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Archive for September 9th, 2011

Friday Feature: “Lost Horizon” (1973)

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Have you ever dreamed of a place far away from it all?  Where the air you breathe is soft and clean, and children play in fields of green?  And the sound of guns doesn’t pound in your ears anymore?

Hal David’s lyrics expressed a sentiment shared by many of the optimistic generation who hadn’t yet felt their ideals vanquished by the reality of Vietnam and growing dissension under the White House of President Richard M. Nixon.  David’s words were captivatingly sung by folk artist Shawn Phillips, signed at the time to the A&M label, and set to a haunting melody from Burt Bacharach that’s removed from both the exuberance of “I Say a Little Prayer” and the soul of “Walk on By.”  Bacharach and David composed the song for producer Ross Hunter’s 1973 motion picture Lost Horizon, described at its release by The New York Times’ Vincent Canby as a “big, stale marshmallow.”  Canby continued to call out the film’s “surprisingly tacky…appearance,” asserting that “the second rate auspices just about destroys everyone in the film, with the possible exceptions of [Peter] Finch, [Bobby] Van and Michael York.”  And Canby was one of the kinder critics.  Lost Horizon became one of the costliest flops and most notorious disasters in film history.  What happened?  Where did it go wrong?

Yet against all odds, Lost Horizon is finally arriving on DVD on October 4 courtesy of Columbia Pictures’ MOD (Made on Demand) DVD-R program.  But this won’t be a bare-bones release; the studio is promising that it will be “packed with extras” and fully remastered; in other words, the kind of treatment usually reserved for a classic, cult or otherwise.  If the time hasn’t come and likely won’t for Lost Horizon to be reappraised as a cinematic masterpiece, we can still appreciate it without irony for its one unmistakably terrific element: its music by Burt Bacharach.  Today’s Friday Feature celebrates the music of Lost Horizon.

The saga of Lost Horizon began in 1933 with James Hilton’s novel, imagining an idyllic Shangri-La tucked away in a Tibetan valley where illness, age and poverty are unknown.  One year later, after the success of Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, readers discovered Lost Horizon, and it became a bestseller.  In 1937, Frank Capra adapted it into a well-regarded film version starring Ronald Colman, which won two Academy Awards out of seven nominations, and in 1939 the paperback edition of the original Hilton novel became Pocket Book No. 1.  Both the novel and Capra’s film can be interpreted as explicitly anti-war; when a 1942 re-release of the film cut one of Colman’s speeches in which he mocked war, Capra balked.

The story remained in the public consciousness, and was first musicalized in 1956 with a book and lyrics credited to Hilton (who had died in 1954), Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (the team behind Auntie Mame) and music by Harry Warren (42nd Street).  Despite this pedigree and a cast including Jack Cassidy, Alice Ghostley and Carol Lawrence, the musical expired after a mere 21 performances at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, now the home of Mamma Mia!.  Hallmark Hall of Fame resuscitated the Warren/Lawrence/Lee musical for television in 1960, and Ghostley even reprised her role.  But Shangri-La (with song titles including both “Lost Horizon” and “Shangri-La”) was destined for obscurity.  The next chapter of the Lost Horizon story, though, would make a splash in every respect.  Hit the jump, and I’ll meet you in 1973!  Bring your popcorn; we’ve provided the clips! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 9, 2011 at 13:06

Ode To A Kudu: CTI Masterworks Series Continues In October With Kudu Titles

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Tuesday, August 9 brought the most recent quartet of CTI jazz titles to CD from Sony’s Masterworks Jazz division.  For the next batch, due October 4, the label has turned its attention to CTI’s offshoot label, Kudu.  Named after the long-horned African mammal, Kudu was launched by CTI’s Creed Taylor in 1971.  Taylor described his new endeavor as “a black awareness label, more commercial oriented than CTI and indigenous to the black popular music of the United States.”  Even the logo’s familiar Afro-centric colors would be a calling card to Kudu’s mission.  If the Kudu albums were designed in a much less lavish fashion than their CTI counterparts, the music within the grooves could be just as incendiary.

Four Kudu titles are arriving in new, remastered editions housed in soft-pack digipaks: Lonnie Smith’s Mama Wailer; Esther Phillips’ Performance; Hank Crawford’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing; and Johnny Hammond’s Wild Horses/Rock Steady.    While the other titles have been available as expensive imports, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing is making its first appearance on CD.  Although Sony no longer controls the Kudu catalogue of Grover Washington, Jr. (which was sold by Taylor to Motown as part of the deal to dissolve Kudu’s distribution deal with the Motor City giant), these four titles prove without a doubt that Kudu had much to offer.

Lonnie Smith’s 1971 Mama Wailer was only the second Kudu release, after Johnny Hammond’s Breakout.   Smith, on organ, clavinet and vocals, contributed two original songs alongside two well-selected contemporary pop covers: Sly and the Family Stone’s powerfully-charged “Stand!” (stretched to a monumental 17+ minutes!) and Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.”  CTI family members like Ron Carter and Airto Moreira contributed to the album, as did Kudu labelmate Grover Washington, Jr., whose Inner City Blues would follow as Kudu’s third release.

Continuing chronologically, Hammond’s Wild Horses/Rock Steady was originally issued in 1972 as the fourth Kudu album.  Electric pianist/organist Hammond, who had covered Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” and the Jackson 5’s Clifton Davis-penned “Never Can Say Goodbye” on his debut Breakout, continued to demonstrate his good taste in cover material.  On Wild Horses/Rock Steady, he tackles not only those Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin songs, respectively, but Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” and two songs from rock musicals: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, and Galt MacDermot and John Guare’s “Who is Sylvia?” from Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Bob James arranged and conducted the album’s orchestration, while Washington, Moreira, Carter and George Benson all guested.  This album epitomizes producer Creed Taylor’s crossover style, with equal appeal to jazz fans and rock/pop fans alike.  After the jump we’ll fill you in on what’s coming from Esther Phillips and Hank Crawford, as well as full track listings for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 9, 2011 at 10:44