Saturday, March 31, 2007
Gary "Waydowntown" Burns' Radiant City opens April 6th at the Vancity Theatre. Essential viewing for anyone who survived the suburbs; winner of a special jury prize for best documentary at the last VIFF. Some very interesting comments on the film here.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
I just got in from watching it, and I wanted to tell y'all that it is a great work of film art (will I feel comfortable about that bold declarative statement a week from now...? Hmmm). It is a beautifully crafted police procedural movie, a fine treatise on the nature of obsession, a richly observed portrait of San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, a gripping thriller, and a finely scripted, perfectly acted drama. The cast includes Mark Ruffalo - who I kind of liked in Jane Campions In the Cut, but like more now that Fincher has wiped the grease off him from he wore in that role; the ever-enjoyable Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, to you); the excellent Elias Koteas (didja ever see Hit Me? Great, underappreciated Jim Thompson adaptation - it's based on A Swell-Looking Babe, and as far as I know, is his only star turn); Chloe Sevigny, who is sexier as a nerdy bespectacled 60's librarian-geek type than in her last film role I saw, which I will resist the urge to say anything cute about; even an okay turn from the almost redeemable Robert Downey Jr, who carries over just a bit too much of the manic quirkiness of A Scanner Darkly into this film, tho' he has his good moments). It will reward multiple viewings, like Fincher's Se7en (which is nowhere as mature, though equally beautifully crafted). It doesn't require my description - if you're sensitive to violence, it might be upsetting at times, but other than that detail, I think the less you know about it, the better off you will be. I have nothing at all to say about this film, but: Go See It.
Oh: make sure to void your bladder first, since it's a tad long. If you really need more writing on it to convince you, Tom Charity does the film justice here. (Hi, Tom).
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Another one: Joan Jett's cover of Gary Glitter's "Do You Want to Touch Me There?" I have considerable fondness for Joan Jett - I even recently picked up Bad Reputation, which features that song, mostly because I'm planning to interview the Rebel Spell and, for some reason, Erin of that band reminds me a bit of Jett, as a thoroughly credible female rock guitarist. Also, I'm really pleased that Ms. Jett is interviewed by Nardwuar in the new Razorcake, I liked her in Light of Day, and sure, I'd touch her there if she'd let me (I wonder why she doesn't age? The blood of young virgin boys, I bet). Speaking of which, the trouble with that song is that history has revealed that Gary Glitter is a pedophile, which turns the meaning of that song into something far darker than can be borne - it literally ruins the song, being able to wonder what exactly the guy had in mind when he wrote it. One wonders if he makes royalties when it plays?
Hey, maybe Nardwuar takes Jett up on this topic - I should finish reading the interview!
It’s an odd thing for Ron Mann to have made a documentary about free jazz in 1981. By that point, the form’s most passionate proponents, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, were long dead; one of its most intelligent and influential innovators, Ornette Coleman, had abandoned the form; the energies of black radical 1960’s politics that had once charged the music and made it dangerous were almost completely dissipated; and the surviving musicians had become, for the most part, comfortably embraced by the (mostly white) middle classes as a prestige form of entertainment, a high art akin to avant garde classical music (I can’t say too much bad about that because I’m sitting in that row myself, but in a way it’s almost as odd as Christianity becoming the predominant religion of Rome.) To director Mann’s credit, he very nearly explores this question with the musicians he interviews for his documentary, Imagine the Sound (playing again on the 23rd and 28th at the Vancity Theatre); for the most part, though, he is content to have discussions about free jazz past, while filming four survivors doing their thing, such as their thing was, in 1981.
There are a few problems in this approach. First off, Archie Shepp – who, rather to my surprise, seems the most wholly likable of the musicians interviewed, unpretentious, laid-back, and articulate – had, by 1981, completely stopped playing anything that I can comfortably call free jazz, having moved back in time to earlier, easier forms, apparently having gotten out of his system whatever it was that once made his music so goddamn powerful. What’s left is pretty ordinary, boppish jazz (he wears a suit and tie while playing it, even, and, um, appears to be smoking tobacco in that pipe); this conveys very very little of Shepp’s potential. I mean the man no disrespect – and I even enjoy some of his later recordings, particularly those with Horace Parlan – but the performances here don’t excite very much; and the more interesting things Shepp gets into talking about – like his feelings, as a Floridan, about what he saw as the complementary approaches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – are cut away from fairly quickly, as we shift to the other musicians covered. Of course, the question of “What happened to you?” is not raised at all – what first time filmmaker could dare? Actually, I’d have liked the film more if the whole thing had been devoted to Shepp, his trajectory through jazz, his time as a radical, and so forth – an exploration of the Shepp of the 60s and the Shepp of the 80s, and what each could rightly be said to mean for jazz.
