Sunday, July 21, 2019

Another yes vote: Crawl

I like Alexandre Aja, generally. From the intelligent absurdity of High Tension to his very entertaining, big-budget ghost story Mirrors; from the misanthropic dark humour of his remake of Piranha to the straight-up horror of his remake of The Hills Have Eyes - which is the best damned big-budget remake of the original film imaginable - he's approached his craft with devotion to straightforward, image-based storytelling and a fairly knowing understanding of what horror fans find satisfying. I haven't loved all his films equally - Horns didn't do much for me, say - but I consider him a filmmaker to watch. He's not my favourite contemporary horror filmmaker - I'm not even sure I have a favourite contemporary horror filmmaker at present - but he takes his job seriously, and understands what it is, so I'll basically watch anything he does.

...And, you know, I like movies where people have to fight off marauding animals. There's a real primal satisfaction to it, which was hinted at in my interview with Dr. Carin Bondar a few weeks ago; there's also an oddly sadomasochistic pleasure in watching people getting eaten in horror movies - especially by animals. (I'm not a huge follower of cannibal cinema but I can both take sadistic pleasure in seeing someone get eaten by an animal and masochistic pleasure in the fact that I identify with the species being eaten; maybe there's some sort of tit-for-tat sense of justice that I experience as a failed vegetarian?).

So: Crawl. Crawl is great. Crawl attempts to do absolutely nothing with its story beside tell it; there's no attempt to politicize it, to moralize, to attain a deeper understanding of anything. It does what all the best survival horror movies do: it sets up its premise and plays it out, with plenty of scares and a fair bit of chewing of people, and otherwise stays out of its own way. It's alligators are, probably, all CGI - the film was shot in Serbia, and I don't think they have a lot of 'gators there - but they look good and behave quite a bit like real alligators. The story is simplicity itself: a woman, worried about her father, drives to his home in the midst of a hurricane in Florida to try to locate him. He's stuck under the house with an injury. There are, it develops, alligators coming in on the floodwaters. The two must find a way to fend off the 'gators and rescue themselves from the flood.

That's basically it. There's a little bit of character development, involving her ambitions as a swimmer and her father's past role as her coach, but no more than is needed for an effective genre film. You don't come away discussing subtext; you just enjoy seeing the story play out. It is not quite on the same level with Greg McLean's terrific Australian killer croc film Rogue, but it's damn near close. About the only caveat I'd offer is that there is a LOT of water in this film; since it's also fairly scary and stressful, you would be well advised not to drink liquid for an hour before it begins, and visit the bathroom before you go into the theatre, because otherwise your bladder will be fit to burst by the end.

That's it, that's all I have to say. If you like survival horror/ animal attack movies, or if you happen to be a big Barry Pepper fan, see it (I didn't know the female lead, Kaya Scodelario, though I gather she acted in that recent Berlinger Ted Bundy film, as well. I think that role required a bit more of her, in terms of conveying emotions other than, say, different flavours of terror). Both Midsommar and Crawl have made this a pretty good summer for horror movies, so far...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Two yes votes: Midsommar and Lords of Chaos

Midsommar is one of an increasingly large number of movies that attempt to take stock of Paganism and neo-Paganism, showing that the idealised, sanitized contemporary version of the lives of Pagans, such as that represented by a lot of the airier "New Age bookstore" versions of Wicca, covers up (or leaves out) some fairly dark and disturbing practices. Telling a story of young Americans visiting a European "commune" that practices the old ways, it joins The Wicker Man, Apostle, Left Bank, and a fair number of movies and TV series about Vikings as a compelling, gritty take on ancient European customs (one of which is the ingestion of magic mushrooms, so it's also fairly trippy at times); but even though it is a horror movie with connection to these films and some identifiable genre elements, it doesn't necessarily end as you might expect. In fact, it may have something else going on under the surface that is suspect and misogynist- there is a little bit of a "devouring vagina" theme that lurks, especially if you count, say, the shape carved into a particular animal carcass of import to the film's climax.  I liked Misommar better than Hereditary, which also has compelling and interesting elements, but belongs to a horror genre that I have little interest in, involving the desire of the Devil for progeny; I wasn't sure that Hereditary amounted to anything on first viewing, gripping as it was, and I haven't looked at it since.  Both films are directed by Ari Aster, who is emerging as a real name to watch...

