Sunday, September 30, 2012

Antiviral today!

I'm very curious to see what David Cronenberg's son, Brandon, is up to with Antiviral, playing today at 2:20pm as part of the VIFF. I'm not one to read descriptions of movies that I want to see, but I gather the film deals with people who get injected with the diseases of their favourite celebrities; a detailed review is here. You can also visit the Lucas Clinic website for more on their "A-list celebrity body modification services" - a cleverly designed website indeed; I'm half-tempted to book an appointment. Will be following this one up with Berberian Sound Studio... sounds like a pretty cool Sunday at the movies...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who Are They, And Are They Alive: Richard France

Remember the scientist with the eyepatch on TV in Romero's Dawn of the Dead, who gets all passionate about remaining rational? He also plays a scientist in The Crazies? Who the hell is that guy? I like that guy! 

I finally got around to looking him up tonight. Answer: Richard France! (Interviewed here). Born in 1938, according to IMDB. In addition to his George A. Romero roles, he appears as a therapist in a Beth B/ Scott B film called Vortex, starring Lydia Lunch, wrote a book on the theatre of Orson Welles, and has written many plays (bibliography here). Born in 1938, and still alive today! Cheers to Richard France!

Help Raise the Red Gate!

Bison BC at the Red Gate, RIP; by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

I valued the former art space in the DTES known as the Red Gate; I only went there on a few occasions, but I experienced everything from pancake noise events (with live video feedback) to an under-the-radar Bison gig (above) there. Best wishes to the Red Gate Collective in trying to get a new space from the city; sign the petition here.

Omar Khadr returns to Canada

Welcome back to Canada, Mr. Khadr. Really sorry we didn't do a better job looking out for you. I hope your new prison is a big improvement on Gitmo.

Friday, September 28, 2012

VIFF: The Crimes of Mike Recket

Okay, so: following up on that Bruce Sweeney piece below, The Crimes of Mike Recket is definitely worth seeing. It's NOT an ensemble piece akin to Dirty and Last Wedding - perhaps that style of filmmaking is not something Sweeney is interested in anymore? - but nor is it quite so focused on a single character as American Venus. It's interesting on several fronts, actually: bearing in mind that I haven't seen Excited yet, it's a surprise to see Sweeney playing with genre (the detective thriller) to this extent; and it's also interesting to see him dispensing with a linear sequence of events, moving back and forth in time in a way I don't recall him doing previously - a self-assured move. It's also more overtly political than his previous films, which seemed to use political and social issues as a means of exploring character; here, character is used as an investigation into political and social issues. (The less you know beforehand, the more you'll like the film). I was surprised to think of Skip Tracer at a couple of points, and of Karel Reisz/ James Toback's The Gambler, but I don't want to elaborate further - certainly the film isn't really like either of those movies. Nicholas Lea and Gabrielle Rose are very good in it, and Tom Scholte pops up briefly. Suddenly I'm eager for my DVD of Excited to arrive, so I can see where it fits in Sweeney's body of work... A much more detailed description of the film can be found here, if you want it, but you're probably better off just trusting me that it's worth a look.

I may cease blogging about the VIFF for a bit. Antiviral and Berberian Sound Studio probably don't need me to cheerlead them, and I've got some other writing to focus on for the next week. I'll resume my VIFF consumption (and VIFF blogging) next week, after I've had a chance to see more films. Meantime, the new film by Dogme co-founder Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt, sounds like a must-see, doesn't it? (Maybe John Furlong should check it out). And doesn't Blackbird sound interesting? Did y'all notice the documentary on Kubrick and The Shining, Room 237? (Probably worth taking time to look at Rob Ager's Youtube analysis of that film, in advance).

The Georgia Straight vs. John Furlong

Hm. Just stuck my head up from VIFF coverage to read this story, alleging that VANOC's John Furlong came to Canada five years earlier than he's claimed, as a Catholic missionary, and was involved in the mistreatment of young First Nations students at Burns Lake, which he has tried to conceal. At first blush, it seems pretty credible and rather courageous of the Straight to run it - but they're rather staking their reputation as a news source on this, and apparently facing a lawsuit from Furlong, who denies everything (except the part about coming to Canada five years earlier than he'd previously claimed... that part he cops to). Interestingly, the CBC appears to be in the Straight's corner, and the RCMP are now investigating the allegations. Provocative stuff...

Three Documentaries in the 2012 VIFF

Turns out that Street Dogs of South Central isn't at all what I thought it would be. Given the subject matter - stray dogs roaming the streets of LA - I expected something gritty and downbeat, perhaps taking poverty and urban desperation as a theme, but exploring it indirectly, by means of animals. Instead, I discover, the film is a fairly sentimental Animal Planet documentary, with a syrupy score, a family-friendly, Morgan-Freeman-esque narration from Queen Latifah, and, a few dogfights aside, little of animals experiencing pain or hardship: there are scenes emphasizing the peril of crossing the road, for example, but none of dogs actually getting hit by cars, or of canine roadkill. When one pitbull the narrative follows is "put to sleep" at a shelter (without any critical commentary on the decision), it occurs tamely off-camera; even images of dogs "marking their territory" are few and far between. Some viewers, seeking heartwarming pooch footage suitable for family consumption, may feel that that's just as well, but - especially if you compare this film to something like Leviathan - this is a highly sanitized vision of these animals' reality, and one calculated to please, rather than upset or provoke. There are audiences for whom it would still be perfect - it might be a film to bring people who own calendars with puppies on them, say (and I'm thinking of my Mom here, and I bought her that calendar, so I don't mean to be snooty), but - how to put this nicely? - Street Dogs of South Central represents a highly, umm, populist version of cinema that is not really of great interest to me. They do a good job of following various groups of dogs long enough to build a narrative around them, I'll grant the filmmakers that much...
A much, much more interesting animal-themed documentary is More Than Honey, about colony collapse disorder and the impact of contemporary agribusiness on bees. The film has unbelievable microphotography of the insects in question - revered insect photographer Ken Middleham has nothing on what these filmmakers manage, though who knows what digital trickery is involved: the film offers beautiful close up tracking shots of bees in flight, a camera rotating 360 degrees around the birth of a drone, bees filmed working inside their hives, and much more, images which will be jaw-droppingly exciting for bugpeople out there. It even has some startling images of humans, from an old European beekeeper who cuts down a branch with a swarmed colony on it so that it falls into his box, without his wearing the slightest trace of protective gear, to a group of Chinese farmworkers hand-pollinating an orchard in a field too saturated with chemicals for bees to live.
In addition to providing abundant interesting information on bees - from the bee "dances" used to communicate information to bee mating practices to footage of the Varroa destructor mite at work- the film is unafraid to adopt a critical perspective on the harvesting of honey and the various conditions that have led to colony collapses, which it treats as no mystery whatsoever. I can remember rolling my eyes to discover that certain vegans out there eschew using even honey, but when you see how contemporary bee husbandry is practiced, it's as industrialized and alienated and animal-unfriendly as the most brutal slaughterhouse. I had some pastoral cottage-industry fantasy in my mind about how bees were treated, had no idea that there were migrating beekeepers who drive their colonies all over the country in huge trucks, stacked in their boxes in the hundreds of thousands, to hit different crops as they flower, with the bees suffering in the heat and darkness as they travel, imprisoned, for hours on end; when various colonies turn out to have died en route, it's really not that shocking, given the stresses the animals have been subjected to. It's almost enough to put you off your honey (and if that isn't, close-ups of bees secreting honey with their mouths might do the trick; I was unfortunate enough to be drinking tea sweetened with honey during that scene, and admit to having had some difficulty finishing it). Somewhat surprisingly, the film also takes into account the dreaded Africanized honeybee - the "killer bee" - showing that these bees, in the wild, are doing vastly better than their domesticated cousins, and may represent a wild hope for the bees of North America; I don't think I'd seen killer bees depicted in a positive light before.  
To turn to the human realm, the newest documentary from Kirby Dick also plays the 2012 VIFF, The Invisible War. The film deals with the ways in which rape in the US military - mostly of women, but also of men - is treated as an "occupational hazard," and often not investigated or punished. It has many, many brave testimonies from women (and a few men) whose lives and careers were derailed when they were sexually assaulted by their "brother soldiers," and who were then ignored, persecuted, and/ or treated as having invited the assaults when they complained to their commanders, who generally have a vested interest in keeping such crimes quiet. The film - brave, angry, and important - urges viewers to sign a petition to change the way sexual assaults are investigated in the US military; you can read more about it on the film's official website - apparently this documentary has already had a positive social impact...

