Monday, September 01, 2014

Zebedy Colt: genius of transgressive sleaze (note: Spalding Gray tie-in)

I have decided, after my conversation with Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie, below, to see all the the Zebedy Colt films I can. He's kind of my entry drug into the world of sleaze: where Annie Sprinkle seems fundamentally brave and open minded (but basically a nice person), Colt appears to be a porn auteur at war with social sexual norms, returning again and again to themes of degradation, incest, urine, the Occult, and other weirdnesses in his films, both as actor and director. That he identified as gay and had previously, before his porn career got underway, released an album that is today hailed as a landmark of queer culture, makes it very tempting to read him as a someone with an agenda to subvert both porn and society, someone with a hard-on to sabotage, or at least trouble, "normal" sexual relations between men and women in the stories of his films (and thus sabotage sexual norms in the minds of their viewers). He's a weird guy, in short; I think I sympathize with him politically, much as I sympathize with Ms. Sprinkle - and the two of them worked together in several films - but he seems altogether a little less wholesome than Annie, a little less trustworthy, a little more hostile. Maybe it's just because he's a man...
I should mention the context - why I'm all excited to write this piece. I came online this morning to see that, overnight, I had finished downloading what appeared to be a torrent of his second-to-last work as a director, Babylon Nights, which is some sort of meta-porn comedy, spoofing the values and attitudes of porn producers; it was distributed under the alternate title of Spreading Joy, since the main character's name is joy (and perhaps because the industry doesn't necessarily want to be thought of as being associated with "Babylon"). Alas, what the torrent, which I found under the alternate title, actually proved to be was a Santa-themed porno, beginning with a fat man with red pants (played by an actor identified only as "Uncle Milty") having his crotch rubbed by Mrs. Claus, while John Coltrane and Red Garland play "Traneing In," I believe it was (a jazz number that riffs on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town.") Or, well, they'd lifted something jazzy and Christmassy from somewhere; I can't check if I've pegged it because I've already deleted the file. Win some, lose some: ah well. There's still plenty of Zebedy Colt out there to be had.
Colt was a legit actor, appearing in small parts on and off Broadway, and doing regional theatre on the side. He apparently has a small role as a child actor in The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn, and supposedly can be seen as a slave in The Ten Commandments. He was born Edward Earle Marsh, which name  he used for his "straight" career. Zebedy Colt was the stage name he first took to record an album of gay torch songs, called I'll Sing For You, recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, when Marsh/ Colt was 40. Lots more details of his musical career, which pre-dates his work in straight porn, can be found here, on the Queer Music Heritage website. Two of the songs off the album can be heard here and here; as you might notice, the guy could sing - though in a style I have pretty much no interest in, like a gay Perry Como or Frank Sinatra or such. (The Queer Music Heritage website has streamable versions of the rest of the album, for the record, including a couple of songs Colt wrote himself; my interest is actually sufficient - and my taste for the obscure sufficiently deep - that, straight or no, I may live with these songs for awhile, to see if they grow on me). Colt writes (also linked on that site):
I am a man, not a head or a square or a queen or a drag or a sissy, just a MAN, and the object of my affection, my lustful desires, my frustrations, joys, hates, sorrows and ecstasies, is another man, not by social pressures, or diseases, or a possessive mother, or physical or psychic instability, but by PREFERENCE. And to prove my point and strip away any and all excesses of theatrical nonconviction which has turned into social conformity, I chose to sing 'straight' songs usually associated with... heterosexuality. A simple statement made simply without bombastic or psychedelic contrivance.  
What other areas are there left for pioneers these days? THE WILDERNESS WITHIN AND WITHOUT HAS BEEN CONQUERED OR LAID TO WASTE. TECHNOLOGY, CHEMISTRY, AND NATURE ARE PRETTY MUCH EXHAUSTED. HUMAN TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING ARE THE ONLY PRIMITIVE REGIONS LEFT. WELCOME, VOYAGER!" 
The article continues with a long letter from Zebedy (to GAY magazine, title apparently also rendered all in caps, though the rest of the letter, thankfully, is not), where he expresses to the editor his disappointment at his difficulties recouping his investment on the original album ("I am not bitter, John, I am just broke") and his many frustrations with the queer scene.
For me, that's when Zebedy Colt's work really starts to get interesting, since his pioneering attitude continued to apply when he made the career move of acting in straight porn, to finance his other work. I'm not entirely sure about how he made his transition to porn, though it took place around 1975; there's a story quoted in one of the interviews on QMH that it began when a "gay porn producer" asked him if he could use a couple of his songs in a film, then asked if he'd appear in the film in question. The article makes it sound like that film was The Story of Joanna - a Gerard Damiano S&M film, loosely lifted from The Story of O, in which Colt plays a bisexual butler (and gives head to Jamie Gillis!). The trouble is, if films are in fact listed in sequence, IMDB cites Colt as having acted in two pornos (The American Adventures of Surelick Holmes and The Amazing Dr. Jekyll) and even having directed one, Terri's Revenge, a rape revenge porno thriller - by the time of The Story of Joanna; it seems more likely that the film Colt is referring to is actually a piece of gay porn, not yet identified, and that The Story of Joanna came a bit later that year, after he'd been established a bit. Suffice it to say that 1975 was a busy year for Mr. Marsh; in addition to his Broadway work, he appeared in five films identified on IMDB, nine as identified on IAFD, and no doubt got started on making his second effort as writer/ director The Farmer's Daughters, released in 1976 - the earliest film of his I've yet to see. 
But what a film it is. It's technically a mess; whatever odd ideas it has, it is still very difficult to watch on the level of craftsmanship, since there is very little in evidence. The first reel is presented, by design, without synch sound, with horribly dubbed (and horribly corny) dialogue and fake moaning playing over images of a farmer (Colt himself) fucking his wife (played by Gloria Leonard, of High Society magazine). The second reel, and the rest of the film, does have synch sound, but the version I've been able to find has the dialogue go totally out of synch in places, though whether this is due to damage to the film or problems when making it I cannot say; there also "appears" to be censorship of the golden shower scenes, for instance when said daughters humiliate and abuse a farmhand who spies them watching their parents have sex, and later, when the farmhand gets his revenge on the daughters, forcing them at gunpoint to have sex with each other, their parents, and a trio of sadistic convicts who stumble on the farm, led by a young Spalding Gray (!). The young, pissed-on (and pissed off) farmhand instructs the convicts - only two are left at that point, since he shoots one - to pee all over the girls, and Gray shrugs and delivers a line about how he needs to take a leak anyway, which will be the high point of the film for Spalding Gray fans; but the actual piss seems to be missing from the copy of the film found online (maybe a better print exists?). For the record, though the film is kind of brutal at times, there is no indication anywhere that anyone is doing anything non-consensual; people are acting, or at least trying to...
The film has two endings: Colt, as the father, grabs the shotgun and kills the convicts and the farmhand, restoring patriarchy to the farm; then we "flash back" somewhat incompetently through highlights of the film, until we arrive back at the scene of the farmhand's initial golden shower, where it is revealed that the farmhand imagined the entire subsequent scenarios with the convicts as a sort of ineffectual psychic revenge on the girls (reminding me, oddly enough, of Corruption, that rather entertaining Peter Cushing re-discovery, which I highly recommend, even though I've just spoiled the ending). They splash him with water to wash the pee away, and then the film ends. It would feel all the more disturbing if only it had a modicum of craftsmanship; with incest, Femdom humiliation (even a bit of CFNM action, since the girls remain clothed for a bit while tormenting the lad), and plenty of urination, it is certainly not your average porno film (plus one of the convicts is African-American, which no doubt lent the film an even more transgressive edge back in 1975, when, say, he's raping the white Mom).
