Wednesday, September 20, 2017

VIFF blogging commences! (plus belated Harry Dean Stanton obit)

I am presently between jobs - the teaching gig I had was incorporated into the union and re-posted, so now I have to fight for it all over again. But my wife has hurt her foot, requiring me to double-down on my household duties, and I've had a couple of weeks' very productive writing while she is at work... so I am going to allow myself a bit more "time off" before I start farming out resumes. (Anyone looking for my skillset, which also includes editing, proofreading, teaching and tutoring, is welcome to seek out the "Contact" button on this page... I would prefer a lifetime position with great benefits, flexible hours, and lotsa holiday time that started at $40/ hour minimum, but, you know, I will probably have to settle for less than that...).

Anyhow, what the hell. Some very exciting stuff coming up this VIFF, and I have the time to take in a few films.

Bong Joon Ho's terrific Okja - which I've already written about on this blog, in a piece unambiguously entitled "I Love Okja" - is making a big-screen appearance. I am under the impression from a controversial Cannes screening that the Netflix original is not going to actually get theatrical distribution beyond festivals - which caused some to balk that it should compete in Cannes - so this will be a rare chance to see it projected with an audience. I recommend doing so: it's a terrific film, and will appeal to vegans, vegetarians, animal rights activists, and people concerned about GMO's - as well as to people who just like good stories (or Tilda Swinton, or Jake Gyllenhaal, who truly broadens his parameters for this role).

I actually have never seen the other Bong Joon Ho film that's screening, his 2003 breakout feature, Memories of Murder, but it's a film my Korean students have often praised over the years, dealing with a lengthy, complex, and frustrating investigation into the real-life Hwaseong serial murders. We used to do, every third term, a class presentation on movies and Memories of Murder was right up there with Silmido, My Sassy Girl, and Welcome to Dongmakgol as a consensus favourite. (I have heard the story explained to me several times, which may be why I've never sat down to watch it; I will spare you that particular disservice).

I've written about Okja for a Straight piece I did, as well, which also mentions Caniba (about Japanese cannibal-killer Issei Sagawa!). The directors are associated with Harvard Sensory Ethnography Labs; over the next day or two, I'll post an old interview I did with them about their previous VIFF entry, the Go-Pro-shot fishing trawler documentary Leviathan (no relation to that Russian film of the same name that came out a couple years ago). Speaking of ambitious documentaries in this year's VIFF, there is also  Michael Glawogger's last film, Untitled, which he died while making. I'll leave my Straight article to fill you in more on Glawogger, but I will share one image supposedly from the film - one I actually forget seeing, though there are, weirdly enough, plenty of animals in transport in the movie, enough so that it becomes a kind of motif. If the idea of a shot like this gets you excited, Untitled is your film.

There's also the new film from Yorgos Lanthimos, whose The Lobster I loved and whose Dogtooth disturbed me; this film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, again features Colin Farrell, but expect something dark and surreal, not one of Farrell's more "Hollywood" roles. I thought The Lobster was  the best neo-Bunuelian movie I'd ever seen, in the vein of films - since there is more than one Bunuel - like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, except as applied to dating and romance. Dunno what it says about our relationship (or past experiences with dating), but Erika liked it a lot too (her parents sure didn't). I am excited enough about Lanthimos' new film that I am reading nothing about it until after I see it, so you will have to research it yourself if you need more. What does the title refer to? What is Colin Farrell doing in this image? I don't want to know until I am watching the film.

Then there's a six hour miniseries from New Zealand auteur (and director of The Piano and An Angel at My Table, among others) Jane Campion, which I gather is a follow up to something I have not seen (and thus am unlikely to check in with, much as I admire Campion). And there's a new film by Michael Haneke (who terrifies me, rather, and whom I have stopped following, but you go right on ahead). All of these films look to be major cinematic excitements, which probably don't need my attention.

There's also what sounds like a must-see fictional feature called Lucky, which, fittingly enough, is a film about Harry Dean Stanton getting ready to die - starring, to be clear, Harry Dean Stanton. I didn't write an obit for Harry Dean Stanton when he passed last week, maybe because the last couple of years of cultural heroes dying have attuned people sufficiently to obituaries that it doesn't feel like a useful function for me to perform; you'll just read about it on Facebook anyhow (as we all did, though I didn't have much to say there either). But I loved his characters, respected his long career, and always enjoyed seeing him onscreen. One does gather from what other people say that he was a bit of a difficult guy to deal with at times (Alex Cox, in his memoir X Films, talks about Harry would go on about "the Jews;" and Bette Midler, in a featurette on The Rose, said that he was not pleasant to work with at all - and she was in the midst of giving one of those gushing "everyone is great" interviews that Hollywood people give, so for her to say that, there must have been pretty serious trouble between them). I was a subscriber to Roger Ebert's Stanton-Walsh rule, that "no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad," and though he later claimed that there were films that broke that rule, it has held for me, even in cases where the only thing I enjoy about a film is the presence of either Walsh or Stanton.
Anyhow, Lucky sounds like a surefire hit. But so far, besides Untitled - more on which later, I hope - and Okja, which I had already seen, I have only looked at one film, the somewhat Lovecraftian Nova Scotian thriller The Crescent, which I am going to heretofore think of as The Shadow Over Inverness (Inverness being the town in Nova Scotia where my father grew up; the beach house in the film isn't that different from the landscape of my father's childhood, though my reference to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" above is a bit spurious; other than it taking place in a coastal town where old, menacing weirdness lingers, there's not much the film has in common with that story - no half-fish people with allegiances to Cthulhu or what-have-you).

It is maybe problematic to build this particular film up too high: the VIFF catalogue likens it to Beyond the Black Rainbow, which is pretty serious praise, and even The Crescent itself gets you totally salivating for next-level cinema with its gorgeous credits sequence, involving close-ups of paint marbling and abstract, drony, vaguely Celtic music (by no one whose name appears in the opening credits, but it's the director's own work, it turns out). This is, no hyperbole, the most inspired and visually compelling title sequence I've seen in years. So you're getting geared up for a trippy cinematic masterwork...

...and then you get a hard lesson in just how indy this film is, as soon as people start talking: the images and performances all let you know within seconds that you're in the territory of the microbudget, shot-on-video Canadian horror. Which is fine, of course: that probably also means you're watching a labor of love, which is almost always going to be an interesting experience, and Seth A. Smith definitely has resources as a filmmaker - if not financial, than for striking compositions, which this film has throughout. But you have to adjust your expectations accordingly; going in expecting the East Coast equivalent of Panos Cosmatos will not serve you well. The biggest challenge of the film is that Smith's talent for striking compositions, like the title sequence or, say, an aerial shot of a house glimpsed from the ocean, or a great moment of a stripe of water disappearing into the sand, or some of the trippier hallucinations in the film - just doesn't mesh that well with the hand-held video technology he's using elsewhere, which gives much of the film a found-footage feel. You can't have storyboarded composition shots AND a found footage immediacy, since the former owes to a very different kind of cinema than the latter. I'm not sure a tripod would have been a solution, either; there's something about shooting on video that is simply different from shooting on film, which requires - unless you can "fake" the look of film - a completely different approach. Smith seems somewhat stuck between aesthetics.

