Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Wett Stilettos at the Rickshaw

I guess when I get four great photos of a band from bev davies, it will be bad form to mix and match with my mediocre cellphone pics, eh? (Unless mine are specactularly good, which is unlikely to ever be the case, or else if they maybe serve some illustrative purpose bev's don't - which certainly doesn't apply here).

So - unless I get hit by a bus, I have a great Wett Stilettos interview appearing somewhere soon (not sure where), and bev's photos will likely surface then. Meantime, these guys are my favourite "new" punk band in Vancouver; check out their bandcamp here; their new CD, First Cutt, is out now! Meantime, these are my best pics from the other night, opening for Bif Naked. By the by, Bif rocked, was in GREAT form, and it was really cool to see "Daddy's Getting Married" performed live; never much expected I would. I was further back, bein' jostled, by the time Bif came on and none of my pics are really worth a damn, but I could get up nice and close for the Wett Stilettos, so...

Click to make larger!

Shivers Film Society's Video-drome series: Switchblade Sisters on Monday

Sounds like a cool event, and there's free entry, so I guess attendance is down to ones schedule: the Vancouver Video-drome series, affiliated with Shivers Film Society and the VIFF, is going to be showing Switchblade Sisters, directed by 70's exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill. Doors at 6:30, at the Backstage Lounge on Granville Island. I've never seen Switchblade Sisters, truth be known, but I've owned the DVD since about 2003, I love Coffy and Spider Baby and the other Jack Hill flicks I've seen... Maybe I'll give this a try...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

New Studio Ghibli: When Marnie Was There

Caught the theatrical debut of When Marnie Was There at the Vancity on Friday. It's the new, and possibly the final, Studio Ghibli film, though not directed by Miyazaki himself, but rather Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who helmed the Ghibli adaptation of The Borrowers (The Secret World of Arietty) a few years ago. It's quite delightful, if gentle and somewhat sentimental, and gets my recommendation. (One of my Japanese students, on the other hand, thought it was "boring," but she's young; I think it's probably a film for an older audience, which may explain why it didn't get a very enthusiastic reception in Japan). Yes, the big reveals at the end are a tad on the discursive side, and the story is rather simple, at least compared to a film like Spirited Away, but there's such a sweet, rich beauty to the animation, coupled with such a sincere nostalgia for life in smalltown Japan - it's like The Village Green Preservation Society of anime - that it's a must-see. Even if I hadn't been touched by the story, I would have loved it for the landscapes and digressive details alone. Moments like a "shot" of delicately illustrated shorebirds feeding, included for no reason beyond sharing a love of place and nature, almost made tears well up in my eyes, they were so lovely.
Incidentally, Ghibli fans should note that Spirited Away hits blu-ray in a couple of weeks, and HMV and perhaps other retailers of blu-rays and DVDs have significant markdowns on Ghibli product, which Disney owns the distribution rights to here. Disney is usually pretty ruthless, charging the most that they can for their movies, so I've made due until now with Asian versions of these films, mostly, but not anymore. At least until Spirited Away comes out, you can get various titles (like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, still my favourite Miyazaki movie) for $19.99 or slightly more, in blu-ray and DVD combo packs. That's an amazing price for a Disney release. Worth acting while you can...!

Failure to Produce 2: Emission Accomplished

So I posted awhile ago about the difficulties I experienced trying to submit a sperm sample for fertility testing. Once you negotiate the phone system ("press 1 if you have had a vasectomy") and made an appointment on one of the labs that receives sperm samples (which are few-and-far-between, with appointments often booked well in advance, so you may have to wait a bit, especially if your own schedule is complex), you then have to actually come up with a sample, ejaculating the whole thing into a plastic jar and sealing it in a bag flatteringly labeled "biohazard." You can't have ejaculated for two days before the sample is taken, and you MUST have ejaculated at least once in the week before that. Oh, and they want the sample within fifteen minutes of it shooting out of you, ideally, and kept nice and warm, so the sperm has maximum motility. No lube, no adulterating substances of any kind. I got through most of that once before, only to discover that it was no easy job ejaculating on command with my girlfriend present and an open jar awaiting me. I couldn't make the appointment that day - I couldn't do it - so I re-booked (for a place near Lougheed Mall, which had a space for a Saturday drop-off) and, earlier today, tried again.

I succeeded! I elected, to circumvent any self-consciousness, to just buy a dirty mag (Penthouse sure looks like crap these days - I remember the vintage years when they were kind of artful and sofr-focus and appealing) and take it with me to a public restroom close to where the sample was to be delivered. I'm not sure what it says about me that I can be less self-conscious jerkin' off in a toilet in a men's room, with men crapping and blowing their noses on either side of me, than with a naked woman whom I love cheering me on on the bed, but - even with the crappy quality of the mag and the somewhat disgusting circumstances - I managed to shoot a rather meager puddle of goo - beginning, middle and end - into the jar, seal it up, and get it to the lab on time. I reported to my girl by phone, when I had success, that "the 'hard' part was over." Now we just have to see what the results are.

