Thursday, January 31, 2013

Yet More DOA

Bad cellphone photography by Allan MacInnis

...So someone wrote into the Straight to gripe about the frequency of DOA farewell shows. A little research showed that in fact this is bordering on being a Vancouver punk rock urban myth. It apparently all started when DOA announced two farewell concerts in December 1990, with the second taking place something like thirteen days after the first, both at the Commodore. Some people rolled their eyes at that - "didn't they just break up two weeks ago" - but it made sense; the first show had sold out almost instantly, a lot of people hadn't gotten to see it, and - well, I'm sure money may have had something to do with it, too, but all the same, it wasn't a fake farewell: the band called it quits for nearly two years after that. I couldn't quite go into that much detail in the resulting Payback Time in the Straight, but it was amusing to contemplate that out of that one moment of, um, frailty, this whole mythos was spawned, of DOA being the band that breaks up and reunites all the damn time...
Also of interest for DOA fans: I put together a DOA article for The Big Takeover website, to promote the four California farewell shows, starting tonight. It's made up mostly of outtakes from my original Straight piece, but it still isn't without interest, I hope!
The photos here are from DOA's Victoria farewell at Club 9one9, January 27th. Nice venue - great sound, the stage at just the right height, and there's an actual honest to god PIT for moshers, perfectly designed, with the rest of the venue on different levels, so you can see over people's heads and not get jostled! Some smart-as-hell venue-design; surprised I've never seen a space quite like it before. People interested in checking it out should note that Nomeansno will be playing there in late February, in addition to their March 2nd Rickshaw gig...
Okay, enough DOA already!

PS - holy shit! Spinning Loggerheads, another DOA album I missed and am only now catching up on. Goddamn is the "Folsom Prison Dirge" ever good!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A few things on The Thing

Rob Ager has updated his analysis on Youtube of The Thing - interesting stuff; he really has a fine eye for details. The Thing is playing tomorrow at the Vancity Theatre - both the original John Carpenter version and the 2011 prequel. I wasn't a huge fan of the 2011 film, but nor did I loathe it...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Codeine covered Gerry Hannah!

Just stumbled across this today - just great, though somewhat, uh, downbeat...!

Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda

I have written periodically about my enthusiasm for Patricia Highsmith. An enterprising blogger has posted scans from the children's book she illustrated, with rhymes from her then-girlfriend, Doris Sanders. I've often been curious about this book, but not to the extent of being willing to pay hefty collector's prices for it (one is on eBay at the moment for $350, with no dust jacket); so this counts as a valuable public service, by me!

Now someone just needs to scan some of Highsmith's stories for Jap Buster Johnson!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mixed reviews, plus The State of Things re: video in the 'burbs

