Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cronenberg continued: the fleshgun vs. self-fisting

Adrian Mack put part three of my Cronenberg interview online just now, and I think it's interesting and revealing: he'd mentioned to me that he was looking for a good image to illustrate it, maybe something from Scanners or Videodrome, and - as you see - ended up selecting the fleshgun extruding from the TV in Videodrome; meantime, considering the same question, I came up with this:
So that's kind of interesting! They're kind of related images, but he chose phallic thrust while I chose a vaginal self-probing. What would Sigmund Freud say?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Richard Duguay and Ron Reyes at the WISE tonight!

Fans of Personality Crisis, Richard Duguay, Black Flag, Piggy, Ron Reyes, and so forth will want to take note that tonight, former Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes will join former Personality Crisis guitarist Richard Duguay and his band the Hellhounds for a short set at the climax of Duguay’s March 21st WISE Hall gig. I did a short Straight interview with Reyes that will appear online later today; meantime, Susanne Tabata interviewed him at some length here. He explained to me that he and Duguay are calling their closing set of PC covers "Borderline Personality Disorder" and added via email that it has been a "real gas" performing with Duguay and Jon Card, who are "like heroes" to him (he caught Personality Crisis on more than one occasion back at the Smilin' Buddha, the lucky guy).

Meantime, the Strugglers - featuring members of the former Little Guitar Army, including vocalist Bert Man, below - have been added to the bill... should be a pretty cool show!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nose-feratu vs. Stan Rogers: rate my facial hair

So my girl was being poked by my somewhat bristly moustache whenever we kissed. Our habit of referring to the odd stray nose-hairs that stick from my nostrils as "fangs" - which she's kind of horrified and fascinated to see me yank out, and which she herself braved to remove with a sharp tug or two the other week - had led to jokes about my moustache and nose-fangs as being "Nose-feratu." So I offered to do a Stan Rogers for her - a great Canadian folk musician who sported the beard-with-no-moustache look (for all I know, it was because his girl didn't want to have HER lip abraded, either).
After some trepidation, she decided that maybe the look might work for me, and I went into her bathroom, grabbed a disposable razor out of "my" cup by the sink, and a dab of her (intense, effective) leg shaving cream. Here we get a before:

And an after, taken the next day, shirt still wet from the shave:
What do you think? Does the Stan Rogers look suit me? So far neither my Mom nor the bookstore guy I sell books to noticed the change (though I pointed it out to Mom). Maybe if I sing y'all a few bars of "The Mary Ellen Carter?"

Nymphomaniac is Lars von Trier's "mea maximum opus"

People who loved Lars von Trier's 2003 film Dogville will probably love his new film Nymphomaniac, opening this weekend (in two parts) at the Vancity Theatre; but they may love it a little bit less. That's about as close to a capsule review as I can offer of a rather daunting film: Nymphomaniac is perhaps von Trier's most fully realized and satisfying film since that one, and owes a great deal to it on the level of story - both films being about a persecuted, misunderstood female outsider who ultimately, after suffering much abuse and internalizing society's judgement against her, has to stand up for herself with an act of violence (though the end of Nymphomaniac is not quite so Tony Scottish as the climax of Dogville). It is also a more ambitious, digressive, and unwieldy film, though, requiring, even in its shorter (4 hour, two volume) cut, a fair amount of commitment and energy on the part of viewers, which casual filmgoers may not be up to.

