A very happy 2015 to all lovers of film noir

I am so behind with posts and so late in wishing you a happy 2014 that I decided to fast-forward and be ahead in wishing you a happy 2015. Way ahead. ;)

I have no good excuse for my getting behind other than it was an extra-busy holiday season: first came Keithmas (Keith Richards’ birthday is Dec. 18, 1943, and the FNB team decided to make it a party – it was his 70th after all), then Christmas and New Year’s. Much fun to see friends and family but I guess travel, time zones and opening gift after gift after gift (life is hard for a gold-digger) got the best of us.

We are now back in LA and grateful for the warm weather. As Keith Richards would say: “It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.”

KEITHMAS 2013

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‘Crossfire Hurricane’ a kaleidoscopic tour of Stones history

Crossfire Hurricane/2012/111 min.

“Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Rolling Stones” the new HBO film by and about the Rolling Stones marks the 50th anniversary of the musicians who went from badass to beloved, from “moronic cavemen” to the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.

The enduring appeal of the Stones stems from superb music, a capacity to reinvent themselves and the forceful personalities of the players – by turns outspoken, irreverent, shy, clownish, sensitive, clever, acerbic, funny and raw.

The Stones’ quick trajectory to fame was, as Keith Richards notes, kaleidoscopic. So is this must-see doc. Images are culled from more than 1,000 hours of film and “Crossfire” zips through the days at lightning speed.

Early on, we see a label (July 25, 1972, a day before Mick Jagger’s 29th birthday) and not much is time-stamped after that. But the chronology isn’t hard to follow, given the film’s tight pacing and focus on the early years.

As narration, you hear the voices (but don’t see the faces) of originals Richards, Jagger, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (he left the Stones in 1993) as well as Mick Taylor, who replaced Brian Jones (Jones died July 3, 1969) and was with the band until 1974, and Ronnie Wood, who replaced Taylor in 1975. There are no talking heads, i.e. rock critics, industry types or pop-culture commentators.

Drawing on more than 80 hours of new interviews with the band, “Crossfire,” directed by Brett Morgen, is the Stones talking about the Stones. They discuss their nearly-overnight success and chaotic early tours (“A chemical reaction seems to have happened,” says a young Jagger in an archival interview), the genesis of Jagger and Richards’ song-writing collaboration, the decline and death of Jones, the 1967 drug bust at Richards’ Redlands estate and subsequent run-ins with the law over drugs, the disastrous violence at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969, their days in the South of France recording 1972’s “Exile on Main Street” and their transition from “the band everybody hated to the band everybody loves,” as Jagger puts it.

Richards sounds craggy and wry. Charlie doesn’t remember much and sees himself as a loner, not truly a part of the band somehow. Jagger’s intelligence and charm is just as fresh as they were in his first interviews – a motif throughout “Crossfire” is the extent to which Jagger’s live performances can be likened to that of an actor’s craft. There is also never-before-seen footage as well as previously unheard versions of Stones’ songs and rare live performances.

Collectively, the Stones seem to have two Zen traits that in addition to heaps of talent, chemistry and supremely lucky timing, have held them in good stead for five decades. They exist in the moment and they’re authentic, whether they’re composing in a makeshift studio, performing at a stadium or just plain debauching, Keith’s specialty. They also don’t appear to take themselves 100 percent seriously. That could be why so many people around the world have loved them for so many years. In addition to being wildly entertaining, they act as an inspiration – to be creative, to be oneself, to question authority, to enjoy life, to swagger.

“When we got together,” says Wyman, “something magical happened.” A half-century later, the magic shows no sign of stopping.

“Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Rolling Stones” will play several times on HBO and HBO2 through Nov. 29. (It debuted Nov. 15.)

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Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live in Texas shows band at its best

I took a break from the Chicago Film Fest, which ends Thursday, to watch The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live in Texas (a live concert shot in 1978 and shown last night in movie theaters nationwide). Seeing it made me think of a piece I wrote when I was on staff at the Chicago Tribune. This essay ran in January 2003 a few days before I saw the Stones live in Chicago. It’s an oldie but I hope still a goodie.

Copyright: The Chicago Tribune

An oddly touching moment over the holidays was seeing this tag on a gift from a girlfriend: “To Jackie, the Sixth Stone,” acknowledging my decades-long attachment to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the boys. The reason it touched me is that of all the millions of Rolling Stones fans around the world, I’m probably the least deserving of the honorary inclusion.

A vintage shot of the original band.

I’m a loyal fan and I love them to death. But I have to confess: I’m sort of a “lite fan.”

I have no idea what their first hit single was, I can’t recite all of the songs on “Exile on Main Street” and my fairly extensive collection of Stones memorabilia is composed mostly of gifts, rather than the result of any vigorous scouring or even casual browsing on my part.

That’s probably because I missed the early “street fighting” days, having become smitten in the 1980s. It may be a rite of passage for girls to have crushes on rock stars, but almost 20 years later my swooning is still going strong.

I think the first Stones record I bought was “Emotional Rescue.” The first one I fell in love with was “Some Girls,” which I probably “borrowed” from one of my older siblings.

My older sister is a big fan, although I don’t have any pivotal memory of her playing a song for me or of trying to copy her taste in music. As adults, we’ve attended several Stones shows together and last summer she flew in to attend the party I held to celebrate Sir Michael’s 59th birthday. (It was well attended, even if the guest of honor didn’t make it.)

Mick Jagger in 1978

What I find especially entertaining, besides the music of course, is that revealing my adoration yields varying and vehement responses.

