Last night's Pop Offensive had many emotional high points. There was a touching gift exchange between Jeff and me, discussion of a controversial Michelle Obama tote bag, and concerns from listeners that we had jumped the shark--along with queries as to what other types of marine life we might jump over if the price was right. But, most importantly, there was a varied mix of catchy and highly danceable tunes from regions as far flung as Lebanon, Russia, and Japan--not to mention the usual assortment of should-be classics from among the new wave, British Invasion and Northern Soul genres. For those of you who listened, it is now a fond memory, but, for those who didn't, it is now part of the eternal present that is the internet. To listen, simply go to the 9th Floor Radio website and stream it from the Pop Offensive Archives. You can also take a gander at the full playlist for the show (including English translations of those pesky Cyrillic titles) over on the Pop Offensive Facebook page.
The notion that disco music was an innocuous peacetime distraction is belied by its reliance on an almost militaristic set of imperatives. No one ever wrote a disco song titled “Perhaps You Might Like to Dance”. Instead it was titles like “You Should Be Dancing” and exhortations to “get on the floor” and “shake your groove thing”. Faced with such hectoring demands, one could be forgiven for thinking that disco was little more than just bullying with a beat.
Which brings us to Swing It… Baby! Here Filipino sweetheart Vilma Santos, titular star of the three best Darna movies, plays Marilen, a disco queen who is also the manager of the disco group VST & Company, IRL chart toppers who sound so much like the Bee Gees that it has to be addressed within the screenplay (“The Bee Gees? There’s no comparison!”). Marilen is being tirelessly pursued by Ben Benedicto, an executive with Genesis Entertainment, who wants to sign the group. She testily refuses his offers, but for what reason I am not sure, as the film had no subtitles. It did seem, however, to be a matter of principle on Marilen’s part, as if going corporate would somehow compromise the purity of VST & Company’s disco.
Ben Benedicto, by the way, is played by Romeo Vasquez. A matinee idol in the Filipino cinema of the 60s, Vasquez excised himself from a career slump by starring in series of popular romantic dramas with Santos--of which Swing it… Baby! is the seventh--despite the fact that the eleven year age difference between the real life couple raised a few eyebrows. Ben’s mogul image is bolstered by the omnipresence at his side of three obsequious cronies played by the musical comedy trio Tito, Vic and Joey. Of this trio, Joey DeLeon also enjoyed considerable solo success as a comedian, radio personality and TV presenter, although he is most known to the discriminating readers of 4DK for his role in Alyas Batman en Robin.
The action of Swing It… Baby! plays out against preparations for a Filipino Music Festival sponsored by the “Pop Music Foundation”, which is presumably the reason for Ben so ardently wanting to add VST & Company to his stable. In an address to his staff, he lays out the scope of his vision: “We are not selling just records; We are not just promoting performers; We are also shaping new cultural patterns for our country”. Incidentally, the music of VST Company was representative of a Filipino cultural pattern then known as the “Manila Sound”. This was soon replaced by another cultural pattern known as “OPM” (“Original Pilipino Music”), thus punching the clock on VST and Company’s fifteen minutes of fame.
It eventually dawned on me that Swing It… Baby! takes place within the same fictional universe as the Bollywood film Disco Dancer—a sort of uber-populist disco dimension in which the dancers themselves have as much chance of winning fame and adulation as the musicians whose music they dance to. Thus VST and Company comes with a troupe of dancers that are both an inseparable part of their entourage and an equal attraction in their stage shows. The standout among these is Elmo, who, when not dancing for the group, commands adoring audiences who pay for the privilege of watching him and a couple of backup dancers do the Funky Chicken. Fittingly, he is played by Mike Monserrat, who came to fame as a dancer on the Filipino TV program Penthouse 7.
Marilen and her brother have a swank home, inherited from their parents, that serves as disco central for her and her friends. When financial woes raise the threat of them losing the house, she decides to knuckle under and sell out to Ben and Genesis Entertainment. The group’s arrival in The Big City follows, kicking off with them causing a Manila traffic jam which they quickly turn into a block party through the magic of disco. Meanwhile, Marilen and Ben have disco’d their way into a romance. This leads to her neglecting her duties toward the band, which in turn creates tensions that leave them prone to the influence of Ben’s scheming ex-girlfriend Didith (Amy Austria).
