CMBA profiles one member every month. This month's interview is with Jo Gabriel whose blogs about movies and her music at The Last Drive In blog. Jo's blog is nostalgic with a taste toward the cultish and gothic, but there is plenty of classic Hollywood, both the famous and the forgotten. Jo is also a musician, a singer/songwriter, but read on she reveals more.
You mention in your blog’s About page that your first interest was in horror and Sci-fi films. What sparked your interest?
I was raised by a very theatrical mother who exposed me to great films, actors, musical theater, and dramatic arts. In fact, she was a phenomenal painter. Mom never tried to squelch my imagination, but encouraged me to reach outside myself. I also began to express myself musically at the age of 8 writing music on piano.
I grew up as a very inspired little girl but I was bullied terribly by the neighborhood kids who saw me as an oddball. They could smell difference on me like sharks are drawn to blood. And, because of my love of classic horror films, they called me Monster Girl. I wear that name now as a badge of honor and courage to be myself, always. Their little persecutions drove me deeper into the dream-like fantastical world that was cinema. In particular classical horror and science fiction films spoke to the sense of “otherness” installed in my psyche. That does not mean that I viewed things through a dark lens, but classical horror and science fiction are effusive metaphors and inherently philosophical. Their use of mythic undertones and symbolic context afford so many of us with a psychic release and catharsis.
I related to the “monster,” because they were different and misunderstood like me. I started to expand my love of film and as I got older, gravitating towards other genres. Now I am as passionate about film noir as I am about horror, fantasy and sci-fi. This passion led me to start my blog in 2006, where I focused initially on classic television (e.g. Boris Karloff’s anthology series Thriller), but widened my scope to explore cinema spanning all genres from the critical and often quirky perspective of The Last Drive in.
What other film genres do you favor?
I’ve found myself as drawn to film noir as classical horror films. I’m mesmerized by mystery/suspense films of the 1940s. And there is nothing quite like movies from the 1970s — the gritty realism, in particular, of those set in New York where I was born and raised, and proud of it!
Why should people care about “old” black and white movies?
Classic black and white films possess an eternal soul. They have a visual contemplative style that endures the ages. The pure essence of black and white films is that their framework is built on atmosphere. In a world of shadows and light the focus is on the flow of the storyline and not always on the action. There are perceptive silences and moments of unforgettable performances.
‘Old’ films create and project a glamour and ritual of allure and mystique. They bear illusory revelations with depth and distinctive contrasting tones. Impressive actors reigned with an undeniable substance. Classic films embrace intricately detailed storylines by masterful screenwriters, and visionary meditative cinematographers. They were forged by keen-eyed set designers, editors, and inspired fashion designers. Even the low budget artifacts of the time can leave you with a wistful impulse to delve in and be surrounded by uncomplicated diversions.
As Norma Desmond put it, “We had faces then!” Besides the stars who’ve become iconic, classic black and white films are inhabited by something that is lost today— the character actors who brought so much distinctive vitality and heart to the story. And of course there is the immortal romance, suspense, theater, brilliant comedic timing, incomparable pathos, intrigue and even at times collective Schadenfreude. Classic films truly are the stuff that dreams are made of. Even B-movies have an unselfconscious charm, and that is why we can revisit these films over and over.
Who are your favorite filmmakers?
Billy Wilder, Sam Fuller, Jules Dassin, Val Lewton, Jacque Tourneur, Robert Siodmak, Sidney Lumet, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Robert Aldrich, Robert Wise and Curtis Harrington.
One of the features on your blog is titled “Life Lessons from Barney Fife.” What can we all learn from Barney?
Barney Fife is a high-strung guardian of the Law. He goes by the book, sometimes to a fault and most of the time to his embarrassment. But he is always well-meaning and extremely ethical. And he’s only allowed to carry one shiny bullet in his pocket. The main artery of Barney’s humor is is his neurotic spirit and need to adhere to the rules. Even if it means giving old ladies tickets for jay walking.
