Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bob Mould tomorrow!

Interesting to compare befores-and-afters in Bob Mould's setlists: compared to the first part of this tour (which took place before Grant Hart's untimely departure), there are, if my count is right, five more Husker Du songs that are likely to be played tomorrow (there were seven or maybe eight last night, if you count "Love Is All Around"). I'm inclined to speculate that my interview with Tom Scholte about Bob's musical history (and our Du fandom) might have something to do with the sudden appearance of "Celebrated Summer" last night, but it is only speculation. It seems much more reasonable to surmise that the inclusion of a certain Grant Hart song has something to do with Grant Hart's passing, but in deference to those who don't want to know, I will say nothing as to which song it is...

Anyhow, when Bob Mould last played Vancouver, nine years ago, I had never owned a single album he was on, post-Warehouse. I had no plans of fixing that anytime soon. Since finding out about this show, I have done my best to amend my ways, and now have legit vinyl or CD releases of five of his solo LPs and two Sugar albums. And I've re-acquired Metal Circus, which I used to have, then sold, then had, then sold, and now hope to keep til I kick. I have overcome any and all issues I ever had; this guy is a genius songwriter and guitarist, and the fact is, right now, given a choice between spinning my FAVOURITE Du, which - you all know by now - is Zen Arcade; or spinning any one of Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin, or Patch the Sky, I would likely pick one of the latter, which I am really enjoying getting to know. I am finally ready to let go of my protracted adolescence and embrace adult Bob Mould (figuratively, anyway). 

I am really, really excited for tomorrow's show. 

By the by, interested parties may wish to also read my interview with tomorrow's opening act, Ford Pier, in which he (sorta) teaches me a new word ("meconium") and cracks a joke I don't get (because I didn't know fans of NRBQ referred to them as "the Q." Truth is, I don't know my NRBQ much at all). I am looking forward to seeing Ford again, too. But not as much as I'm looking forward to Bob Mould...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This weekend: Rodney DeCroo, Ford Pier/ Bob Mould, and (on Monday) David M. and Coach StrobCam

Rodney DeCroo, whom I have reviewed here and interviewed at some length here, and whom I think is one of Vancouver's finer songwriters - sort of in the "dark country/ folk" tradition of Townes van Zandt, maybe by way of Nick Cave- will be doing a rather intimate-sounding, "in the round"-type show October 19th, with Mark Davis (from Edmonton, and, Rodney tells me, one of the key songwriters for the band Old Reliable; I haven't checked out his music yet but any album called Eliminate the Toxins is surely worth poking one's nose into). Also joining them is Vancouver's own Sarah Wheeler, whom esteemed colleague Adrian Mack has said has "an effortlessly big voice which falls somewhere between Chrissie Hynde and Neko Case." The three will share the stage, maybe share songs, stories - it sounds like an intimate eve of talented songwriters doing their thing. Rodney tells me the space, Hidden City was founded in 2015 by Trish Klein (The Be Good Tanyas. Hidden City), it's also somewhere I haven't been yet...

Also of note, Ford Pier - pretty much the only super-talented Vancouver musician I feel guiltier about not paying enough mind to than Rodney, but mostly because I see him two out of three times I pop into Red Cat Records and so am constantly reminded of my neglect - will be opening for Bob Mould on October 22nd at the Rickshaw. Of course, Bob's the draw, there; I'm happy to report since I previously blogged about him, I have completely gotten over my whiny "but it isn't Zen Arcade" issue and have embraced Mould's genius fully. Black Sheets of Rain, Silver Age, Beauty and Ruin, Patch the Sky, and even two of the same Sugar albums I heard and turned my nose up at in the early 1990's have all been on heavy rotation for me these last weeks. I finally get it; next thing you know I will be replacing Warehouse: Songs and Stories in my collection (but not if it costs $40).

Sadly, Bob is not doing press for that show, so I've invited a "celebrity guest" to share some of his thoughts on Mould's solo output, which he knows far better than I do (more to come on that - I had actually been contriving to hook him up with an interview with Bob, but that can't happen, unfortunately; maybe Bob just doesn't want to answer question after question about the passing of Grant Hart. I sure wouldn't). Meantime, I am also working on something with Ford Pier. My two favourite Ford Pier songs (based on my shamefully limited exposure to his music) are "Great Western," a charmingly Canadian country ditty about two people who meet at a bingo game, which reminds me a bit in its humour of the wit and wordplay of Tom "Fussin' with the 'tussin" Holliston; and "Lions and Tigers and Bears," at the further extreme of Pier's musical spectrum, more Wright brothers in its middle-aged anguish - about aging men facing impotence, illness, death and untold stressors who turn to ground-up health supplements involving the claws, fangs, paws, gall bladders, blood and/or genitals of deadly animals to prop up their imperiled masculinity (to be fair, I don't think Ford mentions any genitals in the song, but you get the idea). It works real well on a mixtape between Husker Du and Nomeansno, I discover. Again, more to come on that.

Finally - but of course, DAVID FUCKING M. HAS ANOTHER FUCKING SHOW to -


My friend and the neglected Vancouver musician who makes up for the neglected Vancouver musicians I don't pay enough attention to by being the neglected Vancouver musician I pay FAR TOO MUCH attention to, THE GREAT AND DELIGHTFUL David M., of NO FUN, the Beatles of Surrey, whom a whole bunch of people OBVIOUSLY ENJOYED when he opened for Marshall Crenshaw and the Rickshaw (which I was briefly tempted to miswrite as "Marshall Chapman and the... Richardsaw," thinking of Richard Chapman, obviously, of the Heritage Grill and Northern Electric) will have two shows in the week after Bob, both on Monday night: on the 23rd, with Coach StrobCam (featuring the great Pete Campbell of Pink Steel, the Wardells, and... what was that other band he was in?) in New West.... and then the next week at the Princeton. David M. writes:
There will be a special NO FUN film presentation at the Heritage Grill Backroom Theatre, there's a newly-written show theme song "In Fall", there's yet another version of your popular Bat-tune, there are more new songs, etc..

We only did this show once before, at Slickity Jim's, and I believe that you and Erika were there. [Was it this show, I wonder?]

I've realized during the past year that, for me, Glen and Dave bring actual elements of Paul into the shows. They both knew him very well, and were right there participating in NO FUN shows the whole time. Pete does this too, in a different way, by representing how Paul and I started connecting with people in the 1980's by just doing what we felt like doing any way we wanted to do it rather than trying to fit into the mould of someone's idea of a rock band. So these shows are new and different, but they're also a kind of seance that actually works, if only from where I'm standing.
 In other news, David and I have been discussing whether this poster is in poor taste. (He's got a couple people out there naysaying about him on social media so he thought he would attempt a poster from their point of view. I am not sure the point of the satire doesn't get lost, but, well, that's David for you, sometimes.

I realize the Princeton show is probably more convenient for a lot of y'all, but the Heritage backroom shows are pretty comfy and fun, actually, and there's far less chance of talkative Italians or drunk buffoons making requests for David to sing - what was it that guy was shouting for, "The Dream Genie?" (David had riffed on "The Jean Genie" by Bowie in one of his songs and it reminded this drunk buffoon of the actual song which he then started loudly requesting, all the while getting the title wrong, as Club M snickered at his expense into their cheap beers. That sort of thing has yet to happen in New West).

More to come...

