#ChoralMarch, March 23rd, “Echelon’s Song”, Red Army Chorus

This plays over the credits of the Coen Brothers’ wildly entertaining ode to the last days of the Hollywood Studio System, Hail Caesar!

You’ll have to watch it to find out why this works so well (both thematically and as a sonic analogue to the frenetic comic action)


#ChoralMarch: March 12th, “Arise Ye Russian Peoples”, from Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev

Is Sergei Prokofiev’s score to Alexander Nevsky, the Eistenstein tale of a heroic Russian unifier defeating a Teutonic foe which was naturally enough suitable propaganda for Stalin, the greatest soundtrack of all time? Watching the movie is somewhat unnerving, with its deChristianised orthodox steeples and evidently propagandist purpose. The soundtrack, by a composer who was one of the very very few who was an exile from the Bolsheviks to subsequently return to Stalin’s Russia and survive purges and the war (to die on the same day as Stalin, just as C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley died the day of Kennedy’s assassination which naturally overshadowed their deaths), is a superbly dramatic piece of work with atmospheric highlight after atmospheric highlight. None more so than this stirring anthem:


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Something I never knew about Steve Buscemi

Sadly, the choreographer and filmmaker Jo Andres has died . Here is her (as of this writing) Wikipedia bio:

Jo Andres (born 1953 — died January 2019) was an American filmmakerchoreographer and artist.

Andres first became known on the kinetic downtown New York performance scene of the 1980s for her film/dance/light performances, shown at the Performing Garage, La Mama E.T.C., P.S. 122, St. Marks Danspace, and the Collective for Living Cinema.[1] As a filmmaker, Andres drew acclaim and awards for the 1996 film, Black Kites which aired on PBS and played several film festivals, including Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, London and Human Rights Watch Film Festivals.[2] Andres directed music and art videos, as well as her own film performance works. Andres was a dance consultant to the acclaimed Wooster Group.

She has been an artist in residence at leading universities, museums and art colonies, including Yaddo, and The Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. Andres created a series of cyanotype photographs which can be seen on her website.[3][4]

She and her husband, actor Steve Buscemi, have one son, Lucian, born in 1990.[5] She died on January 11th, 2019

I never knew that Steve Buscemi used to be a firefighter before he acted:

Buscemi was a New York City firefighter from 1980 to 1984, with Engine Company No. 55, in the Little Italy section of New York. The day after the 9/11 attacks in New York, he returned to his old firehouse to volunteer: he worked twelve-hour shifts for a week, and dug through rubble looking for missing firefighters. On May 25, 2003, Buscemi was arrested with nineteen other people, while protesting the closing of a number of firehouses, including Engine 55.[35]

There are quite a few actors – Dennis Farina, Denis Franz, Fred Thompson – who worked in law enforcement prior to acting. And many Hollywood actors from the 40s til 80s or so had served in World War II.

However, unlike Farina et al, Buscemi was not (in my mind anyway) immediately associated with his prior profession. Indeed, his roles generally involved playing unflattering characters quite removed from the heroic image of firefighters. I would have associated Denis Leary much more closely with firefighting. It turns out Leary’s cousin and a close friend were firemen who died in a 1999 warehouse fire.  While I find Leary’s pseudo tough guy schtick quite tiresome (and a lot is apparently “borrowed” from Bill Hicks, who I also find vastly overrated) this work does seem entirely admirable.

Anyway, there is something quite impressive not only about Buscemi’s post September 11th actions and evident direct support of firefighters since, but also how he has not especially coasted on his past (I don’t think he has played firefighters on screen)

In any case it is obviously a sad time for him and his family.  Rest in peace Jo Andres.



“Have yourself a merry little Christmas…” – the execution scene from “The Victors” (1963)

The Victors is a 1963 film depicting American GIs over the course of World War II.

Portrayals of World War II now tend to be reverent and serious, ever since Saving Private Ryan I guess – and I guess the fact that many of the “Greatest Generation” are dying off underlies this. Irreverent World War II films like Hannibal Brooks , Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen and Catch-22 were very much a product of the later sixties. Many of the stars such as Terry Savalas and Charles Bronson had seen combat service and I wonder if the generation that had actually fought frontline were now in a position to influence the movies that were made.

The Victors came before these films and suffered at the box office. Its most famous scene is a stark, dialogue-free few minutes accompanied by Frank Sinatra singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” This must be one of the first deliberately ironic uses of a piece of popular music on film (though I guess the bombast of some of the Citizen Kane soundtrack, for instance, is an ironic comment on its subject)

This scene was inspired by the execution of Eddie Slovik, the only GI executed for desertion in World War II – indeed the only US soldier executed for a “purely military” offence during the War. Slovik’s story inspired Kurt Vonnegut to write a new libretto for Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Life.

The Wikipedia page on Slovik contains this poignant detail of his wife’s efforts to clear his name;

Slovik was buried in Plot E of Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, alongside 95 American soldiers executed for rape and/or murder. Their grave markers are hidden from view by shrubbery and bear sequential numbers instead of names, making it impossible to identify them individually without knowing the key. Antoinette Slovik petitioned the Army for her husband’s remains and his pension until her death in 1979.

Slovik’s case was taken up in 1981 by former Macomb County Commissioner Bernard V. Calka, a Polish-American World War II veteran, who continued to petition the Army to return Slovik’s remains to the United States. In 1987, he persuaded President Ronald Reagan to order their return.[13] In 1987, Calka raised $5,000 to pay for the exhumation of Slovik’s remains from Row 3, Grave 65 of Plot E and their transfer to Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery, where Slovik was reburied next to his wife.[13]

Antoinette Slovik and others petitioned seven US presidents (Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter) for a pardon, but none were granted.

Sinatra actually recorded this version specifically for The Victors. From Mark Steyn:

if I had to name the second best movie deployment of “Merry Little Christmas”, check out its ironic reprise in Carl Foreman’s film The Victors (1963), a big sprawling drama of George Hamilton, Peter Fonda, Albert Finney and co on the march through Europe, loving and leaving Melina Mercouri, Romy Schneider, Jeanne Moreau, Elke Sommer and other Eurototty en route. The most memorable moment is the execution of a deserter by a firing squad. Anyone who thinks Quentin Tarantino started this sort of thing with “Stuck In The Middle With You” should check out the scene where the guy’s comrades are driven through the snows to witness his dispatch to the accompaniment of Frank singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. In Tarantino’s case, the movies just use the old pop records. But Sinatra chose to make his third recording of “Merry Little” for this macabre little scene. With Bill Miller on piano, he put down a vocal in July 1963, and two months later in Britain Wally Stott conducted along the orchestra to Frank’s voice track, and created (to my ears) a superior version to the Jenkins chart. If you’re wondering who that British conductor is, Wally Stott was a famous London arranger who became Angela Morley, moved to America and wound up doing the music for “Dallas”. Muddling through somehow, you might say. You can find my favorite Wally Stott story here, about halfway down the page.