Paul Bley, too, also wins points for having interesting things to say, but jeez those sounded like vaguely bluesy, 70’s, Keith Jarrett-y tunes he was playing on the piano. It’s pretty weird to see: at one point, he directly starts plucking the strings of the piano, which, in improvised shows, usually signifies a complete departure from tunefulness into pure sound and noise. Not here; he might as well have continued on the keys. Given that the questions he’s asked tend to revolve around the radical nature of free jazz, one is not sure that Bley, based on the music he plays, is the best person to be talking to; while his music doesn’t offend, it also fails to really invoke the ferocity and innovation of free jazz. There are a dozen musicians I would have focused on before him. I’ve never really gotten his importance.
A weirder case (by far) is that of Cecil Taylor. Tho’ I’m no judge of poetry, I kind of liked the rhythms of his delivery for the piece he recited, much more than Shepp’s beatnik-ish delivery of “Mama Rose.” Alas, almost every other time Taylor is allowed to talk into the camera, he comes across – and I was amazed by this – as an effete, pretentious wanker, impregnated by his own self love. There is one “interpretative dance” piece – I don’t really know what the fuck to call it, since he’s not interpreting anything but his own apparent egomania – that is an embarrassment to behold; maybe it looked better in 1981, but that’s hard to imagine. This is a terrible shame because - in a complete inversion of Bley and Shepp – he plays with all the ferocity and passion and intelligence that he ever did, and of the musicians documented, is the only one who has the power to really convey what free jazz could be (and often still is, when you can find it). Perhaps his precious self-presentation is actually an integral part of this, is somehow a means of refusing to be comfortably inducted into the middle classes - resistance through self-involvement. His musical performances alone make this film worth seeing, though. The first extended piece he plays, which begins with fairly quiet, spacious angular notes and Cecil half-singing over them, his mouth responding to what his hands are doing even when little sound comes out – teaches us more about improvised jazz – it’s inherent logic, it’s expressive capacity, it’s passionate focus – than anything anyone says in this film (especially him). It's a jaw dropping bit of filmed music - well worth your time.
The thing about Bill Dixon is that I’d never heard about him before seeing this film. Is he an important figure in free jazz? Has he worked with important people? Other than the detail he offers on camera that he formed the Jazz Composer’s Guild, there isn’t actually much history provided. The same goes for the rest of the musicians, whose backgrounds are only dealt with in the course of the interviews; as with Mann’s other documentary from this period, the more ambitious Poetry in Motion, there is no narration, no argument, no structure save that suggested by the sum total of what the musicians say and do, which very often touches on common themes. That’s fine, in fact, except I still don’t really know who Bill Dixon is. Seems like an interesting guy, if a bit difficult. His music neither grabbed me and shook me – as he says at one point was his inclination in the 1960’s – nor bored or upset me. The most distinguishing feature of his performances, in fact, is how feckin’ bored his bass player looks; I get more excited teaching ESL classes. When he’s on camera as Dixon is being interviewed, said bassist even appears to roll his eyes in disgust a few times. It’s kind of a shame he wasn’t allowed to say anything – it would have livened up the proceedings a bit.
So, uh, yeah... this is NOT a bad film to watch, if you like free jazz, but I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to. People who know about free jazz won’t get many questions answered, and, unless they’re the sort of jazz fan that loves EVERYTHING jazz, won’t get THAT excited by the music. On the other hand, people who are being introduced to the form won’t really “get” what they need to, in order to go away even half-educated; if they enter the film in the dark about why such a noisy, aggressive form of jazz, liked by so few at the time when it was being made most passionately, is actually of singular importance - they will remain mostly in the dark on leaving. I wanted to like this film a lot more than I did, particularly since I have a vested interest in seeing people attend the Vancity Theatre (our nicest cinema, imperilled by bizarrely crappy attendance).
You know who I’d like to see a jazz documentary about? Charles Gayle.