The Devil Inside Her, the next of Colt's films I've been able to see, is a vast leap forward in terms of craft. As with The Farmer's Daughters, it's all too sick and too conceptually overburdened to actually be arousing, unless you get off on the "idea" of transgression (Georges Bataille would have loved it, I suspect). But it has moments that bring to mind both Fellini and Ken Russell, albeit in a low budget, low craft fashion. The story goes like this: there are two daughters, Faith and Hope, being raised by a strict Protestant father (Colt again, in the role of male authority; there's quite an irony to his occasional casting of himself in the role of patriarchal authority figures in his films, in fact, since as director he spends much of his time subverting or complicating the Law of the Father). Both covet a buff farmhand (Dean Tait, pictured in "possessed" mode to the left, who has one of those physiques, like Francois Papillon, that immediately tip you to the likelihood that he did his share of gay porn as well - at least when he wasn't weightlifting). When the father finds out that Faith is in love with his employee, he has her strip and beats her cruelly. Hope - gamely played by Jody Maxwell - is less innocent about her desires. Having watched her sister punished, she prays to God or Satan, whoever will listen, to deliver her man to her.
Satan is first on call. Played by Rod Dumont, he wears heavy makeup throughout, looking rather like a fifth member of KISS, and appearing with an odd strap around his scrotum - a body part which he had, I gather, worked hard to stretch over the years; to speak plainly, so long do his balls dangle that it's at times hard to keep track, when he's tugging on both, whether it's his penis in his hand or his balls and sac; both stretch about ten inches from his body and at one point, so frenzied do his ball-tuggings get, that I expected sperm to shoot out from the crack between the middle of his testicles, like he could ejaculate from both ends. I'm not sure exactly who would find this performance sexually arousing; it's kinky as, um, hell, but it's also somewhat vile, and more than the sheer grossness of his greasy-seeming body and makeup, there's the ideas he represents, which are both repugnant and hot at the same time, in a way clearly designed to get under the skin of of the viewer. He proceeds, at Hope's command - with a little help from a witch who makes Hope a love potion - to transform himself into the farmhand, who rapes Faith; then - well, it's a bit hard to keep track, but over the course of the narrative, Satan also transforms into Faith and sluttishly seduces the actual farmhand, who is very much an innocent; transforms himself into Hope and Faith's father, to fuck Hope; and at some point he transforms himself into their mother, too, who, if memory serves, seduces her own daughter, or starts to. Hope also has a big vegetable-sex scene, for no reason I recall, though I don't believe Satan is manifest in cucumber form or anything; it's a rather filthy scene, quite literally, with garden fresh dirt smearing Jody Maxwell's thighs as she works her veggies. Somewhere in there, she also has sex with a wood sprite, who appears to be able to shape-shift into a parrot, but thankfully that's as close to bestiality as we get (nice to know Colt had limits!). At the film's climax, Hope attends a witches' sabbath orgy, where Annie Sprinkle, as the most game attendee, gets peed on by a group of men who roughly manhandle her, and various odd sexual scenarios take place, including one that I believe is bisexual; Colt denies us a closeup, but there's a scene where three men are shown grouped around one girl in frenzied coitus, and unless I have a failed grasp on the laws of physics, the guy at the back must surely be penetrating the guy ahead of him, based on their body positions. It's kind of hidden-in-there, "slipped in," as it were, in the midst of a beast-with-four-backs scenario.
If The Farmer's Daughters is borderline incompetent on the level of craft, The Devil Inside Her shows that Colt was a fast study; made only a short while later, it's vastly more artful, and at times quite impressive (when you consider that it's a low budget porno that is; it isn't ever going to be mistaken for a mainstream film). The climax is shot with red filters, Satanic sets, and scored with creepy-sounding soundtrack music (including a bit lifted from Kubrick's 2001!); it's all quite unsettling, compelling, deeply sinful, and... well, I got to admit it, it's totally fascinating, as entertaining as hell, even if only for its sheer weird you-won't-believe-this-shit audacity. At the end of the film, Faith is saved, but Hope is dead, and her soul accompanies Satan to the underworld. Having learned his lesson, the father repents of his past sternness, assenting finally to Faith marrying the farmhand she so loves...
The other must-see Zebedy Colt film I've encountered is controversial insofar as it is not clear that he actually directed it; most people - including horror movie expert and musician Stephen Thrower, in his book Nightmare USA - seem to treat him as the film's author, and apparently Colt himself regarded himself as such, though that's not what it says in the credits. This is Sex Wish - ostensibly a Death Wish rip off, but so much weirder, so much more complicated. Colt plays "the Night Walker," a pervert armed with a briefcase of sex toys, who bursts in on couples and single women and forces them into bizarre sexual situations, toggling as he binds them and torments them between speaking in the voice of a strident, twisted child who wants to have fun and a cruel British governness (the "mother"). Then he murders them, in scenes that mercifully lack any of the convincing quality of what has gone before. One would be unsurprised if it turned out that David Lynch, for instance, was a fan of the film, before creating the character of Frank Booth ("Mommy! Baby wants to fuuuuck!"), since the Night Walker definitely brings Booth to mind. These scenes are played out at great length, and get more and more uncomfortable, with a truly grotesque analogue synth score enhancing the sickening effect. The Night Walker's first target is the wife of straight businessman Harry Reems; his second is a woman Reems knew, so it starts to seem like Reems might be the Night Walker's true target. Reems, hungry for revenge, ends up going on a vigilante hunt for the Night Walker in the gay bars the man is said to frequent; when he finds him, dressed in drag and playing piano, he chases him down and pulls out a gun. Just before Colt is shot, he cries out to Reems, "but I did it because I love you!" or words to that effect. Bang, he's dead. Writes Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA, page 498, where the film is given substantial discussion): "that this formula should produce anything other than a hateful homophobic exercise is testimony to the... commitment and energy of its bisexual star player, Mr. Zebedy Colt." Thrower also describes the film as Colt's "twisted revenge on heterosexual porn" and says "gay viewers of political sensitivity may find the film homophobic, despite its bisexual provenance... For a gay viewer not to be offended by the film, they must be able to enjoy the... extraordinary performance Colt contributes."
I'd go one further: I think, in fact, that despite his character arc, the main point of identification for the viewer is supposed to be Colt; that he's a cipher for whatever ambivalences and resentments the lone broken weirdos of the world out there might feel for happy loving couples out there, and his crimes and the "pleasures" they afford (?) are vastly more important to the film than his ultimate fate. Reems, while giving a fine performance, is a bore, a more or less one-dimensional character who is simply no fun for the viewer to inhabit. The real star of the show is Zebedy Colt, and the film, I suspect, is vastly more hetero-hostile than homophobic, no matter what might be necessary for closure. Sex Wish may be impossible to enjoy as sexual stimuli - let's hope! - but it's impossible not to find fascinating as a film; there's a really devious mind at work here - and a very talented actor; as others have observed, if it wasn't for the film belonging to a disreputable genre, this would be seen as a star performance, every bit as compelling and outlandish as Dennis Hopper's in Blue Velvet - and perhaps even moreso.
I've only briefly skimmed through the other Zebedy Colt films I've managed to track down, such as Unwilling Lovers, which, I gather, adds necrophilia to the buffet of perversions in his cinema (again, it is faked; no one gets harmed in the making of these films - though Jody Maxwell nearly had a fatal fall in making this one, we gather: Robin Bougie talked to her about it in 2005). Colt plays a mentally challenged man being led into weird sexual scenarios by Rod Dumont again (Colt appears to have had a little repertory company in the porn scene that appear in his films again and again). It's going to have to wait for an opportunity for me to see it; since 75% of my film consumption these days is either with my Mom or my girlfriend. I think it's better all round if I don't try to share Zebedy Colt with them, don't you?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wallace Shawn heads up! A Master Builder at the Cinematheque

