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avatar_extraordinary walnuts

STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces

Started by extraordinary walnuts, March 06, 2024, 11:08:48 PM

Previous topic - Next topic
New on Apple TV at the end of the month, I am pumped for this:


Magnum Valentino

Deadly, been going through a Steve Martin phase recently.

I'd like to talk about politics, but first a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown

I'm due a relisten to those '70s albums. I just find his standup persona endlessly funny, the way he treats the audience with disdain and boasts about his expensive arrow through the head from Germany. When I listen to something like Googlephonics I'm always wondering: is this off the cuff, or did he write this down to the last syllable? I tend to think the latter, and all the restarts and flubs are deliberate, he's just playing the audience like a musical instrument. Plus the way he throws the punchline away is hysterical

TheMonk

Got last minutes tickets to see him with Martin Short a few years ago. The live show equivalent of a nice pair of slippers. Just a lovely, funny show. Never thought I'd get to see him so it was a treat.
A friend of mine tried to get a photo with him near his hotel and he yelled from a distance "take it from there." He was pretty disappointed but there's something very Steve Martin about that. He's never seemed particularly warm and fuzzy.

#5
Aloofness is a part of his brand

maybe he'd just run out of cards that night?

quote from the trailer:
"How did I go from riddled with anxiety in my thirties, to seventy five and really happy?!? How did this happen?"

Spoiler alert
"Well Steve, you made millions of dollars off your talent, and also built an art collection that would humble a pharoah, and now you are able to engage with capitalism on your own terms. That's how it happened."
[close]

TheAssassin

Quote from: TheMonk on March 07, 2024, 03:40:41 AMGot last minutes tickets to see him with Martin Short a few years ago. The live show equivalent of a nice pair of slippers. Just a lovely, funny show. Never thought I'd get to see him so it was a treat.
A friend of mine tried to get a photo with him near his hotel and he yelled from a distance "take it from there." He was pretty disappointed but there's something very Steve Martin about that. He's never seemed particularly warm and fuzzy.

Well, excuuuuuuuuse me!!

Magnum Valentino

What are the good Martin films? Always been curious about the Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid but I love his standup so much I'm not sure how well I'd like him acting differently.

Two Headed Sex Beast

Quote from: Magnum Valentino on March 07, 2024, 01:47:47 PMWhat are the good Martin films? Always been curious about the Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid but I love his standup so much I'm not sure how well I'd like him acting differently.

Those two and The Man With Two Brains would be my top 3. A little bit of his standup stuff makes it into The Jerk ("Cat juggling! I've heard about this!")

sevendaughters

Steve Martin filmography

ESSENTIAL
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
Roxanne
Planes Trains and Automobiles
LA Story

GOOD
The Jerk
The Lonely Guy
All of Me
Three Amigos
Little Shop of Horrors
Bowfinger

INTERESTING FAILURE
Pennies From Heaven
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Leap of Faith

FOR FANS ONLY
Parenthood
Father of the Bride
It's Complicated

UNINTERESTING FAILURE
The Man With Two Brains
The Out-of-Towners
Novocaine

BAD
My Blue Heaven
Housesitter
Father of the Bride 2
The Pink Panther

LOWER THE CONCRETE SARCOPHAGUS
Sgt Bilko
Cheaper by the Dozen / CBTD 2
The Pink Panther 2

Ballad of Ballard Berkley



dissolute ocelot

The Man With Two Brains is great but the Steve Martin filmography is a vast continuum mixing the very silly and the sentimental, the uniquely weird and the incredibly mainstream. There are films like Roxanne that kind of manage to be all of those things at once, but most are out in one direction or another. So I guess everyone will be happiest riding on a slightly different bit of Steve.

neveragain

Quote from: sevendaughters on March 07, 2024, 02:59:39 PMUNINTERESTING FAILURE
The Man With Two Brains
The Out-of-Towners
Novocaine

All three of these are worth watching and the first is among Martin's best. The second is surprisingly decent despite a poor reputation.