Unless you count Meadows Video - I personally think of it as being in a different town, since I can't walk there from here in under three hours - Maple Ridge has one functioning video store remaining, Little Shop of Movies, a small indy shop that opened after Rogers Video and Blockbuster shut down. Once every two months or so I'll head down there to see what's new; it usually takes about that long for a few titles to amass on the new arrivals wall that strike my curiosity. It's no Black Dog, no Limelight, no Happy Bats (RIP) - it has a very limited, crowd-pleasing, standard suburban Mom & Pop video store stock, with very few foreign films, cult films, or classics (unless the original version of Total Recall is your idea of a classic); still, the fellow who runs it is personable enough, and I find the whole process of renting movies that I could steal for free without leaving my home vaguely morally rewarding, as well as being a source of nostalgic pleasure and familiarity. Just as some people prefer vinyl to CD because they appreciate the rituals of taking the record out of its sleeve, selecting a side, placing the needle in the groove, I enjoy the rituals of perusing the New Arrivals wall now and then, and there's an added poignancy to knowing that it will inevitably eventually be a wholly extinct pastime. Plus occasionally the odd one-off that I'd been meaning to see pops up on the shelf there and surprises me, like Rec3, which, contrary to the consensus, I enjoyed immensely (I understand why some fans of that franchise were disappointed, but I personally loved the idea of situating the onset of the zombie apocalypse in the midst of a wedding, so the zombie-narrative is subordinated entirely to the love story at the film's centre, as the separated newly-weds struggle to survive and reunite; it'd be a great film with which to introduce a non-zombie-loving girlfriend to the genre).
This week's rentals were a mixed lot. End of Watch uses a sort of shakycam, pseudo-doc aesthetic, and has engaging performances from the leads (Jake Gyllenhall, Michael Pena); but it really doesn't do much that's new or daring, it has utterly nothing to say about video, voyeurism, or technology - it's not like Gyllenhall's character ends up filming something that ends up being key to a case, or such - and politically, it's somewhat boringly conservative: a film about how tough the cops have it, how nice they are once you get to know them, and how sad it is that they're treated so badly. The film makes a few attempts to humanize the gangsters, too, but by the climax, the bad guys are reduced to signifiers of subhuman evil, to be gunned down without hesitation or compassion - not exactly breaking new ground, here. While I'm not against pro-cop movies, this is no Electra Glide in Blue, and I generally prefer the James Ellroy mode of representing Los Angeles cops either as violent, morally complex, conflicted men, often scarier than the criminals around them (Dark Blue, Rampart) or as careerists trying to negotiate (and occasionally compromise with) systemic evil on their rise up the ladder, sometimes including coming into conflict with corrupt and vicious superiors (LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia, Street Kings). End of Watch is well-made, and  Pena and Gyllenhall work well with each other, but in the end its still sort of Adam 12 with a downbeat, somewhat predictable ending (the filmmakers toy with the possibility of offering a less predictable ending, so presumably they're well aware of how formulaic it all ends up: if you don't mind a spoiler, the issue at stake is whether the white guy is going to die so the brown guy can live, or vice versa. Which ending do you think mainstream white audiences would be more satisfied by?).
Speaking of brown guys, Searching for Sugar Man tells a great story, has terrific music, captures some of the delights of amateur musicology, and has some surprisingly beautiful footage to boot, but on the other hand, at this point, it almost feels like watching Jandek on Corwood after Jandek started playing live: the story has changed quite a bit since the film's release, in part due to the movie itself. (I suppose I should call a spoiler alert - if you know nothing of Rodriguez, the musician who is the subject of the film, or the story that the film tells, of an obscure US musician who was, unknown to anyone in the States, a runaway success in apartheid-era South Africa, then go check out the film forthwith, and skip the rest of this paragraph). Rodriguez played Vancouver half a year ago, so the key surprise of the movie (Rodriguez is alive!) comes as no surprise at all. There is still considerable interest in its depiction of South Africa before the end of apartheid, where white music fans somehow attached to Rodriguez in the millions -- though the film, oddly enough, does nothing to explore the racial dimension of this. As much as it may have contributed to his non-starter of a career in the States, did Rodriguez's brown skin, combined with his more or less "white" music - there's nothing at all Latin about it - appeal to white South Africans as some sort of image of unthreatening, idealistic cultural/ racial fusion? (At one point one of the white folk interviewed describes Rodriguez as "white," which is a curiously colour-blind thing for a white South African to say, particularly given that Rodriguez is a fairly dark dude. The film avoids querying such moments). Meantime, no mention whatsoever is made of whether Rodriguez appealed to any non-white South Africans, who are almost completely excluded from the film - one guesses there wasn't a lot of crossover between demographics, but its a question the filmmakers never think to address, maybe because they take for granted a level of knowledge about how things were in apartheid-era South Africa that I don't actually possess. Still, there is a lot of charm in their efforts to decode clues from Rodriguez albums as to who this man is and where he might be, which will remind everyone of their own experiences poring over records (or, uh, CDs) at age 13 trying to glean as much information as possible from what's present. It's a good documentary, with several magical moments... but it doesn't need my praise, it's getting enough from others.
Another rental, The Possession, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a concerned father trying to look after his youngest daughter after she's possessed by a dybbuk, has almost nothing to add to the genre, save for the Jewish content; almost every idea in it originates in another film, most notably The Exorcist, and there are lots of moments when you'll see things coming miles away. It's also a fairly conservative film, with everything hinging on a return to tradition and a reuniting of the divided family. Still, it's a well-crafted, watchable film, it has some imaginative effects, and Morgan does a good job as the affable but somewhat lackadaisical dad who must mobilize to save his child. People who like the use of moths in horror will definitely want to see it, as well: I guess that's an innovation, it makes more of its moths than most horror films do.
What I really enjoyed this week, that merits some attention? The shakycam horror anthology, V/H/S, which is surprisingly smart, shockingly gory, and very, very effective at times (even if it cheats a little now and then - I actually prefer my shakycam movies to adhere rigorously to the limitations they set for themselves). There are more fresh ideas on hand than in any dozen other horror films I've seen lately, and the film as a whole is anything but conservative; it aims to unsettle, on a very deep level, by offering one upsetting "found-footage" story after another, all  themed to some extent on the mutual mistrust between the sexes. The overarching narrative follows a group of thuggish amateur pornographers, who break into a house, searching for a particular videotape that someone is willing to pay a great deal for. They bring their cameras to record their crime, as suits their MO. We're never told what's on the video, but they presumably know, as they find hundreds of tapes to choose from in the house, and set about watching a few of them to try to locate the one they're after; these make up the bulk of the film. I loved each of these stories in a different way. The first, "Amateur Night," directed by David Bruckner, involves another group of amateur pornographers who set up to surreptitiously film a sexual encounter that goes very, very wrong, in ways that I for one found utterly delightful. Hannah Fierman's character, Lily,  is one of the best, erm, "monsters" I've encountered, and totally deserving of a feature of her own; if only the film industry were such that her fellatio scene could have been depicted in full! Some reviewers have noted a disgust with the female in this episode, found misogyny there, but - as horrifying as Lily might get, I utterly fell in love with her - especially in the dismissive, uninterested way she rips one of her would-be exploiters cock and balls off and flings them away, while feeding from his neck. It goes up there with Hostel II, I Spit On Your Grave, and (sorry, Oshima-san) In The Realm Of The Senses as one of the great castrations in film history, precisely because it is done so dismissively - "get this shit out of here!"
The rest of the film deserves to be seen without spoilers of any sort - you can read about the individual episodes on Wikipedia, if you must. Ti West's "Second Honeymoon" probably cheats a bit, but has a couple of genuine surprises, borrows very well from the Paranormal Activity technique of having people observed while sleeping, and has what may be the most realistic, snuff-level gore I've encountered in a film. (Normally that sort of thing is not appealing to me, believe it or not, but the "money shot" in the scene is so intense and realistic I had to watch it twice; it makes the throat-slitting at the end of S&Man look like child's play). Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday the 17th" is probably the silliest episode, with an absurd, it's-almost-a-joke premise,  reflected in the smirking title: a group of friends go into the woods, where one of them was previously traumatized by a killer, whom she proposes to confront. Somehow, however, despite being none-too-original and none-too-serious - it reminded me of the episode in Creepshow 2 where the kids are stuck on a raft, menaced by carnivorous pond-scum - it was genuinely the scariest of the film's episodes: the killer and his appearances are terrifying, the video effects highly disturbing, and the gore upsetting and not at all easy to watch. I felt acutely uncomfortable watching the film alone in a dark apartment during this segment - it got deeply under my skin, in ways that didn't make a lot of sense, tapping into some fear that reality might dissolve and irrational things start to happen; the film makes reference to the idea of getting "The Fear," and it certainly gave me "The Fear" in spades.
Mumblecore man Joe Swanberg's episode, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" is, by contrast, the least scary of the film's stories, and the one episode that depends on a technological unlikelihood - a Skype conversation recorded on VHS tape! But it marks what surely is the first ever use of Skype as a vehicle of horror,  which is interesting in its own right, and expands the theme of the mistrust between men and women in new directions. Voyeurism has often been represented onscreen through killer's eye view shots, but never before via a picture-in-picture insert, showing us the voyeur's face!
The film's final episode, "10/31/98", and the "close" of its overarching frame narrative, are relative weak points, but only because the previous episodes are so good; they still have their satisfying and surprising moments. V/H/S has been somewhat lazily received, with almost everyone emphasizing that it's uneven, but I liked every minute of it, thought it offered a host of different perspectives on both video voyeurism and the state of relations between men and women. I imagine fans of retro media will find it interesting, as well (though it's curious that there are a lot of audiocassette junkies out there, but very few obvious videocassette ones). Maybe if I'm lucky I'll score a PV'd copy from Little Shop of Movies!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Strange Dreams of Spying on DOA

Okay, well, it got weird in my dreams last night: I had been recruited as one of a group being paid to spy on DOA by a malign government agency. Far from retiring, the band was going to record a new album and it was our job to infiltrate and observe and report back. There were some other things involved in my spying - involving music and secret aspects of the assignment that I no longer remember - but most of the dream involved my training with the other spies. There was some weird obstacle course, with arrows posted in the halls of an enormous building that we had to run through single file; I had arrived late, and was running near the end, going up a flight of stairs and picking up CDs people dropped, trying to catch up with the ones ahead of me, but soon they were all gone and I was struggling to spot and decode the arrows that I was supposed to follow. Then the course veered into public space and people were everywhere, things were happening, and as I tried to see if I was supposed to go into one certain room, someone -it might have been Hard Core Logo author Michael Turner, actually - blocked my access. I then understood - seeing a drum kit in the back - that this was DOA's secret practice room, that I'd found it. Where was everyone else on my "team?" What was I supposed to do now? I elected to linger, wondering if I really had the guts to "betray" DOA.

I actually think the context of this dream was the couple of wee bits of "negativity" that I allowed into my Straight review of the last DOA show. My being a spy for the forces of power is actually just a cipher for my being a critic! It's true that on "World War III" the drums sounded off - Hayden started with an attempted replication of whatever-the-fuck Biscuits did on the record - gotta be some of the most complex drumming in a punk song, with a doubled, staggered beat that sounds at times like he's playing two kits at once and weird flourishes everywhere like he's fucking Keith Moon or something; Hayden could NOT pull it off, and soon fell into a hard-hitting "Baldini" beat (a friend of mine observed that the whole song sounded out of synch. Hell, I dunno. Did it?). And sure, as good a bassist as he is, Yaremko isn't Rampage onstage (has he actually spent more years in the band now than Rampage ever did? It might be; Joe has worked with him a bunch).

All the same, I'm kinda kicking myself - the band deserved 100% positivity for their last review, even if it meant just blowin' smoke up their ass! (And MOST of what they did was great... neglected to mention that FloorTom (James Hayden) did a really cute little riff on the Clash's "Tommy Gun" at the very, very end of the main set, which, somehow, included an absent Jon Card in the evening for me, since I'd once seen Card doing "Tommy Gun" drum-riffs at the Railway Club with the Frank Frink Five, I think, as everyone joked about how Joe Strummer had once drank there... I really, really doubt that that's what Hayden had on his mind, but  it was still a nice gesture. The only REAL issue with DOA as they stand is that it's just Joe and the next in a long series of sidemen: it doesn't matter WHAT Dan or James do, or how well they play, they're never going to be Rampage and Biscuits! Which leaves me in the end more sympathetic for them than not.