There are formal similarities to Dogville, too, though not straightforward ones; what Dogville does with the more theatrical aspects of cinema - stripping down sets to a near-barren sound stage, so you are constantly aware of the film's artifice - is done here with storytelling and language. Each episode in the film is derived from the narration of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to Seligman (Stellan SkarsgÄrd), which serves as the film's frame, but there are also constant textual asides and references to other works of art or literature - from manuals on fly fishing to Biblical allusions to articulate digressions on Bach, or rock climbing, or Russian religious icons. There are even stories within stories, used to demonstrate the power of narrative (as when Gainsbourg gains the upper hand on a male character by pulling down his shorts and offering him different erotic scenarios until she finds one that stiffens him). Whatever we take the theme of Nymphomaniac to be - I will dodge that question - chances are, it is explicitly tabled and discussed at some point in the film. Even a clever visual pun - that of a fishing fly embedded in the plaster of the room - needs to be expressed in words in this film, so you can get the joke (of being a "fly on the wall" during Joe's confessional; the joke escaped notice until underscored with dialogue and then seemed all too obvious).
People who enjoy von Trier's somewhat self-conscious approach to dialogue, who don't mind idea-rich, thematically-loaded, My Dinner With Andre-esque discourse (including mini-rants that appear to offer von Trier's own feelings on political correctness, hypocrisy, sentimentality, pedophilia, and on charged topics of some relevance to his recent history, like that of anti-Semitism) will be pleased; von Trier may be straining the limits of how much his audience can take, but he does so with a certain geeky flair and charm, and if you're prepared to indulge him, much of what he has to say is amusing and thought-provoking. People who read will be able to appreciate this movie far more than people who do not - though even Joe herself gets impatient with some of Seligman's digressions, in scenes that feel very much like von Trier having his main character chide her author for his self-indulgence (itself a fairly self-indulgent thing for an author to write into a film). There surely has never been a talkier, more literate film to feature images of hardcore sex.
All that said, even in this so-called "censored" cut, there is no shortage of frank depictions of sexuality. I'd read somewhere that none of the sex is actually sexy; I would beg to differ - there are many ugly and painful transactions, but also some beautiful and compelling ones; it is a sexy film, at least at times. Cocks and cunts are sucked and licked. There are several erect penises on view - something I'm very happy to be seeing more frequently on screen these days; there's even a hard cock in The Wolf of Wall Street! There are uncomfortable, vividly realized floggings and scenes of abusive, unsafe sadomasochism. There is, in volume two, a grotesquely-realized provocation in which two African men attempt to DP Joe, their gigantic members filling the screen on either side of Charlotte Gainsbourg's face, an unsubtle bit of bait to those who would accuse von Trier of trading in racist stereotypes (this scene immediately precludes a lecture on political correctness and on the hypocrisy of a society that rewards those who mean ill but speak well, while punishing those who mean well but speak wrongly. Of course, the jury is out as to whether dear Lars actually does mean well; to decide that issue would require understanding what he's doing, and I'm not sure even he can lay that claim).
The film begins and ends on two disclaimers about these sexual images - that the film is an "abridged, censored" cut of the film, made with von Trier's approval but without his participation; and that the professional actors employed in the film do not engage in penetrative intercourse, but are body-doubled in any of the film's "hardcore" moments. Neither claim sat entirely comfortably, in fact: abridged though it is, there is nothing whatsoever that seems "censored" about Nymphomaniac as I saw it (though I gather there is MORE in the way of closeups and cumshots and so forth in the long cut). And the sex scenes sure SEEM real; I realize you can digitally fake pretty much anything, but I'd be very curious where the line is drawn in each scene. Surely some actors wanted to push it farther than others? (unfaked intercourse is not THAT daring in cinema). Even it it's not really Charlotte Gainsbourg sucking on Jean-Marc Barr's erection - even if it's not really Shia LaBeouf's penis seen sliding in and out of young Joe (played by Stacy Martin) - these scenes are startling and memorable. There's a hell of a "making of" video on how exactly they were faked, if they were...

By the way - LaBeouf is very good in this film, and appears to be a talented actor, whatever negative press he has received lately. (Only just now caught up with his Daniel Clowes plagiarism - a good little film, if somewhat nasty to critics and bloggers; how he ever expected to get away with his theft of Clowes' story is beyond me, especially since he's baiting the very people who are going to be leaping to condemn him. It almost seems like a sort of career suicide, which seems a shame. Maybe his acting in Disturbia, which many thought to be a plagiarism of Rear Window and the Cornell Woolrich story on which it is based, helped blur the lines for him?). The only quibble I have is that he, Christian Slater, and Jamie Bell all affect accents, but only Bell - who plays Joe's brutal dom, in the film's nastiest moments - pulls his off, by choosing to imagine the film (given no explicit location) is set somewhere in Scotland, presumably because Glasgow and Aberdeen are mentioned. Bell is in fact English, so perhaps that's his own accent we're hearing - or perhaps he's just smart enough to pick a region and stick to it. Both LaBeouf and Slater appear to be affecting non-specific, regionless "European accents," which is a bit silly, really; I'm not sure what von Trier's directions to them might have been in this regard (tho' he clearly gave different ones to Uma Thurman and Willem Dafoe, who wisely use their own voices). Maybe he was trying to have some fun at the expense of a couple of his star Americans? The accents make both performances somewhat awkward, distract from otherwise serviceable turns.
In any event, Nymphomaniac is well worth a look, if you want to see what I guess will go down as Lars von Trier's magnum opus - though it's a bit too "magnum" for me to embrace fully; I still think his greatest film is Europa (Zentropa), which is just as cocky, but in a more parsimonious way (and with no actual cocks on display). Nymphomaniac has a bit of bloat to it that usually seems to accompany American films, when filmmakers get good enough reviews and big enough budgets to really indulge themselves, losing all sense of restraint - there's a bit of a Paul Thomas Anderson factor, if you see what I mean ("There Will Be Semen"). But it's more interesting and provocative than most such films (I can't really say it's more restrained.)

