Monday, April 12, 2010

Payday (1974)

Daryl Duke's Payday (1973) with Rip Torn and a cast of fabulous unknowns, is the best movie ever made about American music. Written by Don Carpenter, who never got another screen credit, it appeared two years before Robert Altman's overrated, condescending, Nashville.
Both cover the same territory, the world of country music in the early 70's, but where Nashville attempts to stand above its subject in dismissive judgement, Payday revels in the down and dirty world of country singers; a life of pills, booze, one night stands, and gladhanding assholes at every stop. It gives the viewer an unflinching look at the life a of mid-level country star, played with gusto by Rip Torn, on the road eleven months a year, and it tells the story without the mythologizing and/or moralizing that seems to be built into the music film genre.
I bring up Payday mostly, because I happened to notice that Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his portrayal of a country singer in an innoucous little film called Crazy Heart. I didn't hate Crazy Heart, I just thought it was dull, but I've always liked Jeff Bridges and I'm glad he won the Oscar simply because he's been in so many good movies over the years (and saved some mediocre ones) that have gone unacknowledged-- Fat City, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Last Picture Show, Heaven's Gate (very underrated), Cutter's Way, Masked and Anonymous (I know it was awful, but I liked it for reasons I can hardly explain), American Heart, insert your favorite here. Now both movies are supposed to be roughly based on the life of Waylon Jennings with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis and Hank Williams thrown in. If you've seen both films, it's hard to believe anyone two people could examine the same subject(s) and come away with such different view points. I can assure you Payday is a lot closer to real life.
Okay, film critic I'm not, but discounting documentaries (and there's not even a whole lot of great music documentaries), great films about popular music-- This Is Spinal Tap, A Hard Day's Night, Expresso Bongo, Performance, Round Midnight, The Connection (which is more about dope than music, but it does star Jackie McClean), and for you low budget sleaze fans (count me in)-- Wild Guitar, Space Is The Place, Rock Baby, Rock It, The World's Greatest Sinner, hell, you can count 'em in a cigarette pack, are indeed a rare breed. More common are films so bad you can only laugh, or if you're Elvis (who never made a great movie, and only four watchable ones*) shoot out the screen-- Cadillac Records, What We Do Is Secret, Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There are more recent examples of films that stand out as some of the worst crap I've ever sat through (okay, I turned the channel on Cadillac Records thirty minutes into it, but I just can't imagine it was going to get any better). This dearth of intelligent use of multi-million dollar budgets only makes Payday that much more special. I won't even get into the tired, cliches of the bio pics like Ray, I Walk The Line, and Control, the first two are practically the same movie, the later put me to sleep within minutes.
Getting back to Payday, it's star Rip Torn turned in one of his very finest performances. In his portrayal of country singer Maury Dann, Torn created a character that tells us more about the world of country music than you'll learn by watching ten years worth of CMT. As of late his great talent seems to be going to waste, he hasn't had a decent role since his classic portrayal of Artie, the TV talk show producer (a character based on real life Tonight Show producer Freddie De Cordova) on the Larry Sanders Show, except a tiny part in No Country For Old Men (easily the best thing the Cohn brothers have ever put their stamp on). These days Rip's most entertaining when getting arrested for his drunken antics (he recently broke into a bank after midnight thinking it was his house). Which brings us back to the fact that Payday is an overlooked masterpiece, and anyone who cares about music owes it to themselves to see it at least once.
* Okay, I'll name what I think are the good Elvis movies, if you're curious-- Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, King Creole and Flaming Star. I guess if you held I gun to my head I'll admit I like Viva Las Vegas but it's hard to call it a good movie. In fact it's hard to call any of them good movies, if Elvis wasn't in them, they'd all be unwatchable, except Flaming Star which might have been better off without him.

37 comments:

slugger said...

It's so weird you posted this. I've been wanting to see this movie since I read a review Nick Tosches did in Creem Magazine back when it came out.
I ordered it this morning from Amazon when out of the blue I checked to see if it was on DVD. Strange coincidence.

mowrey said...

