Friday, April 27, 2007

Dear Border Guy

Wow, you guys actually found my blog! (Yes, this is the Allan MacInnis that is sitting out in the car - I'm not the hockey player or the theatre director - tho' I met that guy once, back when he was just an actor! I AM the guy with a bunch of Amazon reviews online, tho'). It's pretty interesting how the internet facilitates security at borders! Just so you know, the horrible photo of me on the right is actually from Vancouver's last Zombiewalk event, where local youths (and a few old horror movie buffs like me) got dressed up and staggered around like zombies through the streets of our fair city, shocking, amusing, and sometimes disturbing the passerby (Pierce Brosnan was in town and actually walked past our little cluster of limping zombies, talking on a cell phone: dude didn't BAT AN EYE). It's sort of a Vancouver in-joke, for me to stick it on my blog as my profile photo - get it?

Mostly what you'll find on this blog is rantings about music and movies that I like. It can tend to be a bit trivial - there are more important issues in the world - but sometimes I manage to tie in a bit of cultural criticism. It will take a little while to weed through ALL the references on the blog and check out if I'm legit (there are about 550 postings), but I really AM going to Seattle to see Iggy and the Stooges play. I haven't seen Iggy (one of my favourite Americans ever) for 20 years, since he opened for the Pretenders in 1986. I was down on the floor at the Pacific Coloseum, among all these young airbrushed middleclass kids who'd come to see Chrissy Hynde sing "Middle of the Road," feelin' quite out of place - though there was one grizzled old guy with a beard and glazed look in his eyes that was shouting at the stage, "Spit on me, Ig!" He did my heart some good, made me feel like I was in the right room. 20 years later, at age 39, I'm not quite at the "Spit on me, Ig," stage, as far as fandom goes, but I AM enthusiastic about this concert...! (And if Ig DID spit on me - well, I'd get an anecdote out of it, anyhow).

Anyhow, good work again, findin' my blog! I promise I will be good in your country... can I come in?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Alex Jones, A Scanner Darkly, and Prison Planet

I'm pretty skeptical about the 9/11 truth movement, you know?

I tried reading Michael Ruppert's Crossing the Rubicon the other week - a friend had described it as the only 9/11 conspiracy book I needed to read. Alas, I had a hard time even getting past the introduction - where he actually prints a LETTER OF REFERENCE from a fellow conspiracy theorist testifying to the fact that he is not, in fact, a crank. To my recollection, it's the first and only letter of reference I have encountered in a work of non-fiction. It served a purpose opposite the one it was intended to serve, y'know? It is very difficult to confidently negotiate your way through a book quite that fat when the author has completely shaken your confidence in him at the outset; any relationship, including author and reader, proceeds on trust, and mine was blown...

But jeez, there are a lot of these people out there, ain't there? Another one came out of the woodwork at me today - I caught a little in joke in the film A Scanner Darkly that led me back to Prison Planet, a site I referred to somewhat skeptically a couple of posts ago. Y'know the scene in the film where a streetcorner activist (seen above) is ranting about how the police are behind the spread of Substance D - and is, for his efforts, zapped with a taser and loaded into an unmarked van and driven away? Well, it turns out that that quite memorable scene is a cameo by Alex Jones, another 9/11 truth seeker (that's a link to a Wikipedia article, btw). Jones pops up again in the film - in the scene where Barris and Freck go to a convenience store on a mission to extract a line of cocaine from a commonly available household product. If you pay close attention - you have to slow the DVD down - the cop watching them is peering over a magazine that has the banner headline, "Alex Jones for President" at the top. It looks like - if that Wiki article is to be trusted - Jones is roughly affiliated with those elements in the US terrified of a globalized, UN-run world - the New World Order; and that he sees 9/11 as part of a massive conspiracy from without to subvert the civil liberties of Americans (which conveniently displaces the evils of the current American regime). I don't really know that much about him, though - I think I'll spend a little while on the site, for the heck of it; another one of his is Infowars. Apparently there's a 9/11 truth movement dude soon to give a talk at St. Andrews Wesley - for all I know, it's Jones himself.

If anyone is curious, I thought this was a must-read article on the dangers of conspiracy theory.

This is the way the world ends: not with a buzz, but a ringtone

Aka, Bee afraid, bee very afraid...

One sees more and more panicked articles from people out there attuned to the possibility of ecological disaster, mostly involving global warming, but I personally am more afraid of the rapid decline in bee populations in the US and in Europe and what this could mean for our food supply. There was an article of a rather paranoid variety on Prison Planet - which appears to be a politicized conspiracy theory site about whose reputability I have some questions - postulating a weakened resistance to parasites caused by GM food as the cause of the decline, but more plausible, to me - perhaps because it fits nicely with a pet peeve of mine - is the likelihood that radiation from cellphones is behind the mass abandoning of hives. (That's an article from the Independent, too - a bit more of a reputable source than Prison Planet). Just as, back in the 1980s, the threat of nuclear war awakened in my teenage imagination fun fantasies of survival in a post-holocaust world, overrun with mutants and overgrown scorpions, the possibility of an ecological crisis involving bees and cell phones awakens a very pleasant fantasy of people being forced to turn in their cell phones en masse, with government agents going door to door collecting them, throwing them in buckets, perhaps melting them to get at the oil in the plastic. I'd be delighted! Not only would it nicely bring the first world down a notch, while leaving developing countries where not everyone has a friggin' cellphone more or less unscathed, it'd be a terrific blow against our narcissism, our vanity - a critical strike against our self-obsessed, techno-fetishistic, gadget-happy, endlessly jabbering ways. Never again would I have to listen to some dull mofo's banal "honey-what's-for-dinner" meandering while on the bus or a train; never again would I have to stand around on the sidewalk with my thumb inserted rectally while waiting for a friend to finish taking a call; and we could actually make it a crime for cellphones to go off in movie theatres or concert halls - or anywhere else! I loathe cell phones and live happily without one; I quite like bees; and I think we humans are badly in need of an object lessor or two from nature. Slogan for 2007, therefore: save the bees - rent a landline!
And to hell with cellphones!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tim Ray in Discorder