One further VIFF film that should be on everyone's radar is what could ALMOST be billed as "the new Monty Python movie," A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman. Animated and in 3-D, the film is based on Chapman's memoir, and draws on audio recordings Chapman made of the same shortly before his death. Monty Python has not functioned as a troupe since Chapman's death, but the fact that this film draws on Chapman's voice and writings was enough to convince John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin to participate; the only living Python not present is Eric Idle. Not having read Chapman's book, I'm curious how the film will handle his homosexuality, a topic I'm unaware of the Python's dealing with in a public way (though they may have - I'm hardly a Python completist). The dead one speaks!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

RIP Herbert Lom

Herbert Lom died! (He was 95, and long inactive as an actor). Best remembered by me for his rich, deep voice, his delightful turns in the Pink Panther series, his unexpectedly benign doctor/scientist in Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, and various other genre films (like the infamous Euro-trash nasty, Mark of the Devil, with, if I recall, a dubbed Udo Kier!). Of course, there's also Spartacus and The Ladykillers... my respects to Herbert Lom and those who knew him, he's one of those actors who improved every film he appeared in...

Gearing up to see the new Bruce Sweeney: VIFF and The Crimes of Mike Recket

Bruce Sweeney's 1998 feature Dirty is my favourite film about life in Vancouver (I'd go further and proclaim it the "greatest," but there are many Vancouver-shot, Vancouver-set films that I have yet to see). The characters in it are all highly recognizable, driven by compulsions that are absurd, pathetic, and yet very human: there's a pot dealing Strathcona dominatrix with mother issues (Babz Chula, RIP); an "outsider" from Port Alberni (Benjamin Ratner) who has no capacity to communicate his needs - which may include a homoerotic fixation on his roommate - and so periodically explodes in fits of inarticulate, counter-productive rage; a young woman in the basement suite (Nancy Sivak), binge eating and hiding from the awareness of her massive, unpaid student loan debts; an anal, stress-case student (Tom Scholte) with a need to be spanked and humiliated... These are great characters, and all too familiar, and, since it's a very self-consciously local film, with Vancouver representing itself, those of us who live here are invited to find ourselves amongst their sorry lot, which I, for one, find disturbingly easy to do. It's like seeing a Mike Leigh movie about your hometown: no other film I'm aware of captures a sense of how damaged human relationships can get out here on the loony left coast of Canada, where cultural ties and community bonds are strained-to-invisible, and people don't slip through the cracks so much as they push themselves, wriggling. Cinema Scope's Mark Peranson has described Sweeney as a behaviourist in this very good bio of the man; I'm not quite sure I'd go there, but certainly Sweeney has a fine sense of how strong the compulsions that drive us can be, and his sense of social decay is so developed that one would almost take him for a conservative - except he seems to like his characters far too much, and know them far too well. If none of that is enough to explain my fondness for the film, as I never tire of saying, it also has my favourite-ever cunnilingus scene in a non-pornographic film - perhaps the funniest, certainly the most disturbing and the most emotionally charged piece of pussy-eating you're likely to see at an arthouse cinema (it has no prurient interest whatsoever, I should mention). I have only seen Sweeney's first film, Live Bait, once, and don't remember it that clearly, but I still feel comfortable to assert that the real promise of Sweeney as a regional feature filmmaker shines through in Dirty, his second film. It's just great; I wish it would come out on DVD.
Sweeney followed Dirty up with another well-received ensemble piece, the equally local 2001 film Last Wedding, which follows three sets of male/ female relationships as they disintegrate. The cast is terrific - Scholte, Ratner, Chula and Sivak all return from Dirty, as does Frida Betrani (who I'm pretty sure I shared a bus to UBC with, once; unless I was wrong about that, she's actually a lot more attractive in person than she is onscreen, maybe because she plays such difficult characters). Maple Ridge homegirl Molly Parker is also in the film, though I don't recall her role well enough to comment. While there are memorable characters and moments throughout - especially a heated argument about trends in Vancouver architecture which compares Yaletown to Kowloon - for me, at least, Last Wedding wasn't as impressive as Dirty, in that, by the end, Sweeney leaves us identifying only with the male characters we've followed, the women all seeming faithless, unforgiving, or certifiably delusional. Regardless of what the men have done to deserve their lonely fates, the film at least SEEMS to come perilously close to taking an Us/ Them stance, inviting us (the male audience) to join the men on-screen in a defeated, joyless bit of "aren't women impossible" partisan bonding. While I've had my share of insane relationships with females - including some that would doubtlessly make Sweeney slap his forehead - and I enjoy self-pity and male bonding as much as the next guy, in my heart of hearts, I believe men are every bit as fucked up as women (certainly they are in Dirty), and I expect a serious artist to try to rise above his personal wounds in making a film; something about Last Wedding seemed less mature, less fully realized than I'd hoped it would be, a slightly smaller, less accomplished film (...while still being a film everyone who lives in Vancouver should see).  
Apparently, after 2001, Sweeney had some troubles with getting a new project together, because there were several years where he had no film to show. I briefly interviewed him in late 2006 and he told me that he wrote a screenplay in that time that he ended up not liking, that he ended up abandoning. His next film came out in 2007: American Venus, starring Rebecca DeMornay as a gun-loving control freak who visits Vancouver from Spokane in pursuit of her former figure skater daughter, who desperately wants to break free of her mother's clutches and feels little to no trust for her. The film boasts at the very least a fascinating performance from DeMornay: she's scarily unhinged at times, sometimes in a believable and disturbing way, sometimes in a twitchy, over-the-top, scenery-nibbling fashion, but she really rules the film, and is certainly a worthy addition to the list of compulsives in Sweeney's pantheon. We believe the character she crafts - a manipulative monstrosity of a mother; and we believe that being able to shoot her handgun off is a necessary adjunct to her personality. This addiction, despite taking a form I've never seen or heard of otherwise, is believably drawn; and we can amply identify with her daughter's desire to break free from a Mom so nuts. The problem is, Sweeney hinges the entire movie on these elements, allows DeMornay's character and her compulsions to overwhelm anything else in the film. Jane McGregor gives a fine performance as the daughter, but her character is defined entirely by her desire to escape her mother; all other details of her life and personality are omitted. Matt Craven - probably still best remembered as the chemist-ex-machina in Jacob's Ladder - is equally believable as DeMornay's patient husband, but is given little else to do besides mediate between his wife and daughter. We get a glimpse of what could be an interesting relationship between DeMornay's character and a cop she picks up at a bar so she can get access to a gun (Nicholas Lea), but it is very brief; the relationship comes to an abrupt climax as, visiting a firing range after a drunken date, the cop goes down on DeMornay while she fires the gun he's given her (another rather outlandish cunnilingus scene! I don't recall any pussy-eating in Last Wedding, but maybe this is some sort of signature, like Quentin Tarantino's view-from-the-trunk-of-a-car?). She screams in orgasm - and he disappears from the film, his role served.