Lords of Chaos is also very interesting. I've read the expanded/ revised version of the book from which it takes the title, which also tells the tale of murderous, church-burning, and evil goings on as part of the early Norwegian Black Metal scene. I enjoyed the film. I gather that Varg Vikernes has disputed its content, and complained that the actor cast to play him is Jewish. I can't speak to "what actually happened," but this is a well-made, provocative film, which makes fairly unlikable people understandable and interesting (none moreso than Euronymous, who gets to narrate, despite what happens to him). Like Midsommar - maybe even moreso - it has some upsetting violence in it (to be specific, the most vicious stabbing murders I've seen onscreen since I watched van Bebber's Manson movie). People worried that the film trivializes and/or sensationalizes its subject matter need not be. Even Erika, my wife, found it interesting, and she doesn't care at all about black metal (she did have to cover her eyes during some of the murders, though).

All I have time to write, but see these movies!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bands not included in lists about bands not included in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame: more on the Blue Oyster Cult

I couldn't give a damn about the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. I have seen no indication ever that their votes are anything but a popularity contest, run by people without very interesting tastes in, or historical knowledge of, rock music. So the commenter on the previous post who noted the Blue Oyster Cult's "criminal lack of inclusion" in that institution doesn't really move me much. It's kinda like griping that John Cassavetes never won an Oscar: it presumes Oscars do or should mean something, that Cassavetes somehow needs their validation to be as great as he is. But the best rock music doesn't get played on the radio, ever, either. So what?

That said, here are some lists by people who are, apparently, real music lovers, griping about bands not included in the rock'n'roll hall of fame, who have some other, ideal version of that institution in mind. To my surprise, the Blue Oyster Cult is not on every list!

The first I found has some good mentions - it starts strong. The New York Dolls, the MC5, and Motorhead all deserve inclusion in this better-than-the-real-one Hall of Fame (somewhere below the Blue Oyster Cult, though - and apologies, folks; I'm not bothering to include the umlaut this time out, not for the BOC, not for Motorhead). Probably Iron Maiden and/or Judas Priest deserve mention. Sammy Hagar and the Doobie Brothers sort of call the author's taste into question, however, and, I mean, Soundgarden? They're fun - I like Soundgarden, at least up to and including Badmotorfinger - but if we're talking about a list of bands who have made truly enormous contributions to the world of rock... I mean, I dunno. I'm a TAD man, myself - and my Eight Way Santa can beat up your Louder Than Love with it's eyes closed (and ears ringing) - but I'm not going to lobby for TAD, so I'm hardly gonna go to bat for Soundgarden (no offense, folks).

Anyhow, whoever wrote that list should be spanked for not mentioning the BOC. So should Consequence of Sound, who fail to notice the Blue Oyster Cult on Jeff Ament's shirt of bands not in the Hall (he wore it onstage during Pearl Jam's induction, and by the way, if I have my doubts about Soundgarden...). The Blue Oyster Cult's name is right there, on the middle right of the shirt, pictured above the article! It's not on CoS's (augmented) transcription, however. There are some good mentions on that list, as well - X, Thin Lizzy, King Crimson... but there are also some awful bands represented. I mean, I guess Def Leppard has fans, but I never could stand them (except for one time when I was much younger and watching Basic Instinct in a movie theatre, totally stoned: this fascinating music came on, and I was really getting into it until the vocals kicked in and I realized what it was. Still, that's more about the drugs than Def Leppard, who manifest all the most boring tendencies of arena rock in one band, and then crank it up a bit).

It's interesting to note that Consequence of Sound's 2019 article on the 20 worst Hall of Fame snubs - which weirdly includes John Coltrane on the list - also doesn't mention the BOC. Is it a conspiracy to ignore the band, or an honest oversight? It starts to seem like the former.

Similarly,'s article on the 100 biggest omissions also omits the BOC.

