Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Strugglers at the WISE Hall July 25th


I hope that everyone now living in Vancouver with an interest in rock'n'roll got to see the Little Guitar Army while they were around. Great, great band. There were always signs that they were going to implode at some point, tho' - inner tensions, bad weirdness, and a size that, short of massive infusions of cash, made extensive touring pretty much untenable: how many buses would they have needed, and how much money per member could they possibly get paid? Insane by design, they were also the greatest thing to happen to rock music in Vancouver since Slow, and probably the greatest theatrical rock spectacle ever to come out of this town (it's not enough to just own the CD: this was a band you had to experience live, and more than one time, because the first time you were not going to believe it). If the phenomenon around rock music still made sense, if the machine wasn't so horribly broken, if there were justice in the world of popular music, the Little Guitar Army would have been playing stadium shows all over the world while bands like U2 played clubs in Dublin.

I still vaguely remember my shock and confusion the first time I caught them live - entirely unprepared and almost by accident; I showed up just because Tony Bardach had mentioned he was playing in the band, and I've always liked Tony, so what the heck. I remember a dozen bandmembers, most in those schoolboy/ schoolgirl uniforms, standing on tables and chairs all over the Railway Club main room, rocking out on their tiny little (ridiculous yet magical) guitars, doing a totally whacked, kick-out-the-jams version of the Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" that blew all the snot and falseness out of the original (recorded in what Mike Watt once called the BOC's "Journey" period) and totally redeemed it. Linda was the female vocalist, at that point, and cut a terrifying figure - equal parts cartoon Nazi and S&M sexbomb - while belting out the lyrics with (the equally powerful but less terrifying, thank God) Bert Man, who presents as a rock'n'roll debauchery lifer. I had one of those rare "oh my god what is this I've never seen anything like this before" moments which are, in fact, pretty fucking few and far between in the world of rock music these days, considering such moments are very nearly the whole point of going to shows. There was an interview that I did with them in confused circumstances that never saw the light, and I gave a kind of critical review to their one album (not because it wasn't great but because the packaging and presentation simply weren't great enough for how cool their band and their songs were)... but there was something very very special about the Little Guitar Army, maybe partially because it was pretty clear it wasn't going to last forever. Maybe something will rise from the ashes of that band. Maybe they will be born anew. I hope so; they were fantastic, and shouldn't just fade into local punk legend.

In the meantime, there's the Strugglers. It might be unfair to them to see them as a fragment, an offshoot, a spinoff - and for all I know they were around before the LGA - but the one time I've caught them, at the SNFU show where this stunning bit of live footage was recorded - I couldn't help myself. They had a higher percentage of LGA glory in their act than I expected, and, I believe, three members who were either active LGA, or alum. Bert Man, on vocals, was ever bit as insanely compelling as he was with LGA, and maybe a bit moreso, as he stripped out of his big green lizard suit to sing in his tiny undies (did you click that last link? Do it, and wait for it). Orchard Pinkish, also active LGA at that point, was onstage on guitar, too. And now, they've made a DVD of rock videos with the guy who did the  LGA "30 Watts to Freedom" video, Dave Tamkin, and are going to be headlining a show at the WISE Hall, July 25th (this Friday), which sure does seem like THE rock and roll event to be at in Vancouver this weekend.

"The vids are very sex drug rock and roll," Bert Man tells me via Facebook. The one video he showed me is sure to cause controversy locally, is one of those acts of poor taste that you sort of shudder to see and wait to comment on to see what everyone else says, so you don't get in trouble (there's a dead hooker involved, let's leave it at that). Then there's one which I haven't seen that uses CGI to have "150 foot tall Strugglers cavorting downtown," There will also be props, burlesque girls, a big screen to show the videos on. "I wanna pull out all the stops regarding theatrics," Bert wrote me. "Be a good one to take pictures at... how many more times in my life will I get to put out a DVD, y'know?"

Highly recommend being at the WISE Hall for this show. The Strugglers rock (and Ron Reyes' reijigged Piggy will also be on the bill!). I'm going to be pretty beat if I go see the Andrew Jackson Jihad on Thursday and then work Friday... but this is a show I do not want to miss...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Savage Sagas From The Meatmen!

My old Tesco Vee interview - or the portion of it that was published in English - is here. Maybe I should get the lead out do something with the rest of it now that Savage Sagas from the Meatmen has been completed? Haven't heard the album yet but I enjoyed their concert here, hope to see them again...

Andrew Jackson Jihad this Thursday, plus ticket giveaway

Right, so I'm entering a contest to try to get tickets to the Andrew Jackson Jihad, and I get more entries if I blog about it, so check this link for more! These guys are probably my favourite "new discovery," bandwise, mostly because they write some terrifically infectious and occasionally quite sick lyrics. I'm driving my girlfriend a bit crazy by singing lines out of context from different songs, like the image of a sky, I think it is, "as red as a dog's asshole and you see it bleeding;" or about finding a "nicer way to kill it" (from their song that is titled after humane slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin, who pops up on two tunes on the new LP), or about blood collectors collecting blood while "the cannibals all sang," say. Plus they have two references to Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans on their new album, including the declaration that it is the "greatest movie ever" (a bit hyperbolic by me but it is a film I'm fond of; love those lizards!). The band plays the Biltmore on Thursday and even though I work Friday I am strongly considering going. Strongly. We'll see how exhausted I am...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Khats fest: me and Newt, plus the Poppy Family Experience

