Saturday, February 25, 2012
The information age leaped out of our hands into our throats. The Rumpled Critic is now on video in a series for Access Television
"Midnight Movie Madness".
Now you can view videos and full length features on Access Humboldt 12 or online at http://accesshumboldt.net/site/
Here is a sample of the program from my own You Tube Channel DAYVEE TV
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Apollo 18 – Ground Control to Major Blah!
The premise of this movie is a double entendre, a conspiracy theory for anti-conspiracy theorists concerning a conspiracy theory. It’s all too convoluted to explain, so let me set the scene. Old footage from NASA's abandoned Apollo 18 mission is found where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon. There are under budgeted movie producers living there ready to suck our money and brain matter to substitute a real plot with believability and great camera work. But seriously, folks, this film does very little for justifying support for the Arts. With a shoe string cast of three; Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins , it uses a documentary format to attempt credibility. The character development was predictable and a cliche, focusing mainly on the one Astronauts and his family. Ground Control to Major Blah! He has a cassette player in space playing a song written by the band Yes more than three years later than when the mission supposedly occurred. The other characters are even more two dimensional, your typical play by the rule guy and your run of the mill rebel without a pause.
Was there ever really an Apollo 18? When the Apollo program began, there were plans for an Apollo 18, Apollo 19, and Apollo 20 mission to land on the moon. These were canceled in 1970, and the hardware built for those missions was scrapped, re-purposed or donated to museums. I know this for a fact as my father worked on Apollo 17 and was hired by Lockheed shortly after the closing of the space program. I was able to tour the NASA facility at Moffett Field where I saw an assembly of rocket boosters and landing gear, presumably for unmanned missions. The period of History, however, was of great interest. Did Russia really have a lunar lander? Yes, it was called the Lunniy Korabl (LK, for short), developed in the late 1960s and tested on three occasions from 1970 to 1971. Due to the failure of several N1 rocket launches, the LK was never used for a proper lunar mission. Interestingly enough, the LK was initially designed to be piloted solo, but it could accommodate a crew of two cosmonauts. Fact: When moving around on the moon, the astronauts do not appear to be affected by the lighter gravity. They walk normally, even shuffling their feet at times. Fact: While on the "dark side of the moon" it is stated that side never sees sunlight when in fact it does. The far side of the moon is covered by the sun about once a month.
Director Gonzalo López-Gallego takes a multitude of shaky, poor lit and often too conveniently located camera shots “journalizing” the space expedition. The film begins with a typed preface stating the films were taken in Super 8, however, the video camera was invented by then, and I noticed that many of the shots were a combination of old video, super 8 and 35 mm. I recall monolithic VCR s existing in the Office of Education in 1970 where my mother worked as an educator.
Writers Brian Miller (screenplay), and Cory Goodman take this Ron Howard like plot, mixed it in with just about every Suspense Thriller you have ever seen, and capped it off with a distinctive vague ending that has become so popular lately. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the mere possibility of the tapes/films would survive in space, let alone be returned into re-entry without crisping to a chard. There is also some plot errors (which I won’t divulge) left me scratching my dome at the end.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Rise of the CGI Apes
By David Giarrizzo
Since the epic 1968 film “Planet of the Apes” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and adapted by Micheal Wilson and Rod Serling from Piere Boulle’s novel (about an astronaut crew who crash land on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved) , most of the sequels have been a progression of violations of plot continuity and time continuum laws.
“Escape from the Planet of the Apes”(1971) and “Conquest for the Planet of the Apes”(1972) worked on the premise that Mankind has obliterated itself with a Nuclear War, save a handful of mutants living underground. Where the Apes went while all this nuclear warfare is destroying life on Earth, one might ask. Another point would be “Why do the apes look like normal primates, and then suddenly in Conquest the apes are on hind legs walking around like Homo sapiens. “ All I know is prosthetic latex making up is a pain to apply and remove. “Battle for the Planet of the Apes’(1973) was the last of the sequels, followed shortly by a shoe string budget TV series ”Planet of the Apes” (1974)and an animated series “Return to the Planet of the Apes”( 1975). By then, all plot development had been exhausted, the marketing value was past its prime, and Slasher films were becoming the rage.