All I have left are random observations - that Ms. Gainsbourg is very good, and sings the end song (a cleverly-picked cover of "Hey, Joe") herself; that my favourite segment of the film is actually the first few minutes, before the Rammstein sets in, as we see shots of an alley, snow, and trickling water, and enter into a brief, Tarkovskian (or Bela-Tarrish) rapture of engaged cinematic perception; that the second part is the funnier, bolder, more dynamic half of the film, and ends on a rather satisfying punchline that is worth sticking around for - so don't just see the first half! (Tom Charity noted at the press screening that a discount applies to those seeing both halves of the film; you don't have to pay two full admission prices). There is also a very curious thank you in the end credits to Lars Ulrich of Metallica, which I don't really understand but find apt - Lars von Trier is every bit as much "some kind of monster" as Metallica, at this point, at least as far as this film is concerned. Plus the whole thing about the fishing fly - about disguising a hook so that it looks like something the fish likes - is as apt and striking a metaphor for von Trier's cinema as I've ever encountered. He's not making genre films - but meta-cinema disguised as genre films, to hook us gullible fish. The film succeeds well enough at doing that, though I'm getting a bit tired of meta-cinema in general, these days. The cocks, at least, are kind of fresh.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chris Arnett in the Straight! Plus James Farwell and David M.

Wrote this about the upcoming Chris Arnett CD release show, this Thursday at Chapel Arts, competing with James Farwell's DJ set at the Bottleneck and David M. at the Prophouse (see below). Chris' bandcamp is here; there are some great (and surprising!) songs on his new solo CD. See you at the Chapel (unless you're at the Prophouse or the Bottleneck).

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

This just in...

I love that David M. took the time to do this (even though he has better things to do). This is way better, celebrity-interaction wise, than having shared a toilet seat with Doug Bennett (though I'm not sure how it sizes up against having given tentacle porn to Lemmy Kilmister). Did I try, David, to get you some press for this show OTHER than on this blog? Yes I did. Would I like to be at this show? Yes I would.

However: I have missed about the last five Furies shows I wanted to see, and Chris Arnett is having a gig at Chapel Arts that very night - the CD release for his first! ever! solo! album! ...and I had plans to see this gig long before you announced your Prophouse show (though I only realized that they were on the same damn day this week). Hell, I missed a Furies show just last month, and I saw YOUR Christmas gig a mere three months ago! PLUS I'm quite possibly teaching (I'm back to ESL, alas) until 8 that night - will be heading straight from Port Coquitlam to Chapel Arts. Truth be known, my girlfriend would probably much rather be seeing your show than Chris Arnett's, but I will have to apologize to Chris even MORE than I will have to apologize to you if I miss this gig. Not that Chris is making me any personalized posters, but...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

He said it (not me)