Anyhow, I guess the spy-dream was actually a way of figuring my insecurities about my writing... I am not now nor have I ever been in the employ of a government agency. I would have less trouble making my rent, if I were.


POST-SCRIPT: Hey: people craving more should know: it's around $15 as a foot passenger to cross the ferry, and DOA play Victoria at Club 9one9 on January 27th. Probably the Salt Spring Island and Cumberland gigs are harder to get to - to say nothing of Banff - but Victoria is probably doable for most Vancouverites. Y'all could just stay up all night and catch a ferry back...

Then again, it will just be the three guys, I imagine, and not the epic sendoff of the show on the 18th, so...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Charlie's calzones

Hey, I finally ate some of Charlie's calzones last night.

Charlie apparently isn't allowed inside the Rickshaw but comes over and sells to smokers and malingerers out front on the sidewalk, when he's done at Funky's and wherever else he plies his trade. He's an enterprising guy. I often see him on the bus back out to Coquitlam - he travels a long way to hawk his goods.

I like the whole vibe of Charlie - little old European guy courteously offering you food as you get hammered at a punk club (be it by music or alcohol), but I have cheese issues - irrational prejudices against some forms of cheese that do not apply to others - so I've steered clear til now. My friend was hungrier than I so I went along with it.

The verdict: Charlie's calzones are delicious. My friend and I ate two, cutting each in half and having a half each (because we weren't sure we were going to eat both at one sitting). The only caveat I can offer was that they were uneven in distribution of filling: one was slightly hollowish, while the other was packed. I'm not sure what all was in there - it definitely was not vegetarian, though he may have a vegetarian option, I don't know. There was meat stuff, and vegetable stuff, and cheese stuff, that's for sure.

Unevenly filled or not, they were both very tasty. Support local business - buy a calzone off Charlie!

DOA show review

Writing hungover at a netcafe after barely sleeping on a friend's floor is tough, so there are a few more grammatical issues in my DOA show review than one usually finds in my writing. In the war between alcohol and my vanity, this time, alcohol one. I mean won. Um.

I mean, I only had a FEW drinks, but... I'm a pussy...

Friday, January 18, 2013

DOA tonight (and tomorrow!)

DOA by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

Don't forget, folks! - if you didn't get tickets for tonight's DOA show at the Rickshaw, a second show has been added, with Trail of Broken Treaties, Real Problems, and The Rebel Spell! (Apparently the first 100 people through the door for tomorrow's concert get a free copy of DOA's We Come in Peace CD!). 

Hope to see you at ONE of these shows! 

My note to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch re: All Ages Shows

I'm staying out of the whole thing about the Waldorf - I've burned out on smashing my head against THAT particular wall - but, having read Mike Usinger's impassioned rant in the Straight about the recent decisions of the LCLB to make it impossible for venues to host live shows, have sent the following to the LCLB. If you feel passionately about kids having access to all ages shows, you can do the same, by writing


Some feedback about the LCLB's decision to, in effect, make all-ages shows impossible...
As a teenager, back in the 1980's, I had little interest in alcohol or drugs. 
Presumably this is not the case with Mike Usinger! While I greatly enjoyed his rant in the Straight - I thought I would offer my own perspective. Not only did I NOT drink before, during, or after the concerts I went to as a young man, I did not drink or do drugs, period. Until my 20's, when things changed... but nevermind about them...
While not being at all interested in alcohol as a teen, I did, however, have great passion for music, especially non-mainstream varieties of music, like punk rock. Some of my formative experiences included seeing the Dead Kennedys at an all ages show in 1984; as I understand it, Jello Biafra, the singer of that band, made a point of making sure all Dead Kennedys concerts were all ages, because he thought it important that young people have access to music. Punk, being a sort of countercultural, politically provocative, and non-mainstream sort of music, generally is not performed in stadiums or such, but in smaller venues, which usually means bars; without people like Biafra fighting to make sure shows his band put on were classified as "all ages," punk kids like myself would have had almost no access to live music at all. (There's actually a whole subdivision of punk, straight edge, that sprang up from punk kids fighting to be able to attend concerts for the music, and not for the alcohol; straight edge punks are sometimes quite puritanical about not drinking, drugging and so forth. You can read about straight edge here, if you like - one of the books on the movement is called, appropriately enough, All Ages). 
Seeing the Dead Kennedys in 1984 was an identity-shaping, positive experience for me. I wrote about it here, just last year. I was sixteen at the time of this concert, and describe it as an "identity-forming moment" - 
I attended other all-ages shows as a teenager, and have always valued the fact, even as an adult, that certain venues and bands put them on, so kids who are fans of non-mainsream music (like punk) can see the bands they like play, have a chance to socialize en masse with like-minded music fans, and so forth. Without my early formative experiences such as that Dead Kennedys all-ages show, I would not be the person I am. Since, in fact, I was a pretty depressed, unhappy teenager, who occasionally contemplated suicide, and who found great joy, inspiration, and sustenance in punk culture, it is possible that had I not been exposed to the shows I was able to see as a young person, not only would I not be the person I am today, but I would not be around, period. An excellent song from the punk scene, the Subhumans' "In Good Company," captures much of how I felt as a teenager - entirely alienated from mainstream culture, and looking desperately for an alternative, which I found in punk:
When I interviewed Gerry Hannah, the author of that song, for Big Takeover magazine, he had the following to say about it:
Gerry: It’s aimed at people - it’s the kind of thing that I wish somebody had said to me when I was 19 or 20 or 21, you know, when I was feeling really lost and I was feeling all alone and there wasn’t anybody else that was like me. I was just this freaky young kid who didn’t accept what was going on around me. I didn’t want to be part of the mainstream world, it turned me off, but I felt like there was no one to turn to; I was the only person in the world who was like that, and I didn’t know what to do. And that’s largely the hole that punk rock filled for me - and for thousands of other people, too, that were in the same boat. But it’s attempting to reach out to young people who really feel like something’s not right in the world, and they’re not right with what’s expected of them in the world, but they don’t know what to do. And there’s tons of pressure on them to conform and to be like the illusion, the smoke-and-mirrors circus that they see going on around them, and they really don’t want to, because they feel deep down inside that it’s false, that there’s something wrong with it... but the pressure keeps on coming: school teachers, church leaders, business leaders, parents, all sorts of people are pressuring them to conform, and if you’re rebelling against that onslaught of pressure and you feel like you’re alone and you don’t have any sort of support network, eventually you’re either going to surrender to that pressure or maybe you’re going to do something really harmful to yourself - or to other people. 

Allan: You mention Columbine. 

Gerry: That’s right. A lot of young people have hurt themselves because they felt alienated and unloved and that they didn’t fit with the expectations that other people in the world around them had of them... and a few young people have hurt other people, sometimes really badly - and then hurt themselves. It’s basically an attempt to reach out and say, look, you’re not alone. Don’t allow them to convince you that you are alone, and that the way you feel is somehow bad and freaky and unacceptable. There’s a whole family of people that feel more or less the same as you, and those people have come together and done things and acted as a community and been supportive of each other, and they’re still doing it. You need to find those people, you need to connect with those people, y’know? You don’t have to be part of this world that you feel is false and a dead-end road. You can live outside of that. There are many communities outside of that - and you need to hook up with them, and find them. 

Allan: It seems almost paternal - if you had a son, say. 