Got to say hello to Steve Newton at the Khatsahlano festival yesterday. We could be brothers! In fact, maybe in a way we are:
I missed a bunch of bands I had planned to see - The Furies have to be the band I have most often set out to see but not actually made it to, so it's almost a tradition with me - but I got to have some free food and beer, and treated to a chance to socialize with some of my favourite people around town. Thanks to Adrian Mack, in particular, for his terrific Poppy Family feature, it really helped orient me in regard to the band, plus he turned me onto the original Terry Jacks version of "There's No Blood In Bone," which you can find on the Neptoon compilation The History of Vancouver Rock and Roll Volume 2 (I highly recommend getting all four volumes, though be warned - #3, with the Painted Ship on it, fetches a fair price!). According to Michael Willmore's liner notes, that's not the Chessmen, by the way, but a solo recording from a trip to Los Angeles.
To be totally honest, the Poppy Family Experience was more one of those concerts that's great because it's happening at all than because the band was in top form; with it being only the second time this particular permutation has played live (and some 40 years since the Poppy Family's heyday), there were definitely a few rough patches, from an under-miked first song to some actual glitches in the performance (I will leave these unremarked upon but I'm sure the band noticed). Still, it was totally exciting to be in the audience to hear these songs performed live, and Susan Jacks - and her new kidney, Wilson - makes a very compelling and entertaining frontwoman indeed. Here's hoping we'll get another chance to see this unit play. Vivian Pencz's review and a much better photo of the band is here. Wishing Satwant Singh the best in his cancer treatment (at one point Susan Jacks informed the audience that he had skipped his weekly chemo to play).

The Rebel Spell at Adstock 2014 in Maple Ridge - pictures tell a story

The Rebel Spell headlined Adstock this year, debuting a couple of new songs and playing plenty of old ones, focusing more on the hardcore side of their repertoire (and making a sincere effort not to cuss). Of the new ones, I was particularly blown away by the one that wasn't called "Not a Prayer" but it beats me what the title was; Erin's guitar was pretty killer on that other song, though. Haven't much to say about the show - they're the best punk band around at the moment and do a great live show - but here's some photos I snapped. By far the funniest moment was when some wag up front suggested a circle pit AROUND the gazebo, and my girl and I had to get out of the way as, mid-song, twenty or thirty punks started their sprint. That's Jonny Bones of the Bone Daddies in the black skeleton shirt! (I missed the Bone Daddies set this year but only because I was busy with some behind-the-scenes support activities down the street in my apartment...). Once again it was a terrific Adstock, thanks to Adam Rayburn for putting it together. (And happy birthday!). 

Let's start with the gazebo, seen as you approach from the street; the audience is on the far side:
Bone Daddies merch:
 The Hellbound Hepcats on stage (terrific Toronto rockabilly):
The Rebel Spell onstage: 

Circle pit around the gazebo! 




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jodorowsky, plus Khats fest...

No time or energy for a big blog entry - but are we all excited about The Dance of Reality tomorrow at the Cinematheque? Straight review here - St. Mack describes it as "satisfying and exquisite" (one wonders how Ken Eisner would have reviewed it...). My favourite Jod is still El Topo (pictured above) - an essential film for anyone who cares about cult movies, even if a violent, mystical/ surrealist spaghetti western isn't to your tastes.

...and if you're ambitious, it looks like you can make it to the Vancity Theatre for Sorcerer right after the 6:30 Jod screening, which I may just do. Gritty escapism for those with a fundamentally grim outlook on life, with some I-cannot-believe-this-was-filmed moments. And yes, a terrific score by Tangerine Dream.

...And speaking of music, there's the Khatsahlano Street Festival Saturday. I think, with a bit of jogging, it should be possible to catch the Hard Rock Miners and The Furies at McDonald, then The Evaporators, Black Mountain collaborator Amber Webber and Josh Wells' Lightning Dust, and then the Poppy Family Experience (more essential Mack on that here, and, God bless'em, on the cover of the Straight; the best music-themed cover story since the Little Guitar Army one?). Handy chart of set times here. I'm kind of bummed that I might have to miss Piggy (no Muppets reference intended!) but one cannot see everything at this fest - have you noticed how many bands are playing?

There's also a big I, Braineater event but after my ill-received Art Bergmann review I fear for my safety in his presence... Bergmann is playing the Commodore soon, didja see? Now THAT's a big deal (I better not go to that either).

Anyhow, hope y'all are having a good summer. I won't be blogging so much for awhile - got work to do. But I'm still around... if you see me at Khats say hi... and if you've missed my recent interview with Chris Arnett of the Furies, check it out here! (There are other ones on this very blog).

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Nightbreed Director's Cut: the news breaks

The internet is a funny place. Lots of people out there are waiting for reasons to vent their anger. This week, in the geeksphere, a lot of that anger is being vented at Scream Factory/ Shout Factory, who are putting out the much anticipated Nightbreed: The Director's Cut, with a street date finally announced of October 28th. While a lot of people are just plain delighted the release is happening at all, a certain contingent is incensed because a) there has yet to be a European distribution deal struck, meaning this is a R1 only release; and b) there is a deluxe, limited edition being offered for $80 that includes a Blu-Ray of the original theatrical cut of the film and a disc of as yet unspecified extras. Pre-orders are happening now for that.
It is POSSIBLE that some of those unspecified extras would be interesting enough to make me wish I'd shelled out the $80 for the limited edition - if, say, there was an inclusion of the Nightbreed Cabal Cut, which is certainly historically important enough to merit owning, or if there were cool featurettes from back in the day involving David Cronenberg. It's mildly irritating that we're being asked to make up our minds when we don't yet KNOW what those extras are going to be. All the same, the two-disc director's cut (on Blu- and DVD) will be selling for a mere $25, which is totally fair, and which, I think, will be fine by me; I can't justify paying an extra $55 (plus $18 shipping to Canada) for extras I may never watch and a bonus Blu- of the version of the film that I already own on DVD. I just can't see people getting nasty over such matters - especially since there will no doubt be a Warners Blu- of the theatrical cut (and a European release!) at some point in the future...
If you're still really mad, folks, just a couple of thoughts: are you really mad at the people who have laboured long and hard to make this release happen, or are you mad that you're broke and/or that DVD regions exist? Neither are the fault of Scream Factory. Me, I'm just excited that there is a director's cut happening (and that they did finally locate the original elements of the film, which had been thought lost). Plus the limited edition set sounds like a damn fine idea to me, for those willing to pay for it. It ain't me, babe, but I hope all 5000 sell out long before October 28th!  