I have always liked Wallace Shawn as an actor. As with, say, Bob Balaban, there's a really charming everyman quality to what he does, but there's also simply this quality of "Wallace Shawnness" that can't be easily described, that includes his somewhat smaller-than-life appearance and his lispy, high-pitched voice, which so enhances his capacity to convey ineffectual indignation (his articulation of the word "inconceivable" in The Princess Bride is one of those truly unforgettable line deliveries in cinema, even if you don't really have that much invested in the film). I didn't have much luck getting through the one filmed version of a play of his I attempted, The Fever. I didn't see his apparently controversial appearance in Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story (which was released after I'd gotten tired of Moore; I watched about fifteen minutes of it and turned it off, not having seen Shawn's scene, and now that I've read about it I want to see it again). But I always enjoy his appearances in films. I loved him in Tom Noonan's under-appreciated directorial effort The Wife, which cinephiles (and Tom Noonan fans) everywhere should seek out. I still have fond memories of his turn in Paul Bartel's Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverley Hills, a film that really should get released on DVD/ Blu-Ray. And of course, I am a great admirer of My Dinner With Andre, one of those films every movie lover of my generation had to see at least once, which will screen at the Cinematheque soon. His responses to Gregory's aesthetic, um, excesses have always struck a chord with me, even if he's somewhat a figure of fun in the film (I've certainly seen people laugh aloud at some of the things he says, though I don't think I've seen it theatrically, so who knows how people will take it these days? Myself, to the extent that that film presents a combat between visions of art and life, I've always sort of found myself in Shawn's corner, to be honest).
There is still a chance to see Shawn onscreen in a small role in Richard Aoyade's The Double, at the Vancity, which has two remaining screenings, and which I very much enjoyed; it kind of feels like Terry Gilliam meets Franz Kafka, but it's based on an early short novel by Dostoevsky. Shawn is good in it, as always, though it's not a particularly revealing performance. The big news, however, is that he's going to be appearing in A Master Builder, which sees him again collaborating with Andre Gregory, in a film directed by Jonathan Demme. The material sounds compelling - a cruel man with a big ego tries to make amends for his past excesses; based on the description, I can identify. In fact, it sounds like a must-see, and how many years has it been since I saw My Dinner With Andre? Maybe it's time; it is, after all, a great film...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Arrghh...