That disjunct aside,  I like the idea of a quasi-Lovecraftian Maritimes psychological thriller as much as anyone. After getting over the sugar crash that the film didn't quite live up to its point of comparison or the promise of its stunning titles, I (mostly) enjoyed it: a mother and child, mourning the death of the child's father, come to a sleepy beach town, to take brief respite and take stock. Things build slowly, from creepy encounters with neighbours - who may be ghosts - to a nicely weird moment with a hermit crab, complete with what seemed to be augmented, crablike sound effects (it's a brief moment but it made me smile; I would love to learn that they got the sound by putting a contact mike on an actual crab, but I doubt it). There are indeed some trippy visual moments, too, though you'll have to be patient to get to them. (Hopefully the dialogue is clearer when it is projected, too, since various key lines - especially spoken by children - were kind of indecipherable on my home video setup). The Globe and Mail review described The Crescent as "The Babadook goes to the beach;" esteemed colleague Adrian Mack mentioned Messiah of Evil and Night Tide (that Dennis Hopper-in-love-with-a-mermaid film that I've never seen, from the guy who directed How Awful About Allan, whose title I approve of deeply). Mack will have something on the film in the Straight, I believe. By me, The Crescent is a B minus movie (at best) with a few A+ moments, from someone who will, with luck, get a bigger budget to work with, sometime soon...

I'll be looking at more films in the VIFF Altered States series - their cult / horror/ high weirdness section - over the next few days (and am especially looking forward to The Endless, the second film by the makers of the arthouse horror movie Spring, which I missed, but which got a lot of praise).

More to come re: VIFF... My Straight article expands on some of this... it ain't online yet, but will be soon enough, I imagine...

Monday, September 18, 2017

David M. tonight at the Heritage Grill

For those who enjoyed him at the Rickshaw: there's a whole lot more to David M. than you saw yesterday. (Tho' his set yesterday included a tune he cowrote with me, so that was pretty great; as were his powerhouse readings of "You Need Your Tongue to Stand Up" and "Cosmic Planet Rock," the first his last collaboration with Paul Leahy and the second an old Transvestimentals tune...). It was nice to hear people laughing; Marshall Crenshaw enjoyed his set, too (and singled out the "bat song" for praise...!).

Anyhow, I cannot be there but David starts at 9pm at the Heritage Grill in New West - no cover, close to a skytrain... Y'all should go!

Had a nice lunch with Marshall Crenshaw, was interesting to hear more about his Tom Wilson project (a producer and musical visionary - there should be an auditory equivalent of "visionary" - who played significant roles in the careers of people from Frank Zappa to Connie Francis, Sun Ra to Eric Burdon, Cecil Taylor to the Velvet Underground)... we had a couple roti rolls at East is East on Main dropped in to Red Cat and Neptoon briefly. He's apparently sitting in at a certain Vancouver tiki lounge tonight with Eddie Angel and a local surf band, but I'm kind of out of the loop (and all spots are full; if you go an line up I guess there's a chance, even with it just being a word-of-mouth kinda event, but... it sounds like it's not gonna be easy to go).

So go see David M. instead! (Note: I won't be at the tiki lounge, either - my wife has a bust foot and I'm tendin' to her and previewing VIFF films. More on that later...).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Marshall Crenshaw: A Household Name in All the Right Households

Now that my Georgia Straight article is online about Marshall Crenshaw, I'll post part two of my interview, though do look at that Straight article for more on Marshall's history with Richard Thompson and a bit more praise from David M.


Marshall Crenshaw: A Household Name in All the Right Households

David M., who kinda dominated Part One of this piece - which is kinda as it should be, because he's the guy who introduced me to Marshall Crenshaw, because he helped with my researches, and because he's the opening act - has seen Crenshaw more than once, including at an ill-fated opening slot for Tina Turner at the Pacific Coliseum, circa 1987, which M. talks about on video here. He’d gone mostly to see Crenshaw, and was stunned at the audience’s utter indifference:

“He was great, but the audience didn’t want it, and they were just silent. Indifference is kinda worse than actual hostility. At one point, he said he was going to do ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping,’ the Buddy Holly song he does that’s part of the La Bamba soundtrack… He introduced it and said, ‘Here’s a song I did in the movie La Bamba, playing Buddy Holly’ - and, like, just silence. And then he went, ‘Which was a major gas.’ And then they did the song. I always remembered that because it was so depressing to watch!”

The story is even more depressing than M. had released, alas. When I apologize to Crenshaw on behalf of David M (and all of Vancouver) for the audience's treatment of him that night, Crenshaw informs me that in fact by the time M. was seeing Crenshaw at the Coliseum, Crenshaw had already been fired from the tour. "We got fired from the tour on the first night, but they asked us to stay until the end of the Canadian run," Crenshaw, on the phone from New York, told me. "She" - that is, Tina Turner -  "came and saw us that first night and just said, 'No, I don’t want this.' Y’know - I was wearing a cowboy suit that I bought from a successor to Nudie, and I think that one of my amplifiers died during the set; there was some fuckup that happened. That wasn’t good at all." (Crenshaw chuckles drily). "Some of the nights I felt like we were kinda getting over, that three piece band, with Graham Maby [bass] and my brother [on drums]. But no, we were kinda just dead men walking on the Canadian shows. We were already fired."

It seems just another angle on the strange neglect of Crenshaw, whose popcraft is utterly brilliant, and who has some huge supporters among music cognoscenti. It's not just David M: within short reach of my range of contacts, that includes David Bash, recently in town for theInternational Pop Overthrow, who includes Crenshaw in his “Power Pop Hall ofFame”  and says, “I love his music, that’s for sure!”

More locally, there’s Ford Pier - frontman of the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, onetime second guitarist for DOA, and one of Red Cat Records’ resident music authorities. Pier says that I can tell anyone who wants to know that he thinks "Marshall Crenshaw is great,” and that he is excited to be going to the Rickshaw show. Rob Frith of Neptoon Records also counts himself a fan and describes Crenshaw's music as "refreshing," saying those first two albums - the canonical ones, the ones best received, though all of Crenshaw's catalogue bears exploring - were unlike anything else that was going on at the time: "in 1982, you would hear bands like Air Supply, Rick Springfield, Juice Newton, and Musical Youth. None of them were doing anything for me. Then I heard 'Someday Someway' by Marshall Crenshaw; it was like the first time I heard Dell Shannon sing 'Runaway,' or 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin, or the Clash doing 'Train in Vain,' or Bruce Cockburn doing 'Silver Wheels.' It sounded different but familiar, and I just couldn't hear it enough."

Geoff Barton of Audiopile talks about the "effervescence and exuberance” of Crenshaw's work and ponders why it's so hard to turn young music geeks on to power pop, beyond the obvious draw of Big Star.

China Syndrome leader and Pill Squad axeman Tim Chan echoes Barton’s sentiment. “There seems to be similar stories among other power pop artists (Flamin' Groovies, Posies, Big Star, Shoes, et cetera). Crenshaw’s formula seems to be there (great songs, talented ensemble band, super guitar playing) but it seems he never hit the right moment in the cultural zeitgeist. I remember back in the 80s he definitely had great buzz” - and a hit single with “Someday Someway” off his first album - “but it just didn't seem to elevate any further. I remember there was some controversy about the big 80s production on his Field Day album, but personally I thought it was great and the songs still shone through.”

