February 28, 2011


Is your hollowed-out volcano looking drab? Tired of the old furniture in your undersea headquarters? Spring is coming, and what better way to usher in a new season than tweaking the design of your secret lair! Spy Vibe fans of Mid-Century Modern have a chance to pick up pieces by Eero Saarinen and others during the big Knoll Classics Sale at Design Within Reach. If you've been looking for a Tulip chair to go in the corner by your piranha pool, the sale runs today through March 6th! Details here.

February 27, 2011


The Spy Vibe post about the ukulele James Bond Theme generated some great comments. Fellow COBRAS writer and musician, Armstrong Sabian, said that he would like to learn how to play the famous Johnny Rivers' theme, Secret Agent Man on his new ukulele. Well buddy, the Spy Vibe network has you covered. Uke Jackson alerted us to a wonderful tutorial of the song by Ukulele Mike. Mike has some cool ukulele tunes on his Youtube channel here. I've included the Pink Panther theme with his tutorial below. Many uke players have posted Secret Agent Man covers. Here are some of my faves. Thank You to Uke Jackson putting this on our radar. See Jackson's website for information about his new book, Broadway Vampire, and about how you can win a free ukulele at one of his gigs!

February 26, 2011


Since Spy Vibers enjoyed the recent Ukulele version of the James Bond Theme, I thought we'd check out the Prague Cello Quartet's arrangement. They are seen playing for people passing over the Charles Bridge in Prague. Are they sending a secret message to someone in the crowd?

February 25, 2011


Happy Birthday to George Harrison (1943-2001). George played a large role in bringing Indian music and culture to our radar in the 1960s. Inspired by a sitar player on the set of Help! (1965), George went on to study with master, Ravi Shankar, who became an adopted father to the Beatle. George pursued a life-long study of meditation and spirituality and helped to produce records by Indian musicians and spiritual groups. A wonderful box set came out recently called Collaborations, which includes all of the music George and Ravi recorded together, as well as some video performances. George is also remembered today for the role he played in producing Monty Python and other independent film projects. Through his company, Hand-Made Films, Harrison was the executive producer of Mona Lisa, How to Get a Head in Advertising, Powwow Highway, Withnail & I, Times Bandits, Life of Brian, and others.

Harrison was celebrated in the all-star Concert For George at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. The program included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Dhani Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty, Monty Python, and others. Fans can see the entire film in a free streaming event today on the George Harrison website. A Blu-ray will be released on March 22nd.

In connection to our post yesterday about instruments and the James Bond Theme, it's worth noting that Harrison was also a big ukulele fan! The Beatles grew up with the sound and humor of UK stage-sensation, George Formby. During the Beatles Anthology project (1995), George, Paul, and Ringo re-visited one of their first recordings, Ain't She Sweet, on a sunny day with ukuleles. Since Harrison's passing in 2001, Paul McCartney has included a ukulele tribute to George in all of his concerts with a performance of the powerful, Harrison classic, Something (Abbey Road/1969). Here is Paul playing the song in 2001, and again during the Concert For George with Eric Clapton below.

Spy Vibers can also visit my YouTube channel to see my experimental film for Yoko Ono (now on the festival circuit), and a 75th anniversary film/sound collage I made for John Lennon.


Due to the overwhelming demand for Network's upcoming, Retro Action spy sets, the distributor has made all three volumes available for order a few days ahead of schedule. Spy Vibe coverage of set details and video trailers here. Network site here.

February 24, 2011


I've been playing a lot of music lately at the Spy Vibe lair. My attention has been on checking out interesting and rare instruments. One of the coolest things I've played is a gourd banjo, which is a fretless instrument with great blues possibilities! I'm interested in two makers, who made gourd banjos played by Mike Seeger (New Lost City Ramblers and brother of Pete Seeger), Bob Thornburg and Jeffrey Menzies (Menzies sound samples here). Another maker to check out is the Banjo Factory. During my recent missions to various music shops, I couldn't help but notice that the most recent ukulele craze is still in full-swing. Uke, you ask? Anyone who still doubts the possibilities of these little wonders should check out Roy Smeck, the "wizard of the strings," playing Tiger Rag in an early talkie short film here. Below is a more contemporary player, who interprets the James Bond Theme beautifully. There are many versions of James Bond music out there. What are some of your faves? Any unusual arrangements or peculiar instruments?

