PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE AND THE MAKING OF A TRUE ORIGINAL by Rosie Knight
Brian De Palma’s misunderstood cult musical, Phantom of the Paradise, has long been relegated to the rep cinemas and high school film clubs of the world. But at this year’s Fantasia Fest the Phantom was center stage at a 45 year celebration of the marvelous movie that counts directors Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright amongst its ever-growing fanbase. During the Montreal-based festival, we sat down with the composer and star of Phantom, Paul Williams, and chatted on the phone with producer Ed Pressman as well as the makers of a new documentary about the Phantom fandom. Together, we revisited the history of how the strange, surreal, and unique film came to be and how its legacy has transcended the original lackluster response almost five decades later.
Phantom of the Paradise is unlike any other film. Sprawling and strange, the epic musical masterpiece is uncannily prescient, predicting the nostalgia craze, glam rock, and multiple other musical trends. The project came about after Phantom of the Opera became one of two options that Pressman and De Palma picked up after the lauded director became disillusioned with big studio movies. “I first met Brian De Palma in New York. He’d done a film called Greetings, a low budget independent film with some political undertones, and we became friends and he went on to start directing for the studios. He did a film for Warner’s called Get to Know Your Rabbit and he was very unhappy with the experience and called me from Toronto, I think. There was a producer taking options on Phantom and Sisters, and Brian said, ‘Get me out of here. You can get the rights so we can make it the way I want to.’ So we did that,” Pressman told us.
Though the producer preferred the strange vision De Palma had for the unexpected mashup of classic literary tales Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and Dorian Gray, the pair settled on adapting Sisters first, with a cast made up of De Palma’s housemates. “We had a decision to make about which film we wanted to do first. From the beginning, Phantomwas the most exciting out of the two projects in my mind but Sisters was more practical. At the time, Brian was living in a house in Malibu that was owned by Waldo Salt who wrote Midnight Cowboy. He’d left it to his daughter Jennifer and she invited Brian and Margot Kidder and Paul Schrader, a whole bunch of people. So the easiest thing was to keep it close to this group. So Margot Kidder would play one role and Jennifer the other lead, and it was a simpler form to make. It turned out that Sisters did really well, especially in the drive-ins.”
After the success of their first collaboration, Pressman and De Palma began their passion project, Phantom of the Filmore. The reimagining centers on a young singer-songwriter, Winslow Leach, who’s overheard by a maniacal music producer known as Swan who steals the young man’s music. De Palma brought in composer Paul Williams to write the many songs in the film. “I was a staff writer at A&M Records, writing for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and a lot of great but kind of middle of the road music, you know, certainly not the Music of the Spheres,” Williams explained. “They opened a film department to try and get more of the music coming out of A&M Records into movies, and a guy there knew that Brian was doing Phantom of the Paradise, which at the time was called Phantom of the Filmore. I don’t know why Brian responded to my music because it was so different. I was known for writing what I call co-dependent anthems but for some reason, he really responded. So I came to it first as a composer and lyricist.”
That might surprise fans of the film who know Williams best as the evil, Faustian producer who steals Winslow’s songs and later tries to trap him into becoming the voice and mind behind his new music venue, the titular Paradise. “The first song, Brian wanted Sha Na Na to perform and I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got this band I’ve been working with, these guys have been with me for years, they’re my road band. I’d like these guys to be the band.’ I think this may have been the beginning of when he started going, ‘Ah, there’s Swan.’ They eventually became the Juicy Fruits in the film and the bands that they evolve into throughout.”
De Palma originally suggested that Williams play the Phantom and hero of the story himself, Winslow Leech, but the songwriter wasn’t sold on the idea. “I told him, ‘I could not, are you kidding??? I’m too little.’ And he said, ‘But you could be this creepy guy up in the rafters throwing things at people,'” Williams laughed. “For me, the idea of trying to perform with one eye through a mask…Bill Finley did things with that, there was just this essence to the character, something in the reading of Winslow that was so beautifully innocent, so touching. He was an amazing actor and it worked out because I got to play Swan!”
Filming Phantom was off the cuff and collaborative, a process that saw input from those around cast and crew, as Williams recalls. “The first thing we shot was the contract scene. Yeah, my manager actually came up with a line that’s in the contract that I love. The concept for where the line came from is: if God signed a contract to create the universe, what would the contract say? ‘All articles which are excluded shall be deemed included.’ You know, it’s perfect. So that wound up in there.”