This just in - Coach StrobCam has hadda pull out. Pete will still be there tho!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

...matters Weinstein

Setting aside recent scandals for a second, the Weinstein brand has been problematic for me for years, based on the reputations of the Weinsteins for insisting on edits to films they distribute - the whole "Harvey Scissorhands" thing. It's always smacked of dumbing down, and there are various times when I've seen a movie branded TWC or Miramax and wondered what aspects of the film come from the Weinstein "touch," rather than the filmmakers'. I remember liking many elements of an Anthony Hopkins vehicle called The World's Fastest Indian, for instance, but also thinking, in the too-cute, too-energetic music and in some of the misplaced, sappy sentimentality that I could spot what the Weinsteins had done to it. They're not only heavy-handed in their edits but tend to have sweetly sticky fingers, fingers that leave an unpleasant aroma, perhaps of contempt for their audiences, on the films they touch. I liked August: Osage County but wonder if I would have liked it more had its original ending been preserved. Jonathan Rosenbaum has written - maybe in Movie Wars - a quite condemnatory piece about the ways in which Miramax altered foreign films for distribution in North America, as a precondition on distributing them. I haven't done the work to sit down and compare, where it is possible to do so, the Weinstein cut of a film with the director's cut - I believe there's a DVD release Shaolin Soccer that includes both the original and the Weinstein version, and there's writing online about a Kevin Smith film where the director's cut is apparently far superior - but I do recall that some films that I was really excited to see, and then really disappointed by - All the Pretty Horses, say - only exist now in chopped-up, shortened Weinstein versions, with no director's cut having ever been released. It hasn't mattered in the slightest to me how successful some Weinstein-branded-product has gone on to be (Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson - both of whom I think are extremely overpraised). That something makes money (or wins Oscars, an institution I have never in my adult life cared about) is no argument for aesthetic worth. I just now ended up looking up two of my pet cases of films where truncated, shitty theatrical releases dimmed the lights on excellent director's cuts, to see if they were the Weinstein's fault: Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret and Bertrand Tavernier's In the Electric Mist. They weren't, but the fact that I reasonably assumed they might have been says something about how I feel about the Weinstein brand. I have never had very positive associations with any brand they've been associated with, and in the last few years, when the words "the Weinstein Company" flicker across the screen before a movie I'm watching, which they do fairly often - part of me winces.

All that said, it's disturbing to see the shitstorm swirling around Harvey Weinstein this last couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong - I fully believe he's a bully, I fully believe at the very least that he has aggressively propositioned women and tried to use his power and influence to get them into bed. It fits the profile of a powerful egomaniac/ megalomaniac who tries to get his own way and serve his own interests at all corners. If he is found guilty and ends up in jail for rape - great. I don't know the man, but it sounds like a powerful (white, male) asshole is getting his comeuppance, and I can understand why people who have been negatively affected by him (or angry, uppity women anywhere, including my Facebook feed) are cheering for his (figurative) decapitation.

But the sheer number of people coming forward with complaints, many of whose names I recognize, and the apparent time period that his offenses have gone on over, unpunished and largely unremarked-upon, the odd off-colour joke in the media aside, are horrifying. How can it be that this many women, women of some fame and presumable power, including Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, Asia Argento, Heather Graham, Ashley Judd, Mia  Kirshner, Sarah Polley, as well as DOZENS of others whose names I don't recognize, have been cornered and aggressively propositioned by him - in the BEST case, because we gather it gets worse - with people accusing him as far back as the 1990's... and he's only being taken to task NOW?

It boggles the mind a bit. I'm a bit naive, maybe, but it doesn't seem like it should have been possible for the guy to get away with this for so long, no matter how many Oscars he's had associated with him. Maybe it would make sense as a story in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books, detailing scandals of the 1920's and 1930's - but I thought we had evolved as a society a little bit beyond all this. The sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein are so numerous and serious that, neverminding rape investigations in New York, they have spawned their own Wikipedia page. Terrorists are killing hundreds in Somalia, and I'm more interested in seeing which of my female friends have posted "me, too" as a Facebook status... It's fascinating, troubling, revealing...

...and I gotta admit, as a man, the vehemence of what a Facebook friend of mine has described as "accusation culture" - I think more in response to the Harry Knowles and Alamo Drafthouse stories that broke in the weeks before this one - it is all kinda FRIGHTENING, as well. As someone who has had to tread his own path through a sexual wilderness, with some very weird and sometimes confusing encounters with women, and who is further inclined towards persecution fantasies, there is definitely some small part of me that worries if at some point some of this hostility will direct itself at me. It is obvious that at some point Weinstein's behaviour was accepted as NORMAL, and tolerated - since no one acted against it for what appears to have been decades. What if at some point in the future someone who I had a date with in the 1990's, which went weird in some way, decides she has a grievance with me, which leads to a similar sort of social media dogpile? "First they came for Jian Ghomeshi, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a weaselly CBC radio host who liked to hit women. Then they came for Bill Cosby, and I didn't speak up because I had never drugged a woman to rape her... then they came for Harry Knowles..."

...And some of the stories that have come out are confusing, make you wonder what your values are. Check out the transcript of a recent interview with Montreal actress named Erika Rosenbaum who has come out with her own story of Weinstein's approaches to her. Based on her own telling of events, Weinstein seemingly made it quite clear from the start with her that his helping her with her career would be connected to her coming across sexually. I am not sure if that right there constitutes an abuse of power. It MAY - but it may not, since there isn't a hint of anything coercive, and Rosenbaum was and is an adult. It seems like she was free to take it or leave it, as they say. I've had women offer me sex for money, and been perfectly comfortable saying no; so why can't a man offer a woman career advancement for sex, if she is also free to say no? (This is presuming you don't already work for him, which WOULD count as an abuse of power and harassment, obviously). My wife, discussing it with me this morning, pointed out that there is something frowned upon about prostitution, such that there is something demeaning and insulting about the offer, if you're not, in fact, a prostitute, and I can understand that; maybe as a man - and a man of zero power and influence, I might add, whom bestowing with sexual favours will never, ever lead ANYONE to career advancement, who is imagining all this from far on the outside - I am ill equipped to understand just HOW demeaning that sort of offer is, how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. I wouldn't blame anyone for being angry about it, to be sure...

...But to return to the Rosenbaum story... then, AFTER that first meeting, when everyone's intentions and desires seem pretty darn transparent, Rosenbaum continues to find herself alone with Harvey Weinstein in his hotel room. At some point, surely, she should realize what his invitations entail. On the third time, it sounds like he gets quite a bit more aggressive with her - though he doesn't rape her, exactly; what transpires seems more demeaning and ugly than criminal. I can see Rosenbaum feeling very dirty afterwards, and very angry... but you also get the sense that she might have kept silent for so long because in fact she had been a willing participant in MOST phases of what transpired with the man, and that maybe she felt GUILTY for having "allowed" things to go as far as she did?

I think towards the end of the interview you can see Rosenbaum sort of acknowledging her complicity, in fact, where she starts talking about how "crazy" it all sounds. Which, in fact, is brave of her, I think. Human beings, since we have agency, have complicity in a great deal that happens to us; there CAN be cases where you're a pure victim of someone else's evil - or just shitty luck - but more often than not, your own choices have some influence on how events transpire.  Maybe it's the shame and confusion that comes with such situations that is precisely what prevents people from coming forward. You figure it was your fault - because you "let" it happen; so you keep silent.  Far from saying that Rosenbaum's own, shall we say "innocence" here, discredits her complaint, I think she deserves praise for telling her story, even though it reveals her own side to it. She obviously WANTED some of what Harvey had to offer, enough to keep going along with his invitations; she just didn't want to have to have sex with the guy...

...and maybe it's just that - the guilt around complicity, around having wanted the career advancement that Harvey Weinstein offered - that has kept so many women (more-or-less) silent for so long? Maybe it was because he DID help some actresses with their careers that they haven't said anything? Maybe he's smart enough to have not let anyone fall into his grasp who - well, like they say, you gotta invite the vampire in...

One also wonders if there's also a contingent of women who rose to fame via Weinstein's casting couch who have thus far said nothing,  because they actually feel loyal to him, feel like he delivered on his end of the bargain...? There are so many names already out in public that you gotta ask - who has yet to come forward in this story? Who else is afraid their name is going to be dragged into the muck around sinking Harvey, if they don't come forward sooner rather than later? Are there people who DID engage with him sexually, whom he DID help with their careers, who don't want to come forward yet because they were in fact satisfied with how things went down - or who just feel ashamed to be associated with this sort of deep tawdriness? At what point will the scale tip so that they feel like supporting the women already on that Wikipedia page is more important than protecting their own reputation or sense of pride?

I also kind of wonder if we weren't living in such a divisive time - tempted to call it the age of President "Grab Them By the Pussy" - if Harvey Weinstein would still be getting a free pass...?