I'm expecting, frankly, that my sperm count will be low, or they'll be sluggish, or malformed, or something. After all, my parents were married for ten years before I was conceived, and they were both Catholic, so...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I interviewed Bif Naked...

I owed Mo at the Rickshaw one, so I did a feature on Bif Naked, whom I normally don't follow. Now my girlfriend is laughing at me because I'm walking around humming Bif songs, and kind of looking forward to the show on Friday.

By the by, there is MUCH more to be done on the Wett Stilettos, who fit perfectly with my current enthusiasm for bands like the Dead Boys, the Pagans, the Nervous Eaters and such, but... it will have to be said later. Probably my current favourite local punk band, with the possible exception of Bishop's Green... though there are a ton of bands I haven't seen out there, so take my opinion with a grain of salt...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Reverend Horton Heat, dental pain, a flotation tank, and the Khatsahlano Street Party 2015

So I have two new features on the Reverend Horton Heat, based on a conversation I had with Jim Heath a few weeks ago: this one in Big Takeover online and this, more Vancouver-centric one, in Westender. Enjoyed the show last night! Working on something re: the upcoming sixth anniversary show at the Rickshaw, featuring the Wett Stilettos and Bif Naked, among others. I really like the Rickshaw, y'know? I'd rather see shows at the Commodore, given my choice, but the Rickshaw seems to book much better bands these days - nine out of ten shows that I want to see seem to be happening there, lately...

In other news, I had some bad dental experiences recently and have a very sore jaw and a persistently sore tooth. Nothing like taking a tooth problem to the dentist and having him make it worse! Also, I tried a flotation tank for the first time yesterday. at Float House in Kitsilano. I've wanted to float since I saw Ken Russell's Altered States first run at the Stanley Theatre, around 1983, I guess it was, when I was 15. It wasn't really that dramatic - certainly not compared to the movie! - just deeply relaxing, being able to float comfortably in the dark, focusing on my breathing, and not much more. My state didn't exactly alter - I didn't even fall asleep - but the relaxation was long-lasting, almost like you feel after coming out of a really good massage, and I had a few slight perceptual shifts, with my relationship to body, breath, and heartbeat changing just a little (and believe me, your heart and breath will be very much audible when you float; it's not so much a matter of sensory deprivation in the tank, so much as it is a kind of biofeedback amplification). Fun to wiggle around a bit, too - it's as close as you can come as an adult to returning to the womb. The strangest feeling I had came when I became aware of a shifting in my pelvis as I breathed, like the pelvic floor was opening up, expanding; it led to the image of my body performing a sort of mitosis-like split down the middle and forming two new bodies based on more-or-less symmetrical halves...

It also occurred to me that it would be very, very bad to fart in a flotation tank. I restrained myself - and not just because of the discourtesy to subsequent floaters!

Not much else to report at the moment - off to Vancaf later today to check out the local comics artists - but I'm very pleased to see that the Khats party lineup includes a bunch of familiar names. I don't know Yukon Blonde at all - I am still very selective as to what I pay attention to, and miss some huge bands that way - but I'm really excited to see No Fun (in duo form!), the re-activated Pointed Sticks, the Enigmas, Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, the Courtneys, Real Ponchos, Darkblueworld (with Elizabeth Fischer of Animal Slaves). I get the Ballantynes and the Beladeens confused but if they're the band that opened for Roky Erickson at the Electric Owl in 2013, that's awesome too*. July 11th can't come fast enough, with bands like that!
*Yay! They are!

Refinements in Love at the Fox

Chatted with "porn archaelogist" Dimitrios Otis at the Ed Wood screening the other week (see below); enjoyed his presentation and enjoyed the film, though jeez, closeups of genitals do tend to look a wee bit disgusting on the big screen - especially those pimples-and-all '70's genitals, y'know? (I always think of Terry Southern's phrase from Blue Movie, I believe it was, where he calls the "master shot" - of a ginormous, hairy male ass with thrusting baggage and appendage below doin' the old in-and-out - the "monster shot"). Still, the film (and Otis' presentation on the same) was very entertaining and indeed very Ed Wood. Nice to see he's doing another event while he's still in town, on the 28th at the Fox with Robin Bougie (who will also be at the free Vancaf event this weekend at the Roundhouse, see below for more on that, too). This new event seems pretty self-explanatory - obscure horny 70's pseudo-documentary on sex, with personable presenters present - so I'm not going to trouble him for another email interview, but this is cut and pasted off his Facebook page... I should also mention, however, that people have actually written a bit on this film on IMDB and you can get more information about it there, that there are a couple of stills from the DVD release of the film here, too, and again, a bit more description; Robin Bougie's Facebook page for the event is here. Here's Dimitrios:

Another slice of Vancouver-as-X-rated-museum screens at The Fox Cabaret on May 28, presented by “porn archeologist” Dimitrios Otis and Robin “Cinema Sewer” Bougie.

