Alligator (1980)

“So bad it’s good.” The minor movie Alligator carves out meeting point between excellence and incompetence, between cliché and surprise, between humor and terror, and, above all, between seriousness and satire.

“Bad” movies are usually boring. In Mystery Science Theater 3000, the sarcastic observers might say coaxingly during a dull moment of exposition, “Here, movie, movie, c’mon, here, movie.”

In Alligator the action is relentless, hurtling along at a pace comparable to the latest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Along the way, the corner of every oh-so-predictable plot point is turned smoothly. Each detail is ridiculous — this is a movie called Alligator, after all — but the tension holds because everyone plays it straight.

I stumbled across this gem reading the obits of Robert Forster. Forster offers a perfect assemblage of every “lone cop on mission” trope imaginable: driven, haunted, tough, persecuted, heroic, sexy, smart, strong, vulnerable. (However, a recurring joke about Forster’s male-pattern baldness could only be from this movie.)  The side characters are also worthy clichés, especially the pompous big game hunter and the motor mouth mother. It’s all one big cliché, yet somehow it is also fresh, partly because director Lewis Teague choses to make his topic “the movies” as much as “the story,” standing heroically somewhere between David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino — although Teague has, of course, a tiny budget and a plot that can be summed up in block print on the back of matchbook. One might have expected Teague to apportion most of that small budget for the lurking menace in the sewer, but he opted instead for several vivid sequences of automobile destruction, another odd choice (like the male pattern-baldness) that works surprisingly well.

The script is by John Sayles, and this may be where the magic really lives. I can just see Sayles at his writing desk, screaming with laughter while half-conceiving, half-remembering one overly-familiar line of dialogue after another. Yet Sayles also somehow delivers something in the larger frame, with subtly shocking examples of animal exploitation by a pharmaceutical company and an amazing sequence where buskers are selling every kind of toy alligator to spectators gawking at violent aftermath. When the monster turns on its creator in the final act, it is very satisfying.   “So bad it’s good.”  Yeah. One of kind! I’m so glad to have finally caught up with Alligator.

Music trivia: The score of Alligator is by Craig Hundley (later Craig Huxley). The Craig Hundley Trio was a minor sensation in 1968 thanks to the young age of the musicians pictured on the cover (Hundley was 14). I’ve seen this LP many times over the years in used record stores and had assumed that the musical content of the tween Hundley was not standing the test of time, but the internet informs me that legendary producer J Dilla used at least two samples from the Hundley Trio in his work.

Friends and Neighbors

October means: Incredible Shows in New York City! Happy to blast some friends and associates:

Ivan Ilić is in town, doing three shows at Bargemusic. I’ll be there Saturday night to see the “meditative” set of Scott Wollschleger and others. Great pianist, great rep.

Friday 11 October 2019, 7:00 PM

Hans Otte (1926-2007)
The Book of Sounds (1979-1982)
______

Saturday 12 October 2019, 6:00 PM

Keeril Makan (b. 1972, US)
Capture Sweetness (2018)

Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980, US)
Music without Metaphor (2013)
Gas Station Canon Song (2017/18)
Lyric Fragment (2019, premiere)

Melaine Dalibert (b. 1979, France)
Litanie (2019, premiere)
Danse (2019, premiere)
Percolations (2019, US premiere)
Etude II (2019, US premiere)

& works by Debussy and Satie
______

Sunday 13 October 2019, 4:00 PM

Haydn
Symphony no 44 in E minor
Transcribed for solo piano by C.D. Stegmann

Antoine Reicha
4 Fugues from Opus 97 Etudes

Beethoven
Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Opus 13 “Pathétique”

Friday, tomorrow, I’ll be checking out some Theremin Noir with Rob Schwimmer, Uri Caine, and Mark Feldman at Greenwich Music School. Part of the intriguing Progressive Chamber Music Festival.

Thursday, Oct 10 @ 7PM
Third Reality (Lisa Hoppe, Tal Yahalom, Charlotte Greve)
Pascals Triangle (Pascal Le Boeuf, Martin Nevin, Peter Kronreif )
Shoko Nagai & Satoshi Takeishis VORTEX

Friday, Oct 11 @ 7PM
Sirius Quartet
For Living Lovers (Brandon Ross & Stomu Takeishi)
Theremin Noir (Rob Schwimmer, Mark Feldman, Uri Caine)

Next week, I will sadly be unable to attend the premiere of Alvin Singleton’s String Quartet No. 4. Hallelujah Anyhow (what a title!). Related DTM: Interview with Alvin Singleton. 

Mario Davidovsky: String Trio
Julian Carrillo: String Quartet no. 10
Alvin Singleton: Hallelujah Anyhow CMA Commission WORLD PREMIERE
Matthew Greenbaum: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for baritone and string quartet WORLD PREMIERE, text by Walt Whitman

Tuesday, October 15 at 7:00 pm
Americas Society
680 Park Ave., NYC
Free admission

A week from Sunday, another great pianist, Jason Hardnik, returns to town in a program honoring the Concord Sonata. Composer Jason Eckardt has written a piece combining original music with reimagined passages from the sonata, commissioned expressly to commemorate its centennial. H’mm! I’ll be there. Related DTM: Write It All Down.

Ives: Selected Studies
Jason Eckardt a melody which the air had strained (World Premiere)
***
Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord Mass., 1840-60
(with Claire Chase, flute)

SUN, OCT 20, 2019, 7:00 PM
National Sawdust

While I’m at it, a blast for my own October gigs:

harrell ecard

Bud’s Birthday

One of the “big” DTM cycles is Bud Powell Anthology. I’m very proud of this collection of transcriptions and opinions, they are also due for another tough edit. Here are four fresh bits and pieces that I plan to integrate in the future.

  1. I transcribed “Glass Enclosure” (Download Glass Enclosure – Score)

glass e page

2. Emmet Cohen sent me “Big Band Blues.” I thought I heard everything significant Bud recorded, but somehow missed this astounding track. Bud plays thick mysterious block chords — perhaps funkifying George Shearing? — before launching into what must be the most relentless collection of double-time lines on record before John Coltrane. Truthfully, I think Bud is “practicing,” not “performing,” on this track, but it’s still a hell of a document.

 

3. Red Sullivan sent me harrowing video of Bud Powell’s funeral procession.

4. A student brought in “Oblivion” the other day. I asked if they had heard Geri Allen’s version, which I included as one of the top Powell covers at the end of articles. I’ve been thinking about Keith Jarrett and bebop quite a bit, and must admit that Jarrett’s “Bouncing with Bud” with Gary Peacock and Jack Dejohnette misses the mark.  These musicians are all so great, of course, but the pianist just isn’t the right zone, and I’m not sure why.

Charlie Haden and Paul Motian are another Keith Jarrett rhythm section, and the “Oblivion” with Geri is just in the right space from all three. Amazing. Here’s the marvelous piano solo that ends with the perfect “bop judo chop” after fierce abstraction: