The Cinephiles’s Corner looks at skullduggery on trains, hearts and flowers on the Seine, glam in the U.K, and heartbreak in L.A.

It’s time for another look at (relatively) recent Blu-Rays and DVDs aimed at the hardcore movie lover  — though more casual viewers looking for something beyond Hollywood’s latest mass-market offerings are certainly allowed to kibitz at the Corner as well. Today’s selections are from Hollywood, off-Hollywood, England, and France and were made mostly in the 1930s or the 1970s, though we will be looking at one from 1998 — only yesterday!

And so we begin…(after the flip, that is.)

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Lou Costello…?

Tonight’s installment of “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…” finds our man Elvis opening the proceedings with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” One presumes that his guest for the evening, Lou Reed, was at least tolerant of the rendition, since it’s not as though ol’ laughing Lou has ever been afraid to speak his mind. (Plus, the two of them team up later in the episode for performances of “Perfect Day” and “Set the Twilight Reeling.”)

Maybe it’s just the interviews I’ve read, but most of the time, Reed tends to come off as not just prickly but downright grouchy; it’s therefore a testament either to Elvis’s ability as a moderator or Lou’s respect for him that the conversation between the two of them is actually rather illuminating. Mind you, there was no discussion about Lester Bangs (I’m sure Reed is tired of being asked about Bangs’ love/hate relationship with his work, but I’d still love to have heard Elvis pose a question about it), but be sure to catch the discussion of the R&B great who played on Reed’s very first record, the relationship between Reed and Doc Pomus, the hard and fast rule in the VU about not copping blues licks, the secret chord in “Sweet Jane” that everybody gets wrong, and how he thought he spent his youth convinced that he was utterly unemployable.

The most fascinating moment of the conversation, however, comes when filmmaker Julian Schnabel joins Costello and Reed onstage. At first, it sounds like Schnabel more or less just happened to be in the crowd, but we soon learn that Reed and Schnabel are longtime friends, and before long, the discussion leads into a moment that the two of them shared as a result of the death of Schnabel’s father. It’s a story that starts out rather disconcertingly, but as it progresses, it becomes a testament to the healing power of music.

  

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Greetings to the New Show: “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”

You may recall a time this past summer when I was as giddy as a schoolgirl about having met Elvis Costello…not only because I’m a huge fan, but also because it gave me a chance to redeem myself for the fool I made of myself the first time I’d met him. The reason the summer encounter came about was Elvis’s appearance at the TCA Press Tour, where he had turned up to promote his then-upcoming Sundance Channel series, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”

That was July. Now, it’s December…and the series has finally come up.

The premise of the show is, to simplify it to the most basic pop culture terms, like “Inside the Actors Studio,” except the focus is on music rather than film. The good news, however, is that Elvis Costello is rather less fawning than James Lipton, and the guests – at least for the most part – appear to have been taken not from the latest Billboard charts but, rather, from Elvis’s own rolodex. Certainly, there are some former chart-toppers to be found amongst the 13 episodes of the series (which will hopefully prove to be the first of many seasons), but the variety of musicians involved is such that it’s clear the scheduling was the work of an individual rather than by committee. With that said, it never hurts to kiss the ass of your executive producers, so it’s possibly not a coincidence that the first guest on “Spectacle” is Sir Elton John, whose name appears in the show’s production credits, but, hey, everybody likes Elton!

If you consider yourself to be a music geek, then you’ll go nuts over “Spectacle,” since Elvis sits down with some of the biggest-selling and/or most acclaimed musical performers of the 20th and 21st centuries…plus Bill Clinton…and basically just gets geeky with them. Yes, he’s a fine interviewer, having at least honed his skills a bit by guest-hosting an episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but in truth, the best parts of the conversation with Elton are when the two of them wax nostalgic about Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Leon Russell, among others.

It would be cruel and unusual punishment to have these artists onstage without ever playing a note, of course, so you will be unsurprised to hear that there’s a fair amount of music performed as well. The episodes start with Elvis performing a song by that evening’s guest, so you’ll be hearing a nice version of Elton’s “Border Song” tonight (come next week, prepare to have Elvis serenade you with one of Lou Reed’s finest ’60s compositions), but Elton himself takes to the piano and has a bit of fun with demonstrating the similarity between his own style and that of the aforementioned Mr. Russell, and the two of them duet nicely on David Ackles’ “Down River,” an American singer-songwriter who never earned quite as much fame Stateside as he did in the UK. (The first time I’d ever heard of him was when Howard Jones covered his song, “Road to Cairo,” on the Elektra Records’ anniversary set, Rubaiyat.)

Beyond Mr. Reed’s appearance next week and President Clinton’s chat the following Wednesday, you can look forward to upcoming episodes which feature James Taylor, Tony Bennett, the Police, Rufus Wainwright (whose praises are sung by Elton tonight, as it happens), Herbie Hancock, and many others. I’ll offer up another post next week with a bit more specifics as to what you can expect with Laughin’ Lou, but if you catch the show with Elton, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Oh, and ignore Elvis. You should tell everyone about “Spectacle.”

  

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