Refinements in Love is an obscure 1971 porn-documentary directed by the legendary Carlos Tobalina. Unavailable for decades, an original 35mm print of it was found by Otis behind the screen at the late Fox Cinema – now the restored result will show at the now-Fox Cabaret in this year’s most lurid homecoming.

Refinements in Love contains everything you’d ever want in vintage porno---garish colour, aging sexpot hostess, earnest folky theme song, behind-the-scenes footage, quasi-academic narration about the positive effects on society of free love (and, apparently, nuclear war if we do not get sexually liberated), bizarre medically-oriented fantasy-sex sequences, and an early uncredited screen appearance by cult sex actress Rene Bond.

And of course you will HEAR the remarkable story of how a gang of white porn hounds were handed the keys to the last 35mm porn theatre one night and unreeled this funky celluloid gem to their shock and awe---and you will SEE the amazing panels of the original mini-comic book created by artist Phil Barrett to commemorate the event.

Refinements in Love – Thursday May 28 @ 8:00pm, The Fox Cabaret, 2321 Main Street
Introduced by Robin Bougie and Dimitrios Otis w/ Q&A

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to Quit Smoking Cigarettes: some advice from an ex-smoker

This was prompted by some people discussing quitting smoking on Facebook. I managed to quit after being a pack-and-a-half-a-day chainsmoker; I haven't had a cigarette, or any form of nicotine, since 2000. It was one of the more challenging things that I've done. For those of you looking for help quitting smoking, here are my tips.

1. Get very, very clear that you want to quit. Meditate on cancer and other such things. If you do not want to quit on the deepest level, you will continue to smoke. You have to WANT to quit, really, or you're wasting your time. If you really DON'T want to quit, it won't stick. If you want to quit it's really not that hard. There's all sorts of things you can do to help you - read about the health effects of tobacco, smell ashtrays, look at photos of tumours. Hell, I even spun a Reveen record on quitting smoking. Whatever helps, helps. Get clear that you want to quit. 

2. Use your anti-corporate rage to help you; cultivate anger at the fact that you are paying tobacco companies to kill you slowly. How stupid is that?

3. Do breathwork. The Breathing Book by Donna Fahri is good, or do any yogic breathing exercises, deep relaxation, etc. Get in touch with the part of yourself that you are polluting. Sex, since it also involves deep breathing, is useful, too. Long walks in fresh air.
4. If possible, switch to a very, very pure brand of tobacco - American Spirit or something with as few additives as you can get. I'm pretty sure it helped me a lot to quit that I moved to Japan around the time I stopped. Even just a change of tobacco might have helped; I wasn't "as" addicted to Japanese tobacco. 

5. Don't mess around with nicotine gum or e-cigs or such. These may be fine in and of themselves, may have advantages over smoking, but don't think you're "quitting": you're not quitting the drug, you're just changing the method of delivery. If you want to quit the drug, you have to go cold turkey for some period of time. Don't be dumb about it; taper off - go to ten cigs a day, then five, then three, before you wake up to your first cigarette-free day. But you won't be able to avoid a certain amount of discomfort if you're trying to quit. It's part of the deal. 

6. Plan ahead. Be prepared for a few days where you feel like hell, and give yourself the time and space to feel like hell. Don't try to do the cold turkey part when you have stresses or responsibilities, or you're setting yourself up to fail. Use a long weekend or such, when the holiday is on Friday, so the Friday is your first day totally without. By Monday, you'll be coping a lot better. Saturday and Sunday, relax at home, treat  yourself very well, and avoid anything that causes you anxiety. Yoga, sex, breathwork, fresh air, relaxation... all very helpful during this time. 

7. Avoid the company of other smokers for as long as possible when quitting. You will be tempted.

8. Stay in the moment, deal with each craving as it comes. Rather than thinking, "I'm never going to have another cigarette again" - which increases the pressure on you - think, "I can have a cigarette again any time I want, I just don't want to right now." And ride out that craving, and the next. If you focus on each separate battle, it makes it much easier to win the war. 

9. Do not think you can allow yourself "just one cigarette" - first off, you'll feel sick as a dog when you smoke it, and secondly, it will PROBABLY lead to you going back to smoking fulltime again. Every unsuccessful attempt to quit begins with the "I'll just have one every now and then." If you're a nicotine addict, it won't work. 

10. If you screw up, don't feel too bad. It's hard to quit. Just take what you learned from the experience and try again. Eventually you will quit...!