So with fans and supporters like that - he’s a critic’s darling and a musician’s musician -  why the hell isn’t Marshall Crenshaw a household name? I ask that of David M., and he responds, “He is - in all the right households.” 

It was tricky to word, but I eventually - having spoke to him for half an hour about other - put the question to Mr. Crenshaw himself.

AM: What I’m discovering as I ask around, is that you have some HUGE fans up here, and they’re all people really in the know about music; but it seems like it’s more quality than quantity. Like, the people who love your music here own record stores, musicians, stuff like this. But a lot of people are, like, “Marshall who?” And even I hadn’t heard your music before David M. got me going. It’s really not that high profile at all. So, uh - I’m kinda puzzled by that: why aren’t you a household name? You should be huge!

MC: Yeah, right. I dunno. I did everything I could to get the system to work for me, but it didn’t very well. And I didn’t really care about strategic thinking back then. I just wanted to play in a band! Sometimes I was careless, sometimes I was clueless, and sometimes I was unlucky. And other times I was ambivalent about show business back then. It was really hard for me to schmooze people and pretend I was having a good time if I wasn’t. This, that, and the other thing, you know? But I thought about it later on: maybe I didn’t really want it bad enough, didn’t try hard enough. I don’t know. 

I did other [arena shows besides the Tina Turner one], too. I did a lot of tour dates with Daryl Hall and John Oates. I went up into Canada - that was okay, but I hated doing that anyway, so maybe some of that was manifest in the way I did it. When I was on the road with Daryl Hall and John Oates, I didn’t try to pretend that I was having a good time, because I just thought it sucked to be an opening act on an arena tour. I did want to play arenas anyway! I just hated arena rock, always, from the first time I came in contact with it. I mentioned ambivalence, before, and that was totally… any vision I had back then of us becoming a big rock group, it all had to do with hit records, the only way I figured we were ever going to get there was if we had hit records, and we just didn’t get those. My situation with Warner Brothers became a trainwreck really fast. So that was it. I wasn’t going to go out there on an arena tour and tell myself I was going to be able to conquer territory that way. I knew that it was a losing game, kinda. But that’s what you were supposed to do back then, that’s what the agents and everybody wanted you to do back then: they wanted you to go up that ladder and eventually become an arena rock band yourself, and I just didn’t really want that, you know?

My memory is that opening acts for sometimes treated terribly at arenas, back in the day. Angel City opening for Triumph, that was one I heard where people were booing. Or one I saw myself, Phil Smith and Corsage, opening for the Clash, on the Cut the Crap tour. People were practically throwing stuff, which is a shame, because they were pretty great. But that sometimes happened to opening acts. 

Yeah, well - thank God that never happened to me, I’m glad to say. I like to think that if I was ever given that level of hostility from an audience that I would have given it back to them. Anyway, I never had that experience. I’m so glad I never did.

The guy it reminds me of a little bit is Ray Davies, especially in America, because the people who love him love what he’s done, but he's nowhere as high profile as he should be. The first and only time I saw the Kinks was during his arena rock years, and... I mean, maybe that's he's been knighted, people are clueing in, but I’ve literally talked to a music journalist here - someone young, but still - where I mentioned him, and they responded, “Who’s that?”

Oh really!

Really! There are people who don’t literally recognize Ray Davies’ name. [Technically one person who has suffered enough for their error at my hands, probably, but it's useful to me to make my point. Sorry!].

All I can say is, to me that is a little bit stunning, yes. I mean, with me I can understand it, but with his, that’s baffling to me. How can somebody not know him?

Have you ever interacted with him at all? Is he someone you admire?

I do like him, of course, but there’s a ]particular] chunk of his stuff that I like. Like, the last couple of things that he did… he did choral versions of some of the Kinks tunes? [Crenshaw's tone of voice conveys his ambivalence]. But he’s brilliant for sure. I’ve never met him. I’ve met a few famous people, but I’ve never met him. Just the other day I was at a wedding, and I played “All Day and All of the Night” with the band that was at the wedding. That’s the stuff I like the best - the mid-60’s Kinks stuff, for sure.

Sure, yeah. I’m kind of a Muswell Hillbillies man but there’s great stuff earlier, too. Let me ask though, like I say, I’m finding that the people who like your music are really cool people. So who are your big supporters, people who have really stood in your corner?

Oh, y’know, I don’t want to do that - I don’t want to name drop and boost myself up that way! But, y’know, people who are peers of mine… I feel like I’ve been validated in terms of peer acceptance and things other artistic people have said to me, I feel like, “Okay, I feel like I’m getting away with this.”

Okay, fair enough. I’m gonna name drop some names around here when I write this, but they’re no one you know, just some cool people on the music scene in Vancouver who support what you do.

No, I love it. I love hearing about it, that’s great.

Another guy I wanted to ask you about was Alex Chilton. Some of your stuff, like “One Day With You” off
Field Day, has a bit of an Alex Chilton thing going on. Your voice sounds a bit like Chilton’s, and you have that Memphis Stax thing going on, though you push it further than he does. Are you a fan of his? Did you interact much with him?

I never met him once. And it’s weird, because we have about twenty mutual friends, including the woman who was my A&R person at Warner Brothers, she signed me to the label and I worked with her on all my Warner Brothers records. Her name was Karen Berg, and she was really a great person. And she knew Alex, was kind of on intimate terms with him for awhile - a girlfriend, I guess you would say - and then all the guys from the Southern pop world, the DB’s and Mitch Easter and that whole crowd, they were devotees of Alex and friendly with him. With all of that, I never met Alex. And not only that, but I never checked out Big Star until after Alex died!

Oh jeez.

Yeah! And I thought, “God” - I was really bummed out that he died. It was the early days of that kind of thing happening where somebody in my peer group dies. I’m used to it now but when he died it was kind of a new thing, and it got me down a little bit, and at that time I checked out Big Star, and I did think that it was as good as everybody always said that it is, but it wasn’t an influence on me at all, ever, y’know. But the Memphis soul thing - I’ll go with that, because I grew up in the Detroit area, and I grew up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and the R&B thing is really strong with me, always has been. It’s like, uh - that’s part of the mix of influences you hear in my stuff.

I can hear that more than I can hear the MC5, that's for sure. I was surprised to learn that you had toured with them. Obviously you’re a fantastic guitarist and can do it, but - how did that feel? How did that come about? it seems an odd fit, in a way!

I thought it was, too! I was taken aback when I got the call from Wayne. Wayne Kramer is a longtime friend of mine. And he just called me and asked me if I would do it. And in my head I thought, ‘I’m surprised he’s not calling this one or that one,’ but I didn’t say that to Wayne, y’know, I just said, ‘Hell yes!’” And that’s kind of how that went. But I know what you mean. Just to an outsider it might have seemed a little odd. But it felt right to me, that’s for sure. And I’ll tell you what, that was really a good fit, actually. Because I love that music, and as a body of work I just don’t think there’s anything better in rock music. I got in there and played that stuff, and could play it, and could get with the spirit of it, definitely. And I love playing that stuff - what I really would like to have, and should ask Wayne about, is, I know he recorded all the gigs, and I wish that I had some multitracks of some of the shows with his guitars and mine, because I know that we were really killing it; we play together really well.