Though it would be unfair, given the lack of translation, for me to make a final judgment on the matter, I have to say that the chemistry between real life lovebirds Santos and Vasquez did not in my estimation exactly burn up the screen in Swing It… Baby! Then again, the romance between them is—somewhat tiresomely--portrayed as being of the wisened “oil and vinegar” variety, with their characters either bickering or broken up for most of their time on screen. Nonetheless, when the screenplay decides that the time has arrived, reconciliation is reached, and all drama is pushed aside to make room for a climactic disco spectacle of considerable pageantry.
Is Swing It… Baby! a must see? It is… provided you really, really, like disco--or if you are simply fascinated by the portrayal of individuals for whom disco is at the absolute center of their existence. There are indeed many amusing mustaches, sparkly tops, and poufy hairdos to behold, not to mention some chintzy but colorful stage sets (though, make no mistake: Xanadu this is not). Wilma Santos is her typical, fiery-yet-charming self and Tito, Vic and Joey perform a sci-fi themed number that namechecks Space 1999. At the same time, at two hours and twenty minutes, it is much longer than any film of which those can be claimed as its chief attributes has any right to be. If ever a film could be chopped up and snorted, that might be the ideal way to partake of this oddity.
It probably surprises you as much as it does us that Pop Offensive has made it to ten episodes, which is why we're celebrating. And by celebrating, we mean playing a lot of really cool pop music from around the world--much of which I guaranty you have not heard before. Okay, that's what we always do, but there might also be cake. Just tune into our live stream tonight at 7pm Pacific Time at http://9thfloorradio.com and find out. If you want to wish us well, ill, or just spout some swill, feel free to tweet us at @PopOffRadio.
We kept you waiting longer than usual for this month's Pop Offensive--and for reasons too tedious to go into. Rest assured, though, that, when we return for our momentous 10th episode next Wednesday, it will be a gala event. To be honest, we're not quite sure what we mean by "gala" at this point. It may just mean that Jeff and I wear clean shirts. But make no mistake about it: The air will be celebratory. Oh, and also: Whoo!
What goes together better than Japanese superheroes, witches, film noir, flying saucers, lizard people, and modern dance? Join the Shout Down crew on Twitter tonight at 6pm PT and find out, as we tweet along to the Starman adventure Invaders From Space. All you need is a Twitter account, access to YouTube, and the Hashtag #4DKMSD. A link to the film is below:
For a first time author, there is no feeling on Earth--none, I tell you!--that compares to holding an actual copy of your book in your hands for the first time. This is, of course, not to slight 4DK, which has played loving home to my writing for the past several years; but I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be that much better if I could cradle 4DK in my arms and have it gaze up at me adoringly as I cooed lovingly to it. Okay, that got weird.
To those mining for a point, mine is that I yesterday received my advanced copy of Funky Bollywood and it looks amazing. All of the frantic proofing, copy editing, layout tweaking and last minute rewrites that filled the days leading up to its print date have paid off, with the result being an artifact of rare beauty, brimming with color and cheeky vitality. The little imp!
Right now, barring disaster at sea or the mischief of angry dock workers, the book is still on schedule for its March 16th release date. Until then, it can be pre-ordered from the FAB Press website, with those first to pull the trigger receiving a numbered copy signed by yours truly. Those who scoff at that as an incentive obviously have not heard of my signature's magical healing properties.
As for launch events, I will be scheduling a few around the Bay Area near the time of the book's release, so watch this space for details.
If you want the rub on Starman--or, as he's known in Japan, Supa Jiantsu--check out this episode of the Infernal Brains Podcast, in which Tars Tarkas and I examine his cinematic oeuvre with the tireless concision that only two hopeless lifelong nerds can muster. On the other hand, if you simply want to tweet along to his absolute weirdest adventure with the assembled hipsters and quipsters of the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew, just log into Twitter at 6pm PST this Tuesday, February 10th, and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, watch and comment along with us to 1965's Invaders From Space--a link to which will be provided. Directed by Teruo Ishii, the maniac responsible for such twisted oddities as Horrors of Malformed Men and the Joy of Torture series, Invaders From Space gives us all the Tokusatsu silliness that we'd expect from a Japanese kiddie sc-fi adventure, but mixes it with heavy doses of bleak film noir atmosphere and surrealistic nightmare fuel. Here's a trailer I made: