Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Style and Effect in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' pioneering rock movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964), I've reached into my archives for an academic paper I wrote about it for UCLA film school circa 1979--I couldn't just review the film, I had to analyze its cinematic style. 

The professor and teaching assistant hated it and gave it a bad grade and wrote condescending negative comments all over it.  I guess it wasn't full of enough Marxist-Freudian film-school terminology for them, or something.  However, it represented my thoughts on the movie (as well as my development as a rock journalist) at that time. 

 Since the entire paper runs more than 2700 words, I've posted it in my www.deviantart.com portfolio.  Here's the abstract/introduction:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) owes its effect to a film style characteristic of the 1960’s.  In it rock music and British New Wave cinema combine to create a high-energy, relentlessly compelling, and hilarious docu-drama (actually, docu-comedy).  The Beatles—and their music—match the high-energy style that grips the viewer’s attention.  As often, the British New Wave cinematic style gave the feeling of a documentary, and here the effect is enhanced by what goes on in front of the camera.  When the film deviates from a documentary style, it’s to provide a higher level of energetic rock ‘n’ roll excitement.  In turn involving viewers in this high level of creative energy is entirely appropriate to a film starring the Beatles, who were part of the changing times and the musical counter-culture of the sixties.

A Hard Day’s Night remains important because it functions as a contemporary viewpoint that tells a story about some of the most influential musicians of this century—early rock stars when the genre was still being created.  The movie remains contemporary, not an artificially backwards look.  (Artificially backwards looks are provided in the sixties-set period pieces Stardust and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, for example.)

At the time A Hard Day’s Night was made, rock was still considered a type of non-music—no history, no theory, no culture.  [Note:  If you disagree, I suggest you read the first American reviews of the Beatles’ music.  Perhaps one critic wrote something positive but that had nothing to do with the collective social  and cultural attitudes of the time.]  The Beatles—partly because of this movie—changed that—along with being a part of so many other changes in the sixties.  This film was not made with any magic insight into the future—no film is.  Instead it records and presents a spirit that nurtured rock into an entire counter-culture movement, into one of the basic ingredients of what made the sixties what they were.

Here's the link:

http://lynjensen.deviantart.com/art/Style-and-Effect-in-A-HARD-DAY-S-NIGHT-482980337

Monday, August 25, 2014

When George Michael Was in Wham!

Remember when George was half of Wham! and Andrew Ridgeley was the other half? Here's my never-before-published review of one of their music video collections. I never quite understood why publications seldom reviewed long-form music videos back in the eighties.  Maybe the video manufacturers didn't curry favor with the press, or something.

You're not supposed to take Wham! as contributors to a great art form--their music is meant to be light entertainment.  (The name is Wham! because another group was Wham.)  Their long-form VHS cassette, Wham! The Video (CBS Fox) presents an almost complete collection of their clips.  Unfortunately one of their best, "Young Guns," is missing while "Last Christmas," doesn't truly belong here (it's for the holidays, yeah) but it's included anyway.

What these individual clips demonstrate is that the duo's early punk-like raps remain their best works.  They're fairly well conceptualized and edited, exuding youthful energy.  The later videos and songs (with a few exceptions) lack the proper blend of musical and visual artistry.  George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley apparently don't conceive their own videos, so they're at the mercy of their directors--who many not have an artistic eye for matching visuals with the music.  Best of the more recent songs is "Club Tropicana," and it gets an appropriate setting, with the Wham! boys and their back-up singers, Shirlee and Pepsi, eyeing each other at a posh tropical resort.  By contrast, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Everything She Wants" are great songs but the videos are very poorly crafted.  Couldn't somebody have come up with anything better?

Wham! routinely gets slammed for appealing to young girls, (So what's wrong with that?)  This package shows there's more to their best work than just good looks.  Even with flaws, here's the kind of fun you can unwind with at the end of a long working day.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: Adam Ant, Strip (1983)

All the writing I did about Adam Ant--only a small portion of it was ever published in the eighties. My review of his 1983 album Strip never was, so I'm posting it here for my fellow Ant people.

What Adam Ant needs right now is an album with three potential hits the size of "Goody Two Shoes."  This isn't that album, and it may be a sign he's more interested in videos, films and touring than putting new material on vinyl right now.

Adam simply sounds like he's been listening to Prince too much--maybe his record company pressured him to make an album for the Prince crowd?  The sound here isn't beat-oriented Ant music for Sex people, it's more like disco/MOR-oriented synth-pop even without any synthesizers being credited.  Not long ago, this guy had a line in a song about, "Your body should be yours, and sharing it sublime."  Now he's delivered an entire album about "get down, get off" and girls in sports cars.

The only two tracks worth singling out are the ones Phil Collins produced, where something that remotely sounds like rock or New Wave comes through.  One is "Strip," a decent hit and decently risqué song.  The other is "Puss in Boots" which owes its catchy style more to Collins' drumming than anything else. 