Just interviewed Vancouver "New Wave"/punk/anti-folk pioneer, painter, and filmmaker Tim Ray for Discorder, about some really cool, relatively unheard music of his, his time as a visual artist in New York, and various other such things; alas, Discorder didn't use any of the images he passed on! Thought I'd post them here so people could see his work and what Tim looks like these days. Photo by Victoria Hollingum, taken at the Pointed Sticks' Vancouver afternoon reunion show, where I ran into Tim in the audience. Thanks, Vic!

(By the way, the interview also features quotes from the Pointed Sticks' Bill Napier Hemy and music critic and guitarist Alex Varty, who were both in one of Tim's bands together and have fun stories to tell). Alex Varty is dying to get into a band, last I heard, so if anyone needs a twisted avant-guitarist for their project - seek him out!

Kyle Gann on the Long Tail Effect and New Music

An excellent article (thanks, Heather!) on the effect of the internet on cultural production and distribution, which quite nicely compliments Bob Ostertag's piece below. And now I'm off to email a link to the Ostertag piece to Gann, and the Gann piece to Ostertag.

Getting Annoyed with Ray Carney

About a year ago, Boston-based John Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney started mentioning on his homepage that he had news of a major Cassavetes discovery forthcoming. I've periodically checked in with his site time and again, waiting for news. Well, he's finally dropped a hint. Quoth Carney,
Here's something I already mentioned on a couple of earlier Mailbag pages, but
very few people seem to have noticed it. Guess what? There is an unknown
Cassavetes film that no one knows about. Yes, a new film, something he wrote and
directed. And it's quite extraordinary. (And I'm not referring to the first
version of Shadows or the alternate print of Faces; they are something else.)
But that's all I'll say about it for now...

Great, Ray, thanks. Along with the alternate versions of Shadows and Faces, Cassavetes' unpublished novel for Husbands, and countless other items he alludes to at the above link, there's one more item of Cassavetes' work that you can only access if you a) are a student of Ray's, b) suck up to him really hard, or c) pay him to fly to your film festival to screen it. In this case, he won't even tell us what it is until he is good and ready (ooh, the power that must make him feel). In his published writings, Carney is pretty vituperative about careerism and egomania in the film world, but you start to get the feeling he's got several of his own little agendas, none of which really have a lot to do with contributing to objective film scholarship. He's about as unlikely to release control of Cassavetes' legacy as Gena Rowlands is; his association with Cassavetes is, after all, his greatest (only?) claim to fame and importance. Frankly, Ray and Gena start to seem like they deserve each other...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bob Ostertag on Copyright, the Music Industry, and the Corporate Ownership of Culture

Gotta bring you all up to speed, provide some context: Bob Ostertag is an electronic musician, activist, and is affiliated with The Yes Men, the subject of a rather interesting documentary a few years ago (tho' to my recollection Ostertag does not appear therein, except in the credits). To the left, you see an image of an early "instrument" of his, composed of three tape machines and various helium balloons - it seems to speak volumes about the nature of his music. He has collaborated with musicians like Fred Frith and John Zorn, and his work bears some resemblance to that of Canadian Plunderphonics guy John Oswald (tho' he tends to manipulate live sounds performed by musicians or toys, rather than pop-culture samples), and he shares with Oswald a connection to Negativland (that band who got sued and otherwise badly treated for daring to mock U2 and Casey Kasem, sampling both without permission, in rather unflattering ways - see their "surprise interview with the Edge about that, here, in this great archive of copyright-related issues). Ostertag, Oswald, and Negativland are all artists who are concerned with the way copyright laws affect musicians and cultural producers, giving corporations power over our ability to comment on the culture around us; they are on the side of the pirates (as opposed to independent artists like David Thomas of Pere Ubu, and Gerry Hannah of the Subhumans, who feel like artists are being screwed over and deprived of an income by illegal downloading and such; certainly in the latter case, I sympathize - from various bootlegs of their recordings to Overkill's theft of Hannah's "Fuck You," the Subhumans have to be one of the most fucked-over bands in punk history).

On a more personal level - to get back to Bob - Mr. Ostertag has in his possession a Japanese windup toy that I mailed him for use in his performances - which often involve the manipulated sounds of such toys; and I have on my wall four framed "cartoons" that were used as cels for a live animation/electronic music project for a performance a few years ago at the Western Front that he did with artist Pierre Hebert - a performance similar to that on the Between Science and Garbage DVD, if anyone is intrigued; Hebert's animation was a live composite of quick drawings he did on standard 81/2X11 paper, layered with distorted images of the toys and such that Ostertag was using as sound sources (see below). The drawings - often images of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars - were chucked out into the audience as the performance progressed for us to salvage; afterwards, Hebert, inviting us to rummage, joked - as Ostertag shook his head, sadly, "no" - that they would be worth money some day. Ostertag's work is consistently playful, weird, and intellectually stimulating; he's an intelligent, articulate, and thought-provoking guy, and I quite dig what he does.

