tints and dyes to existing film stock—but with slightly less work. Made famous by the French Pathé company and originally marketed as PathéColor, stenciling worked essentially the same way as modern silk screening. It used a glass master plate etched with the outline of the the cell’s captured image. This plate would cover only certain areas of the black and white film, allowing certain tints to only reach certain regions of the film cell—ie, all the yellow bits would be left uncovered by one stencil, all the red bits would be left by another, and all the blue bits exposed by a third. By rolling on the appropriate tint with the appropriate stencil, an entire cell could be colored in just a few passes—usually between three and six of them.
To avoid making some poor schmuck etch those plates by hand, as was the case early in the technique’s development, image cutting machines were developed. This was a needle-tipped tool attached to a tracing rig—not unlike the key cutting machine at the hardware store—that allowed the technician to follow an outline of the image on a projected, magnified guide. The enlarged image would then be transcribed back down to the proper size using a panograph. You can find examples of this technique in such seminal films as The Birth of a Nation from 1915 or 1916’s Intolerance.
The most common post-production colorization technique, however, was tinting. While the other methods insisted on staying inside the lines, tinting simply slathered a single color over the entire cell to invoke an overall mood or feel for the scene. 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, for example, utilized yellow washes for lantern-lit cavern scenes and blue tints to simulate night.
Tinting’s primary advantage was its relative ease of use. Instead of dyeing individual sections of individual cells, this simple process involved cutting the celluloid into chunks of the the appropriate length, dyeing them a specific color, and then reassembling the strips back into a complete film. It proved so effective that it remained in use well into the 1940s.
Let There Be Technicolor
The advancement from these early methods to full-color film doesn’t follow a steady trajectory by any means. By the end of the 1920s, nearly two dozen companies held patents for film colorization techniques—most of which could only be accomplished with assembly line-style production. That changed with the advent of a full-color process that would go on to become the most famous film color in cinematic history: Technicolor.
The process was originally invented by Herbert Kalmus—who also co-founded the Technicolor Corporation—as a two-color additive system in 1916. When Technicolor officially debuted on the Silver Screen in 1929, it became an immediate smash hit. That initial success was quite brief, though, since the Great Depression began the next year. Though the film industry would struggle through the following years of economic catastrophe, the technology behind Technicolor film continued to advance. In 1932, a pair of inventors named Burton Wescott and Joseph A. Ball created the world’s first three-color movie camera. It produced a much greater range of colors than the previous two-color additive or subtractive methods by exposing a trio of specially-coated black and white film strips to incoming light divided by a prism. Each of the three split-light beams would pass through a red, green, or blue filter and imprint its associated film strip with a specific wavelength of light. These three strips of negatives were then used to create printing matrices that would guide the application of CMYK (cyan, magenta, and yellow) dyes onto a single strip of film, resulting in a single, full-color negative.
From 1922 until 1952, your film was dog meat if it didn’t use Technicolor. Everything from The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind to An American in Paris and Fantasia were shot in Technicolor. Nobody cared that the process resulted in garishly saturated, unnatural hues—the technique was a hit with audiences, and this was the age of Glorious Technicolor.
The technique came with a steep price-tag however, typically adding about $300,000 to the production costs of each film and requiring the on-set presence of a “Technicolor expert”—typically Kalmus’ wife, Natalie—to “advise” on the film’s cinematography. In response to these diva demands, a number of other companies developed their own color film processes like Eastman Color’s polychromatic “monopack” color film, as well as DeLuxe, TruColor, and Warner Color. The emergence of this competition severely hampered Technicolor’s business, and the technology fell into disuse through the 1960s—until Francis Ford Coppola revived it for his 1972 masterpiece, The Godfather.
Painting With Pixels
Though the company never reclaimed the overwhelming market dominance it enjoyed during the first half of the century, Technicolor and its rivals continued to prosper through the 1970s. Around that time, a pair of Canadians named Wilson Markle and Christian Portilla proved the usefulness of computer-aided colorization in punching up monochrome footage of the Apollo moon missions.
This modern method of computer-based colorization starts with the highest quality monochrome film stock available. This film is first scanned and digitized. Then a technician will analyze the gray levels and perceived brightness of the footage before applying specified colors to each object in the film. These can include standardized “memory” colors—-like the blue of the sky or flesh tones—or authentic colors gleaned from existing color publicity or production photos, though technicians will often fiddle with color and saturation balances to achieve the most life-like effects. Once the color palate is set, the computer program will then automatically apply colors of varying brightness to each object based on the item’s grey scale value.
This method, patented in 1991, has been a boon to Hollywood—but it remains a labor-intensive venture. Identifying, differentiating, and tracking the numerous elements present in each scene is just as time-consuming as previous methods, since it is still done by hand. Reliable object tracking algorithms capable of performing on less-than-stellar film stock remain elusive—and meanwhile, celluloid collections around the country continue to age and degrade. [InfoPlease – ZauberKlang – Wiki 1, 2 – PopSci – Mental Floss – Top Gif: @Mhession via Wizard of Oz, Technicolor Camera: National Museum of American History – Pixel: Abby Brack Lewis / AP]
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