Friday, November 17, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The less you know about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, the more you will enjoy the film. Which poses a quandry for people who want to write about it and serve a readership (though it does spare me having to fully come to terms with the content).

Here are some spoiler-free obersevations, however.

First, let me declaim that Martin McDonagh is one of my favourite current filmmakers, and certainly my favourite working more or less in the field of black comedy. It is true that none of his three feature films quite equals, in  outlandishness, emotional impact or savage bite Todd Solondz' 1998 masterpiece Happiness - which surely (with apologies to Terry Zwigoff, Bobcat Goldthwait, the Coens, and such) is the greatest, most squirm-inducing, and funniest dark comedy of the last 20 years - but they have a bit more weight to them, are bit more socially engaged, more "responsible." Love Happiness as I do, it is impossible not to watch it - the tale of a pedophile and his extended family - in horror the first time through, embarrassed to laugh, unsure it is safe, challenged to find a comfortable moral perspective from which to view it, and even though I've come to love it and accept it and can laugh quite wholeheartedly along now, I'm not entirely sure that it isn't ultimately reducible to a misanthropic self-indulgence, and a guilty pleasure at best, brilliant and funny and, well, pleasurable as it is. And none of Solondz' subsequent films seem to ratify my love for that one, not even his ostensible sequel to it, Life During Wartime, which was the last of his films I attempted, having liked none of the others. (Are Dark Horse and Wiener-Dog worth seeing? Should I care? I don't, that's how much I liked everything post-Happiness). 

On the other hand, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards are an amazing run of wins, showing Martin McDonagh getting more confident and creative each time. Especially if taken in concert with Martin's brother John Michael McDonagh's movies, The Guard and Calvary - which share some similarities in tone and content - there are very interesting thematic recurrences, from rage at Catholic pedophilia (most thoroughly realized in Calvary but relevant to In Bruges and Three Billboards) to playing with politically unacceptable speech to (only in Martin's case so far) an interest in casting dwarves (note: Jordan Prentice, from In Bruges, is NOT Peter Dinklage, who appears in Three Billboards; there was a time that I mistook the men for each other, I am embarrassed to admit). Not sure what that last thing is about - a way of poking fun at taboos about political correctness while still sticking with white men, the safest butt of any joke these days, as their target? - but the fact that Martin McDonagh has worked with two different dwarves in two different films suggests that it is not the actor he is interested in but having a dwarf IN his movies... unless maybe he wrote Three Billboards with Jordan in mind, and then Jordan couldn't do it...

There's also perhaps a politically questionable element of finding redeeming qualities in men who do, say, or believe inexcusable things, in all of these films. Both In Bruges and Calvary have very specific things to say about the nature of forgiveness and redemption, which may connect to the McDonaghs having been raised Catholic (no idea if they were). But it remains that case that Colin Farrell in In Bruges, Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards, and/or Brendan Gleeson in (John Michael McDonagh's) The Guard, all do horrible/ unforgivable things at times, including assaulting Canadian strangers for being presumed Americans (In Bruges); killing a priest (In Bruges); working as hired killers (In Bruges); kidnapping dogs, lying wholesale, and irresponsibly suckering friends into a bloody and violent standoff (Seven Psychopaths); torturing people of colour (Three Billboards); and/or - in all of these films - indulging in epithets that are racist, sexist, or - what do you call prejudice against dwarves, anyways, heightism?* It's worth querying WHY we want to redeem such men: there's something of Clint Eastwood's very forgiving portrait of a cranky old racist in Gran Torino in these characters, especially in the case of Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards. McDonagh makes his characters work harder at their redemption, and - in Three Billboards - balances that tale of redemption against an apparent complete and utter lack of forgiveness for the perpetrator of a different crime. But I could see critics on the left finding fault here, am not entirely sure how I feel about the politics of these movies, ultimately.

But screwit: Three Billboards is really really fun. It's filled with surprises. It relates in interesting and timely ways to "call-out culture," though it predates that.  I liked Frances McDormand in it much, much more than I've enjoyed her in any of the Coens' films save for Blood Simple (I thought her characters in Fargo and Burn After Reading were far too much caricatures). She's great. Sam Rockwell is great. Woody Harrelson has started of late to be just too damn Woody Harrelson for me, but his performance is fine and he gets some of the most touching lines. Caleb Landry Jones remains a consitently interesting presence on screen, and gets some really fun lines too; and John Hawkes makes a great asshole ex-husband. I am actually not sure WHAT the political implications of the film are, from its attitude to direct action and vigilantism to the aforementioned redemption of ugly male characters, but it will certainly keep you attentive, and certainly will leave you with food for thought. It might not be a safe film for everyone - it's strange to me that in the age of the trigger warning, movies as provocative as this seem to be universally loved - but it's probably going to prove one of the most well-remembered and regarded movies of 2017. (One of the rare negative reviews of the film also targets McDonagh's choice of who to redeem and why, but it's got a fairly accurate description of the film, if you're looking for more; I've avoided revealing any plot details, however, so you might have a chance to go in fairly fresh, but I agree with this critic, I think, that the film's last act is its weakest; I didn't care, though).