The UCLA Festival of Preservation at the Pacific Cinematheque

I've seen only a handful of the films that are playing at the UCLA Festival of Preservation, starting next week at the Cinematheque, but the ones I have seen are more than ample cause for a visit to the theatre.
Gun Crazy (1949) frequently appears on top-ten film noir lists, for good reason: it's brilliant. A young man with a fascination for guns is tempted into a crazed spree of stealin', shootin', and drivin' by a dangerous blonde who is herself rather handy with a pistol. The Cinematheque write-up says the film was the inspiration for Godard's Breathless and the progenitor of countless "couple on the run" crime spree films (Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, etc); this actually does some injustice to Nicholas Ray's 1948 film They Live By Night, which obviously had a strong influence on Gun Crazy, and was probably the real template-setter, but no matter, because Gun Crazy is every bit as good as that film, and maybe even better, especially when it arrives at its brooding, surreal swampland finale. This is a noir that will stay with you; if you have not seen Gun Crazy, amend that error! (It plays March 7th, 8th, and 9th).
The Chase is a slightly less obvious film to praise, but it's a very interesting and unusual noir in is own right. A returned soldier, virtuous but desperate and suffering from mild mental problems as a result of his wartime experiences, goes to work, not realizing what he's getting into, as a chauffer for a gangster, only to fall for and decide to rescue the gangster's suicidal wife. Peter Lorre slithers about as the gangster's greasy henchman, Gino. There is a strange plot twist that didn't work so well for me the first time I attempted the film, that I have, on second viewing, come to admire for its audacity and originality (mild but perhaps necessary spoiler: a section of the film - the "escape to Havana" - plays out as a doomed fantasy or dream, which brings us too early at what seems to be the ending of the film; then we wake up - and the film has a whole other ending in store for us, against which the "it was all a dream" ending continues to resonate!). It's one of those films, like Detour and D.O.A., that has been trapped in public domain hell for some time: there are several different cheapo DVD releases of it, none in great condition, so it's nice to hear that it's getting a proper restoration, since it means maybe an authoritative digital release is on the way. Based on The Black Path of Fear by Cornell Woolrich: it was probably a mistake to change that title into something so generic, especially considering there's not much in the way of chasing, per se, in the film. Though that's a good thing...
I finally caught up with Robert Altman's That Cold Day In The Park with a DVD rental from the Burnaby Public Library the other week. In all honesty, I would probably not recommend it heartily were it not for the fact that it was shot in Vancouver in 1968 (which, coincidentally, is the year and location of my birth!). That fact alone elevates to the status of must-see (for locals) what would otherwise at best be a second-tier Altman, not on par with masterpieces like The Long Goodbye or the (also-Vancouver-shot) McCabe and Mrs. Miller, but well-above his WTF films (Popeye, and the as-yet-unseen-by-me OC and Stiggs), as an earnest, provocative, recognizably Altmaneseque effort. It's also recognizably, explicitly set in Vancouver: an opening title declares the location, and there are glimpses of Stanley Park, and even a street scene where someone passes in front of the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street. Sandy Dennis - someone I occasionally find grating - is lovely and sympathetic as a lonely, moneyed spinster, unattracted to the dry, wealthy suitors of her class, who condescends to take in a young mute, for whom she develops obvious affection; then we discover that neither the mute nor she are exactly what they seem. The premise is more interesting than the payoff - which, really, is the main quibble I had with the film; it's an idea movie that lacks a really satisfying conclusion - but along the way, there's some interesting stuff about class and sex and about the mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between straights and youths (the kid, played by TV actor Michael Burns, is not in fact down and out, but comes from a counterculture scene, and regards his benefactor with his own variety of condescension). Roger Ebert's 1969 review of the film is here - he describes it as a "torturous (sic) essay on abnormal psychology" sullied by "improbable" plot devices, while managing to avoid any mention of the ideas that these improbable plot devices exist in service of. All the same, were I not from Vancouver, I'd probably kind of agree with his review. I was still happy to discover that support players Michael Murphy (Phase IV, dozens of Woody Allen films) and Luana Anders (The Trip, Easy Rider) were traipsing around Vancouver back when I was busy being born...!
I have not seen any of the other films in the festival of preservation, though am particularly curious about Supernatural, a 1933 ghost story, involving seances and possessions, starring endearingly kooky, beautiful comedienne Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey), here apparently playing it straight. Lombard died in a plane crash at age 33, though still managed to have a busy career. Interested to see what she does with a horror film!

I know pretty much nothing about the other films playing, though at another time in my life I would have been excited to see Shirley Clarke's documentary about Robert Frost... Didn't know it even existed until reading about it on the Cinematheque website just now!

My OCD upstairs neighbour and his late-night balcony door frenzies

My upstairs neighbour is driving me batshit. I have no idea what his problem is, but he seems to have some sort of out-of-control OCD compulsion to slide his balcony door open and closed over and over and over again, late at night/ early in the morning, producing a deep and resonant rumbling which echoes in my apartment. This sound has sometimes kept me awake nights, but tonight was a first - he managed to do it so frequently at 4am that it woke me up out of a sound deep sleep (I'd gone to bed at 12:30am and was NOT ready to wake up, thanks). I'm guessing he did it some forty times - twenty open, twenty shut - between 4am and 4:10; it's hard to say, since I didn't start counting until his initial intense burst of sliding was over, but between 4:10 - when I turned on the light and peered out of my sleep mask to see what fucking time it was - and 4:33 he opened and closed the patio door six motherfucking times, which has nothing on the frequency of opening and closing that preceded it. The sheer mystery as to what could be behind this behaviour is part of what makes it impossible to ignore, since after the twentieth instance you can't but help wonder what the holy hell he's up to. Is this an early-morning burst of chainsmoking? A drug induced tic? Is he checking to make sure the moon is still in the sky? Gaah! (He just did it again, at 4:40; rumble open, rumble shut; then again at 4:42, as I sit here). I was deeply, soundly asleep, and I do not fall back to sleep easily once I am awakened. Time to write him a terse but polite note: could he find another hobby, please?