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Nick Cave in Vancouver

Through a kindness (thanks, man!) I was able to catch Nick Cave at the Orpheum last night, for the second of his two Vancouver shows. It was quite terrific; having seen Cave close up in action at the Vogue last year, it was interesting to be at somewhat of a remove from the stage, up in the lower balcony, where - unlike, say, the Centre for the Performing Arts - the acoustics are excellent. Cave often dipped out of sight as he performed to the floor; at times his intimacy with the audience seemed to cause concern for security, since a few times people rushed to the edge of the stage to make sure he was okay, even though he was continuing to sing throughout - but his charisma and focus were evident even from up top (and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis provided a reliably interesting figure to watch when Cave disappeared from view). The highlight of the night was getting to share Cave with my girl, who had never seen him before, but songwise, as with last year, "Stagger Lee" was sort of the show stealer. "The Lyre of Orpheus," probably Cave's best recent song, was a welcome inclusion during the encore, but the reading of it was somewhat disrupted by shouts from the audience, who didn't always make the most of Cave's repeated instructions to "listen" (a word which, from the opening track of "We Real Cool," which features it in the lyrics, seemed to get translated into a cue to "scream wildly;" I still miss the respectful attentiveness of audiences in Japan, especially for shows like this one). The other highlight of the night was when Cave brought opener Mark Lanegan back to the stage to do a duet of "The Weeping Song," previously sung with Blixa. The setlist was similar to that of his recent Alberta show, with no "We No Who UR," no "West Country Girl" nor "The Ship Song," no "Watching Alice" or "Do You Love Me" - but instead, "Stranger than Kindness," "Love Letter," "Papa Won't Leave You Henry" (still missing the arterial spray, and abbreviated by a verse), and maybe one or two other songs...

Anyhow, I snapped no photos, shot no video, took no notes, just enjoyed what Cave and his band were doing. When I caught him at Lollapallooza all those years ago, he seemed an outsider, a dark, somewhat introverted weirdo who played more to his band than the audience, and whose presence seemed not wholly welcome on that sunny stage, alongside Green Day and the Beastie Boys and P-Funk; he seems to have risen considerably in stature and cultural currency since that time, and to have grown into a staggeringly confident performer. It's nice to see; best live show around these days, that I've seen (with the possible exception of Swans at their peak, or Bison if you're into that sorta thing). If you've never seen him and get a chance to, do.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

RIP Paul Mazursky

I recently revisited The Blackboard Jungle - a noirish JD picture the plot of which was loosely lifted for  cult favourite Class of 1984 - and was surprised and pleased to see Paul Mazursky in a small role; it always pleases me to see the man on the screen, and I always have had some fondness for Mazursky as a director. His Cassavetes-as-Prospero version of The Tempest had lots of great moments, and I really enjoyed Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice when I first saw it, though that was years ago and I haven't revisited it since; same goes for Willie & Phil, his variant on Jules and Jim, which I watched about four times in a row as a teenager when it was on pay TV in the early 1980's, but cannot really vouch for now... In fact many of his films are not so easy to stumble across these days, compared to their ubiquity in the days of VHS. I would probably re-visit Next Stop Greenwich Village if it placed itself in my path in a digital format, but it has yet to do so; ditto Harry and Tonto. Has The Pickle even been released on DVD? I would watch that too, if it placed itself in my path. My respects to Paul Mazursky, departed at age 84.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some notes on film for the summer...

I was kind of bummed that no one screened Sorcerer in Vancouver before the Blu-Ray came out, but now I'm amused and somewhat gratified to see that it's playing at both the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque this summer! That can't have been intentional, but it certainly increases opportunities to see it on the big screen. I'm not really ready to see it again, now that I've seen it on Blu-Ray, but I can't miss the opportunity, and neither should anyone else. Fans of that film's terrific Tangerine Dream soundtrack will also probably also be excited to know that Jeremy Schmidt's terrific score for Beyond the Black Rainbow is coming out on Death Waltz! My old interview with Schmidt is here.
Some other fun programming at the Cinematheque: Jodorowsky's newest film, The Dance of Reality, will be programmed as part of their mini-Jod-fest; I am looking forward to having another chance to see Jodorowsky's Dune, which I missed during its previous run. Further, their August film noir programme has been announced, featuring a nice mix of must-see, inexhaustible favourites (the return of Double Indemnity, Gun Crazy and The Lady From Shanghai) and relative obscurities, the most exciting of which for me are So Dark The Night (by Gun Crazy director Joseph H. Lewis) and Cry of the City (featuring Richard Conte, whom I always enjoy). I know almost nothing about either film, however! (Though I did catch Gun Crazy's John Dall in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope tonight; he's one of the two murderers, a detail I had forgotten!).
The Vancity Theatre meanwhile will be bringing back a couple of films I enjoyed during last year's VIFF, the somewhat misanthropic local comedy Lawrence and Holloman and the Teorema variant Borgman; plus the well-regarded Stand Clear of Closing Doors, about an autistic child's ordeal by subway. I wrote about all of them during the VIFF, either here or on the Huffington Post, but I'll leave you to seek out my reviews... I have nothing much to say about the Venezuelan film festival coming up, having seen none of the films in it, nor can I link to the series, for some reason. But the VIFF main page has all the films listed, including films on soccer, films by Woody Allen, and a new film by Bernardo Bertolucci, whom I still have not forgiven for The Sheltering Sky.   
Not much else I have to write about... Very keen about this year's Adstock and a chance to see the Rebel Spell, presently my favourite punk band anywhere, again. Todd is contending with a back injury incurred while rock climbing, so here's hoping he's feeling well. Also am really excited to catch Ron Reyes' band Piggy, and Chris Arnett's garage rock heroes The Furies (and, indeed, The Poppy Family Experience) at the Khatsahlano festival this year. But I also have a pending root canal and other things that I don't feel like blogging about to think on, and probably won't be writing here quite so much for the next while, as I strive to get my life in a workable order. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My favourite Eli Wallach role (besides Tuco)