This is all amply twisted and compelling stuff, but in the end, a film about one character, however powerful she may be, runs the risk of seeming too thin ('specially when it's only 81 minutes long); in looking for more from the movie than is there, there's a great temptation - Sweeney seemed to want to discourage audiences from going here when he gave a Q&A at the VIFF premiere of the film - to read DeMornay as representing America, and to see the film as trying to explore the American fixation with guns, but even that doesn't really work, since she is so obviously not a "typical case." Even more disappointingly, given the regional mandate Sweeney has set for himself, to make films where Vancouver plays itself, American Venus is strangely unsatisfying in its depiction of this city. Sweeney seems to deliberately obfuscate certain locations and phenomenon: he locates crack dealers on the waterfront, not the DTES; he has a character talk about the "west side" instead of the "west end" or "west Van;" and he sets a scene near the US border in an underground walkway that is actually just outside Stanley Park, which surely any Vancouverite will realize. Maybe this is some sort of in-joke for Vancouverites, who will recognize (unlike American viewers) what the film gets wrong, but when you add these details to the lack of much in the way of recognizable scenery or neighbourhoods, it's really not as "local" a film as one might hope. The film gets mostly negative-to-mixed reviews on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, which is a bit unfair, but at the best, it's a lot smaller in scope than either of Sweeney's previous two films. It's still worth seeing, but...
Between American Venus and Sweeney's new film, The Crimes of Mike Recket, playing the 2012 VIFF, Sweeney made another feature, Excited, a comedy about a man with a problem with premature ejaculation. Since Dirty, I've liked each Sweeney film less than the previous, so much so that I actually couldn't bring myself to watch Excited when it played the VIFF a couple of years ago; I wanted to protect my previous high esteem for Sweeney from the possibility that he'd made a film that was, um, smarmy and cheap, which was, frankly, how the subject matter sounded. Maybe it's just me, but I've wondered at times if premature ejaculation isn't some overblown, media-created phenomenon, like dandruff or ring-around-the-collar, that gets made far more of than it merits. I mean, sure, it takes time and practice for men to learn to control their equipment, and less sexually experienced guys are likely to come far quicker than their partners might like, especially if they're at all nervous (say, if it's their first time with a new partner and they feel anxious: that's a bad combination, especially if you really WANT to please. I've certainly been there and done that). Far as I can determine, tho', coming too quick now and then is a fairly normal male experience, is something that guys GROW OUT OF, and generally shouldn't be made much of, unless the goal is to give people new and stigmatizing hangups. 
But who knows: maybe Excited comes to exactly those conclusions (or maybe there are people out there who actually DO have a problem with coming too quickly, above and beyond what I've deemed normal, here? I haven't fucked any guys, and it's not something men really talk about among themselves, so I really wouldn't know). In the hopes that I'm wrong in my misgivings, I've broken down and ordered Excited on DVD, while it can still be found on eBay (it had a brief release in 2009, garnered no reviews on Rottentomatoes or IMDB, and is already apparently out of print; I was perhaps not the only person who dodged seeing the film). In any event, Mark Peranson seems to have liked it, in that bio he wrote.
As for the 2012 VIFF - opening today! - a nameless friend also in the media tells me that he really liked The Crimes of Mike Recket, but that he stood alone amongst his peers in this opinion (I trust his opinion more, tho' it also received a lukewarm TIFF review). I really hope I LIKE this film, would like the opportunity to help it along. I wouldn't mind an excuse to interview Sweeney again, or even Gabrielle Rose (my favourite Canadian actress and, incidentally, one half of what is probably the greatest "webcam sex" scene in legit cinema, from before the word "webcam" had been coined, in Atom Egoyan's 1989 film Speaking Parts: a scene which not only is poignant, emotionally charged, and gripping as cinema, like the cunnilingus in Dirty, but is briefly, shockingly hot; it's one of many reasons I admire Ms. Rose's bravery...).
There was a period not too long ago when Vancouver had a really exciting independent film scene, with some very promising filmmakers emerging, mostly out of UBC: Sweeney, Stopkewich, Shum, Geary... seems like every one of them still active is doing shorts, is working in TV, or has left town (Reg Harkema, despite his ties to our coast, seems a Toronto guy to me, now). I like the idea of our having a proudly, deliberately regional cinema, tho', and am annoyed that Vancouverites seem fairly blase about these matters, ignoring interesting films and filmmakers, or at least not trying very hard to support them. Outside of recent surprising developments in the world of local genre/ exploitation (the Soska sisters, Panos Cosmatos - both of whom seem interested in effacing the specifics of Vancouver in their films), there's really not much else I'm aware of happening in BC these days (I may be a bit out of the loop; I was lukewarm on the one Carl Bessai film I saw, Unnatural and Accidental, and haven't sought out his other films, so I'm not equipped to mention him here). Bruce Sweeney WAS my favourite of our local filmmakers, ten years ago, but I have no idea where I stand vis-a-vis his recent cinema. I'd like to reinstate him to that position, at least in my OWN court of opinion... Let me like this movie, please!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Slow: "I Broke the Circle"

Now on eBay: the very rare debut 7" from Slow, "I Broke the Circle" - a great, fun tune and a genuine Vancouver rarity. More on Slow here, including a photo from the one gig I saw them at, opening for the Cramps.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Wow: Faust is still functional? They're still touring? They're playing the Waldorf October 17th, with von Bingen? I mean... it's a bit surreal, isn't it? Faust...

Free presentation on copyright for artists

Substantial changes have been made to Canadian copyright law; if you're an artist - particularly one working with samples or doing mash-ups or otherwise engaged in "jacking stuff from the matrix," these changes may affect you, and may want to attend a free presentation on them on Friday, from 11am to 1pm, at the W2 Media Cafe, 111 W. Hastings. Facebook link for the event here; presenters include Martha Rans and Lindsay Bailey.

VIFF: Graham Peat on City Lens: 60's Vancouver by Night & Day

Granville St 1959, image provided by Graham Peat

Graham Peat is the co-founder/co-owner of Videomatica - the former video rental institution, surviving now as a sale store attached to Zulu Records; I interviewed him about Videomatica's history here. He also regularly curates and hosts film events, many dealing with the history of Vancouver on film. His newest project, City Lens: 60's Vancouver by Night & Day - plays October 9th and 12th at the festival. Since the information is essential to this post, I'm cut-and-pasting the description of the film from the VIFF catalogue below, below which is an email interview with Graham Peat...
Vancouver in the early 60s was emerging as a city and CBC Vancouver’s film unit, influenced by Italian neorealism and film noir, uniquely captured intimate stories of that period. The talented team produced docu-dramas, portraits, and dramas—all presented as city stories. Each mirrored the grit and glory of our city and some imaginative visions when darkness fell, fuelled by jazz and neon. 
The Seeds (1959) VIFF premiere! Jukeboxes, hot rods and whiskey drive this drama about a gang of misfits who hang out at a Hastings Street juke joint. A booze-up at the waterfront rail yards results in them terrorizing a young mother and her child for kicks. The Seeds was refused broadcast by the CBC and never aired due to its disturbing content. 
The Outcast (1963) A young man with a past leaves his Downtown Eastside rooming house to look for work. He shares his thoughts as he visits the docks and rail yards, shores of English Bay, the industrial Granville Island and neon-clad downtown by night. 
City Patterns (1962) Inspired by the "City Symphony" films, this tribute to Vancouver’s architectural expressions is a parade of interlocking images set to a rousing classical score.
PNE Midway (1960) Shot when the fair turned 50, this visual diary follows carnies as they ready for the crowds; the frenzy of rides, games and concessions, until the midway calms after closing—all rendered in glistening black and white. 
Videomatica’s Graham X Peat brings Vancouver’s history to the big screen once again, with thanks to CBC Vancouver’s Colin Preston. Previous programs: Cinematheque: “Summer of Love” (07), VIFF: “What Happened Last Summer” (07), “In the Daytime” (08), DOXA: “City Beats” (08), “A City’s Image” (11). Film notes above by Mr. Peat.
(Commence Interview!)