Anyhow, I recommend it. 

*And yep, prejudice against dwarves is called "heightism."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

storc, BRASS, HEDKS SBC gig Nov. 18th

So I did that big Vicious Cycles piece and was kinda relieved: whew, one more article off my plate! Just gotta finish a couple other things that I've been working on - bev davies, Art Bergmann, Pere Ubu, Flesh Eaters, and maybe some older stuff I have long wanted to tidy up, and then I'm FREE, I can be FREE, I have no new bands I have to wr...

...oh, yeah, there's the Slow reunion, and Red Herring have a new album, and Coach StrobCam have a gig on Friday and then there's David M's Christmas show and..., no, no: I have bills to pay! I need work! I can't be distracting myself any further - I need to be EXTRACTING myself from the non-lucrative world of music journalism, where 90% of what I do gets no pay beside the odd guestlisting, usually for gigs I don't end up making it to ANYHOW... like the joke goes, I'm gonna die of exposure if I don't stop, I need a FULL TIME JOB, and soon, and one that doesn't end in the union going on strike (leading to layoff of all junior staff), or the company going bankrupt, or the contract ending and being rejigged or...

...And then I stop in Neptoon Records, and (Vicious Cycles drummer) Ben Frith wants to give me an album, for another band he's in.

No, NO Ben Frith, I... a vinyl album? For free? Um.

Well I can LISTEN to it. (What's the line in The Godfather III again?).

And damn it: I like it. storc - all lower case - is a noisy, slightly spazzy* (more-or-less) punk band (featuring local stalwart Luke Meat on vocals) that reminds me immediately of another great noisy, slightly spazzy local punk band, BRASS, whose debut album, No Soap Radio, I reviewed here. And it's not actually that off the mark as a comparison, since as soon as I mention BRASS to Ben in a Facebook message he writes,

"Hey Allan! We love BRASS! They're one of our favourite bands to play with, in fact, we held off on doing our release show until they were back in town from their tour." (And as you will see, the two bands are soon to play together at the SBC Cabaret...).

BRASS vocalist stage dives while James of Bison works the merch table, June 2016; photo by Allan MacInnis

The new storc album gets a fuller writeup, not by me, in Exclaim! There are things in it I had not noticed or thought about the album, myself, but "unhinged" is definitely a good word for their music. It's certainly the most sonically brute stuff that I'm aware of Joshua "Magneticring" Stevenson having a hand in - though I haven't followed everything he's done, and there may well be some subtleties in the music that I didn't fully appreciate, since what I noticed most on spinning it was the primal (if tuneful) ROAR the band makes... My main observation/ question for Ben is that the liner notes say the sessions for the LP were recorded in 2014. So what's with the delay in the release?

Ben responds: "We really took our time in between giving mix notes. We actually didn't have final mix until July 2015. We weren't in a hurry, and nobody knew we had it coming, so anytime we got a mix, we'd sit on it for a while before sending in notes. I think we only did a couple of minor revisions, but we wanted to know we were happy with it instead of rushing. I guess the delay between then and now would be that we all just got super busy. Matt went on a couple of longer vacations, I went on tour for a couple months, Luke went away as well. Just never got to all sit down and get the rest of it done (art, etc). The really ironic thing is, we are going into the studio to record our 2nd LP this weekend....being the weekend before we release the first one, haha!"

It actually sounds like a pretty good way to do things, though it does make me wonder why I haven't ever heard of storc before, if they've been around since 2011 (but I don't have my ear THAT close to the ground). Anyhow, it looks to be a great cheap gig to be at - I mean, $10 is gonna buy you more manic energy, sweat, and moshable music than you're gonna get in a year at Rogers Arena, no matter who is playing.