When people live (and continue working!) well into their 90's, their deaths don't seem so sad; they made it as far as any human being could be expected to, and the inclination is more to celebrate their lives than mourn. So I'm going to tell you my favourite Eli Wallach moment in a film other than The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
It occurs in a rather cheesy Zen-Buddhist-inspired kung fu movie called Circle of Iron, AKA The Silent Flute. That was the title of the original story, co-written by Bruce Lee, James Coburn, and Stirling Silliphant, and completed for filming in 1978, after Bruce Lee's death, by Silliphant and Stanley Mann. The film boasts not only an appearance by Eli Wallach, but small parts for Christopher Lee and Roddy McDowall, and something like four roles for David Carradine, including the part of a kung-fu-fighting ape. It's sort of a variant on the education of an idiot theme: a young, impetuous fighter, Cord (hammily played by Jeff Cooper, a TV actor who hailed from Hamilton, Ontario) goes on a quest for enlightenment, and encounters various trials along the way, as well as various teachers, many of whom are played by Carradine. Carradine - whose main role is that of a blind shakuhachi player - delivers some highly corny bon mots during the movie - the screenplay is sprinkled liberally with Zen koans and such, which produce something more akin to stupefaction than satori. There's a ripoff of Heraclitus' line about not being able to step into the same river twice (phrased differently, but it's the same idea). There's the observation, used to describe Cord's reluctant apprenticeship with his blind teacher, that you can tie two birds together, but though they have four wings, they cannot fly. The funniest sequence, however, dispenses with Carradine altogether, and occurs when Cord encounters Wallach in the desert, half-submerged in a giant vat.
Cord approaches with open curiosity, and Wallach - whose character is billed, as I recall, as "man dissolving himself in oil," asks if "that terrible thing between my legs" is almost gone. Turns out he's on a quest for enlightenment, too, but finds himself constantly distracted by his sexual urges; he hasn't the gumption to castrate himself, so he's spending his days in a vat of oil, hoping the lower half of his body will painlessly dissolve, and along with it, his sex drive. He urges Cord to join him, for his own good; Cord laughs, and - rejecting such extreme asceticism - declines.
It's a silly moment in a silly movie, and it's obvious Wallach isn't taking it too seriously (how in the hell could you?). But it's still kind of charming, and as many good movies as I've seen Wallach in - peruse his filmography here - for me, it's the second most memorable appearance by him, after, of course, Tuco. As often happens with Ernest Borgnine, you're struck by the fact that even in 1978, Wallach looked old; pretty amazing that he would continue to live and work for another three decades (his final film, the Wall Street sequel, was completed in 2010). My respects to Eli Wallach and condolences to his family and friends. Viva Tuco!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness: Ben Rivers Interview

I'm interested in the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Labs - who made the remarkable feature Leviathan a couple of years ago - so I'm definitely curious about Manakamana, opening this week at the Cinematheque; but I have not seen it yet. Friends with an interest in experimental documentary assure me it's great, and Charles Mudede writes about it here. I have, however, sought out A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness, also opening, and interviewed Ben Rivers, one of the two filmmakers behind it, for The Georgia Straight. What follows are some outtakes from that conversation!
Allan MacInnis: I’m not sure if it was you or Ben Russell, but one of you said in an interview with Cinema-Scope that in a way, an audience that is unfamiliar with your individual works is an ideal one. First off, I am that ideal audience; I haven’t seen any of  your other films as yet. But also I wanted to ask if you could explain that comment?

Ben Rivers: I think what we were getting at was just this idea that - I guess there’s a lot of people who haven’t seen our work, but then there’s a bunch that have, and the ones who have, they often watch it and try to pick apart who did what, who made which decision, who decided to shoot that bit of moss and who decided to shoot the band. They’re trying in a way to break apart the collaboration into constituent parts, and for us, the collaboration the was a way of trying to meld two minds, so it wasn’t so clear. The idea of a collaboration is to try and push each other to do something different. So that’s why - I guess we meant, if somebody came to the film with completely fresh eyes and wasn’t aware of what we’d done before,  then they wouldn’t be [tempted to do that].

AM: I’ve read a little bit about your work - that you usually work with 16mm film and hand-develop it yourself. Are you still using your usually methodology for this?