Tim Burton decided In 2001 to reanimate the corpse of Boulle, taking us into theTwilight Zone with a remake of “the Planet of the Apes” The script was noticeably different from the original, attempting to make the film a Tim Burton acquisition! Using extreme artistic license, he cast Mark Wahlberg , Helen Bonam Carter and Tim Roth in a film that can only be described as overtly Shakespearean filled with acrobatics and enough plot holes to fill the Albert Hall. Spoiler alert! Just like the original ending, the sole astronaut escapes back to slingshot his spacecraft back to the future, except this time he is greeted by a an alternate Earth with apes driving planes, trains, and automobiles in a fully technology aware world. The acting was a bit over the top, but it was worth it just to see Charlton Heston saying his famous line “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” this time as an ape.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, also an original story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and, ultimately the beginning of the downfall of humanity. Directed by Rupert Wyatt (the co-founder of Picture Farm) . screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Phillips ( Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Relic), this story portrays a deep psychological character based story with heartwrenching moments generated, ironically enough, largely done by the apes who were all CGIs. A monumental film in itself as this was the first feature length film with its lead character played by a realistic CGI. The animators were numerous, and their work shows. The apes, Caesar especially, had such convincing mannerisms and expressions that the interactions with human actors seemed natural. The human factor is emphasized as this startling intelligent being learns concepts like slavery, anger management, loyalty, and compassion.
With a diverse cast of human and ape characters, this movie moves along smoothly. Best known for his breakthrough starring role on freaks and Geeks, James Franco plays Wil Rodman, a research scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Surprisingly convincing, Franco’s performance has echoes of James Dean with a dash of Dean Jones. Playing off of CGI characters is like shadow boxing. You can’t see your opponent, but you can imagine where he is and where his next move will be. His father, played by seasoned veteran of the screen John Lithgow is a touching portrayal of a person slipping in and out of lucidity, as an Alzheimer patient would. Freida Pinto plays a Veterinarian love interest Carolina Ahranha, a role that seemed secondary and poorly developed.
Nonetheless, she was an adequate female figure for young Caesar to look up to. David Oyelowo (Last King of Scotland) plays a corporate greedy boss who is caught up in the politics of research funding, while the cure for Alzheimer’s is right around the corner. Meanwhile, the comedy relief is supplied by Dr. Rodman’s co-worker, Robert Franklin who is played by TV actor Tyler Labine ( Reaper, Boston Legal, Mad Love)
After attempting to protect one of his human family, Caesar ( amazingly portrayed by Andy Serkis )is incarcerated by Animal Control where Dodge Landon (Tom Felton of Harry Potter) and another sadistic caretaker ( played by Richard Harris son, Jaime) treat the poor creatures like they were felons. Felton’s character sneaks in a line from the 1968 release. As Caesar grasps his arm in defiance, Landon shouts “Get your stinking paws off me, you dirty ape!” This is the moment Caesar speaks his first word, “NO!”
Caesar realizes that the shelter is a death camp for animals, so he manages to procure the solution and genetically modifies himself further and his cell mates to an intelligence level high enough to orchestrate an “Ape Escape” through picturesque San Francisco. I think my favorite shot was the apes riding a cable car to the top of Lombard, purveying the city in defiance. They eventually seek refuge in the Redwood forest just North of San Francisco. There is a small patch of Redwoods remaining nearby SFU, but merely a handful and definitely not a grove. Sadly enough, one must travel through Mendocino Northward to find any substantial growth, and that too is dwindling.
With the final exodus of the apes, a sub plot is introduced explaining the cause for the beginning of the end for humanity. Go see the film if you want to know why, no more spoiler alerts. I’m outta here!