Who are the Cohn brothers?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Hound - dunno if you'll read this, but i love your blog and frequently contribute anonymous comments to it (cuz i can't figure out how to sign up!) So glad you posted this - i've been evoking the spectre of 'Payday' to everybody who sees and likes "Crazy Heart" (which i enjoyed more the second time.) Our opinions are so alike sometimes it as though we're the same person. Keep up the beautiful work... (PS - Do I really need to see 'Expresso Bongo" and "Flaming Star"?) If you'd care to drop me a line, I'm Steve, stickoutyourcan@hotmail,com

Anonymous said...

Jim, you watched Telstar yet, then?

Joss

Meyer Goretsky said...

You didn't mention, "Country Music Holiday", starring Zsazsa Gabor and that Nashville guy (who's name I can't remember right now) with the, "talking steel guitar" (not Aldo Rey).

The Hound said...

"Do I really need to see 'Expresso Bongo" and "Flaming Star""

Yes to the first, only if it's on TV to the second.

"Jim, you watched Telstar yet, then?"
Just watched it, it was pretty good, but compared to the documentry it paled. I hadn't seen it when I wrote the Payday blog. Thanks again..
"You didn't mention, "Country Music Holiday", starring Zsazsa Gabor"
Didn't see it....

Dick Blackburn said...

Agree 100% with everything you've said here (I really despise "Nashville" and venerate "Payday"). Also amen to your opinions in the Jeff Bridges section ("Fat City" is a freakin' masterpiece)etc., etc. Coincidentally, just saw "The Runaways" which was a lot more fun than I'd thought it'd be.

Paul said...

Damn, I couldn't watch Telstar - chucked it after 30 mins - it was a bit Carry On Up the Reverb. Ordered Payday from Amazon, looking forward to it. Working with Waylon's former rhythm guitarist at the moment so I can't wait to kick back and watch it with him and see how much of it is true.

Anonymous said...

Alvino Ray

Anonymous said...

How about "Love Me Tender"?. Wasn't that the first one?

michael said...

Any Elvis movie with Ann Margaret is 5 Academy Awards in my book. I don't think you can really evaluate Elvis movies without acknowledging how your opinion of each film is tied directly to the fuck-ability of his various co-stars.

Give me "Viva Las Vegas" over "Citizen Kane" anyday. Yeah, I guess I'm a real movie conno-sewer.

The Hound said...

" I don't think you can really evaluate Elvis movies without acknowledging how your opinion of each film is tied directly to the fuck-ability of his various co-stars."

In which case, Wild In The Country w/Tuesday Weld is his best movie. I guess I need to see that one again, I can't remember much about it...

Em said...

JM,
You know I agree with most of your thoughts, but I really dug "King Creole"; saw it 1st when I was 8 and saw it again maybe 10 years ago, and it still looked very passable for an Elvis film.
Mark

Anonymous said...

I'd have to add The Girl Can't Help It to the great music films list. Any film with Little Richard and Jayne Mansfield in the same scene and shot in technicolor has to be on any top 10 list. Also agree on Fat City. Susan Tyrell, Stacy Keech, Jeff Bridges, Candy Clark... what a cast!!! -Barry Soltz

Cavorting with Nudists said...

Don Carpenter was primarily a novelist, whose work is all out of print except for his debut, Hard Rain Falling, which was recently reissued and which despite its title and pub date (1966) is not even vaguely hippieish. It's more like a depressive, hyper-existentialist beat novel about West Coast lowlifes and pool hustlers who commit petty crimes, do prison time, attempt redemption, and think a lot about freedom and death. A little longer and slower than it needed to be, I still found it quite worth the read.

TOTALLY agree with you about Nashville, which must be the most overated movie in Christendom.

The Chief said...

