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Archive for January 17th, 2017

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By J.D. Lafrance

Anybody that bought Zeppelin I knows that the standout song is “Dazed and Confused,” and that’s great. It’s a masterpiece albeit a little too stifled because it is the studio version. If Almost Famous (2000) is the studio version than “The Bootleg Cut” is the live version of “Dazed and Confused” found on The Song Remains the Same in all of its epic grandeur, taking an already great song and making it live and breathe. Likewise, “The Bootleg Cut” of Almost Famous takes Cameron Crowe’s tribute to classic rock of the 1970s and improves on it by adding over 35 minutes of footage, which allows the world he created and the colorful characters that inhabit it to also live and breathe.

Almost Famous was clearly a labor of love for the filmmaker and his most personal effort to date. It is a fictionalized account of Crowe’s start as a rock music journalist at the age of 15 writing from Creem magazine and then a year later joining the staff of Rolling Stone where he would go on to interview the likes of Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and many others. Unfortunately, his very personal journey failed to connect with a mainstream audience and despite being lavished with critical praise and awards (including an Oscar for screenwriting), the film flopped at the box office but has gone on to develop a cult following. However, one wonders if Crowe never fully recovered from its commercial failure. Perhaps he ran out of things to say, making two films adapted from pre-existing works (Vanilla Sky and We Bought a Zoo) and an original film, Elizabethtown (2005) that flopped both with critics and audiences. Regardless, Almost Famous will no doubt be regarded as his magnum opus and rightly so.
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by Sam Juliano

The scourge of slavery as revealed in an existing document discovered by nonagenarian author-illustrator Ashley Bryan poses that African-Americans working on the Fairchilds estate in the 1820’s and beyond were property of the white slave-holders who even claimed immediate ownership of newly born children of slave parents.  Bryan’s wrenching look at eleven slaves owned by Cado and Mary Fairchilds on a South Carolina plantation, Freedom Over Me, gives voice to those who share a dream of freedom.  Each invariably relates in the first-person narratives told on two full pages alongside a detailed profile drawing and another tapestry showing them with others in a canvas illustrating their dreams coming true, common stories of their abduction and loss of individual rights and of how their special talents were exploited, both in terms of the revenue they generated going to the estate owner and some of them being farmed out if they were too good at what they did.  Bryan has taken human “statistics” and fleshed them out, giving them identities, personalities, a stream of aching inner thoughts, and in some instances a secret resolve to achieve literacy, long banned by the slave-owners because it would intensity their desire to win independence.  In short Bryan gives his slaves a humanity that eluded their real-life counterparts.  All of the slaves in this group were abducted from their African villages, sometimes leaving behind parents or family members who were killed in the raid, and this inner anger drives all to keep the candle burning for freedom, as they render scene-specific aspirations for the time they are release, though sadly that time will never come in their own lives.

After browning parchments of slave auctions and legal documents that bind slaves to the orders within are replicated in collage on the end paper and free space opposite the title page Bryan commits one page with a short summary of Mary Fairchilds, the wife of the slave owner who has passed away.  She speaks of her husband as if he treated the slaves with kindness and respect, apprenticing them to learn carpentry, sewing, pottering, basketry and ironwork, and even loaned then out to neighboring estates as if that was some kind of boost to their self esteem, when in reality it had the opposite effect.  She boasts that the slave earnings came back to her estate, thereby increasing its value.  She announces she will return to England where “I may live without fear, surrounded by my own good British people.”  A For Sale poster featuring all eleven participants of Bryan’s drama lists the age of each and the amount they are sold for in yet another example of dehumanization this most heinous of all human institutions fostered. (more…)

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