But speaking of arena shows - I actually fucked up in that Straight Vicious Cycles piece, it turns out. I knew that Ben had toured Europe with Black Sabbath; Rob had mentioned it to me, and then I saw Ben on the Main Street bus and heard about it from him direct over the time it took to get from Neptoon to the Skytrain Station. But I misremembered key details: he was NOT actually a Black Sabbath drum tech (he tells me he didn't mind the error, though, because it makes him sound cooler than he actually is!). While we're chatting, I ask him to clarify, and he explains that he "worked as the drum tech for Rival Sons for the three Canadian shows, and then they hired me as a bass and keyboard tech for the European tour (also opening for Sabbath). Which was extra funny, because I can't play bass or keyboards!"

Black Sabbath drum tech indeed. Oops.

Anyhow, I doubt very much that I will be at the SBC Cabaret on Saturday, for the Womankind/ HEDKS/ BRASS/ storc album release show, but I have seen two out of four bands on the bill, and spun vinyl of the headliner, and enjoyed them all a ton. HEDKS (rhymes with "Smashface") is the band of one of the Art Signfied people who I now know primarily by her Facebook monicker, Taser Fraser. BRASS have one of the more furious, fun, stage-divin'-centric live shows out there. And storc sound to be great - energetic, unruly, not without a sense of tunefulness or artistry but also noisy and hyper and - I would call them "shambolic," since "unhinged" is taken, except "shambolic" suggests something slow, and there's nothin' slow about storc, howevermuch of a (controlled) shambles may be found on the album.

So check it out.

*note: "spazzy" is meant as a term of praise

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time out, plus some photos from the East Van Opry last night

So if I have my way I'm going to do only a few more bits of writing before Christmas, barring offers of paying work or events or concert announcements I cannot ignore: something on Pere Ubu, if the band makes time for it, and part twos for my Art Bergmann and bev davies interviews (for Big Takeover and BC Musician, respectively; part ones of both either are or should be out soon).

There is also, of course, the Flesh Eaters in January. I won't be ignoring them, and neither should you! Epochal gig, their first Vancouver show, with members of X, the Blasters, and Los Lobos, and some of the most pulpily literate, B-movie-steeped lyrics ever written (by Chris D., Yakuza movie expert, filmmaker, actor, programmer, novelist, and one of the most unique vocalists in punk). As far as I know, Mo has not yet picked an opening act (or hasn't announced one). It should be someone super cooooool, who understands the honour they have of playing in front of this band for their first show in Canada... I am excited to see who it will be.

Of course, concertwise, we're all fretting about whether we're going to get to see Slow (or griping that the first show announced now ends up the second show, which is, in fact, a bad form thing to gripe about if you're talking to people who didn't get a ticket at all). But there's lots else of note coming up. My favourite local reunion act, Red Herring, has a gig at the Princeton coming up (Nov. 11th I think), and a new album in the can, to my understanding (!). And there's Coach StrobCam, and then David M is going to be doing something (I think at the Heritage Grill) next Monday (I think it is) to replace the gig that got cancelled. You can find all that on Facebook though. (David usually posts gigs in the NO FUN: the Beatles of Surrey group. Join it).

I am open to offers of paying work, for the record - the more steady and lucrative the better, of course. Scraping by has become a stone drag. Writer, ESL teacher, tutor, proofreader, whatever (but I don't drive, am scared of tools, and hate heights, so no roofing or cab drivin' for me). Feel free to get in touch (maybe leave me a comment on this post). Al needs work.

Meantime, he doesn't need the distraction of writing.

But as a partin' shot for now, I caught most of the East Van Opry last night, then realized after we'd ducked out (to run an errand at the SBC pertaining to the Vicious Cycles gig - I delivered a Stiff Little Fingers DVD for JJ) that we'd missed the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, assuming they played. The surprise was CR Avery, who was much, much more dynamic as a performer than I ever realized, doing "white James Brown" kinda interpretations of Dolly's "9 to 5," "Be My Baby," and - demanding people get up and dance - "Walkin' on Sunshine," interspersed with spoken word poetry (which was pretty good, too, though I hope the line about playing someone's "tulip [two-lip] harmonica" was intended to get laughs). There was lots else to like, though. My favourite song of the night was a guy who called himself "Johnny 99" - John Sponarski? - who I can find no trace of online, but who sang a very potent song called "Bad Habits." Dawn Pemberton gave the vocal performance of the night on a very moving rendition of "Oh Susanna" (yep). Squirrel Butter was the most authentically Appalachian act and made the best use of their feet. And through almost every act, Paul Rigby sat at his guitar, hearing acts he'd never heard before play songs he'd never heard before, and - concentration briefly flickering on his expressive, earnest face - would find a way to add steel guitar licks (pedal steel? lap steel? I actually don't really know the difference) to their music, almost always right on the money, smiling more often than he grimaced at his own playing (though he did that a couple of times, too! He obviously knew Geoff Berner's stuff the best, but he produced the album! And thanks, Paul, for getting Geoff to do "Phony Drawl;" I hadn't seen that one live yet). Rigby deserves some sort of award for his contributions to local music in recent years, also including his work on Art Bergmann's superb The Apostate).