AM: How are you sourcing these films? How many did you look at before selecting these? How much more material is there to be considered?

GP: The research for these history programs is ongoing. It's just something I love to do. I usually approach festivals with suggested programs. Sometimes they approach me with a theme. It has worked out well so far with programs presented at Cinematheque, DOXA Festival and of course VIFF for the third time now. City Lens is just one of several potential programs of unseen films I'd like to bring to the big screen. For this show, the films were all made by the CBC-TV Film Unit between 1959 and 1963. The drama "The Seeds" is a premiere. It was rejected by the CBC head as too controversial and was never broadcast. Too realistic a portrayal of displaced youth? I can't wait to see the audience reaction we will get now.

AM: Any particular local highlights that caught your eye in selecting these particular films? Are there any locations depicted in the films that have a personal resonance for you - places that were still around during your childhood, say?

GP: Every one of these films reveals images the city half a century ago. From the docks and railyards, Granville and Hastings streets, English Bay, Granville Island (when it was industrial) to the brand new Oakridge Centre, we see our raw but compelling past, whether we personally experienced it or not. That's the trip. The one film I think many of us will relate to is "PNE Midway". The magic of Playland is still there after 100 years and this fine portrait was shot 50 years ago.

AM: I think you mentioned films relating to the early Vancouver music scene when we spoke - not sure if that was in regard these films or others, yet to be brought into the public eye...

GP: I mentioned that I was interested in a doing a series on Vancouver music/bands. It's going to take more time to develop and the right contacts but I want to do it with a lot of guests.

AM: Are the filmmakers and/or actors - in the case, say, of The Seeds, which sounds fictional - themselves local? Have you tracked any down?

GP: Two films are documentary portraits but two others have characters. "The Outcast" is a doc narrated by and featuring its subject - a young man recently released from prison who spends his day looking for work and trying to fit into society again. "The Seeds" is a drama starring three very solid Vancouver actors - Merv Campone, who later went on to write for The Beachcombers, Lillian Carlson, who made many TV movies, a few features and appeared regularly in CBC series [her credits include Caribou Country, The Beachcombers, Danger Bay, and DaVinci's Inquest]. Otto Lowy was later famous for his long-running CBC Radio series Transcontinental Express. More notes below.

Although much of the talent has passed on, we will have several guests at the first screening. These may include John Fuller Dir/Ed ("The Outcast", "City Patterns"), Doug MacKay, DOP ("City Patterns", "The Outcast"), Kelly Duncan DOP ("The Seeds"), and Stan Fox (producer).

Re: "PNE Midway", Paul Leach (dir/cam) worked for the NFB here in the 60s, freelanced for CBC Vancouver, then moved to New Zealand and became the most-respected cameraman there on many features I remember from the 70s and 80s: Sleeping Dogs, Smash Palace, Utu and The Quiet Earth. He passed away two years ago (2010).

AM: Any other surprises in store? (Videomatica news is also welcomed - how's the sale store working out? Any chance that you'll ever be putting together a compilation DVD of archival material you've dug up?).

GP: Re the archival programs - We only get festival rights with the from each archive so would have to negotiate rights for a release. I have been asked for DVDs of the shows since "City Beats" in 2008 but have not pursued this. I don't know how much demand there really is. Folks sure do like the live shows though!

Monday, September 24, 2012

RIP Sam the Record Man

Back when Vancouver's Record Row still existed, I bought many, many CDs and VHS tapes at Sam the Record Man. The VHS tapes are long gone, but I still have a few CDs that I got there (I remember, at the very least, buying my first Masada CD there). The building where Sam the Record Man was on Seymour street still has door handles in the shape of red "S's," facing each other, which I'm sure mean next to nothing to the ESL school, or whatever it is, that it currently houses. I know nothing about Sam Sniderman but I spent too many hours shopping at his store not to mention his passing, at age 92. You had a good store, Sam, and it sounds like you did good things for Canadian music. Thanks!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

VIFF Preview: Small Roads, Bestiare

Sometimes it can be very hard to pin down what makes one film work and another not. James Benning's 13 Lakes, for instance - consisting of thirteen reel-long static shots of American lakes - was one of the most compelling and rewarding theatrical experiences I've had, when I caught it at a past VIFF, as was his railroad film, RR; his more recent Ruhr, however - also consisting of static shots, this time of a variety of subjects, from Muslims at prayer to a tunnel with traffic to a tower periodically blowing steam that was no doubt designed to evoke 9/11  - was nowhere near as gripping for me. I really can't say why; is it that I simply like lakes and trains? Is there something in their rhythms that is essentially hypnotic, that was not captured by the more idea-based, didactic rhythms of Ruhr? Was I less in the mood for Ruhr, more prone to distraction, on the night I sat down to it? Since I previewed it on video, I had the option of pausing it, or skipping ahead, all of which seems singularly inappropriate with a James Benning film. That might be the problem right there - that I was insufficiently humble/ submissive before the images to get their full effect; but it 20 minutes of intermittent steam doesn't grip me, why would an hour of it? Other than the very long takes, maybe some other feature of the medium (Ruhr was shot on digital video, the others on film) seemed less pleasing to my eye, I really don't know; I don't think I could begin to make an objective argument as to why 13 Lakes (or RR) are must-sees for any lover of cinema, but Ruhr not so essential, despite my very different subjective experiences. In most cases, with films, I can give some arguments as to why I am or am not enthusiastic about them, but with films as experimental as Benning's, it's far less easy to do.