Like most low budget films, the making of Phantom of the Paradise was incredibly intense. For the songwriter, there was no time to congratulate himself on his first acting gig. “There wasn’t a lot of time to really celebrate. I remember shooting all day and there was one scene that we had to reshoot the scene when I pull the knife from Winslow’s chest on the roof. We shot all day, and then I went directly from the set to the studio, recorded vocals until almost dawn, and then went right back to the set. They took my makeup off, put new makeup on, and then I shot the scene. I was so tired, I couldn’t understand me. And we were all like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s terrible.’ So we ended up reshooting it in New York.”
For Pressman, Phantom was the kind of film he had always dreamed of making. “It was unique and original, closer to a kind of Cocteau fantasy that I’m drawn too. Sisters was more of a conventional thriller; I mean, Brian turned it into more than that, but on the page, Phantom was just far more expansive. The idea of Paul Williams doing the score was just this far more ambitious and exciting project.” Though the creative team was passionate, they were unsure of how the film would be received once they’d finished making it. “I don’t think we had an idea of the impact it would have. I think we were really happy with the film and we were happy that Fox picked it up when it finished, which was unusual in those days. They were doing less independent films and studios were not in the business of picking up other movies. They paid–today it would sound like peanuts–but I think they paid $2 million for the rights, and that was a big deal then.”
Though the ambitious and audacious film was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Song Score and Adaptation, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score: Motion Picture, it was a financial flop that failed to make money in almost every market except for Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s not totally surprising as the film was ahead of its time in almost every sense. From showcasing an overtly queer character in the form of Paradise star Beef to a story centered on male toxicity and the abusive nature of the record industry the film pushed boundaries and didn’t seem to be playing to any kind of mainstream audience.
The disappointing box office of the film would seed the passionate fandom that elevated Phantom of the Paradise from B-movie flop to every cult filmmaker’s favorite cult film. That’s not just a turn of phrase; two of the film’s biggest advocates have spent years trying to spotlight the underappreciated gem. Edgar Wright has spoken often about his love for the rock opera and even included it in his recent mini film festival at London’s Genesis Cinema. Guillermo del Toro loved the film so much that he bought a 35mm print and donated it to Los Angeles’ very own New Beverly Cinema so he could share his love with other cult cinema fans. He’s also currently collaborating with Paul Williams on the upcomingPan’s Labyrinth musical.
Documentarians Sean Stanley and Malcolm Ingram recently debuted a documentary about the strange phenomenon of the Phantom’s popularity in Winnipeg. Made up of talking-head interviews with the fandom known affectionately as “Peggers,” the doc showcases the love and dedication of the hardcore fans who have kept the film in the spotlight for over four decades. The creative team first discovered the strange success story in an article. “I came across an article written by Doug Carlson, who was one of the original guys who brought Phantom to Winnipeg. He basically went through the experience and he was so affected that he just wanted to write about it. That was like sending a beacon out because one day I found it and was like, ‘Phantom is huge in Winnipeg, what?'” Ingram laughed.
It was a story that would engage both the creators and with a little push from Ingram’s friend Kevin Smith who told him “that’s fucking genius,” the Phantom of Winnipeg was born. It helped that Stanley was already a huge fan of the rock opera. “I discovered Phantom in Toronto. There used to be this channel that showed late, great movies and city TV. And they would show movies on Friday at 11 o’clock. It would be like Black Christmas, stuff like that, and one of the movies they showed was Phantom. And the first time I saw it, it just fucked me up.”
Though Winnipeg was the film’s biggest (and only) box office success on release, the film also became hugely popular in Paris. That slow-burn success has taught Williams a lot, as well as introducing him to some unexpected fans. “I think the eye-opener for me is that if Phantom had been even a mild success, it would probably be gone by now. The big lesson is don’t discard something as a failure. Give the universe a chance. Give people a chance to communicate with each other. What’s remarkable is these people that love this film, this isolated little community. But the same thing happened in Paris as well where it ran forever. The guys from Daft Punk met at a screening of Phantom, so I wound up with writing the lyrics to ‘Beyond’ and ‘Touch’ and singing on ‘Touch’ on the ‘Random Access Memories’ album because these guys saw Phantom 20 times together.”