BR: Um… I mean, I always shoot on 16, and I’ve made 25 films and I always use 16. I like it. But the black and white films I hand-process, and I still do that - I’ve got a bunch of film in my kitchen ready to process - but the colour films I get done at the lab. Spell was obviously done at the lab - the black and white films have physical remnants of the hand processing, so…

AM: That makes sense. Anyhow, it’s a beautiful looking film. But you were still shooting on 16?

BR: Yeah. Both of us - we believe in film as a medium. As a material, there’s something about it which is a bit more alchemical. I guess we’re both sort of invested in this idea of a kind of magic that happens with the camera. You point it at the world, and the world responds with light, and this is caught chemically on a physical piece of material, and eventually you shine light through that material and you get the image back. That’s a very different thing from digital, which is recording things in a very different kind of way. I don’t know - there’s something in the grain, the movement of each frame, is kind of important, I think. I think for me, one of the reasons that I use film is, I also like the way it kind of forces you to look differently at the world. You have to really think about what you’re filming. You’re kind of forced into it, partly because of the economics - you’re forced to make some heavy decisions about the necessity of what you’re filming, unlike digital where you can just film for hours and hours. It’s a different mindset.
AM: How scripted is what we’re seeing, how much of this was planned before you began shooting?

BR: It’s a kind of mix. It’s pretty planned - thinking about the different representations of time in each section, and how we were going to deal with that formally with the camera, the decisions for the camerawork and the editing. But then within that there was still a lot of unknown factors. [For example,] we set up a scene where we follow a woman to her house to lie down with her husband and baby, but we don’t know what their interaction was going to be. We leave that open, so that there’s surprises.

AM: I wanted to ask about exactly that shot, actually. I thought that was a very exciting shot. There’s such tenderness between the father and the sleeping baby. Was that set up?

BR: We knew that he was in there with the baby, but we actually didn’t know that it was going to be that beautiful! (Laughs). Yeah. It’s really great - and I can’t remember whether it was me or Ben who shot that shot. That’s one of the nice things, we often took it in turns to shoot stuff. But with those walking shots, when he went into the house… I think he was shooting it, so I didn’t actually see that until we got the film back from the lab, which was a month later. That’s the other thing with film, you have to wait, so you get these really great surprises when you see the footage. But it’s a good example of setting something up and not being really directorial about it, setting up every tiny thing. There’s no script, we never wrote any kind of script. There was kind of a fairly long treatment, but that’s as far as we went in terms of writing down things.
AM: Have you, or the other Ben, tried living communally?

BR: No, but I guess that part of the film came out of us talking about that and thinking about it as a possibility, and we’ve talked about it since, as well - thinking that maybe it’s something we’d like to try. It’s an ongoing conversation, but one of the things we were kind of clear about, was that all the people in the segment, they’re all people who have either lived or still live in some kind of communal living arrangement, and have had pretty positive experiences. We felt like it would be much easier to make a negative film about living communally, I think - because you hear a lot of stories. We both know friends who had grown up in communes and never want to do it again. But this film, even though there’s darkness in it, we didn’t want it to be that straightforward, that either it’s really really great, or it’s really terrible. We kind of wanted to talk about real possibilities that were positive.

AM: I wanted to ask about the dome that they’re building. I associate that kind of structure with Buckminster Fuller, and that’s exactly all I know about these things.

BR: Well, yeah - it’s a Buckminster Fuller dome. It’s a piece of architecture that was taken up by a lot of communities because it was very quick and easy to build. And cheap, and you can make it with all kinds of different materials. In that way, it’s a symbol of that time in the 60’s and 70’s when there was a big kind of commune movement, which we’re kind of aware didn’t really work out. It kind of failed. And so we were interested in showing these people who decided to live communally, building this structure that shows they’re clearly aware of the history of the commune movement. They know what it means, they know what this piece of architecture symbolizes - so they’re aware of the failures of the past generations, but they still think it’s worthwhile trying again.
AM: How did you get in contact with Robert A. A. Lowe?

BR: We chose him pretty early, because he’s actually an old friend of the other Ben’s. They both lived in Chicago and Ben was heavily involved in the music scene there, which is what Rob comes from. We were looking at possible people to be in the film and Ben showed me a Youtube clip of Rob performing and I really loved it. I could see why he thought Rob would be a good person, because he gets into a kind of trance when he’s performing onstage. He’s very embodied.

AM: Was he performing as Lichens before the film was shot? Because there are those images of actual lichens in there.

BR: Yeah, no, he’s been performing as Lichens for ages. So even though we wanted shots of Lichens, it’s also a little nod to his fans.

AM: He seems like he feels the wonder of what they’re doing at the commune. But he leaves. It’s tempting to read that as sort of figuring the failure of the communal movement, or at least the impossibility of him finding a place there. I mean, he doesn’t just stay at the commune. So that seems like a critical commentary - am I reading too much into that?

BR: No, I think that is definitely one possible reading. We don’t want to be… that’s kind of how I see it. One of the things that Ben and I talked about all the way along is that these three things could happen in any order, they’re not necessarily happening in the order that you see them. But the problem is, when you have a piece of cinema, you have to choose the order. And so you can’t get away from narrative consequence. [But he does return to a sort of communal model at the end:] Being in that kind of situation of a live show is kind of a mix of the commune of the first part and the solitude of the second part. Because when you’re in a show, you’re surrounded by society, but you’re having a very individual experience.
AM: For me - I’m a punk, I’m a music fan, I’ve been embroiled in the music scene in Vancouver for quite awhile and what I always feel is that there’s something remarkable and utopian and positive going on while you’re in the gig, and then afterwards you’re outside in an alienated urban environment in the same old shit you were in before you went into the gig. There’s that in the film, right?