Now THAT would be an interesting film.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Here's a hint, but it's hidden - drag your cursor over it to see it:
The second column from the right is crucial. Unpack it first, and then work on the right-most column. Only then will you be able to get anything else done.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
4. Radiant City: I caught Gary Burns' critique of suburban life at the last film festival and was delighted. It offers us a pretty grim prognosis for the burbs, mostly from the point of view of two kids marooned there, but also from a variety of commentators -- all of whose names I've forgotten, tho' one co-wrote The Rebel Sell. It's dry and funny and cutting and all too familiar (I grew up in Maple Ridge): I liked it a lot more than the other Burns' film I've seen, Waydowntown - tho' I enjoyed much of that, too. One tip - don't read up on the film beforehand; especially don't look on IMDB, lest certain surprises be spoiled. The film runs from April 6th to 12th. I wish I hadn't already seen it, so I could go again - but it doesn't require more than one viewing, alas.
There are many other films playing - the schedule for the next month is viewable at their site. (Terkel in Trouble, showing for the next few days, was fun but not quite fun enough to recommend; and I'd probably see Linda Linda Linda if I weren't kinda sick of Japanese cuteness. Too bad I don't much care about wine - I want to support this theatre anyway I can!).
I gather this time I will have a kitchen! Location to be announced the day before the event.
Photos from last year's noise pancake event are here. It will have a been a year and six days exactly since so many pancakes and so much noise were last yoked together in our fair city. Come for the pancakes. Come for the noise. There is no other reason to attend.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Tom: Yes it is.
Allan: Hey, how are you doin’.
Tom: I’m a few minutes early. I wanted to ask you a favour, if you could possibly do it. Do you have a phone book? Cos I just moved, and we’ve realized we don’t have a phone book.
Allan: No problem. I’ll get it and be right back.
Tom: Thank you! A yellow pages. We want to order some food! We don’t really have everything set up – we want to get some Indian food but, jeez, there’s nowhere... no phone book here.
Allan: Okay – getting a yellow pages. (Sets the phone down).
Tom (is silent, waiting. I kinda hoped he’d say something cryptic into the tape for when I was transcribing it later).
Allan: (Opening phone book). Okay, so I’ve just flipped to the restaurant section. Uhm.
Tom: It’s the Sitar.
Allan: The Sitar? That’s the place in Gastown, is it?
Allan: Okay, here it is... 604-687-0049, and there’s a minimum order of $25. Do you want to call me back?
Tom: We’re okay for now. I’ll call them in about an hour. Thank you!
Allan: No problem – I may actually put that into the interview! Okay... so – you’re a really interesting songwriter. You seem to me a champion of the obscure – you dig into some very odd... Uh... I’m sorta trying to categorize your songs, and figure out where they fit. You have lots of songs about things people normally don’t care about – your slacks, bats, gingivitis...
Tom: Ford wrote the song about gingivitis. That’s the first song he ever wrote on a guitar, and I can’t take credit for that one, and the song “Bats,” the lyrics for that one were written by Rob Wright.
Allan: Ah! Okay. But... I think of you sort of like the Auteur of the Show Business Giants – I think in some way, all the songs have your stamp on them. Or no? I mean, how collective are the SBG?
Tom: I suppose Ford and John write toward the band’s style, which is originally myself and a fellow named Steve Bailey, who used to be in a band called the Neos, years and years and years ago. And we sort of had an idea that we’d have a band where it’d be us, cos we couldn’t find anybody else who wasn’t already in a band, so we thought, we’ll just have a band and get different people to play sometimes, and then it sort of developed like that, and then people sort of fit their attitude or their style, I guess, toward what we were trying to do, which... I don’t... It’s not wilfully obscure, but I’m not very good at writing love songs and stuff like that, and I’m really interested in encyclopedias and dictionaries and, y’know, arcane and word origins interest me. And so does celebrity or call to celebrity, because I grew up watching the Mike Douglas show a lot on TV in the 70’s, the early 70s, mid 70s Catskills comics were really at their peak, like, the days of Shecky Green, and that sort of celebrity is kind of gone. There’s a different style of celebrity, but I think it’s... nowadays I don’t think people actually have to do anything, y’know? I think Madonna is one of the most influential people of the 20th century, as far as I’m concerned, because she ushered in a whole new art and lifestyle where, if you change your trousers every twenty minutes you can stay on top, y’know. So that sort of interests me a lot.
Allan: I also grew up watching the Mike Douglas show and whatnot, but you sound like you’ve thought more about it than I have.
Tom: (laughs). I guess so! It’s not really that productive, in that sense.
Allan: How was this past notion of celebrity – are you being critical, do you think we’ve become shallower?
