Monday, September 29, 2014

Fantastic film noir: Edge of Doom

So here we are four days into the film festival, and I haven't been able to see a single VIFF film that wasn't a Vimeo screener. Been either working on a piece of writing I promised, or else keeping Mom company, or prepping for class, or commuting, or working, or running errands of one sort or another. Haven't even hung out with my girl in a few days - feels like a very long time, actually. It's been an exhausting month, and I have very little I can make time to say here. I barely slept last night and am soon to collapse into bed.
The one thing I have been able to do, though, is watch a few films noir with Mom. We've caught some great ones, like Women's Prison, with an evil Ida Lupino as a warden who won't admit her errors, even when they start costing lives; and Preminger's Angel Face, with its wicked sucker punch of an ending, razor-sharp dialogue, and super-cool Robert Mitchum performance. But the one that moves me to write, the one I have to urge people out there to see, is Edge of Doom. Bar none, it's the best noir I've encountered since I first saw Gun Crazy - it's that good. Mark Robson, who made a bunch of great Val Lewton horror films, directs; Farley Granger and Dana Andrews star. It's one of the bleakest noirs you can imagine. Granger is a good boy, somewhat embittered at the church that they wouldn't give his father a consecrated burial after he committed suicide. His own principles run in a different direction, and he's nursing a grudge. He's looking after his sick mother, and expects that the world will care: that the boss who he's delivered flowers for will give him a raise after four years, for instance, so he can move his mother to Arizona, where her health might improve. But his boss, while protesting that he's a friend, thinks only of business; from him, Granger gets only hot air, and when he later presses his case, gets fired. When he tries to talk to his landlady about his mother's health, there's a brilliant moment where the noise in his apartment - his cynical neighbour placing bets on sports over the hallway phone, or children fighting over their toys in the other cheap flats - rings with the grating insensitivity that the banal chatter of every day life has to the ears of the troubled; Robson isn't overt about this, but thems that have been there will recognize the moment. When his mother finally dies, Granger feels guilty - he's failed her - so he wants to at least give her a nice funeral, except he's broke. He wanders an indifferent, got-troubles-of-my-own city, pleading his case to various parties. No help comes. And no one he talks to is more hardened and insensitive than the very priest who had previously denied his father a consecrated burial.
And so he breaks, and in a moment of rage, our young protagonist bludgeons the priest to death with a crucifix.

I can't tell you more than that, really. If you don't need to see a movie shot in 1950 where the protagonist bludgeons a priest to death with a crucifix, and retains our sympathies, you probably aren't the sort of film viewer I'm writing for anyhow. And by the way, my reveal here is not really a spoiler, since you'll see it coming; there's a framing device where the film is being told as a story with a moral from one priest to another, so we know that Granger is going to kill someone, and the moment his hands brush the cross on the priest's desk, while they're arguing, you'll go "aha." But there's a lot more going on than that, including an ending that supposedly (overtly) restores moral order to the film's deeply troubled universe, while covertly smirking at how pat and unconvincing it is, and acknowledging that the real message of the film is considerably more sour than what's been put up for show. (Kind of what I always thought the last line of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly was doing - "Papa spoke to me!" - but in this case there really does seem to be a cynical smirk behind the image. Yeah sure, there is something in Granger's character that speaks to the good in the world: but what about the other sonsabitches around him?

Edge of Doom is definitely a must-see.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Heads up Sonics fans! No Nardwuar!

...speaking of gigs, the Evaporators are apparently bowing out of opening for the Sonics because Nardwuar has injured his back! Bummer, man! Thee Manipulators are apparently going to fill the void... It's all academic to me, since I can't go anyhow, but I hope Nardwuar gets well soon...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Poison Idea versus The Liquor Kings: The Liquor Kings win!

Fuck it, I'm going to a gig this Friday! And guess what: it's not going to be Poison Idea.

Prepare to hate me, bacause I have a confession: try as I may, I never really got that excited about Poison Idea, to be honest. Feel the Darkness has some cool songs, but I've actually never been more entertained by them than I am by their covers CD, Pajama Party. I'd rather hear them do "We Got the Beat" than an original! They have a cool sound, are undisputedly the real deal, punkwise, and I feel a sort of fat-guy solidarity with them, but their songwriting actually has never really blown me away - it's not hooky enough, not anthemic enough, not fun enough, which is why I guess I'd rather hear them do covers. And there's something just a little debauched and unwholesome about the band, y'know? It ain't like they keep it a secret - there's sort of an aura of vice, self-destruction, and menace around them, and while that sort of thing doesn't scare me, exactly, I'm trying to discourage that side of my personality these days...I probably would go if Pig Champion was still around, you know? And I *would* kind of dig one of their t-shirts:
...but in fact I'm actually more tempted by that gig because Piggy is on the roster, and I have neglected Piggy - with Ron Reyes, of that recent ill-fated Black Flag venture, on lead guitar - for a long time -