Say what you will about his views on copyright, but Ostertag is willing to put his money where his mouth is: around a year ago, he decided to put all of his recorded works that he still had control over online, for free download. He figured that sales of his recordings had been so minimal throughout his career that it would be a net gain to just make his music AVAILABLE to people, so people would at least know who he was, invite him to perform, etc. He has just posted a fascinating, essential essay for anyone concerned about the use of the internet, copyright, corporate power, and about the free downloading of music - nicely titled "The Professional Suicide of a Recording Musician." He does not address whether he has been able to make more money as a musician by making his recordings available free; I have asked him a personal question or two to this effect, and I hope to report his answer here. The Gregg Karukas reply to his article is also worth reading - scroll down.

Oh, and if you're interested, you can download Ostertag's music here, for free -- and guilt-free, too, tho' you're also welcome to buy them!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I wonder how many obits for Kurt Vonnegut will include the phrase "So it goes?" The Wikipedia entry does, in noting his death. I wonder what his epitaph will be?

Read Vonnegut a lot in my teens - which seems the best time for it, really. I wonder what reading him now would be like?

Peace, Kurt.

Frog Storm

Attention, Forteans - a frog storm in Serbia! Apparently this phenomenon is no longer disputed - witness this Wikipedia entry, f'rinstance.

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Eary Mystery (the left ear can't hear what the right hand is doing)

Here's a question: do you listen to the phone with your left ear or right ear? And are you left handed or right handed? PLEASE COMMENT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION, reporting your preferences, if you'd care to report - I'd be very curious!

I currently have an ear infection in my left ear - it's not painful, but it's like there's an obstructive bubble of tissue blocking the canal and muting sounds. I find it rather uncomfortable listening to the phone with my left ear in this state, and I noticed that when I transfer it to the right ear, it sounds WRONG, different. (Try this yourself before you continue reading, if you want your observations to be unprejudiced by my description of my experience). When listening to someone talk into my right ear, I can make out the words people are saying, but it takes more work to process them; they come from a greater distance, sound less like "speech" and more like "sound," and it's like my brain has to make an extra effort to make sense of them.

This got me thinking about "earedness." A friend I spoke to today says he favours his left ear for the phone, too; he offered the theory that it was an issue of handedness - he's right handed, and so listening to the phone with his left ear leaves his right hand free to take notes and such. A reasonable theory, except - I'm left handed and left-eared, both.

Preliminary forays into "internet literature" on earedness are contradictory - one article says (reflecting the conservative view, and my own intuitive sense of things, given the above experience) that we listen to speech and any fast clicking sounds primarily with our left ears, and long sustained tones (music) with our right. Another article says exactly the opposite; both apparently reflect scientific studies. Neither mentions phones - though if the majority of left-handed people are also left-eared, it would do a lot to back up the former position, and require the authors of the second to do some explaining.

I will continue to look into this...!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sonic Youth's The Destroyed Room: Music to Live For

Coming out of Grindhouse (see below), I'm not the only one who's depressed. A friend and I talk after the film about how undermining an experience it was, both of us wondering if we're too sensitive, too porous; we both know that it's going to take us awhile to shake the bad feeling it's left us with. Just as a crappy film can sully us for hours, though, we both know very well that art has the capacity to lift us up, to strengthen us; neither of us would have gotten through our adolescence without music, to choose one example, and knowing this makes us somewhat intolerant of garbage. As young men, through art, we found an alternative to the rather bleak, unpromising realities around us, a way of expressing our emotions, knowing them, understanding them, a way of seeing the potential for human communication exalted, when so much around us seemed (and seems) to degrade it. I badly needed to balance out Grindhouse with an aesthetic experience that would redeem my day - and so, sucking in my pride at frequenting our corporate eyesore, HMV - with its giant banner of Tony Montana presiding over the DVD section, crappy corporate music being pumped out of the speakers, and suburban-shopping-mall vibe - I popped in and did what I do so often when I feel lost and without comfort: for better or for worse, I went shopping.

The first CD I bought today: The Who's Quadrophenia. This was my favourite album when I was fourteen or so, mostly for "The Real Me" and "Love Reign O'er Me." I listened to it, found myself in it, time and again, tried to work out the words to the songs (my copy came without a lyric sheet) and discussed their meaning with friends. In my grade 8 drama class, I blush to remember that I once did a "dramatic recitation" in a faux-British accent of the narrative included in my gatefold LP, which I'd memorized (something I don't think I've ever mentioned to anyone, so here it is: a blog-first revelation): "Now it's just the bare bones of what I am... a romantic, is it me for a moment?" It's hard to believe that I haven't owned it since I got rid of said gatefold, and a lot of my other records besides, sometime in my teens - around the time that I was discovering punk (which was slow to arrive in the suburbs - we're talking about 1982, here).
I approve of my past self's decisions, though. I'm proud to see that even then, I was starting to mistrust "classic rock." Part of it was surely just overexposure: most of what gets labelled thus has been chewed over and spat at us so often that it's become an offense. That wasn't entirely my reason for jumping ship, tho': I think I was beginning to notice even then that there's a whole lot of vital musical culture that the overpraising of such bloated "masterpieces" as Pink Floyd's The Wall, say, serves to obscure - I mean, find me someone who owns that recording in any format, and ALSO owns a CD by, or has even heard of, the Minutemen. Albums like the Who's Who's Next are so safely consumable that George W. Bush can drop references to songs on it ("Won't Get Fooled Again") in his bungled aphorisms; it might as well be "Born in the USA" (the original electric version, not Bruce's various acoustic attempts to rebrand that song). Classic rock is like a vast fortress of officially-approved, unthreatening popular culture that towers over all of us, asking us to serve it, rather than the other way around; it's only meaning increasingly seems to be that "baby boomers are cool," and it's significant that the best albums by most "classic rock" bands are the ones that get the least radio airplay (the Stones' Exile on Main St, for instance, or the still-unavailable-on-CD Time Fades Away by Neil Young and Crazy Horse). Not that I even want to get started on radio; I don't have to, because its conservative, corporate, payola-seeking nature has rendered it almost completely irrelevant.