A stranger with amnesia and a strange shackle on his wrist (Daniel Craig aka James Bond) stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution In 1873 in the Arizona territory. Before he can get there, he has to contend with all the venomous creatures on bellies and on horseback. The Claiborne clan try to get the drop on him, eldest Wes (played by veteran actor Buck Taylor of Gunsmoke) and sons who give him a great old fashioned shoot out, disastrous, of course for the boys and Dad. The stranger wanders into a young bully terrorizing the locals, to whom he teaches manners. Unfortunately, this youth is the local rich kid, lone heir to the Dolarhyde ranch, the local cattle land owners who also own the town. The cocky youth shoots a deputy and is locked up, much to Big Daddy Dolarhyde’s dismay.
Eventually, someone (cause Absolution is such a Mecca!) recognizes him as Jake Lonergan ,a rustler strong-arm , which lands him in Meacham’s(Clancy Brown of Highlander, Shawshank Redemption) jail cell where he tries to remove the strange shackle, where he is stuck in a cell next to the young Turk. . By all normal appearances this would be your typical Gold Boom Town, but this stranger soon finds out they have a secret that has eluded even the town Cattle Baron , Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) . Then, all hell breaks loose.
The town’s people hear a roar and look skyward to see lights like from “First Encounters of the Third Kind” appear deploying smaller jet like crafts. To the horror of the town’s people, the stealth bullet shaped crafts swoop the town, roping humans like cattle, dragging them up to the mouth of the Mother Ship. The stranger’s shackle begins glowing and he makes his escape from the jail house while all this pandemonium ensues.
Faced with numerous loved ones ( including the Sherriff) snatched into the air by these alien rustlers, Lonergan and Dolarhyde must join forces with the assistance of the local Doctor, an Indian Stepson of Dolarhyde, and a Gunslinging mysterious girl next door,
Like all Westerns, there is a formula which involves an anti-hero, a formidable foe alliance, a weak character, a love interest, and a mutual enemy to defeat. In this case, the enemy was virtually unseen. Visuals of the creature were as fleeting as the monsters from “ALIEN” with a “Predator” look, shown only in flashback scenes and shabbily drawn running CGI images. If the director’s (Jon Favreau of Iron Man )intention was to create more of a suspense with the lack of the creature on screen, it was poorly overdone. The alien’s absence only made the under budgeted visuals more evident. The character development seemed to dominate the story, even though the protagonist seems to be a bit unsympathetic to us, we still find ourselves routing for us stupid humans. It did have elements of Indiana Jones, especially the constant hat retrieval of Lonergan and the gratuitous explosions and gunfire.
Cast for his resemblance to Steve McQueen “The Magnificent Seven”, Craig has the cool calm which gives him a nice contrast to Harrison Ford’s gruff John Wayne impression. With the assistance of Speilber
g, we see Ford and a former James Bond on screen together again (Ford as Indianna Jones and Connery as his Dad) creating a complex combination that works well.
Produced by sixteen names, including Steven Speilberg, Ron Howard and the writer Robert Orci, this strange blend of Western Drama and Science Fiction( from a comic book) seems to be a new genre that hasn’t had its day yet. I was impressed by the acting, the lighting, and the camera work. The wholesomeness would appeal to a family, but I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 13 years of age. The on ship scenes of experiments and the drooling alien fangs gave me a bad dream or two. The concept is great and the cast was incredible, however, too many cowboys and not enough aliens make for a poor box office seller.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Inglourious Basterds : Cinema for the Movies
By David Giarrizzo
Imagine yourself in Nazi-occupied France circa 1942; Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) has pulled together a team of Jewish soldiers to systematically annihilate as many German troops as possible, interrogating first, scalping them afterwards. “I got a word of warning for all you would-be warriors. When you join my command, you take on debit. A debit you owe me personally. Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps. And all y'all will git me one hundred Nazi scalps, taken from the heads of one hundred dead Nazis. Or you will die tryin'. Working through the country killing Nazis and collecting intelligence, the “Basterds” find their way to spy Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), who tips them off to a Third Reich film premiere to be held at a remote Paris Theater, the Le Gamarr owned by Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman who witnessed the massacre of her family by “The Jew Hunter,” Nazi officer Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and is living incognito under a non-Jewish name. When word of the premiere reaches Raine, and the VIP list of Nazi officials including; Hitler (Martin Wuttke) himself, officer Col. Hans Landa, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl;, Joyeux Nouell), a German soldier and war hero who’s stars in the featured propaganda film and its director Joseph Goebbels himself (Sylvester Groth: The Reader), the plan is set into motion to access and blow up the theater.
