50 stiffs in 2010: solomon burke
October 20, 2010, 6:08 pm
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

solomon burke, soul singer extraordinaire. born: philadelphia (1940 – 2010)

solomon burke is best known here at pictomat as the writer and original singer of the soul classic “everybody needs somebody to love”. his hit was covered in the late 1960’s by another pictomat favorite, the wicked wilson pickett, and also by the early rolling stones. mick once said that burke’s phrasing had a pronounced impact on his own voice.

burke was more than a tad on the overtly extravagant side in his physical appearance. he wore a crown based, he said, “on henry the fifth’s”, and various, and too numerous velvet robes. pictomat does hold him dear to our hearts because when speaking he always referred to himself using the royal “we”. but let’s not forget his voice. in two words: rough, yet sublime.


50 stiffs in 2010: joan sutherland, 50 best voices
October 13, 2010, 2:01 pm
Filed under: 50 best voices, 50 stiffs in 2010

joan sutherland, opera singer. born: sydney, australia (1926 -2010)

while pictomat appreciates the opera, we are no experts on joan sutherland, her life, or career. however, dear jtm was sadden deeply by this news, and offered up his feelings on the dear woman:

arrivederci la stupenda!

joan sutherland died today. even though ms. sutherland hasn’t sung for years, hearing of her death snatched away a little piece of magic. joan was everyman’s sheila and everybody’s mum. she had the jaw of a linebacker, but she also had a voice that was like a slice of heaven. it was an amazing voice. the sort of voice that can convince you the human race has a higher calling … that you might have a higher calling. all this from a woman you could easily imagine had just hung up a fresh load of laundry or vacuumed the carpet. i will miss you joanie.

50 stiffs in 2010: arthur penn
October 1, 2010, 6:40 pm
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

arthur penn, american film and stage director. born: philidelphia (1922 – 2010)

arthur penn died at 88 one day after his birthday. while not a prolific director, he did manage to make the ever popular, but rather mundane film, “the diary of anne frank” (1962).

his real fame came with “bonnie and clyde” (1967) with warren beatty and faye dunaway. the film, though a rather romantic view of the real life bank robbing duo, shook the country with the shear brutality of its ending sequence, where both bonnie and clyde are killed in a slow motion hail of bullets and buckets of blood. it was a masterful piece of work, but penn was forever blamed for the overt violence that quickly permeated american film.

50 stiffs in 2010: tony curtis, 50 fantastic films: sweet smell of success
September 30, 2010, 3:46 pm
Filed under: 50 fantastic films, 50 stiffs in 2010

tony curtis, actor. born: new york city (1925 – 2010)

tony curtis, probably not appreciate by most critics as the fine actor he could often be, died today. while best known and loved for his appearance with marilyn monroe and jack lemmon in the great and acerbic director billy wilder’s comic “some like it hot”, the real highlight of his carreer came earlier, in 1957, when he played sidney falco to burt lancaster’s j.j. hunsecker in the great film noir flick “sweet smell of success”.

sweet smell of success (1957), director: alexander mackendrick, born: boston (1912 -1993)

we don’t have time to do justice to curtis’ best film but “sweet smell of success” is a hell of a good watch. it is about a gossip columnist (lancaster), based on the real and evil walter winchell, and a press agent (curtis). the film was not a success due to several reasons: one, curtis was playing against his usual pretty boy persona, and two, theaters were nervous about showing a film that so thinly disguised lancaster, who was obviously playing the powerful newsman winchell. it was a hell of a good film noir, and although both the film and curtis were not recognized for the effort upon release, it has since be re-evaluated and considered one of america’s great, although not overly well known movies. it is out on dvd, and the steller criterion collection is rumored to soon be releasing it in a restored bluray edition. check tony curtis out at his best. lancaster is no slouch in “sweet smell” either, but then he is one of america’s truly great actors. and to put it mildly, he is devastating here. rent it from netflicks tonight!

50 stiffs in 2010: robert f. boyle
August 12, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

robert f. boyle, art director and set designer, born: los angeles, california (1909 – 2010), photo from “north by northwest” directed by alfred hitchcock.

robert f. boyle is certainly not known by a large percentage of the world, nor do many understand what exactly an art director and production designer do. whenever pictomat watches that annual, and insufferable extravaganza called “the academy awards”, fellow viewers grown when these awards are presented. the academy, with its usual lack of wisdom, chooses movies that are a very showy example of what these artisans do. the more subtle practitioners of these trades have even harder jobs.

mr. boyle happened to work on more “prestigious” hollywood films and so his work, particularly for director alfred hitchcock, tends toward that “showy” side. however, some of his set pieces (and yes, that is part of what a production designer does, besides overseeing costumes, the wallpaper in rooms, and generally the entire look of a film) have become iconic images in american film.