Quadrophenia, though: for all its "we're making great art" pretension - the very concept of the "rock opera" is pretty fuckin' untenable, post-punk - there's stuff on this album that still has the power to chill and excite me and make a believer out of me all over again, jaded as I've become: the power of Daltrey's delivery of "Love Reign O'er Me," for instance, or the lyrics of "I'm One," or Entwistle's bass on "The Real Me," or the great guitar/bass interchanges on "The Punk Meets the Godfather." I know because briefly I owned the soundtrack to the movie when I was in Japan (1999-2002), with a bunch of the same songs, and liked hearing them again so much I was truly startled. I made a note that I would have to buy and revisit the recording proper again someday; maybe it's just that none of the songs on this album have become a mainstream anthem that it retains its power, I dunno - or maybe there really is something special about it, some vein of honest emotion that it taps into that can't be corrupted by a billion greedy radio stations pursuing all-precious advertising dollars. Seeing the recent Hollywood film Reign Over Me - which I must admit to having liked, but would never have mentioned here if it hadn't come up - I got to hear at least one of the songs on this album again (guess which), and decided that now was the moment, when I badly needed comfort, to actually buy the thing, to bring this album back into my life.

$35 for a double disc CD that has long since paid for itself and that I could download for free, or buy for $10 on eBay: no wonder the music industry is losing money. Fuck it, though: I need this album, now.

As an afterthought, I picked up Sonic Youth's The Destroyed Room, because I'd heard there was a 25 minute version of "The Diamond Sea" on it. One of my favourite songs of theirs, but I never much liked Washing Machine, the album it came on; I'm fussy about their work, and as important as some of their recordings have been to me (esp. Sister and Daydream Nation, and later A Thousand Leaves and Murray Street, if you're curious), I don't choose to own all of it. Bad Moon Rising has some great textures, but the songs aren't that memorable; Evol isn't cohesive enough, despite some great moments ("In the Kingdom #19" - fuck yeah!); most of Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star seems weak, a scattered attempt to come to terms with a certain degree of success that only really finds itself on a couple of tracks ("Tokyo Eye" is killer); Goo borders on being terminally overplayed - the classic rock of the boomer's kids, and I only ever really want to revisit Lee's "Mote;" and Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped, their last two offerings, both kinda flat out bored me (sorry). The Destroyed Room, though - b-sides and rarities. Hm. Well, why not, since I'm shopping anyhow?

I go back to the cash with my Quadrophenia already bagged and add another purchase. Yes, I found everything I was looking for; no, I wouldn't like fries with that. I take it home and put it on expecting to be non-plussed, given what the liner notes describe as the improvised, jammy nature of the music thereon; I expect something a bit undercooked.

It's a great disc. From the start, the songs are both texturally rich and tuneful. There's little singing - Kim's voice pops up a couple of times, and Thurston's on "The Diamond Sea" - but these aren't "just jams;" the songs have a polished richness that is completely captivating, and never quite gets to sound like the "generic SY" stuff that tends to dominate the SYR discs (which mostly sound so much LIKE Sonic Youth, and accomplish so little else, that I almost never spin the ones I've kept). It shares with Quadrophenia the quality of being extremely ambitious, musically, but it does so less preciously, less self-consciously; the band aren't letting their pride, their ego, their own awe at what they're doing shine through in every song, they're just really getting off on it themselves... I lie back on the futon and listen - assisted with a brief pull on whatever's left in my pipe - and for the first time in I don't know how long, go through a CD from start to finish, doing nothing OTHER than listening to music. I am filled, elevated, moved, delighted; and am very pleased that the 25-minute long track that closes it is not a radical reworking of "The Diamond Sea," with 15 minutes of irrelevant noise jamming at the end, but a real 25 minute long version of that song!!! (Don't get me wrong - I love Sonic Youth's noise jams, but you never know, with them - it could have been five minutes of song and twenty minutes of feedback). Their website describes The Destroyed Room as a "a band-chosen collection of near-hidden Sonic Youth gems," and gems they are indeed - shiny, fascinating things that refract the light in all sorts of colours, throwing ghostly patterns on the wall that move and shimmer when you hold them up and turn them. I could stare into this album for hours -- it's easily my favourite release from SY since the too-short, but also rich, NY City Ghosts and Flowers, and will end up on my shortlist of essential recordings by them.
I just wanted to briefly thank Sonic Youth for this disc. It got me through what could have been a bad night, otherwise - just like their earlier albums did for me so often when I was younger. I feel cleansed and rejuvenated (tho' I think I have a cold coming on). It's nice to be reminded of what music can do, from a band that I have thought too little about in recent years.
I didn't get to Quadrophenia at all that night, but I didn't really need to.