So - some photos. All by me, use them if you can. Here's Annie Lou, putting the death back into country:

Eli West...

Host Kyle Bottom, joking about his (pretty great) facial hair:

Bassist from the Airstreams, with better facial hair still:

John Sponarski:

Dawn Pemberton...

Squirrel Butter (second photo with added Carolyn Mark cheering section!).

C.R. Avery (with some Kathleen Nisbet backup vocals):

C.R.'s accompaniment for the "Walkin' on Sunshine" finale:

"Professor Banjo" leading square dances:

Square Dance:

The Alimony Brothers (Erika didn't like the singer's pants but I do!).

People dancing to the Alimony Brothers:

Kim Beggs:

Paul Rigby cheering Geoff Berner:

Geoff Berner:

Carolyn Mark, Paul Rigby, Geoff Berner, and a guy in a hat:

What I thought was the finale:

Where I went next:

That's all I got, folks! Good luck getting into Slow, maybe see y'all at Red Herring or David M.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Slow, the Vicious Cycles MC, and the East Van Opry

Well, there's a cover story in the Georgia Straight I imagine everyone has seen. Slow is back! 

I gather the December gig has sold out already - that tickets to the Fox show went within a few hours of going online. I didn't have the space on my credit card to buy one, and they never made it to stores, so now I guess I wait to see if a second show gets added (or if there's another gig in the future). 

It's kind of hilarious, actually. Did Cleveland feel like this when Rocket From the Tombs reunited? Did Boston, with Mission of Burma? I'm betting not, in fact. Vancouverites sure didn't get this excited for the Subhumans or the Dishrags or the Furies, when they got back together (though the Pointed Sticks did okay, I guess). In fact, I'm betting the stature of Slow, the LEGEND of Slow, in Vancouver, is about as big as such things could be for a band, anywhere. For a reunion to be THIS exciting to people, in this jaded city, besides Slow, I think you'd have to bring someone back from the literal dead. 

Maybe the improbability is part of it.

I saw Slow once, at that Cramps gig at UBC. It was memorable indeed - and I'm pleased as punch Bev was there taking photos; it's the first gig she and I both were at together, as far as I know - but it was also a bit of a sprawling, noisy, unpredictable night, as I remember it, a band of super-charged young people (in bloody nurses costumes, as it happens) that threatened to explode in anarchy and confusion at any moment. It was NOT like listening to their music on my record player, as I recall it, or like watching that polished "Have Not Been the Same" video. Check their live version of Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog," for an example; besides being very, very fun, it captures my sense of what the band actually sounded like live - a (glorious, hot, but undeniable) MESS, kinda like listening to a Stooges bootleg or something. It will be interesting to see what Slow sounds like now that it's made up of polished, seasoned musicians (and presumably mature adults). Contemplating it is not easy (though I am told by Mack that he is not being hyperbolic at all in the article, that this is going to be ferocious indeed. And there's NEW MUSIC? Whoa). 

I would equally welcome a Copyright reunion, mind you - am more inclined to listen to their output than Against the Glass these days, especially that first, brilliant Geffen "Circle C" record. But Against the Glass and the 7" are both indelibly marked on me. "I Broke the Circle" is probably my top local punk 7", or at least up RIGHT there with the Subhumans' "Firing Squad," DOA's "World War III," and, of course, the Spores' "Narcs in My Pants." I will be bummed indeed if I don't get to see the band, but I'm also not panicking yet. 

(Not sure if I'm going to buy the Against the Glass repress, mind you, since I have the original, but... oh, who am I fooling, if I see this in the stores and have the money... I'm under the impression it might have sold out, too, but I'm sure there'll be more... hard to believe it's been over thirty years...).
Anyhow, the cover story on Slow blows anything else that's happening this week a bit out of the water, but I'm happy to be in this issue, as well: a short version of my piece on the Vicious Cycles MC is in print, complimented online by a much longer version (I am told Mack's Slow piece is longer online, too, note). They're a great band, with a 10th anniversary concert tonight. It's an article I really enjoyed writing, even if I asked a few stupid questions ("What does MC stand for?"). Check it out. 