Inspired by the 1978 Enzo Castellari film, “Inglorious Bastards,” the crudely re-titled “Inglorious Basterds” offers Tarantino a new film genre to taint with the Tarantino black humor. One can sense the vein-popping determination from the filmmaker to make sure every single frame of this film remains to his liking; it’s a picture of intricate cinematic details and cold, chilling responses. Tarantino uses men-on-a-mission plotting to spin off into wildly different directions, some richly theatrical, while others remain potently visual, gleefully imagined by a resourceful filmmaker who loves the electric charge of subversion.
Turning his twisted spin on Film Noir, “Basterds” falls in line with the rest of Tarantino’s un-orthodox cinema, returning stunning discourse, solid plot development, effective and unconventional soundtrack, and methodical performances to the screen. Perhaps not as tumultuous as the advertising suggests, “Basterds” goes elsewhere to find inspiration, finding the art of intimidation and espionage even more thrilling than straightaway slaughter. It’s a patient, layered, cinema graphic creation. Once again Tarantino has come to push the envelope of cinema, and the results are characteristically spectacular.
Basterds is so superior to much of Tarantino’s previous work because he’s not just being a smug geeky basterd himself here: all the corny movie jokes he deploys -- from the 1970s-era Universal logo that opens the film and the old-fashioned “guest starring” credits to the film-within-the-film to that final parting shot -- aren’t just nerd enhancing cinema. Unlikely many of his other films, this isn’t about feeding the inner geek: it’s about why and how movies can inspire such devotion in the first place. If many of Tarantino’s other films have been incestuous preaching to the masses where he and his fans get off on one another and how clever they all are, this film was made more as homage to the Movies themselves. A+
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
by David Giarrizzo
Running Time: 119 min.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Justin Haythe, Richard Yates
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet,
Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn,
David Harbour, Kathy Bates, Ty Simpkins,
Zoe Kazan, David Harbour, Ryan Simpkins
All the actors astonish also. DiCaprio is in his zone, peeling away layers of immersed emotion to a crestfallen man. And the splendiferous Winslet defines what makes a great actress, scintillating commitment to a character and the magnitude to make every nuance felt. Winslet's last scene, as April prepares breakfast for a husband who can't see the torment behind her smile, is emotionally devastating. This movie takes a piece out of you and spits it out. Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, as her husband, Frank, could not be better in the roles of young marrieds who (shades of Mad Men) move from Manhattan to the suburbs, promising themselves it's all just temporary. To hear Kate Winslet, as April Wheeler, express her desire "to be wonderful in the world" is to be reminded of how individualism is like living free, at best a concept. She wants so desperately to be special, as if to feel unimportant if established in society. Hand over an award for Michael Shannon as John Givings, the institutionalized son of a gossipy realtor (the awe-inspiring Kathy Bates). Home on a visit, John splits no hairs with the truth " You say existence here is hopelessly pointless. I'm impressed. Most people get the emptiness, but few understand the hopeless part." Playing the role like a heat-seeking missile that targets hypocrisy, the eruptive Shannon blows the roof off the theater. Add two kids, thwarted ambitions, adultery — Frank with a secretary (a vivid Zoe Kazan) and April with a married neighbor (the excellent David Harbour) — plus April's unwanted third pregnancy.