I often hear the charge that Mick is a womanizer. And it’s pretty tough to argue to the contrary. Concerts and conquests have accounted for a huge chunk of his life. But my impression is that he’s been pretty open about not wanting to settle down and be faithful to one woman. Anyone who got involved with him would have to have been living in a cave not to realize that.

Sometimes people whine that the band should retire. It bores me to hear the claim that the Stones are passé or over the hill, and to the people who wrongly think the group hasn’t done anything good recently, I say, “So what? They’ve already done enough great stuff to last another 40 years.”

Meanwhile, without ever specifically seeking out fellow fans, I’ve bonded with people who share my love for the Stones. When I lived in London in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I went to lots of parties that culminated in guitars being plugged in, Stones songs being played and dancing until morning.

Producer/manager Andrew Oldham once wrote that "the Rolling Stones are more than just a group, they are a way of life."

I also encountered a fair amount of snobbery. “Mick’s trying to write an autobiography, except he can’t remember anything that happened past last year,” was one snide remark from a friend who thought the Stones were overrated.

It was in London that I met my French friend Véronique and discovered that in addition to our mutual frustration with English plumbing, we also shared a fascination with the sexy, stylish and silly Mick Jagger.

Given her record at other Stones shows, I wouldn’t put it past Véronique to try to use my above-mentioned gift-tag as a backstage pass. “I must see Meeck,” were her parting words when she left my boyfriend and me at Wembley Arena and rushed closer to the stage. I didn’t see her again that night. The next morning she called to say she had maneuvered her way into the third row – within touching distance of Meeck – and that we had been foolishly timid to stay behind. In fact, it wasn’t fear as much as confusion and disbelief at the way she took off.

But more power to her, I thought. And she has never hesitated to get up and dance to Stones songs at a pub, a bar or a party on either side of the Atlantic. It actually works better if different people “play” different band members, but with her I make concessions and we both play Mick.

Having left London with zero Stones sightings aside from Wembley, I almost booked a vacation to Mustique because Mick has a house there; until I checked the dizzying schedule of connecting flights from Chicago and chose St. Martin instead. Well, perhaps I’ll run into him in the south of France sometime.

The Stones' last studio album was "A Bigger Bang," 2005.

I briefly dated a friend of a friend whom I met at the “Bridges to Babylon” show at Soldier Field in 1997. Other romances have fizzled upon the discovery that I fawned from afar over Mick – who is not a “skinny little runt.”

A friend I met last year established a permanent claim to being cool when he revealed that he had once obtained backstage passes and met the whole band before seeing the show. “They’re all much shorter than I am,” he informed me. He added that Mick was diplomatic; Keith was dipping into a bottle.

Mick, with his prancing and preening, his strutting and sashaying, will always be my No. 1 favorite. But over the years my appreciation and affection for Keith has grown considerably. Yes, he’s still scruffy and spaced out, but endearingly so, I think now. And as a musician, he’s matchless. I understand why Mick is the leader, but even lite fans know that Mick really wants to be Keith and Keith is actually in awe of Charlie Watts, deadpan and detached, and charmingly eccentric.

For Wednesday night’s show, I’m happy to be going with a bona fide, longtime and proper fan. He vividly recalls hearing his first Stones song, “Satisfaction,” and can recite all the songs on the first Stones album he bought, “Aftermath.”

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Film noir’s feline stars: The cat in ‘The Long Goodbye’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “The Long Goodbye” 1973

Name: Chauncey Scratchet

Character Name: Hungry Cat

Bio: Chauncey Scratchet, a.k.a. the Hungry Cat in 1973’s “The Long Goodbye,” is pivotal to the story. He is ravenous and if you ignore a such a cat, well, There. Will. Be. Trouble. As in scratched faces and bloody limbs. Or utter abandonment.

Scratchet opens the movie, mewing for food from his sleeping master, private eye Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould). Director Robert Altman lets his camera linger on the ginger-haired tabby prowling around Marlowe’s messy apartment.

Robert Altman wisely gave Chauncey Scratchet complete freedom to interpret his role.

It’s 3:00 a.m. and Marlowe has neglected to provide for his companion. So, the groggy gumshoe yawns, scratches his head and lights a cigarette, then heads to the supermarket to get the goods. Next door, Marlowe’s sexy, partygirl neighbors catch him before he leaves and ask him to bring back some brownie mix so next morning they can wake and bake. It’s 1973, after all.

At the store, Marlowe nabs the mix but fails to procure a can of Hungry Cat’s coveted Coury brand (they’re out of it). Marlowe tries to pass off some other, inferior, food, but his pet isn’t desperate enough to eat it. Instead, the cat takes off, in a departure both dramatic and understated, and we never see him again. For the rest of the flick, Marlowe pines away for his furry friend, whining about it to anyone he can.

Ironically, Chauncey Scratchet had such a good experience filming “The Long Goodbye” that he never made another movie. It was his first major role and director Altman let him have complete freedom in interpreting his character. Scratchet discovered that this approach was the exception, not the rule.

Rather than compromise on creative matters, Scratchet gave up film acting and turned to photography, quickly rising to the top of his profession and, through his Hollywood connections, shooting prominent actors, artists and musicians of the decade.

Though no longer involved in movies, he did make guest appearances on “Kojak” and “Columbo” as a special favor to pals Telly Savalas and Peter Falk. He was also friends with Keith Richards and was said to have inspired the song “Before They Make Me Run,” from the 1978 album “Some Girls.”

Currently enjoying his seventh life, Scratchet holds one-cat shows in New York, Paris, London and Rome.

Image from http://catsinsinks.com

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