Tom: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it’s an interesting study. Celebrity status is as common as asphalt, y’know, just from that perspective... although I think there’s certain things I don’t think people can do anymore. I mean, there’s certain, like – I don’t think it would be possible to make Valley of the Dolls anymore, because people just aren’t that big. People don’t have to act or don’t really do anything, they just have to be themselves. I think (back then) people still were expected to sing or act or do something, or have a quick, fast quip, y’know?
Tom: Perhaps I’m just completely out of touch with what’s new and modern, but I just don’t see anybody out there to take the place of the old six people who used to be on The Match Game.
Tom: There’s just sort of a different... there’s just not the same sort of shabbiness and trying really hard, but, y’know, to hide the fact that you have a one bedroom apartment. Even if it is in Beverley Hills, it’s still just a one bedroom apartment. I’m not very... I don’t explain myself so good...
Allan: No, no, it’s great, you just – after you speak, you may hear me sitting here sounding confused, rustling paper trying to figure out, okay, where do I go now?
Allan: So do you consume a lot of media? Do you read tabloids or things like that?
Tom: No, not at all. I try to avoid them. I mean, I would just... I mean, I think... I don’t smoke, but if people aren’t allowed to smoke in public places, I think – I mean, I can’t help – I dwell on petty details and stuff like that, and I dwell on things, but I really don’t enjoy looking at supermarket tabloids, because I find them very fearful. I don’t know, just sort of thinking - folks who devour, I mean, who actually are absolutely fascinated by Jennifer Aniston – although, I mean, on the other side of the coin I’m really interested and fascinated by how well the Toronto Blue Jays are gonna do this year, so I guess its – people’s different passions. Allan: I mean – I was wondering if you were exploring things in a sort of scientific way. Do you watch television?
Tom: I don’t have cable. Once in a blue moon when I’m in a hotel room, or something like that, I watch TV for half an hour and I’m kind of – well, I am almost literally shocked about how bad it is, like, how trite, how embarrassingly shallow. TV’s the kind of thing I think I would watch behind closed doors and shut the blinds so nobody would see me, cos I find it – well, it’s partly because it’s not – you can’t – I think people now who are in their early 20’s, if they were at all interested, have really missed out at 11:00 on a Friday night, watching The Incredible Two Headed Transplant – that just doesn’t happen anymore? And I don’t think TV is very fun anymore, like, y’know... But then again – I think I’m such an utterly subjective person, I cannot – this is not how the world is, this is how I see the world, and so I think those are two very different things. I don’t think my opinion carries very much weight or counts for very much. But that’s just how I see things, and I just, sort of, write about ‘em. I can’t help it! (laughs)
Allan: Part of my thesis – the songs are often on obscure or misperceived things. You also have a lot of songs about, sort of, middleclass life, and people just sort of – “Carrying the Ball for Hair Design,” “I’m Always the Last One to Know,” “Big in Real Estate.” Lot of songs about everyday details – you make little fascinating novels out of them, these moments of human experience that no one would really care to notice or write about.
Tom: No, because they’re unimportant, but I mean, that’s like 95% of everything is... The fact is that if something great suddenly came out of the ground, the fact would be that the ground would have still been there for quite awhile, y’know? And why not document the ground, rather than the great thing that came out of it, because that’s what everybody else is doing? And, y’know, why at this place – I think – it doesn’t really matter to me so much what the end result is, it’s like, why did it happen here? How did it come to happen, I find, a lot more interesting. I think it’s quite boring, though. It’s a pretty boring way of looking at things.
Allan: I’m not entirely sure I understood any of that...
Tom: I have a tendency to speak in very poor analogies, and uh, it’s just – middle class, whatever, things like that are of little or no consequence. I mean, say, okay, you can look across the street, and an hour later, something else is there, and everybody is interested in what this thing is now, but no one was looking there before, and there could have been just as many things going on, or not going on. Like, end results – I just sort of think – end results – I like to find out about, I’m interested in things that happen before some great result. Backgrounds, the stuff that’s taken for granted. I think it probably has a lot to do, in my young teens, with listening a lot to the Village Green Preservation Society, which probably influenced me, as much as – besides maybe Chuck Berry - as much as any music at all.
Allan: I’m a Kinks fan, but I don’t know that one – I’m more of a Muswell Hillbillies man – Why Village Green?