So this is the tour with Evan Dando on vocals?

That’s right, Evan Dando and Mark Arm, both really nice people. We did a show in Los Angeles though where a woman named Lisa Kekaula got up and sang with us. She’s in a band called the Bellrays. And you might like them, they’re a pretty amazing rock ‘n’ roll band. And she should have been the lead singer on the tour that I did, if it had been the four of us and Lisa, that would have been ridiculous. And then Handsome Dick Manitoba from the Dictators was the lead singer on another one of the gigs I did. If it had been Lisa and Handsome Dick, that would have been something. 

I’m really regretting that I didn’t see that. You did the Vancouver show, at the Commodore on that tour, right? 2004, you were here?

Yeah, I remember that. We did play there. And we did Edmonton and Toronto, also; those were our Canadian dates.

There’s no chance that’s ever going to happen again? That’s never been discussed?

No, plus Michael passed away. It was Davis-Kramer-Thompson, and Davis isn’t walkin’ the earth anymore, but anyway - it was weird, I’ll tell you that, to step into their movie was a little strange. But God, the history of those guys, they really just went through hell together. Their psychic scars are still a little raw.

You saw them at least once back in the day, right?

I saw them three of four times. First time I saw them in person they were one of the opening acts for the Jimi Hendrix concert that I went to in ’68, and that was the first time I really saw them and experienced them. They were pretty good that night, I’ll tell you that. Then I saw them a couple more times after that. I loved the band back then. But later on, when I moved to New York - I moved to New York in 1978, and Wayne was living there, and that’s where I met him and got to be friends with him.

Were there other really formative experiences for you? Obviously you’re associated with Buddy Holly a bit, because of acting in La Bamba, but, I mean, you were six when he died, so - were you aware of his music when you were a little kid?

Yeah, I was!


I was well aware of it. My Dad, kind of unusually for someone of his generation, he loved rock’n’roll music, and before I was born, it was the music that predated rock’n’roll - he liked R&B, he liked black music. He was really an odd man out amongst his peers, I can tellya that. But, uh, anyway - he always had the rock’n’roll station on. And I was real close with some of my cousins, who were a little bit older than me, who were rock’n’roll fans. So I was a fan as a child. I did watch American Bandstand, and I did see Buddy Holly on the Ed Sullivan show, the first time he was on. I was a fan of his when he was alive, yes. I’m old enough to be able to say that! Heh.

How did news of his death hit you, as a kid? Was that weird?

Yeah, it was unbelievable. I didn’t even know what death was, and my parents tried to keep me from finding out about it, but they weren’t able to do that, and - yeah, it shook me up really bad: “what do you mean, what do you mean he’s dead?” It was a very early shock upon my life, put it that way.

One of the things that - coming back to Field Day - that sort of reminds me of him - is that, like with “That’ll Be the Day,” you sometimes have kind of sorrowful lyrics with kind of upbeat and kinda pretty pop - like, with “One More Reason,” is what I’m thinking of… so is that something you got from him, or… are there any influences you can trace…?

When I think of Field Day, I mean, I guess I brought all these influences that I grew up with and I was still engaged with. When I was in my teens, like high school age, I started to rediscover early rock’n’roll and kinda went back and checked out a lot of the stuff I had grown up with. Part of it was takin’ psychedelic drugs - it was after that I started listening to old rock and roll again; I don’t know how that connection works exactly. I guess that the psychedelic experience had sort of scrambled my brain a little bit, and I was looking for some sort of anchor. So I really embraced that stuff and sort of kept it with me through all these years. It’s just - I could listen to a Bo Diddley record now, and it still sounds brand new to me. Now I’m rambling, I’m sorry! So there was a lot of that stuff in my head with Field Day, and when I was making my early records, and also just the stuff that was going on around me in New York City - the stuff I was hearing at the clubs and on the radio, and I was really super-enthusiastic about a lot of contemporary stuff at the moment. That included, like, dance music, disco music, and just everything. I was an omnivore at that time. Still am, but right then I was really in the moment, had my ears open in all directions.

You mentioned early rock and roll and pre-rock and roll, and one of the things David M. wanted me to ask you was about the Orioles, and you doing a cover of “(It’s Gonna Be A) Lonely Christmas.”

Oh, yeah, yeah!

He had two questions about that, actually - if you’d ever considered doing an album of covers of pre-rock’n’roll music, and if you’d ever considered a Christmas album. David’s a big Christmas guy.

Well - the Christmas album, I never have thought of that. I guess I could do either one, but the answer is no, neither one of those things ever crossed my mind. But those are interesting suggestions.

Are the Orioles something that came from your Dad?

No, that was when I was in Beatlemania, 1978-1979. [Crenshaw was John Lennon]. It was on an album called A Rhythm and Blues Christmas, that’s where I got that one.

Okay. One last question about Field Day - I can talk forever, by the way; I have a long list of questions, so whenever you’ve got to go, just give me a hint or something - but were you tempted to remaster Field Day? This is just a reissue - there’s nothing on the album that you wanted to change? For me, it sounds very fresh and contemporary and I don’t hear anything that needs tinkering with, but you’re the artist, so is there anything you’re unsatisfied with.

No - the thing with the remastering is, all that means is they take the original master reels of the final mixes from the album and they put it through the process of mastering for vinyl. It’s something you do for every record, really. But there wasn’t any remixing. You shouldn’t confuse remastering with remixing!

All right.

But actually the mastering job on the reissue is a beautiful job. I got the test pressing on 180 gram vinyl, and the bottom is huge, and you can hear my pick hitting my guitar strings, way up top. It’s just gorgeous, sonically. Now here’s the other thing though. It comes in a 2LP set, and the second LP are these dance remixes that got cooked up back then, but mostly without my participation. I did sort of look the other way while that was happening. But the label that’s putting the 2LP set out, they were already kind of like, into it before they contacted me, y’know? So I’m letting them do their thing. The remixes, I’m ambivalent about those, but the Field Day album itself, I love the way it sounds, and the mastering job they do is really great.

We’re hearing up here that it’s going to be a pricy package, that it’s going to be a $90 album. But that's gotta be wrong...

Yeah, that is wrong! That’s quite wrong. That’s wrong by about 50%, I believe, that’s double what I think it’s gonna be.

Okay . I don’t know where that one came from. Have you changed the cover art, because there was talk about an all new cover.

Heheh. That’s funny. My wife came home from work one day, and I said, “Oh, guess what, Ione? This record label is doing this beautiful, high-class reissue of Field Day, and the first thing she said was, “Did you ask them to change the front cover?” I said “Yeah, how did you guess?”


I had said, “I love that you guys are doing this, it’s just wonderful, but could you do me one favour? Could you get rid of this shot on the front cover? I’ve just hated it, forever, it’s like a curse on me.” So I asked them to use a graphic design for the single of “Whenever You’re On My Mind” that came out back then. Use that for the front cover of the album. And they didn’t say, “Oh, jeez, you should keep the front cover like it is.” They immediately said, “oh, what a great idea, yeah, we’ll do that!” So it’s got a new front cover and everybody is happy about it, especially me.   

Is the building in the original the high school you went to or something?