I don't know about any of this, but Harvey is going to go down in movie history as having one of the most spectacular falls from grace of the decade, as far as the movie industry is concerned; and I somehow suspect that the worst is yet to come. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Halloween Horror recommendation: The Poughkeepsie Tapes

I don't know what film I saw the trailer for The Poughkeepsie Tapes in front of. Maybe The Ruins? Something that came out 2007-2008ish; the trailer played in front of a fairly mainstream horror movie, maybe at Scotiabank Theatre, and lodged itself in my mind, where it has remained for ten years while I waited for it to get some sort of legit release. That never happened, though it did surface in an illegitimate and somewhat inferior form on Youtube for awhile, where I watched a bit of it before deciding it wasn't the way I wanted to see it. I imagine it has since been removed; I gather it also flickered briefly on some video-on-demand streaming service but has also since been pulled, not that I was aware of it at the time. 

I recall being equally disturbed and intrigued by that trailer, because the film had one of those premises that is undeniably elegant, and yet ugly: a serial killer's stash of home videotapes, documenting his crimes, is discovered, and a "found footage"-style documentary is constructed around it, wherein you see the killer's home movies. Nowhere - as per the marketing scheme of the day - did the trailer make clear whether the film was fake or real; it looked a bit like an A&E true crime show cross-pollinated with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and I was put off and intrigued in equal measures: "People shouldn't be allowed to make movies like this, but I really want to watch it." The trailer evoked two sides of my personality, much like the film does. It's a superego-versus-id kind of experience to the core, and my interest was born of the wrestling match between them.   

That interest has only grown as I've watched the subsequent films of John Erick Dowdle and his brother Drew (the Coen brothers of horror!). The last two of those, As Above, So Below and No Escape, have been way up there on my list of the best mainstream movies of the last ten years, vying with much higher profile and more respectable fare like Nightcrawler. I've kept an eye out for news of its release since. And that finally happened this week: I bought The Poughkeepsie Tapes on the very day it hit the stores (Sunrise Records, now stocking Shout! Factory titles - and Arrow, and maybe even a few Kino Lorbers - is carrying it, costs around $32 there; don't know what Videomatica is charging). 

I watched the film that same day, with some trepidation, since the things about the premise that disturbed me still do. I am no enthusiast for snuffy cinema, understand, and find some of the most talked-about films in the genre to be disgusting and/or impossible to watch. I sat through a stupifyingly-clumsily-censored Korean version of Cannibal Holocaust a few years ago and felt loathing to the core for the film and the filmmaker by the time it had ended; it is one of the most craven acts of hypocrisy I've seen in cinema, presuming to condemn our propensity for violence onscreen with a sickening display of it - and the animal gore, none of which got censored in the Korean release - unlike the pubic hair! - pretty much made me want to barf, cry, and punch Ruggero Deodato, if possible simultaneously. The turtle gore scene in particular lasts for a very long time, so much so that it gets tedious, as does the "see? it's real gore!" m.o. of the director, whose moralizing judgment of his own audience seems to leave no conclusion possible but to not watch his films, which I have since been only to happy to oblige him in*. 

But I do like a good horror movie, and I can take extremity in cinema if I feel like it serves a purpose. This purpose can sometimes even be trivial: I will always love the original Maniac for the crazily effective and meta-level marvelous scene in which Tom Savini, acting in the film, gets his head blown off with a shotgun, thanks to the makeup wizardry of, yes, Tom Savini himself. Or it can be thematic. I love Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer mostly for its terrific lead performances - big Michael Rooker fan here - but also for its richness, in critiquing the romanticization of serial killers in popular culture, which the film in no way participates in; its snuffy ugliness is clearly morally purposed, as an alternative to the attraction for serial killers in the mainstream, where the judgement on you is not for wanting to watch films like Henry, but for wanting to watch all those OTHER serial killer films where the killers are presented as attractive supermen with moral agendas (the film, made years before Silence of the LambsSe7en, or Saw, is somewhat precognizant in this respect).

I am not sure what the moral purpose of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is, ultimately - but it's quite brilliantly made, for an early feature, and definitely entertaining to watch, if you have a taste for this sort of thing. There are strange and provocative elements throughout, almost operating subtextually, beneath the level of the TV-documentary style main narrative: the killer has a dorkish, attention-seeking theatricality to him, evident in his costumes, his voice, the way he stages some of his killings for the camera, and also in some presumably deliberate, embarrassingly hammy overacting that he does. If Henry and the maniac in Maniac are tortured, psychosexually scarred white trash imbeciles, the killer of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a pretentious dinner-theatre twerp; if Patrick Bateman masturbates to Body Double, this guy surely jerks it to Theatre of Blood or perhaps all those cleavage-rich Hammer horror period pieces of the 1970's (Twins of Evil, say. Lotta boob in that one, and a fair bit of sadism, too). He would be impossible to take seriously if it wasn't for the utter ugliness of his crimes, which begin with him killing an eight year old girl with a hammer (off-camera, but the sound effect is more than you need).  While his dorkiness undercuts some of the scariness of the movie, it is also probably essential to any deep reading of the film, again undercutting any attempt to romanticize such criminals. Like Henry,  Long Pigs, Man Bites Dog, Peeping Tom (or, yes, even the despised Cannibal Holocaust), The Poughkeepsie Tapes can probably be productively read as a meta-level commentary on its own making and consumption, and the Dowdle brothers themselves on a featurette talk about the killer's character as being more or less that of an amateur filmmaker.

There are unanswered questions - missing tapes, and hints of things that are on the tapes that are puzzling indeed (the killer has a fetish for making women - presumably prostitutes - blow up large balloons, sit on them, and pop them with their bums, which he demands in quite a bullish way). It could be that subsequent viewings are funnier than the first, after the disturbing elements - largely dependent on suspense - become less potent. Though the film is not particularly gory - most of the violence happens off-camera or is suggested - it makes maximal use of the killers-eye-point-of-view (which I associate with DePalma but which the Dowdles associate with Carpenter's Halloween), and there's a lot of tension to watching the killer's crimes through his eyes, waiting for something terrible to happen. There's also a lot of surprising level of visual pleasure achieved through watching the low-def, VHS-quality found footage through a high def system, and there's a LOT of low-end stuff on the soundtrack (turn the subwoofer DOWN). It makes me wonder if there's any subliminal stuff slipped into the film? Connoisseurs of ambient noise and video feedback might actually find this aspect of things interesting... 

The Poughkeepsie Tapes was well worth the wait (a shame that audiences didn't get much of a chance to see it when this subgenre was still fairly fresh). I doubt I'll see any more disturbing or effective horror movie this month. In fact, I kind of hope I don't. 

Wonder what the brothers Dowdle are working on next...?

*Okay, I do want to see Cut and Run, but only because Michael Berryman is in it. Leave me alone. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Siding With Midge: Of Guy Maddin, Vertigo and The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia: an interview with co-director Evan Johnson

I am by no means an expert on Guy Maddin's cinema, though I understand why friends of mine like veritable blog co-author David M. declare him "Canada's greatest living filmmaker." I haven't gone deep enough into his cinema to meaningfully agree or disagree with that statement. I find Maddin a bit daunting, actually, often find myself squinting and trying to understand what he's doing while he nimbly capers and plays, and sometimes I feel like the joke ends up on me; but Archangel and The Saddest Music in the World both delighted me, and I can see (with apologies to David Cronenberg) that M. might have a point. Certainly the Kronos Quartet providing a live score, at the VIFF tonight, to Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson's "sampled" reconstruction of Hitchcock's Vertigo, The Green Fog - which uses footage found in other films (or TV shows) shot in San Francisco to retell the story of Vertigo, as you can read about in the Georgia Straight and the Province - sounds like a must-see event, so I'm going, tonight, and bringing my wife, and have interviewed one of the two brothers who assisted with the film, Evan Johnson (I actually asked Guy Maddin, as well, but he's too busy with the holiday to contribute and offers his apologies). 

I'll get to the interview with Evan Johnson in a second. But first a confession: I have never been the hugest fan of Vertigo.   