And then there's something I did, for all you roots music fans, on the East Van Opry, tonight at the Rio.  Pretty excited by that, too; I've wanted Erika to see Geoff Berner for awhile now. And we had a lot of fun last year. I'll be taking in both shows, leaving the Opry around 10pm to make the SBC, I guess. Unless Geoff hasn't played yet...

It's been fun, writing these. I've enjoyed some of my articles, lately. (There's a bev davies piece I did in the new BC Musician, too, and an Art Bergmann article, but neither one is online yet). 

However, I also need to find work soon, so I may not be so active writing for a bit. I mean, it's only rock'n'roll, right? I feel the need to do something slightly more mature with my time for awhile... I'll be back in time to do something re: Pere Ubu (whose new album sounds more like Rocket From the Tombs, note, is some of the hardest, most guitar-driven stuff Ubu has done, so you might want to check it out). 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and Apt Pupil: some cliches

If 2016 was "the year people died," celebrity-wise, 2017 is shaping up to be "the year people were outed as sexual predators." I guess that's an improvement, but there's troubling stuff out there.

I haven't figured out what I want to say, as a fat man, about the fact that two of the prominent accused in the casting couch scandals that are breaking are fat men, Harvey Weinstein and James Toback. I'm kinda hoping some skinny, good looking straight men get busted too, soon. (I mean, sure, there's the Afflecks, but the stories I've read about them seem more of a "spoiled fratboy" nature than serial sexual predation, unless I'm forgetting something).

I'm going to leave that all aside, here, and focus instead on the whole pedophilia thing in Hollywood.

As others are noting, it is at the very least deeply unfortunate and poorly thought out - "distraction tactics" aside - for Kevin Spacey to use the accusation of coming on to a 14 year old as an opportunity to out himself. I guess I can see the logic of it - I mean, you read that he's tried to fuck a 14 year old boy and you go, "wait, Kevin Spacey likes boys?" So he may just be guilty of concision: yes, I might have tried to drunkenly seduce a 14 year old boy, and yes, by the way, I'm gay. 

But it has an unfortunate correlate: suddenly you've re-equated homosexuality with the desire to fuck kids, a destructive stereotype that gay men have been trying to get off their backs for a long time.

It's not an entirely UNFOUNDED stereotype, mind you. There are writers out there - lesbian-to-transman queer activist Pat Califa, for instance - who have written about the appeal of the underage, and the problems with the taboos around pedophila (some of Califa's writings are excerpted here, albeit in a contentious context). Unlike the NAMBLA people - who had friends even in people like respected queer icon Allen Ginsberg, but never mind that - Califa is more associated with the queer community in general than with pedophilia proper. The same way there are a lot of straight men - Roman Polanski, alas, also recently outed as a repeat offender, which I'd never known - who want to fuck female teenagers, there are apparently lots of gay men who feel the same way about male teenagers.

And lest I seem to be demonizing that, let me add that I think I actually can understand that a little. If you've had troubling life experiences around early queer experiences - say, when you're first trying to find your way, are vulnerable and confused and unsure of yourself, and are either approached as a teen by older men, or make approaches to your own peers, which may or may not end positively, and these experiences leave some degree of psychic residue, whether positive or negative, they might leave part of you sort of stuck developmentally, on people FROM that age in your life.

Is that a cliche? Am I presenting a cliche'd stereotype as an insight? Maybe, but I should add - I'm not just theorizing from the outside here. I had a couple early queerish experiences in my preteens myself, when girls were kind of terrifying but my male friends safe; I've written before, during my time writing the odd article for Xtra West, about one experience, where a male friend a few years older than myself and I literally got into my closet - yes, my closet - and looked at and touched each other. It wasn't really sexual, for me - I didn't even have an erection, though as I remember it, he did, and wanted things to go further, wanted me to put his penis into my mouth, which I didn't do. But it troubled me, and led to an episode where we actually fought quite violently in my bedroom, the next time I saw him, as an outpouring of whatever turmoil was going on inside us; that fighting, of course, was probably the consummation of a different kind of tension, that I didn't really understand at all at the time, and maybe is its own sort of cliche, but what can I say, that's how it happened.

Anyhow, there's more to that story, but suffice to say, occasionally when I see young men who remind me of this particular guy, I feel a flicker of something. It is something I don't ACT on - I identify as a straight male, and have no interest in any sort of teenagers, male or female - but observing it in myself makes me wonder if men who want to fuck teenage boys had life experiences that stuck with them in the same way that one did for me; if part of them wants to go back and revisit those experiences, redo them, relive them, rewrite them...?

