Should’ve Put More Cayenne Pepper Into The Sugar Bowl: Leon Russell and Elton John Make A Record

October 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

If the background story of how a record got made counted toward its musical quality, then “The Union” would be a masterpiece. As it stands, it’s a moving reintroduction to one of America’s great lost singer-songwriters, and one that, with hope, will spur Leon Russell to go and make some more of his personal and idiosyncratic works all on his own.

You have to admire the passion that Elton John put into the project. After apparently hearing a song of Russell’s while on safari more than a year ago, John got in touch with Leon Russell himself, and with his producer, T. Bone Burnett, and in less than a year a veritable army of singers, musicians and Annie Leibovitz’s staff converged in L.A. to produce “The Union.”

It’s a meticulously made record, to be sure. Elton sounds as robust as ever, just as Russell’s reedy voice is cracked and unsteady. That doesn’t bother me. I like the late recordings of Frank Sinatra as much as any he ever made, those mediocre duets with a voice made haunting by too much heartbreak and booze and too many cigarettes. Russell’s voice on “When Love Is Dying” is as unvarnished as anything you’ll hear in a modern recording — it has a little Willie Nelson twang to it, in fact — but that makes it beautifully human in an era or airbrushed voices and digitized high notes.

But “When Love Is Dying”, as with all the songs on the record, is overproduced. It’s got a big group of background singers, and what should have been a delicate little tune comes totteringly close to a kind of Broadway showstopper. Russell tries to bring it back to earth, but he gets drowned out. (The background singing arrangement on this song was done by none other than Brian Wilson.) I know that Elton wanted to get Leon back onto a big canvas, but he and Burnett should have listened to what Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash on his last recordings. Jesus, those are beautiful, and it could have been like that here.

The song that comes closest to this (but is still overbaked) is “Gone To Shiloh”, with verses sung by Leon, Elton and a very welcome Neil Young. Wait for the unplugged version of this to come out.

The other thing that is disconcerting is that there are a couple of good old fashioned Elton songs here. They are fine in and of themselves but shouldn’t have a role on a Leon Russell record. “Monkey Suit” (lyrics by Bernie Taupin, who contributes to more than half the songs) is a middling rocker that would not have been out of place on “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player” from 1972. What’s it doing here?

Also with “Never To Old (To Hold Somebody).” It’s the kind of big ballad that rejuvenated John’s career in the early 1980s. Russell sings on this tune, but he has to compete with more gospel background singers and Elton’s flowery piano.

The record closes out with a Russell composition, “In The Hands Of Angels.” This is a bit of autobiography. It’s a song of musical resurrection. Leon Russell, a couple of generations removed from “Tight Rope” and “A Song For You”, sounds plaintive, wounded and grateful. But then those goddamn gospel singers billow up again from the background.

Elton & Co. should have let all that go and allowed the grand old white haired man shine through. Next time.


‘Tuesday Morning’ Screens This Week At The New Hampshire Film Festival

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Our short film, “Tuesday Morning,” screens this week during the New Hampshire Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday. If you can duck out of work early on Thursday, check it out at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, at 1:30 p.m. The picture can been seen again on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth.

We also wanted to extend our congratulations to Whitney Smith, who is nominated for best performance for her role in “Tuesday Morning.”

We were blessed with a remarkable project from start to finish, beginning with a haunting but touching screenplay by Lars Trodson, beautiful performances by Whitney and Teddi Kenick-Bailey, photography by Jonathon Millman, and the considerable talents of Stan Barker, Jason Santo, Christine Long, Mark Dearborn, Casey Mitchell, Alex Knuuttunen, Andrew Bohenko. The picture was directed by Mike Gillis.

Old School: David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’

October 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

The first thing we see the Internet used for in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” is an act of petty vengeance. The Internet is shown as a tool of remarkable efficiency, anonymity, and rapid-fire nastiness. These are notions that the rest of the film does not try to dispel. In fact, all we see about the Internet in “The Social Network” is a mechanism that destroys friendships, releases jealousy, initiates lawsuits and causes general unhappiness.