Fucking financial stress. Getting paid $19 an hour at the same job where I once made $40. I needed the money for a root canal and could start right away, so I couldn't pass it up... but it's not really a living wage! I get about $1600 a month once deductions are accounted for. Rent is $620, phone is $60, cable internet is $60, hyrdro averages out to $30 or $40 a month, my Visa bill minimum is $150, and commuting (if I take the West Coast Express from Maple Ridge) is $244 (!). Add that all up and I have around $300 a month for food, neverminding anything extra (and I do like my extras). Trying to wean myself off being helped by my Mom - I've been as dependent on her as she has on me the last few years - but I'm experiencing a moment of insecurity and anxiety as to how I'm going to get by. Even the little bit of extra money I pull in from writing and such is a drop in the bucket... Hauling Mom's groceries around downtown Maple Ridge in my backpack, I have to admit to feeling grim and impoverished... True that I splurged on a few Blu-Rays and LPs this month, and that I probably shouldn't have, but even without that indulgence, things are feeling pretty tight...

Five good reasons why Love Streams ought not to have been tinkered with

Look, I know, it's just a bit of boob, but - what's the phrase? I'm almost not crazy? Until I hear otherwise, hear some justification for their decision, get some new information, I'm taking the position that Criterion should not have participated in the sanitization of John Cassavetes' Love Streams. (A brief glimpse of nudity has been replaced or removed from the film on their Blu-Ray and DVD - see more here). Here are some reasons.
1. Love Streams is unusual in Cassavetes' body of work for having this moment of nudity. It's a startling, playful, unusual moment, and it shouldn't have been tampered with; it was part of the original film, was an unusual moment in his filmography, was part of cinema history, and by cutting it, you're lying, falsifying, erasing the record, pretending the film was different from how it actually was, and thereby doing an injustice to film scholarship and future audiences.
2.The version with the nude scene is the version of the film, presumably, that most people have seen and know - or has been up til now, since the Criterion Blu-Ray/ DVD will now become the definitive version. Be it on (the otherwise tinkered-with) VHS release of yore, the French DVD (which is what these "captures" are from), or the print that screened at the Cinematheque after Cassavetes' death, back in 1989, I managed to see this not-so-easy-to-see film at least a dozen times, enough so that when the modestly censored, altered version played in Vancouver some years ago, I spotted the missing nudity right away. So you're not just tinkering with the film; you're tinkering with the experiences of the people who have seen it, love it, support it, doing a violence, however small, to their memory of the film.
3. Cassavetes is no longer around to defend himself. Tinkering with his films posthumously is in bad taste, an injustice to his vision and his aesthetic, an insult to the artist. Whoever thinks they have the right to do this - sorry, but (based on what I can see, anyhow) you don't; you can't mark your territory without concomitantly pissing on the work, you know?
4. And this sort of thing has happened far too many times already with Cassavetes' work, hasn't it? It happened with the old VHS of Husbands, most notably, and previously with the VHS of Love Streams - where Golan and Globus cut a bit of Rowlands' "magic tricks" scene and the weird bit of black leader that Cassavetes left in his film (they left the boobs in, though). If memory serves, according to Carney, there's also been some censorious tinkering with Minnie and Moskowitz (there's a scene between Cassell and the Irish girl he picks up that never made the DVD). That's a lot of meddling, folks, and more than one filmmaker's works should have to suffer.
5. These girls were part of the film, and an injustice has been done to them. Their faces are also obscured in the "censored" of the film; we see one quite clearly in the previous cut. And without seeming a lech, there's absolutely nothing wrong with admiring the beauty of these soapy, naked women, hanging out in the shower in Cassavetes' home; I realize we have a culture that gets all funny around breasts, but, I mean, screw it, these are perfectly nice breasts, and there's nothing wrong with admiring them, or the frank nudity of their owners, at all. To take objection to the scene is to take what, at least here in the west, seems a trivial, cliched, prudish, childish, barely-belongs-in-the-21st-century value ("nudity is sinful! You should be ashamed!") and asserting its primacy over the value that an artists' work should be preserved according to the vision and intention of the artist. It would be like cutting the nude little girl from A Woman Under the Influence because you shouldn't show children naked - it's a stupid value that should not be allowed primacy over a great film. It's an affront, an injustice, a small victory of the puny over the great. It shouldn't oughta be that way.
Unless there's some good reason for the changes, that is, previously unacknowledged. I've written to Criterion. Meantime, compare the images on this post with those on the Criterion discs. (I left my copy of the Criterion at my girl's, where I plan to show it to her, so I can't check to see if Michael Ventura discusses this on his commentary, but do let me know if I've missed anything, eh?).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Prison dream

In the dream I just woke from, I had been ushered into a prison where I was going to be serving time. One inmate seemed friendly and helpful at first and then revealed that he was a rapist and would probably be attacking me at some point, so I was keeping my distance from him. There was an older female (!?), also an inmate, who showed me a deck of playing cards designed by another prisoner; the cards were jail-themed, and while it was  hard to make out which suit or number most cards had - I could spot the odd face card and the three of clubs, but otherwise was non-plussed - they were quite beautiful, in a "dark comic art" way (think Sandman, I guess). I asked the woman about the person who had designed them and she told me he was still in jail. I remarked that the cards were truly beautiful and that I'd like to write to the guy... then the alarm woke me.

I think that the dream was informed by my recent watching of Brubaker and discovering that you can write to Omar Khadr in prison, if you like (see freeomarkhadr.com for more on that). Why I dreamed it last night I cannot say...

Monday, August 25, 2014

John Cassavetes' Love Streams: the return of the amazing disappearing breasts!