February 21, 2011


A celebration of humor and laughter. "The most wasted of all days is one without laughter," said e.e. cummings. For Milton Berle, "Laughter is an instant vacation." I've always liked this quote by Victor Borge, who said, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." The 1960s saw a great revolution in humor. Surrealism and the satire boom that grew out of college troupes inspired a long family tree of humorists, from Peter Sellers (The Goons) to Peter Cook (Beyond the Fringe), Richard Lester, John Lennon, Monty Python, Eddie Izzard and beyond. Here are some archived posts you might enjoy: Peter Sellers to John Lennon, Satire/Surrealism Boom in the UK. There are many video clips included in the posts. If Spy Vibers are looking for some retro/comedy espionage to rent or steam, check out What's Up Tiger Lily (1966), Casino Royale (1967), OSS 117 Cairo: Nest of Spies (2006), Our Man Flint (1966), In Like Flint (1967), The Silencers (1966), and the Shaw Brothers' The Golden Buddha (1966). There are many spy spoofs, but these are among the best.

February 18, 2011


Nothing says "weekend" like Matt Helm: dancing, refreshments, battling evil, and an electronic bed that delivers you gently into your own gigantic bubble bath! The character Matt Helm was created by novelist Donald Hamilton and appeared in 27 books since 1960. A spy-spoof film series with Dean Martin (1917-1995) included The Silencers (1966), Murderers' Row (1966), The Ambushers (1967), and The Wrecking Crew (1969). A brief TV adaptation ran for 13 episodes in 1975. Info about the Matt Helm books here. Cinema Retro's piece about The Wrecking Crew here.

Here's a fun tribute piece to The Silencers, which co-starred Victor Buono (1938-1982), a great character actor who made appearances on all of the major spy shows of the 1960s, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Wild Wild West, and many others. You may remember him as King Tut on Batman. Soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004/Magnificent Seven). Happy Weekend, Spy Vibers!

February 17, 2011


UK distributor, Network, always has something exciting to check out. We often refer to them as the Criterion Collection for retro action. In fact, Network has beefed up their Youtube channel with a large collection of trailers, including spots for their upcoming Blu-ray Retro Action series. Three volumes of classic British spy-show compilations will be released in Hi-Def on February 28th! Here is a trailer for Retro Action Vol 2, which sports thrilling moments from The Saint, The Prisoner, Danger Man/Secret Agent, Man in a Suitcase, and Gideon's Way. It's worth seeing just for the baddie wearing a Fez and an eye-patch. Priceless! Check out their Youtube channel here.

Retro Action vol 1:
The Persuaders!: Chain of Events
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?
Department S: A Small War of Nerves
The Champions: The Invisible Man
Strange Report: Report 2493: Kidnap - ‘Whose Pretty Girl Are You?’

Retro Action vol 2:
The Saint: The Queen’s Ransom
Danger Man: No Marks for Servility
The Prisoner: Arrival
Gideon’s Way: The Tin God
Man in a Suitcase: Somebody Loses, Somebody… Wins?

Retro Action vol 3:
The Adventures of Robin Hood: The Sheriff’s Boots
Shirley’s World: The Rally
The Invisible Man: Secret Experiment
The Baron: Something For A Rainy Day
Return of the Saint: One Black September
The Zoo Gang: Revenge: Post Dated
Danger Man: View From the Villa

Network's Retro Action series page here.