One of the things that stands out years later is the searing satire of the film. It’s a harsh analog for the brutal side of fame that eerily predicted the rise of reality tv in all of its extremes. Williams is passionate about the message of the movie which he feels is more relevant than ever in 2019. In an age of reality TV and stars who will do anything for fame, there’s a couple of moments from Phantom that particularly resonate. “In the original script, Beef died in the shower. But then we put it on stage and made it a part of a theatrical bit where the kids watched. That’s the heart of the movie to me; it’s the fact that these kids have seen so much theatrical violence that when they see the real thing they can’t recognize it. And that connects to my favorite line in the movie which is when Swan says, ‘Assassination live on coast to coast TV. That’s entertainment.’ That’s the dark heart and message of the movie to me.”
As for the future of the groundbreaking film, Williams thinks it belongs on the stage, with someone like Lady Gaga at the heart of the story, bringing a new and updated vision of the parable to a whole new generation. He even teased that he’s written new songs for the potential production. Pressman revealed that a remake had been on the cards with del Toro attached but had never gotten off the ground. Still, the producer is hopeful about the potential of the Phantom returning once again in the near future, especially as the film’s legend and mythos continue to grow.
credit - https://nerdist.com/article/phantom-of-the-paradise-oral-history-paul-williams/
A remarkable photo exhibit captures ‘a joyful moment’ of Black-Jewish unity in Miami Beach
On fabled Miami Beach, land of sunshine and escape, Blacks and Jews share a shameful history of discrimination and exclusion.
Into the 1970s, Blacks were prohibited by racist “sundown” laws from swimming or spending the night on the Beach, or to be there without a work ID. Jews could not buy or rent property on most of the Beach until after World War II, and early hotels advertised with signs like “Gentiles only” or “Always a view, Never a Jew.”
Now a Miami photo exhibit, “Shared Spaces,” captures the two groups together during a brief, liberating – if still fraught – moment in the late ’70s which has implications that still reverberate in the present.
“There’s a sense of empowerment,” said Carl Juste, a Haitian-American photojournalist and community art organizer presenting Shared Spaces at his Iris PhotoCollective ArtSpace in the Little Haiti neighborhood. “Empowerment in the relationships and in the participants on both sides, demonstrated in the space that was being occupied. Space in terms of how both communities were somewhat exiled, in terms of struggle and in terms of Miami’s history.
“That’s the magic of this collection,” he said. “We have to look at them and imagine better possibilities.”
The photos are by Andy Sweet, a young Jewish photographer whose pictures of the elderly Jews who filled a then-dilapidated South Beach have become locally famous in recent years. Sweet’s work has been featured in exhibits, a book, and a documentary, “The Last Resort,” that played major festivals and earned critical accolades.
This, however, is the first time Sweet’s pictures of Blacks and Jews, at the time a largely aging, white community, have been displayed.
Like Sweet’s other photos, they were taken in the late ’70s, as Blacks were finally allowed into the once-forbidden paradise. It was also the final moment for South Beach as home to an eccentric, vibrant Jewish community of former factory workers and Holocaust survivors, before they were decimated by age and the area’s transformation into a glamorous internation. More of the article below. Also I added a link to Andy Sweet's Legacy Project.
Psychedelia supremo Paul Major is the undisputed father of record collecting
Feel The Music
Speaking to Paul Major is like flocking through a super chilled out encyclopaedia of alternative music. When I call him to talk about a new book chronicling his life’s work, it’s midday back in New York. He’s only just picked up his first cup of coffee, and is getting ready to turn on the news and get what he calls his “daily jolt of absurdity”.
If you’re not into psychedelia or rare records, you might not have heard of Paul before – but the way we understand music today has his hands all over it. He is the original sound scavenger and vinyl collector, having spent the golden decades of rock music with his hands deep in the bargain bins of record stores all across the United States, looking for every odd sound that was yet to be shared with the world back in the 70s.
Today he is recognised as an expert in music made on the fringes of culture, from private pressings to one-song bands. When we start talking, Paul lists off names of obscure records and artists like it’s nobody’s business, telling me enough stories to make it clear that we’re not really just conducting an interview, this is a chance for me to hear firsthand about a part of history.
Starting out as a coin collector in rural Kentucky, 12-year-old Paul was oblivious to music as a kid, instead obsessed with UFOs, maths and monster movies. All that changed by the end of 1966, when the fuzzy guitars of Psychotic Reaction by The Count Five first graced his ears. From that moment on, a spark was ignited, Paul sucked into a whole new alternative universe: Rock’n’roll.
