Sunday, October 31, 2010

DVD Review: The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou, 1971-1973

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou, 1971-1973
Directed by Alec Lindsell
Narrated by Thomas Arnold
Sexy Intellectual, 2010
107 minutes, USD $19.95

Let’s get right down to it:

This is a British documentary, so you know which one of the three is getting the main focus. Okay, picture two pyramids next to each other. The one on the left is Lou Reed and the one on the right is Iggy. Balancing between them is a line connecting the two (that is Marc Bolan, mentioned often but not in detail). And finally there is the third pyramid of the “sacred” triangle, David Bowie, on top of it all. That is the vision presented here. Okay, I’m done. Naw, not really, as this is still an interesting – albeit somewhat skewed – vision of the three.

Let me quickly add here that I am totally impressed by the choice of interviews that have been selected for this doc, which is so much better than the Pearl Jam one in this series. But more on the talking heads later.

There’s no doubt that Bowie was influenced by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, but that’s nothing new. Just listen to David Jones’ singing style around the Ziggy Stardust period, and it’s easy to see the progression from his earlier works. Personally, I’d rather listen to Reed’s take, but that’s just me, walkin’ on the wild side on a Sunday morning when comes the dawning.

There’s plenty of clips here of the Velvets; well, as much as there really is, which is limited, and taken by the Warhol crowd “artfully” (i.e., in fast speed) while in Exploding Plastic Inevitable mode (Gerard and his whip dance is often present). Bowie was still in folkie / cutsie mode when he first heard “Waitin’ for My Man,” and (rightfully) became a huge VU fan. An example given here is his “Toy Soldier,” which is such a – er – homage to “Venus in Furs,” it even quotes it in a few place, such as the line “bleed for me.” The video for the song has someone dancing with whips. And on “Black County Rock,” as explained in this doc, Bowie even imitates Bolan. MainMan publicist and photographer Leee Black Childers, who would later manage Iggy and then the Heartbreakers, states here that Bowie’s true talent is to know what to steal. In fact he said this and many of other the other bon mots he posits in a FFanzeen interview conducted by our own Nancy Foster (aka Nancy Neon) back in 1982 (reprinted here:

Andy Warhol is shown as possibly as big an influence as the VU, and to talk about the theatrics of the Factory and its influence on Bowie are the likes of the very wound up VU biographer Victor Bockris, the fabulous aforementioned Childers (who used to have one of the coolest motorcycle jackets ever, with an image of Gene Vincent painted on its back), the equally extraordinary Jayne County, smartly dressed in bright red Little Red Riding Hood mode (she even matches the couch!), 16 Magazine publisher (early on) and Ramones manager Danny Fields, and the Psychotic Frog himself (who was also one of Andy’s superstars), Jimi LaLumia. They paint a vivid picture of Lou and Andy’s influence on not only Bowie, but music in general. But Bowie is the main focus here, and in this case almost rightfully so, as Lee, Jayne, and Jimi were all hired by the Bow-ster to work with Tony DeFries and help run his production company, MainMan. One person seriously missing from the interview call list, though, is Cherry Vanilla, which is a serious deficit.

But the person of interest for me here, interview wise, is definitely Angela Bowie. A while back I found her kind of abrasive, but I must say that my opinion has totally changed, and I now I can see her as incredibly refreshing. She holds nothing back, and will tell the most intimate details at top volume. My apologies to you, for any negative thoughts I may have had in the past. But I digress…

Other interviewees include writers Paul Tryoka and Dave Thompson, and musician John Harlsen, who was a drummer on the Bowie-produced Lou Reed first popular solo effort, Transformer (as well as being Barry Womble, of the Rutles), which included his hits “Satellite of Love” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” They all paint a very detailed portrait of Bowie, and what effect Reed and Iggy had on him, and how Bowie had affected them. Also included are some short interviews (more likely called clips) with the key artists involved, such as Bowie (from 2001 and 2007), Lou Reed (1986), Iggy (1988), and just as importantly, Mick Ronson (looking extremely frail shortly before his death in 1993). There would arguably be no Bowie to the scale he achieved without Ronson as a musical driving force (rather than an influence, like Reed and Pop), I’m convinced.

Possibly one of Warhol’s biggest influences (and he really is as big as either Lou or Iggy in the David Jones pantheon) is the idea that “You’re a Star!” and if you act like it, people will come to believe and expect it. Even before the money, there was the wardrobe, the limos, the expense accounts, and all the trappings. LaLumia states it quite well when he relates that Bowie claimed that “I’m an actor. I’m not a musician. I’m portraying a rock star.” I can’t argue with that, as I’ve always found that Lou Reed was true to what he believed, as was Iggy totally committed to what he was doing, but Bowie was posing, rather than being. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never found him to be someone I’ve looked up to musically, especially in the reality of the punk days of the Ramones and the ilk.