Ian Fleming Publications published a fantastic catalog called Bond Bound a while back that featured pages and pages of historical James Bond book cover designs and essays. I recall trying to get a copy through Bohnams, but the book was sold out and quickly became a high-ticket item for collectors on eBay. The title showed up briefly on the Ian Fleming Publications site again and I finally had my chance to order a copy. It's a beautifully produced edition and, as I imagined, a wonderful collection of images to study. It's especially interesting to see how Bond has been marketed through graphics that have targeted different trends over the years in design. Our sister site, Illustrated 007, has posted some images with information. Keep checking the Fleming site for availability.

February 14, 2011


Our man Kevin Dart has been working with a team of creators to bring us a new YUKI 7 book this summer! Spy Vibers will likely remember our interview with Kevin Dart back in July 2009, when we discussed his love of retro movie posters, Yuki 7, and his fave spy films. The launch of his character and the collection of his illustrations was a major event among retro/spy fans. The first book, Seductive Espionage, implied wonderful narrative through the "movie posters" and information about the fictional career of Yuki 7. The new book, Looks That Kill, will feature developed Yuki 7 stories by Elizabeth Ito. Dart is also working on a new animation trailer for the project. Incidentally, there is also a collection of Spy Vibe fiction in the works. I look forward to telling you more about that project soon. In the meantime, keep your surveillance on Yuki 7 and Spy Vibe for updates. From the Yuki 7 blog:

'This summer will see the release of Looks That Kill, the first "Official Yuki 7 Adventure Book". It's being written by Elizabeth Ito, and is a full-blown spy story with loads of intrigue and gadgets and awesome fashion! Above you can see a snippet of the cover, which was designed by myself and a really talented young kid named Matthew Edwards, who's helping me with the book layout. The official release date will be July 16th, and we're planning an awesome release party to happen at Q Pop! There's also going to be a new short film in the vein of the Kiss From Tokyo trailer.' Find out more at Yuki 7.

February 13, 2011


Great moments in Gerry & Sylvia Anderson's Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68). One of my fave scenes is the end of episode one. Scarlet, now a Mysteron agent, has a dynamic shoot-out on top of a futuristic car park -with jet packs and helicopters! This show had it all. Read Spy Vibe's review of the Thunderbirds' James Bond tribute episode here, and Captain Scarlet in our top-ten set design countdown here. Happy Weekend to Spy Vibers!

February 12, 2011


Spy Vibe fans of Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece, Solaris (1972), can look forward to new Blu-ray and DVD editions from the Criterion Collection in May. Criterion has updated their print to include blue-tinted sequences, likely following the director's original vision. The current DVD edition is out of print, but Criterion is offering the last remaining copies at 65% off, bringing this classic down to $13.98. From Criterion:

We will be announcing new Blu-ray and DVD editions of Solaris as part of our May lineup. We now know that the black-and-white scenes in the film were meant to be tinted blue, and we have updated the feature accordingly. The supplements from the original DVD will not change.

The old DVD edition is officially out of print. However, we are offering it at a 65% discount from the SRP at Criterion (use the promotion code RHEYA at checkout). We have a limited supply and will fulfill orders as soon as we can.

February 10, 2011


Continuing the theme from yesterday, here is a wonderful collage of Space Age fashion scenes from The 10th Victim (1965), Blow Up (1966), and How to Steal a Million (1966) set to Richard Hayman's cover of 'The Look of Love'. Spy Vibers will of course remember this Bacharach tune from Casino Royale (1967).

February 9, 2011


As many Spy Vibers know, my first real love for spy-style films began with the Elio Petri movie, The 10th Victim (1965). It's futuristic fashion, modern architecture, pop art-inspired interior designs, and performances by Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress were absolutely captivating. As I described to a friend last night during a theatrical screening of The Ipcress File, I saw the stylish world of The 10th Victim as a youngster and it resonated and established a kind of aesthetic map. My pal, movie historian and artist, Steve Bissette likes to kid me that it was really the music that hooked me. He's right! The cheesy organ grooves and scat-style female vocalizations of Edda Dell'Orso were like Ulysses' siren song. The music was composed by Piero Piccioni, who created a wonderful blend of jazz, mystery-adventure thrills, and avant-garde elements. It remains one of my favorite scores, especially the main title, The Spiral Waltz. I have an original vinyl copy of the soundtrack, as well as the Easy Tempo 1998 CD release. A mint copy of Easy Tempo's 1998 2-disc vinyl, gatefold edition of the soundtrack sold today on eBay for $122. Outbid again on a 10th Victim item, but I congratulate my fellow fan out there who is going to enjoy hearing this treasure in warm fidelity. Here is The Spiral Waltz. For those who have not seen the film, Ursula Andress is dressed here in her tin-foil bikini (with gun-bra!). Enjoy!