Regardless, there are certainly people who are both gay and who like it young. To say homosexuality equals pedophilia is deeply wrong, but so is saying that the two have no areas of overlap - see the shower sequences in Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park for another example of a respected queer activist who obviously has attraction to young teens. Using pedophilia as an excuse to justify the oppression of gays is, obviously, wrong; there also gay men who have no interest in teenagers, or who would never act on attractions they may sometimes feel. But like I say - there are overlaps, and denying that is naive or maybe, while politically admirable, slightly disingenuous.

And as for the other aspect of that cliche - young men who have been victimized by adult sexual predators, note that I've also had the experience of having had older men come onto me when I was a kid, too. I remember a guy suggesting we go to drinks at a Maple Ridge bus stop when I was about 13. Another approached me at a Quebec raceway, age 14, where I was waiting for my father to finish placing bets. I guess he misunderstood my standing around alone for something else, like that I was available for a pick up; he seemed most disappointed, and tried several times to get me to go for drinks with him. I was 14, a virgin, and didn't even drink. No, really - I'm not interested. My father is just over there. You should go away. 

He did.

But again, this doesn't seem all that surprising.   Teenagers, male or female, have a physical beauty to them that older people lack. I certainly was a lot prettier to look at at 14 than at 49! Go do a survey of porn sites, straight or gay; I don't really look at the latter (nor the former, all that often), but I would hasten to guess that there's a huge amount of teen porn for gay male consumption out there. Some of that might come with a disclaimer that "all our models are 18 years of age," but some of it might not. (There's also a ton of porn out there of the "casting couch" variety, incidentally, another very popular trope of porn that has, in its real life counterpart, been drawing outrage, but I don't want to digress too far).

Anyhow, given how ubiquitous that sort of thing doubtlessly is, it seems a bit silly to say that the sort of behaviour Spacey is accused of is THAT exceptional. It may be destructive, it may be dangerous, there may be good reasons for having taboos in place against it, and it may even be a cliche, but it's not like it isn't OUT there. It's just not that unusual - so much so that you get the feeling Spacey may never have even CONSIDERED that he was saying something that others would perceive as damaging.

This brings us to An Open Secret - the unedited version on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems to be THE much-watch documentary of the moment, distributed for free by the filmmakers so people CAN see it. It's very well-made, if leaning a little to the emotively sentimental (the tone is one of tragedy, not outrage, where the latter at times seems like it might be more appropriate). In it, you'll hear from various people who were sexually seduced and/ or assaulted by Hollywood pedophile power-players. Some of them seem remarkably unscarred by the experience: they've processed having been fucked as a teen by an adult male and gotten on with their lives, however much anger they might feel. On the other hand, some of the victims, like a young man who drank and drugged himself into a debilitating stroke, when he finally tried to cold turkey, after having survived long exposure to Hollywood pedos - ended up trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, apparently caused by how troubling their experiences were to them. (I've personally known people like that, too, who were sexually abused as kids and ended up as alcoholic adults, who directly correlated the two aspects of their lives; it might also be a cliche, but it doesn't mean there isn't truth to it).

Where it all really gets interesting, especially in the uncensored version of that film, is in the repeated outing of Bryan Singer. He was - until a key lawsuit against him was dropped - named more than once in the original cut of that film, as someone who had known pedophile associates, who frequently attended DEN pool parties where, for a brief time in the 1990's, it was ALMOST normalized - normal for Hollywood, anyhow - to have wealthy, powerful, adult gay men being attended by naked 14 year old boys, who were sometimes then drugged and raped. Though there is no word on Kevin Spacey attending such pool parties, Singer, of course, directed one of Kevin Spacey's breakthrough films, The Usual Suspects, a film which might bear some subtextual analysis in light of recent developments. After all, it has a tale told from the point of view of a monster hiding in plain sight.

And actually, that's a theme behind Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil, too - a very disturbing film to watch in the current climate, with its controversial shower scene (teen male extras complained about being asked to shower (nearly) naked for long periods). The film deals with a secret, special, and very close relationship between a young teenage boy and an adult male with a secret. It's based on a Stephen King story, and of course, there are weird pedo things in a few of King's stories, too, from a dominant subtext in Salem's Lot to the child abuse in It. The relationship in Apt Pupil actually ISN'T overtly sexual - the older man (Ian McKellan, whose being gay no doubt was just coincidental to the casting) is a Nazi fugitive and the young man, the dominant figure, is more interested in history than sex. But there are suggestions that the young man is gay, and there are all sorts of weird moments in the film, from the shower scene (where the showers change into gas chambers and the naked boys into old Jewish men) to conversations about keeping secrets, that have very striking, disturbing resonances with the stories that are circulating about Singer.