Nah, that’s just a composite photo with a picture of me from a studio shot, and the building in the back. That’s an other thing - the art design for the album. After we finished the album, I went out of the country on a vacation with my wife and my brother, and when I came back, my manager showed me the mock-up for the album cover that did come out, and I looked at it and said, “you’re joking, right?” And he said - he warned me that if we changed the album cover at that point, it would delay the release of the album by two weeks. “That’ll mess up your touring schedule, and the record label is ready to go, blah-blah-blah.” Stupidly, I got talked into it. And that’s been a regret every since. I thought, how did you find out of that whole photo session - I saw the contact sheets for the photo session - how did you find a picture that bad from the photo session, and why did you put it on the front of the album? Y’know, you picked the worst one, I thought! So that’s the other great thing about the new reissue…

Final question - how did you hook up with Los Straitjackets? It sounds like it's going to be a pretty inspired show. 

Well, it all started with their manager, it was his idea. His name is Jake Guralnick, son of Peter Guralnick, and he just approached me and I said, “oh yeah, that’ll be fun.” I saw Los Straitjackets when they first started - we’re from the same tribe, and so we tried it and it worked.

You’ve done shows with them now?

A bunch. We did sixteen shows in June, and we did eight this month. Promoters really leapt at this thing, like, as soon as we stuck our sign out, we just got lots and lots of offers from all over the country, so even before we did it, people were interested in seeing what we were going to do. It’s been great, y’know? Really fun - it’s a great rock’n’roll show, I think.

Marshall Crenshaw Y Los Straitjackets play the Rickshaw Theatre on September 17th

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Marshall Crenshaw interview part one: of Marshall Crenshaw and David M. (and Hollywood Rock and Vinyl and even Rat Pfink a Boo Boo)

Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw

Confession: besides some dim recognition of his name, I didn't know Marshall Crenshaw until a few months ago, when David M. got all het up about the idea of his opening for him, September 17th at the Rickshaw. He wrote me about it more than once. Why was he so excited? I wondered. This isn't normal behaviour...

Understand: with NO FUN, David M. - besides having played something like 200 shows at the Railway Club over the years - has opened for some pretty respected acts, including the Violent Femmes, John Cale, David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, and, more than once, for Robyn Hitchcock, at storied 1990’s Town Pump gigs that Hitchcock fondly referenced during his recent set at the Commodore.

But in recent years, M. has been content to play more or less off the grid, on his own terms; he’s the opposite of a joiner, whatever that is. He'll do smaller shows at the Princeton or Heritage Grill, mostly playing to friends and long-time fans - he has one such show, Hot Fascism in the Good Old Summertime, a theme show of his that I have never actually caught before, scheduled for New Westminster's Heritage Grill the night after the Rickshaw Crenshaw gig. But he's never seemed much concerned with expanding his audience. When I wrote an article a couple of years ago for the Georgia Straight about his finally making his back catalogue available on CD - after decades of it being out of print and unavailable to anyone besides cassette collectors - it was a matter of weeks before the guy declared a moratorium on production of the thing, because no one had ever done it that way before. ("For a reason, M., for a reason," I believe I replied).

That kind of perversity extends to his live performances, too: offered an opportunity to bring his (superb) Small Salute to David Bowie to the Rickshaw Bowie Tribute last year, he was told (on Facebook, by organizer Dave Bowes, in a thread I was, it happens, participating in) that all he needed to do was volunteer. Instead, he elected to busk outside the venue. (I think he did a similar thing at the Prince tribute, too, but I wasn't there for that). David M. did eventually turn up onstage at the Rickshaw, after his long time friend and NO FUN cohort Paul Leahy died of cancer, but even that took some cajoling. I don't think he's fought for an opening slot for any show in more than twenty years, such that I've occasionally accused him of hiding his light under a bushel. 

(I'm not entirely sure what that idiom means or where it comes from but I know enough to know it fits.) 

But nevermind all that: suddenly when David M. discovered Marshall Crenshaw was coming to town, he was very, very interested. Turns out he's a Crenshaw completist and has been a fan since the 1980’s. Here he is with a stack of Crenshawiana, about a third of which is presently on loan to me:

David M by David M. 

He even, as you can see above, has a book Crenshaw edited in 1993, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock’n’Roll in the Movies, which he calls “the only worthwhile book of its kind,” in which Crenshaw, among other writers, reviews everything from The ABBA Movie to (bizarro Ray Dennis Steckler cult obscurity) Rat Pfink A Boo Boo. In some cases, Crenshaw’s reviews are more entertaining than the films he’s writing about. For instance, check his review of Abel Ferrara's first feature (not counting porn like Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy), the sleazy "vintage 70's New York" horror/ exploitation film The Driller Killer. The film itself is sleazy and depressing enough that I sold my collector's edition 2DVD set years ago (only the inclusion of the Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy trailer gave me pause). But no matter: I can read entertaining film descriptions like this any day of the week: 

The book isn't perfect - there is a bit of a diss on Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, for one thing, which I absolutely love (and spoke to Cox at length about here), and there is at least one glaring omission for a person with an interest in Vancouver punk history: Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue, shot in Vancouver and featuring the Pointed Sticks. It's a film which, it turns out, Crenshaw does not know, so if all goes to plan, I’ll be passing on a DVD of the film to him when I see him at the Rickshaw. 

Anyhow, I'm grateful to David M. for his enthusiasm in all this, since I've become a fast fan of Marshall Crenshaw's music, which is ebulliant, beautifully crafted, and at times very witty pop (check out "The Usual Thing," probably my favourite of his tunes so far, though "Cynical Girl" might be more apropos, since it is more likely to be on next Sunday's setlist). It's no wonder M. got so excited about opening for this show (which, by the way, is something he will be doing, some come early). 

Plus he's been invaluable in helping me prep for a long conversation I've had with Crenshaw, telling me where to begin listening to the man's music (which is easy: his first album, followed by his second album, Field Day, both of which are absolute classics if you like smart, savvy pop; that first LP, by the way, appears on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the '80's list, and well-deserves its place; shame on me for having needed David M. to point me towards it!).

M's knowledge so exceeds mine on this particular subject, that I asked him to help me with a few questions - not something I really needed to do, but it seemed fitting to include him in the process, since I would still have been on the "Marshall who?" page without his guidance. The following are teasers from an upcoming interview with Mr. Crenshaw, more of which later, based on questions emailed to me from David M.   

AM: Hollywood Rock is a great, great book. I had fun looking through that. David M, your opening act here in Vancouver, is a huge fan of both you and the book, and he wanted to know if there are chances of an updated edition?

MC: Naw, I don’t think there’s any likelihood of it. It’s great that somebody likes it; a lot of people love that book, and that’s really cool. But it was a one-off, kinda thing, I’m pretty sure. It was also somebody else’s idea, this guy that I used to know for a little while who was a book packager. But I don’t really hang around him anymore, haven’t seen him in about five or six years. And the last time I did see him, it didn’t come off, so I kinda think not. But it was real fun, it was a fun exercise, it was kind of a learning situation during the time that I spent on it. But no, I think it’s a done deal.

You really write wonderfully. It reminds me a bit of a book by Barry Gifford called
The Devil Thumbs A Ride, which has descriptions of film noir that are as entertaining to read, sometimes more entertaining, than the films themselves. And it was nice to see that you’re a Ray Dennis Steckler fan, too.