For the Record

Avoid Grindhouse. Cute a concept as it is, it left me feeling sullied and stupid, staring blankly at the world like I don't belong here. It's a movie for "them" - the predatory shopping narcissists for whom our consumer culture poses no problems. Anyone with any degree of sensitivity will be depressed and disturbed - it's actually LESS forgivable than Sin City, and as with that film, it's the Tarantino portion that gives the most offense. No matter how numb you are from work, no matter how much the accumulated shit of your life leaves you desiring a soporific, an "entertainment," an escape - three hours of masturbating to internet porn will leave you feeling better about yourself, more refreshed, more inspired. Or stay home, read a book - whatever! But avoid Grindhouse; it's ugly, immoral, cheap, and, worse of all - it just isn't that good.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Michael Ondaatje Presents The Hustler, by Robert Rossen, May 1st

Sorry, Kat, you're getting bumped down one! The Vancity Theatre has put up its listings for May! There's one event that is absolutely essential viewing - I've already snarfed up a bunch of tickets online, and recommend y'all do the same, for on May 1st, Michael Ontaatje will be introducting The Hustler, Robert Rossen's 1961 film about a young, ambitious pool hustler (Paul Newman) determined to beat the unbeatable Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). This is a long-standing favourite of mine - a film I revisit every couple of years. A friend of mine was pretty skeptical when I lent him the DVD: "It's about POOL, ferchrissakes - what's he gonna recommend next, Hoosiers?" Then he watched the film, and like all the friends with whom I've shared it, he was sold. The characters are so richly drawn and human that they're fascinating, and their interrelations, while completely convincing and grounded in the particular, verge on the archetypal -- particularly those between Newman and his corrupt "manager," George C. Scott ("you owe me money, Eddie!"), and his despairing, alcoholic girlfriend (Piper Laurie, giving a hell of a performance - one of my favourite female characters in film, actually). Most of what makes the film great is due to Walter Tevis' fine, fine novel (and it's unfortunate to note that - if I've got this right - the author got royally screwed on the adaptation), but Rossen has still managed to make a hell of a good film here. I'll be very interested to see what Michael Ondaatje, introducing the film for the May 1st screening, has to say about the relationship between the written and filmed texts, since I know he's a fan of Tevis' writing (I have an enthusiastic blurb from him on the cover of Tevis' chess novel, The Queen's Gambit). This is THE event for May (though I'm pleased to see David Lynch's Inland Empire will be making its way onto the VIFC's screen, too). Oh, and it looks like there'll be a new Guy Maddin film to screen!
I know too little about Czech New Wave films and the work of Robert LePage to enthuse just yet, but I'll keep you posted. It ain't Clint Eastwood, anyhow...!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Corporation Woman: An Interview with Katherine Dodds

If you’ve seen The Corporation on DVD, you might have already encountered Katherine Dodds. An energetic filmmaker and promoter, Dodds (through her project Good Company) was deeply involved in the marketing of that film, and she appears on one of the extras. The bulk of the interview below deals with her work on that film and her interest in promoting films that lead to social outcomes; to this end, videophiles might want to note that the webstore for Good Company’s site, Hello Cool World, stocks several of the most interesting documentaries I’ve seen, all dealing with pressing social issues.

A few “for instances:” they stock Winter Soldier, an absolutely essential film about the Vietnam war (right up there with Hearts and Minds and In the Year of the Pig), in which soldiers discuss atrocities they personally saw and committed. It’s of great relevance to understanding how America fights wars and is disturbingly relevant at the moment. Also connected to the 1960s, they also have Investigation of a Flame, a recent short documentary on the Catonsville Nine; it’s not a great work of film, but the radical priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan, who went to jail for their protests against American involvement in Vietnam, make fascinating subject matter, and the film will serve until The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and Emile de Antonio’s In the King of Prussia come back into print in some format. Other favourites of mine are the recent Manufactured Landscapes (the first shot of which, involving a tracking shot through a Chinese factory, is probably the single most compelling sequence in any documentary I’ve seen - certainly one of the most compelling I've seen lately) and A Crude Awakening (a very disturbing and important film about peak oil). Jesus Camp, about the Christian right and its indoctrination of children, is pretty chilling, too (make sure you’re familiar with the Ted Haggard scandal before you see it). I haven’t seen everything they stock – I haven’t actually caught up with Scared Sacred yet – but anyone with so many cool films at hand (including The Corporation, of course) has to have some pretty interesting things to say. In some cases, Dodds was also behind the grassroots/viral promotion of these films when they played theatrically, as is the case with the very engaging documentary by Gary Burns, Radiant City, opening on April 6th at the Vancity Theatre.

I talked to Katherine – Kat, for short – a couple of weeks ago, in the Chinatown offices of Good Company.

How do you choose films? Distributors contact you?

In part yes. We think of ourselves as selecting issues, and we have a fairly wide range of issues that we’re interested in. The films that we have been working on started quite specifically with relationships with two particular filmmakers.