It's not all bad. The website Not in Hall of Fame does finally include the Blue Oyster Cult, but in 74th place on their list. Sadly, the caption, while saying that the band deserves to be remembered for more than a Saturday Night Live skit, doesn't actually mention anything else about them besides that skit! (By the way, I've never seen the SNL thing. Means nothing to me, tho' I flinch at the thought that when they play "Don't Fear the Reaper," there will be cries from the audience of "More Cowbell!"). Loudwire does better, though they're obviously focusing on metal-related music (and also mention Slayer, who deserve it for influence and longevity).

Mostly what you see, perusing these lists, tho', is people lobbying for their pet favourites. Occasionally a consensus artist emerges, people everyone agrees on needing an obvious induction (Brian Eno, for example) if the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame is to have any validity whatsoever. Personally, for me, the Blue Oyster Cult is one such obvious choice, but (obviously) others disagree.

If you do agree, may I point out that there's a Facebook group, Blue Oyster Cult Needs to Be in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, that you can join? I am all for the Rock'n'Roll Hall of fame inducting the BOC. Given that they have a new album coming up, maybe 2020 would be a good year to do it?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Strange Dream of David M.

David M. entered my dreams for the first time last night.

I don't fully remember why, but there had been discussion of my love of Indian food, and there may have been a holiday coming up. Or I might have been going to prison? In any event, he gave me a garbage bag full of something as a gift, and when I opened it, it turned out to be hundreds of freshly made naan, packaged in bundles of five: vastly more naan than I can fit in my freezer, but (apparently) home-cooked by M.

M. does not make naan, but that was my dream. I was showing the naan to Erika when I woke up. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Blue Öyster Cult Rabbithole: one fan's journey through Imaginos and beyond

Blue Öyster Cult by bev davies, taken at the Pacific Coliseum, August 22nd, 1982; not to be reused without permission

I never liked the Blue Öyster Cult's 1988 album, Imaginos, back in the day.

I had been, since I was a teenager, a fan of the Blue Öyster Cult, and saw them in 1982 at the Pacific Coliseum at a gig that I would later learn was attended by both bev davies and Cal Thompson from the Little Guitar Army, who has described it as a seminal moment in his rock fandom. I think it was an important gig for a few people, and it was one of my very first gigs I went to unaccompanied; I would have been age 14.

Their first three studio albums – from their 1972 self-titled debut through to Secret Treaties – were familiar to me at that point, I think, and remain to this day one of my favourite three-album runs in the history of hard rock.

It’s an even more impressive streak of brilliance if you include their prior incarnations, the Stalk-Forrest Group or Soft White Underbelly. The former, the immediate precursor to the BÖC, has been the subject of official reissues in recent years, while demos from the Soft White Underbelly – an acid-rock band with two different singers, pre-Eric Bloom, and a different bassist – have surfaced and circulated online, begging for a remastering and official release. (As a side-note: in the process of getting Bev to dig up that 1982 photo of Allen Lanier and Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, I discovered she actually had seen the Soft White Underbelly, billed with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Country Joe and the Fish, on February 2nd, 1968, about a month before I was born... Alas, she did not take photos of that gig!).

There are moments of brilliance through the rest of their 1970’s catalogue, too, including, obviously “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Godzilla.” But their 1980’s output –after their excellent 1980 album Cultosaurus Erectus - took some work to come to terms with.

There was plenty of able popcraft on 1981’s Fire of Unknown Origin – maybe their most successful attempt to present a “commercial” rock record, with their last hit single (“Burnin’ for You”), and one creepy science fiction dirge (“Veteranof the Psychic Wars,” with lyrics by Michael Moorcock).

But there were also songs, even there, that I struggled with. For one thing, the title track sounds like it’s designed for the disco. And while I personally enjoyed the divisive “Joan Crawford” – especially live, where, as I recall, keyboardist Allen Lanier tricked it up with a lengthy Gothic organ solo – it’s a pretty trivial confection, coming from a band who had written a song as magnificently rockin’ as “ME 262”.

