It is sorely tempting to recommend Battleground as a Holiday movie because so much of the action takes place around Christmastime. But since it’s an archetypal World War II film I figured I better just include it along with the other classic movies we talk about around here. Still, there is something about watching it during the Holiday Season that makes you thankful that such brave soldiers stepped up to the grueling challenge of defeating the monstrosity that was Nazi Germany those many years ago. And while this 1949 movie is a long way from the justifiably gung ho, sentimental propaganda that was a Hollywood mainstay during the actual war years, I’d still be willing to bet that you might find yourself tearing up at points thinking about what these young men had to go through in order to prevail against such steep odds. Such is the excellence and impact of the terrifically well made Battleground even to this day.
The film recounts the famous predicament of a very banged up and replacement-heavy Army VIII Corps, including the 101st Airborne division, when they were cut off and encircled deep in the Ardennes Forest by the Third Reich’s last desperate offensive push, which became known as the Battle of the Bulge. Familiar to anyone who has watched the excellent HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, this was actually a cock up by the Allied Forces by somewhat letting down their guard after the initial hard-fought success of D-Day and the semi-setback of Market Garden. The massive and perfectly orchestrated German attack on overly stretched lines took the Americans and the Allies completely by surprise and it was only after very hurried reinforcement, enduring heavy casualties and the clearing of some of the worst winter weather in years that the combination of Patton’s 3rd Army coming up from the south and US air power could be successfully deployed to bring relief to the soldiers trapped in the Ardennes. In all, the Battle of the Bulge lasted from December 14, 1944 to January 25, 1945 but the key breakthrough by Patton’s forward relief force arrived the day after Christmas, the true beginning of the end of the battle. A largely German-American affair, each side suffered massive casualties but ultimately it was the outnumbered Americans who thwarted the surprise German advance, eventually breaking the back of the enemy incursion and essentially dooming the potential for the Third Reich to sue for peace on any terms other than complete surrender.
The excellent ensemble cast features the great character actor James Whitmore as the rock-like Platoon Sargent Kinnie, Van Johnson (usually a song & dance man) as the very funny and reluctantly heroic scrounger PFC Holley and a young and very good Ricardo Montalban as Los Angelino “Johnny” Roderigues, among other quality performances. Continue reading →
After all that shopping, general running around and all those holiday parties the day itself has finally arrived. So Merry Christmas from all of us here at MFL to all of you and yours! May your holiday be filled with joy, friends & family and good food & drink. Enjoy the day’s celebrations and get home safely — it really is a wonderful life so remember to count your blessings and toast your good fortune. We’re certainly very appreciative that you stop by from time to time and we raise our glasses of ‘Nog to you!
A classic 1960s psychedelic two-hit wonder, Spirit roared out of LA in 1968 with the exceptionally propulsive, catchy and self-assured “I Got A Line On You”, one of the great hits of the decade.
Featuring stinging guitar work by their shaggy frontman, the perfectly named Randy California, and the inspired backbeat of middle-aged bald-headed powerhouse Jack Cassidy, Spirit put hard rock front and center in their classic hippy come on. “Line” eschewed their usual mystical, trippy approach for straight ahead power pop and enhanced by by their eclectic visual appeal as a unit the result was a Top 25 hit in the USA.
But the band was simply too idiosyncratic for any sustained pop success, constantly experimenting with word poems and extended musical meditations with titles like “Fresh Garbage” that pleased the faithful but not the masses. They did have one more great hit up their sleeves, California’s beautiful “Nature’s Way”.
Released in 1970 and channeling the justifiable environmental concerns of the counterculture into one epically lovely and well constructed ballad, “Nature’s Way” is another all-time great by the band. It could also be seen as Spirit’s swan song, as they would only make a limited commercial impact after that. But in addition to these two stone classics, Spirit produced a lot of worthwhile music during their halcyon days at the crossroads of the death of the 60s and dawn of the 70s. If you’re an aficionado of that particular period of Rock history and like the way the band comes across on these two hits you could do worse than to explore further with a greatest hits package. Spirit may be an acquired taste but their music still packs a heady, distinctively organic punch unlike so many of the other ersatz studio creations of the period. There’s never any doubt whatsoever that this was a real band along the lines of a Jefferson Airplane and not a manufactured product like the Association. And that makes Spirit well worth delving into if the psychedelic era is your scene.
The hits just keep on coming as we count down the 12 Days of Christmas. On offer now is this handsome and oh-so-funky early 1970s Longines Ultra-Chron model with unusual water resistant square “compressor” case and sparkingly stunning metallic blue dial.
All original down to the unique square convex acrylic crystal and in overall Excellent vintage condition, this Ultra-Chron has great wrist presence. In fact it wears a heckuva lot like a 3/4 scale Heuer Monaco! Chances are their two-piece snap-together steel cases were made by the same Piquerez factory, as well.