Otherwise forget about enjoying Adam's vocals or lyrics--his great voice is done no favors by the arrangements, and the lyrics aren't worth fighting though the retro-disco beat to pick out. The remainder of songs are all imitation Prince--even including an ode to Prince's much-favored T&A support act, Vanity.  "Montreal" is about sexual excess but it's nothing "Lady Marmalade" and La Belle didn't do better last decade (so 1974).  "Playboy" at least handles humorously what the rest of the album takes far too seriously.

Overall Strip isn't very sexy and not much of a musical tribute to anything but trash.  Out of ten songs, at least seven come off as slapped-together filler vainly attempting to cash in on Prince's sexy success--like Adam Ant needs to imitate any other musical artist's turf.  Prince did a song about "Sister," so "Navel to Neck" could be about keeping it in the family, too.  "Amazon" could have been a good Adam Ant song--but as performed here, it's just another pathetic attempt to cash in on something like what Prince might do.

It makes me wonder what kind of compromises between artist and record company were made so the company would have product to push until the artist gets around to pleasing his fans.  The come-hither cover photo sets up classic romance for a female audience--but the songs appear aimed at macho male Playboy readers.  Rock fans won't like this record, and neither will the dance-pop crowd.  They'll stick with the real Prince, not an imitation. 

Saddest is that we Ant people must wait at least another year before we may finally get the blockbuster three-hit album that we know Adam Ant's capable of.  We'll wait but the momentum that "Goody Two Shoes" built is going to go away, and less serious fans will move on to rival romantic pop heroes.

Monday, June 30, 2014

SuBLime Manga: Ten Years a Yaoi Fangirl

June 30, 2004 was the first time I heard of yaoi.  For ten years now I’ve watched the fortunes of various publishers, creators, and fans take oft-broken routes, some having major impact and others just fading away--but I continue to feel fortunate that so many of us have contributed in so many ways to make and keep yaoi successful in America. 
VIZ only entered the yaoi market a couple of years ago through its SuBLime imprint, but editor Jennifer LeBlanc continues to provide us with new (or revived) work and she’s kept several series running for an extended period.  Here are some reviews of her squeal-worthy wares:

Starting With a Kiss by Youka Nitta
Perhaps the biggest catch for SuBLime is that some of Youka Nitta’s manga is once again available in the USA. Starting With a Kiss runs at least two volumes, with a fairly serious (if far-fetched) story involving generations of Japanese gangsters. (Are you into The Sopranos--but Japanese and gay?) SuBLime also has revived Embracing Love, a multi-volume story about a far-fetched romance between two of Tokyo’s hottest actors, formerly introduced to American audiences by the now-defunct Be Beautiful. SuBLime is packaging Love by combining two volumes into one (three vols. in place of the original five) and also offering a digital version.

Awkward Silence by Hinako Takanaga
As another of yaoi’s most popular artists, Hinako Takanaga has given us Little Butterfly, The Tyrant Falls in Love, You Will Drown in Love, Challengers, and that's just a portion of her work--some may still be unavailable in the US. Awkward Silence runs at least four volumes and takes a twist on formula teen romance.  Will the shy sensitive artist win and keep the heart of the school’s star baseball pitcher?  What if they’re both guys?  It’s the kind of yaoi I personally like best—a romantic sugary-sweet relationship that just might really happen.

Honey Darling by Norikazu Akira
Here’s another sugary-sweet romance that could almost really happen—and since it’s a single volume, there’s no need to spend dollars and suspend one’s sense over a lengthy series.  You love yaoi and cats?  Here’s your story.  Young man needs a vet for his sick kitten, and the vet needs someone like a wife—in more ways than one.  The artist is the sister of another yaoi star, Homerun Ken.   

His Favorite by Suzuki Tanaka
This manga is perhaps best enjoyed by fans of Menkui, a previous Tanaka series that BLU published in this country. It’s another schoolboy romance, but it’s more about laughs, and it’s rated for teens, so it’s not about eye-popping sex.  (Darn!  Right?)  I’ve even seen it categorized with mainstream manga, instead of being aimed specifically at the yaoi audience.  The story revolves around the geeky guys in a school’s comics club (they’re all flops with chicks) but one becomes the "favorite" of the school stud, who’ll have nothing to do with the jealous girls who fawn all over him.  Turns out the characters’ relationships are very complicated, enough to stretch over at least six volumes.

See www.sublimemanga.com for more.  LeBlanc divides her line between print and e-versions—she’s revived the long-languishing Dog Style as an e-book series, for example.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Laugh Factory Feature Online

Random Lengths has posted my feature about the Laugh Factory in Long Beach online:
http://www.randomlengthsnews.com/summertime-laughs/