From the get-go the records that attracted him were those which offered a gateway to the unusual – sounds that allowed him to escape the humdrum into a world of LSD, psychedelia and hippies.
As a teenager, weekends were spent in record shops, carefully flicking through the titles of songs on the back of albums, in search of the surreal. When something seemed interesting enough, he would invest what little money he had. The first album Paul ever owned was Revolver by The Beatles.
“I discovered soon that there were some used record shops near my house, which were cheap. I just started buying every record I couldn’t before – every single one that looked psychedelic and was part of this counterculture movement, this underground world of hippies and radical freaks that I, at the age of fifteen, desperately wanted to be a part of.”
His record collection started expanding rapidly, but it was still just a personal pursuit at the time – Paul would listen to records with his college friends at parties and embrace his passion. Then in 1977 Paul moved to New York, in search of the newest musical phenomenon of the time: punk rock. He did end up finding punk, but that wasn’t all. In New York, Paul found a scene of record collectors, and that’s when his life’s work truly started coming together.
Rest of the article below
Portraits of Punk Rockers in the Late 1970s
Punk rock music and fashion blew out of New York City, exploded in London, and caught like wildfire in San Francisco, Los Angeles and the world over. It developed concurrently everywhere, and every region had it’s own identity. But it was in San Francisco and L.A. where the most radical behavior in stateside punk rock style and attitude was exhibited. It was anti-hippie, anti-disco, anti-parent and anti-“nice”. And it was shockingly new. These photos are ground zero of punk rock style—delirious innovation and a snarling takeover of youth culture still resonating more than 20 years hence. Jim Jocoy, traveling between S.F. and L.A., shot portraits of every interesting punk rock personality who caught his eye—with each subject posed amidst the scene’s ruinous and chaotic environment. Some were musicians and some were artists. All were fans and enthusiasts. And they were the original creators of what is regarded as the most potent subculture of the late 20th century. Some of the more celebrated individuals of punk legend featured in this book are Darby Crash, Iggy Pop, Lydia Lunch, Sid Vicious, John Waters, Bruce Connor and members of X, The Cramps, The Avengers, Flipper, The Screamers, The Nuns, and many others.
Choose Your Own Adventure Parody Covers
Vintage Photographs of Men Arrested for Cross-Dressing in New York City in the Late 1930s and Early 1940s
Cross-dressing laws are rarely, if ever, enforced in American cities today. However, between 1848 and World War I, 45 cities in the United States passed laws against cross-dressing defined as “wearing the apparel of the other sex”.
In effect, the anti-cross-dressing laws became a flexible tool for police to enforce normative gender on multiple gender identities, including masculine women and people identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming. But as time progressed and fashion evolved, it was increasingly difficult to even define what “cross-dressing” entailed from a law-enforcement perspective.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation organization defines cross-dressers specifically as heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup and accessories culturally associated with women.
“By the time the counterculture was in full bloom, cross-dressing arrests were routinely getting thrown out of court,” Susan Stryker, an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, told PBS. “Arresting cross-dressing people was mainly just a form of police harassment.”
New Podcast Episode!
Ep: 24 Stuart S. Shapiro/Night Flight (& Night Flight Plus)
Stuart S. Shapiro is a producer, writer, director, and Internet entrepreneur. Shapiro began his career as an independent film distributor in 1974 by starting International Harmony which distributed cult classics TunnelVision, Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps, Bob Marley's Reggae Sunsplash, The Sex Pistols' DOA, and Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle.
As a producer, Shapiro's credits include Mondo New York and Comedy's Dirtiest Dozen, which helped launch the careers of Tim Allen, Chris Rock, and Otto & George. Other credits include USA networks TV series Night Flight, a youth–targeted variety show he created which ran from 1981 to 1996. Shapiro also produced the 72-hour live webcast of Woodstock '99, notable for being one of the largest of its kind at the time.
Night Flight Plus is a video-on-demand service offering original episodes of the 1980s USA Network TV show Night Flight. In addition to archived episodes of the show, the service features films in the music documentary, concert, horror and cult genres. $3.33 a month/39.99 a year
Identifi Yourself: A Journey in F**K You Creative Content
Identifi Yourself is a humorous and poetic journey to empower and inspire the reader to find their creative strengths.
