Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I told you there would be more Tom Russell lyrics to come. My favorite Russell CD so far -- aside from some awesome concert recordings of him with longtime accompanist Andrew Hardin -- is Borderland, which includes many songs about the Rio Grande region. Yesterday's song, "Tonight We Ride," would have fit in perfectly, but Borderland leads off with another powerful song, "Touch Of Evil." The song is inspired by the 1958 movie of the same name.

Orson Welles directed Touch Of Evil but got booted off the project by Universal during post-production. When he was allowed to see what his replacement, Harry Keller, had done with the movie, Welles wrote a 58-page memo detailing the changes he would make. The memo has become Hollywood legend, and Touch Of Evil was reedited in the 1990s to be truer to his vision. Another notable thing about the movie is that Charlton Heston was cast as a Mexican (originally, Janet Leigh, who played his wife, was supposed to be Mexican, which would have been just as odd). In fact, despite being set in a Mexican border town, the movie used few Hispanic actors, but I suppose that was typical for 1950s Hollywood.

Of course, after hearing the song I had to rent the movie from Netflix. It sounded like the sort of movie I would enjoy. Film noir is one of my favorite genres, and the only other Welles film I've seen is the brilliant Citizen Kane. Alas, I was disappointed by Touch Of Evil. As I expected from Welles, there was some fantastic cinematography with unusual camera angles and such. But I had a hard time figuring out what was going on most of the time; I felt like I was watching the movie in a fog (it didn't help that my sleep habits have been completely screwed up since my wife started working midnights a few weeks ago -- I've been doing everything in a fog). There were some great lines and memorable moments, but I'd probably have to watch it a few more times to "get" it. Even as I write this, I'm feeling a little guilty, like I should have watched it again before mailing it back to Netflix.

Russell interlaces scenes from Touch Of Evil with the tale of a broken long-term relationship, the chorus pleading, "Why don't you touch me anymore?" Although the movie was set in a fictional border town, Russell sets this song, like several on Borderland, in Juarez.
The night my baby left me I crossed the bridge to Juarez Avenue
Like that movie Touch of Evil I got the Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich blues
Where Orson walks into the whorehouse and Marlene says "Man, you look like hell"
And Orson's chewing on a chocolate bar as the lights go on in the old Blue Star Hotel
"Read my future" says old Orson, "down inside the tea leaves of your cup"
And she says "You ain't got no future, Hank, I believe your future's all used up"
As it turned out, that poignant and prescient line was my favorite in the entire movie. It's toward the end, so I had to wait for a long time to hear it (the lyrics aren't exactly the same as in the movie, but close enough).

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