A lot of that stuff - the year that I worked on that book was sorta my chance to go down that road and check out that underground film world a bit more than I had, and so yeah, I really got a kick out of that whole thing.

Another question David was curious about was whether you see yourself as a city person. (Actually, M. phrased it slightly differently, writing: "The point of view in your lyrics is usually a romantically urban, downtown, citified one, rather than an idealized pastoral or bucolic one. Is the big city your paradigm for where life is best lived?" But, you know, it ain't easy to work something like that into a conversation).

Oh, boy. That’s an interesting question. I grew up in a suburban environment in the Detroit area, and then that started to go sour for me - I started to hating my surroundings as I got older. Then I finally sorta cleared out of there when I was 22, and headed west. I travelled all over the western United States for about a year and a half, with this bar band, playing, like, little towns in the west. That was really interesting - lived in Wyoming and Nevada and all these remote locations. Then in that period I wound up in New York City, and that was unplanned, y’know, because I’d headed west first. But then I wound up in New York because of Beatlemania [Crenshaw's first big break was playing John Lennon in a touring production of that show]. And the first day that I was in New York City I just fell in love with it immediately. So that really changed my whole life around. The city influenced me, it changed me, kinda like formed me… it sounds funny but it’s really true, just being in the city all of a sudden, it was like, “wow.” It crystallized a lot of things in my mind. But now I haven’t lived in the city in a long time, I moved to the Hudson Valley in 1987, and now I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley for most of my life. And it’s not an urban environment at all. But when I was in Beatlemania, I toured all over the country, and I spent like, five weeks, two weeks, three weeks in every major city in the US, and that was during this real formative time, after I’d fallen in love with New York City, and I was just kind of seeing these places up close. At that point in time, some of them were going through decline, and some of them have kept declining since then. Some of them have bounced back. But cities, yeah, definitely. There was that one period of my life where city life made a huge impression on me.


The first beautiful city that I ever saw in my life, though, was Montreal, when my family and I went to Expo 67 when I was a kid. And when we were there in Montreal, the Detroit riots happened, and the whole community was traumatized by that. But my family and I, we missed that completely, missed the trauma, and I didn’t feel it up close at all. Instead I was in this beautiful place, Montreal, and I was always grateful for that afterwards.

It’s a beautiful city for sure. It must have been tough to see the trajectory of Detroit, having grown up there.

Yeah, it was a major heartbreak in my life, for sure, to watch all that go down. It was something that I had to get away from. 

Let me ask you about the HBO series
Vinyl. You had some involvement with that, I believe? Was it a song you provided, or some writing, or…?

I did do some writing. I was just... I saw a friend of mine over the weekend at a wedding, a guy named Tony Shanahan, he’s the bass player for the Patti Smith Group. And he and I were both on the first recording sessions for that show. We did some of the music for the pilot. If you saw the pilot, there was this scene where this guy stumbles onto the New York Dolls, and it changes his life. So in the show, you hear David Johansen singing, but the band is me and Tony Shanahan and Steve Holley on drums and a guy named Andy York on guitar. We were the New York Dolls for the pilot episode, musically - we weren't in the shots or anything. Anyway, we just such a wonderful time at this session, we were just all excited about this: "oh, this is gonna be great, we'll be doing these sessions all the time for the next couple of years, because this is going to be a smash!" And (co-producer) Martin Scorsese came to the session and hung out with us, and it was really fun. And then the show came on, and I was just "whoa, no, God" - I thought the show was horrible, frankly; I couldn't believe it. "How can it be this bad?" y'know? But it was, and it failed, which is a shame, because the people I met who were part of the production, like the music supervisor and all that, they were really great people. They've done a lot of great projects. I don't know where it went wrong with Vinyl, but I just - it was dreadful, you know? I didn't like the writing, most of the acting. 


But I did some other sessions, I played guitar on a couple of things that wound up in some of the episodes, and then I wrote a Christmas song for one of the episodes, it was a thing where Robert Goulet was supposed to sing a Christmas song in this movie, so I went to school on Robert Goulet and learned what his range was, his style was. I knew of him and everything, but.... anyhow, it came out really good. 

What was hanging out with Martin Scorsese like? I can imagine him being well-familiar with your work - he seems like a real music geek, it's always struck me in his movies that he has pretty great taste in rock music. 

Yeah - it was a gas. He was really sweet, he was really positive, and of course we were all big fans. I didn't do the fanboy thing on him but a couple of the other guys did, y'know? But the funny thing is... one of the guys who I had toured with once, Andy York - every day, when we were on tour, Andy watched Goofellas; no matter how many times he saw the movie, he just wanted to see it again and again, so he sat down with Marty and started asking him questions about Goodfellas. But Marty was into it, y'know, he was ready to talk about it, got a kick out of it. I'm really happy that I met him, it was very cool. 

I bet. Another question from David: how is your brother doing? (Robert Crenshaw plays drums on the first few Marshall Crenshaw albums). 
He's doing fine. He's not really in music in more - although he might say different. He has a job where he teaches people about robotics technology. That's his field - he's in robotics technology. He's got a good thing going with that.

I've got one other question from David. He's curious about your home recording gear. He lent me The 9 Volt Years, as well (full title: The 9 Volt Years: Battery-Powered Home Demos and Curios). He wanted to know what your home recording setup was. His own, from 1976 to present, is a TEAC 3340 4-track, TEAC Model 2 mixer, Roland Space Echo (201, then 301), and Sennheiser/Shure/craptastic microphones. What do you use? What did you record "You're My Favourite Waste of Time" on? 

He's right about the tape machine - I had a TEAC 3340, and it was just old-fashioned overdubbing. I'd fill three tracks, bounce to the fourth, and start over again. I just had two high impedence mikes; I didn't have a mixer, I just had this little switch box. I had MXR stop boxes that ran on 9 volt batteries and I would just plug everything into the tape machine. Or if it was a drum, I would just record it in the room in my apartment. Like, for "You're My Favourite Waste of Time," I had this parade drum - like a field drum - and first I used it for the bass drum, just went "boom,. boom, boom" all through the track; then I used it as a snare drum. It was just so primitive, honestly - you couldn't get more primitive. But it was just a thing where I had to make it work, because that was what I had, you know? And I was able to make it work. A couple of years earlier, I was part owner of a  studio in Detroit, so I learned my recording skills on 4 track and just kind of applied the same techniques to the task at hand, but with much, much cheaper, crummier equipment, you know? I had to make it work so I did. 

I feel really privileged that I'm going to get to see you. David has been playing music since the 1970's in Vancouver, and he's had his own weird relationship with the music industry. But I haven't seen him get excited about opening for anyone until you were comin' to town. Like, in twenty years, I've seen him dozens of times on his own, but I haven't seen him WANT to be on a bill with someone. 

Hahaha. Ohmigod, that's amazing. 

I hope you dig what he does. Anything else you want to say about Vancouver, the show...?

You know, I just - I love Canada, I love Vancouver. I'm really glad we're going to be there. I pushed to make sure that there'd be a Vancouver date on our West Coast tour, and - that's all, I mean, I'm really happy as can be that we're going to play there. 