The first of course being Mark Achbar of The Corporation (a film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbot and Joel Bakan, who also wrote the book of the same name), and then The Take,, which was made by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein. So that’s why we started working on films with Good Company and Hello Cool World. I had done PR for a lot of documentaries before that, but it wasn’t turning it into its own mission, which Hello Cool World has become.

What was the Manufactured Landscapes connection?

The Manufactured Landscapes connection was that the distributor of that film, Mongrel Media, was also the distributor of The Corporation, so I had an ongoing previous relationship with them, through The Corporation’s release. They suggested this as a film we might like. I watched it. I particularly loved it, and found out that Mark Achbar also particularly loved it, so it made sense to champion it, so to speak. But they came to us fairly late. We prefer, actually, to start earlier if we’re going to work on a film, so we can help build the audiences for that film more than six weeks before its release date!

Essentially, the model began with working on The Corporation and that wasn’t a short term model. My involvement with The Corporation began almost ten years ago, when the film was just a germ of an idea. It was basically years in the funding, and then years in the making, and my role during those early years was as friend and communications consultant, and then as it became closer to being released I also raised the money for the new media component and became the producer of the website. And then moved into taking what money there was into publicity and leveraging it into what became a fairly substantial promotions budget for a documentary. What I did was somewhat unprecedented, because I was in the position of having produced the money that I then got to spend, and in fact “producing” the promotion component for the film, which isn’t usually how films get promoted.

It was done mostly online?

It was done on and offline, through grassroots, using the web as a way to reach those people and a way to communicate with them. So, when you ask mostly online – no, it was actually activating literally tens of thousands of offline people in hundreds of places across – mostly the US, but also Canada; Canada’s just smaller – who engaged their networks to literally poster, leaflet, hold separate autonomous events around the launches in various cities – the amount of things that went on, we never even had time to document. That set the bar, and we haven’t been able to do anything of that scope since, because there haven’t been the resources.

Resources doesn’t necessarily need to mean throwing money at it, either; it’s also time. I can’t stress enough that Mark and I had been involved with audience development with The Corporation for five years, so when Mongrel Media came to me five weeks before it launched in Canadian theatres, we had built an audience that was tens of thousands of people we could directly email at that time. I didn’t have that luxury with a film like Manufactured Landscapes, but we were able to re-engage our existing network, which included a substantial number of people who came to us through The Take.

What’s happening with The Corporation online now? It still has a strong presence.

Yeah. We’re probably in, version seven of the website. It’s evolved as the needs change. At first it was really just to collect data – we wanted to get people’s emails. We had that from the very first, very simple site. We had two agendas with it – to get people to sign up and to have a press kit with a password, so that we could actually monitor who was downloading the press kit and maintain contact. But we had, right from the very beginning, a box saying, “Tell me about other films or projects around similar issues.”. It’s really about the issues that we start from, not necessarily the film per se.

Have any of the other films gotten in contact with you through The Corporation?

Yup. The Corporation put us on the map. Aside from relationships that I’d built just through local networking, people hadn’t heard of Good Company or Hello Cool World. About a year ago, we made the decision to expand and brand HCW as part-and-parcel of The Corporation, as the vehicle to move towards action that we wanted to do all along, and we’ve come up with a mission statement for Hello Cool World that fits with all the projects we take on, and that’s ‘Ideas to Audiences, Audiences to Action, and Action to Outcome.”

Which ties in with the Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction.

Yes, exactly.

Can you describe that?

Very briefly, the Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction is us saying that we want to find a way to sustain this network – this social network, in order to offer things back to those who have supported our launches. Post-launch, while I can say, ‘Yay, we managed to get money to launch the film,’ that money, after a year, was gone. So what we’re trying to do now is figure out how we can sustain the momentum of all these people who asked two questions endlessly, in the year The Corporation was released: and that was, “What can I do,” and “When can I buy the DVD?’ Now it’s pretty easy to buy the DVD, but we’re still, still, still getting questions, we’re still getting essays from people who have been moved by the film.

Tell us about house parties.

When the DVD launched we encouraged house parties to be registered on , and we’re still getting feedback from these people. We’ve had 300 feedback forms filled out. We asked questions about what we can do about the corporation – the institution, as in, the problems that the film exposed. So what we’re trying to do with the Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction is to review the feedback we’ve had in order to create a strategic response.

Specifically we had this debate concept going, which is really a faux debate, but what we’re asking people to do is to write about whether we should re-write, regulate, or reform the corporate institution. Really, those things aren’t mutually exclusive, but what they’re designed to do is to take this generic “What can I do?” and the band-aid answers to that, and try to get people, anybody, to try to think strategically in various directions; because it’s my opinion that we need to attack all of those areas. Rewriting would be the corporate personhood issue – rewriting the corporate charters. Don’t let corporations have the kind of rights they have. “Regulate” would be becoming more stringent in calling to account the regulations that exist already. Strengthen democracy – make the penalties higher. Better government, or however you want to put it. “Reform” would be taking the corporate “social responsibility” folks – this would be things like the business leaders of the future – and saying, “Okay, if you really do want a different kind of corporation, how can we make that happen?” It can’t be entirely voluntary, given the legal nature of the corporate charters.

And what comes after house parties & the debate?

I want to seek out more outcome stories, because I keep hearing inspiring things about what has happened because of the film.