Trying their best to conform to mid-1950’s standards of social grace and marital comfort, Frank and April Wheeler are coming apart at the seams. With years of growing unrest at home sending April into depression and Frank to infidelity, the couple decides to shake up their life by moving to Paris, to start over with renewed vows of devotion. April hatches a very feasible plan in which the couple could be happy once again and quickly Frank jumps on-board. But as is the case with any dream that goes against the grain of what society expects, the longer the couple waits to hatch their plan, the more it falls apart. Think about that great movie or screenplay idea you had and how excited you were by the prospect. Then think about how day by day, hour by hour “real life” or friends calling you crazy got in the way and quashed out your spark. If you know what I’m talking about, you’ll understand all too well what’s happening as the wheels fall of for the aptly named Wheelers. Spreading the news to friends (David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn) and acquaintances (Kathy Bates), the couple perceives the hesitation of congratulations, amplified when Frank receives a promotion at work and April discovers she’s pregnant. With the window of opportunity closing on their European dream, Frank and April turn on each other, powerless to confront and amend their dissatisfaction and fear.
The true test of “Road” is the range of melodrama that exists within. Adapted from the beloved novel by Richard Yates and knowing Mendes’s predilection for polished hysteria, it makes perfect sense for the film to dwell on the bubbling pot of emotive poison spattering Frank and April, with an eye toward grandstanding professions of marital bile. However, “Road” never goes to a shrill place of obviousness, nor doesn’t it attempt to spell out the misery with wild performances and on-the-nose screenwriting. Instead the film is a gorgeously mounted voyage of discomfort, observing the widening dividing line between two people who’ve lost interest in open communication, forced to preserve a decomposing lifestyle and status in the name of matrimony.
The cruelty which pulls Frank and Alice apart is where “Road” hits the hardest. Playing with steadfast gender roles and suburban complacency, “Road” elects the slow burn route, generously exhibiting the erosion of spirit within the two lead characters. Frank and April were brought together by cocktail-hour flirtation and broken promises and now, left to deal with the mess of life, they’ve declared war, using April’s pregnancy and Frank’s possible new position at a company he loathes as ammo to unleash horrible diatribes against each other. “Road” is teeming with blistering argumentative situations, but Mendes doesn’t allow the unhappiness to blur into white noise. Instead “Road” grips tighter with every row, deepening the characterization as Frank and April confront their boundaries for the first time, coming to the realization that kids, a house in a WASPy neighborhood, and predetermined domestic roles have transformed them into rats trapped inside a cage.
As “Road” tightens with anguish, lies, and acts of emotional revenge, Mendes positions the film beautifully to best consume the painful road ahead for Frank and April. With a cast this tight, production credits that evoke a 50’s mood with both obvious and subtle characteristics (think cigarettes and internalization aplenty with copius martinis), and a directorial job that can manage the displeasure of marital disagreement and loathing without submerging the intended pitch of sorrow, “Revolutionary Road” reaches a summit of dramatic gratification and pure emotional mutilation that’s absolutely riveting.
Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpra9OEw6nQ
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Christmas in Frisco, the crowds fill the street, the guy on the corner plays a bass and his brother has a three piece trap to keep the beat. Macy's is packed, the sidewalk is cracked, and there is no shortage of places to eat. Ally, Hawkeye and I step out of the Drake and heed the call of the night. "Taxi!"
Opened in 1988 by legendary R&B artist Boz Scaggs, Slim's (http://www.slims-sf.com/) is a live music nightclub with food & drinks, and a variety of American Roots Music--Blues, R&B, Cajun/Zydeco, Jazz, and Alternative. The club is located in the South of Market district of San Francisco, a hub of nightlife in the city. The premises consist mainly of an open floor on a main level. At one end of the floor is a performance stage. At the other end we have a small balcony with table seating for 70. Often packed beyond what I would think is the capacity, there are very few places upstairs to sit, let alone a safe place to stand on the floor below. Besides, you have to buy food or two drink minimum to park it up there. As we entered the quickly filling room, I spied a large sign" No Moshing, No Stage Diving, and No Slam Dancing!" Ha! They'd be lucky to pogo at this gig. We stayed down on the floor.