Good luck! 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

VanCAF May 22-23: a check-in with Colin Upton

One of my better decisions this year was to buy a couple of packages of Colin Upton comics. It was a bit of a fraught transaction, because I ended up buying direct from the artist, and managed the feat of exiting out the wrong exit and locking myself into the balcony of his building, eventually having to call him to come let me out; but he weathered this with good humour and came to my rescue. Neverminding that brief moment of panic - which seems like something that might happen in a Colin Upton comic, in fact, excepting for it having happened to me, not Colin Upton - his yearly anthologies are quite delightful, and a very easy way to consume a variety of his works, which are cleverly drawn, funny, observant, and often amusingly, self-deprecatingly autobiographical (though sometimes they're more historical than personal; Upton is a history buff and has various comics devoted to topics in Canadian history. He's also a wargamer and a tea snob, apparently - and a member of the Haters. Interesting cat...). Upton is going to be among the exhibitors at the Vancouver Comic Art Festival at the Roundhouse this weekend (events start on Friday the 21st, though the main event will be taking place over the 22nd and 23rd). Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie will also be there, as well as a staggeringly large host of artists whom I do not know, including a cadre of special guests and small-press publishers, and various events and panels, including a discussion on Saturday of the fate of editorial cartoons after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Admission is free; how can one not want to check this out?

A brief interaction with Colin Upton follows. I commented via Facebook that my girlfriend and I both really enjoyed his Self-Indulgent Comics #37, dedicated to the restorative powers of kitten farts ("who doesn't love kitten farts?!?" he replied). Then I asked what he does during the fest, what he's excited about during the weekend, and so forth. He pointed out that he'd be at table I-2, in the gym, and then continued:

"What I do is stand behind my table hoping people will come by and give me money!  It's hard as I am shy but I try to draw people in and make some connection. Sometimes I'll be asked to do a panel or once I was a guest at the Sneaky Dragon live podcast from Vancaf.  I sketch on comic backing boards and tape the drawings to the wall... it's a good way to monitor my progress during the weekend, from cheery optimism to weary resignation... I also check out the other tables and the afterparties are important! Meeting artists.  I need a full table as I bring virtually everything I've ever done, certainly most of the small press stuff.  I'll have 6 new mini-comics!"

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road: a blockbuster too far

It would be wholly unreasonable of me to go to a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road expecting to get a character-driven drama - or to complain afterwards because it isn't one. In fact, given the nature of the story being told, the spectacular 3D blockbuster mode is absolutely the right one for a Mad Max movie. The film has spectacular production design - the villains, weapons, cars, steering wheels, and what-have-you are all really interesting to look at and watch in action; and it is not without ideas, almost all of which are perfectly integrated with the design and the action, not tacked on discursively or such. Plus the action sequences, thrilling chases, and so forth are all brilliantly realized. I don't deny that it's a lot of fun to watch and I don't mean to be casting too much of a dissenting voice here. I went because I had to, I enjoyed it because - well, it kind of feels like I had to do that, too, but I did appreciate the level of craft on hand, and I was genuinely engaged on SOME level (albeit a pretty shallow one) all the way through. Who knows, I may even see it again sometime. I'm happy to hear that sequels are in the works, and I'm happy George Miller has scored such a huge hit with this film, so late in his career.

But you know, I really, really don't need any more giant blockbusters, folks. The bigger and better they get, the more they're wearing me out. I also "had to" watch The Hobbit (all three movies), The Hunger Games (or at least the first two) and that Godzilla thing - all of which are also stories well-suited to this mode of filmmaking, but really, it's enough. It's exhausting. It's kind of like how I used to feel on Halloween after the thirteenth candy bar. I do not need my block busted any more for a few years. Let's hope there are no more movies like this that I "have to" see for awhile.

(For my money, for recent Australian post-apocalyptic cinema, I'd recommend The Rover any day).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Young Marrieds, Ed Wood's lost porno: a Dimitrios Otis interview

So I'm neither a porn connoisseur nor an Ed Wood fan, but more from lack of exposure than lack of interest. I'm perfectly willing to consume porn as cinema, if it's interesting - like the work of Zebedy Colt, say. And I've always been curious about Ed Wood - mostly because I know serious cult movie cinephiles like Adrian Mack admire his films - but believe it or not, aside from about five minutes of Plan 9 From Outer Space, which I caught on TV in my 20's and quickly switched channels on - I have never actually seen an Ed Wood film, ever: not one. I've seen Tim Burton's film about him, I know his reputation, but I'm actually more inclined to seek out good movies than bad ones, unless someone really urges me to do otherwise (which is how I came to see Ray Dennis Steckler's Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo, say; thanks, Blake. I still remember it).