My girlfriend must think I'm a bit crazy, rushing to get my new Blu Ray/ DVD of Love Streams into the player and searching to find "the scene with the breasts," to see if it has been censored, tampered with, sanitized... but I needed to know. The print of the film that played in Vancouver a few years ago, as previously mentioned on this blog, had a brief, startling moment of nudity excised from the film - nudity previously visible on the European DVD of Love Streams and even on the old (otherwise altered) VHS release of the film put out by Cannon. When Tom Charity informed me that Criterion were preparing this film - probably my favourite film in cinema history, certainly in my top five - for DVD-Blu Ray release, he also told me that he appraised Criterion of my blogpost on the subject. I had investigated at the time, or attempted to, phoning Sony and such, trying to determine if the missing breasts were simply a glitch - if, say, some horny, unethical projectionist had snipped the boobs from the film for his private collection, which was the theory I had come to favour - or if they were part of some prudish "sanitization" agenda such as the one that Ray Carney railed against re: the VHS release of Husbands (which finally came out on DVD with all the puking, shitting, bullying and bad behaviour back in its rightful place). Were the boobs missing by accident or by design? Surely it was an accident. Surely Criterion would release the film as it was first released, as it has been released on DVD in Europe; they wouldn't be so childish to snip out a bit of harmless nudity, would they? Carney can't possibly be RIGHT that there is an agenda to sanitize Cassavetes' films, can he?

Looks like he is, folks. Compare this screengrab - shot off the old VHS with a digital camera - to the scene in the film as released by Criterion. You won't see this image anywhere. Guess I gotta keep my French DVD...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I like Night Moves

There is some discussion whether Night Moves is "politically retrograde." The full quote, from Louis Proyect, on the Counterpunch  site: 
In an interview with Indiewire, Reichardt stated that the film was not about politics but about people, the same nonsense I have heard from other directors involved with politically retrograde productions. For example, that’s the same thing Katherine Bigelow said about the Islamophobic “The Hurt Locker”.
Not sure what quote he's drawing on, but I've read Reichardt elsewhere say that "it's not a morality play, it really is a character film;" so I'm inclined to trust him that she has tried to encourage a depoliticized reading of the film. All the same, I'm not quite sure what his objection to Night Moves is, exactly; he seems to be comparing it against some other film he'd like to see made, but that seems a rather counterproductive place to criticise films from. You have to meet a film on its own terms, and you have to grapple with the themes it brings to the table, not the themes you think it should have. Proyet is so concerned with the film he thinks Reichardt should have made, in fact, that I'm not sure he gets the film she has made, which doesn't seem, to me, to be politically retrograde in the slightest. Instead, the film deals with a very difficult and important question when it comes to "blowing shit up," as the director phrases it. Such actions as Reichardt's characters engage in have a cost. They put people at risk, and they can have an even more disastrous effect on the lives of the people who undertake them, which needs to be seriously weighed (I write this as someone who has talked personally to two members of the so-called Squamish Five (AKA Direct Action) and interviewed the person accidentally injured by them. In all three cases, there continue to be consequences and costs, still felt now, nearly forty years later). Reichardt's film - besides offering us glimpses of different slices of the environmentalist movement (and of course some very memorable images of the Pacific Northwest) - seems to me to be speaking in sympathy with exactly those audience members who might be tempted towards radicalism, and asking them to soberly reflect on - or at least locate themselves in - the scenario that plays out, which - nevermind the politics - is a reasonably realistic one, and therefore worth considering (I would hope anyone who planted a bomb would give more thought to the possibility of people getting hurt than these guys do, but - well, like I say, the Squamish Five example is kind of instructive here, eh?). I don't think she's saying anything very clear-cut about whether people should or should not engage in political action, but she's definitely providing a sobering consideration of what can happen, and inviting people to consider it without kidding themselves.

I think that's a valuable thing, not in the least "retrograde," unless you're so ideologically blinkered that you insist that anytime a character is on screen performing an action associated with revolution they must be heroic, beautiful, and so forth. If what Mr. Proyect is saying is that Night Moves is a bad propaganda film, I would have to agree with him. But in fact I don't think it's trying to BE a propaganda film; I think it's doing more subtle things than that, more interesting things. And it seems to assume from the outset a sympathy with its characters, which lasts to the final images of the film. Your closing thoughts about Josh are - spoiler alert, if you need it - not what a horrible human being he is, but how totally and utterly fucked his life is now. Telling people not to end up like him - and to think long and hard about what they do, so that doesn't happen - doesn't seem at all the same as telling them not to act. 

And yet I think Reichardt is wrong, too. I think there's something in narrative where it's nearly impossible to  tell a story and not make it a "morality play" on some level, particularly in a film that deals with the consequences of a morally complex thing like ecoterrorism, but also in any genre film in general. I do think there's a morality to Night Moves - and one I don't object to in the slightest. There's also many beautiful images, a very powerful sense of suspense at times, and some really beautiful soundtrack work from Jeff Grace. I was a bit concerned before watching it a second time that the film would not hold up, that I would like it less than I did on first blush. In fact, I liked it more. It's sort of a must-see movie, folks. (If you see it, do let me know, here if possible, what you thought of it). 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nothin' for now

Yadda yadda... will blog more later... distracted by life. Night Moves held up on second viewing. The Double is good, too. Excited about the noirs next week (plan to take my girl to Gun Crazy). Might go see the Afghan Whigs! (Remember them? The new stuff sounds pretty good, and I forgot how much I liked Up In It - check out "Retarded," say). James Farwell will be doing a DJ set that night as an afterparty, at the Bottleneck, too. I haven't made it to any of those, so who knows...

No blogging for the time being, though. Life trumps it right now. I will be checking in on Facebook occasionally...

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

Not in the slightest bit surprised by Robin Williams`apparent suicide, though it`s sad news indeed. He always seemed a very volatile character, to me, capable of going quite far in the manic direction; his performance in The Fisher King is almost an embarrassment at times, he gets so lost in exhibitionistic frenzies... It makes sense that he could go just as far the other way, too. A very talented, very funny, very smart man, obviously, but - well, let`s just say I`m not surprised.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tesco Vee online!

I finally put my big Tesco Vee interview online to mark the arrival of this great new Meatmen album (seriously, I like it better than Toilet Slave or Pope on a Rope or pretty much any other Meatmen album except War of the Superbikes!).