I only just watched Novocaine this week, it could be described as a tonal mish-mash with its ominous edges and farcical centre but thankfully was thoroughly enjoyable.

Personally, I would put The Jerk, Lonely Guy and All Of Me into the essential pile as well but - Planes Trains aside - my favourite Martins are the silly Martins.

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is a great idea that runs out of steam.

I like Parenthood a lot, but it's more of a great ensemble piece than a Steve Martin Vehicle. LA Story might be my fave of his.

Stonefish

Quote from: sevendaughters on March 07, 2024, 02:59:39 PMSteve Martin filmography

ESSENTIAL
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
Roxanne
Planes Trains and Automobiles
LA Story

GOOD
The Jerk
The Lonely Guy
All of Me
Three Amigos
Little Shop of Horrors
Bowfinger

INTERESTING FAILURE
Pennies From Heaven
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Leap of Faith

FOR FANS ONLY
Parenthood
Father of the Bride
It's Complicated

UNINTERESTING FAILURE
The Man With Two Brains
The Out-of-Towners
Novocaine

BAD
My Blue Heaven
Housesitter
Father of the Bride 2
The Pink Panther

LOWER THE CONCRETE SARCOPHAGUS
Sgt Bilko
Cheaper by the Dozen / CBTD 2
The Pink Panther 2

Glaring omission:


checkoutgirl

Quote from: sevendaughters on March 07, 2024, 02:59:39 PMUNINTERESTING FAILURE
The Man With Two Brains

Ludicrous. That negates the list entirely.

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Magnum Valentino on March 07, 2024, 01:47:47 PMWhat are the good Martin films? Always been curious about the Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid but I love his standup so much I'm not sure how well I'd like him acting differently.

Virtually all the films that Martin starred or appeared in up to the early 1990s tend to be worth a watch and an impressive proportion are very good.

The four films he did with Carl Reiner were/all highly regarded - The Jerk, for instance, was a shoo-in in critics lists of greatest comedies of all time - and roughly speaking could be considered as part of his 'wild and crazy period'. All of Me has the most structured story and Martin is playing much more of an Everyman type (he also credits this film as when he began maturing as a film actor) but I would firmly still say that, like the others, you can associate him as a film actor with his stand-up. Whereas, in the 1990s, his comedy films often leaned towards the bland (not necessarily awful) and it made one wish that he was still doing the types of films that Reiner directed. Dennis Pennis' question of 'Why aren't you funny anymore' had more than a grain of truth.

Out of the Reiner ones, I would say start with The Jerk or The Man With Two Brains. All of Me is fabulous and rather puts me in mind of an old screwball comedy. Dead Men Don't Plaid was one that I was disappointed, partly because of the praise. The way newly shot film is edited into old classic footage is very clever - and technically, it's very impressive - but as a film, I feel it's rather lacking and relying on a one-joke approach.

One film I would recommend that hasn't been mention is The Spanish Prisoner by David Mamet. It's a neo-noir, not a comedy and Martin plays a main supporting role. It's a very good film and Martin is tremendous in it; his reputation had been rather on the wane and this role made people stop and consider him very differently.

Ignatius_S

Although Pennies From Heaven has gone through a reassessment and its stock has improved, Martin simply isn't very good and it's classic miscasting. It's very nicely produced, looks great etc but as a project, ill-conceived.

Invariably reviewers throughout the years have said the standout turn was this guy:


They're not wrong.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Ignatius_S on March 07, 2024, 07:06:20 PMDennis Pennis' question of 'Why aren't you funny anymore' had more than a grain of truth.

Apologies for focusing on this particular point from your typically considered and interesting post, Ignatius, but I think it's worth mentioning that Paul Kaye has always expressed regret about that. Martin is one of his heroes, he's mortified by the fact that his one and only encounter with the man was so mean-spirited.

I mean, yes, Martin was in the midst of his bland family comedy phase at the time, and it was a pretty ballsy move to say that to his face (as Kaye later admitted, speed and alcohol boosted his courage during some of those Pennis stunts), but the crestfallen look on Martin's face coupled with Kaye's subsequent regret makes the whole thing rather sad.