In this movie, trouble tends to erupt when people communicate by email, or through lawyers, or when they don’t attempt to communicate at all. In “The Social Network”, Facebook turns out to be the biggest troublemaker of them all.

Human contact, as elliptical as it sometimes can be, especially as it revolves around the lead character, Mark Zuckerberg, is always much more satisfying. It may not end well for one or more of the people involved in the conversation, but motives are at their clearest when people actually speak to each other. The fact that the dialogue is so clever has almost disguised the fact that the words said in this film are used to try to convey a feeling. There is a desperate attempt to communicate in this film. It doesn’t always work, but it’s there.

That may be why, by and large, computers, in relative terms, have a minor presence in this film. We see them ubiquitously in the early section of the film as Zuckerberg’s Face Smash program goes viral (this is the little thing where students were able to rate the appeal of various female students). But then laptops, as a tool, by and large disappear from the movie.

If this is a movie about human communication, Fincher and screenwriter may be picked the wrong time in history to explore such a theme. Language as a tool for clarity and meaning is at an all-time low. We may live in an age where language is used more to obfuscate that to illuminate. So if you make a movie where language, both body and verbal, is used to try to convey something, the audience may not be with you. So far this is borne out. “The Social Network” is one of the most subtlety communicative movies you’re ever going to see and so far it hasn’t done as well as people had hoped at the box office. This is depressing.

So, what, really is “The Social Network” all about? I don’t think “the social network” referred to in the title is Facebook at all. I think the social network is people and it’s about all the messy ways we can try to communicate.
So go see the movie. And then talk about it, over coffee or a drink, face to face.

‘Tuesday Morning’ In Showcase Magazine

October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Our short film, “Tuesday Morning,” which will screen at the New Hampshire Film Festival next week, is discussed in this week’s Showcase Magazine.

Read the story here:

Limited Edition Book On Movie Poster Designer Bill Gold Available Monday

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A Retrospective Of One Of Hollywood’s Most Remarkable Careers

Bill Gold may have never directed a movie or starred in a film, but he has arguably helped create more Hollywood memories than anyone in the history of that town. He designed movie posters.

A beautifully crafted new book published by Reel Art Press is now celebrating this remarkable career. “Bill Gold: Posterworks” will be available for pre-order at beginning Monday, Oct. 11. The foreward is by Clint Eastwood.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Bill Gold has had a hand in more than 2,000 movie posters – many of them for the greatest films ever made. His collaborations include films made by Kazan, Hitchcock, Truffaut and Clint Eastwood. Gold has collaborated with Eastwood for almost 40 years.

Included in this new collection are posters for “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Dial M For Murder”, “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Bullitt”, “My Fair Lady”, “Unforgiven” and countless more.

The book also includes Bill Gold’s personal collection of unseen designs, alternative versions, sketches, drafts, notes, photographs, diaries. This incredible history has never been accessible to the public until now. An enormous task, the book has been meticulously edited by Reel Art Press founder Tony Nourmand over many hours spent with Bill, researching his staggering career.

The book will be available in 1,500 numbered and signed editions; 1,250 Master Editions that include a signed letter from Bill Gold, and 250 Super Deluxe editions that include a numbered gelatin photographic print, as well as six signed and numbered unused Bill Gold poster designs.

Cities Are So Similar, They Could Be Twins

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Editor’s note: The following article appears in the Oct. 1, 2010, edition of The News, based in Portsmouth, UK. The article quotes Lars Trodson of Roundtable Pictures. Trodson was managing editor of the Portsmouth Herald in New Hampshire for several years, and later wrote a column about Portsmouth, New Hampshire for The News. The article below can also be read here:

By Sarah Foster
The News

Published Date:
01 October 2010

It’s a tale of two cities, divided by the Atlantic Ocean and separated by thousands of miles.
They share the same name, a seaside location and even a proud naval history.