Indeed. The Carpenter novel is a fine read, if a bit overcooked, but worth finding out. The prologue is a perfect jewel. As for "Wild in the Country"--come on, Hope Lange, Millie Perkins and the untouchable Tuesday Weld. Still don't know what the movie's about, but I watch it on Fox Movie Channel about once a month and let my mind wander . . . And as for Rip Torn, like Bridges, often the best thing in lousy movies, too, and keeps at it since Larry Sanders--he seems to be hired to play himself (a drunken maniac) like Walken--if you can stand it, endure "Freddy Got Fingered" just to watch Rip devour whole chunks of scenery. Life is short, tho, and better to stick to better Rip. His turn as a kind of Sam Phillips producer in "Forty Shades of Blue" was good too and livened up a dull movie. But "Payday" is the zenith--glad to know it's finally on DVD. And anyone who'd break into a bank thinking it's his house, well . . . I'll have what he's having.

The Hound said...

"How about "Love Me Tender"?. Wasn't that the first one?"
That's not much of a movie, Elvis doesn't even sing except over the closing credits...

"I'd have to add The Girl Can't Help It to the great music films list."
But you can just keep the music clips and throw away the rest of the movies, except maybe the first scene where Jayne's walkin' down the street and the milk bottle ejaculates....and the songs are lip sychned which loses some points, although the version of the theme song is different than the record and has the Coasters singing back up.

"Give me "Viva Las Vegas" over "Citizen Kane" anyday. "
How about Touch Of Evil? Elvis would have been great as one of the Grandi brothers. Elvis and Orson Welles have more in common than you'd think.

""Wild in the Country"--come on, Hope Lange, Millie Perkins and the untouchable Tuesday Weld. Still don't know what the movie's about"
I've seen it twice and I don't know what it's about either. Elvis and Tuesday Weld should have had the roles played by Michael Landon and Tina Louise in
God's Little Acre.

Scott M said...

I noticed a few of the films you mentioned are jazz oriented. Have you seen "The Man with the Golden Arm"? Frank Sinatra plays a heroin junkie sax man. great film & great score.

The Hound said...

" Have you seen "The Man with the Golden Arm"? Frank Sinatra plays a heroin junkie sax man. great film & great score."

Plumb forgot about that one, although it gets a bit silly when he's going through withdrawal, it's pretty good...

Bob Pomeroy said...

You mention "Fat City," one of my all time favorite 70s loser films. I love that scene in the fields where one old wino tells how wine broke up his marriage. "Sounds like it was the wine AND the roses," another wino observes. The original novel by Leonard Gardner is great too.

Cavorting with Nudists said...

Rip Torn fans and inveterate train-wreck gawkers should be sure to check out the YouTube clip where a speed- and LSD-ripped Rip hits Norman Mailer with a hammer and tries to strangle him. The comments explain the context. Pretty disturbing stuff, though not completely uncomical in a what-a-pair-of-douchebags way. If you get bored, at least skip to the last 60 seconds where Rip is definitely, to paraphrase the Adverts, looking through Charlie Manson's eyes.

The Hound said...

"Rip Torn fans and inveterate train-wreck gawkers should be sure to check out the YouTube clip where a speed- and LSD-ripped Rip hits Norman Mailer with a hammer and tries to strangle him. "

I believe that scene is from the Mailer directed film Beyond The Law (1968) w/Torn, Mailer, George Plimpton, and Marsha Mason. Mailer bit off a piece of Torn's ear (pre-Mike Tyson) in the same scene. For real. Torn would star in another Mailer directed film- Maidstone two years later so I assume all was forgiven.
Mailer wasn't a bad director, I sort of even liked Touch Guys Don't Dance....

Anonymous said...

Payday looks pretty good, thanks for the tip.

There aren't hardly any good music movies, agreed. I liked Ray well enough but am a Ray Charles fan and watched mostly for the music. The movie itself was pretty hoked up and yeah Walk the Line is the same movie but the music isn't nearly as good. The only scene I liked in that one was in the studio with Phillips.

As for documentaries, the Howlin Wolf doc is pretty good, and has some hair-raising music performances in it.

Slightly off-topic: in an earlier post you mentioned a couple of musician/junky memoirs you enjoyed (M. Rebennack's was one and I think Art Pepper's was another). I know them both, and think that if you haven't read it yet, Raise Up Off Me by Hampton Hawes is damn good, and a good companion to the other two.

Always a pleasure checking your blog.

Best,
Lee

The Hound said...

