Los Straitjackets and Yasujiro Ozu

Rerunning this because tonight I’m seeing Los Straitjackets (no Pontani Sisters) in Brooklyn, NY. Very much looking forward to it.

I recently saw Los Straitjackets perform (with special guests the World Famous Pontani Sisters, a burlesque act) here in NYC. I’ve seen them several times before and they always manage to entertain. But somewhere in the middle of one of Eddie Angel’s face-melting guitar solos the brilliance of Los Straitjackets struck me.

Angie Pontani and Pete of Los Straitjackets
Art by Rita Flores.

Los Straitjackets, in case you don’t know, play instrumental guitar-based music, mostly 60s surf style music and don Lucha Libre masks. Let’s put the masks aside and concentrate on the surf music.

Surf music has a very specific vocabulary, and honestly, that vocabulary is not very extensive, one might even say it’s simple. But Los Straitjackets recombine that vocabulary in fun and exciting ways, and they’ve been doing it for years! Each song sounds familiar, sounds like it might actually be coming at you from the mid 1960s, but not quite. The songs they cover retain their essence, but contain novel, and often humorous, elements. One schizoid solo by Eddie alternated between loud, messy Sonic Youth-style noise and jazz-flavored bits of “Maria” and “Somewhere” so tasty it made me want to weep.

So, there I was in the back of the Highline Ballroom, face melting from Eddie’s solo, thinking about how the band does so much with this limited vocabulary, when my mind made a leap to Yasujiro Ozu.

Ozu made essentially the same understated family drama over and over, and he did it with a simple, but non-Hollywood, cinematic vocabulary. His eyelines are “off,” he elides dramatic high points such as weddings and funerals, he breaks the 180-degree rule, “crossing the line” at will. His films tend to blur in my memory and they have a sameness to them, in part because he cast the same actors in many of his films. But despite the sameness, each film is distinctive, and in each film there’s usually one moment -— an exchange of subtext rich dialog, a reaction, an expression, a sigh — that will rip your heart out.

Los Straitjackets and Ozu do not blow you away with star power, expensive pyrotechnics, or groundbreaking experimentation. You will not listen or watch and say, “Wow, I’ve never heard/seen such a thing!” Here’s the music, it’s fun to listen to and move to, here’s the story, it’s universal and profound. And though they are both straight up, they are also not exactly mainstream. You will not hear a Los Straitjackets song on commercial radio, though you will hear them in commercials and on certain soundtracks, you will not see an Ozu film on primetime anywhere, though his films are revered by filmmakers and critics and Tokyo Story is on several “best films of all time” lists.

And so what does this have to do with A Life’s Work? I want this documentary to be hanging out with Los Straitjackets and Ozu, that’s all.

Here’s a video of Los Straitjackets doing a song from the soundtrack of Psycho Beach Party. It comes close to capturing them live. And Danny Amis, you were missed.


Thanks to Rita Flores for letting me use the image in this post. You can view more of her great work here.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

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… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

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