- except The Furies are opening for The Liquor Kings at the Fairview that same night, and I've been neglecting the Furies for even longer, especially considering they're one of my favourite Vancouver live acts. I like the Liquor Kings, too, with Eddie Dutchman's quasi-Keithley snarls, catchy guitar-driven anthems of debauchery and vice, and a sort of rockabilly-meets-punk-in-the-garage vibe (I will try to find a better way to phrase that when I review the new album). Undisputedly also the real deal, but it's a different deal, a little more middle-aged-Dad-rockers than debauched-and-dangerous, if you know what I mean. I mean, I don't even drink that much - god knows what substances Poison Idea abuse! At the Liquor Kings album release, I'm just more likely to a) have fun; b) not get beaten up; and c) not alienate the girlfriend (because never mind that she doesn't enjoy the heavier stuff, I frankly would be terrified to bring my gal to see Poison Idea at Funky's; I'd be traumatizing her, putting her in harm's way, and would have to spend the whole gig making sure she was okay...). Call me a milquetoast, I guess, but...
Actually Ed Hurrell of the Liquor Kings was telling me that he was actually at that June 1977 Japanese Hall gig where the Furies and "Dee Dee and the Dishrags" ushered in the first wave of Vancouver punk. "I remember you could bring your own beer into the hall, you wouldn't get that nowadays. And it was so early in the game that the 'punk rock look' had not been established yet. Mostly people were wearing thrift store/ Salvation Army clothes. You saw the odd studded leather jacket, but..."
Hope the more hardcore of you enjoy the Poison Idea gig. No doubt I'll be looking back someday in awe and disbelief that I missed it (which I occasionally still do about my decision not to go see the Exploited at the Cobalt)...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Red Herring versus My Many Other Commitments

So it totally excites me that ("Vancouver's best underrated '80's art-punk band," though Elizabeth Fischer may have other ideas) Red Herring has gotten their old (but classic!) EP remastered for CD. Of course, CDs are very nearly extinct these days, but digitized versions of music most definitely are not, and for some years, I've been earnestly trying to find digitized Red Herring songs to put on mix CDs of my own (or listen to on my phone: yes, I too now listen to music on my phone). Other than the option of ripping audio from Youtube - something that is kinda not my cup of tea - only one Red Herring song has ever turned up anywhere that I've looked: "If You Work For Me," which someone apparently transferred from the Undergrowth tape. Now all my favourites - "Taste Tests," "The Crab Song," and the recent addition "Love Machine," which I had to see the band play live to realize how much it kicked ass - are going to be there for phone listening and so forth, for the cost of a mere CD (I still don't use iTunes or such - I find it very weird to pay for disembodied songs - but I still do buy the odd CD, and will definitely get this one ASAP). Exciting stuff!

However, my dear Red Herring, what with my commute to work in the city, my suburban dislocation, the need to look out for my mother, and my general state of disorder and disarray my life finds itself in, it seems very unlikely that I will be at this show. I am currently in Maple Ridge, and well behind on my writing, and I promised the Dishrags and a certain US punk magazine that I would get an interview I did with Jade Blade transcribed this weekend. And maybe get started on a big Dave Dictor thing I did quite some time ago, which another magazine is waiting for for next week, which I really have to get done. I already have done a Red Herring interview, but... much as I would like to buy your CD (and see you guys live again, this time at the Railway Club, where I have never seen you), the whole "commute from Maple Ridge" thing makes tonight's show totally inimical to my getting any work done at all. So I do think I'm going to have to pass. Again. The writing (and the need to have one weekend where I don't commute anywhere) trumps all. I mean, I've got a media pass to the VIFF, too, but do you know how many movies I'm going to see this weekend? NOT ONE, guys, not one. The first ones I'm even going to TRY to see are on Monday - The Fool and maybe Maps to the Stars, if there are tickets. Not even free movies can get me out of the burbs this weekend.

So. Have a good show, but sorry - this is yet another Red Herring gig that I will miss. I haven't even mentioned the marking I'm behind on, the prep I have to do for class this week, and...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cool thrash metal record collection at a thrift store!

Note: most of these are now gone. 

