The Savage Breast

UC Irvines latest film series is music to your eyes

While our younger readers can probably hardly conceive of such a thing, a long time ago, back when the Earth was dewy and fresh and the faerie folk danced away the dawns in the fields of heather, the Rolling Stones mattered. And how. Raucous yet precise, ferociously sexual yet fiendishly smart, the Stones would have arguably been the best thing ever had they not had the misfortune to share the '60s with the Beatles. I wasn't there for their first go-around either, but break out an early Stones LP or catch them in some classic performance footage, and it's enough to make you weep that the '70s ever arrived.

Gimme Shelter, screening Friday at UC Irvine, is a concert documentary that chronicles the moment when the Stones—and the '60s—began to turn sour. Their show at the Altamont Speedway was supposed to be the "West Coast Woodstock," but instead, it turned into a legendary debacle that left four people dead. Before things get ugly, we are treated to a priceless glimpse of Mick and the boys at the apex of their awful powers, along with Tina Turner back when that really meant something, too.

The show kicks off UC Irvine's Funk, Punk & Monk: Music on Film series, an eclectic roster of films with something to entrance music lovers of any disposition. Next Friday, the series continues with Straight, No Chaser: Thelonious Monk, a documentary portrait of the jazz great. Shot in 1968 but unreleased for decades, the picture captures Monk's puzzling personality on film, offering as well snapshot portraits of such Monk contemporaries as John Coltraine.

The following Friday brings us Downtown 81, a long-lost feature starring the late graffiti artist/poet/musician Jean-Michael Basquiat; the film captures New York in that all-too-brief stage in the early '80s when new wave, hip-hop and graffiti art were all a-borning and co-existed peacefully, influencing one another in all sorts of peculiar ways. Debbie Harry, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and a host of yesterday's greats round out this crude but grungily fascinating little time capsule.

The show crashes to a halt at January's end with Doug Pray's 2001 doc, Scratch, which charts hip-hop from the early days of turntable-ism and introduces us to such contemporary vinyl abusers as Africa Bambaata and the spectacularly named Invisible Scratch Pickles.

If you can't find something in all of that to delight your eyeballs and eardrums, perhaps it's time to resign yourself to life as a tasteless nitwit. At least then you can savor the knowledge that pop culture is increasingly geared to please the sensibilities of you and your kind.

Greg Stacy Funk, Punk & Monk: Music on Film screens at UC Irvine, UCI Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, Campus & W. Peltason drs., Irvine, (949) 824-5588; www.filmsociety.uci.edu. Fri., 7 & 9 p.m. Through Jan. 31. $3-$5.
 
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