Barry Admin

"Yes sir, I damn thee"

Yeah The Jerk is one of the greatest films ever, absolutely phenomenal. "Call him shithead.". Jesus, I watched it over and over when I was growing up.

Love All of Me too, Lily Tomlin is magnificent. Oh I gotta try and watch these again.

I remember getting a brutally worn copy of A Wild and Crazy Guy out on videotape, that was also superb.

One of my favourite things is a very passionate article he wrote about 20 years ago, and it's all about how and why he learned the banjo. Lemme see if I can find it to edit in.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Ignatius_S on March 07, 2024, 07:15:12 PMAlthough Pennies From Heaven has gone through a reassessment and its stock has improved, Martin simply isn't very good and it's classic miscasting. It's very nicely produced, looks great etc but as a project, ill-conceived.


Exactly. I tried watching it once, but had to give up due to my discomfort. As you say, Martin is clearly out of his depth, and while I admire his decision to do something so completely different after The Jerk, the experiment didn't pay off.

Quote from: Ignatius_S on March 07, 2024, 07:15:12 PMInvariably reviewers throughout the years have said the standout turn was this guy:


They're not wrong.

Yes!


Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Barry Admin on March 07, 2024, 07:40:54 PM"Yes sir, I damn thee"

Yeah The Jerk is one of the greatest films ever, absolutely phenomenal. "Call him shithead.". Jesus, I watched it over and over when I was growing up.

"He hates these cans!"

My God, it really is a masterpiece of stupid/clever comedy, a perfect distillation of Martin's entire comic outlook at that time.

Barry Admin

I really need to see the bits with his family again in that film. And just all of it really.

Anyway here's the article about him sitting in his car learning the banjo:


spoilered for length

Banjo
By Steve Martin


I wanted everyone in listening distance to understand that this was something very special, indeed.

The four-string banjo has four strings. The five-string banjo has five. The five-string banjo has a truncated string running half way up the neck. It is called the fifth string and is rarely fretted. It creates a drone. Conventional history places the addition of the fifth string around 1855., but I saw a five-string banjo, by all rights an American instrument, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that dated back to the 1820s. The five-string is the banjo I'm interested in.

The four-string banjo is generally strummed, and the five-string banjo is generally picked. The four-string is associated with Dixieland music, and the five-string is associated with bluegrass or Appalachian music. Some bluegrass banjos are open-backed; some are closed in the back by a resonator. The resonator-backed banjos are louder and sharper than the open-backed. An open-backed banjo is softer and mellower. The five-string open-backed banjo is played in a style called "frailing." I have lost many games of Scrabble by using the word frailing. It is not in the dictionary, but I assure you it's a word as valid as oscillococcinuin. Frailing is a combination of strumming and picking, sometimes called "drop-thumbing." The thumb drops from the fifth string to whatever string it chooses, while the forefinger plucks upward and the rest of the fingers strum across the strings. It is highly rhythmic and strange. Even when I was immersed in learning the banjo, there were some frailing rhythms I could not duplicate or fathom.

The resonator-backed banjo, or bluegrass banjo, is not strummed. It is picked by three fingers, usually in lightning speed. The style was invented by Earl Scruggs in the '30s. He is still the consummate artiste of the bluegrass banjo, because he understands that the player must always make music first, and show off sound second.

The sound I most like, of which Scruggs is a master, is that of a rolling, endlessly punctuating staccato that is at once continuous and broken.

I first heard Earl Scruggs on record in 1962 when I was seventeen years old. I was living in Orange County, California, about as far away from bluegrass country as one could get and not be in Taiwan. The sound penetrated me, however, and I borrowed my girlfriend's father's four-string banjo in order to learn it. I did not know that I was one string away from Nirvana.