BR: Yeah. I think that is in the film. You’ve kind of hit the nail on the head, in a way, because the film is in a sense about Utopia, but realizing that Utopia is not a permanent thing. It’s something kind of transitory that you pass through.

AM: There’s a Hakim Bey reference in there - a Temporary Autonomous Zone reference.

BR: Exactly. I really like the idea.

AM: I’d wanted to ask about geography. The film gives the impression, maybe by accident, that these three areas are geographically congruent. Are they?

BR: It’s all Scandinavia. A lot of our talking came out of thinking about that particular kind of place, the North. Originally it was all going to be shot in Norway, because we were thinking about this kind of sublime landscape, as well, and how that effects the humans surrounded by this crazy enormous scary beauty. But for various reasons we ended up shooting in Norway, Finland, and Estonia. The commune is in Estonia.
AM: The burning building brought to mind burning churches. I know Norwegians don’t like that association, but that was intentional…? (Note: see more of Rivers' answer to this question online only at the Straight website; I believe the print edition, out Wednesday, will not have this section).

BR: Sure, there is obviously a relationship to the church burnings. The black metal movement in Norway - that’s why we had to film the black metal segment in Norway, because that’s the birthplace of that particular subgenre...

AM: In terms of relationship to landscapes, some of the stuff in the solitude sequence, I’m wondering if there’s any particular film practice or other films that inspired some of the images of nature? Coming from the Pacific Northwest, looking at some of the images, I was surprised to find myself thinking of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, say in the close ups of ants crawling. But I don’t know your influences…

BR: I’ve seen Old Joy and really like it, and I watch a lot of cinema, but… in many ways, we talked about paintings quite a bit before going to Finland. And we looked around and found stuff that seemed right, instinctively. It’s hard to pin down. We weren’t really talking about other films when we were filming it.
AM: What paintings?

BR: We talked a bit about the Hudson school of painting, and the romantics, like Friedrich - Friedrich definitely came up a few times. But that was less about the close ups, it was more to do with Rob in the landscape and thinking about his figure in the landscape, trying to place him in such a way that his character sort of recedes and he becomes part of the landscape, if that makes sense.

AM: Is his only line of dialogue in the film, the only word he speaks, “pancakes?” Am I right about that?

BR: I think you are right about that. (Laughs).

AM: Trivially, I just want to tell you something. I don’t play music myself, but as part of my participation in the music scene in Vancouver, I sometimes participate in pancake noise events, where people get together and eat pancakes and listen to harsh noise, often in underground venues. I’ve flipped pancakes at three of them now.

BR: So you really related to that!

AM: Yeah! Pancakes! (Laughter). Two other quick things. That mirror that he looks in after he walks away from the performance, where was that? Was it actually backstage at a venue?

BR: Yeah, it was backstage at a venue. We filmed it at a normal Oslo venue that has metal shows, and every other kind of show as well, and that’s just the normal dressing room at the back.

AM: One last tiny thing. The triangle that you cut to, between or before each segment. What is that triangle? Can you explain?

BR: The triangle itself is, when you have film processed, and then tele-cined, they put a punch hole at the beginning and the end of the role, so that gets logged. That basically logs the material so you know what frame you’re on in the rest of footage. Usually it’s a hole - usually it’s a circle. But the lab that we used had a triangular puncher, so that’s why it’s a triangle. But that was like a gift to us, because there are other triangles in the movie, and we were always talking about the triangle - the equal three sides, because that’s what we thought the film was. All three parts are meant to be of equal importance, there’s no hierarchy among them. That’s why there’s a triangle, and if you watch carefully, there’s other triangles in the film.

AM: The one I’m talking about that flickers briefly, is it scratched into the film?

BR: I don’t know if they scratch it. You know when you have a hole punch to put a piece of paper in a binder, they use something a little bit like that.

AM: Is that the actual lab mark we’re seeing, then?

BR: Yeah, that’s their doing.

AM: Hm! It’s not perfect, it looks kind of hand-done.

BR: Yeah, it’s imperfect. It’s got kind of hairs on it and stuff!  
A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness opens today (Wednesday June 25th) at the Cinematheque.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Rebel Spell to play Adstock X - free outdoor concert in Maple Ridge!

Okay, suburban and Vancouver punks, here's the deal: Adstock is a really fun time, it's free, the bands (punk, ska, metal, and so forth) are always at least good, it's easy and cheap to get to Maple Ridge, the peace park is one of the most pleasant places in town (and has a decent PA), AND - this year, the Rebel Spell is headlining! You need more of an excuse to come to town?

For non-drivers, the fastest route from along the Hastings corridor: catch the 160 bus to Maple Ridge and then the 701 at Coquitlam Station; get off at Haney Place Mall and ask someone where the peace park is. From along the Skytrain, on weekends, get to Lougheed Mall, catch the 97 B-line to Coquitlam Station, then once again, grab the 701. Either route takes about an hour and a half, but it's a weekend, so it's only one fare in and one fare out (don't dally).

(By the by, I've done many interviews with the Rebel Spell - check here and here, say. Enough people have now dropped off the map or changed their game or retired or so forth that I can now say the Rebel Spell is my favourite punk band anywhere!).
(Todd Serious by Jennifer Dodds)

Nick Cave contest!

Well, jeez, I can triple my chances of winning Nick Cave tickets by linking their event page. Why wouldn't I? I loved Cave's show last year at the Vogue, would love to see him again but with an impending root canal, unless I win tickets, I won't be going... neat to see that "The Lyre of Orpheus" is on a recent setlist, too. That's a great song!

Of Facebook...