Under the hood purrs a high-beat in-house Longines caliber 431, one of the great Swiss watch manufacturer’s last exceptional self-produced movements before the quartz revolution forced them to outsource. It all adds up to a lot of unique style, tradition and downright blue beauty in this cool steel package, poised and ready to make a major impression this Holiday Season. And all for well under a grand. Better pounce if you want to put it under your tree!
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!” Long before the character Jack Torrance in the Shining typed this sentence (and typed this sentence) into pop culture infamy, it has been a recurring idea in western literature for centuries. This theme crossed my mind after visiting the opening of Products of the Playful, a tightly organized show by Art + Method, a new gallery in Bushwick, smartly converted from lofty apartment to art/event space.
There is a focused intensity to this group selection, but the variety of processes and spirited experimentation are the overriding characteristics for the work by artists, Kirkland Bray, Adam Frezza & Terri Chiao, Kate Nielsen and Adams Puryear. The show’s title leads with the word “Products”, alluding to the artists’ connection to design and the applied arts. But this term, as used in mathematics, can also express a greater result achieved when multiplying quantities. Fittingly, each artist shows tandem bodies of work, where the interplay of drawing, collage, painting, environmental sculpture and ceramics heighten the senses, both the tactile and visual.
As the Holiday Season enters full swing it’s best to arm yourself with some classic vintage wrist wear that’ll get you to the parties on time while also showing off your unique sense of style once you arrive. And here’s just the sort of distinctive watch to help you make an impression when you’re out and about this December: a fantastic Longines Conquest automatic from 1960.
Featuring one of the most unique dial layouts in the vintage watch world, this Conquest has a most distinctive original “sunken track” dial with eccentric bar & coffin markers and date at “12.” Its also got a long-lugged all stainless steel screw down case for good water resistance in the event of snow showers or cocktail mishaps.
Aside from its remarkable wrist presence — you’re as likely to see someone else wearing this as you are to catch Santa coming down the chimney — this Longines is powered by one of their best-ever movements from back in the day, their own in-house caliber 291. It featured a boatload of technical innovations at the time. But all you need to know is that its been recently serviced, runs like a top and is good to go for many more New Years to come.
Style, rarity and pure class on the wrist — all for just a tick over $1k? Ho ho ho, indeed.
Scott Weiland has passed away while on tour at the age of 48 (the New York Times Obituary is here). Best known as the lead singer for 1990s hit-making machine Stone Temple Pilots, Weiland had a strong and versatile rock voice, a flamboyantly aggressive stage presence and a penchant for dark lyrics. But he was also a long time substance abuser, including periods of serious heroin use, and that definitely compromised his abilities on stage if not in the studio. In fact, he was kicked out of STP more than once and also by the “supergroup” Velvet Revolver (basically Guns ‘n Roses without Axl Rose), the band he joined in 2002 after he was booted by STP for the first time. In later years he revealed he had been sexually assaulted as a young boy so if he went looking for something strong to numb that pain while appearing to live the “glamorous” drug-fueled life of a rock star who could really blame him?
A distant sixth behind Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Tress, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains in the rankings of the biggest Grunge Heavyweights, Stone Temple Pilots were also seen by many as opportunistic California carpetbaggers as opposed to genuine practitioners of Seattle’s own proud hometown music genre. But on any given single or any given concert performance STP could really rock it and in fact they brought a pleasingly tacky and grandiose arena-oriented feel to the scene. Their first two (and best) albums, Core (1992) and Purple (1994), show such a dichotomy of sonic approaches — Core almost like parody version of Pearl Jam with a harder edge and nastier themes and Purple departing comfortably for polished power pop territory — that the distinct impression is not so much a band wedded to a particular genre but rather a band without a real identity yet still making music so well-crafted and executed that they can’t help but churn out huge hits. So much so that for some of us who were young and impressionable in the 90s, STP’s music is indelibly part of the soundtrack of our youth right alongside their more highly regarded rivals.
And if Weiland’s voice was not really a match in distinctiveness when pitted against Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Mark Lanegan, Layne Staley or even the shrieking of Kurt Cobain, he was nonetheless a top-notch rock frontman with the ability to cover a wide range from laid back nasal to growling bellow to belted out ballad. Those first two STP albums hold up remarkably well some 20+ years later despite — or maybe because of — their lack of stylistic similarity. And Scott Weiland’s formidable vocals are a big reason why. If his subsequent career and life was something of a mess and neither he or the band could ever match those heights again, well, that’s hardly a unique story in Rock ‘n Roll history is it? The simple fact is that Scott Weiland had the chops and sheer will to make himself into a rock star, performed like a rock star and definitely lived like a rock star. It’s also a fact that his chosen vocation probably killed him before he turned 50. It’s sad but certainly not unexpected. Weiland lived longer than most people thought he ever would and a hell of a lot longer than his contemporaries Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. Nobody ever said rock stars are promised a ripe old age, particularly those who don’t change their wicked ways. And once again, for the umpteenth time, we have proof of that. But what else would Scott Weiland have done with his life if not live fast, die young and leave a pile of hit records behind? Would he — could he — really have done it any differently?