in “north by northwest” boyle was the production designer and responsible for making it appear that cary grant and eva marie saint climb across the face of the presidents on mt. rushmore by using matte paintings, rear project photography, and only the smallest pieces of fabricated presidential heads. one other memorable scene in that same movie is “the crop duster” episode where mr. grant runs across a corn field as a crop duster flies above trying to kill the ever dapper hero. boyle used a mixture of a real and a toy planes and cars in this tense sequence.

boyle took an entirely different track when he used the actual clutter family house where the murders of the family took place when he did production design on the film adaptation of truman capote’s non-fiction crime book “in cold blood”.

if pictomat had to pick a production designer currently working as an exemplary example of a less splashy approach to set and production design, pictomat would choose william chang who has collaborated on every wong kar-wai film. his exquisite recreations of hong kong in the 1970’s made the “mood” of kar-wai’s “in the mood for love” (2000) attain its status by many critics as probably the best movie of this new century. [let’s not forget to credit kar-wai’s incomparable cinematographer christopher doyle, and his actors, tony leung and maggie chung in wong’s tight group of frequent collaborators.]

boyle worked in a different time and place, and  pictomat fears that had he been working on current hollywood films, his work would not be as imaginative or interest as the work he did with master filmmaker alfred hitchcock. the computer imagery used today can make films look overly glossed up. boyle found simple solutions to complex visual problems.

50 stiffs in 2010: daniel schoor
July 28, 2010, 1:39 am
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

daniel schoor, born: nyc, 1916 – died: washington d.c., 2010. journalist

a great american journalist for more than 60 years (in fact, he was reporting only months ago). he considered his most cherished award being on disgraced president nixon’s “enemy list”, which he found out about when reading those names while on the air at c.b.s in 1971 (he was number 17, near paul newman, number 19).

he refused to tell his sources on several news stories and was impolitely told to leave c.b.s. he went to c.n.n. and finally to n.p.r. in the mid 1980’s where he remained a voice of reason, tinged with left wing leanings until his death earlier this week. a true icon with with a strong american revolutionary spirit.

50 stiffs in 2010: harvey fuqua
July 12, 2010, 9:47 pm
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

harvey fuqua, born lousville, kentucky 1929, died detroit, michigan on july 6th – singer, songwriter, producer (photo: left to right: marvin gaye and his wife anna gordy gaye, gwen gordy fuqua, and her husband harvey fuqua)

pictomat can only hope to reach 50 important deaths this year. however, there couldn’t be a more versatile man to start the catagory. for being as industrious and interesting, it took a lot of searching to find out the twists and turns in this man’s career. pictomat will know now to look at british newspaper obits for american music information. if there is one thing the brits know, it is rock and roll music history.

harvey fuqua was part of the doo-wop group “the moonglows” that had two giant hits in the late 1950’s, “sincerely” and “ten commandments of love”, on leon and phil chess brothers’ famous chicago label chess records. fuqua discovered etta james for the brothers and their label. she had hopes of marrying fuqua. fuqua had other ideas. he took his drummer, marvin gaye to barry gordy’s motown label and he married gordy’s sister gwen while gaye took anna (both stunners).

at motown, he left singing behind and spent his most fertile years there signing jr. walker and the all stars and the spinners. he produced the now singing mr. gaye and later suggested teaming gaye up with the unknown tammi terrel, producing the first of their long string of hits “ain’t  no mountain high enough”. fuqua stuck around motown long enough to help write diana ross’s swan song with the supremes “someday we’ll be together”. it is fuqua’s frequent writing partner johnny bristol and producer of the song that prompts miss ross along with the “you tell ’em” ad libs in the backround and with the typical motown lack of class, the rest of the supremes did not appear on their own farewell tune with ross.

fuqua left motown. when disco hit, he discovered sylvester and the hot band in san francisco (with backround singers, the two-tons-of-fun, who later became the weathergirls of “it’s raining men” fame). pictomat frequently watched sylvester, the town’s most famous drag performer (who really sang!) at bars on polk street. pictomat’s best friend in bagdad on the bay used to eat barbequed ribs with sylvester’s backup singers the two-tons-of-fun (the singers ate quite alot of bbq). sylvester, produced by fuqua, made two disco classic together, “dance to the disco heat” and “you make me feel might real”.

fuqua reunited with marvin gaye, now a supa-dupa-star, and produced gaye’s last monster hit “sexual healing”. what a career! there couldn’t be a more worthy person to start this new “stiffs” category. you will be missed, harvey.