I can give you two quick examples – and it was actually the rough cut screening that did it. When I was at Media that Matters at Hollyhock last year I met a human rights lawyer from Seattle who said, ‘By the way, I saw one of the rough cuts’ – this would have been one of the three and a half hour versions of the film. And he said, ‘I had some input into the Democratic Party platform for the State of Washington, and because of that film we put the issue of corporate personhood on, and it got passed, and it’s now part of their platform at a state level. And then recently, as in, less than a year ago, it came up for question, and the members voted it back.

So the issue of corporate personhood, at a state wide level in the US, is now part of party policy – the notion of the rights of corporations as persons, to revoke corporate personhood as one of the causes of harm. It’s one of the root causes of harm that the film presents. It’s not necessarily the only issue people come out of the film with, but corporate personhood is sort of something that a lot of fringe activists have been working on and it hasn’t been on any agenda. So having it on a state wide political agenda is huge, it’s major. Many campaigns could be fought to try to make something like that happen. I found out about it by accident, so... we would like to be able to look for those stories.

The second one is more at a different level, and that’s where we had all 56 Grade eights from Holy Name School in Essex, Ontario, write into the forum, which we thought was quite remarkable. Mark actually responded to each and every one of them, and I got in touch with their teacher, and we managed to get a little bit of money from the Atkinson Foundation, and we took a trip to Essex and spent two days with those students, and I’m cutting together a short piece that’s going to go online about that, in the next month or so.

There, what had happened was that the teacher, who had happened to see this film, just by accident, on TV Ontario, got very interested and decided to use it for curriculum for the entire year. The point at which his students had written was sort of at the tail end of the year, with his students having become really immersed in this film, and when we went and spoke to them, they had engaged with it at a fairly deep level, and this is 13, 14 year old kids, so... on one hand, we have party platform policy in the United States, state-level, and here we have grade eights in Essex, Ontario. The film elicited that kind of response, which I think is completely remarkable.

Really, everything we’ve done since, is about connecting films and audiences with the ongoing action that needs to be taken for something to make a difference, beyond it just making a difference when you see it in the film. That’s what makes us different: from the point of view of distributors, and even of filmmakers, their job’s been done. It’s a success, the film was made, it obviously did have an impact – there’s a lot to be proud of, but from my point of view at Hello Cool World, we now want to take that third part of our mandate and actually see some results from it. And I don’t see it as a six month project, I see it as a ten year project, just like the film – it was ten years from idea to launch; this is the same sort of thing.


One of the very early things that happened when the film was first launched, Tima Bansal from the Ivey School of Business, worked with Mark to create a curriculum that’s being used there with business students, that also went on to the educational DVD and it’s hardwired into there and there’s a Power Point presentation that you have to go to the Ivey school to get the code to access, so that students can’t get it – it’s for instructors. It’s free, but it’s controlled – it’s free if you have the educational copy.

So business students are grappling with the issues raised by The Corporation?

Yes, exactly.

And all of these pieces are part of the solutions we want to promote through very different audiences – high schools students, future business leaders, anti-fascists, soccer moms, government policy writers, you see what I mean! We’ve promised – and someday, whether it’s at my own expense or not – I will write the framework for action that goes with the campaign for corporate harm reduction, based on all this feedback.

So these are the kinds of areas that I’d like to be able to have possibly different campaigns, but strategically linked, so that we could really try to get a sustained effort to try to change the nature of the institution. And why I call it the Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction – it’s a little bit tongue in cheek out of the health field, but also that the problem is too big. The idea of rewrite-regulate-reform is that we’re engaging with the institution, that institution that does exist, whether we want it to or not – how do we change it so that less harm can be done by these corporate entities?

Out of curiosity, how did you feel about the Battle of Seattle as a model of dissent?

Well, the Battle of Seattle was the beginning of the whole “indy media” phenomenon. I was there. Mark had three different crews. I was running around getting tear-gassed – I got tear-gassed for the first time there. One of our cameramen ended up in jail with the keys to the car (laughs). It was very crazy – of course it was exhilarating. I myself noted at the time – which of course sounds like an over-determined thing to say after the fact – all these cameras, all these cell phones, all this media. It was the beginning of citizen media at the frontlines. However, I think the legacy of that is what we’re seeing now in general, which is that anybody can publish, but there’s still a lot of work required to actually have credible sources and to have a decent analytical framework, and to have strategic suggestions that don’t sort of just involve batting up against power. And I’m not opposed to batting up against power – I quite enjoy it from time to time – but I don’t think it’s going to change the institution when such hugely powerful forces are behind it. So I absolutely think there has to be a multi-pronged approach, and that’s where the future lies.

However, there’s never been the tools that there are right this minute. But now we have to face the root cause of our own disorganization, which is just the lack of any real unity, or of any kind of standing together of different factions of progressives, the left – however you define them – towards some sort of end. Which is why we’re often at a disadvantage with those who have no qualms about high-handed ideology and mobilizing people through it. This is where the crisis right now is, and this is, in a way, why I think The Corporation has a chance and is not done yet as a sort of mobilizing force, because what we saw was the coming together of groups that don’t work together around that launch. There were sufficient points of entry in the film itself for many different people to rally around it

Manufacturing Consent, which will be re-released in June with lots of cool extras, after fifteen years – the shelf-life of that film goes on and on and on, and I think The Corporation will too. It doesn’t have the mega push and notoriety of, for example, the Michael Moore films. We actually opened the same week in New York as Fahrenheit 9/11; we did get a lot of media coverage, but we were “the other film” and he was the main story, whereas in San Francisco, we were the main story. But we seem to be enjoying the “long tail effect.”