That said, Benning's new film, small roads - all in lower case - sounds like a very promising subject, and I'm looking very much forward to seeing it (I won't preview it; even if a screener is available, I'd rather watch this in the church of cinema). The VIFF guide likens it to RR; I found RR a surprisingly playful film, even recall laughing at certain moments (visual "gags" onscreen that I can't really recall to describe - Benning does have a sense of humour, which is made all the funnier in that you don't necessarily expect it). The sounds were astonishing, too - occasionally I was moved to close my eyes, so I could just hear the trains going by, which may seem like a strange way to "watch" a film, but which proved amply-rewarding: the film left behind being merely meditative and approached the levels of the trance-inducing, which I hope will also be the net effect of small roads... I'm all about the subjective effect, watch films like this because I (usually) like what they do to my mind and my senses, rather than because of anything I hope they will "show" me...
Another film in the VIFF this year seems to bear the marks of Benning's aesthetic, Denis Cote's Bestiare; as with Benning's films, the camera does not move, certain images extend beyond the expected, and there is no narration or dialogue (though as with Leviathan, written about below, people do occasionally talk to each other; I presume the French will not be subtitled when it screens). All the same, the film - like Ruhr - clearly has ideas up its sleeve that extend far beyond total sensory engagement; it offers a critical/ poetic filmed essay about the relationship humans have with animals, shot in the context of a Quebec zoo. Images are framed less to hypnotize than to provoke a sense of estrangement, to make the practices depicted as unfamiliar and as baffling as possible. The upset the animals feel at being caged is captured very poignantly at times; there is a powerful shot of a padlock rattling against a metal door as a lion pounds against it on the other side. The animals, as the very apt VIFF guide description says, also look back at us, the viewer, staring into the camera as if both to challenge our own complacent mode of spectatorship and to emphasize their own restless subjectivity, as constrained by their environment. Some moments in the film are positively surreal in their impact; a visit to what appears to be an in-house taxidermy shop, where we observe a worker preparing a duck for display, raises baffling questions about our relationship to animals - like, why the hell do we stuff dead ones, anyhow? What a strange thing for one species on this planet to do to the others...! More on the film here and here. It's a highly interesting experience, but I confess that, referring to whatever subjective scale I evaluate such matters on, it was not as compelling to watch as, say, the cows going out to pasture at the beginning of Bela Tarr's Satantango (perhaps my favourite image involving animals in recent cinema). Perhaps I'm just a beauty addict? Maybe it's as simple as that? ...Still, Bestiare is well worth a look.

Carbon, Carbon Everywhere (at the 2012 VIFF)

Two VIFF documentaries deal with carbon credits this year, to very different effect. If you don't really know how carbon credits work - or if you're at all concerned about things like access to clean water, indigenous rights, greenwashing, or global warming - these are very interesting films to watch, even though in the end you may suspect one of them is a little less than honest...
One, Carbon For Water, shows a distressing cycle of destruction at work in Kenya, where, as the film sketches out, because of global warming, there is less rain. Because there is less rain, the water that can be found has higher concentrations of bacteria. Because of the bacteria, you have to boil any water you collect before drinking it: but in order to do that, you need to have firewood, which means cutting down trees. Fewer trees means less rain, and less carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, which means more global warming. The cycle then repeats from the beginning, but with ever greater desperation. The Western Province where the documentary is shot is presently still quite lush, and indeed, the film is apparently the source for (or at least the inspiration of) the trees-and-sunlight image on the cover of the new VIFF catalogue, but Kenyans interviewed say the area will eventually be reduced to desert if the current cycle continues.
All of this is interesting and instructive, and rather beautifully filmed, but in the last five minutes (the film is only 25 minutes long, and paired with another short feature, Into the Gyre, which I'll get to presently), Carbon For Water changes tone from the usual dire-warning mode of address of such documentaries to that of an inspirational infomercial for a for-profit company who has found a way to amass "carbon credits"- a sort of industrial kickback that allows polluters to continue to pollute, as long as they bankroll enviro-friendly projects in the developing world - by intervening in the situation in Kenya. They've done this by going door-to-door installing water filters, so that trees no longer have to be cut. Maybe I'm just not used to documentaries like this opting for a positive ending, and maybe the interview subjects are now all happily using their filters, not getting sick, and no longer sending out young girls to spend the whole day collecting firewood - but I felt instant skepticism, since you suddenly start to wonder if the film was somehow bankrolled by the people behind the filter project, for its PR value; it takes on the glowing, positive tone of certain tar sands commercials of late, and leaves you wondering if those filters are actually going to work, if the company will replace them when they wear out (or make other gestures at long-term follow-ups), and if the benefits of having them installed will actually somehow offset, in real-world terms, the greenhouse gases that will be released in the north as a result of the carbon credits trade-off. Call me a cynic, but at the end of the film, the more positive in tenor it got, the more doubt grew in me...
While the exact situation dealt with in Kenya is not mentioned in The Carbon Rush, these sorts of suspicions are amply confirmed by it. The film - also featured in VIFF 2012 - is about the way that carbon credits are being exploited in the southern hemisphere to create only superficially green projects, themselves for profit, which are somehow seen as excusing continued emission of greenhouse gases in the north. The film  hammers home circumstance after circumstance - in India, in Brazil, in Honduras, in Panama - where new projects have been created that are in fact less sustainable than the systems they replace, and involve, in most cases, either displacing indigenous peoples from their land, depriving them of a means of income, and/or having them harassed or killed by private security forces policing these new developments, who couldn't give a damn that they're supposed to be promoting a media-friendly public image for the mega-corporations behind them. One concrete example, pictured below, involves the recycling of garbage in New Delhi - a well-established practice that once provided a livelihood for many people; it has been replaced, thanks to the "rush" to exploit the carbon credits market, by a system of burning garbage for fuel, which is vastly less environmentally friendly and which profits not the locals, but the corporation behind it (and the big polluters who end up the beneficiary of said carbon credits).
Unlike Carbon For Water, there is no feelgood ending to The Carbon Rush; in fact, the situation in each place the filmmakers visit seems pretty grim, and the film shows in no uncertain terms that much that is being sold to us as "green" is just the same old exploitation of the developing world. An angry, strong film, narrated by Darryl Hannah, well worth watching.

One final thing about Carbon for Water, though - the first film mentioned, the one I came not to trust: lest I dissuade anyone from seeing it, it is paired with another documentary that is very much worth seeing, which also is far less apocalyptic in tenor than one might expect it to be, without seeming at all compromised. Into the Gyre - official site here - is about the North Atlantic Garbage Patch - an area in the Sargasso Sea where floating garbage, especially plastic, has gravitated in considerable quantity. This film comes as a considerable relief to me, as I'd bought into the exaggerations of the media and Camp Doom-n-Gloom that said garbage patch was some kind of gigantic floating wasteland that could support your body weight, an island of accumulated refuse, drifting in the ocean and growing ever larger. Turns out that this is far from the truth; there is indeed a troublesome amount of plastic - mostly broken down into tiny bits - floating in the gyre of the title, but as the film shows - as it documents the efforts of a scientific team to measure the plastic present - the ocean still looks very much like ocean: it's nowhere as bad as you may think. Even if the circumstances are troubling indeed - fish caught are revealed to have many small chunks of plastic in their digestive system, for example, which will then work their way up the food chain - I was positively cheered to discover for once that things weren't as bad as I thought they were. After The Carbon Rush, this was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