Having revisted the film last night, I looked up Brad Renfro, who I hadn't heard about for years; did he ever accuse Bryan Singer of impropriety?

Nope: he developed drug and alcohol problems which led to his death of an overdose at age 25. His story, in fact, seems very similar to that of the stroke victim in An Open Secret.


It's a shame; Renfro is a good actor, actually, and holds his own against Ian McKellan in the film. One wonders, if he'd lived to appear in An Open Secret, if he'd have his own stories to tell about Bryan Singer?

One wonders what Sir Ian McKellan saw/ remembers?

In any event, it's a reasonably interesting film to watch, if you've a mind for a horror movie tonight. Personally, I am glad never to have really been a fan of Mr. Singer's cinema. I do like Apt Pupil, a bit, but I'm not so attached to it that I'm not prepared to throw it under the bus.

That's a bit harder with people like Roman Polanski, or James Toback (or Klaus Kinski or... well, I was never a big Woody Allen fan)...

It's going to be a tumultuous year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Upcoming cinema excitements: The Great Silence, Lost Highway, Kenneth Anger, DOA: A Rite of Passage, and more!

One of the most esteemed of the non-Leone spaghetti westerns, Sergio "Django" Corbucci's The Great Silence (also known, at least to Alex Cox, as The Big Silence) is coming to the screen at the Cinematheque. It's an unusual western, in that it is set in the snow; it's also politically charged, as the best of the 1970's Italian westerns tend to be, and cynical and downbeat as all hell, with Corbucci's typically-tortured, mute protagonist (Jean-Louis Trintignant) facing off against a murderous Klaus Kinski and accompanying thugs. Kinski, of course, is vastly problematic, even to a fan of James Toback or Roman Polanski; he seems to have been a morally repugnant human being, who, besides boastfulness verging on the delusional, a propensity towards rage, and general priapism, appears to have raped two of his young daughters (and bragged about it!). I don't know really how to deal with these matters, don't entirely feel like "separating the artist from his work" is an answer, but I'll see this film again regardless; it is great enough a work that I can breathe past the vile odors that come off its star (somewhat mitigated, in fact, in that at least it's not Kinski's voice you hear; versions I've seen, at least, were dubbed by another actor, before Kinski was a name star).

The Great Silence is paired with a Latin-American western I have not seen, called Time to Die, which sounds interesting enough; I had no idea that there WERE Mexican-made westerns, and both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes were involved, so it's no doubt interesting.... I will leave it to the Cinematheque guide to sell it, however.

Sooner than all that, of course, is the Cinematheque's Damn Scary! Hallowe'en party, which has some inspired films playing, including Carnival of Souls, David Lynch's Lost Highway, and one of Ingmar Bergman's most noirish, expressionism-influenced films, Hour of the Wolf, with Max von Sydow as an artist persecuted by the materialization of demons in his head, whose madness threatens to draw in his wife, as well (played by the great Liv Ullmann). It's an unusual Bergman, and a perfect bending of the arthouse canon to suit a sophisticated Hallowe'eny crowd. If you've never seen Max von Sydow acting in a Swedish film, this is by far not the worst place to start.

Fans of Lost Highway, meantime, might find some of the backstory of the collaboration between the film's two authors, David Lynch and Barry Gifford, illuminating. My conclusions, I should note, are ALL SPECULATIVE on my part, but are based on facts and a definable timeline, and I would guess I've filled in the blanks correctly (input is welcome if I've made a mistake!). Barry Gifford had a gig writing short prose pieces about classic films noir for a magazine or newspaper or such, which ended up anthologized in a great little book from 1988 called The Devil Thumbs a Ride. Gifford is also a poet, novelist and Kerouac biographer - a writer's writer, in short - so his descriptions of the films are very entertaining as prose pieces, often cutting to the essence of the films he describes. One of the few reviews of a contemporary film included in the book is for Blue Velvet, which Gifford calls - I'm quoting imperfectly from memory - a "kind of academic pornography," "phlegm noir," and I think even says it is "one step up from a snuff film," or such, accusing Lynch of reveling in ugliness (which Gifford himself thinks he's pretty talented with, he notes, so it's no small thing for him to say). It is one of the most negative, dismissive reviews of a David Lynch film ever; there  must have been other contrarian reactions to the film, but Gifford's is a full body-slam takedown. To my knowledge, the two men had never interacted before that, and Gifford wasn't exactly mainstream reading, so it is very likely that Lynch's first awareness of Barry Gifford was that condemnatory review.