No Place to Hide in No Fun City: David M. gives an Actual Public Performance, August 15th

Well, looks like I'll be missing another David M. show next weekend! He's doing a concert at the Prophouse Cafe (1636 Venables) on August 15th (8pm), apparently surveillance-themed, but intrigued as I am, he apparently has this psychic ability to intuit when I have other commitments, and plans his shows accordingly. I'm not entirely sure what the details of it are; I know that he's been doing some unusual performances lately, announcing that he's going to do "something" in public on Facebook, but not listing the details and telling his followers that they needn't attend. He sometimes comments on Facebook that the activities he's engaged in - some sort of guerrilla theatre? I don't know - have been worthwhile, but they remain a bit (ie., totally) mysterious. This show, however, is apparently actually happening, and public; since it's surreptitiously-themed, perhaps someone could covertly videotape some of it for me so I can catch up at a later date?

As David writes on his event page, "Come for the music; stay for the all-encompassing surreptitious quasi-governmental surveillance! Join marked 'man' David M. and his guests Deej Barens, Shawn Turkington, and Pete Campbell, as they crawl out from under their rock to ROCK. Or don't join them; Your Faceless Overlords will, as always, have a full report for their delectation at breakfast the next morning. See you soon - you needn't attend!"

Some of David's posters are below:







Monday, August 04, 2014

Night Moves review: Kelly Reichardt and eco-sabotage

Watched Night Moves last night (opens at the Vancity August 22nd). I liked it. In fact, I liked it quite a bit more than Meek's Cutoff, maybe a bit more than Wendy and Lucy, which it's tonally a bit similar to, though it's darker and more suspenseful.  On the other I hand, I didn't like it nearly as much as Old Joy, which is still the most powerfully emotional and meaningful of Kelly Reichardt's films, for me, her high watermark in cinema (River of Grass, her under-remarked-upon first feature, has many interesting images and moments but it doesn't really belong with her "mature" work, exactly). Night Moves may actually be my second favourite of her films, though, and does many of the things that I liked in Old Joy, like providing a visual record of the particular forms of beauty and ugliness that coexist in the Pacific Northwest. It's a pleasurable film to look at, even if its story is quite a bit grimmer and tenser than Old Joy's, dealing with the build up to, and execution and subsequent fallout of, an act of eco-sabotage, in which a dam is blown up by a pair of young environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning) and a slightly older friend with military experience (Peter Sarsgaard). The film is not one of those that you should know much about before going to see; any plot description that goes into more detail than I've done will possibly detract from your engagement, but there a few observations that I can make in clean conscience (spoilers only crop up in section 3):

1. I have no idea why they've given the film the title of a film noir from the 70's. It's been awhile since I've seen the original Night Moves - a 1975 Gene Hackman private eye neo-noir featuring a young and occasionally nude Melanie Griffith - but having seen both films, I'm at a loss to name commonalities. That film was shot in Florida, which to my understanding was Reichardt's home state before she came west, so presumably the identical title is not a coincidence (and I'll go out on a limb and assert that the Arthur Penn film likely has a whole lot more to do with Reichardt's film than any Bob Seger song, even if I don't as yet know what). The first Night Moves deals with infidelity and, if memory serves at all, a sunken boat or plane or something, with loot on board, and people prepared to kill to get at it. Both films have water in them, which is about the only similarity that comes to mind. I will probably watch the Penn film again sometime soon to see if I can suss it out. Maybe there's an indirect nod to Eric Rohmer (whose cinema is characterized as being "like watching paint dry" by the Hackman character in the 1975 movie; he would probably feel the same way about Kelly Reichardt's films, but hey, he's a bit of a vulgarian).

2. Without having actually read the novel in question to completion, the lawsuit from Pressman claiming Night Moves has too many similarities to Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang - itself being adapted for film - seems like it's in bad faith, maybe a sleazy greed move, since the similarities between texts seems to be minor, the mood totally different between Reichardt's text and the Abbey novel (which I've read enough of to know that it's somewhat of a funny, rollicking eco-sabotage picaresque). The world is definitely big enough for both stories to co-exist; that the Wikipedia entry linked says that the use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in making a bomb was mentioned as a plot similarity and a potential basis for a claim of copyright infringement shows how spurious the suit must have been, since that's a commonly known, commonly used item in bomb-making. It's like saying that because Dirty Harry kills bad guys with a gun, no other cop-turned-vigilante movie (and how many of THOSE are there?) can have its main antihero use a gun without first paying money to the Dirty Harry franchise. Not sure what the ultimate fall-out of the suit was, but Pressman's company apparently actually tried to stop Night Moves from being made on the basis of such things. I hope that a smart judge read the book, watched the movie (or read the screenplay), and then chuckled and threw the whole thing out of court. It's not my impression that that's what happened, sadly.

3. Here be spoilers, but I'll warn you as they grow terminal. For reasons unclear - presumptions about Reichardt's political sympathies, most likely - I expected the film to be a call to action, an endorsement of radical action. Spoiler: it isn't. It is, if anything (further spoiler) a cautionary tale with a very bleak ending. It may not reduce quite so simply to the dictum "don't blow shit up," but if not, it comes close to amounting to: "be very careful when you plan to blow shit up, and be prepared for what follows, which will not be pretty." If there's a relevant previous piece of writing I've done previously that has a bearing on Reichardt's film, it's (major spoiler) this one - my interview with Terry Chikowski, the security guard nearly killed at Litton Industries outside Toronto, when a certain group of activists of some, um, renown in Vancouver set off a bomb back in the 1980's. Much of what works best about the film is the mood of paranoia and mistrust that overtakes our young protagonists after the explosion takes place; I know from having talked to a couple members of said group of activists that that mistrust and paranoia are real things that people experience in such circumstances. Some people have not liked the ending of this movie, but though it's a deeply unhappy one, I think it's pretty believable and honest...

Anyhow, without saying a lot more, I liked Night Moves a lot, and am looking forward to seeing it properly on the screen once it opens. I recommend it. Who knows, I might even see it more than once... Trailer here. I will now turn to Google to see if anyone has interviewed Reichardt about the Arthur Penn thing... I will leave y'all to do your own work on that point for now, however...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Poison Idea, Belphegor, Swans

Punks out there might care that Poison Idea play Funky's October 3rd. But they know this already, right? Old school, ugly Portland punk band with a lot of really solid songs.

