Archive for January 10th, 2017


by J.D. Lafrance

Hal Ashby directed some of the best films to come out of the 1970s, exploding out of the gates with four motion pictures over five years. They were all quirky comedy-drama hybrids that, in terms of subject matter, couldn’t be more different and yet are united in the sense that they all feature offbeat protagonists. They focus on outsiders that exist on the margins of mainstream society, like the death-obsessed young man who falls in love an unflappable, optimistic septuagenarian in Harold and Maude (1971). In its own way, The Last Detail (1973) is a comedy tinged with drama and one that features marginalized protagonists in the form of two veteran United States Navy petty officers that have to transport a young sailor from Virginia to New Hampshire and end up learning something about themselves and each other along the way.

At the time, Ashby was coming off the commercial and critical failure of Harold and Maude when Jack Nicholson told him about The Last Detail. Then up-and-coming screenwriter Robert Towne had adapted Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name with the actor (they were close friends) in mind. Nicholson was on an incredible run of classic film roles that started with Easy Rider (1969) and continued with two Bob Rafelson films – Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). His role in The Last Detail would yet again demonstrate his power and versatility as an actor, resulting in him being crowned Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.

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by Sam Juliano

Bernstein.  Barber.  Copland.  Glass.  Ives.  Schonberg.  Stravinsky.  Floyd.  Though there can never be a definitive ranking among the most noteworthy of American classical composers, these eight are perhaps the most accomplished, when you add opera to the equation.  But the country’s tradition is short-lived when measured up against the Europeans, whose musical titans have composed for hundreds of years.  For many America’s classical music is really the genre that flourished within its borders, and which more than any other defined a culture and produced a bevy of geniuses whose work continues to hold sway to the present, and no doubt well into the future. The form of course is jazz, which originated in New Orleans near the end of the nineteenth century, and when you add this unique form of musical expression and its cousins ragtime and blues to the composing career of a single person, the answer is not a difficult one to identify.  Born Jacob Gershwine in Brooklyn on July 11, 1937, the legendary George Gershwin lived a scant thirty-eight years after being felled by a malignant brain tumor, but he left behind a world struggling to categorize his achievements, which before and since have not been remotely replicated.  Like Chaplin, who was the cinema’s most versatile genius, Gershwin more than any other single American composer held the mantle of diversity, producing several masterpieces that are regularly cited as the most brilliant in the musical repertory.  Near the end of his life Gershwin composed Porgy and Bess, which is now counted as an operatic work, and as such contends with Floyd’s Susannah as the pinnacle in that genre by an American, and his orchestral work An American in Paris, written during a period he spent in France is regularly revived in all types of musical revues.  He later penned many songs, which are now jazz standards, and have been covered by innumerable artists.  Then there is a little composition called Rhapsody in Blue, which may well be the most renowned piece of music in any genre written in the land that I love.  The creation of this staggering work is the centerpiece of a fabulous biography The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade, with illustrations by Stacy Innerst. (more…)

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