Gerry: I suppose you could say that, yeah. I don’t have a son, but if I had a child and he or she were having problems with mainstream society - and he or she probably would, because they would have grown up in my household, and we don’t have TV and stuff like that. “Why don’t we have TV,” I’m sure a child would ask. Well, because we think for the most part, it’s bullshit. It’s brainwashing and it’s like bad drugs - it’s like having a pusher sitting in your living room continuously handing you crack, when you need to get on with other shit in your life, and you need to think independently and clearly, and the pusher is not allowing you to. so yeah, if I had children, it’s probably something I would end up saying to them: “Look, you don’t have to be part of this world that you feel is false and a dead-end road. You can live outside of that. There are many communities outside of that - and you need to hook up with them, and find them. You need to find loving, caring people that aren’t full of shit and establish relationships with them. 
These are moving, sincere words. Gerry doesn't go on to mention that one good place for young people to find the sort of connections he's speaking about is all-ages shows, but you surely get the idea: for punk kids, for non-mainstream kids, for creative, musically inclined kids, and even for alienated and angry kids, having access to the community and camaraderie they find at all ages shows is AN IMPORTANT EXPERIENCE. 
It's hard enough for kids to get access to live music without the paternalistic meddlings of the LCLB. The few venues that occasionally put on all ages shows are doing this, generally, as a sort of community service, since they LOSE MONEY on alcohol sales during these events. All ages shows are rare enough without making it impossible for these venues to occasionally host them.
Of course, occasionally all-ages shows can be held in venues where alcohol is NEVER served - here in the suburbs, sometimes punk and metal shows take place at rented church halls (see here for more on that). I have been to such shows, and seen SOME kids sitting on the church lawn getting shitfaced before going inside. Should the LCLB then make it impossible for all ages shows to be held in church halls? 
Throughout my life, punk rock has remained a great source of inspiration and sustenance for me. At 44, I still count myself as a punk rocker, though now I am meeting and interviewing my heroes of my youth (I talk to Joe Keithley, whose band DOA has also put on All-Ages shows on various occasions, about the positive influences of punk, here. Keithley hopes to move from a career in punk to a career in the NDP).
The decision of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to make it impossible for venues like the Rickshaw to occasionally de-license and host all ages events is a bad one for many reasons. Mike Usinger goes into several of these, but here's another: just because SOME kids drink before, during, or after concerts, there is absolutely no reason to punish kids who don't drink, but are fans of live music - especially non-mainstream varieties - by making it even harder for them than it already is to go to shows. The LCLB should reconsider this very bad, unnecessary decision. 
Thank you for reading this.

Thoughts on George Carlin's final, unrecorded (?) performance

I find myself scouring Youtube for footage from any of George Carlin's stand up performances that took place between the airing of his final HBO special, It's Bad For Ya, in March 2008, and his death in June of that year. I can find nothing. Apparently his final concert took place June 15th at Orleans casino in Vegas, exactly one week before he died. Amazingly, not so much as a minute of poorly-recorded cellphone video exists online of this show; either absolutely no one recorded it, or HBO or the Carlin estate have been vigilant in making sure that none of the footage has leaked online. Or have had it removed, if it ever did.

That's perhaps not such a great loss, actually; chances are the material was very close to what one sees on his final HBO DVD. Carlin had said - on an extra on the It's Bad For Ya DVD, actually - that after recording a HBO special, he would generally "coast" - his word - with the old material, gradually adding something new and taking something old out as he saw fit. He likened the process to darning socks, saying that eventually, if you have a pair of socks, and repair them any time they get holey, you will eventually replace all the old material with new material, raising the philosophical question of whether they were the still the same pair of socks, or a new pair (my metaphysics prof Norman Swartz used an historical boat that had been rebuilt a bit at a time as his example, to illustrate the problem of identity through time; either analogy works just fine). According to Carlin, in this same extra (an interview called "Too Hip for the Room"), he would generally coast with the old material for about six months before he would start to get bored of it and factor in new stuff he'd been writing. This means that whatever he was performing in June of 2008 was probably not so different from what one sees on the It's Bad For Ya DVD.

There might be another reason why footage of that concert, if it exists, isn't circulating, however. You may not be aware of this, but as new stuff got factored in to his routine, Carlin would actually appear onstage with a notebook, occasionally pausing to have recourse to it. (If you're especially attentive, there is even something that may be a notebook that he appears to covertly glance at a couple of times, visible on the table beside his water bottle, in the It's Bad For Ya DVD). He admits this practice in the selfsame extra, but I have firsthand knowledge of how it actually looked onstage, because I saw him live at a Vancouver casino myself, as he was working up to recording It's Bad For Ya - the only major-league stand up performance I have seen. Several times during that routine, he would pause to flip through a few pages, selecting things he wanted to try. Whatever we might say in his defence - he was 70, he was a huge star, etc - this was, in fact, somewhat startling to witness. Having had no advance knowledge that this was his modus operandi, I expected to be seeing polished, memorized material, such as I'd seen on his HBO specials. I had often wondered how someone like Carlin remembered so much material and delivered it in such a confident, coherent fashion, simply from memory, and was shocked to discover that the answer was in fact that he didn't. The live performance I paid $80 to attend was essentially a practice run for what would later make it onto the DVD; he introduced the set by saying something very much to this effect, in fact, suggesting that when the DVD came out we could buy it and see the whole thing in its polished final form. Well! - talk about the Wizard of Oz. Though eventually I settled in and enjoyed his routine regardless, it was somewhat disillusioning, somewhat of a minor scandal to be told such a thing, somewhat of, well, an insult: in effect, "you people aren't really that important, so, fuck you, I'm just going to practice this stuff on you." Cool that we were hearing new material, cool that we were being allowed insight into his creative process, and yes, still cool that I got to see George Carlin once in my life... but, I mean, I remember when Nomeansno did a "practice gig" to see how All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt played live, they announced it as such and sold tickets at a cheaper rate... For me, shelling out $80 to see any comedian perform was a big commitment of resources, and I have to admit that the notebook was a little disappointing, a bit of bad form on his part.

Anyhow, it may be that HBO, the Carlin estate, or so forth, is vigilant in keeping footage of Carlin consulting a notebook while performing off of the internet, to preserve some of the illusions of virtuosity the HBO specials create. IF there was new material in the June 15th show, no doubt he had it written down on stage with him. Or perhaps footage of that concert has been suppressed for quality control reasons? He was, after all, one week from death; maybe it wasn't his strongest performance, that night?

For whatever reason - I expected to be able to find some of his final concert footage online, and I can't. If it was ever there - it sure isn't now.

And that's sad, because it means that whatever new material Carlin WAS working on at that point is now somewhat lost, at least when it comes to public access of it. Maybe he had some inspired routine he was working on, even if only in notebook form, that he tried out for the first time that night? Maybe he had comments on mortality - a theme particularly significant in some of his later shows - that would seem particularly prescient or profound given that he was unwittingly a week from the grave? Whatever observations he may have shared with the audience that night, they may not have been as polished or as perfect as they would have been, had he been allowed the time to develop and polish and record them for HBO, but they still would have been part of a new George Carlin routine. Funny that no one seems to have made a big deal of preserving it for public consumption - or maybe they have, but on an even more underground, bootleg-level than one finds on Youtube: maybe there's an underground internet forum or group or such that are trading audio of such concerts even now? I really wouldn't know. You'd think SOMEONE SOMEWHERE recorded that last show, eh?

...Or maybe it exists somewhere in an archive that only Carlin scholars will be allowed to access. Who knows?

An amusing footnote: the week after George Carlin died, I was flipping through the Georgia Straight and came to the ads for casino concerts, and there was an ad for a scheduled George Carlin show at River Rock or such, with a photo of the man; and across his chest was written the word, "cancelled." I couldn't help but laugh, particularly given that it was obvious that Carlin himself would have seen the humour in the ad, in its unintentional, startling bluntness. George Carlin has been cancelled: indeed. I saved that ad, and found it now, tucked in my DVD. If I had a scanner hooked up, I'd share...