Gifford's Wild at Heart was published soon thereafter, in 1990, and guess who picked up the rights for the film adaptation? (I vastly prefer the book to the movie, on that one, by the by, though the ending is a bit odd in the book; Lynch repairs a gesture on Gifford's part that I've never much understood, having Sailor walk away from Lula for good, apparently). Lynch and Gifford continued to work together on the TV series Hotel Room, which I haven't seen, but their collaboration reached its peak, for most people, in 1997, with Lost Highway, which the two men co-authoredI have always figured the Robert Loggia and Robert Blake characters are the on-screen analogs for Lynch (the pornographer, get it) and Gifford (represented by the whatever-the-hell demonic force Robert Blake represents - a competing author, possessed of a camera and agenda of his own...). I'm pretty sure understanding that the film's two authors are feuding within the text opens windows of insight both into their collaboration and the story itself (which, let's face it, gets a bit strange). I think I might write Barry Gifford via his Facebook page to see if he cares to confirm my theory... Theirs is one of the more unlikely collaborations in cinema, that I'm aware of, anyhow, assuming it all began with that Blue Velvet piece.

There is other cool stuff upcoming at the Cinematheque, including a double bill of Bruce "Hard Core Logo" McDonald's early Roadkill, the first teaming of Highway 61's Valerie Buhagiar and Don McKellar (as a wannabe serial killer), and the restoration of George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead (which, rumour has it, has a Criterion release in the works). There will also be a free screening of Canadian cinematographer Peter Mettler's Picture of Light, combined with a short David Rimmer animation... Other free Canadian film screenings are listed here, ongoing all year...

Meantime, at the Vancity Theatre, there's the Hallowe'en Boos Cruise, featuring, among other things, a screening of Suspiria (a film I have never done justice, but I have never been able to engage fully with Dario Argento's cinema, to be honest; I haven't seen the right films, or haven't seen them in the right frame of mind, perhaps. He is certainly much admired, but I have never had the "aha" moment). There are also screenings of The Nutty Professor (haven't seen it, either!), and an inspired-sounding horror movie clip collection with Michael van den Bos (it's family friendly but I am told that there are indeed some scary moments, though the person who told me this was particularly terrified by a clip from the PG-rated Poltergeist, so take that with a grain of salt). There will also be a screening on Hallowe'en night itself of everyone's favourite gay occultist experimental filmmaker Kenneth "Hollywood Babylon" Anger's magnificent, puzzling, and provocative Lucifer Rising, with a score from Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil; the film is screening with some other short works by Anger, including Invocation of my Demon Brother, which involves a very decadent-looking, Performance-era Mick Jagger (though his soundtrack work is bloopy electronic noise; don't expect any Stonesiness from it).

I still wish Tom, or someone, would play The Devil's Rain one o' these Hallowe'ens - I want to see Ernest Borgnine melt on the big screen! - but I guess he's waiting for a decent digital hi-res version of it... I certainly am... [THIS JUST IN, thanks to Tom Charity for calling my attention to it!].

As cool as all that is, the big event at the Vancity, upcoming, for those humans out there who might be coming to this blog for movie suggestions, is DOA: A Rite of Passage, which documents the famous "ever feel like you've been cheated" American tour of the Sex Pistols, in all its chaotic, filthy fury. It also features footage of Sham 69, the X-Ray Spex, and... the Dead Boys? Funny, I don't remember seeing the Dead Boys at all when I saw this, but then, the last time I watched this film, I was a teenager, and it was on VHS tape, and I think the only Dead Boys song I knew (thanks to Co-Op radio, I believe) was "3rd Generation Nation." So I might just not noticed. DOA: A Rite of Passage screens November 6th. There is no involvement of Vancouver punk band DOA, note (which I think is what I was hoping for when I rented it as a teen).

There's plenty else happening around town for the Hallowe'en season, of course. I heard on Facebook, actually, there would be a Dicks cover band playing somewhere but I've missed the concrete details on that; Gary Floyd of the Dicks saw the Sex Pistols in San Francisco on the aforementioned tour, note. Also, I see that the Rio is going to be doing late night screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and will be bringing back the Maple Ridge-shot Dead Shack, with the filmmakers in attendance; it's a film I've had recommended to me by someone I trust. But I've kind of come to the end of my energies, here. I may not be writing quite as much for a bit - other projects, like getting a job, beckon. Still, happy Hallowe'en, folks! (I'm kind of jealous of anyone who will be at the Rickshaw tomorrow to catch BB Allin opening for the Genitorturers but I have stuff I gotta do...).