VIFF must-see: Leviathan

I previewed a remarkable VIFF documentary today called Leviathan (that's a VIFF link; the official site is here, a NY Times article here). Aesthetically, the film exists on some sort of continuum between Gaspar Noe (due to its impossible, disorienting, but utterly compelling camera movements) and the films of Michael Glawogger (in particular, the Nigerian open-air slaughterhouse of Workingman's Death), with maybe a pinch of the Hostel aesthetic for good measure; I've seen nothing quite like it, and despite having seen it this evening on the small screen, will definitely be making time to catch it on the big screen at VIFF at least once. The film - the writers of the VIFF catalogue describe it as "immersive," which surely is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to how much time the camera spends in the water - shows in intimate and often gory detail the realities of modern fishing: reeling in and casting out the nets, gutting the fish, hosing down decks, cutting open shellfish, and so forth; it lacks any narration or overtly narrative structure, and mostly consists of long, unbroken takes (from very motile, often seemingly free-floating cameras), with no music or explanation of what you're seeing; while the fishermen  do speak to one another occasionally, it's never in the context of a conversation you can or need to follow. 
Perhaps none of this sounds like the stuff of a near hallucinatory, transcendental, profoundly visually rewarding film experience, but that's exactly what Leviathan is. The film is shot from the point of view of obviously very small digital cameras, which sometimes appear to do utterly impossible things - unobtrusively tracking a trapped bird about a deck, being swept out to sea with the chum,  and/or  floating amidst dead fish, fishguts, scallop shells and the occasional bit of harvested garbage inside the boat. One lengthy shot has the camera stream along behind the ship, reeling freely, showing us glimpses of discarded fish parts below the water and seagulls above; I would be unsurprised to discover that the camera was simply being pulled through the water, with no control or operator input over what it captured (this also seems to be the case as we slosh about with the fishheads). It's breathtaking stuff, particularly since the camera movements are for the most part quite new; you've never seen a film composed quite this way before, and - if you're a cinephile, at least - the awareness of this originality will make it all the more compelling. There are only three or four sequences that depart from the aesthetic mentioned above, all showing the crew (at work, at rest, even in the shower) with static cameras; these are not as interesting, either formally or in terms of the images captured (because a fat man in the shower is simply not as exciting to watch as eye-level sloshing fish viscera: if I want to see a fat man in the shower, I can pull aside the shower curtain and catch myself in the mirror any old time, at least until it steams up). There is probably a point to these shots that justifies them, but you'll be eager to get back out into the chum and the gulls and the destructive, industrial-strength mess outside, which, thankfully, is where we spend 85% of the film's runtime.
Leviathan was made with the participation of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (a positively Cronenbergian name, eh?); another film in this year's VIFF, People's Park, also emerges from this group, though I have not yet seen it and can't speak for it. The lab is headed by Leviathan co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor, who also co-directed a previous VIFF favourite, Sweetgrass, following Montana sheep ranchers and their animals. I was less than 100% enthusiastic about Sweetgrass, but Leviathan is an absolute must-see; wordplay aside, it truly is immersive, a visual and auditory feast and an essential document of our world, horrifying as it sometimes can be. It's rather like The Act of Seeing With Ones Own Eyes for fishing. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Iron Sky: last two nights

Does Julia Dietze in Iron Sky remind anyone of a certain former frontwoman for a well-loved Vancouver band? Granted, her eye-makeup isn't as scary, but...

This is the final weekend to catch Iron Sky at the Vancity Theatre!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tony Scott tribute at the Vancity Theatre

Any other ghouls like me out there? Not since David Carradine have I spent so much time revisiting someone's Wikipedia page trying to see if there's new information on someone's death. Of course, there's no question that Tony Scott ever planned to survive jumping off that bridge, but his death certificate doesn't list his death as a suicide, officially, saying only that the cause of death is "pending investigation." As yet, no one knows why he would choose to die. Stories of him having inoperable brain cancer have proven untrue, and his suicide notes apparently make no mention of a motive. There's a bit of a "Richard Cory" factor to all of this, really - why would someone apparently so active and successful want to do such a thing? It seems to make no sense, raises questions about the nature of happiness, of success, and leaves you feeling that some vital piece of information is missing from the story, making understanding what he did impossible. Assuming his family are as much in the dark as the general public, the lack of closure, the inability to comprehend the man's last act must be maddening indeed.
Attending Friday's tribute to Tony Scott at the Vancity Theatre, True Romance, will do nothing to make matters more clear, and I'm  not sure how watching that film will be through the filter of recent events, but it sure will serve as a brilliant opportunity to re-evaluate the man's craft and accomplishments. This is a very, very stylish, smartly-made, high-energy piece of cinema, based on a Quentin Tarantino screenplay; the film enters a sort of critical mass of talent with its  supporting cast (IMDB here), and boasts as a centerpiece a memorable confrontation between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. (Sopranos fans will also really enjoy a rather bloody moment between Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini). There are also roles for Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Saul Rubinek, Bronson Pinchot - and what the hell, Samuel L. Jackson is in it, too? Hell, I don't even remember him...
As for re-evaluating Tony Scott's talents, I'm rather pleased that it's happening, since - as I'm very glad to have said publicly BEFORE Tony Scott killed himself - I think he's the more interesting of the two Scott brothers, the more accomplished stylist and a filmmaker with a highly recognizable, distinctive approach to the language of cinema, which is, in fact, very rare in American mainstream movies, which generally seem to strive to look alike. Several of his films are unwatchable crap, sure, but the ones that are interesting are VERY interesting (Enemy of the State and True Romance are favourites, and I have full intentions of revisiting Crimson Tide and The Hunger, and seeing Domino for the first time, sometime soon; his thriller Deja Vu is pretty decent, too). 
Still, there are perils in post mortem revisionism (think, here, of Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad) - don't get too carried away, here, folks. Lemmy Kilmister once chuckled when I asked him about a lyric from the song "Escalator" on the Sam Gopal album he wrote and sang the songs for, years before Motorhead: "If you think you like me living, baby, you're going to love me when I'm dead." He elaborated, "that’s because people get better when they’re dead! I mean, Buddy Holly and Randy Rhoads - they acquired much more dexterity on the guitar when they were dead. Nobody seemed to notice it before!" Anyone skeptical about my enthusiasm for True Romance, based on this sort of principle, should note that I own it, The Hunger, and Enemy of the State on DVD, none of which were acquired after Scott's jump. These are interesting films, always were, and would still be so if Tony Scott were still alive...!

Developments re: Carney, Rappaport, Jost

Filmmaker Jon Jost -whose work, it happens, I first heard about through Ray Carney - has posted an update re: the attempts to restore to filmmaker Mark Rappaport various films that are in the possession of Carney. I've weighed in on this a couple of times, in a comment on Jost's previous post and on the Mubi thread, trying to urge third parties to be at least somewhat cautious in how they characterize Carney (cf. David Ehrenstein's "Stop, Thief!" post, which describes him as a "parasitic carbon-based life form"), but indeed, things do look very, very bad for Carney. I find the whole situation highly unfortunate, because a) I have greatly valued some of Carney's writing, and been introduced to many interesting films and filmmakers by him; and b) I have at times defended Carney in the past - it's been fashionable to abuse him in certain quarters for a few years now, at least some of which he has brought on himself, but which, until now, has often seemed cruel, ad hominem, and excessive. To some extent, I'm probably guilty of throwing good money after bad, here, but I haven't wanted to believe the worst. The longer he maintains public silence (while refusing to return Rappaport's materials), the harder this gets.

Those interested in some background on Carney and Cassavetes scholarship, in part involving the Vancity Theatre's Tom Charity - himself an author of an excellent book about Cassavetes - should read this Jonathan Rosenbaum article...

Catching Up with The Cabin in the Woods

I actually missed The Cabin in the Woods during its theatrical run, but now rather wish I hadn't: turns out this is a smart, entertaining meta-horror/ comedy, which offers not only a horror narrative (five friends go camping at a cabin in the woods, where bad things will doubtlessly happen) but a framework that comments on that narrative, which will prove very satisfying to anyone who has dipped into film theory, especially in regard to horror (fans of Robin Wood or Carol J. Clover will be right at home). It's also really refreshing to see an on-screen pothead who is gifted with fleeting moments of super-intelligent insight - a function of marijuana normally not emphasized in cinematic representations, which tend to overlook the useful aspects of pot in favour of the many less useful ones, lest anyone be seen as promoting drug use (heaven forbid). The film is a bit silly, but entertainingly so; and whatever its absurdities on the level of plot, they are amply made up for in terms of rich thematic content. I have no intention of writing at any length about it, but anyone actually interested in my recommendations should check it out; about my only quibble, really, is that the climax needed far more tentacles.