Attention thrift store shoppers and vinyl fiends... the Ridge Meadows Hospice Thrift Store (on 224th at Dewdney in downtown Maple Ridge) has just acquired a collection of really cool metal vinyl , now awaiting pricing in their backroom. As an occasional volunteer there, I recommended an average price of $15 each for these, since they want them to move, though one or two - like Wermacht's Shark Attack - I suggested going higher on. (Note: they had already set them aside to look up prices so it's not like you'd be getting them for a dollar if it wasn't for me). All seemed to be first (Canadian) pressings, and kept in decent shape in plastic record bags; the only caveat is that a couple appeared to be markedly warped due to poor storage. (But most were great!). I took home the one SNFU album in the lot, and a Dayglo Abortions record (Guano) with no record in it, and left the rest for more metal-hungry peers. These included three albums by Destruction, three by Venom, two each by Voivod, Razor, Celtic Frost, and DRI, and isolated titles from Death, Post Mortem, Exodus, Hellhammer, Whiplash, Bathory, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, and many, many others, all from the 1980's. Quickly and clumsily photographed below... hurry down, this is a rare find!




The Two Faces of January: a new Patricia Highsmith film at the VIFF!

Damn I love Patricia Highsmith (seen above in a rare nude photo). Gotta love a cranky old misanthropic weirdo writing stories about snails killing people (she has two completed ones on that theme, and a third unfinished one about a planet that has been taken over by snails). I love that she was a lesbian who apparently hated women (cf. Little Tales of Misogyny) and who tends to write novels involving sexually ambivalent male characters who commit murder and get away with it. I love her for being an alcoholic with Aspergers, for her occasional anti-Semitic rants, for her charismatic poses for photos, and for her novels, which are often brilliantly observed (my favourites are the first Ripley, The Cry of the Owl, and Deep Water; the only one I don't recommend is The Tremor of Forgery, which feels like she's trying to be Graham Greene or something, which might explain why he praised it so). And I've yet to see a really bad film made from one of her novels, and there's quite a few great ones: Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Purple Noon (both from the same novel), Ripley's Game, The American Friend, The Cry of the Owl (two versions - I'm partial to the English language one). All are great; and while I'm particularly excited to see what Todd Haynes is doing with her pseudonymously-published lesbian novel, The Price of Salt (AKA Carol), I'm also keen on the newest film adaptation of a novel of hers, The Two Faces of January. It's upcoming at the VIFF, and will then promptly open at the Vancity Theatre. Haven't seen it yet, but I'm excited.
Now someone just has to make a film out of "The Quest for Blank Claveringi" (my story about that story is here, but here's someone else's. My thanks to Bill Chance, I presume, for tracking down the illustration below).

Black Fly and Sitting on the Edge of Marlene: BC Film in the VIFF

My first VIFF feature of the year is for the Straight, not my blog! I thought Black Fly a solid drama - a little brutal at times, but quite gripping. In a section that didn't get used, comparisons to Winter's Bone were discussed, though the director, Jason Bourque, thought A History of Violence and Straw Dogs more apt. It was somewhat odd to interview one of the stars of the film, Dakota Daulby (above left), in the same town where it was shot. Thankfully he seems a bright, cheerful guy, not the walking wounded survivor you see in the film...
Actually, there was an amusingly jarring moment in Sitting on the Edge of Marlene, which Daulby also co-stars in. The film is about a young woman's relationship to her impossible, but charismatic mother - a substance abuser, con woman, and not-so-ethical slut who burns too bright for anyone's good. As I say in the article, it has a very Sirkian quality to the costumes and set designs; I was a bit hard pressed to figure out what era it was set in - it seemed to be set more in the land of cinema than any one decade, as different scenes evoke the 50's, 60's, 70's, and the present day - but there are a few shots in the film where I felt very happy with the location scout. They used a small pedestrian tunnel that connects the bottom of 224th to the Fraser River area and the train tracks not once but twice; I always thought it had a very cinematic quality, have long had attachment to that tunnel, and was pleased to see it used in a film. Imagine my surprise, though, when in one shot, you see the apartment building where I live in the background! It wouldn't have been so startling, except that I was in that selfsame apartment, watching the movie on my computer, and there was a brief who's-watching-who moment... was I inside when that scene was shot?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Busy!

Sorry folks, I'm very busy this month. The VIFF is, of course, upcoming and I do plan to write about what films I manage to see, but I also have bigger fish to fry (including VIFF-related articles in places more people look at than this blog). I will be back ASAP.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Odd dreams

I woke up with memory of several moments in dreams last night.

One involved picking up a snake; I believed it was a harmless little garter snake, so I allowed it to bite me. (I might have been showing it to my girlfriend, who does not generally care for such creatures). It did bite me, but in a way no snake has ever bit me before, unhinging its jaw and attaching itself open-mouthed to the palm of my hand, where it proceeded to suck my blood. It was just a tiny snake, but I could feel it sucking hard, and I began to feel worried...