I think had we not had that particular competition for the same audience – we were definitely at a disadvantage, because to get Fahrenheit 9/11 onto 2000 screens costs millions and millions of dollars, like that’s just what it costs, instead of the couple of million that went into The Corporation for P&A, all told, from four markets. Even though it did very well, the moment where we might have been able to manifest more for less was a little bit subsumed by the Fahrenheit 9/11 phenomenon. But I think what we’ve seen since then is that there’s been no lessening up of the popularity of the film. It did extremely well on DVD, it continues to do well on DVD, and it has been downloaded off the internet half a million times, so that the growing impact of it is what I’m wanting to harness, and quite simply put, we need some resources to be able to maintain that effort. It’s been a volunteer effort for the last year on my part to keep The Corporation "continued campaign" going.

And people should send contributions to -?

They can go to the website, Hello Cool World or, and donate. They can “donate for downloads” – we’re asking people if they’ve illegally downloaded it to donate, or they can go to the next button and donate specifically to the Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction, and that money goes into sustaining Hello Cool World, which right now doesn’t make any substantial amount of money from DVD sales. We’re trying to widen our capacity to do that.
We have two things we want to sustain with Hello Cool World: one is the social network that we have – a fairly wide base, a fairly good base right now – and the capacity for our webstore to become an alternative distribution outlet. It’s not going to be exclusive – we are non-exclusive. At the moment we don’t have too many titles that don’t have distributors attached. Conceivably if we were in a solid enough position, we could help filmmakers self-distribute films, but what we can’t do, which is why they go to distributors, is offer them money up front, at this point. If we were able to generate funding to Hello Cool World – if Hello Cool World itself could become the draw for funding and funders – then we would be able to offer a lot more back to people.

But our allegiance really still is to audiences. That’s what’s different from distributors – it’s our audiences that are our asset, and it’s our audiences that are the reason we do it, and if we can’t connect the audiences and follow through with the outcome, because our audience is an audience that wants something to happen because of these films. They don’t just want films to happen, they want something to happen. I have two fairly large focuses; one is, of course, corporate globalization, and the other is sex and gender and the whole realm of sex ed, which we are dealing less with films around that, and more with non-profits, and we have some cool projects, like the Won’ website and things like that. There’s no reason we couldn’t combine all of that.

If we had a more sustainable base we could do so much for people, because what we really, really excel at – and I think we proved it with The Corporation – we know how to develop and package and do outreach for campaigns. We could become a very mobile, non-exclusive social marketing engine for a lot of projects and a lot of campaigns. And to do that we will in the future be looking for ways to fund Hello Cool World – to fund it as an entity, not just the projects.

Let’s talk about some of your other HelloCoolWorld titles – a couple of favourites that you think people might profit from looking at.

Well, I really love Manufactured Landscapes. I think it’s a wonderful film. I think it’s really remarkable. I think it’s also got the potential to connect people to issues in a way that aren’t explicit in the film. There are some DVD extras that go in a little bit into the connection between Edward Burtynsky himself and what he’s up to in the film. Edward Burtynsky, the subject, of course, of that film, also has books – he’s a photographer – but what a lot of people won’t know, that isn’t obvious, is that he also received a TED Award – it stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design - of quite a substantial amount of money, and he gave it to the folks, who have put out a book, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, which they’re billing as a kind of high tech futuristic version of the Whole Earth Catalogue. It’s a great book, I think it’s a great project, I think it’s a great connection. We’re not selling that book right now, mostly because we can’t guarantee that we can sell enough through our store, but we have a link to Amazon – so if you buy it from Amazon through us, then we get a little affiliate cut, which you can do with Amazon.

Any other films you want to get behind?

I really think that everyone should go see Radiant City, which is not on DVD yet, and therefore not in our store. It’s on our campaign page – we’d really love to see this film do well, because we think it’s got some interesting things to say about urban sprawl, which is the message of it – but it’s also a very creative film. It’s one that Mark Achbar really loves as well. It’s quite different than all our other straightforward documentaries, but if you see it, you’ll see that there’s actually a connection to the issues that we’re dealing with, and there’s actually even a connection to Manufactured Landscapes. I mean, the real buzz right now, besides global warming, is urban sustainability. We have another film that will come out on DVD after this release that is called A Crude Awakening, and it deals with peak oil, and all of these films are starting to connect – but I think Radiant City has a wonderful quirky quality to it, that would appeal to fans of Canadian films...

And anyone who grew up in the suburbs.

And anyone who grew up in the suburbs. Which I didn’t, but...

I did.

But I’ve stayed out of the suburbs. I’ve managed to escape!

The other thing, campaign-wise, is that we’re working with Odeon on that, and they’re letting us promote it with some grassroots tools, where we can actually focus on some of the little message moments in the film and not even necessarily say that it’s a film. So – this notion of the viral “getting the message out” that’s sort of linking people to what’s going on, in that there’s a film release but there’s also something more, is part of what we’re getting to do with that project... It’s doing what we want to do, which is extracting out of the film, right?

You can see these things at Hello Cool World?

Yeah, Hello Cool World campaign pages. Follow the links to Radiant City and you’ll see all our little viral stuff that’s happening, plus the trailers. It would be great if you put one of the little viral things on your blog.