Incidentally, this all started for me tonight because of the annoying hubbub around Lance Armstrong, and my own feelings about the man, which are fairly close to Carlin's. I'll choose my own heroes, too, thanks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On DOA - with previously unseen photos!

(Note: my Straight interview with Joey "Shithead" Keithley about his retiring DOA can be read here). 
DOA by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission
For a guy who has listened to DOA for thirty of their thirty-five years, I really haven't seen the band that often. The classic lineup - with Joe, Rampage, Biscuits, and Dave Gregg - had already disbanded by the time I first heard of them, in 1982, at age 14, but I had innumerable chances to see them in the years after that, starting out roughly when Dimwit (RIP) and Brian Goble were the rhythm section. There were all sorts of obstacles: as a teenager in Maple Ridge, there were few transportation options in the 1980's, and no buses that ran so late as to allow me to get home after gigs. I could see arena rock shows, which started and ended earlier, and were big enough to motivate Pacific Coach Lines, then the main transit provider, to add extra buses, but punk gigs typically ran late, and generally were held in bars, which I couldn't get into anyhow. There were probably a few all ages DOA shows back then, but I never went to one: the only time I saw Joey Shithead on stage in the 1980's was when he was serving as support for the Dead Kennedys, at the York Theatre, in 1984.

Excuses aside, I guess I can admit now that the main reason that I never took advantage of my chances to see DOA back then was that they scared me. I took their slogans at face value. I remember, as a teenager, turning over my LP of Bloodied But Unbowed and contemplating the eyes of the cheetah pictured there and the legend, "We want a world so free that we can run wild." This was around the same time as the Right To Be Wild "Free the Five" benefit single, with DOA singing songs like "Burn It Down," and the idea of DOA running wild was kind of an intimidating one. In my mind, I imagined a band who might leap off the stage and start assaulting people with chainsaws or hockey sticks or guitars or something. Did I REALLY want DOA to run wild in my world? I had their gig posters on my walls, listened to their albums - up until about 1987, when True (North) Strong and Free came out, but had no Canadian pressing, which irritated me, I had every 7", EP, and LP they'd released. Still, I never once went to see'em play.

I've caught them six times as an adult. I'm pretty sure no two lineups were ever the same. It was fun seeing them grace the same stage as Noam Chomsky and Jack Layton at an anti-Iraq war protest, circa 2004 - and I snapped a few photos, as Joe led the band (also featuring Dan Yaremko and the Great Baldini) through a memorable cover of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" - that's a link to the studio version, but wait til the band kicks in; it's pretty exciting.

DOA 2004, by Allan MacInnis

However, the two most memorable shows were the Vancouver Complication gig, when Dan Yaremko graciously ceded the bass to Randy Rampage, and Rampage - a man who has serious rockstar charisma - played several DOA classics with the band, then led a giant ensemble band in a highly memorable version of the Stooges "No Fun." The Dishrags may have stolen the show, but Rampage was clearly in great form that night. Shortly after that gig - and after my first conversation with Joe, for Discorder magazine - I caught the band (circa 2007?) at Richards on Richards with The Rebel Spell and, I think, The Furies - my first time seeing either band.

And my God: DOA was amazing that night. The lineup was Shithead-Rampage-the Great Baldini, and Joe and Rampage leapt about with an astonishing amount of energy: the dynamic between them was absolutely electric, two old school punk pros in top form. A few months later, I caught the two (and maybe a different drummer) when DOA opened for Jello Biafra and the Melvins at, I think, the Croatian Cultural Centre. It seemed nowhere as inspired a gig; maybe I wasn't in the right mood, or maybe the relationship between Joe and Rampage was wearing thin (Yaremko replaced Rampage for good in 2008), but whatever the cause, it had nothing on the sheer juice of that Richards on Richards gig. 

I've seen DOA a couple of times since then, though not often, since, with my relocation to Maple Ridge in 2009, gigs are once again somewhat challenging for me to see; I'm a non-driver, and there is still no late night bus running between Vancouver and Maple Ridge. I'm excited to be going to see the band on a big night, on Friday, and very curious what guests Joe might drag up onto the stage. (I have a secret fantasy that Jello might come to town for this show and we'll get a rousing performance of "Full Metal Jackoff," but if any such things have been discussed, Joe wasn't letting any secrets slip when I spoke to him for The Straight. Certainly I don't expect to see Dave Gregg or Chuck Biscuits). And almost as much as I'm looking forward to seeing DOA, I'm looking forward to seeing what Rampage's band does on Friday; I hope we can look forward to a version of "Livin' on Borrowed Time," off his old solo EP - the one with the awesome, endless Benny Doro solo! You can stream an MP3 of it here, on his official site, if you don't know it - if you like rock music of ANY form, you'll get a charge out of it (Rampage told me at the Richards show that he wrote the song in something like fifteen minutes).
Anyhow, since I had a photographer with me for that Richards on Richards show, Cindy Metherel, I thought I'd post some photos of that night, including a few I've never used before. Whatta night that was - tho' here's hoping Friday and Saturday's gigs at the Rickshaw kick its ass (which is probably humanly impossible, but who knows...). 

All photos below by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission:

Photos by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Rebel Spell interview: of animals, animal rescue, and a dog in need

Todd Serious of The Rebel Spell, by Jennifer Dodds

Those attending DOA's Vancouver farewell concerts this weekend are advised to arrive early: one of the three opening acts, The Rebel Spell, ranks among the most committed, passionate, charismatic and intelligent bands I've encountered - a band that I sometimes describe as "the best Vancouver punk band under 50," tho' it's seeming soon enough that I'll be able to drop the "under 50" part, as the wave of final shows spreads. I have a large interview with Todd Serious, the singer, online here; there are some very cool official videos of them here, here and here (the last a very cool mini-movie by Eargoggles' Clayton Holmes, about CCTV surveillance in Vancouver). There's also a full concert, in three parts, here - I really like the opening song, "Beautiful Future," the studio version of which is here.

The occasion for this blogpost, however, is not that the band is playing this weekend, but that they have a request of fans: they're trying to raise money to help pay the vet bills for Shade, their former drummer Stepha's dog, who has been very ill and is now recovering from her second surgery. I'm told there will be a jar at their merch table during the concert, for those wishing to donate; there's also a link given below.

I did a quick email interview with Todd Serious about the situation with Shade, and about human dealings with animals.
Stepha of The Rebel Spell by bev.davies

You seem like an animal lover. How did you get involved in supporting animal rights and animal rescue?

I actually grew up hunting while being told that animals were beautiful and amazing. At some point I realized that animals were amazing and I didn't need to be harming them. I went vegan and started actively looking for situations where I could help individuals whether human or non-human. I prefer situations now where I can see exactly who I'm helping and how so that is why animal rescue type operations are my favourite.

I really prefer to see the struggles of all animals and peoples as very intertwined. We all suffer at the hands of the hideous apparatus that is tearing up our world and societies.

You were associated with A Better Life Dog Rescue. Any comment on what went down with them? Any stories of your own experience with them? 

My involvement there was very minimal so I don't feel I have enough knowledge to be commenting on that. I will say that there are thousands of dogs around our province that are in desperate need of help and the SPCA is legally incapable of doing anything except in the most insanely terrible situations. It is up to us to help in any way that we can.

What kind of dog is Shade? Where did (he/she?) come from? How is Shade coping with this illness? How can people help?

