Rock Around The Sprockets
CSUMB Film prof Karen Davis takes rock 'n' roll to the movies.
Thursday, January 25, 2001
Karen Davis cites two main criteria in selecting her rock ''n'' roll cinema examples--''theatricalized performance'' by those onscreen and ''films that really display the art of the filmmaker.'' She wants her audience to see ''what a director can do to augment and enhance the music.''
V iewers of the recent TV series "Jazz" watched the drama of early 20th century America unfold as the music evolved: Sousa marches begat syncopation begat ragtime begat jazz. Now, California State University Monterey Bay Film Instructor Karen Davis continues the musical bloodline with her "Rock ''n'' Roll Cinema" film series, a 17-week course devoted to that other indigenous American musical form.
Beginning Jan. 30, the class meets Tuesday nights from 6 to 10pm in the new CSUMB World Theater. Each program begins with an introduction by Davis or a guest speaker, followed by a screening of a classic rock movie, and concluding with a freeform discussion.
Movies will be shown in whatever format--film, video, DVD, laserdisc--is available, but all will benefit from the campus theater''s state-of-the-art digital projection system.
Most of us who grew up in the rock ''n'' roll era experienced some sort of epiphany when we got on the bus and joined our peers in the rock music subculture. For me, it was seeing The Beatles sing "She Loves You" on the "Ed Sullivan Show" when I was 11. Hooked on the beat, I spent the next two years with a plastic turquoise transistor radio the size of a cigarette pack plugged into my ear.
For Karen Davis, the moment came when she bought a ''57 cherry red Hagstrom bass guitar at a Berkeley yard sale. It was in the early days of punk and New Wave and she taught herself to play by listening to Devo, Talking Heads and Sex Pistols records.
But at live concerts, Davis would think to herself, "I don''t see any girls up there." She was undaunted. "If I was a woman teaching myself to play," she recalls, "there must [have been] some other gals out there" doing the same thing. Investing in a synthesizer and hooking up with a friend who played electric violin, Davis founded Wilma, "a minor Bay Area band" that released some records and played club dates into the early ''80s.
Soon, Davis was contributing soundtracks to experimental, avant-garde and non-commercial films, earning a reputation among Bay Area filmmakers as a New Wave music performer and composer. Eventually, she went to San Francisco State''s film school and eventually launched a new career teaching film.
But Davis is still a rocker at heart, and she looks forward to the fusion of her two passions in the upcoming rock cinema programs. She''s delighted to explain why she chose certain vintage rock movies for her series and excluded others.
Davis tried to avoid films where the director points a camera at the band onstage and "the musicians do all the work." Woodstock, for example, is not on her playlist. "It''s a nice cultural document," says Davis, "but the filmmaker''s voice is not strong."
Not so Gimme Shelter, the controversial Maysles Brothers'' film of the Rolling Stones'' Altamont fiasco, which is included in the series and which Davis praises for having a definite "perspective and a point of view."
Davis cites two main criteria in selecting her films--"theatricalized performance" by those onscreen and "filmmaking process" through the medium of rock ''n'' roll, "films that really display the art of the filmmaker." She wants her audience to see "what a director can do to augment and enhance the music."
Davis'' eclectic lineup ranges (and rages) from Elvis, the Beatles and Dylan to funk, punk, Chicano and disco, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to This Is Spinal Tap. There''s plenty to delight rockers and cinephiles alike. The goal, Davis says, is to give her audience "a rockin'' good time!"
Here''s the lineup: Go, cat, go!
Jan. 30--Early History: Blues, R&B and the Birth of Rock ''n'' Roll The Blackboard Jungle (1955). Tensions explode in a tough New York City high school, but the big blast in Richard Brooks'' drama is Bill Haley and the Comets'' "Rock Around the Clock" blasted over the opening credits--the first rock music ever heard in the movies. Paired with documentary filmmaker Les Blank''s The Blues According to Lightning Hopkins.
Feb. 6--Elvis Presley: The King of Rock ''n'' Roll Jailhouse Rock (1957). Young, hip-swiveling, heavy-lidded Elvis is a revelation in his second film as a poor Southern boy with a guitar in trouble with the law. The big production number for the title song on a surreal cellblock set conveys all the raw energy that made Elvis the King.
Feb. 13--Meet the Beatles! A Hard Day''s Night (1964). The Beatles'' first movie is subversively funny and irresistible, a radical comedy of class and youth as the upstart lads from the industrial north gleefully overrun fusty old rules and traditions. Radical, too, is director Richard Lester''s groundbreaking visual style. Shot in black-and-white with mostly hand-held cameras, the movie''s kinetic, no-retakes immediacy still looks fresh.