Of course, where meta-horror is concerned, the upcoming VIFF film Berberian Sound Studio sure does sound interesting, but I haven't seen it yet. Further VIFF writing is forthcoming on this blog...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking the Denman Cinemas out with a festival

I was always fond of the Denman Cinemas. I can't say I'm surprised they're closing, given the way things are going, but I've seen many super-cheap double and triple bills there and always thought they were a damn good deal and a nice little  neighbourhood cinema. If I still lived in the West End, I'd be a lot more upset to see them close. Nice gesture, though, that they're going to shut down with a festival of audience favourites (including a Lebowski Bash!). I won't be there, folks, but consider my hat tipped briefly in respect...

Of Robin Wood, David Cronenberg, and... Clint Eastwood?

Robin Wood's book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (updated a few years ago with and ...and Beyond added to the title) is one of my favourite works of film criticism, politicized or otherwise; the book looks at the changes in American cinema from the 1970's - a time of gritty, cynical, despairing, and often highly revealing films unafraid to challenge the status quo - to the 1980's, with the rise of Lucas and Spielberg and an attempt to (I believe Wood's term was) "paper over the cracks" revealed in the previous decade and create a cinema of reaction and reassurance, which we have with us to this very day. It's one of the few essential volumes of film criticism I'd point cinephiles towards - consistently thought-provoking and memorable, and always a pleasure to read. I was most saddened by Wood's death in 2009, and am happy to say that I have an essay coming up in CineAction (in issue #88, I believe) that engages with a particular aspect of his legacy. I mean no disrespect for the man whatsoever that I spend most of that essay disagreeing with him.
I should explain a bit. I was introduced to Robin Wood's writing with the essay "Cronenberg: A Dissenting View" included in The Shape of Rage, a book on the films of David Cronenberg published in the mid-1980s. In it, Wood takes issue with what he perceives as misogyny, a disgust towards sex, a reactionary fear of social change, and a general mood of grimness and wasted energy found throughout Cronenberg's early commercial features. 
Wood's essay is remarkable insofar as he stands utterly alone in the book (and among film critics of the day, who were rushing to call Cronenberg a "visionary," a term Wood takes lucid exception with) in challenging the merit of Cronenberg's work. Further, he does so with arguments that seem on first blush to make a great deal of sense; he writes about Cronenberg in such a way that he provoked me, at least, to step back and re-consider all of the man's films that I had seen at that point, and ask where Wood got it right, and why, and where he got it wrong (and how). This was an extremely valuable reaction, an extremely useful provocation, since it made me really think about Cronenberg's films, and about my own values, perceptions, and viewing habits; while at the end of my process of re-examination I found I still admired the movies under discussion - Shivers, Rabid and The Brood were the three most hotly contested in Wood's essay - I saw them in much richer terms, thanks to Robin Wood: it may seem a paradox, but no other piece of writing on Cronenberg has done so much to enhance my appreciation of the man's films as Wood's thoroughgoing attempt at a repudiation of them.
Since reading Wood's essay some 20 years ago, some part of me had been waiting for an opportunity to write a paper that really delved into Wood's self-described "attack" on Cronenberg. I was reminded of this after a brief chat with Tom Charity after a screening of Rabid at the Vancity Theatre a few years ago; and last year, a class at UBC, taught by Cronenberg scholar Ernest Mathijs, finally gave me the opportunity to write an early draft of it. The final essay, much revised, will be appearing in the upcoming issue of CineAction, entitled "Sex, Science, and the 'Female Monstrous': Wood Contra Cronenberg, Revisited." 
I'm pretty pleased with this essay, actually. While I've published plenty of interviews, reviews and blog-rants, not much that counts as serious criticism has appeared in print under my name, and thanks to the help of editor Susan Morrison (very patient, very perceptive) and a lot of time spent reworking the piece, I think the end result is pretty damn good! Not exactly sure when it will hit the shelves - the present issue, 87, also has essays dealing with Wood and Cronenberg, and is currently what one finds on the shelves, so don't grab the wrong one by mistake.
Meantime, those of you curious about Robin Wood should consider seeing High Plains Drifter at the Cinematheque on Friday. One would not expect an openly gay, feministic, left-wing film scholar like Wood to have much praise for the films of Clint Eastwood, but one of Wood's great virtues is his willingness to stand out from the crowds in championing (or attacking) certain films (he was certainly one of the only gay critics to have much good to say about William Friedkin's Cruising). High Plains Drifter was a film Wood much admired. He describes it in Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond as "crude but remarkable... the Lone Hero rides in from the Wilderness not to defend the Growing Community but to reveal it as rotten to its very foundations before annihilating it" (p. 25). Later in the book, comparing the film with fusions of horror and the western like Race With The Devil, he describes it as "a Western in which the Hero from the Wilderness turns out to be the Devil (or his emissary) and burns the town (American civilization) to the ground after revealing it as fundamentally corrupt and renaming it Hell" (p. 76). (The caps are meant to emphasize the archetypal elements in the film, which are strong indeed).
Nevermind that Eastwood would likely not credit the idea that he ever wanted to burn American civilization to the ground - unless that's what he has in mind by backing Mitt Romney, har, har - there was a time when he made some pretty energetic, provocative, and even, yes, politically interesting films (I confess to also really enjoying The Gauntlet on a recent re-viewing of it, despite the absurd levels of paranoia and self-pity on display; it kinda makes me want to re-visit Sudden Impact and to read at least portions of Sondra Locke's tell-all memoir of her time with him, The Good, The Bad, and the Very Ugly). I haven't really been that intrigued by Clint's recent films - I've seen very few since the early 1990's - but High Plains Drifter is certainly one of his most interesting accomplishments, and doubtlessly his nastiest film to date (I remember there's some rape stuff in it that made me really uncomfortable when I last viewed it, many years ago). Check it out Friday, double billed with the classic Jimmy Stewart/ Anthony Mann western, Winchester '73 - and be sure to let me know if you agree with Wood's interpretation...! Other critics discuss the film here
(By the way, though none of our attempts at capturing stills to illustrate the essay ultimately were high enough quality for CineAction, thanks go to Dan Kibke for his patience and efforts in helping me; at least the stills make for good blog illustrations. Thanks, Dan!).

Oh, and by the way: Happy Birthday, Penelope!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Panos Cosmatos: What's In My Bag?

I blogged a bunch about Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow awhile back - see here for links to all past articles. Fans of the film should check out this rather amusing Youtube clip, in which Panos reveals his commitment to genre and recommends some rather unexpected titles (have I mentioned lately how much I hate Ridley Scott's Black Rain? Mostly because of its title, which seems to have been designed to overwrite and obfuscate the existence of Shohei Imamura's sensitive and painful film about the after-effects of the Hiroshima bombing - a film which actually does have black rain in it, as is not the case with Scott's movie. Plus the film is filled with blatant cliches and misperceptions about Japan; no one who has spent so much as a weekend there would credit it. With the possible exception of WWII propaganda movies or more recent fare like The Last Samurai or Memoirs of a Geisha - both of which I have both successfully managed to completely avoid seeing - it perhaps represents the bottom of the film cannister when it comes to Americans getting it wrong about Japan).

By the by, Beyond the Black Rainbow is now available on  Blu-Ray and DVD!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Dead Kennedys are not idiots

Whatever else you may say about East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride, and DH Peligro, they're not idiots: they've picked three opening bands strong enough that there is now actually some lure to going to their Commodore show, October 2nd. I mean, it'd be a hoot to see the Dayglo Abortions at the Commodore, and I'd like to see the Jolts again, since I haven't really ever done them justice. I hear the Liquor Kings are great, too...