Tom: I just love that record from when I first – I dunno, when I was 13 or 14 and got a hold of it, because it was out of print and didn’t sell very well, y’know, but the Kinks period, the Ray Davies period, from like 68 to – I think Muswell Hillbillies was the last really, truly great record that he wrote, in my opinion... but I just love the different approaches he has, like, you know, writing about something after its happened, rather than writing about the event happening.
Allan: Can you tie that to a specific song?
Tom: I just like sorta putting together songs like “Alcohol” and “Holiday,” y’know? Like, there’s one song about drinking and there’s another song about going on a holiday, but there’s not a song in-between about a binge, and then having to go on a holiday... Y’know, there’s not like a – the middle ground is left out.
Allan (guessing): They’re kind of slices of life?
Tom: Yeah, and I love that, because, y’know, I wish – I just love that style in approaching songs that way. I think anybody can come up with a better song than, y’know, “My Girl” by Bill Henderson and Chilliwack, y’know, and each and everyone one of us to try to do everything in our power to at least write something that’s not as bad! Cos I mean, I get mad and I have temper tantrums, if I go into a restaurant and order some food and a couple of minutes later someone puts on classic Clear Channel rock, and I just get up and leave because I didn’t pay to hear this, y’know? And I’d love to see more people do that, because I mean, I think I have a perfect right, because f we’re really loud the police come to our door and tell us to turn it down because of the decibel limit, but I think there’s also a bad taste, shit-limit... I mean, a lot of people say, “I just tune it out, it doesn’t really bother me,” but it bothers me because its invasive...
Sunday, March 04, 2007
The resultant blow, while dramatic, may not have killed the mouse, but I didn't really want to CHECK, dig? I tossed the paper AND the old frying pan in the dumpster and returned upstairs. I had lived in the building for two years without a single mouse. A friend who has lived over by City Hall for several rodent-free years also was reporting mouse activity, and a friend since has said she's been seeing mice: perhaps this is connected to all the gentrification in Vancouver, with mice abandoning demolished old buildings and seeking new, safer homes?
A few weeks later, a second mouse was caught in a snap trap in my "living room" area (that section of the bachelor suite where I entertain, in other words). It wasn't killed; I was sitting at the computer when the trap snapped shut, and it began to squeak in desperate protest, dragging the trap behind it as it crawled along on its forelegs. I worried it had been paralyzed by spinal damage, as I rushed to free it into a trash bin, but it seemed ultimately okay. I took it some blocks away and released it - I didn't want to kill again.
For awhile, I was mouse-free. This winter, its started up again. I returned home from a film to see a fat, apparently pregnant mouse scurrying for safety under my Morris bed area (which I use for storage). I put out more traps - I'd left out a couple of glue traps from the initial summer panic but I didn't want more, since they obviously cause suffering. I put out two humane traps - nicely designed and so far completely useless - and a couple of fresh snap traps. A week ago, I got back from work to find a mouse stiff and dead in a trap in my kitchen. Scoop it up, throw it away, put out a fresh trap.
Today I discovered that one of the glue traps I had had somehow moved. I shone a light into the corner: a mouse was curled inside, apparently in a position of repose, but not, it seemed, dead. How it dragged the trap two feet, while completely stuck, I don't know.
I really had no idea how long it had been in there, and I was out of old frying pans. How to deal?
A hammer. All I've got. I mean, what - a buddy suggested filling a bucket and drowning it, but who wants to be drowned? One swift, decisive blow would be better... but there's a problem: how to protect yourself from being spattered by mouse blood?
Okay: I put the mouse and trap in a plastic bag. I peek inside at the mouse while doing so and make the mistake of inhaling through my nose; I learn that the smell of a dying, scared, shitting mouse is similar to the smell of the sulphur off a lit wooden match. Sharp and unpleasant and given to lingering.
I wrap my hammer's head in plastic bags too, and I double bag the mouse.
But with the mouse in a bag in a bag - how can I know if the mouse is dead? How will I know, even, where to strike?
I get a better idea: suffocation. Less of a panic than drowning, maybe - it takes a bit more time. It's a recommended method of suicide, after all - Jerzy Kosinski killed himself by putting a bag over his head. It's even in the book Final Exit.
I quadruple bag the mouse, and take the package down to the dumpster. None of the terror of drowning, none of the violence or possible human error of a random hammer blow. It's the best I can offer - I am an amateur in matters of death. I don't fish anymore, since I kill so badly.
I throw away my last good glue trap, to be spared such future problems.