Mambo Madness

From the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, if there was a dance craze or a musical trend, producer Sam Katzman was there to exploit it in low-budget B-features targeted for teenagers in saturation bookings at drive-ins and movie houses. Many of these were directed by Fred F. Sears and the plotlines were minimalistic and interchangeable from film to film but the musical acts featured were usually first rate and today serve as wonderful time capsules of their era. Rock Around the Clock (1955), showcasing rock ‘n roll pioneer Bill Haley and His Comets, was Katzman’s first major hit in this new “youth market” genre and he followed it up with Cha-Cha-Cha Boom! (1956) in order to capitalize on the current popularity of the Cuban and Latin music sweeping the nation.   Continue reading

Missing in Action: William Klein’s Quirky Portrait of Little Richard

Richard Wayne Penniman
aka Little Richard
circa 1950s

Those who follow the contemporary art scene and are well versed in art history know William Klein as one of the most influential American photographers to emerge in the fifties along with his contemporary Robert Frank. Famous for his unconventional fashion shoots for Vogue as well as his candid documentation of New York City street life, Klein went on to apply his photo-diary approach to Rome, Moscow and Tokyo in the sixties, all of which are available individually as photography collections. He is less well known for his idiosyncratic films (Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther, 1970) and shorts (Broadway By Light, 1958) but luckily some of his best work is available on DVD – his intimate 1969 portrait of Muhammad Ali, Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee (aka Muhammad Ali, the Greatest) and the Eclipse collection, The Delirious Fictions of William Klein that includes Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969) and The Model Couple (1977). But I still want to see more of his cinema explorations made available and The Little Richard Story (1980), a West German production, is at the top of my list. Continue reading