Marshall Crenshaw Y Los Straitjackets play the Rickshaw Sunday September 17th Ticket information for the event is here; Facebook page here. Thanks to Marshall Crenshaw and David M.!

Friday, September 08, 2017

Geoff Berner versus Doug Andrew, with an Accordion Noir plug, and more trouble spelling Rowan Lipkovits' name

Geoff Berner at Car Free Day in Vancouver, photos by Allan MacInnis

My favourite new song by a Vancouverite is Geoff Berner's "Hustle Advisory" off his new CD, Canadiana Grotesquica. There's a remix version of it streamable online; it's a bit different on the album, a bit more stripped-down, but you'll get the idea. It's brilliant: it captures that moment of insight that sometimes falls on you that academics (or politicians, or artists, or basically everyone) are on some level, whatever true or meaningful or seemingly important and sincere things they say, are all hustlin' to pay their rent, to differentiate and elevate themselves above their peers by striking poses that will grant them status, power, money, and other things necessary to get by. The song is sort of the Fast Eddie Felson version of Nietzsche's Will to Power, wise and really funny, and I'm glad to have caught Geoff playing it live not too too long ago, opening for Rodney DeCroo (also saw him at Car Free Day though I missed "Hustle Advisory" that afternoon, arriving just a smidgen too late). Geoff's show is the highlight of this year's Accordion Noir festival, the centrepiece, and I had promised (Saint) Rowan Lipko...fuck, I have to check the spelling of his name again.

Rowan LIPKOVITS, dammit, Rowan Lipkovits. The Eastern European variants of that name with the W and Z really screw me up: I gotta just remember to spell it exactly how it sounds, none of this Wim (pron Vim) Wenders (pron. Venders) or Adam Horowitz (pron. Horovits) shit for Rowan. Rowan L-I-P-K-O-V-I-T-S (writing it all in caps with dashes in between will surely help me to get this right). 

Where was I?

Oh: I'd promised (Saint) Rowan Lipkovits - who was offscreen to the left next to where I was standing at Car Free Day on Main Street when the above photos were taken - that I would, if all else failed (and the Straight didn't do anything), do something to plug Accordion Noir and Geoff Berner's album release this weekend. Turns out the Straight did do something (thank you Alex!), which is great, because I am SWAMPED. I have spent the past week or so on Doug Andrew, presently have my head down trascribing a giant Marshall Crenshaw interview that I did, and have Heather Haley in the wings, apropos of this Zellots flexi-release happening soon. (And then there's Art Bergmann, which is an intimidating prospect, actually). Thankfully Geoff has gotten tons of press for this show, with some unexpected but pleasant features popping up apropos of his Gino Odjick song - including features on Sportsnet and News1130 (!!!).

Meantime, while NOT writing about Geoff Berner or Accordion Noir, I'm busy giving press to a competing gig tomorrow night: Doug Andrew and the Circus in Flames. (Part two of that should be up later today). So not only am I NOT covering the Geoff Berner gig, I'm stealing folks away from it. What an asshole! And guess what? It gets worse, because as much as I want my wife (who has never yet seen Geoff Berner) to see Geoff Berner (she'll love him) - she and I are going to be at Doug Andrew and the Circus in Flames ourselves, because she loves Doug's music, too, and because, you know, when you invest this much effort in writing about something, you gotta actually GO to the show. 

Sorry, Rowan! Sorry, Geoff! 

The best I am going to be able to do in this circumstance (having already missed the last two days of Accordion Noir events) is to hereby plug and maybe even attend TONIGHT's Accordion Noir event Which - it's a little complex - involves two separate concerts at two separate venues (?!). Part one is a proper "sit down and listen concert" at St. James Anglican Church (303 E. Cordova). The event marks the North American debut of Finland's Antti Paalanen (whose name I have to admit to having correctly remembered the spelling of on one glance, which surely will gall Rowan all the more), who does a kind of surreal, atmospheric electro-polka (which may not be a polka at all, correctly understood, but to me, any accordion music drawing on Finnish folk traditions sounds like a polka; I am an accordion neophyte and vulgarian, what can I say - it's probaby a humppa or something. I bet Rowan can tell a polka from a humppa at a glance). Presumably in the opening slot, also for part one, Vancouver New Music's Giorgio Magnanensi (whose name I also have no problem spelling correctly) is going to do something with Douglas Schmidt (see the clip for "Raw Meat and Butterflies Part One" on the link above). I like Giorgio. I used to write about Vancouver New Music a lot during my "avant garde phase," but it's been awhile, so it'd be nice to say hi. 

Part two - which sounds like the full on accordion-driven dance party portion of the evening - takes place at the Russian Hall (600 Campbell), featuring Russian band Iva Nova, Indiana's Lykaire, and East Van's own "Roma-funk" unit Balkan Shmalkan. (I am guessing that these artists also are listed in reverse order). That show runs from 10pm to midnight, just like the Charles Bronson movie. I assume the organizers have thought all this out so we can make it from one venue to the other in time to have a full two-course meal of an evening; my internal GPS is not adequate to guage if they are remotely close to each other. Anyhow, go to the links to hear clips of all these performers! 

Of course, Saturday - tomorrow - is Geoff Berner's album release, also featuring Iva Nova, which I won't be at, and Sunday is the Underdog Instrument Grudge Match mash-up event, which I don't begin to understand the workings of (but am sure will be very entertaining). 

So don't do as I do, folks. Do NOT under any circumstances come see Doug Andrew and the Circus in Flames at Falconetti's East Side Grill (1812 Commercial) Saturday. Go instead to see Geoff Berner's album release tomorrow instead. And if you really MUST come see Doug Andrew - if you like mandolins that much more than accordions - then at the very least ATONE FOR YOURSELVES by going to an Accordion Noir event tonight (or Sunday), because this is fun, exciting, locally-driven culture that adds joy and creativity and life to our communities, which are important things. 

And spell it out loud with me: it's L-I-P-K-O-V-I-T-S, dammit! (Sorry, man). 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A summer of bad box office, plus War for the Planet of the Apes

Apparently like a lot of people, I've felt little interest in seeing films theatrically lately.

I think it was Kong: Skull Island that I last caught in a theatre, back in April. I liked it well enough as a theatrical experience to see it twice - bringing my wife the second time, and our friend Bev, to see a cheapie double bill of that movie with Get Out, which I also saw twice - but I also didn't care about the film much. The colours, sounds, performances and such were all enjoyable enough to hold my attention, but aside from an inspired needle-drop on spinning onscreen vinyl of the Stooges' Fun House - which showed that someone involved in the film not only had good taste in music but understood how LPs work, which frequently is not the case in movies - there was nothing in it to really excite or engage me, and I understood why some of my friends were quite dismissive of it. It's a question of what you need from a movie, really: because being pretty enough to look at is one thing, but it doesn't make a movie actually interesting. The most interesting about the Peter Jackson King Kong had been how it had (apparently inadvertently) foregrounded the deep and intractable racism of the source text; I went to see that film multiple times too, and didn't and don't hate it the way some people do, but the only thing really worth contemplating after it was over was how Jackson, with explicit references to Heart of Darkness and a highly linear trajectory that placed Kong on the far end of a spectrum of savage, degraded tribespeople, ended up making the film about a gigantic black "person's" doomed love for a white woman (and her tragic, un-reciprocatable love for him, of course). That wasn't why I went to see it more than once - I went to see it because it was fun to watch, and because I liked seeing giant worms eating Andy Serkis, and for trivial enjoyments like that - but it was the only thing that was passably intellectually stimulating about the film.