I came relatively late to Facebook, but the more I use it, the less I find myself caring about this blog, or about my faltering attempts to keep up contact with people on email, or about finding productive ways of using my time online; everything else seems to fall away and Facebook is the last man standing. As shallow as it often is, I'm falling into a bit of a habit, spending a couple of hours most  mornings reading my friends updates and watching often quite meaningless videos - bears stealing garbage cans, funny bleating goats, porcupines that get very expressive when eating, compilations of Nicolas Cage "losing his shit." It's a powerful distraction from anything one might want to avoid (like figuring out what to do with ones life, or the day at hand; how dull to find myself at such a juncture yet again, or, uh, still...). Mind you, it is interesting, knowing what various people, including some highly esteemed peers, are thinking, feeling, taking an interest in. It's also good for catching bits of news I might otherwise miss; more than one story I wrote for the Straight in the last year started with something I spotted on Facebook. All the same, it feels kind of destructive, neurotic, a bad habit to cultivate, something very easily abused. Is this a normal part of the Facebook experience? Or do I just need to get a life

Friday, June 20, 2014

They Wait, Dorothy Mills: two great little ghost stories encountered on DVD

So my upcoming root canal has me in a "what can I sell" kind of mood, which has me looking at my possessions and trying to decide which of them I really need. This applies even to things that have no particular financial value anymore, like DVDs: I spent a couple of hours digging through the dozens of DVDs I've picked up out of Rogers Video PV bins and thrift stores, some of which have been sitting around on my shelves for years, unwatched, unappreciated, near-forgotten. Mostly these are low budget horror flicks that I bought specifically because they were cheap and because it looked like they might amuse me someday. Is Urban Legends any good? Is the third Pumpkinhead movie even half as good as the first one (Doug Bradley is in it!). Could the American adaptation of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse possibly be worth seeing, all evidence to the contrary? Will I find any redeeming value in Brian Paulin's At Dawn They Sleep? I have yet to answer these questions, but after an evening watching the first ten minutes of various films that I elected to sell as soon as possible, and sitting through one bad but entertaining urban-rural thriller (Creature, which I cannot recommend but which is nowhere as bad as people say), I did find two real winners, two films that anyone with a love of genre cinema should seek out: the Vancouver-set Chinese ghost story They Wait, and the Irish multiple personality disorder quasi-ghost story Dorothy Mills
The first thing that struck me about They Wait is that, as I was complaining about a few posts back, it's one of those movies where the marketing and the description on the back of the DVD take pains to erase or de-emphasize precisely those cultural specificities that make the film most interesting. The box art (also the art used on the poster I saw when the film played the VIFF) features an image of a girl with a sewn-up mouth, but nothing about it suggests the face of the person in question is that of a non-Caucasian. The back of the DVD does show in the images that there are at least a couple of Asian characters in the film, but the copy is typically un-revealing:
It is Ghost Month, when the realm of the living intersects with the realm of the dead, and the world is thrown into madness. Sarah (JAIME KING), Jason (TERRY CHEN) and young son Sam (REGAN OEY), return from Shanghai from North America for a family funeral. But something strange is going on. Sam starts seeing ghosts and then falls gravely ill. Traditional western medicine offers no hope; he is being held in a death grip by a living corpse. Sarah must find out what the spirits want if she is to save her child, and she must do it before dawn, because once the sun rises at the end of Ghost Month, Sam will be lost forever.
This is a reasonably accurate description of the plot, as far as it goes, and it doesn't disguise that at least one actor in the film is of Chinese descent (who knows what ethnicity "Oey" is but "Chen" is pretty clear cut). Still,  notice that it effaces the following details: the family returns from Shanghai to Vancouver's Chinatown, where almost all of the film's action takes place; the ghosts, the mythology around them, even the concept of (hungry) ghost month, are entirely Chinese; all but two of the characters are Chinese, half-Chinese, or Chinese-Canadian; and the spirits want atonement for wrongs that are specifically related to the actual, historical Chinese experience in Vancouver - involving, if you don't mind a few mild spoilers, the shipping of bones, the harvesting and smuggling of bear parts, and the conditions of sweatshop labour in Chinatown in the past. No doubt members of the Chinese community would find They Wait more than a little silly (though not so silly as Big Trouble in Little China, say); I don't mean to say its a shining example of historically-informed cinema. But it is still significant that the attempt is made to incorporate the Chinese experience into a western film, to even acknowledge it, since Vancouver-set cinema almost always stays out of Chinatown, like it is too politically complex to even acknowledge, too fraught with possibilities of getting things wrong, being accused of cultural appropriation, Orientalism, what-have-you. Which are real dangers, but the end result is that even really earnest films like Nathaniel Geary's On The Corner, which is set in the downtown eastside, with most of its action taking place a block from Chinatown, barely acknowledge the Chinese community; in fact, I can't think of a Vancouver-set film designed for mainstream audiences that spends any amount of time in Chinatown at all. Sure, They Wait owes a debt to similar attempts to re-package Asian ghost stories for western audiences, like the Sarah Michelle Gellar version of Ju-On, say - and of course the main character had to be white! But the film deserves some credit for trying to set a ghost story in Chinatown, and it's not a bad ghost story at all...
Dorothy Mills - known in Europe only as Dorothy, apparently - is even more interesting, and also a bit of a ghost story, but - like Session 9, say - it is debatable just how necessary to the story the element of the supernatural is; it can't be done away with altogether, but the film's ghosts seem to be contextualized in a wider story involving the buried sins of a community and how they impact one particularly sensitive girl. The film involves a psychiatrist come from Dublin to a small, island-bound Irish community, to investigate a case in which a baby has been harmed by the babysitter, the titular character. Investigation reveals - as you will suspect within the first few minutes of the film - that Dorothy is suffering from multiple personality disorder, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. I'm almost as skeptical about that particular condition as I am about the existence of ghosts, but I was able to be thoroughly engaged by this film, which combines striking images of the Irish rural landscape with a rather chilling portrait of a xenophobic, guilt-ridden, secretive small town, where the mainland psychiatrist is regarded with great mistrust, and where the protection of the community trumps all other considerations. It's a spoiler to make the comparison but there's a little bit of The Wicker Man at work here, too, though the framework is stridently Christian and no overt pagan sacrifices take place. (The ancient Celtic practice of dumping bodies in bogs might be germain, but I really don't want to say too much on that count). 