There are tons of reasons to be interested in The Young Marrieds, however - Ed Wood's final film, and a porno at that, which I plan to see for the first time on Friday at the Rio Theatre, with the man who re-discovered it here in Vancouver way back in 2004, Dimitrios Otis, in attendance (selling DVDs of it, too!). The press release for the film talks about how "Otis found the 16mm print in a cache of films from the old Venus Theatre on Main Street, a notorious ‘den of depravity’ that was finally torn down in 2007 to make way for condos." The story of any film rediscovery is interesting; when it takes in the historic battle between art spaces and condos that is being waged in Vancouver, it's all the moreso.  

But there's more to it. The Young Marrieds also features a lost performance from a woman who acted in John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Alice Friedland - a beautiful woman with an odd career, apparently doing a hardcore turn in the Wood film. Cassavetes' own body of work has been subject to a lost film or two being discovered, including the original version of Shadows, tracked down by, and currently in the possession of Ray Carney (better known on the interet these days for l'affair Rappaport than his Cassavetes scholarship, sadly). 
"Porn archaelogist" Dimitrios Otis was kind enough to answer a few questions about the film by email in advance of the screening. He started with some background (which may have seen print elsewhere - hope I'm not steppin' on anyone's toes), informing me that "The Young Marrieds was shot not too long after Necromania, possibly as early as summer 1971 and certainly by Oct. 1971 (the film itself is dated 1972, under the unknown "Palo Productions" company copyright)."

Wood biographer Rudolph Grey "has researched a ton of stuff about The Young Marrieds -- as with other films, Pendulum Publishers (there is a convoluted chain of film production companies involved with Wood's films--- "Cinema Classics", Stacey Films---but yes it started with this book/magazine publisher) milked their skin flicks in various ways (pun not intended): 8mm "loops" derived from the sex scenes, use of on-set shots for pictorials, "reviews" were done (by Wood himself of his own movies!). Often they described different titles/characters from the actual film. For instance, The Young Marrieds was reviewed (previewed?) as Group Sex Ball in a Pendulum pictorial article." 

"Grey has found movie ads starting in 1974 so it is possible it was sold to another distributor at that time. Grey also found the trailer (the only copy of it to have ever surfaced) at a DIFFERENT company altogether (he kindly lent us the trailer to put on the DVD, a nice coup for us.) The trailer has a different approach and narration, suggests to me it was made BEFORE Wood finished the feature (Wood cut his own trailers, btw, and also edited his own films)."
How did Otis find the film, however? Was he searching for it? (The remainder of this article is all Dimitrios Otis! See you at the Rio on Friday...). 

Wasn’t looking for The Young Marrieds – didn’t even know it existed! When I did my first event at the Fox in 2000, the cousin of the Fox owners told me he had a bunch of films and I should do an event at HIS theatre (the Venus). I ended up offering just to catalog his supply. He had 300 reels of 16mm films – they were in his garage at 24th/Main – the Fire Marshall had made him remove them from the Venus as a fire hazard. The Fire Marshall wrongly thinking they were flammable (that was, like, 60 years ago when film had nitrite stock!). Anyway, the guy’s wife wanted to get rid of them, so I bought them – cheap!
After I had them a while I guess I remembered how in Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. (by Rudolph Grey) it was described how some of Wood’s films were lost. So I started checking thru the films – and oddly enough The Young Marrieds was in there!

I had actually been very moved by that whole closing section of Nightmare of Ecstasy when I originally read it---I’m sure my response was typical.

The Young Marrieds itself is of course a low-budget sex movie – but Wood put a lot into it, and like much of his writing, it contains a lot of his personal views and feelings. Wood wrote the script, directed, edited, did the sound, cut the trailer. I feel he was an auteur.

Curiously, in his last movie Wood revisited his first movie, Glen or Glenda. The “young married” couple are both variously freaked out by sexual “freaks and weirdos” (gays and lesbians), then are progressively confronted by these elements through the film.
The Young Marrieds also continues progressively from the film Wood made before it – Necromania. In Necromania a couple undergo a testing process to see if they are compatible to get married, then in the next film the titular couple are being tested in the post-honeymoon phase of their marriage.

Although much of Wood’s cinematic technique is sloppy – crude editing, bad sound --- he appears to have made a lot of effort to dress the set. If one looks carefully one sees set dec items moved around and re-placed on the different sets. Quite a number of the items re-appear from Necromania, and I think he re-used some of the “nighties” too. Wood also liked to put tall candle holders (with lit candles) on coffee tables then shoot so they are foreground.

While Wood was of course working in a genre purposed to stimulate the audience, he actually subverted this purpose in small and large ways. A solo scene with the wife is set during her viewing of a daytime soap opera (nicely emphasizing the middle class suburban setting) but the purposed sexual stimulation is undermined by the loud and very bizarre sound of the soap opera playing as she operates her dildo. And the ending is simply one big shock to the heterosexual male audience’s expectations. One wonders what the producers thought about their investment.