The opening act was the Twisted Hearts, an edgy Pop band sporting black fedoras and up-beat attitude. Between their sweet Anglophile melodies, they occasionally hawked their CD which sat off to the left of the mountain of X paraphernalia. We enjoyed drifting through the crowd, dancing to the back beat rhythm and rock. There was a brief intermission, so we decided to slip out and sit on a flower box outside the club, lighting up a smoke to enhance the Punk experience. Soon after, the mob filled the club. The only safe place to stand was by the entrance, so we hung back where we could at least see a glimpse of the band. Then, the lights went down and the thunderous beat of D.J. Bonebreaker filled the air. A dim blue spotlight pulls up on the drums as a shadowy figure struts up to downstage right, electricity buzzes through the air. A staccato of twang guitar drives the drums faster as a red spotlight comes up on the striking figure of Billy Zoom. Another shadowy figure runs up to the opposite side of the stage, pow! John Doe is at the mike flailing on his bass. Last but not least, a small figure of a shapely woman skips onto the stage in a flower print dress from an Andrew Wyeth painting, steps up to the center stage. The crowd is jumping up and down, people are spilling drinks over each other to get a better look at Exene . John purrs into the mic, "Sheeee, had to leave.." The crowd sings along with Exene calling back, "Los- an- gell -ees!" You could tell there were hard core fans out there. People in black, people with gray, young punks, old punks, feel alright on a cold San Francisco night.
X was founded by bassist/singer John Doe and guitarist Billy Zoom. Doe brought his poetry-writing girlfriend Exene Cervenka to band practices, and she eventually joined the band as a vocalist. Drummer DJ Bonebrake was the last of the original members to join.
X's first record deal was with independent label Dangerhouse, for which the band produced two singles, "Adult Books" (1978) and "Los Angeles" ("We're Desperate" was the b-side to "Adult Books"). The Dangerhouse session version of "Los Angeles" was also featured in a Dangerhouse compilation in 1979 called "Yes L.A." (a play on the now-famous No Wave compilation No New York), a picture disc that featured other early-punk-era LA bands like the Weirdos and Black Randy. As the band became the flag bearer for the local scene, a larger independent label, Slash Records, signed the band to issue its first LP.
The result was their first LP release, Los Angeles (1980) (produced by The Doors' keyboard player, Ray Manzarek). It was a minor hit and was well received by the underground press and mainstream media]especially the remake of the Doors "Soul Kitchen". Much of X's early material had a rockabilly edge, mainly due to the twang-king Billy Zoom on guitar. Doe and Cervenka co-wrote most of the group's songs, and their slightly off-kilter harmony vocals remain perhaps the group's most distinctive element.
Their follow-up effort, 1981's Wild Gift, broadened the band's profile when it was named "Record of the Year" by Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the Village Voice. Wild Gift, like their debut album, was released on Slash records, and was similar in musicial style, although Wild Gift featured shorter, faster songs; arguably their most stereotypically punk-sounding record.
X then signed to Elektra in 1982 to release Under the Big Black Sun, which marked a slight departure from their trademark sound. While still fast and loud, the album's country leanings were evolving and its raw punk sound was channeling raw guitar power chords. The album was heavily influenced by the premature death of Exene Cervenka's elder sister Mirielle (Mary) in an automobile accident in 1980 ( while living up here in Humboldt County). Three songs on the album, "Riding With Mary", "Come Back To Me", and the title track all directly relate to the tragedy. A fourth, a high-speed version of Leadbelly's "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes", was indirectly attributed to Exene Cervenka's mournful state of mind years later. The stark black & white cover art and title were also a reflection of the somber mood of the band during this time. Nonetheless, this album remains Exene's favorite X album.