Not sure how one goes about finding films like this in the post-video-store world, but however you seek out movies, They Wait and Dorothy Mills are both better-than-average, rather original films that I liked a great deal... you might too! 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin reunion hits Vancouver this Monday!

Does everyone realize that Dave and Phil Alvin of the Blasters have reunited to perform Big Bill Broonzy songs with the Guilty Ones, and that they will be playing in Vancouver this Monday as part of the jazzfest? I haven't noticed much excitement about this, maybe I'm missing something - I am a little out of the loop, after all. Sadly, I can't come remotely close to affording a ticket, what with a root canal scheduled for mid-July; I'm poring over my records trying to decide which I can afford to part with, as part of my fundraising efforts. I've missed every show of the Blasters I had a chance to see, and never have I had a chance to see Phil and Dave onstage together, that I know of. But this is great stuff - LA '80s rockabilly at its finest; I hope people will go in my place and have a great time!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lanalou's Friday: Danny Shmanny rides again! Plus Huskee Dude, Sex Beat, and more

I kinda always feel like I'm in the right place when I notice Zippy Pinhead in the crowd, you know?

At Lanalou's on Friday, I missed Ed Hurrell's new band, Ragged Souls, but I got to chat with his non-sober self for a bit. Some day I will actually hear him play live - that I know of, I have not, yet. I also got to meet former No Fun cassette cover-artist Argh!!, whom I know off Facebook under a different alias; he seemed a super-nice guy. I always liked Argh!!'s drawings, so meeting him was really cool (I apologize for the teenagenish of my adjectives here but I had an enjoyable, sociable, hey-these-are-my-people kinda night and have nothing very insightful to say about it... it was cool, awesome, rad, choice, killer; it rocked, it was fun, a good time was had by all).

Tim Chan (of 64 Funnycars and China Syndrome) was playing guitar for Sex Beat, the night's Gun Club tribute band, who were the first band I saw (no photos of it that I took were really worth much, I'm afraid). Though it was Chan's first time playing with them - and may be the last, since Darryl Stapleton of Full Leather Jacket, their Jeffrey Lee Pierce, is moving to San Francisco for awhile - Tim really cooked, and their jammy, crunchy version of "Run Through the Jungle" was pretty special. Enjoyed bullshitting with him a bit, too - he seems like a great guy, and I really like that China Syndrome album; fans of Big-Star-esque power pop should check it out.
Hüskee Düdes - or a solo version of said project, made up of the man (not the band) Gnash Rambler, a man of many aliases - was very, um, cool, too. To be truthful, I had never realized quite how great his voice is until seeing him sing over acoustic guitar. Gnash showed his devotion to the Hüsker Dü catalogue by playing a very large sampling of songs from those Dü albums many of us prefer to ignore (everything after New Day Rising, in my case - I'm not even wild about that album!). I actually enjoyed hearing him do songs like "Flexible Flyer" and "Dead Set on Destruction," though the high point was probably a rather intense version of "I Will Never Forgive You" that had all the emotional violence and guitar craft of the Zen Arcade original but in a solo acoustic setting, which was so incongruous and jarring that it almost started to seem satirical. I don't think it was, but it would have been fine with me - it was great either way (speaking of No Fun, it kinda reminded me of seeing David M. doing solo acoustic renditions of the Residents "Santa Dog" during his No Fun at Christmas shows). I'd go see Hüskee Düde(s) again over either Bob Mould or Grant Hart, I think, and not just because Hüskee Düde shows are a lot kinder on the pockebook. I'm much more enamoured of sincere rock fandom than sincerely big weird rockstar egos, which is what seeing Grant Hart a few years ago brought to mind... and I'm no fan of later Bob Mould, so...
Then came a short delay. Darryl Stapleton, back on stage for Bones in the Hallway, joked, while calling Danny "Shmanny" Nowak to take the stage, that Danny "hasn't done this since 1982" - actually more like 1991, unless you count that Stranglers songs he sang at his 50th birthday bash - "so he's probably curled in a foetal position in the bathroom vomiting" (or words to that effect). Gnash, who had taken up the bass for this set, joked that they were going to be doing Teenage Head, "no wait, Teenage Rebels, or... no, right: Forgotten Head." Eventually Danny got up there and - after a somewhat stiff (but very appropriate) rendering of "Hello Hello," slid right back into the groove of being a stellar punk frontman; he even still fit into his old clothes, it seemed. One can only hope that a full Spores reunion is just around the corner. None of my photos were really that great... I got all the songs on video but they're hell to upload. Maybe I will do something with them at a later date? Meantime:
I didn't really stick around for Wett Stilettos, the closing act, but I did snap one or two okay photos of them on the way out the door. Cute costume on the singer, but I was done for the night; I still had to make it back to Burnaby, where I was crashing... If I lived in Vancouver, I would go to Lanalou's for nights like this every chance I got. Great fun. (Cool, awesome, gee wow, choice). Thanks to all for putting it on!