Please check out and support Nathaniel Russel's Work
Vintage Lounge Act Images Found Here
Vintage Ads Found Below...
Empire Roller Disco: Photographs by Patrick D. Pagnano Out Now!Brooklyn's Empire Rollerdome opened its doors in 1941 and soon became the borough's premier destination for recreational and competitive roller skating. But it wasn't until the late 1970s that the celebrated rink reached iconic status by replacing its organist with a live DJ, installing a state of the art sound and light system, and renaming itself after the nationwide dance craze it had helped to originate: the Empire Roller Disco was born. In 1980, the acclaimed street photographer Patrick D. Pagnano went on assignment to document the Empire and its legendary cast of partygoers. The resulting photographs, gathered in Empire Roller Disco for the first time, capture the vibrant spirits, extraordinary styles, and sheer joys of Brooklyn roller disco at its dizzying peak.
NEW JAMEL SHABAZZ'S ALBUMS BOOK OUT NOW!
The influential New York photographer Jamel Shabazz has created portraits of the city’s communities for over 40 years. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Shabazz began photographing people he encountered on New York streets in the late 1970s, creating an archive of cultural shifts and struggles across the city. His portraits underscore the street as a space for self-presentation, whether through fashion or pose. In every instance Shabazz aims, in his words, to represent individuals and communities with “honor and dignity.” This book—awarded the Gordon Parks Foundation / Steidl Book Prize—presents, for the first time, Shabazz’s work from the 1970s to ’90s as it exists in his archive: small prints thematically grouped and sequenced in traditional family photo albums that function as portable portfolios. Shabazz began making portraits in the mid-1970s in Brooklyn, Queens, the West Village and Harlem. His camera was also at his side while working as an officer at Rikers Island in the 1980s, where he took portraits of inmates that he later shared with their friends and families. Shabazz had his rolls of color film processed at a one-hour photo shop that provided two copies of each print: he typically gave one to his sitters, and the second he organized into changing albums to be shown to future subjects. This book features selections from over a dozen albums, many never-before-seen, and includes his earliest photographs as well as images taken inside Rikers Island, all accompanied by essays that situate Shabazz’s work within the broader history of photography.
2022 Recipient of The Gordon Parks Foundation / Steidl Book Prize
Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation
New Episode out!
I had seen John over the years on TV and film and always enjoyed his work. I used to be a one on one worker with kids and teens with disabilities which drew me to to his work on “Speechless” which I found comically and authentically true to life. I enjoyed all of the actors but John’s performance felt very true to himself. I identify as an intuitive (like a poorer lazier more Jewish Rick Rubin) and can always get a sense of actors being true to them selves in certain roles. I met John through the Vintage Instagram that this podcast is named after and asked him to interview him.
In order to prepare I listened to his memoir via Audible “No Job For A Man” and was blown away by his humor, insight, passion, authenticity, pop culture knowledge, his love and knowledge of Broadway Musicals, and his love and knowledge of Punk Music. This was exciting for me because most men of my generation can’t hold any conversations covering both Punk, and Broadway, yet alone can also bring Ronnie James Dio and Iron Maiden into that conversation and still make sense of it. I am also a year apart from John and just saw some interesting parallels in my own life. Let’s just say I was really moved by the memoir.
To summarize I’d say it’s really hard not to like John Ross Bowie. He is just a humble, intelligent, and passionate person. He has spent much of his life pursuing this own loves and dreams. He has written two books. The other being a Deep Focus (name of the series) on the film “Heathers”. He has also written and produced a play “Four Chords and a Gun” which is an intense black comedy about The Ramones during a Drama filled 1979 recording session that led to the album “End of The Century” produced by Phil Spector.
This episode falls more into the category of a great conversation that explores topics such as why no-one gets to hate on the musical Annie, Documentary Now and the Co-op episode, his show “Speechless” and why that show was one his best acting experiences, his punk band “Egghead”, and lastly the Philadelphia Band “The Dead Milkmen“ of which John is such a super fan. That knowledge lead me to invite him as a co-host to interview the band with me. I ironically I had already planned to interview them right after his interview so it just made sense. That episode will come out in about three weeks and John killed it! Please enjoy getting to know John Ross Bowie. You will be glad you did. I want to personally thank John as he went above and beyond to help create this special episode.