The majority of the Slims show was material off these albums, excluding the jolly versions off Chuck Berry's Run Run Rudolph and the classic Santa Clause is Coming To Town and the Doors Crystal Ship with their own flavor, naturally.
1983 saw the release of the More Fun in the New World album. X slightly redefined their sound with this release, making it somewhat more polished, eclectic and radio-ready than in previous albums. With the sound moving away from punk rock, the band's rockabilly influence became even more noticeable, along with some new elements like funk on the track "True Love pt. II" and Woody Guthrie-influenced folk protest songs like "The New World" and "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts." The record received critical praise from Rolling Stone and Playboy, who had long been stalwart supporters and fans of X and their sound.
A side project of some of the band members was Poor Little Critter In The Road in 1985, underthe name The Knitters: X minus Zoom, plus Dave Alvin (of The Blasters) on guitar and Johnny Ray Bartel (of The Red Devils) on double bass. The Knitters were devoted to folk and country music; their take of Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" "may be the definitive version."
Despite the overwhelmingly positive critical reception for their first 4 albums, the band was frustrated by its lack of wider mainstream success. Billy Zoom had also stated that he would leave the band unless its next album was not more successful. The band decided to change producers in search of a more accessible sound. Their 5th record, Ain't Love Grand, was produced by pop-metal producer Michael Wagener. It featured a drastic change in sound, especially in the polished and layered production, while the band's punk roots were little in evidence, replaced by a countrified version of hard rock. The change in production was hoped to bring the band more chart success, but although it got somewhat more mainstream radio play than their earlier releases, it did not represent a commercial breakthrough. Zoom left the group shortly thereafter in 1986, the same year in which the feature-length documentary film, X The Unheard Music was released.
Zoom was initially replaced by Alvin on guitar. The band then added a 5th member, guitarist Tony Gilkyson, formerly of the band Lone Justice. By the time the band released its 6th album, See How We Are, Alvin had already left the band, although he plays on the record along with Gilkyson. Like Ain't Love Grand, the album's sound was fairly far removed from the band's punk origins, yet featured a punchy, energetic, hard-rocking roots rock sound that in many ways represented a more natural progression from their earlier sound than the previous record had. After touring for the album, X released a live record of the tour entitled Live at the Whisky a Go-Go, and then went on an extended hiatus. Much to my delight, Billy returned to the band to play his signature rockabilly leads and occaisionally make robotic facial gestures to the adoring fans.
I was pleased that the original line-up playing with such fervor. You could tell that this was all second nature to them, but they were re-discovering their own material. A stripped down raw sound that moved me to the pit of my stomach, X was back with a vengeance. I remember seeing them in 1982 at a small club called Mojos in Arcata, CA, and they had much of the same energy now as they did then. My friend and guitarist caught John Does pick the first show there. When they returned a year later, Stevo, being the kind guy, returned John his pick and ended up having a smoke with him "Nice guy!" Well, tonight was no exeption to their kindness, and wow, the driving force with zero dead air. These guys are my peers and they still put out the buzz! Exene gave great banter with John and the audience, "Smells like weed out there", big grin. She used her shy charm to sweeten up the flavor and keep the vibes cool. I must admit, for a punk show, the crowd was very well behaved. The worst part of the show was trying to see around unusually tall people. It might be my imagination, but I am certain that the audience members have gotten taller. I saw a guy in there that stood at least 7 feet. "Wow!", I thought to myself, "Wheres my Jumbo-tron? " The people kept coming through the door till the doorway was packed with standing hopefuls. It had been a long time since I have been to a punk show, so I hung in there as long as my legs could stand. There comes a point when you gotta call it a night. The cab ride home was a relief; food, smoke, shower, love, and to all a good night!