While Iggy’s role in the Bowie history (and vice-versa) is more commonly known, there is much less about Iggy here than either Reed or especially Warhol. Bowie famously helped Pop both get off drugs and revive his career. For me, Bowie major force was in the studio as a producer, more than a vocalist, or especially as an innovator, as he was a series of influences creatively recast. Angela probably had as much to do with Bowie’s success as did David or Ronson – or even DeFries. And I won’t even detail Cherry Vanilla’s outreach program.

The added feature to the DVD is a seven-minute documentary called “The Nico Connection,” which shows how she had touched the lives of all three musicians that are the focus of the main feature. There is a bio for each of the contributors, and it put a smile on my face to see my pals the She Wolves given a shout out by Jayne County, as they’ve worked together over the past few years.

As a last note, I would like to add that after viewing this DVD, check out The Velvet Goldmine, which will then make so much more sense.

Bonus video

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Saskatchewan Book Awards Reading, Oct 2010

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them

There was a book reading by three of Saskatchewan Book Awards winners held at the Faculty Club of the University of Saskatchewan on October 25, 2010. Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend.

I met David Carpenter earlier this year and we have gathered socially a few times; last year I had a writing class with Candace Savage where we read Trevor Herriot, and I was looking forward to hearing Gerald Hill as I was yet unfamiliar with his work. If you are a Canadian literature buff, or live in Saskatoon, those are three names that will sound pretty familiar, and there is a good chance you have read their output.

The faculty club is a lovely fieldstone historic building, with dining areas as meeting rooms. For this time, we met in the Fireplace Room. It was my first time in the club.

The Fireplace Room.
Jackie Lay, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Book Awards, sits at the book buying/signing table, while English professor Bob Calder waits to introduce the authors. Bob was not only host, but he is also a recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild's Hyland Award for "outstanding services to the growth and development of the Saskatchewan writing community."
David Carpenter catches up with Trevor Herriot.
Noted local actor Henry Woolf, fresh off performing this summer in the Saskatoon Shakespeare Festival's "Merchant of Venice" and fall in "Great Expectations" (wonderful show I was fortunate enough to see... thanks Liz), buys books while Trevor and David sign copies for him. Henry was also in a number of first rate projects, including Superman III, Gorky Park, The Rutles, as the wedding photographer and one of the time warping Translyvanians in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and in a recurring role as the Collector in the Dr. Who series.
Bob Calder talks to Henry Woolf.
Discussions before the reading.

Bob Calder's introduction for Jackie Lay.
Jackie Lay makes a quick announcement.
David Carpenter and Bob Calder listen intently to Jackie.
Trevor Herriot noticing a friend in the audience.
Bob Calder introduced all the writers / readers, including Trevor Herriot, who had been his student at the University.
Trevor Herriot reads from his book, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds, which won both the Non-fiction and Regina Book Awards. Trevor is an expert on Sasatchewanian birds.

Next up was David Carpenter, reading from his novel, Niceman Cometh, which won the Saskatoon Book Award.

Last up was Gerald Hill, who read from his 14 Tractors, which was given the Award for Poetry.

After some final words, we adjorned to some noshies and punch. And did I mention there is a bar?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Larry Weinstein Film Retrospective: Two Days of Larry

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

Director Larry Weinstein, born in Toronto from parents who moved there from Brooklyn, NY, has made 25 films so far (his 26th in post-production), so far all but one music related. His works include, in no particular order, Mozartballs, Beethoven's Hair, Ravel's Brain, and The Music of Kurt Weill: September Songs (which he confided he agreed to do specifically so he could work with Lou Reed).

His latest project, and the only non-music one, is Inside Hana's Suitcase, a touching and gripping documentary mystery about how a suitcase lent by the Auschwitz Museum in Poland to an elementary class in Japan learning about the Holocaust, led to a search of its Czech owner, Hana Brady, eventually leading to a member of her family in Toronto. It's a fascinating mix of document, reenactment, and in the end some very touching moments mixing life and death, narrated mostly by the principals involved, and of the students. It's both a cautionary tale and one of redemption and hope.

At the Broadway Theare in Saskatoon on September 21, 2010, Larry Weinstein and Hana's brother, George Brady, talked to the audience after a showing of the film. In fact, this was the start of a three-day retrospective of Larry's films, and others that his company released, such as Blindness and The Red Violin. After the film, both Larry and George were there to answer questions from an enthusiastic audience. Unfortunately I had my smaller camera with me, so the pictures were, well, unusable.