Shade is a mutty mix of black dogs with a really cute underbite and big muscles. She is a powerhouse of energy and really likes to run, fast, all the time. She was adopted by Stepha (drummer) about five years ago from a local rescue group and they live out near Lillooet now with Isis and Travis (current drummer).
We actually just found out that she does not have cancer and the second surgery is done so she's laying in bed recovering right now. It's been hardest for her to just chill out and not run, fast, all the time. The total bill for the removal of the problem tissue is just over $1700, if people would like to help it would be greatly appreciated. (Chip in here).

Anything else you'd like to say - band news, things you'd like to make people aware of?

We're working on new stuff and it's gonna be cool.

Help each other out more. Help animals out more.

(Photos of Shade - and Shade and Isis - provided by Todd)

Right, so, this is Allan again. (End interview). The Rebel Spell will be on the bill for both the Friday and Saturday DOA shows at the Rickshaw. The first show is sold out, and a second show has been added, with slightly different support acts - The Rebel Spell play both nights, however. Tickets can be purchased by following the link under the word "Saturday," above, which will lead you to Northern Tickets. There are also tickets at Red Cat, Highlife, Zulu, Scrape and Neptoon Records.

(It's funny - Shade has bigger muscles, but looks just a little like Joey Shithead's dog, Merlin, whom I met when I interviewed Joe for the Straight... Merlin was more in protect-the-family mode than interact-with-the-friendly stranger, tho'. That article should be online late tonight or tomorrow - I'm glad now that I included Merlin in it!).

(Oh: one last thing: last I checked, Blogger makes it really tricky to post Facebook "like" buttons on the page.  So if you want to share this article and want the URL, click the date, below, and you'll get just this article on your page, and you can copy the URL. Help get the word out!)

Strange violent dream

In the dream, I'm visiting Vancouver Island to visit my girlfriend. I actually do have a girlfriend on Vancouver Island, but the dream somewhat fudges her identity, I think. It gets various details wrong, as my dreams always do: for instance, instead of her working where she actually does, in the dream, she was working at a high-end restaurant in a shopping mall, owned and run by a Chinese guy: all of these details are completely fictitious, wrong, etc.

Anyhow, in the dream, she's showing me around her place of work and explaining that the Chinese guy is a bit of an obnoxious boss - he says socially awkward things. I get a firsthand example of this, when he passes,  and my girlfriend briefly introduces me, and he instructs us, with an odd smirk, not to steal any silverware. I take offence at this comment. She tries to calm me down, explain away his behaviour - he's just like that - but I am offended both for myself, and on a chivalrous level, for her, and my anger festers. She has to go to her other job for awhile, and we're going to meet later; I see her off - then I go back to the restaurant and deliberately steal two knives from a table, to "pay the guy back" for his remark.

I wander around the mall where the restaurant is located and kill time in various ways, the knives hidden in my pocket. When I speak to my girlfriend on the phone during one of her breaks, I tell her what I've done, and she urges me to please put the knives back. I walk back to the restaurant - I get a bit lost and end up detouring by the houses of parliament - but eventually arrive there; however, I'm nervous now, that in returning the knives, I will be noticed. I chicken out and keep the knives in my pocket, where they remain.

Later, I'm riding the bus with my girlfriend. We are now apparently in Maple Ridge - the dream takes place when the bus pulls over at 207th and Dewdney, or at least models itself on the layout of that bus stop, which borders a parking lot where a Value Village is. The driver of the bus we are on and a passenger get into an ugly altercation while pulled over. The passenger takes offence at something and says harsh words to the driver - he seems chilly and competent and somewhat scary in a way the bus driver (who seems a self-righteous hothead) doesn't; the driver gets physical about it, and they scuffle in the aisle for a bit. After righteously putting down the driver and "winning" the fight, the passenger leaves the bus and is walking away; the bus driver, the loser, rallies his resources and pulls a gun - not a real gun, but some sort of toy, and - against the advice of his passengers, who cry out things like "no, don't do it," leaves the bus himself and follows the guy, whom he proposes to shoot. The passenger sees him creeping up and turns on him, knocks the gun out of his hand, and - from the bus - I witness the passenger beating the holy shit out of the driver.

My identity in all this is as an observer, but two things should be mentioned: I do have a temper and sometimes, when treated rudely in a store or such, can get kind of nasty, which occasionally has been known to escalate, though never quite as extremely as it does in the above. On the other hand, though my character traits match the passenger, at some point in the dream, I believe I have a thought from the point of view of the bus driver, who thinks something about the knives hidden in his pocket (the ones supposedly still hidden in mine). It's like the dream wants me to be able to imagine myself in the position of both men.

Anyhow, after the passenger beats the shit out of the driver, my girlfriend and I take action - she phones the paramedics and I get off the bus to make sure the driver is still alive and that he'll be okay. At that point, for reasons unclear, we decide we're going to separate - she has to carry on on the bus, when the new driver arrives, while I elect to wait for the ambulance to show up. The driver is alive, but in really rough shape. I tell my girlfriend I'll see her later and am still kneeling over the inert body when the ambulance pulls into the parking lot. They take over... and I wake up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A very interesting article on Zero Dark Thirty

Was forwarded this article today by someone who could have posted it here, but didn't, so I'm going to leave his name out of it. Thanks, though! 

I actually haven't gotten to the author's main defence of the film yet. I'm pausing to blurt my excitement about an early paragraph of his, in which he - Landon Palmer - very casually (and, I think, correctly) posits a vein of consistency in Kathryn Bigelow's work that I'd actually never really thought about before: that she's interested in analyzing behaviour within what Palmer calls "subcultures."  I quibble with the word a bit - it kind of evokes punks and Rastafarians to me,or maybe the surfers of Point Break - but I'm not sure that I'd apply it to the vampires of Near Dark, or the Russian submariners of K-19, or the bomb techs of The Hurt Locker. Another term (micro-cultures?) seems appropriate. Other than that, I here confess that Bigelow's films are outwardly so diverse that it had simply never occurred to me to look for a common area of concern or approach uniting them; I am delighted and somewhat surprised to find bikers, vampires, cops, surfers, voyeuristic tech geeks, Norwegian settlers, submariners, IED defusers and CIA spooks can all be so easily connected by the line the Palmer draws through these films. Good work, man! Suddenly I find myself excited and eager to read the rest of the article. 

I'm still not eager to see Zero Dark Thirty, but... one step at a time. Palmer apparently thinks the objections to it are ill-reasoned; as I say, I haven't seen the film and don't plan to (while I still have to pay for it), so I'm not qualified to really engage on that point.

RIP Nagisa Oshima

Only on reading that Oshima died do I recall that once again I had vivid dreams last night of returning to Japan... not involving Oshima in the slightest; the clearest moment I remember was calling my mother from Japan and having her ask when I would be coming home (she wanted me to come home tomorrow but I wanted to stay for a few more days)...