There is quite a bit of that unique Wood dialogue and funny gaffes. A framed picture on the wall enters the picture and becomes part of the action – until finally between takes someone nails it firmly back on the wall! One of the actresses is pretty bad, probably first time on camera – and she appears to regret her involvement immensely. A bear rug---complete with head---is immediately tripped over. That kind of thing.
My favourite moment is when the “young marrieds” are having communication difficulties in bed. There is a teddy bear on the bed and as the couple reach an impasse then the bear is picked up by the wife, and at one point lies between them as a sort of “amenable object” conduit for their attempts to regain intimacy (each is touching one end of the teddy bear.) We can tell that Wood was directing the actors in this – because since the film was made with live sound he had to later cut the sound out to cut out his own voice directing the actors (in a more polished production they would dub in voices to fill in the gaps.) I have no doubt Wood placed that teddy bear on the bed and directed the husband and wife to handle it. This is of course employing Freudian-type psychological levels.

There’s no doubt this is an Ed Wood film!!

Dimitrios Otis, porn archeologist

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A recap, plus: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Right, so... too busy to do much blogging, but it's a cool week of upcoming stuff, by me... The Killing of a Chinese Bookie on Tuesday... Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Wednesday.... Friday it's Ed Wood's The Young Marrieds at the Rio, curated by Dimitrios Otis... all stuff I have mentioned below. With luck I will hit every one.
Also looking very interesting is the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief at the Vancity Theatre, apparently a powerful takedown/ expose of the Church of Scientology. I've had my own brushes with organizations that resemble, if you will, "self-help cults," and actually am somewhat sympathetic to them; there's a very real lack of structure and support in our society, which is run as a no-holds-barred, laissez-faire free for all that substitutes rules and regulations for things like "organizing principles," which means that you can grow up completely misunderstanding what the underlying structure of society (and your role in it) is actually supposed to BE... far as I can see, self-help cults exploit that weakness, but they also fill a real need, giving people who don't understand how to live some needed direction, structure, feedback and support; as long as they don't primarily function to turn you into a programmed huckster trying to find other schlubs to join the team - as long as you're free to take what they have on offer and leave - I don't necessarily think they're that malign. But then again, I haven't seen the documentary yet, just a bunch of people in Guy Fawkes masks protesting outside the Scientology building on Hastings, which I have never yet entered, despite it having been there for as long as I've been making trips into Vancouver... I'm most curious what the film will offer. Incidentally, John Travolta comments on the film (which he hasn't seen) here...

Saturday, May 09, 2015

"Failure to Produce"

Those of you who have complained about my occasionally writing about masturbation might want to tune out now.

Jerking off and sex are two very different things. Different mindsets, different objectives, usually even different locations. Jerking off goes like this, in recent years: go to my home computer; access porn; stroke self for a few minutes; ejaculate; discard ejaculate; wash hands. Done in under five minutes, without fail. It's not always been so utilitarian, but now that I have a girlfriend, it's something I only do a) when I'm at my place without her, b) I haven't had sex in a couple of days, and (not or, note) c) I find myself kind of distracted by sexual thoughts and want to get to the other side of them. It's not much different from blowing my nose ('cept for the fluids produced, the hole they come out of, and the amount of sound I make - my orgasms have never been compared to an elephant trumpeting, but my nose-blowing has...). It's absolutely never something I've had a problem with.

Sex, too. I have had a good run with being able to perform when I want/ am wanted to perform. I had one self-sabotaging partner for a very short time who had a life narrative about how men lose their erections around her, who ended up putting her monkey on my back for awhile, but that was about the relationship between us, not my penis. I also had a time when I came rather quickly, if a partner was new and I was nervous; I'm pretty sure there is at least one woman out there who has referred to me as a "two pump chump," or at least could have. But now that I actually have a regular girlfriend, I do just fine. It takes longer for me to achieve orgasm during sex, because there are more variables: wanting to please, toe cramps - I have never yet had a toe cramp when masturbating - or, say, when she gets a screaming charley horse and everything has to stop for a bit. Very occasionally we don't get there, if we're tired, if we have something else to do, but generally, we make it to MY orgasm whenever we try. It's a little more of a challenge with her, but I don't think she feels neglected or dissatisfied, and there have been a few times when SHE's "arrived" and I said "okay my work is done, let's just call it a night," without having gotten there myself. It's not ALL about me, but the point is, all my equipment is in suitable working order so far. 

