Ask The A.V. Club - July 18, 2008

Ask The A.V. Club - July 18, 2008

Vinyl Fetish

I'm interested in collecting records. Not collecting in the sense that I plan on buying all sorts of "classic" albums—more along the lines of buying current music on vinyl. Is this even possible?

I've thought about it, and I'm down to purchasing a physical CD maybe once or twice a year, not including the CDs I pick up in support of local bands; 99 percent of my music is downloaded. I love the versatility of having my entire music library on MP3, but it will never match the listening experience that is an entire record played start to finish. So where do I start? Do current bands even release their albums on vinyl? Is this a dream that is financially out of the reach of a debt-laden new homeowner who still hasn't paid off school loans?

Alex

Jason Heller spent 10 years behind the counter of a record store to answer your question:

I waxed all nostalgic and mushy about vinyl in a blog post earlier this week, Alex, but here's the nuts-and-bolts answer to your question: Yes, current bands release their albums on vinyl. A good many of them, in fact. The thing is, it's a lot trickier to track them down than it's ever been—and it's never been easy, at least not since the CD came along in the '80s and drove the LP from the chain stores and into the specialty shops. Labels, both major and indie, used to release most of their vinyl themselves, but today, a host of smaller labels license large releases and do small print-runs aimed at collectors such as yourself. From, say, the new Coldplay on down, new releases are still available on vinyl. But they go quick; smaller labels, whether they're issuing their own record albums or licensing something larger, can't really afford to keep LPs in print indefinitely like they used to. (With a few exceptions, of course: Stalwart indies like Merge and Dischord often dig into their recent back catalogues to re-press vinyl that has drifted out of print, and there's been a wave of deluxe, 180-gram vinyl reissues of still-warm albums, too.)

A good place to start is Vinyl Collective, a website that started out as a clearinghouse for punk records and has since grown to include lots of indie-rock and mainstream titles. Goldmine Magazine is also another great resource to find out about dealers of new vinyl. And remember: There are always plenty of small retailers throughout the country who are happy to send you their catalogs. Even if, say, the latest Bob Dylan record is out of print after its initial vinyl pressing (and, yes, all new Bob Dylan albums still come out on vinyl), there's bound to be a couple dozen mom-and-pop dealers in the country that are carrying a copy, and who have their inventory listed online (or in Goldmine). And don't be led into thinking that eBay is only for collectible old records: Often, new releases on vinyl will pop up on eBay the day they're released, and can be had for about the same price you'd pay at a store. (And, as our recent Newswire post points out, a lot of major music retailers are starting to stock more and more vinyl, especially seeing how statistics point out to a sharp rise in vinyl sales even as the CD continues its precipitous decline.)

Which brings me to the final part of your question: The cost of all this. Yes, vinyl can be pricy, especially if you're used to cheap (or, cough, free) downloads. Add shipping into that if you aren't lucky enough to have a store that carries vinyl in your area, and it can add up. A great recent innovation, though, is the whole free-MP3-with-vinyl-purchase phenomenon; most major indies have adopted this policy, which entails a little card with download info and a password buried inside the sleeve of a new vinyl release. It's the best of both worlds, for the listener and the label. (In fact, Elvis Costello is one of the bigger artists who has experimented with this format recently; his latest album, Momofuku, was first released on LP only—with a free download of course included.) Still, none of that actually makes buying vinyl any cheaper—it just makes it more worth the money you're spending. There aren't any shortcuts or secrets here, sadly: Most of the vinyl bargains to be had involve "the classics" that you say you're not interested in. The more you dive into LPs, though, the more you might find yourself drifting toward the older stuff—and mixing a few $3 Led Zeppelin or U2 records into your monthly vinyl purchases will certainly bring down the average price you're paying per record. (And if that's some kinda voodoo economics there, my apologies.)

Beyond that, there aren't a whole lot of resources I can point you to that Googling "vinyl collecting" won't instantly bring up. But I encourage you to poke around and have fun with your new hobby/habit. And just so we're clear: You'll never, ever find everything you want on vinyl. Just isn't possible. But looking, if you're lucky, will become a pleasure unto itself.

