Some of my friends have been encouraging me to get more into Kenny Garrett. After all, he is one of the best jazz players of his generation.
Everytime I start to explore his music further, I'm put off by how he doesn’t list the sidemen on the outer packaging of his CDs. I had to tear off the shrink wrap to learn who was on the latest, Seeds From the Underground. Pianist Benito Gonzalez and drummer Roland Bruner are comparatively new names to me, but Nat Reeves has been in most of Garrett’s groups going back to Introducing Kenny Garrett from 1984. Hasn’t Reeves earned the right to be on the package yet?
List the band on the jacket! Everyone is playing hard. Gonzalez burns almost as long as Garrett on some of the tracks.
On 2006’s Beyond the Wall, it is just absurd: the core quintet is Pharoah Sanders, Mulgrew Miller, Bob Hurst, and Brian Blade. These are of course jazz stars that would encourage me (and most jazz fans) to buy. But their names aren't to be found on the outside of the record. Since I got this one used, I could open it up and find out the personnel...my jaw was on the floor when I saw Pharoah’s name. And Bobby Hutcherson is on some of it too!
Maybe the shrink wrap boasted of these masters? Maybe the masters didn’t want to be listed? Anyway, pretty weird. Nice record though.
The NY Times obit of Andrew Sarris by Michael Powell is a fun read.
While I don’t really know enough to criticize, I've always wondered if auteur theory is one reason we seem to celebrate directors at the expense of cinematographers, editors, and especially authors.
Powell writes that Sarris’s first coup was canonizing Hitchcock via Psycho. Of course I have no problem canonizing Hitchcock! But to this day, most people don’t know who Robert Bloch is. Bloch wrote the novel Psycho. It is arguably Bloch’s best book. Hitchcock knew a good thing when he read it, paid Bloch modest fee, and followed the novel very closely.
Mary giggled again, then executed an amateurish bump and grind, tossed her image a kiss and received one in return. After that she stepped into the shower stall...
...She didn’t hear the door open, or note the sound of footsteps. And at first, when the shower curtains parted, the steam obscured the face.
Then she did see it there -- just a face, peering through the curtains, hanging in midair like a mast. A head-scarf concealed the hair and the glassy eyes stared inhumanly, but it wasn’t a mask, it couldn’t be. The skin had been powdered dead-white and two hectic spots of rouge centered on the cheekbones. It wasn’t a mask. It was the face of a crazy old woman.
Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream.
And her head.
In the internet age, I think writers have it a little better than they used to. Movie and television fans have more of an opportunity to explore the canon. We begin to understand that whoever wrote the lines is just as important as who spoke them or who directed them.
But back in the day, it was really hard for writers to get respect.
R.I.P. Andrew Sarris, certainly! But now is a good time to wheel out a long quote I copied out from Donald E. Westlake’s Enough. Westlake was one of the many, many, many great writers who never got a fair shake in Hollywood. Auteur theory certainly didn’t help their plight.
It is 1977, and the narrator is a film critic (read: Andrew Sarris? "pantheon" even shows up near the end) who is being blackmailed. In this scene he tries to use an interview with famous director Big John Brant to get help with his own problem.
Q: “I’d like to ask you now a more or less specific question of technique, based on a film other than one of yours.”
A: “Someone else’s picture?”
Q: “Yes. This is a work in progress being done by a young filmmaker here in New York. I’ve seen the completed portion, and I’d like to ask you how you would handle the problem this young filmmaker has set for himself.”
A: “Well, I’m not sure I get the idea of what you want here, but let’s give it a try and see what happens.”
Q: “Fine. Now, the hero of this film is being blackmailed in the early part of the picture. But then he gets rid of the evidence against himself, but the blackmailer keeps coming around anyway. He’s bigger than the hero, threatens to beat him up and so on, he even moves into the hero’s apartment, he still wants his blackmail money even though the evidence is gone. The hero doesn’t want to go to the police, because he’s afraid they’ll get too interested in him and start looking around and maybe find some other evidence. So that’s the situation, as far as this young filmmaker’s taken it. The blackmailer is in the hero’s apartment, the hero is trying to decide what to do next. Now, if this was one of your pictures, how would you handle it from there?”
A: “Well, that depends on the story.”
Q: “Well, I think he wants the hero to win in the end.”
A: “Okay. Fine.”
Q: “The question is, where would you yourself take it from there?”
A: “Well, what’s the script say?”
Q: “That doesn’t matter. That’s still open.”
A: “Open? You have to know what happens next.”
Q: “Well, that’s up to you. What would you have happen?”
A: “I’d follow the script.”
Q: “Well, they’re doing this as they go along.”
A: “They’re crazy. You can’t do anything without a script.”
Q: “Well...They’re working this from an auteur theory, that it’s up to the director to color and shape the material and so on.”
A: “Yeah, that’s fine, but you got to have the material to start with. You got to have the story. You got to have the script.”
Q: “Well...I thought the director was the dominant influence in film.”
A: “Well, shit, sure, the director’s the dominant influence in film. But you still got to have a script.”
Well, that wasn’t any help. What was I supposed to do, go ask three or for screenwriters for suggestions? Is the director the auteur or isn’t he?
I did keep trying in this vein for a few more questions, but this didn’t get me anywhere. So far as I could see, Big John Brant’s career had come down to this; he was the fellow who told the cameraman to point the camera at people who were talking. And to think how high in the pantheon I’d always placed this man.
The script. Only a hack cares about the goddam script. What I needed was to talk to a real director; Hitchcock, or John Ford, or John Huston, or Howard Hawks. What happens next? that was my question. Sam Fuller would have an answer to that. Roger Corman, even.