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Archive for the ‘Music in Film’ Category


I would have to characterize this as one of the most truly bizarre spectacles ever to grace an entertainment venue. Especially one as grand as the Royal Albert Hall. It was inspired by Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the story of “the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I like the song about the Romans, and the singer with the gap between his teeth. And the bagpipe procession. And the part about the sheep. And the love scene is particularly enticing. And the soaring “Find Your Dreams.” And of course, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” And the bonus lumberjack and Mounties.

There must be 400 musicians and vocalists, giving the silliness full-scale operatic treatment. Among the cast: Mrs. Betty Palin, who alludes briefly to her time in Alaska giving birth to a governor, and Biggus Dickus makes a cameo appearance.

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The name by which I first knew this film isn’t what appears on the picture above. But it’s the same. Actually, it’s been known by several titles:

Tabor ukhodit v nebo (the approximate Russian)
Gypsies are Found Near Heaven
Queen of the Gypsies
Gypsy Queen
Gypsy Camp Vanishes into Thin Air
Gypsy Camp Vanishes Into the Heaven
Gypsy camp vanishes into the blue
Gypsies Go to Heaven

I saw The Gypsy Camp at the Fox Venice Theater, so it was in the late ’70s or early ’80s. My first thought was, “I can’t live without this music.” But of course it was not available. Movies on videotape were possessed only by people who owned editing studios. And it was made in Russia.

Years later, when VCRs got popular, I even wrote to the Russian embassy to see if they could help me get a copy of the film, or at least of the soundtrack. No luck. And after a whole lot more time, when I finally got online (years later than most of my contemporaries), I searched for The Gypsy Camp, but no luck then either.
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Finally I found a press release about how hundreds of Russian films were scheduled to be released on portable media. They were gradually being converted, one by one, and according to the schedule, the one I wanted would be released in a couple of years, in the summer of 2004. But then when I checked again in the fall of 2004, it wasn’t available yet.

When it finally came out, the only source was a pretty dicey-looking outfit that I didn’t want to give my credit card number to. Eventually, it showed up on eBay, but only on DVD, which I didn’t have the technology for, but I bought it anyway, figuring I’d go over to a friend’s house and watch it. Months went by and it never seemed to be the right time for that. Then one day my housemate brought in a DVD player

So finally, I watched The Gypsy Camp again, and yes, you can repeat a peak experience. It is so damn gorgeous to look at and the music is deliriously wonderful – it’s every bit as good as I remembered it being 25 years ago or more. Just fabulous.

Of course there are plenty of parallels between Gypsies and the homeless folk and vehicle dwellers I knew from Venice Beach. They only own what they can carry, the food supply is undependable, they have to deal with the weather as best they can, and put up with criminals in their midst. And of course they can be killed with impunity. The way the soldiers in the movie treat the Gypsies could be a template for the LAPD and their ilk, in their treatment of the homeless. Go in and bust up their shelters, throw their bedding and other possessions in a pile and burn everything, put pressure on everybody in the whole group so they will betray anyone the authorities are looking for, make them keep moving, provide no public toilets and then bust them for pissing in the alley, provide no washing facilities and then tell them they stink, and on and on.

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A Staggering Work of Smart Humor, Yet Serious as a Heart Attack

Rev. Billy is an activist preacher whose road show choir sings out in protest against the commercialization of Christmas. They do performance art, infiltrating Times Square or the Mall of America, where they prophesy the Shopocalypse. Finally the holy flash-mob winds up at Disneyland, home of the Antichrist, aka Mickey Mouse.

The average American spends 5 hours a week shopping, so some poor bastard is out there shopping 9 hours a week to make up for me. Some people are clinically addicted to shopping. (One such addict calls herself a shopping bulimic, always buying a mountain of stuff she can’t afford and then returning it.)

The action is interspersed with interviews with real people, and Python-esque animations, one with a sound effect that is somewhere between a Latin liturgical chant and an auctioneer’s spiel. Sometimes Rev. Billy gets arrested. And when the Stop Shopping Choir goes caroling, look out!

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