I've only seen a few of Oshima's films - In the Realm of the Senses, In the Realm of Passion, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Taboo - but collectively they did a great deal to take me inside the Japanese psyche, in ways that more conservative filmmakers could never hope to; In the Realm of the Senses continues to fascinate me, after at least a dozen viewings. One presumes there will be retrospectives of his work forthcoming in the next year or so. Those who knew Oshima personally are unlikely to be reading this blog, so I'll offer my condolences to the world of cinema instead... Another of cinema's greats has departed...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

To hell with Zero Dark Thirty

Two thumbs up for Zero Dark Thirty?
Ever since seeing Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ during its theatrical run, I have had little patience for people who protest against films they haven't seen. While I've never much cared for that movie - mostly notable to me for housing by far the weirdest casting of John Lurie in a motion picture -  there was absolutely nothing that I could see that would offend a thinking Christian about it, nothing in the slightest disrespectful or blasphemous; I should imagine that many of the same Christians who protested against it, had they stumbled onto the film in a different context, unaware of any controversy, would not have been bothered by it in the slightest. They only got as riled up as they did because they were exposed, before they had a chance to see it and make up their own minds, to a misinformed, prejudicial, highly limited interpretation of the film ("It shows Christ having sex!" - which indeed it does, though as part of a Satanic temptation, in fact the titular one, which Christ ultimately rejects). Since bearing witness to said Christians' confusion - though there were no pickets at the Vancouver theatre where I caught it in 1988 - I've considered such herd reactions contemptible, proof of little besides how easily some people can be manipulated, and have generally subscribed to a policy of seeing things for myself before forming conclusions about them - a policy I've applied to all manner of controversial films and books, from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho (almost banned in Canada) to A Serbian Film (only available in North America in a censored cut). That policy has served me quite well up til now, and I had figured I would maintain it for the rest of my life. 
Then along came Zero Dark Thirty
Understand, I have great admiration for two of Kathryn Bigelow's early features, Near Dark and Blue Steel. I've seen all her other feature films, with the exception of her own movie with Willem Dafoe, The Loveless. Aware of the impending release of Zero Dark Thirty, but before any of the controversies around it cropped up, I've been playing catchup, seeing films of hers I'd ignored (The Weight of Water, K-19: The Widowmaker) or revisiting films of hers that initially disappointed or annoyed me (for reasons unclear to me, both Point Break and Strange Days proved to be a lot more enjoyable on second viewing than they were at the time of their first release; I even enjoyed The Hurt Locker more on second viewing). I actually was really looking forward to Bigelow's new film, and its meaty topic - the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden.
While I have no intention of standing in front of a theatre with a picket sign ("Torture is Not Okay!"), I think I'm deciding, unless offered money or other inducements to see it, that, in light of what I've been reading, that I am going to simply ignore this film; and I'm publicly going to suggest, here and now, that others follow suit. This is entirely because various progressive commentators and critics are describing it as not only falsifying the historical record, but doing so in a way that legitimizes torture (see herehere, or here for some examples; even John McCain has taken issue with the film). Enough people have written enough about it, lucidly and coherently, making more or less the same arguments, that I am willing to believe what they say without further consideration. I have no compulsion to see the film and decide for myself - and especially not if it involves paying money to do so: you can't effectively boycott something you have to pay for in advance, and last I heard, movie theatres were not inclined to offer refunds because viewers decided after seeing a film that it was politically immoral. 
There are still, as of this writing, 166 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It used to be 167, but one recently killed himself, after eleven years of illegal confinement without access to any form of due process. Barack Obama has done nothing to live up to his promises to close that prison, nor has he done anything to take the Bush war criminals to task for their use of torture, extraordinary rendition, or their illegal and immoral war in Iraq. In fact, just this summer, Obama granted immunity to the CIA in two cases where detainees were tortured to death. I am horrified that, apparently as the result of the US voting a black man into the office of the President, a collective amnesia about the Bush regime and its very recent crimes has been allowed to settle in. While I definitely prefer Obama to what's behind the door on the right, there has been no justice, no closure, no compensation for the hundreds (thousands?) of people exposed to American "enhanced interrogation techniques" and stripped of their human rights; the very ugly chapter in American history that began on September 11, 2001 is by no means closed. 
All indications are that Zero Dark Thirty is a propaganda exercise designed to further stupefy, placate, and mislead the American people. I do not need to see it for myself to feel confident of this. In fact, I do not need to see it at all. Perhaps someday, years from now, I can check it out of a library on DVD or Blu-Ray or whatever the format of the moment is and decide if I made the right call. Until such a time, to hell with Zero Dark Thirty.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Pere Ubu!

Off Lady From Shanghai...

...almost forgot:

There IS one brilliant use of music in Texas Chainsaw 3D: John R. Butler's song "Hand of the Almighty." I can only find it with distracting video - best to just start it playing and shut off your monitor, at least the first time!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Texas Chainsaw 3-D: Of Leatherface, Liberals, and Al Qaida

Okay, first off: Texas Chainsaw 3-D is crap. The 3-D is obvious and unimaginative, mostly used to highlight shots of a chainsaw coming towards the camera; the set design, considering what's been done in the past with Chez Sawyer, is kind of threadbare and lazy; the gore effects, while decent - Herr Kurtzman, again! - are almost entirely reprises of things that were done in the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; and there's a sleazy cynicism that pervades, as when we get multiple shots of a girl's butt, clad in cut-off jeans, because the filmmakers seem to reason that their audience is comprised of leering, horny teens, and not misanthropes and horror connoisseurs. Turns out I'm not at all offended by shots of a chainsaw cutting through a human body, but a coupla gratuitous butt shots of a cute girl can really get my ire: I mean, what kind of pervert do these people think I am, anyhow?

Even more maddeningly, the film plays fast-and-loose with its relation to the Tobe Hooper films that spawned the franchise. On the one hand, it's filled with allusions to them, from the casting of (original Leatherface) Gunnar Hansen and (TCM 2's Chop-top and frequent Rob Zombie actor) Bill Moseley in supporting roles, to a close-up of a dead armadillo on the roadside, to a sheriff whose last name is Hooper, to someone in a pig mask wielding a chainsaw; it even recaps the action of the original film in its first few minutes, using scenes from it in a sort of fast 3-D precis, to make us think we're continuing exactly where that narrative left off. On the other hand, while invoking fannish loyalty to the original, it also significantly rewrites the story: when it shifts from the recap to its actual beginning - a standoff, minutes after the action of the original film has supposedly finished, between the sheriff and the members of the Sawyer clan - the film  introduces, without explanation, several characters who were not present in the original film, but who stand around with Drayton Sawyer, holding guns, prepared to shoot it out in Drayton's defense. Who are these people? Are they complicit in the cannibalism and sadism and untold perversity that has been going on in the Sawyer home? Since they immediately take us out of the world of the first movie, which the previous few minutes have taken pains to situate us in, we might fairly ask why the fuck the filmmakers felt the need to include them at all; as they die within minutes of appearing onscreen - when other big ugly rednecks arrive to torch the place - they don't actually contribute much to the story. Presumably, they function solely to magnify the injustice done to the Sawyers, because that's the other thing Texas Chainsaw does: it provides a bland, commonplace revenge narrative to motivate the previously unfathomable Leatherface, who survives the fire, and ultimately ends up in a battle with the chief redneck responsible for burning down his family home (who subsequently becomes town mayor).

Crap, then - incoherent, have-it-both-ways, unimaginative crap: except that when the film finally arrives at the revelation that we are supposed to have sympathy for its poor, misunderstood monster, who is really just angry about what has been done to his family, a very strange moment transpires, which almost perked up my dwindling interest. After the film's climax, there's a shot of the film's young heroine - his cousin, an infant at the time of the fire and now grown into womanhood - sympathetically stroking Leatherface's leathery (outer) face, and trying to wipe away some of the blood that's on him (some of it is even his!). We are encouraged to feel an outpouring of sympathy and understanding and forgiveness, and to accept the poor brute as one of the good guys; even the town's sheriff, who knows full well that Leatherface has cut up several innocent people, turns a blind eye to his crimes and allows him to return to his (rebuilt) family home, with his cousin as his guardian, since the injustices visited upon him are so much greater than the ones he has perpetrated.