But guess what? Being asked to ejaculate into a plastic cup for the purposes of fertility testing is a whole other ball of wax. They make it as complicated as possible from the outset. You can't just produce at will and rush it down to your nearest BC Biomedical, for one. They only have a limited number of offices that receive sperm specimens, because they need to be on a courier route to deliver the stuff quickly to a central lab for immediate analysis; that courier only comes on certain days, so you need to book an appointment ahead of time to have the goo on hand for them (or in the jar - your standard plastic orange-lid jobby in a flattering little Biohazard bag). There's more, too: they need to have the material more-or-less within fifteen minutes of "production," It needs to be the WHOLE ejaculation, nothing missing, which means you have to basically shoot INTO the jar (I don't imagine they'd be happy if you had to scrape it up off your fingers or such). You can't use lubricant of any kind, including saliva. You have to keep the sample warm while you deliver it, too, by keeping the jar next to your body. Oh, and you MUST ejaculate once in the previous week, but NOT for two days before you produce the official sample, so it's a nice fresh full parcel you're giving them. Try to book an appointment for delivery and every time you call them, you have to listen to the whole litany, until you have it more or less down pat. It's been five times for me, since I've had to call to learn how to make an appointment, then call to make one, then to change it, call to check the time and address, and then call again yesterday to reschedule...

In other words, the whole enterprise is fairly fraught. At first I thought I'd just load some porn onto my phone, go to the local lab, toss one off in their bathroom, and be done with it; but the lab closest to me just doesn't take the stuff. Then I figured I'd book an appointment to deliver to Pitt Meadows, which would mean producing in my usual chair, with lots of visual stimuli. It only got complicated when I started thinking about taking a taxi. If he's late, millions of sperm could die; if he's early, I won't be finished. Either way, it seemed a bit risky. Then I booked for yesterday morning at a lab near my girlfriend's, but guess what? I was not able to produce in time; I could get it up but there was just too much self-consciousness, distraction, and general strangeness - even with her help - to get it OUT during the narrow window we had. Plus it didn't help that I'd had dental surgery the night before and was really, really sore (not down there, but still). 

When it was clear we weren't going to make it in time, we blasted off to the lab with the jar in hand with the intention of my giving it another shot in the bathroom, but you know, it's really, really hard to jerk off in a bathroom surrounded by shelves for urine samples and notes about where to dispose of feminine hygiene products, when you've been told you only have five minutes to do it in, since the courier could be here any minute and they still have to do paperwork (tick tick tick). Plus there was nothing to look at, no stimuli (my girl stayed in the waiting room). I tried to close my eyes and fantasize but there was so much pressure that I couldn't even get stiff. 

Anyhow, we have had to re-book. Since I need to be able to do this on a day when I'm not working, I have chosen the nearest Saturday to me where there's a spot available: a lab near Lougheed Mall. I think I'm just going to grab a magazine, scope out the area, and go find a bathroom. It would be nice if they made the whole thing a little less complicated! Hopefully this whole narrative doesn't add to the self-consciousness and feeling of pressure...

Maybe we could get one of these? (Shades of A Boy and His Dog, for me). 

Friday, May 08, 2015

A very Pussy Galore week, AKA Pussy Galore Galore

So Neil Hagerty will play the Fox Cabaret on Saturday. I don't know his music that well - some of his albums sound like kind of pseudo-stonesy pop, others push the envelope of normal music a bit further. Much of the limited-edition disc The Return of the Third Tower sounds like the between-song interludes on Shockabilly albums, not really song-like at all. I paid no attention whatsoever to his Royal Trux output, only know his work with 90's noise-blues-punk band Pussy Galore, whom I quite admire (I'm a Dial M for Motherfucker fan, particularly). Still, I'm excited to check out the show - the timing is right for me to go to a gig, I haven't been to the Fox yet, and Mormon Crosses open, a project of Jesse, the second guitarist on Shearing Pinx' Rituals and the former leader of Twin Crystals, so...

I got nothing to say about the Gretchen Snakes Group, but it's a cool name (does that poster for Alvarius B. on their bandcamp page refer to a past gig or an upcoming one, I wonder?).

Anyow, the thing that's kind of strange is that a few days after the Neil Hagerty show, Jon Spencer, also of Pussy Galore, will play the Imperial. I'm excited. I was actually kind of non-plussed when I caught the renamed Blues Explosion about ten years ago at Richards on Richards, thought that The Gossip kind of blew them offstage. In fact, I was so impressed by the Gossip - in one of their earliest, garage-punkiest incarnations, that I even briefly tried to flirt with Beth Ditto at the merch table, not very successfully (I mean, it's not like I didn't notice she's not straight; I was unsurprised that she showed little interest beyond the professional in chatting with me). When Spencer came out, I got the impression of a man who was really, really forcing it, jumping around and cavorting because he felt that that was what showmanship was about; I was disconcerted, put off, and left early (maybe it was just me). The band called it quits for several years after that album - the one where Jon Spencer's name was dropped, which was nowhere as good as Plastic Fang, the disc where I first became aware of them. The good news is that after several years of hiatus, the new JSBX album - with Jon's name right back where it should be - sounds fucking amazing, tight, smart, fast, fun, and FUNKY. It's called Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, and it seems like an excellent time to give this band another shot.
I never got the chance to see Pussy Galore live, so it's pretty cool that I get to see two of the founding members play Vancouver only five days apart. I'm looking forward to both shows. It still won't be like a Pussy Galore reunion or anything like that, but...