". I know them both, and think that if you haven't read it yet, Raise Up Off Me by Hampton Hawes is damn good, and a good companion to the other two."
I liked Hawes books quite a bit. Also there's a good one about Chet Baker called Deep In A Dream where Legs McNeil walks in on Baker shooting up in his testicles, Anita O'Day's Hard Times and High Times, and Etta James' Rage To Survive you can also put on the list. Let's face it, musicians are more interesting when they are killing themselves with dope and alcohol. I mean what else do they do except spend their life getting to and from the gig, and waiting around to go on.
It's the amount of trouble they get into in between that's the fun part to read about. I still put Jimmy Donely's story-- Born To Lose (see January's posting) as the craziest.

Gramercy7 said...

"Masked and Anonymous (I know it was awful, but I liked it for reasons I can hardly explain)..."

Here's one: It's the only movie where you can see (an actor playing) Pope John Paul II eating a bagel with cream cheese!

Thanks for the 'Payday' post, Hound...

cc22 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
michael said...

Why would Chet Baker shoot heroin into his balls ?

Is it an easy shot - maybe if most of your other veins are effed' up ? Or is it for sexual stimulation ? I thought junk ruins one's sexual abilities ?

Sorry to veer off-topic.

The Hound said...

"Why would Chet Baker shoot heroin into his balls ?"
" maybe if most of your other veins are effed' up ? "

you answered your own question....

Gyro1966 said...

Thanks for the heads up , Hound. I am surprised to find out that i can order most of the movies you mention via Netflix. (I love Netflix.) They just shipped out payday to me, I should have it by tomorrow(Sat) for weekend viewing. My purchase of a 52 inch high-def Phillips TV with bleu-ray DVD and a Phillips surround sound audio set up this December has really changed my movie viewing habits. I enjoy movies now more than ever. I recommend this set-up to anyone, and now the price is very affordable!

The Hound said...

" My purchase of a 52 inch high-def Phillips TV with bleu-ray DVD and a Phillips surround sound audio set up this December has really changed my movie viewing habits."

Sure beats paying $12.50 to sit in a theater w/ a screen the same size as your TV set w/a bunch of
morons. You should check out Breaking Bad, best TV show since the Wire, it's on AMC on Sunday nights @ 10 PM and usually can be found on Primetime InDemand on most cable systems.

Gyro1966 said...

Hound- Thanks for the tip- I will check out Breaking Bad. However, I haven't had HBO, and I've been told by others to watch The Wire in the past. So, I put "The Wire" DVD multi season series at the top of my Netflix que. Better very late to the party than nothing, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Jim lent me his copy of PAYDAY (I think 'cause he knew I'd watch it at my then gal's house around the corner from Hound headquearters and knew I'd have it back by noon the next day), and it is everything he says it is.

Jumpy said...

Jim lent me his copy of PAYDAY (I think 'cause he knew I'd watch it at my then gal's house around the corner from Hound headquearters and knew I'd have it back by noon the next day), and it is everything he says it is.
PJL

Jumpy said...

Just saw BREAKING BAD in a bar. I think they should call it BREAKING BALD!
PJL

Paul said...

OK, there's very few bloggers I'd listen to to the extent of ordering a DVD from another continent on their say-so but Payday fit the bill (I love Rip Torn in anything anyhow, so it could hardly have been a waste of time). What a movie! The low-key world of pills thrills and bellyaches couldn't have been more sparsely and beautifully depicted and Torn's final bug-eyed look in the rearview mirror had us creased with laughter until we realised what it actually portended... I'll be looking out for Don Carpenter's books, and singing Shel Silverstein's songs. Also I'm looking forward to showing this to Jerry McGill, who was on the road with Waylon thru the '70s, to see what he says.

Good to hear you're a Breaking Bad fan, Hound, it's the best TV show in a fuck of a long time.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Gainsbourgh almost saves I'm Not There, a film which brings to mind the line from Godard. When asked what his biggest regret in life was he said "Not stopping Schindler's List from being made..."

I feel the same way about I'm Not There.

Anonymous said...

"except a tiny part in No Country For Old Men "

IMDB does not list Rip Torn in this movie, are you thinking of Barry Corbin?

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