Now the gap between the American city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and our own city could be closed.

Lars Trodson

Tourism bosses over there want to form a twinning partnership with us, creating cultural links and boosting tourism.

‘There’s an appetite to pursue stronger links,’ said Valerie Rochon, tourism manager in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

‘It makes so much sense as we have so much in common.

‘I have asked the city government here what steps need to be taken to initiate the process from our end.

‘I’m sure there will be interest in helping to build some form of special relationship.’

Pompey is already twinned with two European cities – Duisburg, in Germany and Caen, in France – and the arrangement sees councillors and residents taking part in exchange visits each year.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, now hopes to replicate the success of those schemes by forging a similar relationship.

The Portsmouth across the pond has its own naval dockyard and Royal Navy captain John Mason founded the first settlement there.

Captain Mason was buried at Westminster Abbey and there’s a plaque in his memory at the Royal Garrison Church, Old Portsmouth.

Captain Andrew Cole, who runs Portsmouth Harbour Cruises in New Hampshire, believes the two cities have much in common.

‘I get a fair number of people over from the UK’s Portsmouth and they find a lot of similarities – the water, the shipping, the yards and docks, the big naval presence and, above all, an attitude and tradition that looks to the sea,’ he said.

Former News columnist, Lars Trodson, who wrote about life in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said: ‘What our two cities share most distinctly is a generosity of spirit. I think that comes out of our commonality as a port city.’

He added: ‘Twins often know another just like them exists even if, through happen stance, they have never met.

‘When they do meet, as both our cities should take the pains to do, the benefits and joys will be great and lasting and deep.’

Portsmouth City Council currently only has ‘friendship’ status with Portsmouth, New Hampshire – plus ‘sister’ status with the other American Portsmouth, in the state of Virginia.

City councillor for culture Lee Hunt is to raise the matter of twinning at his next portfolio meeting.

He added: ‘We would welcome it. It seems to make sense. We would be very interested and could send our exhibitions over there.’

Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo: 1968’s ‘The Boston Strangler’

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

The list of Academy Award nominees for Best Actor in 1968 included Cliff Robertson (“Charly”); Alan Arkin (“The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”); Alan Bates (“The Fixer”); Ron Moody (“Oliver”) and Peter O’Toole (“The Lion In Winter”).

Not listed here was Tony Curtis, who that year played the real-life Albert DeSalvo, the long-suspected but never convicted man who was tagged as the terrifying Boston Strangler. Curtis gives a spare, haunting performance in this Richard Fleischer film – he’s a void, a cypher, a black hole. He’s a silent, morbid center, and Curtis gives one of the most convincing depictions of a killer ever put on the screen.

Curtis was undoubtedly overlooked by the Oscars because “The Boston Strangler” – the film – was controversial. The New York Times hated it. Variety loved it. It was explicit and grimy. Hollywood was still unsure of where it was headed. Just the year before, “Bonnie and Clyde” received 10 Academy Award nominations, but earned only two. (That film’s director, Arthur Penn, also died this week.) Curtis was a real glamour boy, conventionally handsome in that 1950s way, and so maybe Hollywood thought that if it didn’t reward him he would go back to his silly personas of “Some Like It Hot” and “The Great Race.”

He had already proved his acting chops in “The Defiant Ones” (Best Actor nomination) and the gorgeous “Sweet Smell of Sucess.” In the latter film, which is not an indictment on Hollywood, as some have written, but rather a look the rotten core of some human beings, Curtis played Sidney Falco, a cheap press agent, and he should have been nominated for that film, too.

Curtis also had another memorable part in 1968. He played the role of Donald Baumgart, an actor going blind, in Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” Curtis never appears on screen, but if you listen to Curtis over the phone (he speaks to John Cassavetes) you can hear the voice of a man whose heart is breaking because he just lost his chance.