It's actually a bit odd when one of the few major Hitchcocks you find deeply problematic ends up voted the greatest movie of all time by the Sight and Sound critics poll (full list of the top 50 here). Vertigo - recently supplanting Citizen Kane at the top of the BFI canon - has always been a challenging movie for me: it has brilliant stuff in it, but it is all packed into the last half, which forces you to go back and re-evaluate the first half of the film, which it reflects and complicates. The re-evaluation of that first half requires you to actually finish the movie; but I've had more than one attempt to view Vertigo thwarted around the 40 minute mark, where I was overtaken by frustration at the leisurely pace and slow accumulation of apparently useless information. If you asked me any other day but today - the day after I finally successfully completed Vertigo for what may be only the second time - I would say that I actually preferred (besides a dozen other Hitchcocks) a couple of movies that riff overtly on Vertigo, Miike's Audition and Brian DePalma's Body Double, which are far more parsimonious. Vertigo has always been a meh Hitchcock for me, though having finally gotten through it again, I'm kind of excited to try it a third time (and I don't mean as re-imagined by Guy Maddin; that's a separate film, though it will be fun to see how it riffs on the original). 

The plot of Vertigo, if you haven't seen it, goes like this (I will try to do this justice, in case you're curious about tonight's screening but find yourself lacking a familiarity with the original film that inspires and informs it). Scottie - an ex-policeman with a fear of heights - is hired by an old friend, Gavin, to follow his wife, Madeline, who may or may not be suicidal, and whose suicidal thoughts may or may not be informed by an ancestor named Carlotta, who killed herself some time past and may now be "possessing" Madeline (there's lots of "possession" in Vertigo, though none of it proves to be supernatural). Besides lots of scenes of Scottie driving around San Francisco following Madeline, that's pretty much all you get for 40 minutes, either in terms of story or theme; there's also Midge, a rejected love interest pining for Scottie in the wings - played by Barbara Del Geddes - but she barely figures in the story, save as a "tragedy enhancer," since she is ever present as a neglected-but-available alternative to the doomed love that ensues between Scottie and Madeline. (The fact that someone has had to write an essay called "Why Midge Matters" sort of proves that she's relegated very much to the margins of the story). Otherwise, there's not much else to chew on, at least not that we know about yet; we are, in fact, being lied to throughout the first third of the film, and watching through to the ending, as I say, requires you to go back and re-think things - but taken at face value, especially with all those poorly-aged fake driving shots, those first 40 minutes make Vertigo a real hard sell as the greatest movie of all time. 

Then you get to the ending. Neverminding plot implausibility, this is pretty rich stuff (and spoilers, here, ensue, though I've already kinda tipped to them by mentioning Body Double). The woman who we know as Madeline, in fact, is not the wife of the man who hired Scottie, but his lover, being employed by him to impersonate Madeline, so that a convoluted murder plot can be enacted, with Scottie as a credulous and compromised witness. He's been played for a fool - exactly like Craig Wasson in Body Double, he's been set up to witness a death and misunderstand it, so that the killer can get off "scot"-free and Scottie can carry the burden of humiliation, guilt and failure in the wake of the crime. We learn all this long before Scottie does, and can see more than he can through the last third of the film, so we can understand just how unfortunate and misguided everyone is. "Madeline" - real name Judy - actually, um, falls for Scottie, and, after her lover (murderer Gavin) rebuffs her, seeks him out. His obsession transfers easily onto his dead loved one's (apparent) look-alike, but just as Judy's value to Gavin lay in her ability to pretend to be someone else,  Judy discovers Scottie is so much in the grips of Madeline that she must, once again, pretend to be her, wearing her hair and clothes in direct imitation of her, to satisfy Scottie. Judy is put in the un-enviable position of being jealous of her own successful performance - jealous of herself! - but she eventually agrees to recreate the role, to become Madeline again, at least in terms of her appearance, if it means being with the man she loves.     

It all works out, for a short while, until Scottie realizes he's been lied to, and that Judy is, in fact, actually the woman he knew as Madeline; and that he has been used. The climax of the film sees Scottie liberated of his fear of heights, but it denies either him or Judy any sort of redemption or forgiveness; the past repeats itself in a very literal way. The themes are multiple, touching on the illusory nature of love, the nature of fetishization, the ways in which men use women, and the ways in which women allow themselves to be misperceived, in order to provide the lineaments of gratified desire to their own love objects. The "possession" of Madeline by Carlotta is replicated in the possession of Judy by Madeline, as is Madeline's fall in Judy's. Everyone in Vertigo is trapped, everyone is doomed; no tragedy in the film's world exists without repeating itself, and what we see more often than not won't help us. It's a dark, despairing, and probably quite profound film - if you can make it to the end. It probably has plenty to say on a meta-level about cinema, too, though shy of a third viewing, I'm not sure I'm prepared to tease that out (Audition and Body Double both explicitly make use of the metaphor of "casting" someone as an object of desire, in the context of filmmaking; and at least one critic I've read has pointed to Hitchcock's own fetishistic approach to his leading ladies as being critiqued in Scottie's obsessiveness, though there is no literal film-within-a-film here). 

I'm excited to be seeing what Mr. Maddin and co-directors/ editors Evan and Galen Johnson do with their re-imagining Vertigo tonight. It is, of course, deeply funny, meta-level stuff to have a doppleganger of a movie about dopplegangers. The Kronos Quartet's performance of the live score - not Bernard Herrmann's, note, but an all new one, by Jacob Garchik - is more or less a cherry on top of what already sounds like a very fun project, though I've been a fan of theirs since the days of Black Angels (the first Kronos Quartet I heard, when it was released in 1990). I've never gotten to see them live before, and while the $55 orchestra seat may seem expensive when viewed as a ticket to a movie, it seems a real steal as a ticket to a Kronos Quartet live performance.     

The Kronos Quartet playing in front of The Green Fog, by Pamela Gentile
Here is my interview with Evan Johnson, co-director of The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia.

A: I have NOT seen The Green Fog yet - I'm saving myself for Tuesday - so I'm curious if the three of you have played with the work of Saul Bass much in the film, or if Jacob riffs on the music of Bernard Herrmann? (Is it at least a Herrmannesque score? Did Jacob have any directions to work with as to how to score the film?)

E: We thought about making a full-on Vertigo title sequence, in the style of Saul Bass, but abandoned the idea when it just didn’t seem like it was going to look very good. At one point Galen was working with a shot of Linda Fiorentino from Jade as our Vertigo title sequence face-double, but it wasn’t coming together. As for the music - I think Jacob was mostly avoiding Herrmann. His score isn’t particularly Herrmannesque, though he is and was a longtime fan of Herrmann. We made his life difficult by repeatedly sending our rough cuts to him using Herrmann’s Vertigo score as our temp music. Very cruel! But he was a great sport and his score is terrific, it has just the right amount of angst and beauty and impishness, and of course Kronos performs it invigoratingly.

Are there any references to Hitchcock's cinema that only a Hitchcock devotee will spot? Are there any shots you chose BECAUSE they evoked Hitchcock, or conversely, shots you could have used but didn't, because they were too overtly Hitchcockian?
I’m not sure we were really making Hitchcock references, except the many explicit and implicit ones to Vertigo. Inadvertently, of course, this resulted in plenty of Hitchcockian shots finding their way into the movie.

I am guessing at something here: you supposedly use a shot from
The Birds; is it by any chance the pet store scene in The Birds where Hitchcock himself appears? (Does your homage include any Hitchcock cameo?). Are there any other Hitchcock clips employed in the film? How about clips from other films that are explicit homages to Hitchcock or Vertigo? (Did Brian DePalma ever shoot in San Francisco?)

We did not use the pet store scene from the Birds, though we looked closely at it, and we were so stupid not to even consider a Hitchcock cameo…our mind was on other things, I suppose. And that’s it for other Hitchcock films, though I know Family Plot is sort of ambiguously part-set in San Francisco. There’s a lot of very explicit Vertigo references in films shot in San Francisco, as you might imagine, and we definitely include those - they’re sort of hard to miss. Mel Brooks plummeting to his death off a bell-tower, that kind of thing.