The next day, October 22, at the University of Saskatchewan, Larry gave a Master Class titled Depicting Music on Film: One Filmmaker's Personal Obsession. It was to last for two hours, and it was Weinstein showing clips from a number of his films. George Brady was there in the audience as well.

As I got there early (being the first), I asked Larry and George for a photo together, and we found ourselves next to a sign for the university. We talked briefly about Brooklyn, his films, and life on the road, as he set up the technological aspects of the class.

When the session started, he was introduced by professor Lesley Biggs, and Larry easily kept the audience interested, even through a fair amount of technical glitches with the DVDs. There were a number of clips from of his films (except Inside Hana's Suitcase, as it was screening the next night for a second showing), each lasting about ten minutes (7 of the 10 he brought were shown). At the end was included a few scenes from his upcoming release, a comical opera about former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, tentatively titled Politics is a Cruel Opera (though it may be changed to the more direct Mulroney: The Opera). The class ended up lasting nearly three hours, and everyone there were riveted throughout.

What's clear and interesting is that even if one is either unfamiliar with the musical content or subject of the film, they are imaginative enough to keep the viewer riveted, as he explores what killed Beethoven, Ravel's inner-cranial surgery, and a woman who believes that Mozart's spirit has literally entered her body.
George Brady and Larry Weinstein before the class began.
Lesley Biggs and Larry Weinstein.
Lesley Biggs introduces Larry Weinstein.
Class is in session.
George Brady and Lesley Biggs attentive in the audience.

Special thanks to Larry Weinstein for some corrections!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

For my mom...

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2010
Photos from the RBF archive; credit given where known
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

October 19 is my mom's 84th birthday, being born in 1926, but she never made it past June 25, 1981. In fact, I'm older now than she had ever been.

This blog is to celebrate Helen Rosen Francos by showing her and her family that she loved so dearly, the Rosens. Some have since fallen out of favor with those that remain; as with any family there are squabbles, but while my mother was alive, she loved them all. The Rosen siblings are, in order of age from eldest to youngest, Miriam, Elsie, Eli and Helen. Elsie is the last remaining sibling. I used to love going to her house, and would spend a couple of weeks there every summer. She made the best noodle kugel in the world, and would cook me up a ton of bacon, as my parents kept their apartment kosher (at my dad's insistence). Elsie has a wild sense of humor that would fit in well in the Borscht Belt.

Caveat: My apologies for anyone left out, as I have not scanned everything I have yet, and there are definite gaps; photos that had been used in recent blogs, such as the Laffer celebration at the beginning of this month, have not been included. There are a lot of names and dates I'm not sure of, and I am certain I will have some wrong information on who is who, so those Rosens out there, please feel free to let me know, and I will make the corrections and update as I get the info. Email me at to let me know, and give me the picture number so I can made the changes; or leave comments on the blog.

1. That's Helen as a young girl, helping to push the swing. The older gentleman is Helen's uncle, Lewis Rosen , who was married to Celia, and the child is Arthur Rosen. This is probably in the early 1930s.

2. The big party: That is my great grandfather, Koppel with the beard on the far right. The rest of this branch of the family are Arthur (with his back turned), Celia Rosen, baby Seymour, and Louis Rosen (my grandmother's brother). This was taken at Bensonhurst Park, near Cropsy Ave and Bay Parkway, in Brooklyn.

3. Left to right: Great Aunt Celia Rosen, Great Grandpa Koppel (seated), sons Seymour (on lap) and Arthur (standing), and Aunt Celia's husband Louis Rosen. Celia and her husband lived along 2oth Avenue in Brooklyn by the subway el, just a few blocks away from us, and we'd often have Passover at their house. In fact, the first time I was ever drunk was at a Seder in their apartment after I had downed a glass of Concord Grape wine, thinking it grape juice. I was 5 years old.

4. During WWII, teenage Helen (far left) and her friends at Coney Island beach. The one next to her was "Chickee" Dolce, who lived on Bay 22th Street (where the Rosens also lived for a brief time before moving to 8109 20 Ave.). She died quite young, and my mom and her mother, Rose, remained close over the years. The names of the other two friends are unknown.

5-6. My mother's eldest sister, Miriam, who died in 1951. She is sitting in front of the apartment my family lived in from 1938 until 2009. Because my grandfather was a furrier, all the Rosen girls had full length fur coats throughout their youth.

7. My uncle Eli in Miami Beach, just after the end of the war.

8. Helen, sitting on the stoop of the Rosen apartment on Bay 22nd St in Bensonhurst, where she became friends two others; all of her friends had nicknames. My mom was "Blondie" and another pal, "Lefty," married the brother of Mel Brooks. Helen's sister, Elsie Rosen, was married to Albert Laffer in that apartment on Dec 5, 1942.
9. Miriam Rosen at age 19. She shares a birthday with her sister Elsie on Oct.27. Elsie is two years younger.

