Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Read That Right

You miss something the first time around, you go back and catch it later.

Meaning I finally got to see Scorsese's "Mean Streets" not just at the theater, but on 35 mm thanks to VCU Cinematheque.

I arrived in time to get a great seat and spent the time waiting reading an article in the Washington Post (physical copy) entitled, "Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right," while all around me, I saw not a single millennial reading on anything other than a device.

But apparently it's been researched and the resulting evidence compiled in a book proving what anyone over the age of 40 already knew: people who read online skim, are easily distracted (ooh, a Facebook message!) and don't comprehend what they read as well as they do when reading print.

Tell me something I didn't already know.

The theater was especially crowded tonight and I had to think that was because Scorsese's first major film was on the bill. That said, I saw at least 8 or 10 people walk out mid-film.

Naturally, I knew next to nothing about the story, although even I was savvy enough to recognize dozens of things directors have stolen from this movie and used repeatedly over the years. It was even clearer how many of Scorsese's bag of tricks had their seeds in this film about the neighborhood where he grew up.

And of course there were all those fabulous 1973 details: mailboxes that were still red and blue, bars that didn't serve tequila, cops smoking on the street, chefs smoking in the kitchen.

Italian restaurants with pictures of JFK, RFK and the Pope on the walls. Every man wore a watch and carried a handkerchief (handy when they wanted to sit down on a tombstone in a graveyard). Slurs were thrown at blacks, Jews and women with the casual nature of a different time.

As for the cinematography, elements of red ran throughout the entire film, punctuating the bars, restaurants and streets of the city, an echo perhaps of all the blood.

After having seen "Taxi Driver" for the first time a few years ago, I knew to expect an even younger DeNiro and he was, all angles and youthful coiled energy, but I was totally unprepared for how freaking young Harvey Keitel looked. He would have been 34 at the time and his face and abs were as chiseled as a model's. I don't remember that Harvey at all.

Another big surprise was all that '50s and '60s girl group music that underpinned such a gritty story. I suppose I'd been expecting '70s music which wouldn't have offered nearly the contrast that oldies did.

Now that I've seen it, I'd guess that the reason I didn't see it back when it came out was because of a perception that it was violent (which it was) and dominated by men's stories (ditto), but I can finally overlook all that to place it in the context of the time.

Once again, the film professor who usually steers these screenings was absent, meaning no thoughtful discussion afterwards, something I would have enjoyed except I didn't have time for it tonight. I didn't want to have to choose between film dissection and music legend and fortunately, I didn't have to.

I made it to Black Iris a few minutes before the Ar-Kaics got started. When I first saw them nearly two years ago at Steady Sounds, they'd been a young trio who made a lot of noise with three chords. Since, they've become a quartet who make a lot of noise with three chords and short song titles (either about the pleasure of love or the pain), but are noticeably tighter these days.

They sometimes lacked in between-song banter, as in, "This is a little song about getting my way. It's called "Getting My Way."  Or, the more humorous, "This song is called "I Don't Need Your Love" and it was on our first 45 so many years ago. It still holds up well."

"So" is a relative term here.

After their scream-filled rambunctious set, I ran into a friend who was more than happy to dive into discussion of "Mean Streets," a film he'd seen in a film class and been strongly impressed by.

Since I could have run into any number of friends who barely recalled it or hadn't formed such well-considered opinions about its place in the Scorsese canon, I felt fortunate that he was the one there.

And of course he was there. Like me, he knew enough to want to see Chain and the Gang, the latest project of D.C.'s Ian Svenonius, he of Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up.

A while back, I'd seen Ian do a wide-ranging talk at Candela Gallery about his latest book about breaking into the music world, followed by a seance. He'd bemoaned the absence of candles.

Naturally I was curious to hear such a man's music, described by some as "crime rock." Hilarious.

Appropriately, he  was dressed in a shiny suit and skinny tie with female guitarist (who'd come down on Amtrak today) and bassist and a talented drummer anchoring it all. Like any good rock star, he shook his dark curly hair a lot, jumped off the low stage into the crowd to sing and dropped to his knees as appropriate.

And, you gotta love it, they began with the band's theme song.

He instructed us to keep tonight a secret, "Don't text anyone, don't call anyone about what's happening here. It's our little secret."

That said, he sang a sarcastic rant about our freedoms- press, speech - and another crowd-pleaser called "Mum's the Word" that had people singing and dancing along.

Lyrics aside, the basic garage music itself wasn't difficult, with steady drumming and solid bass lines meant to keep everyone grooving in place against each other. Like a whirling dervish, he never stopped moving either, punctuating some songs with howls that had him bent over backward and screeching them to the ceiling.

Favorite song lyric: "The logic of night," a subject about which I might know something.

The banged bassist joined him on certain songs, adding her distinctive voice to lyrics meant to be mindful but also move your behind. There's no complacency when Ian Svenonius is at the helm.

By the end of their set, he looked mighty sweaty under all that hair and encased in a totally synthetic suit, but the band obligingly came back for a one-song encore to finish off the night.

Since I didn't catch any live '50s and '60s garage rock (although some guitar riffs sounded positively Monkees-like), tonight's show had given me a glimpse of what I'd missed.

Unlike the film, no discussion was called for afterwards. Removing our hot bodies to the cold sidewalk was more than enough to wind down.

Friend and I hugged in the middle of Broad Street and when we lived through that, went our separate ways.

That's the logic of the night.

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