Knowing nothing about music, I bought a chord book and meshed my fingers into the steel wires, using my right hand to place my left-hand fingers onto the frets. The first attempts I made sounded like a car being crushed in a metal compactor. I was so ignorant and untrained musically that when I finally learned to play several chords, I could not discern any difference between them.

I had a high school friend named John McEuen, who was also interested in the banjo. He is now one of the finest banjo players in the world. It was at his house in 1964 that a friend, Dave, came over and played the banjo live. Dave sat in front of us and intoned "Floppy Eared Mule," a song whose high point came when the strings were struck behind the bridge, emulating the sound of a donkey's bray. Emulating the sound of a donkey's bray may not be your idea of music, but to us, Dave was Menuhin.

Dave showed us some simple picking patterns and wrote them down in impromptu hieroglyphs on a torn piece of paper. These patterns could be practiced not only on the banjo but also on your school desk and on the car steering wheel and on your pillow just before sleep.

I scraped together two hundred dollars and bought Dave's spare banjo from him. I still have it today, an open-backed frailing banjo, a Gibson RB-170. Its tones have mellowed nicely through the years.

The first song I ever learned was "Cripple Creek." The advantage of learning "Cripple Creek" was that it could be played over and over and over and over into the night, endlessly, forever. WE could play it fast, then we could play it slow. We could modulate from fast to slow. We could play it quiet and then play it loud. It had lyrics that we could sing, and when we came to the end of a verse, the banjo would take over, and I would play it extra loud, believing the increased volume created excitement. Then, after hours of playing "Cripple Creek," we would look at each other and decide it was time to end it, and we would blunder to a coda, stop, and take a break. Then it would be time to play again, and someone would suggest "Cripple Creek," and the whole thing would start all over. To this day, I cannot stand to play "Cripple Creek." I can barely write its title.

Finally, I was ready to play for my high school girlfriend, Linda. I put the banjo on my knee and played in all earnestness. She burst out laughing. The reason she burst out laughing was not my playing, but rather that my lips moved with each finger movement.

Worried that this involuntary twitch would signal the end of my embryonic two-chord career, I tortured myself trying to keep my lips still while playing.

Obsession is a great substitute for talent. I had several 33 rpm banjo records by the Dillards and Earl Scruggs. The Dillards boasted the fastest and most thrilling banjoist alive, Doug Dillard. They played live in Orange County in those days, and watching Doug Dillard was like watching God, if God were a finger-picking madman. Doug, thin as a rail, had a grin that Lewis Carroll could describe, like a piano keyboard stuck on the end of a reed. But the sound of the banjo accelerating from zero to sixty in a nanosecond, in a town that had heretofore heard only the lazy folk guitar, made us freeze. Doug was generous, too, and he would teach us various licks (slang for finger and chord sequences). My obsession was such that I would hibernate in my bedroom and slow down the 33 rpm records to 16, and figure out the songs note by note. This process took days. I would have to down-tune the banjo until it was in the same key as the down-shifted recording, which caused the strings to become so slack that they would oscillate like a slow-motion jump rope. It also drove my parents crazy. Imagine the muffled sound of a banjo being clunked, insistently and arhythmical, through the paper-thin walls of a tract home, of a song being played so slowly that any melody was indecipherable. My understanding of how annoying this must have sounded led me to park my car on the street after dinner, close all the windows -- even in the baking Southern California summer -- and practice into the night. By the time I had closed myself in my '57 Chevy, however, I was getting somewhere, and I was entranced with the sounds I could make. One tone from one string could send me into ecstasy, and here I was, making thousands of notes in thousands of combinations. The songs that I worked on in the Chevy were "Doug's Tune," "Fireball Mail," "Earl's Breakdown," "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," and "Old Joe Clark." I'm sure if that car were unearthed today, my little tunes could be found trapped in the cellulose of its seat cushions.