Ha! So I have a confession: I LOVE Hitchcock, but... I am not a huge fan of Vertigo. It's one of those flms - John Ford's The Searchers is another, or Orson Welles' Touch of Evil - where its towering reputation preceeds it and makes it impossible for me to enter it on its own terms and I end up wondering if something is wrong with me for not having enjoyed it enough. I watch it every few years to see if I "get it yet." Do you know what I mean? (...this seems like a problem Guy Maddin might not have, actually). If so.... what are those films, for you? (Was Vertigo by any chance one of them, or do you all love it equally, or...?).

I certainly know what you mean. First of all, I have trouble with The Searchers too, though I love John Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of my favourite films), and yeah, Touch of Evil can probably seem a bit…cold, cynical and pyrotechnic, maybe? (I do like it though.) I fell asleep the first time I saw Vertigo, like most people. It is a grim, gloomy movie, looked at one way, and though I’m easily cowed by critical consensus and expert opinion, I would never begrudge anyone who fails to be moved to enjoyment or anything else by Vertigo. I do find it very moving though, in complex and mysterious ways, and am fascinated by its secrets. Anyway, other ‘masterpieces’ I don’t really connect with? I find Metropolis pretty boring, I have to admit, though I love almost everything else Lang made. I shudder to type the words! I realize now how difficult it is to admit something like this. Speaking truth to power!

Are the three of you on equal footing as film enthusiasts or was working with Guy Maddin an education in cinema? (What is he like in person/ as a collaborator? What's your history with him?).

It’s hard to top Guy for film enthusiasm, but we try to keep up. Guy was partially responsible for my film education in the first place, when I was his student, but he still ‘educates’ me, in certain ways, though these days the education is usually concurrent with his own, in that he shares with me recent discoveries he’s made. Guy is a very close friend and a very fun collaborator - of course, we have our little disagreements, as everyone does. But the collaboration has been remarkably smooth. Of course, for all I know, he is secretly building up a massive warehouse of grudges against me (and Galen?) and will one day suddenly tolerate me no more. But it’s my impression that we regularly air our grievances - to use Festivus terminology - and that this reduces the tension that might otherwise be there. Guy can be a sneaky fella, and mischievous and occasionally confusing and emotionally indirect, but he is spectacularly generous, friendly in elevators, full of good, crazy, implausible ideas, and very funny.    

Was there ever any "limit" set on irreverence? (Were there shots you COULD have used that were too goofy or too disrespectful or... does Guy's sense of humour and playfulness allow for a no-holds barred approach?) Was there any disagreement/ difference between the three of you about which shots to use from which sources?

Alas, there was no limit set on irreverence, though perhaps there should have been. I was reading an amazing essay about Vertigo yesterday, by our friend George Toles, and I had a realization about what we’d achieved (or failed to) in making The Green Fog. In Vertigo, there’s a great scene where Midge, in an effort to puncture Scottie’s overpowering romantic illusion - his obsession with Madeleine - paints her own face into a portrait of Carlotta Valdez, the ancestor figure supposedly haunting Madeleine. Midge thinks she’s done something playful and funny, and that this gag might destroy Scottie’s illusion and bring him back to earth, as it were, but all she’s done is make explicit her own failure to intoxicate him. Midge’s painting is the perfect analogy for what we’ve done with The Green Fog - we’ve made a parodic facsimile in an attempt to puncture a romantic illusion (Vertigo itself), but as a result have simply revealed the extent of our own self-loathing, our knowledge that we could never achieve such feats of overpowering illusion. This doesn’t sound like a very kind self-assessment, so I will add that I love Midge, and that though Scottie is offended by her gag, I admire her for attempting it and I think it was the right thing to do. In short, we’re siding with Midge here, for better or worse. Although I should ALSO add that I don’t know if Guy and Galen agree with me on this, they might have a different account of what we’ve done.   

Do you have any favourite riffs on Vertigo from other films? Do you have any favourite (or least favourite!) homages to Hitchcock out there? What did you think of Gus van Sant's Psycho remake? (Do you like De Palma's films, out of curiosity? He seems, whatever might be said about him, to have really learned how to "speak" Hitchcock cinematically...).

I quite like De Palma and think his skills with tone and perspective help him achieve something more or less Hitchcockian, sometimes. Though I guess the truly Hitchcockian remains ineffable. I’m not sure Hitchcock himself could describe it. There’s something - some surplus guilt or dread - in his films that floats free of the inexorable cinematic logic, the tightly framed shots and tightly choreographed scenes and sequences, some mystery element. I thought the Gus van Sant Psycho remake was rather educational, for me, anyway. I saw it when I was young enough that it had much to teach me about the power of small (and large) directorial decisions. In fact, I think it’s the first time I was aware that a director did anything at all. I remember when I was young, wondering what a director could possibly do if someone else wrote the script and the actors did all the acting and said all the words, and a DOP composed the shots, an electrician did the cords and stuff, etc.. What is this ludicrous, superfluous job, “director”? I hadn’t read much Cahiers du Cinema at that point. Anyway, I really like Chris Marker’s Vertigo talk in Sans Soleil, though his remarks on Vertigo are almost as mysterious to me as Vertigo itself.

Did the three of you have any discussions of Hitchcockian film language in making the film? I assume someone out there can actually describe what IS "Hitchcockian" - if Brian DePalma can replicate it, presumably anyone else can; it's certainly easy enough to spot when you see it. Was a discussion of what is/ is not Hitchcockian at all relevant to making the film? Did you learn anything about Hitchcockian language (or
Vertigo) in making the film?

We really did not go deep into Hitchcock theory during the making of this, not out of laziness, I don’t think - I would have loved an excuse to read a bunch of Hitchcock books and watch all (most of) his movies again, but we wanted to learn about Vertigo/Hitchcock through the pragmatic act of putting together the movie, if that makes sense.

It sounds like the three of you were ALREADY watching other San Francisco films before you hit on the idea of remaking Vertigo using these other films - did you then have to go back through these films to select shots that correspond to scenes in Vertigo? How long did that take? How did you divvy up the work? DId you go with the first shot you found that fit, or did you ever look for a "better" option? Were there any moments from Vertigo that you had a hard time finding a match for? Was there ever a mad rush to Google OTHER FILMS SHOT IN SAN FRANCISCO to look for a scene you needed? (Were there ever moments where you could remember a scene that you needed from a movie you'd seen but couldn't remember what movie it was in?).

Yeah, we watched 20-30 San Francisco set features before deciding on Vertigo as our guiding force, but luckily we had been taking detailed notes while watching so in most cases we didn’t really need to go back into our “watched” bin and go trawling again. The work was divvied up thusly: we all watched many many many movies together, over many long hours during Guy’s Christmas break from his Harvard teaching gig; we made a rough plan of action together, then Galen and I began editing scenes and sequences and emailing them to Guy for feedback and/or rubber stamp approval. And yeah, we had trouble finding material for certain Vertigo sequences, but in those cases we would find something un-Vertigo like and try to work it in in a way that seemed like its negative outline was shining some light into Vertigo’s crevices. There were PLENTY of times when we knew we had a shot somewhere but couldn’t remember what movie it was from, and we’d start going over Herbie Rides Again with a fine-toothed comb, hunting in every frame, before realizing 90 minutes later that the shot we were looking for was in an episode of Murder She Wrote.  

Were there ANY other rules used in the search besides "fits a scene in Vertigo" and "shot in San Francisco?”

Nope - those were the rules! We did focus on feature fiction films, for the most part (though there are some exceptions), if only because were attempting to replicate a feature fiction film. But also we were limited by the amount of time we had to track down obscure or difficult to acquire films or clips.

Are there any San Franscisco films that got snuck in because any of the three of you have a particular fondness for them, or for other sentimental reasons (shots of favourite locations in San Francisco? Was location-matching an issue?) Are there any interesting background stories behind the inclusion of a particular shot? Are there any films you really wanted to include but couldn't, because there was nothing in
Vertigo that they spoke to?