Josh Modell adds his 33 rpms:

Jason covered just about everything I'd want to say here, but let me add a couple of things: Vinyl came pretty damn close to dying less than a decade ago, and—ironically—it's digital music that seems to have saved it. People—especially older music fans, it seems—want to have a physical manifestation of their musical obsessions, and since they're going to have digital copies anyway, why not make the physical copy big, beautiful, and warmer-sounding? Starting in about 2004, LP sales have climbed and climbed, while CD sales have fallen. More and more artists are releasing things on vinyl, including bigger bands, of course. EMI just announced a vinyl re-release campaign called "From The Capitol Vaults" that will include 180-gram (that's heavy-duty vinyl) reissues of Coldplay, Radiohead, and The Steve Miller Band. And of course, as Jason said, the indies have never let vinyl go: Touch & Go, Dischord, Merge, many of the smaller metal labels, etc. all continue to release new (and re-press old) vinyl. Yep, you can get the entire Fugazi discography (or Neutral Milk Hotel) on album, with big artwork and everything.

It's true that the cost is more, but it's not generally a lot more, especially when you factor in the fact that these days you're getting a free (and guilt-free) download of the record in addition to the LP itself. I just popped over to indie retailer insound.com, and they have vinyl of the new Beck available for preorder at $13.99. Not bad at all.

And in the interest of full disclosure (and pimping myself), I actually co-run a tiny label (foreignleisure.com) that only releases vinyl. Each piece we've done has been something special to differentiate it from the CD release: The Promise Ring's Wood/Water was a double 10-inch (smaller than the standard, 12-inch) with a bonus track and a gatefold sleeve. The latest by Crooked Fingers' frontman Eric Bachmann featured a bonus track that was only available on the LP—not downloadable or on the CD. Lots of labels are putting extra love into vinyl editions, which makes it as good a time as ever to start collecting!

Also, check your local indie shop (start with thealliancerocks.com and go from there)—most of them carry lots of vinyl!

 

 

 

Who's In The Lead

So I finally watched No Country For Old Men the other day, and while I was impressed by Jarvier Bardem's efforts, I was a little confused. He won Best Supporting Actor, didn't he? How was his role merely supporting? Surely the role of a hitman for hire in a movie about a man being pursued by a hitman for hire would be considered a lead role? His screen time couldn't have been that much less than Josh Brolin's or Tommy Lee Jones'. I see TLJ is noted as first billed, with Bardem second and Brolin third, yet I would have had Brolin as lead, Bardem as sharing the lead, and Jones as supporting.

I also remember reading Anthony Hopkins won best lead in a role that had the least amount of screen time. I would have thought the role of the cannibal prisoner in a movie about an FBI agent chasing down a serial killer with the assistance of a cannibal prisoner to be supporting.

So I guess the question is, who decides who is lead and who decides who is supporting, and are there any criteria that need to be met?

And are there any other examples of actors/actresses in seemingly lead roles winning Best Supporting, and vice-versa?

Matthew

Nathan Rabin is no supporting player:

Bardem did in fact, win the Oscar for No Country For Old Men. You bring up an interesting point. Often, the Academy tends to give "supporting" nominations to actors who, by all appearances, seem to be playing the lead. A good example is Jamie Foxx in Collateral. Foxx is in pretty much every scene. He certainly has a lot more screen time than Tom Cruise.