There was nothing intellectually stimulating about Kong: Skull Island whatsoever. It couldn't avoid Heart of Darkness references, since it was duplicating elements of Apocalypse Now, but - despite, say, a lead character named Conrad, it restructured the story sufficiently that it essentially removed racism from the equation, turning it instead into some sort of parable about the Vietnam war; but only on some vague, under-developed level that didn't seem worth delving into (I tried briefly but eventually gave up). There is no point scaling a orchard wall when you can see pretty plainly that there are no fruit on the trees therein. There weren't even any Kong/ Cong jokes in it, as I recall - kind of a missed opportunity, that. It was fun enough to look at - but there was nothing there to think about at all, except maybe the apparent lack of there being anything to think about ("all this spectacle amounting to so little: hm").

There was, of course, lots to think about with Get Out, but it wasn't really that personally significant to me. I enjoyed using it as a pretext to turn an Afro-Canadian couple browsing for black lit (Eldridge Cleaver, stuff from the '60s) onto LeRoi Jones' Dutchman - describing Get Out as being the "second most paranoid" text about black experience after Dutchman, which I think whetted their interest. But I'm not black, and barely know any black people, so the film felt a bit like someone else's party.

In terms of new release movies, there hasn't been very much to attract my attention since then. I could have gone to see The Mummy - but why the hell would I want to see Tom Cruise in a Mummy reboot when I could just stay home and watch Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee? (The negative press didn't really do much to sway me - critics are often off the mark, especially when they dogpile on a film - though the recent memory of seeing Warcraft, an incompetent, inert, hacked-up mess of a movie, fucked with by producers beyond redemption, a few months prior, probably played a role, and it didn't help that the reviews for The Mummy seemed to echo the reviews of that film). Media pundits are pointing to how Baywatch tanked, as evidence that we're in some sort of moviegoing tailspin, perhaps blameable on Rotten Tomatoes, but I was never going to see Baywatch regardless of what critics said. Ditto Guy Ritchie doing a King Arthur movie: it is hard to imagine, on the surface of things, a less appealing prospect for a movie. And ditto the billionth Pirates of the Caribbean film; I didn't enjoy the first one, and haven't bothered with any since. This has nothing to do, by me, with Rotten Tomatoes, and everything to do with the complete lack of desire to see silly films about pirates, kings, or lifeguards. It wouldn't matter if every working movie critic in the English-speaking world was praising these films. (Critics are apparently praising some new Soderbergh film called Logan Lucky, but I don't even know what that's about, and feel like I can safely catch up with it on Netflix or a library DVD, without shelling out limited moolah).

No, there has only been one movie that remotely attracted my attention since Get Out and Kong: Skull Island: that being War for the Planet of the Apes. I finally caught up with it last night, as it nears the apparent end of its first run. I am not actually sure if it is interesting - but it's very, very, very enjoyable, and a film that, unlike Get Out and Kong: Skull Island, I fully intend to pick up on disc when it comes out, to watch again. I read somewhere last night, after seeing it, that the filmmakers spent a lot of time watching old action movies, and you can see it - The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape are two obvious touchpoints. It isn't perfectly realized - there are a few things that don't quite make sense in the film, or are at best under-developed, like references to a wall that is being built, apparently designed as a jab at Trump, that aren't really accompanied by any images of a wall being built, just apes picking up rocks. But the eye of the film is a pleasure to see through; it's highly emotionally satisfying; and there's a terrific "comic relief" character - played by Steve Zahn, who I always find enjoyable - who is up there with Gollum as a great oddball tag-along to our protagonists' quest (though he doesn't have a dark side like Gollum). And I suspect there are actually some things in the film worth thinking about, too, in that there are pretty much no sympathetic human characters in it, and that there's obviously an animal rights subtext to all three of these Apes reboots. It would be a pleasure to be a smart 13 year old, still somewhat fresh to cinema, keen to apply lessons learned from films to the real world, and to be encountering these movies without the weight of a lifetime's film consumption behind me. That seems the ideal audience for all of these Apes movies, and watching it, I was filled with some nostalgia for those more innocent days (or for watching The Bridge on the River Kwai on TV with my dad, for example), when I took cinema so much more seriously than I do today. Of the Apes reboots, this is probably the best of the three, more ambitious in scope than the (admittedly perfectly realized) first film but better developed and more provocative than the second (which I only half-liked, despite two attempts to engage with it). It's probably the only "summer blockbuster" I will see, but I was very glad to have done so.

Meantime, I have an alternate theory as to why summer box office has stunk, that doesn't involve blaming Netflix or home video or Rotten Tomatoes: it involves the state of the world. While blockbusters of the past - the Nolan Batman franchise, say - have actually been bold (or irresponsible, or cynical, or _______ enough) to incorporate real-world anxieties into their texts (terrorism, torture, vigilantism, the Occupy movement and the "darkness" that was enshrouding America when they were released, with Batman as the perfect superhero manifestation of the Bush regimel especially in The Dark Knight), the films that are popping up on screens at present seem far at a remove from what's going on, obvious empty distractions from things people feel far more compelled to pay attention to. There are neo=Nazis marching in the streets of America (and not invisible here in Canada, either). There are anti-fascists intent on punching them, and a lot of scrutiny and dissent on the left as to whether this is fair game. There are people who deny the horrific effects of global warming, who are seeming less and less sane, with superstorms, floods, and fires dominating the lived experience of millions of people at the moment (including us here in the land of the orange sun). And crazy as climate change deniers are, one of them - who is also apparently in league with said neo-Nazis, and possibly intent on posturing his way into nuclear war with North Korea - occupies a position of great political power, in a country very close by. Who the fuck has time for Baywatch in a world like that? Eli Roth's upcoming Death Wish remake may be irresponsible in this present climate, but at least it has the courage to be relevant, to engage with the Zeitgeist (I recently re-visited The Green Inferno and liked it much better the second time through - those CGI ants don't look half as ridiculous on the small screen - so I haven't given up hope that he'll do something great with this, whatever concerns there may reasonably be about it - see the Robin Bougie interview linked below).

Actually, I would have caught Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit, too, but it managed to come and go with my barely having registered that it existed. She seemed pretty compromised, politically, with her last couple of films - with The Hurt Locker choosing, of all the stories to tell about the war in Afghanistan, to glorify death's head machismo, and Zero Dark Thirty practically feeling like it was written with CIA help - but hell, I'm still curious.

Otherwise, I really just don't have a lot of time or energy for Hollywood film at the moment, and what I do have is being spent watching movies or original programming on Netflix, or sharing stuff from my collection with my wife. (She hasn't seen either Apocalypse Now or any of the original Apes movies; eventually I am going to have to do something about that!). Maybe I should get off my ass and do something about VIFF, though? There are probably films I'm going to care about there.

Incidentally, I just realized that between Kong: Skull Island and last night's movie, I also saw Wonder Woman theatrically, but it probably says something that I had completely forgotten about it when writing the above. I know, I know - everyone loved it. They're welcome to keep it.