We snuck in a shot of the great George Kuchar from Thundercrack! And a few shots from an Obayashi Nobuhiko movie that looked great though we never saw it with English subtitles after we found it on Japanese Amazon; there’s some stuff from Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments (from 1923) which has some sequence set in then modern-day San Francisco; an episode of Mission Impossible because we wanted to sneak Peter Graves in. A very good noir called Women on the Run. There were all kinds of films we wished we included but couldn’t quite fit in. I would have loved to included Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, which is pretty cool and seems to have been shot partially in San Francisco. There’s a bunch more, but I can’t remember them now because all this watching was crammed into a very ludicrously small amount of time, and my brain is all scrambled and useless from the endeavour.

Dumb question, but is Tommy Wiseau's The Room used at all? Any thoughts on that film?

Not a dumb question! We didn’t use it, though we considered it! I love The Room, and I am a little protective of it, the way I am with other so-called “bad movies” that are actually more alive with human strangeness and (perhaps inadvertent, but so what?) formal ingenuity than many works of prestige. But for whatever reason, it didn’t fit with what we were doing.

Have you actually seen
The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia screened with an audience yourselves? Did you have any fun observations of the audience? Any advice/ caveats/ "preparatory remarks" to make to VIFF audiences (besides the obvious one of "watch Vertigo before you see The Green Fog?”)

We saw The Green Fog (live with Kronos) at the San Francisco world premiere, and it was a pretty great time. The audience was very receptive, they seemed to find it as funny as we had intended it to be. Whether they found it moving, or interesting, it’s harder to tell, as audiences generally don’t let out loud whooping sounds when they find a movie moving or interesting. If you’ve seen Vertigo, you’ll understand much more about why we put sequences where we did, and why certain shots are included at all. But if you haven’t, most of the scenes should work on their own anyway, as montages highlighting certain cinematic conventions, or as strange Kuleshov-effect-demonstrating whatsits. It’s a found footage movie, for better and worse, so it’s composed of clips from vastly different things, which means there’s hopefully enough variety of tone and haircut style to keep things from getting boring for very long. And we wanted it to have its own flow, we even secretly want viewers to pretend it isn’t a found footage film at all, that we actively wrote and shot all this material in this way in an attempt to achieve a decades-hopping dream-logic narrative tour through San Francisco’s history. So that’s what it is! We worked hard on it, but it’s supposed to go down easy.    

The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia plays at the Centre for the Performing Arts at 8pm tonight. More information here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

VIFF 2017: You're Soaking In It: an advertising scare-u-mentary

You're Soaking In It, playing this morning at the VIFF, is a crisply-made Canadian documentary designed to scare you about advertising - in particular, what the various ways that internet advertisers keep track of your personal information, collecting stats about your browsing to better target you with ads. There are various interesting bits, like kids watching Youtube "tutorials" on building Lego projects, as part of an advertising awareness-themed computer class, with the kids not realizing that what they are seeing is ads; or the ways Youtube stars can incorporate sponsors into their programmes. There's also an interview with an Ad Block designer who clearly enjoys getting to plug his website in the documentary (which is kind of ironic when you stop to think about it); and lots of math geeks who are happy to be making millions in the age of the adverising algorithm. It all serves to paint a paranoid, Big-Brother-is-Watching-You portrait of the near omniscient powers granted advertisers in the age of the internet, who, we're told, operate unsupervised and unaccountable (and who are obviously quite impressed with their newfound powers, such as they are). You get a lot of scary predictions of the day when billboards themselves will watch your facial features to better determine whas sort of ads to show you, or what parts of ads to emphasize in the next ad, since that's where your eyes lingered... 

Personally, this has never been a topic that has moved me much. When the late Todd Serious used to sing the surveillance-state protest song "It Can't Be Just Me," I would secretly think, "well, it certainly isn't just you, surely, but it sure ain't me." I am and always have been comfortable with a fair degree of public visibility; it seems like a state to aspire to. The less you care about what information people have about you, the less vulnerable you are to their control. Every secret you have is something your enemies have on you. There are things about me I'm happy not to have public, but not many - hence the fairly revealing, warts-and-all nature of this blog; I'm pretty comfortable living in a public sphere. I have too much else on my mind to worry that I may be being surreptitiously filmed while I pee in an alley, as long as they don't mail me a ticket. 

And the current level of advertising intelligence is not something I am that afraid of, either. Let's say, for example, that I type "I'm sure glad I don't have a colostomy," and suddenly discover in my Facebook feed or when I go to Youtube or such that I'm being targeted with a sales pitch for ostomy supplies. That seems to be how these things happen, the level on which intelligence is collected and employed (it was worse in the earlier days of Gmail where basically any email you wrote led to a scrolling banner at the top of your inbox; 'member those?). The thing is: I don't have a colostomy; I don't want a colostomy; I have no plans to get a colostomy; and - it doesn't matter how many ads I see, or how many times I type the word "colostomy" in this paragraph - I'm not going to be buying ostomy supplies anytime soon. They can target me all I like, but in the absence of actually knowing me, based on what I write and say - especially if it's being kept track of by a fuckin' computer algorithm, and not a human being - the noise-to-signal will be overwhelming, with utter omniscience equalling something like utter stupidity. Hell, I don't even use AdBlock, since I realize someone has to pay for the various programs I use. If advertisers are so hungry to influence people that they'll fund millions of dollars worth of websites and apps and games, so be it; I make at least some of my income of such money, when my articles run in magazines that run ads. So sell my information, stockpile it, profile me however you like; you still won't know me. And you won't have much luck influencing my behaviour: the odd movie trailer or sale flyer aside, I can't think of a case where an ad actually moved  me to buy a product. I barely look at them, find them pretty easy to ignore. About my only fuck-you to advertising in life has been that I don't want to run ads on my blog,  since a) I don't have to and b) I like the idea of advertising-free zones. It keeps me at least slightly honest, in theory - though, I mean, even this piece of writing is a kind of ad (albeit not a very enthusiastic one) that I am being rewarded for writing (in terms of my VIFF pass, this year, which is going to get me into at least a couple of movies for free; even here I favour transparency). 

All that said, You're Soaking In It is an entertainingly made scare-u-mentary, visually engaging and quickly-paced and with a clever title (backed up by a clip from the Palmolive ad that it references, which is wise, since I am not sure people under 35 will get the joke otherwise). I was unscared by internet advertising and cookies and such when I went in; I remained so when I went out. There is always the possibility that I'm just dense. If the topic moves you - if you're an Adbusters devotee, say, like the friend who got me out to this the day before yesterday - it's well worth a look. 

You're Soaking In It screens again this morning, at 11am, at International Village, with director Scott Harper in attendance. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Of Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Hüsker Dü

I have never seen Bob Mould live. I have had plenty of opportunities. It's kind of strange to me.

I began listening to  Hüsker Dü with two albums, acquired around the same time: Metal Circus and Zen Arcade. I'd given my father a list of records to pick up for me on a trip to the United States, because punk rock was hard to find up here, and I'd been hearing about these records, reading reviews (some previous Hüsker Dü naysayer in Seattle's The Rocket had finally seen the light and called Zen Arcade a double album of "pure protein," and I still remember the phrase). Somewhat to my shock, Dad came back with everything on my list, which was how, as memory serves, I first acquired the Circle Jerks' Group Sex, the Minutemen's Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat and Double Nickles on the Dime, and the two Dü's (unless I had Metal Circus before that; I might have). I think maybe M.I.A's Murder in a Foreign Place was in that stack, too. I'm not sure how old I was exactly - about 15? - but Zen Arcade had only just been released (it came out in 1983). These were the days when I was using my parents' old TV console for the turntable, and could stack records to drop and play, living in a condo at 21555 Dewdney Trunk Road in Maple Ridge.  Zen Arcade (and the Minutmen's Double Nickels) fast became my favourite records and got double stacked so many times I ended up replacing both of them.

1983 was a pretty good year for punk rock, actually.