And Belphegor are coming (October 5th, Rickshaw; who cannot find some love for a band with songs like "Bondage Goat Zombie?"). And Swans, at the Venue in September, with - wait, Carla Bozulich is opening?

With apologies to Michael Gira, I wasn't sure I was going to see Swans again this year, having caught them twice in the last few years... but Carla Bozulich? That kinda moves this into a not-to-be-missed category. Of course, if you missed either or both of their last two shows in Vancouver, this show should be considered not-to-be-missed by you, too. My old big Swans interview, or the part that ran online, is here...

Films noir, Snowpiercer, Night Moves: some smart summer films in Vancouver

I'm going to be too busy to write much over the next while, at least not here. If you haven't read my Robin Bougie interview below, I'm quite pleased with it. I will also be working on putting up some Tesco Vee stuff online that the world outside Germany has not yet seen, from my big interview with him, but it may take a few days.

Meantime, here are a few notes about some upcoming film fare.
Re: film noir series at the Cinematheque, see under Mack, Adrian. Actually, the programming this year is erring a bit on the side of the conservative, in my opinion; I've caught Double Indemnity two or three times theatrically in Vancouver in the last few years, so I didn't really need it again, y'know? Gun Crazy played last year, too, unless I'm mistaken. But then there are probably still hundreds of people in this town who haven't seen either of these films; I highly recommend AMENDING YOUR WAYS, if you number among them, because these are essential if you have any love of cinema, and are both fonts of cinephilic delight to boot, two of the most flat out pleasurable noirs ever made, though not without their darkness. Besides, even some of the obvious choices are films even I haven't yet been able to see on the screen, like The Lady From Shanghai (which I've only seen twice, in fact, both times on DVD; the image above is from it); it's sufficiently fascinating a film that Pere Ubu named an album after it. Meantime, in terms of the less obvious choices in the series, the ones that excite me most are So Dark The Night (directed by Gun Crazy's Joseph H. Lewis) and Cry of the City
Re: the Vancity Theatre, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is one of Herzog's most interesting and watchable early films, starring Stroszek's Bruno S. He plays, here, one of Herzog's smallest of smaller-than-life characters, looking at the world through deeply estranged eyes; the film manages to be moving, visually astonishing - I once cut a segment in it into a "trip tape" I was making for psychedelically-inclined friends - and surprisingly funny, at the end, maybe even outdoing Stroszek ("is this really me?" - you bet it is, buddy) for dark humour. Essential. It's coming as a fast-approaching Cinema Salon. One wonders if Ian Curtis saw this one...
Then there's Snowpiercer. I missed it tonight, but it's the newest film for South Korean star filmmaker Bong Joon Ho. The film involves some sort of metaphoric/ literal class struggle on a train in a world that has experienced some sort of weather apocalypse. It's playing the next two Fridays, late. Everything I've heard about Bong's Memories of Murder and Mother have been positive; I had lukewarm reactions to the only film of his I've seen, his monster movie The Host - which he personally introduced to a VIFF audience when it first played here -  but I'm definitely interested in his cinema. Sadly, Snowpiercer is one of those films that former Miramax man Harvey Weinstein has tried to impose his own vision on, demanding cuts and changes to doubtlessly dumb down the movie for the American market. Bong's refusal to cooperate means that this is probably the only chance you'll have to see his first major international production, which critics have been praising with some fervour, in the theatres; I wouldn't miss the opportunity, if you like thinking-person's SF. My girlfriend and I both mistook John Hurt for Sir Ian McKellen in a promo shot!
Also at the Vancity, Double Play looks at the friendship between Richard Linklater, whose films I intermittently enjoy a great deal, and James Benning, who is someone everyone should learn about and whose films present some of the most rewarding challenges in American cinema today. There's a bunch else that might be of interest, too - The Double, say - but I'll leave it to y'all to sort that stuff out; let me just note that Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves is finally opening in Vancouver (like The Double, it stars Jesse Eisenberg, as well as Dakota Fanning, whom I've respected since Man on Fire, and whose success as an adult pleases me greatly). I can't be the only person who's been waiting for this movie? ...might have some more on that film later on, haven't had a chance to see it yet. Eco-terrorism is a topic of some interest to me, though...
All in all, it's nice to see some good movies upcoming! Now let's hope some people go to them. (Note: both theatres are air conditioned and very pleasant ways of spending a hot evening. It was great to see decent audiences for all three screenings of Sorcerer I went to... the Friedkin-approved remastered DVD comes out August 5th, apparently).