While there is a genuine pathos achieved here - my eyes welled up with tears at one point, looking at our misunderstood  monster's peeled-skin mask, and his pathetic, confused eyes, as he finds himself the unexpected recipient of familial love and acceptance - there's also something very, very weird going on. While past Texas Chainsaw films sometimes do invite us to have a degree of covert sympathy for Leatherface - who is clearly nuts, definitely entertaining, and at least somewhat tortured by his inner demons - here the sympathy takes on an overt, heart-on-sleeve, "love-me-I'm-a-liberal" aspect that I imagine Christ himself would have a hard time getting behind: like, "whosoever shall smite you [with a chainsaw] on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." I actually would prefer to keep my sympathy for Leatherface covert and unspoken, thank you; it's somehow discomfiting to see it made explicit and ratified on-screen. Even though I count myself as a liberal, never would I extend my forgiveness to the extent of accepting Leatherface into my home, thanks, no matter what injustices he's suffered. Once you arrive there, you have taken liberal virtue too far.

Stranger yet, somehow, in my head, I cross-referenced the ending of the film with arguments I recall being levied against the anti-war-on-terror camp, to the effect of how they're so keen to prove their open-mindedness and multiculturalism and earn liberal merit badges by embracing the Other that they end up rationalizing the actions of and thus implicitly defending fanatical fascists from other countries, whose values are in fact the antithesis of their own. Maybe I'm just nuts, but Leatherface - as much of an Other as one could ask for! - thus actually briefly became, for me, a cipher for Al Qaida: just as it was American foreign policy that was "really" to blame for 9/11, the film seems to reason that the crimes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really were the fault of society as a whole, and/or the rednecks who burned down Leatherface's home, and that rather than seeking revenge, what we really need to do is just try to understand and accept and forgive, even if the person we're forgiving is wearing a mask of dead human skin peeled off the face of one of his victims.

That's actually kind of an interesting, and somewhat perverse, place for the film to arrive at; we're almost in the territory of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, here (a fine, funny novel which extends sympathy to a dispossessed, mentally deficient hillbilly necrophiliac and murderer). If I thought that any of this was at all willful - if I believed the film was attempting to satirize, say, the excesses of liberals and the pitfalls of being too understanding in the face of evil, I'd probably admire it quite a bit more than I did. As it is, however, I can't quite bring myself to believe that any of the things I found interesting about Texas Chainsaw 3D were actually placed there deliberately by the filmmakers; I suspect they had a lot more to do with the activity going on in my brain than with anything going on in theirs.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Hisss DVD review: a neglected American/ Hindi horror gem

So sad that Jennifer Chambers Lynch's Hindi-speaking 2010 horror film Hisss (that's the official site; Wiki here) seems to have failed to find a wide audience. This would have a suburban sleeper hit in the heyday of the video rental industry - especially in areas with a large, youthful South Asian population! - but with limited distribution (there has been no Canadian DVD release as yet), a total of two reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (both negative), and not much positive buzz out there - even the Hindustan Times apparently describes it as "pornography for the hormonally demented teen" - it's probably going to go largely unseen. I found it entirely charming, though the content (it involves a snake goddess who shape-shifts between human and cobra form) predisposes me to want to like it, I confess. I tend to like films about people who become reptiles, and vice versa; maybe it has something to do with those cold autumn PE classes, back in elementary school, where we'd be forced to jog by our teacher, and, as the lone fat kid lagging behind, I would theorize that I must actually be cold-blooded, since the chill made it very hard for me to run... Of course, back in my childhood, before I knew about punk rock and avant garde music and horror movies and the like, I expressed my passion for the strange and unusual through playing with dinosaur toys and/or interacting with some of their living kin - catching snakes, frogs, salamanders, and the occasional lizard in the once-abundant, now mostly subdivided fields and ponds of Maple Ridge. I've retained a lifelong fondness for reptiles and amphibians, and consider myself pretty much obliged to see any horror film in which they play a major role.... unless, as with the Anaconda movies, the CGI snakes look and behave nothing like real snakes, which I find highly off-putting.
Anyhow, Hisss. It's maybe not quite as striking as Sssssss, the other human-snake transformation film with a sibilant-heavy title, but it's still a lot of fun, and, unlike that film, it does not appear that any snakes were harmed, or even employed, in the making of the movie, which is, actually, a good thing. It seems, based on the small sample I've been exposed to, that a high percentage of reptile-oriented horror films that use real reptiles are sadly willing to sacrifice them, treating them as disposable props, rather than living creatures; considering people who watch such films may well be reptile-lovers like myself, I really don't understand such practices. For example, I would have loved Stanley, generally described as "Willard with rattlesnakes," though set in the swamps of Florida with an antisocial Seminole protagonist, had the filmmakers not seen fit to kill a few rattlers onscreen; when that happened, I was ready for them to get bitten themselves, along with the film's bad guys.
By contrast, Hisss begins with a title that explains that all snakes are special effects, a combination of mechanical models, stop-motion (sometimes with a creature resembling the snake-man of Dreamscape!), and CGI. The special effects - including contributions from famed KNB co-founder Robert Kurtzman - alternate from strikingly great (especially during the transformations) to kinda terrible (especially when the creatures have to move quickly); generally, Lynch and company do a better job of making it look like a cobra is turning into a sexy naked girl than they do making us believe their animatronic snakes are real. Still, the filmmakers deserve credit for exploiting no animals, and for trying, even when they fail, to make their snakes look and move like real snakes. They clearly have a fondness for reptiles: they are, in more ways than one, on the side of the snakes, which is exactly where the film's ideal audience would want'em.
The story of Hisss goes like this: a rich white man with terminal brain cancer travels to India to find Nagin, a snake goddess (played by the very beautiful Mallika Sherawat) who possesses the secret to immortal life; behaving with the murderous arrogance of the colonizer, he abducts her mate (in snake form) and tortures him in an electrified cage in the hopes that, when she comes to rescue him, he'll be able to blackmail her into coughing up the goods. As the snake goddess approaches, a body count develops, as she is forced to defend herself against various rapists and thugs, and the trail of blood (and oddly venom-saturated corpses) attracts the attention of a virtuous cop (Irrfan Khan, most recently seen in The Life of Pi, as the adult Pi). Said cop's wife, it happens, is having problems conceiving a child and carrying it to term, which one gathers is part of the snake goddess' domain, as well (fertility and such). I don't want to say too much about the trajectory of the film, but obviously the paths of the main characters eventually cross, and there's a nice, satisfying, genre-appropriate ending: that's about all anyone really needs to know about the film to know if it's for them. Oh: and its 80% in Hindi, is very colourful and vibrant, and even features one brief Bollywood-style dance sequence; Lynch appears to have done her homework about South Asian life, language, cinema and culture, and obviously loves that she's shooting in India (though we gather it was a somewhat troubled production). I wonder if the simple fact that the film is mostly in Hindi accounts for its limited North American reception?
There are some real issues with the film, mind you. Some of the performances - like Jeff Doucette, who weirdly sounds like his voice has been dubbed by another actor - are on the broad side of broad; there are what I think are a couple of minor plot holes; and - well, if you don't like the idea of a giant cobra-girl plunging her fangs into the face of a would-be male attacker, the film simply isn't for you. On the other hand, if that image fills you with curiosity, Hisss is a pretty nifty little horror film - something genre fans should seek out, if they can find it. Feminists and post-colonial studies types will doubtlessly also find lots to sink their teeth into, as well, and fans of Jennifer Lynch will be pleased to see her continuing to make strange, surprising, creative genre films (I wrote about her earlier film Surveillance here; I wonder how one might go about seeing Chained, her newest film? Hmm...).