Zen Arcade, for those who don't know it, is not exactly a narrative - the story it tells has no beginning, middle, or end - but it's sort of the punk Quadrophenia, noisy and artful, about troubled youth, and about as passionately played as any rock music ever could be. There are moments on it that speak to free jazz and avant-gardism - like an epic, spastic, backmasking-heavy jam called "Reoccurring Dreams" that ends the album. But there are also some of the greatest teen angst anthems ever, both tightly focused ("Chartered Trips," say) or sprawlingly loose ("What's Goin' On?"). The songs on it are almost always ("Pride," "Indecision Time," "Whatever") intensely personal, filled with anguish, but mostly driven by inner conflicts, not social malaise. It has the distinction of being one of those few rock albums, like Mission of Burma's vs., the Meat Puppets II, or the Flesh Eaters' Forever Came Today that, since I heard it, has remained forever in my top-10 desert island discs, albums that I hope I will always have with me in some form or other. The Metal Circus EP is slightly lesser - it was marred, for me by a song by Grant Hart, "Diane," that describes a murder from the point of view of the murderer. It's probably a wholly respectful song - it's quite mournful, as I recall it - but the content was too disturbing for me at the time, making that side of the album one I seldom played (though every other song on it is great). "Real World" was an interesting lyric, for someone whose awareness of punk was pretty much co-extensive with the arrest and trial of the Squamish Five (as I knew them then; of course they called themselves Direct Action).

People talk about anarchy and taking up the fight
Well I'm afraid of things like that and I lock my doors at night
I don't rape and I don't pillage other people's lives
I won't practice what you preach and I won't see through your eyes
You want to change the world by breaking rules and laws
People don't do things like that in the real world at all
You're not a cop or a politician
You're a person too
You can sing any song you want -
But you're still the same

There were things I didn't identify with in those early Dü albums - like Grant Hart's song about heroin ("Pink Turns to Blue"). I can't say I ever had much interest in Krishna culture, either, but I loved the song about it on the album. Zen Arcade's passion and soul-searching made it eclipse every other youth culture album I owned - more than My War, more than anything the Replacements or Sonic Youth did, and certainly more than the political punk of Dead Kennedys and DOA. About the only other band that was in competetion in terms of engraining themselves with my own emotions, my own feelings about the world was Nomeansno. 

I loved Zen Arcade so much that when the vastly less cohesive New Day Rising came out - which, coincidentally, my MOTHER picked up for me on a trip to the States - I threw it under the bus. Every song on it, pretty much, is great, as is the cover image, and I can see why some friends of mine consider it the band's masterstroke; but the songs spin off in too many different directions, from the playful (Hart's "Books About UFO's") to the savage (Mould's "Plans I Make"), from pop ("The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill") to noisy avant-punk ("59 Times the Pain"). There remains some soul searching ("I Apologize") and a sense of alienated observation of the outside world ("Powerline") but - though I can see now that it's a kind of masterpiece in its own right, and that it does cohere on SOME level - at the time, it just wasn't Zen Arcade enough for me. I didn't spin it very often.

I bought every Dü album after that, though, out of loyalty and hope, and discovered after several tries on each that I didn't really like one of them. There were a few songs I understood and could enjoy - but they were all by Grant Hart, who, while obviously always the lesser songwriter, remained consistent through Dü's career. His palette expanded, but his songwriting remained pretty much in vein with the earlier songs - unlike Bob's, which seemed to undergow a marked change, as he continued to mature. While Mould's trajectory makes sense - from the savage onslaught of Land Speed Record to the artful powerhouse of Zen Arcade to the soul-searching, self-reflecting singer-songwriter of Warehouse: Songs and Stories, I never wanted that last incarnation. I was ready for him to stop growing in 1983, maybe 1984. He didn't, and I held it against him. About the only post-New Day Rising release of theirs that I thoroughly loved was the 7" of "Eight Miles High," and that song was a cover.

Then sometime in the early 1990's, two things happened: a friend of mine got into heroin - an ugly and painful journey, the final upshot of which was that we were no longer friends; and I discovered that Bob Mould was gay, and that Grant Hart was bisexual.

My becoming aware up-close of how stupid a drug heroin was made me a lot more judgmental about it, and/ or public figures that openly used it, like Hart (Kim Deal bothered me too, though Lou Reed always got a pass, because I'd been listening to Lou long before I saw how ugly that drug was). It didn't help that Mould's disapproval of Hart's heroin use was a key factor, apparently, in the band breaking up. It didn't affect my feelings about Mould, but it sort of made songs like "Pink Turns to Blue" or "She Floated Away" less easy to consume.

The queer thing was a little more complicated, because suddenly I became confused about my own identification with Zen Arcade: I felt that album like no other, but it was, apparently, the feelings of a gay man that I was feeling, even though I didn't know that at the time. So it kind of interacted with my own repression of my own queer leanings, became something that worried me a little, that maybe threatened to undermine my identity as a straight dude. Which was already kind of on shaky ground, since I occasionally had feelings for men, as well as women. They just seemed too complicated to act on, which meant maybe Zen Arcade was "complicated," too - or moreso than I had ever realized.

Mostly the reason that I stopped with Bob Mould, though, is that I didn't care that much for his music anymore, no longer felt it. I barely remember any of his songs between Flip Your Wig and Warehouse. I gave brief listens to his albums with Sugar, but it wasn't Zen Arcade. I think I spun Workbook once, but it wasn't Zen Arcade either. It wasn't even New Day Rising. It wasn't the Bob I thought I knew and loved, who obviously I had never known at all. It was kinda like trying to come to terms with 21st century Wim Wenders, having loved 1970's Wim Wenders so much; or being a political folky having to come to terms with electric Dylan or introspective druggie Dylan or Christian Dylan or such.

Add to the bitter taste that I never had gotten to see Dü play live, and it looked like I never would, since reunions weren't really on the table. I did once go see Grant Hart, and really didn't enjoy myself, so much so that I walked out - which I wrote about here.  I kinda wish now that I'd stuck around; his sort of chatty immediate face-to-face presentation sounds pretty appealing now, even if it seemed unprofessional then. And I wish I'd gone to see Hart's show at the Biltmore a few years ago, too. A couple of people have remarked about an episode from that show, I believe, where someone threw a glass or bottle at the stage, and Hart said to the thrower, "I've fucked tougher guys than you." It's a pretty great line. (May he rest in peace).

As for Bob Mould, I maintained my lack of interest until pretty much this year, when I saw this live clip of Bob doing "The End of All Things" (no relation to Nomeansno) and went - holy shit, wait a minute, this is kinda great.

So I bought the album, Patch the Sky. It's similar, a bit, to the jammy-but-downbeat slacker guitar-worship of 1990's Black Sheets of Rain - which I've only been checking out recently, on the advice of friendsbut the songs are tighter and faster, rock out a bit more. It also has spawned a really charming (in the "charmingly bad" sense of the word) rock video, for "Hold On," in which Bob struggles with alienation and loneliness (and the temptation to laziness represented by elevators), apparently feeling estranged from pretty much everyone (including the femme queer scene) until he finds himself in a bar full of bears, where he takes the stage and happily sings his song. This is one super-dorky little video, but in a touching, likable and weirdly personally revealing way.

And I kinda like bears, since if I were gay, it's the bear scene I would be drawn to. I mean, I just don't have the body for Celebrities, you know?

And you know what? Who cares if Patch the Sky ain't Zen Arcade. I have Zen Arcade right over there (gestures towards turntable). I can listen to it whenever I want, and I can love it as much as I want, but the band that recorded it is never, ever coming back, especially now that Grant Hart has died. Patch the Sky is a really good album, and whoever this Bob Mould guy is these days - this guy whose music I have now been ignoring for longer than I had ever paid attention to it - he kind of is someone I'd like to see live.

(Plus last I saw, "Chartered Trips" and "I Apologize" were still on his setlist. I mean, it'd be nice to hear "Chartered Trips" live at least once. It's gotta be one of my favourite opening lyrics in a rock song: "I picked up my belongings in a nylon carry-all...")