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Outsider burlesque: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The Young Marrieds

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is one of John Cassavetes' most interesting films, and one of his most self-reflexive; it stands in regard his body of work roughly where The Belly of an Architect stands in regard Peter Greenaway's canon, as a sort of self-mocking confessional, a portrait of the artist as an utter loser (though Cassavetes is kinder to his loser than Greenaway is to his and allows him a bit of redemption). Its upcoming screening on May 12th as part of a Vancity Theatre Cinema Salon is a must-attend, being the only theatrical presentation of the film in this city in recent memory, and I'm excited to revisit the film, and on the big screen no less; thanks to presenter, photographer Greg Girard, for picking it.
That said, I think even Cassavetes' admirers have to admit that, for all its noirish qualities, for all its striking imagery, The Killing of a Chinse Bookie is a bit of a failure - an interesting failure, maybe one of the most interesting film failures out there, but a failure nonetheless. The existence of two very different cuts attests to as much: after the film failed to win any attention/ acclaim in 1976, Cassavetes - who, after the success of A Woman Under the Influence, was in charge of distributing it himself, and in complete control of the film - substantially altered it, seemingly attempting to streamline the ungainly aspects of the film, rearranging scenes, including new material, cutting a lot of footage that doesn't drive the narrative forward, mostly of interminable, embarrassing song-and-dance-routines. That version, released in 1978, is the one that will screen, and it's the superior cut - there's a detailed comparison of the two versions online here - but it also failed to win much of an audience at the time. And I've always been somewhat surprised to read that Cassavetes (or anyone) was surprised by the film's failure, as interesting as I find it: the movie just doesn't quite work, structurally or artistically, is an imperfect, confusing, embarrassing, disconcerting experience in any version you see it in. The shorter version leaves you wanting more, wondering what happened at various junctures, feeling like something essential has been left out of the story; the longer version, which finally came out on home video a few years ago on the Criterion box, leaves you wanting less, and raises more questions than it answers.
The plot goes roughly like this: after accumulating a towering gambling debt, a stripclub owner, Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) is strongarmed by gangsters (including the always great Seymour Cassel and the absolutely legendary Timothy Carey, above) into murdering a Chinese rival of theirs. The Crazy Horse West, Cosmo's establishment, puts on absurd burlesque shows, filled with sentimentality and playfulness and precious little in the way of actual titillation. The shows are at the same time wonderful - in their innocence, sincerity and apparent naive ambition - and godawful in their execution; it's outsider burlesque, which Cosmo glowingly gives himself credit for directing. "I’m the owner of this joint," he boasts from the stage. "I choose the numbers, I direct them, I arrange them." His pride, his ego, is obvious, but is undercut by the fact that most of what we see onstage is facepalm material, is so cringe-inducing that you can't even bring yourself to laugh at it.
People - including Gazarra - have spoken about the film being a metaphor for Cassavetes himself, the artist versus "business," but if these burlesque shows are meant in any way to be a representation of Cassavetes film practice, they're quite self-mocking. The fact that Cosmo - who Cassavetes has described as a "conformist" - ends up defending his club, and willing to do extreme things to protect it, is in a way admirable - he is the artist heroically defending his work against the money men, a position Cassavetes often found himself in - but it's also, when you consider exactly how daft the "work" in question is, kind of pathetic, kind of absurd. If Cosmo is in any way a self-portrait of the filmmaker, it's a shockingly humbling one, from a filmmaker not particularly noted for his humility. That's kind of what makes the film so compelling: it seems to be offering an almost bottomless insight into Cassavetes' himself, while frustratingly making it very challenging to determine what exactly is being said. Like I say, it's one of the most interesting failures out there...
An speaking of failures... an interesting side note, for enthusiasts of Ed Wood and for cult cinema in general: Alice Friedland, the buxom, airy blonde on Cosmo's arm through much of Bookie (pictured in the limo above), also appears in The Young Marrieds, a porno directed by storied film fuckup Ed Wood near the end of his life. Long believed lost, and only recently rediscovered by "porn archaeologist" Dimitrios Otis, that film will screen at the Rio May 15th-16th, Haven't seen it - I am not actually a connoisseur of Ed Wood - but Alice Friedland may just be the selling point for this screening. Pretty interesting that these two films should screen in Vancouver in such close proximity to each other! Think I might just do both...