Don't get me wrong, it still seems lame for these guys to tour without Jello. I was talking to a friend of theirs, actually, and sorta waved my arms and said "it's like Doug and the Slugs touring without Doug!" and from his laughter I could see he saw my point (he had no idea that Doug and the Slugs reactivated with a new lead singer, not named Doug, after Doug died). Still, I gotta admit, I'm now kind of curious. I wonder how many people will attend; how many will go with the express purpose in mind of heckling; and how many will actually confess to having enjoyed the experience, at the end? (Fewer than actually do, I bet).

Anyhow, here's the gig poster:

Meantime, did y'all see this? Some disrespectful mofo had this up on Facebook - frickin' funny. NO ONE WOULD HAVE DONE THIS WHEN JELLO WAS IN THE BAND:

On the hookers of Maple Ridge

So here's a charming new twist. The area where I live - in the heart of a small suburban town, flanked by several retirement buildings and Mom & Pop shops, only a few blocks away from the local high school, and surrounded by homes with families - has become the new stroll for streetwalkers. You see them standing at certain intersections in clusters of two or three in the afternoon, and every couple of nights, as I walk between my Mom's apartment and my own, I'm getting asked if I want a date, or more frequently if I have an extra cigarette to sell, by rather rough looking women dressed in tight skirts or short shorts and high heels, many of them looking like they're kind of in need of a fix - like they're already doing the math in their head, calculating the amount of time it would take to get me off, separate me from my money, call their dealer, and get whatever it is they need into their bloodstream. There have always been prostitutes in Maple Ridge, but suddenly this summer, they've become much more visible and numerous; their appearance has become a regular part of the landscape.

I know that there are people out there who have abundant compassion for working girls. I've interviewed a couple - Chris Walter writes pretty sympathetically about them in his books; Annie Sprinkle used to be one. I realize that most women on the street don't have the best of lives or the largest number of options, that many have experience of poverty and desperation that I should be grateful I know nothing of, that many have addictions to support, and that they face all sorts of safety issues in doing what they do, from abusive pimps to weirdo johns to the Picktons of the world roaming free. The ones who don't have HIV or hepatitis or some other STD probably don't want it; the ones who do have these diseases (or others) probably don't enjoy it. Neverminding their geographical proximity, I live pretty far from the world of such women, but I firmly believe that their trade should be legalized and regulated, like any other victimless crime - because I think these women have the right to sell their sex if they want to, and that men who want to buy it shouldn't be stopped, and that legalization is the key to making it a safer, healthier profession (and reducing situations like the one I'm presently writing about). Prohibition obviously doesn't work - it's not stopping these girls from being out there on my street, it didn't protect them from a trip to the pig farm, and it probably won't help them get them off the street once they're on it. If anything, it makes their work more dangerous, since they have to do it covertly, without the protection of or recourse to the law. Present me a candidate who runs on a reformer's platform for the benefit of sex trade workers, and I'll happily vote for him or her. Whatever can be done to reduce the stigma, the danger, and the health risks these girls face, I'm all for it - legalized brothels in a red light district (at a remove from residential areas) sound like a definite starting place.

But you know what I really, really don't want? Scraggy, impoverished junkie ho's in high heels and trashy costumes approaching me with offers of sex-for-money, or even a hint in that direction, a block from where I live. I really, really do not care for this experience and would like it to stop. What I wish I could communicate to them, what I wish they understood is that what they register as, to me, when they turn their hungry eyes in my direction, is not very different from the homeless people who spare change me; the point is still that they want what money they imagine I have, and they only make the whole scenario that more grotesque and pathetic with the implication that I am desperate, incautious, or otherwise insane enough to want to have sex with them in return. Uh, no thanks! Whatever compassion I strive to maintain for them in the realm of my politics is far from my instinctive emotional response when one of them turns her attention my way. When I hear, "Hey, mister, do you want a date?" - if I could speak with 100% honesty to this request, give them the full uncensored reaction that I feel welling up in me, I would recoil, shuddering, and declaim something like:

"With you? Are you fucking kidding?"

I don't say this, of course - it would be potentially bad for my health, for one, and probably hurt their feelings. I don't want to do that, but nor do I want to just swallow my bile and steel myself and just mutter "no" and keep walking, because the distaste at being thus solicited does not lessen in the slightest, and a polite "no" does nothing to dissuade them from asking me the same fucking question the next night. They're almost as annoying as the two weirdo Christians who lurk in suits in the alleys at odd hours and want to talk to passers-by about God, frankly.

Well, no. I'll give them that - the hookers aren't as bad as those two weirdo Christians (they come off like really slimy Mormons but may also be Christ Scientists, since they do their shtick in proximity to a Christian Scientist church. If they had any idea how creepy they seem they would evaporate in shame; you just don't approach strangers in an alley at night in teams and try to talk to them about God!). Still, I have no idea how to wrestle with the etiquette of the situation - maybe I should ask Dan Savage! - and no desire to HAVE to; I would rather it not be part of my daily life in Maple Ridge, frankly. Part of the resentment and rage I feel is a simple nimby conservatism; this is the small town where I grew up and it really just doesn't NEED this new development. It's not like Maple Ridge isn't depressing enough...

Anyhow, I think I came up with a strategy tonight that might work to get at least a few of them - the hookers, not the Christers - to stop approaching me.* When an obvious workin' girl asked me the cigarette question a short while ago, I said "No, no I don't" in a way that was just a little too loud and a little too firm, as if to emphasize that not only did I not have a cigarette, but that I understood how the rest of the conversation would go if I did, and that I was speaking to the whole implied transaction. She said something in reply - I didn't quite catch it off the bat, but walking away - hearing the clack of her high heels receding in the distance - I realized it was probably "okay, I won't bother you again."

I actually kind of admired the way she handled that, to be honest. I may try that strategy again with the next one... If not I think I'm just going to have to politely explain to them that I am not now nor will I ever be interested and I would really, really rather they didn't bother me, and/or took their trade somewhere further from my door.

*I feel no need whatsoever to be polite to these two Christers - I think the words "fuck off, you freaks" or their equivalent ended my last interaction with them, after which I half-ran home, looking behind myself periodically to make sure they weren't following; their approach was that unsettling. They have, in point of fact, not bothered me since, and only ever solicited me twice - if dealing with them was a regular aspect of this town I would have moved long ago. At least I know exactly what the hookers WANT...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Darren Williams checks in

Received from "sax machine" Darren Williams:
Hey Dr. Allan, 
How hangs it? Just wanted to let you know about a show I'm doing, maybe you could plug it on your blog... 
The Freedman trio is really really great, playing oddball faux jazz on a ukulele, a suitcase (used as drums... seriously) and a bristle from a street sweeper truck (used as a bass... again, seriously) They will be playing music by Lori Freedman and Myk Freedman (no relation) in their own beautifully indelible way. Check it out at: 
Also, I'm in the opener playing bassoon with our own Peggy Lee and a SFU grad student Nancy Tam, who hails from Toronto/Waterloo... This first gig in a very long time of playing improv solely bassoon. This is also the first time I'll be playing with Peggy Lee, and Nancy, for that matter. Could be awesome. I sent you the flyer for the show (by yours truly - maybe I should go into business for this stuff..?) 
Anyway, I know you're not likely to make the show, but I'd thought I'd take bug and place firmly in ear (yours.) 
I hope this note finds you well.