Feb. 20--More Beatlemania Help! (1965). This lavish color musical fantasy, a slapstick spoof on the James Bond spy movie craze, spotlights the Beatles in the last phase of their "four lads" period.
Feb. 27--Dylan Goes Electric Don''t Look Back (1967). D. A. Pennebaker''s documentary of Bob Dylan''s 1965 concert tour of England captures the angry, arrogant young man of folk at the end of his acoustic period. This is a sterling portrait of a legend in the making coping with fame, art, truth and bloodsucking hangers-on.
March 6--Rolling Stones at Altamont: Angels and Devils Gimme Shelter (1970). Documentary filmmakers David and Albert Maysles capture the dark underbelly of the rock culture at the notorious free concert in California where violence erupts between Hells Angels and onlookers while Mick Jagger sings "Sympathy for the Devil."
March 13--We Want the Funk:Gotta Have the Funk Wattstax (1973).The Watts community of L.A. serves as the setting for Mel Stuart''s extremely rare documentary on the ''70s black music scene. Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Luther Ingram and Richard Pryor perform.
March 27--Rock, Camp, Kitsch and Theatre: Rocky Horror Invades the World The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Director Jim Sharman''s
phenomenal cult classic mixes horror movie cliches, sci-fi, sexual abandon and campy glam sensibility with a terrific original rock score. Tim Curry''s dynamic performance as a transvestite mad scientist is not to be missed. Enthusiasts are encouraged to come in costume and qualify for prizes and crowd attention.
April 3--Disco Fever! Saturday Night Fever (1977). The movie that launched a zillion tacky white polyester leisure suits and John Travolta''s movie star career, John Badham''s dance melodrama recycles the usual youth movie cliches to the Bee Gees'' driving disco beat.
April 10--This Is the End, My Friend The Last Waltz (1978). The 1978 farewell concert by the Band in San Francisco, staged by Bill Graham on Thanksgiving, is captured in Martin Scorsese''s reverent, elegiac concert film.
April 17--The Mock Rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Rob Reiner directs this juicy satire on the rock biz that purports to be a documentary on the last American tour by a dissipated English heavy metal band. Stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer have the deadpan pomposity of veteran metal heads down pat. Sandy Pearlman, producer/manager of Black Sabbath and the Clash, drops by as evening''s the special guest.
April 24--DMSR (Dance, Music, Sex, Romance): Prince and Michael Jackson Purple Rain (1984). Albert Magnoli directs this slick combination of backstage rock musical and misunderstood teen melodrama set to the pulsing, insinuating music of its star, rock idol Prince. Piggybacked with Thriller, the long version of Michael Jackson''s revolutionary music video.
May 1--Punk Music: The Sex Pistols Sid And Nancy (1986). A compulsively fascinating drama about a very grim subject, the hopeless life and sordid death of punk rocker Sid Vicious and junkie girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Director Alex Cox scrutinizes the punk scene in vivid, uncompromising, hallucinatory images that are not without dark, ironic wit. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb deliver outstanding turns in the title roles. Teamed with The Great Rock & Roll Swindle (1979), Julian Temple''s documentary on the Sex Pistols, featuring the real Sid Vicious singing "My Way."
May 8--The Roots of Chicano Rock ''n'' Roll La Bamba (1986). Luis Valdez''s musical biography of Chicano rocker Richie Valens races along on the spirit and energy of its terrific music and star Lou Diamond Phillips'' smoldering charisma. The chat following the film features director Valdez, as well as Bob Valenzuela and Connie Valenzuela Lemos, Valens'' brother and sister. A new 35mm print is just one aspect of this Valens birthday tribute.
May 15--The Talking Heads:New Wave Forecasters Stop Making Sense (1984). The Talking Heads'' intense rhythms and delicious lyrics make great music and a dazzling concert film. David Byrne''s dynamic staging is great theater and director Jonathan Demme''s straightforward, uncluttered style is great moviemaking
May 22--Hey, Hey, My, My, Rock ''n'' Roll Will Never Die: Neil Young The Year Of The Horse (1997). Jim Jarmusch directs this music documentary of veteran rocker Neil Young and his Crazy Horse band. Plus, stay for an end of semester rock ''n'' roll dance party!
Rock ''n'' Roll Cinema is presented by TAT, CSUMB''s Institute for Teledramatic Arts and Technology. During the series, all discussions and screenings take place at the World Theater on campus on Tuesdays from 6-10pm (2 to 4 units of course credit are available to participants who enroll in the regular university session). For more info, call 582-3750.