Rodriguez:"Cold Fact" (1970)

Rodriguez Cold Fact
There was a mini-genre of singer/songwriters in the late '60s and early '70s that has never gotten a name. They were folky but not exactly folk-rock and certainly not laid-back; sometimes pissed off but not full of rage; alienated but not incoherent; psychedelic-tinged but not that weird; not averse to using orchestration in some cases but not that elaborately produced. And they sold very few records, eluding to a large degree even rediscovery by collectors. Jeff Monn, Paul Martin, John Braheny, and Billy Joe Becoat were some of them, and Sixto Rodriguez was another on his 1970 LP, Cold Fact. Imagine an above-average Dylanesque street busker managing to record an album with fairly full and imaginative arrangements, and you're somewhat close to the atmosphere. Rodriguez projected the image of the aloof, alienated folk-rock songwriter, his songs jammed with gentle, stream-of-consciousness, indirect putdowns of straight society and its tensions. Likewise, he had his problems with romance, simultaneously putting down (again gently) women for their hang-ups and intimating that he could get along without them anyway ("I wonder how many times you had sex, and I wonder do you know who'll be next" he chides in the lilting "I Wonder"). At the same time, the songs were catchy and concise, with dabs of inventive backup: a dancing string section here, odd electronic yelps there, tinkling steel drums elsewhere. It's an album whose lyrics are evocative yet hard to get a handle on even after repeated listenings, with song titles like "Hate Street Dialogue," "Inner City Blues" (not the Marvin Gaye tune), and "Crucify Your Mind" representative of his eccentric, slightly troubled mindset. As it goes with folk-rock-psych singer/songwriters possessing captivating non sequitur turns of the phrase, he's just behind Arthur Lee and Skip Spence, but still worth your consideration.

Todd Solondz:"Welcome to the Dollhouse" (1995)

Welcome to the Dollhouse
Twelve-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is perhaps the most put-upon adolescent in film history in Todd Solondz's bitterly hilarious black comedy Welcome To The Dollhouse. Dawn is bright but awkward, both physically and socially, and is appallingly unpopular among her peers, to whom she's better known as "Wienerdog." Possessing little charm or grace and perhaps the most misguided fashion sense of her generation, Dawn is not an easy girl to like and practically no one seems interested in making the effort. If life is tough for Dawn at school, it's hardly any better at home. While her folks dote on her gratingly cute younger sister Missy (Daria Kalinina) and look with pride to her bookish older brother Mark (Matthew Faber), Dawn is either ignored or treated as an annoyance. Dawn has developed a crush on Steve (Eric Mabius), the hunky guitarist Mark has drafted into his rock band (significantly, Mark is less interested in making cool noise or unloading teenage angst than in having another extracurricular activity to put on his college applications); Steve is polite but obviously not interested in her. However, Dawn has attracted the attention of a boy at school -- Brandon (Brendan Sexton), a mean-spirited junior thug whose idea of a good time is threatening Dawn with rape. A painfully accurate account of life in junior high (what Matt Groening called "the lowest pit of hell"), Welcome To The Dollhouse is also very funny, but writer and director Todd Solondz never lets the film's humor dilute the agony of its leading character; anyone who has ever been 12 years old will doubtless laugh at Dawn while uncomfortably recalling the horror of their own preteen years.

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