10. Unknown; may not even be a relative?

11. This is the young son of Sara, a neice of Aunt Celia's that was rescued from a concentation camp and she brought to America. We were all at a bungalow colony in South Fallsberg, NY ("the Catskills") when the photo was taken.

12. My great-zayde, Koppel, who a religious man.

13. Eli was a dapper ladies man, and remained so for most of his life. His business was to buy out a bunch of stores that were struggling, consolidate the stock and sell off the now empty shops, and then have a huge sale, and when the merchandise was gone, finally getting rid of the last business. An A-type personality, he overworked himself rather than delegate, and weakened his heart by doing so.

14. Miriam and new husband right after their marriage in 1950. She died 14 months later. He gave Elsie her fur jacket which she sold to buy a bench at her gravesite in New Montifiore Cemetery on Long Island, where Grandma Fannie and Uncle Eli Rosen are buried. Helen and Leo Francos are a few rows back in the same cemetary.
15. Aunt Miriam, once again. The Rosens are an attractive family.
16. Helen in the early 1950s. This was up in the Catskills, at Woodburne, NY. She and Elsie had their own bungalos that year. [pic: probably Leo Francos or Elsie Laffer]

17. The Catskills in the 1950s. [Pic: probably Leo Francos]

18. Helen (standing) looking dressed up for my brother's briss in 1951, with some of her Francos in-laws, including patriarch Benjamin Francos (aka Benjamin Weintraub, aka Benjamin Franczozs), and his wife on the right. He was married a few times, and I'm not sure of the names. The woman to the left is unknown. [Pic: probably Leo Francos]

19. Helen and my older brother, Richard, 1952. [pic: probably Leo Francos]

20. Eli had a close relationship to my brother Richard in the early years. He bought him a full cowboy outfit, as Rich loved westerns. [Pic: probably Leo Francos]

21. I believe this is Eli with me, as I had light hair for a short while.

22. Eli with Elsie's son, Ken, and my brother Rich, in the mid-1950s.

23. Helen and Leo, waiting to go to a party, 1960s.

24: The photo on the left is Helen and Robert in the late 1950s; the one on the right is my Grandma Fannie, holding Robert. The girl to the left is unknown.

25. Helen helping me blow out a birthday candle. I'm guessing this is around 1959. I don't know who is the other youngster.

26. Helen and Richard in the Catskills, early 1950s.

27. Helen and Robert at the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens. Note even then I had a camera handy (as my dad was not fond of taking photos, this quickly fell to me). [Pic: Richard Francos]

28. Helen in Washington, DC in 1965 on a family vacation. Richard, who had recently turned 13, is sitting on the far right, trying to get out of camera range. [Pic: RBF]

29. Visiting her kids in sleepaway camp, Helen shows how happy she is to see little Robert. [Pic: Richard Francos]

30. Helen standin' on the dock of the bay...well, Lake Stahahe, in Harriman State Park in the Catskills, anyway, while visiting us in camp. [Pic: RBF]

31. Helen looking very noir and debonair.

32. Helen was head Den Mother when Richard and Robert joined the Cub Scouts. The other woman is unknown.

33. Before Richard's bar mitzvah in 1964, Aunt Celia, Helen, and great cousin Shirley gather in our Bensonshurst living room before we all head up to Spring Valley, NY.

34. On the lawn of the Weiner house in Spring Valley, is Celia, Helen, Robert in front, Richard, Shirley, and Leo's sister, Lillian Weiner. T'was a sunny day as we squint away.

35. Helen sitting at her bedroom window, talking to Robert who was just home from school. [Pic: Richard Francos]

36. 1970 family vacation to Canada to see Niagara Falls. [Pic: RBF]

37. Richard's junior high graduation, held at Brooklyn College. Helen stands with Rose Dolce, our "Italian Grandmother," who was always called Nany. Rose had worked in the garment industry and spoke fluent Yiddish along with Italian, and in her spare time she sewed the nun's habits for the local St. Finbar's Church. Helen, as you may have noticed, was quite fond of the beehive style of haircut.

38. On vacation in the '70s to the Bahamas with her sister Elsie, Helen wears... well, I don't know what the hell that is, truthfully. [Pic: probably Elsie Laffer]

39. Robert's junior high grad, also held at Brooklyn College, around 1970.

40. One of my favorite pictures of Helen. It captures a moment of honesty. I'm always going to miss her. Happy birthday, mom!

Special thanks for their help in naming names, places, and situations: Elsie Rosen Laffer and Sy Rosen.