My interest in the banjo was also heavily fueled by David Lindley. David played in a group at Disneyland called the Mad Mountain Ramblers. During my last two years of high school, I worked at Disneyland performing magic tricks in the magic shop. I arranged a deal with Patty, who worked there with me, where we would cover for each other when she wanted to sneak away to rendezvous with her boyfriend or when I wanted to sneak away to hear the Ramblers. In the summer nights at Disneyland, with the fairy lights in the trees, I would listen amazed as Lindley's authority over his instrument drove the music. I spoke with him once, and he explained the frustration of having his mind outpace his fingers' ability to move. I was still learning to put the fingerpicks on properly. He had an eccentricity of standing on his tiptoes as he played, which I copied for years afterward, thinking it was cool. I was also pleased to see that he moved his lips when he played. I intentionally redeveloped my old habit. Lindley later became a renowned rock 'n' roll guitarist.

Some bluegrass instrumentals are called "breakdowns," which simply describes a song that is played very fast. When a song had the word breakdown in its title, it acquired a mystical oomph that sent the adrenaline rushing and the fingers pumping, whether they were quite ready to play that fast or not. It had the same cache that the word raptor had after the movie Jurassic Park was released. Breakdowns were the meanest and baddest of the banjo tunes. Whenever I played a breakdown, I wanted everyone who was in listening distance to understand that this was something very special indeed. I would convey this by standing on my tip-toes and getting a very serious look on my face and moving my lips.

The Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle Contest took place in the summertime in California, and the contest was held under trees in the dry forests of the Santa Monica mountains. Carrying my banjo in its case, I walked down the long road to the tree-shaded bowl and could hear the tinkling of fifty banjos, all playing different tunes. As there were no seats, the audience spread themselves out on blankets. One could wander away from the contest itself and find, hidden away in the trees, an occasional clump of musicians, all whizzes compared with me, who had found one another and who expertly played the tunes I longed to know. The sound was so pure and exhilarating, it cleansed me. I had about three songs in my repertoire. I entered the contest in the beginner category and vaguely remember winning something, either first or second place. I have a clipping of me onstage that appeared in the local newspaper. Later that day, I heard blues artist Taj Mahal, in the professional category, frail the song "Colored Aristocracy" so vibrantly that I actually wanted to be the song, to be the notes that wafted into the air under the broken sunlight filtering through the trees.

He won.

By the time I got to college, I had discovered another quality of the banjo, which came to dominate my initial desire for speed: melancholy. By then I had found recordings of frailing artists both young and old, who wrung from the banjo an echoing sadness. The banjo has a lonesome sound, reminiscent to me of Scottish and Irish pipe music. One of my favorites was a song written and played by Dick Weissman called "Trail Ridge Road" (later, the title was changed to "Banjo Road"). I learned it the usual way, by slowing down the record. There are odd rhythmic passages that still elude me, but it is one of the few songs that I still play today. I had also become proficient enough to write my own songs. I went to Nashville with my soon-to-be manager, Bill McEuen, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, of which Bill's brother, and my old high school friend, John, was now a member. Catching the coattails of the Dirt Band 's recording time, I taped five original songs with the best bluegrass musicians around: Vassar Clements on fiddle, Junior Husky on bass, Jeff Hanna and John on guitar. Years later, I put the songs on the back of my last comedy album. I still take pride in these early efforts at creativity.

Some of the records I loved were Livin' on the Mountain by Bill Keith and Jim Rooney (Bill Keith stood banjo playing on its ear with his two-finger rendition of "Devil's Dream"); Bluegrass Banjos on Fire by Homer and the Barnstormers (because I have never heard of this group before or since, I believe they were created as a one-shot to satisfy the banjo-recording demand created by the popularity of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," the theme song to Bonnie and Clyde); New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass by Marshall Brickman and Eric Weissberg (Marshall Brickman is now a friend and the talented screenwriter who co-wrote Annie Hall); Old Time Banjo Project, an assemblage of various artists; and my favorites, The Banjo Story and Five-String Banjo Greats, available these days on one CD, under the title Feuding Banjos.

I played the banjo in my stand-up comedy act, largely using it as a prop, but sometimes played a full-out bluegrass song, which the audience tolerated. When I stopped performing live in 1981, I also stopped practicing consistently, though I still pick up the banjo periodically and get my thick fingers moving again. Occasionally, I'll learn a new song.