So why was he nominated for Best Supporting Actor? As is almost invariably the case when it comes to the Oscars, a lot of it has to do with politics, studio strategy, and star power. Had Foxx been nominated for Best Actor for Collateral, he probably would have split the vote and walked home empty-handed. Foxx was pretty much a lock to win Best Actor for Ray (where nobody could argue he didn't play a lead role) so it made sense for the studio to push for him as Best Supporting Actor, where he didn't have much of a chance, but at least wouldn't ruin his chance to pick up a snazzy Best Actor statuette that he could then brandish proudly around the set of From Gs To Gents. Star power and box-office appeal also prove a factor. In the minds of studios and marketers, Tom Cruise is the star of Collateral even if Foxx carries the film. Another good example of a leading Best Supporting nominee is Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. Brooks is very obviously a co-lead alongside William Hurt and Holly Hunter but was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of actors and actresses nominated for Best Actress for seemingly supporting roles. Nicole Kidman semi-famously won an Oscar for Best Actress for The Hours despite appearing onscreen for less than 35 minutes. I can only imagine the kind of negotiating and behind-the-scenes haggling that determined which Hours co-lead (Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Kidman) would be up for Best Actress and which for Best Supporting. Oh, the half-naked catfights in Jell-O that must have ensued, he writes boorishly/hopefully.

At the same time, these ambiguous co-leads generally have a better chance at winning the big prize than actors who turn in glorified cameos, like Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love, Marlon Brando in A Dry White Season, or William Hurt in A History Of Violence. There doesn't really seem to be any ground rules to determine what constitutes a lead vs. supporting performance. It's fuzzy and ambiguous and often boils down to studios playing the angles.

At The A.V. Club, we're sent screeners around awards time with lists of people and categories on the back that helpfully suggest which person we should nominate for what. In an unofficial kind of way, this helps determine nominations as well. I remember being struck by Juno's screener pimping Michael Cera for Best Actor when he clearly had a relatively minor supporting role. So to answer your question, there don't seem to be any ironclad criteria for determining these things, and studios and publicity departments play a big role in dictating what actors and actresses get nominated in which categories. So if you're frustrated by these decisions, go ahead and blame the Weinsteins. They're pretty much responsible for everything that's shady involving the Oscars anyway.

 

 

 

I Won't Tell Anyone That I Love Robot

Can you identify this film? I saw it only once, broadcast on a small-city UHF station in the '60s when I was a kid. It was a '50s black-and-white sci-fi flick. The plot concerned an invasion of earth by alien robots. All I can remember is the ending: The earthlings used some kind of transmitters (radio, ultrasound, or something) to shatter the glass vacuum tubes inside the robots, incapacitating them. (Shows you how old the movie was—the robots didn't even use transistors.) The hero remarked, perhaps ominously: "Lucky the robots' vacuum tubes were made of glass. If they had been made of metal, we could never have stopped them." However, the remarkable thing about the flick was the costume design: the robots' heads were shaped exactly like the heads of penises. Perhaps this was unintentional, but how could that be? Didn't anyone say "Hey, ya know what those look like"?

Gerrydoggy

Donna Bowman demands to be taken to your leader:

I could be wildly off base here, given that your oddly Freudian penis-head memory does not fit the movie I'm about to suggest. But I'm going to assume that the phallic addendum to your question is less pertinent to the movie you were watching and more an indication of your twisted, twisted childhood.

They're cathode-ray tubes instead of vacuum tubes, but the shatter-glass-with-transmitters resolution fits 1954's Target Earth, a low-budget science-fiction thriller about a group of misfits who get left behind in an evacuated city as the robot invasion from outer space looms closer. Five—no, wait, one guy decided to make a run for it and got laser-beamed to death—four people huddle together and hope that the crusty lieutenant general (played by the aptly-named Arthur Space) and the heroic government scientist can use the disabled robot they captured to figure out how to stop the robot army's onslaught. After a lot—and I mean a lot—of the marooned city-dwellers bickering and fighting and staring fearfully offscreen, scientist Tom rigs up a sonic wave machine to transmit the frequency that will shatter the CRT screen mounted in the robots' heads, the ones they shoot their invincible laser beams out of.

After our survivors are saved by loudspeakers mounted on jeeps, a soldier grimly predicts disaster next time: "From what I was told, if they would have used a certain kind of metal instead of glass in that tube, all the oscillators in the world couldn't have stopped them." Yes, Earth, you are still… a target! The End?