Please check out John’s acting work, Music (Egghead can be found on many music services) and definitely get a copy of “No Job For A Man” which is a stellar memoir. It’s available at most book sellers.
What About Gay Bob?
The First Openly Gay Doll (for everyone) Was a Trailblazer Toy
Thirteen inches tall and plastic, Gay Bob was marketed as the first openly gay doll and made his retail debut in mail-order catalogs. He was sold in a cardboard box designed to look like a closet. Gay Bob's packaging proudly (and wordily) explained what “coming out of the closet” meant:
"Hi boys, girls and grownups, I’m Gay Bob, the world’s first gay doll. I bet you are wondering why I come packed in a closet. ‘Coming out of the closet’ is an expression which means that you admit the truth about yourself and are no longer ashamed of what you are... A lot of straight people should come out of their 'straight closets' and take the risk of being honest about what they are. People who are not ashamed of what they are, are more lovable, kind, and understanding. That is why everyone should come out of “their closet" so the world will be a more loving, understanding, and fulfilling place to live. Gay people are no different than straight people. If everyone came out of their closets, there wouldn’t be so many angry, frustrated, frightened people... It’s not easy to be honest about what you are; in fact it takes a great deal of courage. But remember, if Gay Bob has the courage to come out of his closet, so can you!"
At face value, Gay Bob’s message about the merits of coming out seems earnest, espousing the values of courage, honesty, and living authentically; however, the branding and design of the Gay Bob doll are brash. Gay Bob’s story is deceptively complicated and intertwined in toy and LGBTQ+ history.
THE CREATOR - WHO MADE GAY BOB?
Gay Bob was created by an advertising executive named Harvey Rosenberg. Rosenberg put $10,000 of his own money into getting Gay Bob manufactured through his company, Gizmo Development. More of the article below in link.
Bud Cort, Walter Edward Cox, ,American actor/comedian, was born Walter Edward Cox in New Rochelle, New York. The second of five children, he grew up in Rye, New York, the son of Joseph P. Cox, an orchestra leader, pianist, and owner of a successful men's clothing store in Rye, and Alma M. Court a former newspaper and Life magazine reporter and an executive asst. at M.G.M. in New York City. From early childhood on, Bud displayed a remarkable acting ability and appeared in countless school plays and community theatre. Also a talented painter, he earned extra money doing portraits at art fairs and by commission to the people in Rye. However, he knew acting was his real dream and began riding trains into New York City at the age of 14 to begin studying with his first teacher Bill Hickey at the HB Studios in Greenwich Village.
Upon graduation from Iona Prep School run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland, Bud applied to the NYU School of the Arts, now known as Tisch. Unfortunately, the acting department was full but after seeing Bud's art portfolio he was admitted as a scenic design major in 1967. Bud continued to study with Bill Hickey and secretly began to work in commercials, - off Broadway Theater, and the soap opera, "The Doctors."
He formed a comedy team with actress Jeannie Berlin, and later with Judy Engles, performing Bud's original comedy material all over Manhattan's burgeoning nightclub scene. Bud and Judy won first place during amateur night at the famed Village Gate and were signed to a management contract with the club's owner. Soon after, while appearing at the famed Upstairs at the Downstairs in the musical revue "Free Fall," Bud was spotted by Robert Altman who was in New York looking for actors for his film "M. A. S. H." Bud was hired and from that went on to play the title role in Altman's next film "Brewster McCloud."
A quirky May-Dec. love story, "Harold and Maude," next saw Cort opposite Ruth Gordon in arguably his most famous role. After a confused reception, the film went on to become not only one of the most successful cult movies in history, but eventually was crowned an American Film Classic. Bud was also awarded the French equivalent of the Oscar, the Crystal Star, for Best Actor of the Year. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a British Academy Award.