Friday, August 01, 2014

A needed Translink rant

Hard not to wonder what's up with Translink these days. First, starting a few years ago, circa the Olympics, we get massive crackdowns on fare evasions: cops patrolling trains and stations with guns on their hips, which does nothing to make me feel safer, since the cop with the gun is always the most dangerous/ frightening person on any bus I've been on. If that doesn't feel "police state" enough for you, we also have transit security setting up cordons everywhere, doing things like bullying teenage girls with incorrect fare until they break down crying (something I personally witnessed), or, for instance, pushing people with correct fare aside (like, in this case, me), knocking them into the wall so they could sprint through Granville Station in pursuit of fare evaders who tried to flee...
...then there's the whole Compass Card system, with insulting "would you like a mint" posters promising that the Compass Card system would be installed in early January, and implying we're idiots for having questions or concerns about it. After millions of dollars have already been funnelled to a corporation with demonstrable ties to the BC Liberals to install fare gates - because channelling taxpayer dollars to your cronies is far less of an offense than ducking out on a $2.75 bus ticket - various issues that should have been resolved at the planning stages are revealed: like, people with paper transfers won't be able to use the Skytrain system; sorry about that. Then, at the peak of public anxiety as these bugs start coming to light, AFTER millions have been already spent, the whole installation of the system just seems to get forgotten about, shunted aside. There are working Compass Cards out there, but most people seem to still be using the paper transfers; meantime, it looks like those fare gates that have been installed were a COMPLETE FUCKING WASTE OF MONEY. Not only are they not being used, anywhere, I've been told by a Skytrain employee that they're all pretty much broken anyhow, and that the stations that don't have them yet (like Metrotown) are never going to get them, since they don't work. His comment was that it's all a fast ferry scandal waiting to break...
 Meantime, it's business as usual for public transit users: broken escalators, broken fare machines, full buses, broken buses, buses that simply don't materialize, buses that pull away from you as you sprint screaming towards them down the sidewalk, buses that have been scheduled so they arrive at their stop five minutes after the connecting bus has pulled away so that you have to waste twenty five minutes waiting for the next bus (a regular feature with the 701 out of Maple Ridge, which for years was scheduled to connect with the 160 to Vancouver or the 169 to New West at the Coquitlam bus loop, and which now appears to have been scheduled to deliberately arrive so you MISS your connection, making sure that your transfer is useless by the time you get anywhere you need to be; just tell me that that's by accident, I dare ya). I mean, clearly if you were an important person in this province you wouldn't be taking the bus in the first place, so why should you expect the system to serve your needs? Fuck you, you have bad breath. You deserve what you get. You're probably a fare evader anyhow.
...and if all that's not enough to frustrate you, we then get months and months and months of disrupted late night service, so that the rails can be upgraded. Some of that work actually needs doing, I gather - and three cheers for the Evergreen Line, which is going to make the life of long distance commuters like me much, much easier. Still, it all seems just a bit suspect, given the timing, like it might just be a huge distraction from this incomplete Compass Card implementation, a move in a much larger game designed to defer the scandal that will inevitably break. Or - call me paranoid, but has it occurred to anyone else that all these recent breakdowns could be some sort of attempt to socially engineer approval of the Liberals taking several more million dollars out of the public coffers, to make sure the system works properly? I mistrust them enough that I'd be willing to believe it (not that they seem to be eager to assume any degree of accountability for these glitches). In any event, the number of breakdowns, slow downs, and other issues on the Skytrain in the last few weeks has been phenomenal. My girl and I got good chuckles, riding the Expo Line to Metrotown the other day, when one of the many poor suckers tasked to grovel apologies for delays over the intercom repeatedly asked us not to "break out" of the cars when stopped outside stations. Great word choice, that. If I weren't poor and desperate these days, spending all my time hustling to survive, I'd be really, really angry at the BC Liberals, Translink, and the state of our province, which is seeming pretty bloody FUBAR at the moment. The saddest thing about it all was asking a visitor to Vancouver - a young student - what she would do if the Skytrain kept breaking down and getting the reply that she would "start to hate Vancouver." And really, I can't say I'd blame her.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Super Duper Alice Cooper!

Plays Monday at 8:30 at the Vancity Theatre! I gotta see this - Dunn and McFadyen meet Reg Harkema!

Andrew Jackson Jihad at the Biltmore

At one point during Thursday's Andrew Jackson Jihad show at the Biltmore, one of the members looked out at the audience and observed something to the effect of, "holy shit there are a lot of people here!" There were, too; I was also surprised. I'd arrived in time to catch Hard Girls (missed Dogbreth), and enjoyed their set, which was sort of punky power pop that drew a bit, I thought, on Guided By Voices at their tightest - but as good as they were (and as excited as a fistful of moshers got when they broke into what I guess was a Misfits cover), there was plenty of room up front, which is kind of what I expected - a thin audience of the especially hip. But by the time AJJ finished their soundcheck and broke into "Temple Grandin," the first song on their album Christmas Island - which probes the well-meaning inadequacy of human responses to the "bullshit" around us (finding a "nicer way to kill it;" Grandin is a leader in making slaughterhouse designs more humane), the pit was packed, and for many of the harder songs, the crowd did things I didn't realize would be part of the Andrew Jackson Jihad experience, like, say, crowd-surfing, pretty much from the start of the show (before the first song was done, singer Sean Bonnette quipped between lyrics, "Get down!" at some guy who had risen magically up onto the audience - though whether that was "get down and boogie!" or "get down you asshole before you fall on me and break your neck" I could not say; I suspected the latter). As someone who has written about the Vancouver scene for awhile now, and who has been to many under-attended and under-appreciated shows, I felt kind of proud of how big and how appreciative the crowd was. Hey, check it out: No Fun City does the Andrew Jackson Jihad justice; these kids have GOOD TASTE. Who'd've thought?

 Mind you, it was an audience I didn't feel much in common with, liking the music aside. Except for one older woman I concluded was maybe the mom of a bandmember, no one was in my age range; seemed like the average was about 25. But they knew their shit, singing along quite loudly with the lyrics of some of the songs, including one of the band's most disturbing numbers, "Bad, Bad Things" - one of the songs of theirs I in fact frequently skip when listening to the album (People That Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World, which title apparently comes from Vonnegut), because its lyrics, describing the thoughts of a murderer as he works his way through a family, are so deeply dark and creepy, outdoing even the evil of Murder Ballads. Seeing how excited people got to hear it has made me spin it all the way through a few times since, but it's still kind of unsettling! I didn't get to stick around for the whole set, what with work looming and a girlfriend to get home to, but I got to hear a few of my favourite songs by them (besides the opener, these were "Distance," "People II: The Reckoning," "Children of God," and "Kokopelli Face Tattoo."). I missed out on hearing the end of a running story that they sprinkled through their set, so I don't know what exactly happened in Revelstoke (where they were stoked to be part of the revels, ha-ha) that had deprived them of their keyboard stand; Preston Bryant's keys were supported by an ironing board throughout the night. But leaving early or not - us old fucks are like that - I totally enjoyed seeing them, and was happy to have been in such an attractive, enthusiastic audience... snapped some photos, too, and a video that might not load. Let's try, though:

Hard Girls:



Andrew Jackson Jihad:


Of course the video doesn't seem to want to load... I get an error message and then it SEEMS like nothing is happening (I might not be waiting long enough but the error message is discouraging, you know?). Maybe I'll try putting it on Youtube? If there's a link there, it worked. Check back tomorrow, eh?