This trailer for the movie barely shows the robot (he comes lurching along behind the title at the very end), but that's a fair representation of the movie as a whole: the production only made one very cheesy robot, and they doled out its appearances with impressive miserliness. (You can download the whole movie at sciencemonster.net/16mm/steam/targetearth.html.)

It's possible you've combined your childhood memory of Target Earth with some other glimpsed robots which more closely resemble the human phallus. It's also possible that you should discuss these sorts of matters with a licensed psychotherapist rather than a pop-culture website.

 

 

 

With A Tape Machine And A Face Of Fear

How do you guys determine your interview subjects?

Patrick

My question has to do with your interview subjects and how they are chosen. Is it mostly a case of people who are promoting new projects that you have access to, or do you have enough recognition with actors, musicians, etc. that you can approach people that you want to talk to and actually get an interview? This question extends to your subjects for Random Rules and Random Roles entries as well. Also, do you find that you can get higher-profile interviews as the site grows in popularity or has the recognition afforded by The Onion always granted you a pass to interview subjects? Thanks for any info you feel like offering up.

Crossczech

Tasha Robinson deigns to be interviewed:

We get variations on this question a lot, guys, but it's a fairly easy answer, so it's worth going over again. Basically, we choose our interview subjects largely based on whom we think might be interesting to talk to. If a publicist pitches us an interview with someone, and no one leaps forward to do it, we just don't do it. The senior staffers in Chicago meet every week to kick around interview possibilities. And the main concerns are generally "Would this person be interesting to interview? Would our readers want to see an interview with this person? And is there a timely reason to do it now?" (Sometimes one of those factors is more important than the other, and we'll talk to someone with no immediately timely hook if they're particularly interesting, or someone we're a little less enthusiastic about if they're immediately timely.)

Who we decide we want to talk to and who we actually get to talk to are entirely different things, however. Yes, many, even most, of the people we interview are actively supporting some current or recent project; if they weren't, they'd probably be a lot less enthused about the relentless media interrogation. (Also, they'd be a lot more likely to be completely busy with a new project.) Publicists do approach us routinely to let us know that so-and-so is on a publicity tour in support of a new film or book, and would we like to speak with them? If it's a particularly big name—Christopher Walken or John Cusack or Paul McCartney—you can bet we caught them on their publicity tour. With smaller names, we track them down and file interview requests through their agents, their agencies, their publishers, the production companies or music labels that they own, the companies releasing their DVDs, etc. Authors and indie musicians in particular tend to be easy to reach; a lot of them have their own websites with "contact me" information, and they're often eager to chat. And yes, a lot of them know us and are gratifyingly eager to talk to us.

In my personal experience, the growth of The Onion hasn't meant that we get bigger names so much as it's meant that more publicists representing less-well-known people seek us out, and that we often get more face time with the big guys when we get them: These days we're more likely to get offered the half-hour interview block accorded a big publication, rather than the 15-minute interview window of a smaller publication. That isn't because we're better known, though it's driven by sheer numbers—we're now a national publication with a bigger circulation than any other indie paper, and than a lot of cities' local papers of record. Still, interview windows vary immensely, depending on the star and depending on the publicists. People sometimes complain that one of our interviews was too short—"You spent three pages on this one guy I've never heard of, and only one page on the star I have the hots for? Where are your priorities?" Well, usually that star (whom everyone else has the hots for too, so get over your lusty little self) has less time to give us than the less-known person, hence shorter interviews.

We do still get turned down for interviews occasionally by people who have never heard of The Onion, but that mostly comes from the smaller celebs, because the bigger ones are operating through big publicity firms whom we have cordial relationships with, and who know who we are and what to expect from us. What has changed is that with its own online presence, The A.V. Club as a separate entity has become more of a familiar concept with a lot of readers and publicists, so while we still get the plaintive question "The Onion wants to interview my client? Are you going to make fun of him with some kind of mean satire story?" once in a long while, it doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to.

Next time: Second person, advice for newbie film buffs, a lost book, and more Stumped! Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.

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