In another dream, I was in Japan. Or maybe the USA. Or maybe both. My mother was with me but I left her to gamble, to I could look for books to sell. Adrian Mack was coming to town, and I went up an alley hoping to find, perhaps, some strange Japanese item as a souvenir for him. One store at the end of a lane had groceries, and I was about to leave when I noticed a toy section. On one wall they had an odd cross between a triceratops and a bird that I thought might be interesting. I asked the shop girl if she spoke English, and then in a cross between English and Japanese asked if she could show me what the thing did when it was turned on. (I couldn't remember the Japanese for "batteries," which is interesting, because often when I'm dreaming of Japan I speak better Japanese than I could in my waking life; but awake, now - even tired as I am - I seem to recall that "batteries" is "denki" or "denshii" or something like that). After waiting on another customer, she obliged me, put in the batteries, and turned it on, and it began to sort of writhe up and down, and I determined that it wasn't a very interesting motion. I apologized - if that's all it did, I wasn't interested.

I walked back to a place where my mother was, in another part of town. She told me, happily, that she had won $10,000 gambling! I had my doubts that she had her figure right - it was probably only $1000. She was standing in a town square with other people, looking at some sort of billboard or electronic display where there were figures. I said that  there was a bookstore I wanted to go look at, to see if I could find a particular item. It was, in fact, a restaurant. Someone had reported seeing a rare Edward Abbey book there - I forget what it was supposed to be, but it was worth a lot of money. I left Mom in the car, because apparently we had a car, and went through the restaurant, looking for this book; there were a few books in corners, stacked up, but none were valuable. Then I saw outside that there was a bin of books they were selling. I dug in, and dreamed of several books, including one less-rare Abbey title in the box (it occurs to me just now that "Abbey" is the name of the person who replied to my Criterion post on their website). I even saw some UFO pamphlets and thought, hey, these would be a good gift for Mack. I had quite a stack of books when I realized that I had left Mom waiting a long time.

Then suddenly the bin of books was a car, I was in the back seat, and Mom was waiting outside. I let her in. She said, in broken, aphasiac speech that she had worried where I'd been; and then she let two Japanese women into the front seat of the car, and they brought with them two cats and a dog. Both cats began to jump all over me. They were similar, note, to my girlfriend's cat, which has suffered a tail injury recently, but they were unharmed, and because they were two of them and they were quite excited, I began worrying that they would spray on me. I opened the car door to let them out, but they jumped back in again.

Somewhere in there, I woke up.

Re: Criterion's Love Streams - more on the amazing disappearing breasts...

Well, Criterion has replied to my query about the missing material from Love Streams (see the comments section of that article). I fully trust that Abbey, the poster, is sincere in the belief that the Criterion release represents Cassavetes' own wishes, and accept that Michael Ventura may well have heard Cassavetes' say that he was uncomfortable with the nudity. That would be, perhaps, all the justification necessary for changing the film, though it doesn't necessarily explain who changed it. In any event, I am very happy that Abbey acknowledges that the change has been made, and prepared to accept that it was made in accord with Cassavetes' stated desires.

However: it's not five frames that are missing, as Abbey asserts - which would be about a fifth of a second, which is faster than even my sharp eye can catch - but just under three seconds. Previous vagaries on my part ("a few seconds") can be dismissed. For the purposes of an accurate count, I went through the minor nuisance of converting my computer to Region 2 and timing the French DVD - albeit on a sped-up PAL DVD, so it might be more like 3.2 seconds or something on NTSC. Abbey is minimizing the (admittedly already minimal) change.

And it's not the case, as Abbey says, that only the Cannon VHS has the full nude scene; so does the 2003 French DVD, and so did a version I saw twice in the 1980's at the Cinematheque. An Amazon commenter says he saw the full scene in the 1990's, as well. Three versions of the film I encountered, and one someone else saw, had the scene, prior to the 2006 restoration. Cassavetes died in 1989, so if this is indeed his preferred cut, why did it take so long to surface? Abbey does not say that the change was made posthumously, by someone else, but surely that's what all the evidence points to. I find myself unsatisfied with the response, though obviously soon I have to let matters go.

...but just to be clear, when I mention an "agenda" to sanitize Cassavetes' works, it is not Criterion I am casting doubt upon. I'm just seeing the changes to Love Streams in light of the fact that someone somewhere cut about ten or so minutes from the VHS release of Husbands (Ray Carney accuses Gena Rowlands on that count). And according to Carney, a post-sex scene is missing from DVD releases of Minnie and Moskowitz, as well (I've been unable to confirm this but I do believe him). There does seem to be a pattern here; and the common element is not Criterion, but on the one hand, Cassavetes' estate, and on the other, Sony (involved, to my knowledge, in the distribution of all these films at some point).

Anyhow...

Monday, September 01, 2014

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

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wallace Shawn heads up! A Master Builder at the Cinematheque

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Arrghh...

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

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Prison dream

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I like Night Moves

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

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

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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nothin' for now

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

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