Bill King's Short Takes On What To Watch This Holiday Season

George and Tammy! (Showtime)

Borrowed from the pages of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s daughter, Georgette Jones', memoir, George and Tammy traces the complicated, frequently calamitous relationship between two country music titans. Wynette—The First Lady of Country music who still holds the best-selling country single of all time by a female for Stand by Your Man.

Actor Michael Shannon would seem an odd choice, but Shannon’s portrayal infuses life into a profoundly flawed man known to skip concerts, mislead fans, indulge in numerous vices, and be a master of his own invention. Shannon quickly negates any casting trepidation, as he inhabits Jones’ legacy absent trivial cloning or a cartoon read of Jones' proclivities. Wynette, played by actor Jessica Chastain, maintains the white Christian veneer of her upbringing. This goes to the bones of the relationship.

While Shannon is all fire and rowdy man, Chastain stands calm, caring and forever the uberfan. The Wynette in Chastain’s world is true to life Wynette—a woman shrouded in thick make-up, hair buffed, and looking the part of a passive 1950s wife. Yet her ambitions conflict with her husband—Don Chapel, who exploits and abuses for his own advantage. Don drives Wynette into Jones’ circle with one intention, to get Jones to record his songs. There’s a brood of children between her and life on the road and a smitten Jones, yet, from the downbeat, chemistry locks the two in a cycle of highs and lows: chase and pursuit.

As for the music. From the downbeat, the groove, feel and affections of a music borne of soil, worked by bent fingers and blistered hands, where it was commonplace to suffer the opprobrium of poverty and family tragedy, a truth is unveiled. For all the fawning over new country artists, none come close musically to Jones or Wynette. The lyrics match the times. The stories are everyday circumstances, practically biblical in their longings. Hope, pain, betrayal, beer, a no, no, - trucks—something you distribute goods, collect grain, family chores and move what little furniture in your possession to another location when expelled from the ancestor’s farm. Not the party train.

Although Shannon doesn’t resemble a ‘possum face’ Jones,’ he shares with Jones a face cut from a different skin. Rugged, expressive and with no connection to the Hollywood portrait of a leading man. This in no way thwarts his dogged pursuit of Wynette, superior songs, and endless nocturnal pleasures.

Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows (AGO)

Rare few artists see themselves decades out as deserving of an exhibition. It’s as if Cohen had prepared for this his entire life. Cohen left no Polaroid, scrap of paper, notebook, manuscript paper, sketch, or homemade film to be abandoned. Instead, what occurs is an engrossing artifact - a soliloquy of a man whose formative years were sentimentally attached to a world forever bruised and punished by World War 11. Cohen, born in an affluent Montreal neighbourhood, took to writing and sketching early in life. Words for this young man took on greater importance than ordinary conversation. There was magic in sentences, rhymed, reasoned, and expressed in a way that intrigued and seduced. Seduction is a lifelong pastime whether in song or behind closed doors. The two accompanying short films capture Cohen at his most eloquent. A gifted speaker and composer of sumptuous thought. The AGO has gone to extreme lengths to roll out the red carpet for a Canadian icon who continues to captivate a lost generation of beat poets, adventurers, and risk-takers. Those notebooks, Grammy’s, intimate photographs, sketches, odds and ends are on display. Curated by Julian Cox, the AGO’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator.

Revival 69 (Crave)

Toronto’s John Brower, one-time concert promoter and full-time wheeler-dealer,  brings clarity to one of the nearly mythical happenings that put the Toronto music scene on the map in 1969. 22-year-old Brower and 23-year-old promoter Ken Walker find themselves in a swamp of inconceivable circumstances while setting up the historic retro music review, the Toronto Rock n’ Roll Revival. Documentary producer/director Ron Chapman deftly patches footage shot by D.A. Pennebaker mostly on what looks to be hand-held Super 8 cameras circulated among trusted cameramen and women. With Brower as the tour guide and in half-lit face, Chapman builds a narrative that holds true from beginning to end. I speculate rights to the performance footage were costly due to copyright restraints or too degraded to be played in its entirety. The extended plays are Chuck Berry and John Lennon and Plastic Ono Band.

Brower had balls. Canvassing the leader of the motorcycle gang, the Vagabonds, for a $25,000 loan to pay the Doors appearance fee was both desperate and reckless. Witnessing ticket sales flatline - lightning strikes landing Brower a newly minted headliner in ex-Beatle John Lennon. A much-welcomed intervention from the angels of risk and rescue. Revival 69 was also a coming out for Lennon's partner, Yoko Ono. Lennon went all in and cut Yoko ample space to indulge in performance art. The looks on the sidemen’s faces are priceless.

If These Walls Could Sing—Disney+ US

I have a batch of post-production plug-ins for home recording from Abbey Road Studios. Strings, brass, mixing, etc. Advertised Abbey Road sounds that were particular to the Beatles and symphony recordings. They are incredible.

Most of us associate Abbey Road with the Beatles. Yet, that history dates to 1831, when built as a Georgian townhouse, acquired in 1929 by classical music giant Gramophone Company, one of the early recording companies, and converted to one of the world’s first all-purpose studios.

For an intimate awareness of the mechanics and operation of the studio, I invite everyone to read assistant engineer Geoff Emerick’s superb insider recollection recording The Beatles, Here There and Everywhere. At 15, Emerick landed at Apple in 1962 and worked on singles She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. By 1966 and age 19, Emerick became the Beatles chief engineer responsible for the soundscape saturating the Revolver album, then Sgt. Pepper.

Through it all, young Mary McCartney, Paul’s daughter from wife Linda, napped, tucked away in the crevasses, and danced about the premises. If These Walls Could Sing is her anthem.

A step outside music… these series deliver the goods.

Shaq. The all-star, all-world basketball giant gets the righteous read of a brilliant basketball career and the subsequent afterlife in broadcasting.

The Offer. Paramount

The behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, writing the script, and filming of the Godfather 1. Message to aspiring filmmakers. Although long gone, don’t piss off Frank Sinatra.

White Lotus. (Season Two) Crave

Sicily—I long for your olive groves, sandy beaches, and sunshine. Alas, the cast and quirky situations tied to season two supersede season one for insanity, exotic surroundings, sensuality, intrigue, and weirdness of all persuasions. My eyes adore you.

The Tulsa Kid. (Paramount)

Whoever suggested Sylvester Stallone could act? Why should he? He’s Rocky Balboa in every film. The mob exiles Stallone to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to rip off the hillbilly underworld and steal for the mob. After serving 25 years in the pen, Stallone is once again loose and a fast-talking terminator.

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