The underlying message behind this wonderful character (brought to life brilliantly by Don Knotts) is don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Knotts created one of the most inimitable, iconic television characters in history. His body comedy is pure genius, perfectly positioned against Andy Griffith’s folksy-wisdom straight man.
Barney thinks he’s an expert in the art of love. He’s also a progressive thinker. He dabbled in Judo, ESP, Gypsy tarot cards, and psychology. He’s read up on hand washing compulsions and mother issues (because “you’re a rotten kid”) and letting emotions out because it’s “therapetic.” He’s even savvy about criminal profiling and rehabilitation in the penal system, giving metal craft sets and Mr Potato Heads to the prisoners.
And, remember Barney will tell you “It’s not a whim if you put on clean underwear.”
Name three films Obscure Screen Gems you would recommend to the uninitiated.
Sam Fuller’s radically transgressive feminist passage The Naked Kiss 1964.
Nicholas Roeg’s sublimely beautiful horror film based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel Don’t Look Now 1973.
And Robert Siodmak’s psychological noir gem Phantom Lady 1944.
You also mention on your About page that you are a singer/songwriter. What can you tell us about your music and where can we find out more?
I grew up in New York during the 60s and 70s, so I was surrounded by powerfully cultural and creative influences that emerged from both decades. I am a singer/songwriter pianist who has lived my entire life expressing my sense of otherness and passion to live my truth through my music. For my 8th birthday my parents bought me a piano and I started writing little complex progressions, that revealed themselves as classical, singer/songwriter, musical theater, and pop music. People often assume I am classically trained, but I am entirely self taught. My music has always been cathartic and a way to reach out emotionally to connect with the world.
I performed live shows in the New York City area, and eventually was signed to an International Indie label. They released two albums and I subsequently became an internationally revered artist. I founded my own label called Ephemera Records. I produced and recorded Fools and Orphans, which is one of my most beloved albums and has been met with critical praise. It’s a very evocative body of work with a lyrical, haunting vibe.
My work has been categorized as gothic/ethereal, melodramatic pop, heavenly voices, and dark wave. I am proud that my music is frequently compared to Kate Bush. In fact, I have the honor of being included in the internationally recognized book Rhapsody in Blue, featured as one of the foremost Indie artists who possesses an essence similar to the Iconic Kate.
The Last Drive In has become a branch of my creativity. My love of classical film and literature inspired my musical expression, reflected in my revelatory music and lyrics. I’ve made many film mash ups with my music — essentially I’ve taken scenes from much loved classic films and underscored them with my music. Some of these can be found on my blog.
People can visit my blog and or my official music page JoGabriel.com where they can read reviews of my work, watch videos of my performances see my mashups, and purchase my albums. My work is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora.
Some reviews of my music —
"It is first Jo’s voice that drives shivers through you. She’s like the musical miracle of Kate Bush, or Tori Amos. Her piano is dreamy and opulent and always in harmony. A touch of Romantic Dark Wave that strokes the soul." -- Amboss Magazine review of the album- Island
"Fools and Orphans is a beautiful album, as fine as the finest Abyssinian – go explore and lose yourself in it, go and treat yourself. She's from New York, she's like that person you find singing in secret in an old dusty theatre when she thinks no one is listening and this is why we do this Organ thing, this sets things on fire and makes me feel... this is a wonderful album." -- Organ Magazine~ review excerpt Fools and Orphans~
Do you have interest in any other arts that you can share?
Cat husbandry! LOL… Over the years I’ve done a lot of cat rescue. I always imagined having a cat sanctuary and I’ve managed to fulfill that dream by caring for a tribe of felines. Cats are incredibly complex spirits. I’ve had the benefit of cats teaching me a philosophy on how to live and love better in my life. To me, developing a relationship with their enigmatic personalities is truly an art form. There is an imaginative artistry and continual discovery in how to relate to them and it is a profound inspiration to living with felines. Each one supremely individual in nature. I am privileged to be able to explore the sacred task of caring for them and investing my time bonding with these beautiful and wild souls. From the ones I raised as babies, to the wild ones who rescued me…
Thank you so much for this chance to give people a little insight into The Last Drive In. Cheers, Joey