Bob Mould plays the Rickshaw October 22nd, with Ford Pier opening. I have bought at ticket, so this was not written with "intent to cadge;" and I was going to go to this show long before Grant Hart passed (though I feel bad for Mould that he finds himself touring during this time; a solo show must be demanding to do, but now that his former bandmate has passed, he surely feels more vulnerable?).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Two other VIFF films: Animals and Bitch

I was not in the mood for Animals when I tried to watch it, but based on a half an hour or so of viewing, I can attest that it's very well-made: smart, tight, and darkly playful, and if I were writing a full review, I would maybe try to incorporate references to Weekend, Long Weekend, and Lost Highway. Maybe I would title the review Long Lost Highway Weekend? For a film at least somewhat preoccupied with suicide, it's disturbing to learn that one of the makers killed himself; but if you like a slightly cruel surrealism, or cinema that fucks with your head while remaining more or less coherent, it is well worth a look; please don't let my not having finished it deter you. There's a fair bit in the film about infidelity, as well - and a very unsympathetic main male character, at least in the segment I saw. 

Bitch - which it happens, I did finish - was less exciting to me, seemed less of an accomplishment, though I am sure some people at the Rio last night found it fun. Someone else's smartass quote in the VIFF catalogue is perfect, likening it to "if A Woman Under the Influence and Mr. Mom had a baby," though it doesn't capture the slightly werewolf-y aspect of the film. But I found some of the incompetence and self-absorption of the main male character kind of misandrist, to be honest - it's a very broad portrait of a man, though Jason Ritter handles it gamely. I further found the children (who include the Walking Dead "zombies are people too" girl) not particularly believable and rather annoying; and didn't really enter the mind of the female character - director Marianna Palka - who turns into a growling dog and has to be locked in the cellar. (Ginger Snaps mines the whole female-transformation-into-an-animal thing much more thoroughly). Bitch begins as broad comedy, ends as touching drama, and veers through suburban surrealism and a slight bit of horror, but the whole seems somewhat less than the sum of its parts. The VIFF progtram mentions "Morgan z Whirledge's chaotic score;" I must say I found it quite grating at times.

All for now...

VIFF 2017: Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi's Untitled, and the case of the nude interviewer

Timezone mixups are fun. I make them myself sometimes: say, I'm interviewing someone in Calgary, which is an hour ahead, but I get it in my mind that they're an hour behind, so I'm planning to call them two hours AFTER the interview was actually scheduled for (which was the case with Art Bergmann last week, though we sorted it out, sorta).  It's less embarrassing for me when someone else makes the mistake, which happened yesterday with my Skype talk with Monika Willi: I'm supposed to call her at 9am - because she's in Austria, some miles away - and she was calling me at 8:15 as, naked and grimy, I was getting ready to get into the shower.

Luckily, I had everything ready to go (and she wasn't doing it as a video call).

There was a fair bit in our talk that did not make it into my Straight interview with Willi; her answers were more elaborate than I sometimes could incorporate into a tight piece of writing, and the combination of so-so audio quality and her excellent but accented English further made a few sentences difficult to transcribe (something I'm getting more and more frustrated with; it played a factor in my talk with Art, too, though there it was only my imperfect audio/ recording setup that was the culprit). I got a laugh out of her when I asked about the dogs in Whores' Glory, if - as I explain in the Straight piece - Untitled was a "just the dogs" movie, a movie just of happy accidents, and she laughed and said, "The dogs! This is very nice, yeah, the dogs. This is very much Untitled, you’re very right.” She went on to explain about how there had initially been music to the dogs scene in Whores' Glory, but it ended up transposed to the Mexico segment, and further, that she felt the dogs scene went on a little too long - but was "not strong enough" to fight with Glawogger to shorten it. But as interesting as that was, in fact I didn't need to use a quote from her at all, I decided, all I needed to know, in asking this question, was that I wasn't, uh, barking up the wrong tree with my observation (damn you, Kenji Yam, you've infected me with crappy puns - Ron of the Straight movies section has been gassin' me on Facebook with jokes on my Caniba article, asking if the film was "yellow journalism," if I found it "hard to stomach," if I found it a bit "stiff" or "in poor taste" or things like that...)

We also talked about Glawogger's book, which I had been previously unaware of, and how it informed the narration. (You can order it on Amazon, but I presume this is in German; too little of his work is available in North America). It started as a question as to why so much of the narration of the film was in the third person:
Michael started to trust his writing and his literary ambition, which grew and grew over the last decade. He had nearly financed a feature film, and then it didn’t get the financing. He had a hole, and in that time he realized a book, a novel, which has been posthumously published, called 69 Hotelzimmer. That is, ‘69 hotel rooms’ - but it has 96 stories, because he likes those films where someone smashes the door and the numbers go around… They are written from the whole world, from his hometown to the most faraway places we can imagine, somehow connected to hotel rooms. And these are written in the third person. And with the publisher, he agreed that when Michael came back, maybe he would choose some of the stories that would happen during Untitled. And then he had these agreements with two newspapers, German and Austrian, to do so-called travelling blogs, but in these blogs he did nothing but continue this kind of writing, which are not travelling blogs. This is the kind of literature which he started writing, and I extracted sentences from. So the 3rd person, ‘he’-form was always there.
Here, I found I only really needed a phrase or so for the article's purposes. It does a bit of an injustice to her answer, simplifies it a bit, but sometimes that's necessary. (I hope if there are problems, if I've oversimplified too much, they will get in touch). I didn't even transcribe the part where Willi explained that Glawogger had initially objected to the idea of using these texts, before his unplanned death, as narration for the film, or that she had laboured over finding appropriate literary substitutes for them, when she was tasked with completing the film. It was revealing, but just took us too far afield from the article, which had to maintain some semblance of flow. It's already pretty elaborate - plus I think the fact that Glawogger could NOT complete the film with new texts of his own, which is apparently what he wanted to do, makes her use of these previous texts fair game...

The one passage that I would have liked to have used that I didn't involved his 2006 film - pictured above - called Slumming. (She did not edit that film, note). Not on video in North America (though it has shown on Mubi), it's a pretty remarkable fictional feature film by Glawogger. His young main character in the film, as I recall, is a little bit of a prick, playing, for example, a rather evil prank on a drunk that involves, when he's blacked out, moving him from a bench in one town (or is it one country?) to another, so he'll wake up far, far away from where he passed out, heedless of what has happened to him. But on the other hand, this same character - whom we're invited to judge a few times in the film - is quite earnestly entranced with the customs and cultures he encounters in travelling, has a sort of wide-open curiosity about what he's seeing, which seems to relate to Glawogger's own filmmaking practice  ("there is a way that character looks at the world and finds joy and beauty in unexpected things that seems to connect with Michael's aesthetic," is how I phrased it on the phone with Willi. "But he's also a cruel character and not very likeable"). So was this character meant - I asked Willi - as a self-portrait, perhaps a self-criticism on the part of Glawogger?

"I really start to cry now - you're the first person to ask that question," she answered. "I remember the moment, which he rarely spoke about, about how hurtful it is if many people find your alter-ego unsympathetic? So yeah, you're completely right, this has a lot to do with him. It's just surprising how he did the cast, and everything. But it was self-criticism, a kind of reflection on himself. It has a lot to do with him. And there are two other feature films that would have gone further with that topic, that would have been financed after he got back, so..."

So there we go: I made Monika Willi laugh (at my dogs question), cry (at my Slumming question) and if it had been a video call she would have been speaking to my hairy bare chest (or wherever my webcam was angled - I hadn't had a chance to test it). I also got to ask the one good question I had filed and set aside for Michael Glawogger, should I ever get a chance to interview him, to someone who knew him well and could answer it. I really hope they like the finished article, and that it gets a few people out there to see Untitled...

Note that I elected not to use the Slumming quote in the Straight piece, either, because it again took us too far afield, would have required too much else to set up, but I wanted to put it out there into the world here. I guess I'm proud to have gotten my perception of the film right, though really it's not so hard to see if you watch the film and have seen a few of Glawogger's own documentaries.

If you haven't, Untitled is a fine place to start; chances to see his films on screen are few, and it screens only one time at the VIFF, this afternoon. I highly recommend it.