Spy Vibers will want to check out a great series running currently on Doe Dante's Trailers From Hell website. All week long, industry insiders will be sharing classic Hitchcock trailers and providing insightful commentary about Rope, I Confess, and Frenzy. Trailers From Hell here.


Yesterday Pizzicato Five sang about Twiggy in a miniskirt. Here is their stylish Magic Carpet ride to get you through the mid-week. Pizzicato Five often presented themselves within a world of retro, futuristic fashion. Their promo videos usually had the look of films from the 1960s, a cool blend of Klein's Polly Maggoo, Swinging London, fashion shoots and Cinema Verite, and bossa nova grooves.

February 8, 2011


One of my favorite bands ever, Pizzicato Five, wove a fabulous blend of modern dance music with the sights and sounds of Swinging London. 1960s icons often showed up as characters and subjects in their songs, everything from James Bond, Playboy, and the Yellow Rolls Royce. Here's one of their great promo films, Twiggy Twiggy (1994).

February 6, 2011


Barnes and Noble currently has Patrick McGoohan's Secret Agent/Danger Man complete series and The Prisoner box sets at half price.


We can celebrate The Avengers, James Bond, UNCLE, Flint, and many others, but in the end, what can really top The Prisoner for its blend of espionage thrills, character-driven scripts, activism, Sci Fi mystery, and 1960s design? Every once in a while it's nice to remember a masterpiece.

Spy Vibe began as a website and our first post was a tribute to Patrick McGoohan after he passed away. Spy Vibe recently had its second blog anniversary. Adding those original hits, we've now passed our first 100,000 mark! Thank you Spy Vibe readers for being a part of our community. Here's to you, and to the man that inspired it all in the first place, Patrick McGoohan. What's your favorite McGoohan episode? Something from The Prisoner, Danger Man/Secret Agent, or Dr Syn?

February 5, 2011


My eye on the early-mid 1960s has been particularly fascinated lately with the folk and blues boom. Not only is it interesting to see how youth culture embraced players like Pete Seeger, the music itself was powered by deep storytelling, humor, history, and topical concerns of the era. Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, so maybe to that paranoid establishment, this was real "spy music." Spy Vibers might enjoy these clips of Pete Seeger. The Power of Song illustrates Seeger's commitment to bettering the world through music and captures some of the larger issues of the early 1960s. His song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, was performed on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, but cut from broadcast by the censors. A campaign by the brothers pressured the network to finally air the footage, and Seeger was able to share a tune that showed his patriotism, empathy for those facing combat, and a larger questioning of war at the height of Vietnam. Written on his banjo were the words. "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." Pete Seeger Appreciation page here. Smithsonian Folkways site here.

Another way to appreciate this area of music is to remember how important it was to the development of other styles. To stretch a quote by the great blues composer Willie Dixon, folks like Dylan, Seeger, Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Skip James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry, Lonnie Donegan, New Lost City Ramblers, etc were the roots, and The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and Miles Davis were the fruits. Traditional folk and blues performers might not have made a big splash with rebellious fashion and attitude (though Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins were certainly sharp dressers), but they sure had something to say. Sometimes the deepest messages come in plain wrappings. One of the most memorable moments I've ever seen on TV was Pete Seeger on Hugh Hefner's Playboy's Penthouse (1959). Pete had a great talent for getting a crowd singing, and it was sweet to see a room of sophisticates huddled around him singing along. Hefner, a huge music fan himself, sat close to Pete and joined in. The guests were movers and shakers of the new cultural revolution, but unified in curiosity and humanity by that banjo.