Several months ago, I went out to the garage and sat in my Lexus and put in a CD of Bill Keith playing his whizbang version of "Auld Lang Syne." I plucked it out note by note on my banjo, just like the old days.

Nothing had changed but the price of the car.

-----------------

*From The Oxford American, double issue 27 & 28 (Summer 1999): 36-38.
[close]

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: checkoutgirl on March 07, 2024, 07:45:02 PMThat one's a rip off of What's Up Tiger Lily, isn't it?

Sort of. What's Up Tiger Lily feels like it was knocked off in a couple of days, it's just Woody Allen and some friends riffing nonsense over an actual film, whereas Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid must've taken ages to put together.

Martin's character interacts with clips from classic Hollywood film noirs, the dialogue and (deliberately) nonsensical plot is structured around an ambitious concept. It runs out of steam within about 20 minutes, as does What's Up Tiger Lily, but it is at least technically more impressive.

Which is, I know, all we fundamentally require from a comedy film. Technical impressiviosity.

checkoutgirl

Quote from: Ignatius_S on March 07, 2024, 07:15:12 PMAlthough Pennies From Heaven has gone through a reassessment and its stock has improved, Martin simply isn't very good and it's classic miscasting. It's very nicely produced, looks great etc but as a project, ill-conceived.

I think he deserves credit that so early in his film career and a guy well known for his comedy, he eschews the other offers and goes instead for a surreal musical drama written by Dennis Potter. The balls on him to get that project done at that time.

neveragain

Quote from: Ballad of Ballard Berkley on March 07, 2024, 07:59:49 PMWhich is, I know, all we fundamentally require from a comedy film. Technical impressiviosity.

This would work very well in Martin's voice.

Let me also recommend his book Pure Drivel. Full of great scraps of comedy writing, my personal highlight being the politician apologising for various ills which steadily grow more deranged.

wrec

Quote from: Barry Admin on March 07, 2024, 07:56:39 PMAnyway here's the article about him sitting in his car learning the banjo:

That's great. Strikes me that there's nothing that Ricky Gervais (or replace with the candidate of your choice) is anywhere near that knowledgeable or passionate about. Even if success went to your head having to work out banjo pieces note by note would bring you back down to earth.

Barry Admin

Quote from: wrec on March 08, 2024, 08:28:37 AMThat's great. Strikes me that there's nothing that Ricky Gervais (or replace with the candidate of your choice) is anywhere near that knowledgeable or passionate about. Even if success went to your head having to work out banjo pieces note by note would bring you back down to earth.

Isn't it wonderful? His passion has lived with me all these years. There is a brief addendum too, which further illustrates your point:

QuoteOn February 9, 2001, Steve Martin appeared at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco as part of the City Arts and Lectures programs sponsored by KQED, the San Francisco Public Radio station. He was interviewed on his career and his writing by David Kippen, book editor from the San Francisco Chronicle. During that interview, he answered a question about his banjo playing. He mentioned this article. He said:

"Well, I guess ... uh... it was quite an honor. Earl Scruggs called me and I recorded "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with him about two months ago for his 75th anniversary album. And I must say I can be good, but you know you have to practice and it's where, you know, four songs. And I went in to record, and they said, "okay, here's the track." And it was sooo fast. I just looked at them. I said, "I don't know if I can do this. But you just do it. You just sit down, and I was loosening up my fingers... so that will be out soon. And I don't know ... I did write an essay on banjo. I don't know where you'd find it... it was in a magazine called ... "Southern ... Alcoholics." I don't know, I wrote an essay. I used to ... I learned to play when I was seventeen and maybe, well, you wouldn't be able to do this, but I took 33 rpm records of banjo music and played them at 16, tuned my banjo down to match, and then sat there and picked out out note by note, just sat there.... ummmm ... that's a lot of time on your hands. And I used to go sit in the car at night, 'cause you couldn't play in the house, and play."