Originally published on The Solute

You’ll get no argument saying Nina Simone’s a great artist. But like so many of the greats, it’s much harder to nail down just what kind of artist she is. Both jazz and soul fans have tried to claim her, but either one of those genres accounts for only a fraction of her work. It might be more accurate to say she’s the last of the great all-around entertainers — the heir to Harry Belafonte and Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, the kind of lounge singers who could play anything the audience requests and play…

Originally published on The Solute

90-odd years after he first tromped onto the stage of Thimble Theatre, Popeye’s in a strange position. He’s so entrenched in American pop culture he’s unlikely to ever be forgotten, but he’s remembered for the wrong reasons. The same way Popeye took over Thimble Theater and buried its original stars, Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy, the animated Popeye has buried its newsprint predecessor.

And that’s a shame. The classic Fleischer cartoons are often very good, but the original comics by E.C. Segar, who punnily signed his name with a cigar butt, are something else altogether…

Originally published on The Solute

Listen: Eraserhead has come unstuck in time.

It’s autumn, 2012. I’m lying on a bed in a dorm room in Tennessee across from my roommate’s life-sized poster of himself. I’m watching Eraserhead on a laptop, on Hulu — they still have access to the Criterion Collection.

It’s 1970. David Lynch comes up with a story about Henry, a man struggling with his horrible nightmare baby (“They’re still not sure it is a baby!”) in a horrible nightmare world, based on his actual dreams and daydreams. …

Originally published on The Solute
Europa ’51
is the best argument for creative marriages. It’s one of six films the great Roberto Rossellini made with his wife, the equally great Ingrid Bergman. Rossellini finds the beauty and drama in Bergman’s face the way only someone who’s learned to love her can. He makes everyone see the beauty he’s found there.

Bergman and Rossellini are in true collaboration here, not just in the way he directs her performance, but in the way he organizes the visuals. She glows with spiritual light after her awakening, with Rossellini’s lighting sometimes, subtly, creating a…

Originally published on The Solute

1971 was an extraordinary year in music history, as the creative explosion of the late ’60s continued to reverberate and artists began building the sound of the next decade. It can be hard to tell the difference between the canons of greatest ’71 albums and greatest albums of all time — What’s Going On, Blue, Maggot Brain, Led Zeppelin’s IV, Who’s Next.

So it’s no surprise that next to this blockbuster competition, some equally great records slipped through the cracks — Jimmie Spheeris’ softly entrancing Isle of View, The Last Poets’ decades-too-early rap masterpiece This…

Originally published on The Solute

In 1937, Disney graduated from shorts to features with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. By the laws of critical consensus, first=best, but rewatching it as an adult, I was struck by how much it shows Disney’s difficulty transitioning into a new form. It often feels like a bunch of shorts stuck together, padded out to feature length with dwarfs and cute animals getting into slapstick shenanigans. …

Originally published on The Solute

Spoilers ahead

Shutter Island seems on the face of it like a textbook minor work — Martin Scorsese as hired gun, taking a job off the line to adapt Dennis Lehane’s novel into yet another grim “what-is-real?” thriller of the kind that flooded theaters in the post-Matrix, post-Fight Club turn of the millennium.

But like all of Scorsese’s “minor works,” he doesn’t stop being Scorsese just because he’s no longer telling stories of tough guys and gangsters. …

Originally published on The Solute

Popeye begins 1935 in Black Valley, investigating a gang of claimjumpers fed on tainted cactus berries that strip them of their conscience. Popeye comes up with an odd solution, a superhero-comic-esque combination of crossover and continuity. He’ll counteract the mean drug with a happy drug — “Myrtholene — the stuff wich a fellow by the name of John Sappo invented a few years ago.”

Who’s John Sappo? Well, in those days of oversized Sunday funnies, most artists used part of the extra space for “toppers,” supplemental strips running above or below the main action, and…

⁠Originally published on The ⁠Solute

Nowadays, newspaper comics are the lowest form of life — page after page of crotchety old farts complaining about golf and their wives for readers to skim past on their way to the crosswords, copies of copies that have been running on autopilot longer than most of us have been alive. Occasionally masterpieces like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts rise above the sludge, but that’s an awful lot of sludge to rise above.

But it hadn’t always been this way. Before the World War II paper shortage shrunk the canvas, before TV leeched away the…

Mad Love opens in the Theatre de Horrors, a Grand Guignol knockoff packed full of chintzy Gothic kitsch — the ticket seller wears a bug-eyed, long-tongued mask, and the coat-check girl walks around without a head so casually you might think she forgot she’s in costume. The original script even says the torture onstage should be more silly than scary. It’s a gauntlet throw of an opening. Oh, you think this is scary? director Karl Freund seems to say. We’ll show you scary.

And he does, immediately finding much more intense, everyday horrors. Peter Lorre has never been creepier than…

Sam Scott

Features writer at Looper and staff writer and editor at The Solute twitter.com/BurgundySuit

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