The Story of The Shaggs
Depending on whom you ask, the Shaggs were either the best band of all time or the worst. Frank Zappa is said to have proclaimed that the Shaggs were “better than the Beatles.” More recently, though, a music fan who claimed to be in “the fetal position, writhing in pain,” declared on the Internet that the Shaggs were “hauntingly bad,” and added, “I would walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shagg-related ever again.” Such a divergence of opinion confuses the mind. Listening to the Shaggs’ album “Philosophy of the World” will further confound. The music is winsome but raggedly discordant pop. Something is sort of wrong with the tempo, and the melodies are squashed and bent, nasal, deadpan. Are the Shaggs referencing the heptatonic, angular microtones of Chinese ya-yueh court music and the atonal note clusters of Ornette Coleman, or are they just a bunch of kids playing badly on cheap, out-of-tune guitars? And what about their homely, blunt lyrics? Consider the song “Things I Wonder”:
There are many things I wonder
There are many things I don’t
It seems as though the things I wonder most
Are the things I never find out
Is this the colloquial ease and dislocated syntax of a James Schuyler poem or the awkward innermost thoughts of a speechless teen-ager?
The Shaggs were three sisters, Helen, Betty, and Dorothy (Dot) Wiggin, from Fremont, New Hampshire. They were managed by their father, Austin Wiggin, Jr., and were sometimes accompanied by another sister, Rachel. They performed almost exclusively at the Fremont town hall and at a local nursing home, beginning in 1968 and ending in 1973. Many people in Fremont thought the band stank. Austin Wiggin did not. He believed his girls were going to be big stars, and in 1969 he took most of his savings and paid to record an album of their music. Nine hundred of the original thousand copies of “Philosophy of the World” vanished right after being pressed, along with the record’s shady producer. Even so, the album has endured for thirty years. Music collectors got hold of the remaining copies of “Philosophy of the World” and started a small Shaggs cult. In the mid-seventies, WBCN-FM, in Boston, began playing a few cuts from the record. In 1988, the songs were repackaged and rereleased on compact disk and became celebrated by outsider-music mavens, who were taken with the Shaggs’ artless style. Now the Shaggs are entering their third life: “Philosophy of the World” was reissued last spring by RCA Victor and will be released in Germany this winter. The new CD of “Philosophy of the World” has the same cover as the original 1969 album—a photograph of the Wiggin girls posed in front of a dark-green curtain. In the picture, Helen is twenty-two, Dot is twenty-one, and Betty is eighteen. They have long blond hair and long blond bangs and stiff, quizzical half-smiles. Helen, sitting behind her drum set, is wearing flowered trousers and a white Nehru shirt; Betty and Dot, clutching their guitars, are wearing matching floral tunics, pleated plaid skirts, and square-heeled white pumps. There is nothing playful about the picture; it is melancholy, foreboding, with black shadows and the queer, depthless quality of an aquarium. Which leaves you with even more things to wonder about the Shaggs.
NYC Cab Driver Spends 30 Years Photographing His Passengers
In 1980, aspiring photographer Ryan Weideman landed in New York City from California, looking to make a name for himself. But he soon found himself focused on more practical matters, like paying the rent. Thanks to his neighbor, who was a cab driver, he found himself riding along in the taxi one night, and by the next day, he'd found both a way to pay the bills and the perfect outlet for his creativity.
Over thirty years, Weideman would continue working as a cab driver part-time, photographing his clients to view the changing city in a new way. “After the first week of driving a taxi I could see the photographic potential,” shared Weideman. “So many interesting and unusual combinations of people getting into my cab. Photographing seemed like the only thing to do. The backseat image was constantly in a state of flux, thronged with interesting looking people that were exciting and inspired, creating their own unique atmosphere.”
Not wanting to waste time turning around to capture the action, Weideman found himself both as subject and photographer. Acting as a visual narrator in the scenes, his appearance speaks for the viewer who is also looking in, observing the lives of strangers. From 5 pm to 5 am on weekends, the interior of his cab became is his studio. Weideman studied the backseat scene intently, just waiting for the right time to pop the flash.
Sometimes he asked permission, sometimes the flash “accidentally” went off. Notable passengers include Allen Ginsberg—famed Beat Generation poet. The photo now belongs to the Brooklyn Museum. Other passengers simply made an impression. Weideman sharpened his skills to understand who was interesting—or not—over the years. And occasionally, he would spot a face on the street he remembered photographing.
He recalls seeing a voluptuous woman walking down the street who reminded him of Ruby Duby Do. Running to catch up with her, he asked if she remembered being photographed in the back of a taxi, and to his delight, she did. “I told her to meet me on the corner of 9th and 43rd the next day and I would share my pictures of her. She was thrilled, and so was I. When I gave her some pictures, she thanked me, and as we parted. I watched her show the photos to the passersby as she walked away.”
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