Spy Vibers interested in seeing another side of the early-mid 1960s should check out the great documentary, The Power of Song (about Pete Seeger).

Although I played in a bluegrass band in high school, and have played mainly blues guitar all my life, my listening curiosity never really pulled in this direction until now. It's great to discover 'new" areas of culture when a fresh context or perspective open us up to the experience. Groovy organ soundtracks transcend time for me because they bring a sense of adventure and playfulness to the day. The spirit of Seeger and the poetry of Bob Dylan's songs transcend time because they embody universal, human emotion and experience. I'm playing banjo these days in the Spy Vibe lair! It's quite fun to pick out blues and folk tunes. I've also discovered that the instrument can double as a shamisen for traditional Japanese melodies. I encourage all Spy Vibers to spend some time with characters like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Alan Lomax. Dive into the Smithsonian Folkways site. Listen to traditional music from around the world and discover your inner folkie.

February 3, 2011

February 2, 2011


Spy Vibe celebrates composer John Barry (1933-2011) this week: The Ipcress File (1965). Released the same year as yesterday's The Knack...And How To Get It, The Ipcress File remains one of John Barry's best-loved scores. This is an outstanding, Cold War classic by key members of the James Bond team (Harry Saltzman, Peter Hunt, Ken Adam), who united to bring Len Deighton's Harry Palmer to the big screen. Actor Michael Caine was able to return to the main role through a series of films over the years.

The film is sometimes referred to as an anti-Bond project because it offered the 007 team an opportunity to tell a darker, less sensationalized spy tale. Although the plot involves thrilling conventions, including missing scientists, moles, and a sci-fi-like brainwashing chamber (!), it ultimately finds its anchor in the working-bloke character played by Caine- a stark contrast to the larger-than-life James Bond. Barry contributed his usual atmosphere and intrigue. The soundtrack is described well in this review from the BBC: "And this soundtrack is all about that contrast too, despite the fact that Barry would famously score both. The music has echoes and strains of Barry's brilliant themes for Bond, but is far less bombastic. Appropriately, it's darker, more reflective. There's even that contrast within the main theme, between the lush vibes, strings and harp, which perhaps allude to the exotic thrill of spying but really just provides a bed for the spare, fragile flute lines, and then, majestically alone and utterly haunting, the distinctive sound of the cymbalom, a hammered stringed/tuned percussion instrument (of Hungarian origin I believe). This contrast continues throughout: between up-tempo sensuous jazz and sombre, brooding, menace." Spy Vibe's John Barry obituary here.

The Ipcress File will screen this week as part of the Mostly British Film Festival in the Bay Area. Thursday Feb 4th is a British Noir program with Get Carter (7pm) and The Ipcress File (9:30pm) at the Historic Vogue Theatre in San Francisco. The Ipcress File will also screen at 7pm on Tues Feb 8th at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

February 1, 2011


Spy Vibe celebrates composer John Barry (1933-2011) this week: The Knack... And How To Get It (1965). The film, directed by Richard Lester, is an interesting time capsule of Mod youth grappling with independence and sexual awakening. The cast includes Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford (How I Won the War), and uncredited appearances by Jacqueline Bisset (Casino Royale, Bullitt) and Barry's second wife, Jane Birkin. The film captures some of Lester's own 'knack' for mid-1960s UK surreal humor and visuals, as well as some groovy organ music from Barry! The two also collaborated on Petulia and Robin and Marion. This particular trailer has been cut in Jean Luc Godard fashion -with a repetition of cues and, well... groping- that highlights the overall sexual tension in the story. Fans of The Monkees will recognize a familiar scene of a bed being rolled down the street- a bit of borrowed, surrealist Lester? I encourage Spy Vibers to seek out the complete score and film for the full experience. And if you're looking to add to your collection of organ grooves for cruising, this one is a classic! Additional Spy Vibe posts on the surrealism boom here and here. Spy Vibe's John Barry obituary here.