It got harder, too, to stay with the band through the 1980’s. The Revolution By Night was even more uneven, despite a strong lead single, “Take Me Away” – which is a little heavy on the Aldo Nova influence, but how can you not like a rock anthem about wishing extraterrestrials would abduct you?

1985’s Club Ninja was more challenging still. I quite like “White Flags,” the opening cut, but for the most part, the album sounds like an untried 80’s hard rock band, making something quite generic; some of the songs aren’t even written by the band! It sounds better now than it did at the time, but I still remember my horror and disappointment when I popped the cassette into my Walkman. Albert Bouchard and Allen Lanier had both jumped ship by that point, and I didn’t blame them.

With Club Ninja, it seemed to me like the Blue Öyster Cult I had known and loved was gone, never to return. (I read now that the internal turmoil in the band was so severe that they actually broke up, briefly, in 1986).

I remember that I was positively thrilled, in 1988, when I learned that they were releasing an album designed to hearken back to their roots – a concept album based around the writings of Sandy Pearlman, and revisiting classic songs like “Subhuman” – re-recorded as “Blue Öyster Cult” and “Astronomy” (with a Stephen King introduction for the singleversion!) It seemed like the band knew they had lost direction with Club Ninja, and were righting the course. I rushed out to buy Imaginos as soon as I could – initially, again, on cassette.

And I just didn’t get it. It doesn’t sound very much like the Blue Öyster Cult, for one thing... which makes sense when you read about it; it was actually a side-project from Pearlman and drummer Albert Bouchard, who initially sang the lead vocals. His demo version of it is online, and may actually make more sense than the eventual BÖC release, since a) you won't be weirded out by it not sounding like a band that it isn't; and b) the songs are in the correct sequence, so you can better follow the narrative. 

You can read about the whole troubled production of the album on its unusually informative and interesting Wikipedia page.

Best of all on that page, you get a glimpse into the conspiracy theories behind the album, based in unpublished writings by Pearlman, The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, which serve as a sort of decoder ring for much of the underlying mythology of the BÖC, including their name (personally I always thought their name was a punning injunction to “be occult,” though other theories are out there).

That mythology stretches back even as far as Soft White Underbelly songs; delving into it, you discover that things you had previously figured it wasn’t worth trying to make sense of, in Blue Öyster Cult lyrics, actually do have a coherent (if weird) explanation.

Pearlman, apparently – the band’s manager and a key lyricist during their early years - had toyed with the idea that much of 20th century history, including the two world wars, were the result of the manipulations of secret, occult societies, versed in alchemy, and led by a group of seven “invisibles” – possibly of extraterrestrial origin, and the basis of the song, “Les Invisibles.” If you get over the cavernous, generic-hard-rock sound, that's actually a really interesting bit of songwriting. I'm finding myself glad (in the absence of a new album) to have material by the band to revisit, and I must say, I find going back to Imaginos ultimately more rewarding and enjoyable than some of their canonical albums, like Spectres. (I have long since reclaimed and fallen in love with Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror, of course).

It 1988, it was,however, just too much work for me to try to make sense of it all – to say nothing of the presence of Baron von Frankenstein - just so I could appreciate an album that, at the time, I didn’t much like the sound of. It wasn't that I disliked it - it seemed ambitious and interesting; I was just into other things at the moment and not prepared to make the investment; if it had sounded like Tyranny and Mutation, maybe, but...

And it’s not like the band made it easy to get at the underlying narrative, either. As I suggest above, the storyline of the album - not the demos, but the official 1988 band release - is presented non-sequentially, so unless you read the extensive liner notes, you don’t really have much hope of making sense of things.

If you’re also struggling to do just that, there is plenty of helpful material to chew on online about Imaginos, including articles (discovered and pointed out to me by Adrian Mack) on the VISUP blog that attempt to do justice to The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos and the more esoteric ideas of Sandy Pearlman.

This is the must-read, the real rabbithole, the font of "things to think about" that will get any fan excited to go back to Imaginos. Part one of the series – “The Soft Doctrines of Memphis Sam” - is online here; part two here the third here; the fourth here; and the fifth and final chapter here. It's a bit of work, but Blue Öyster Cult fans who, like me, have not come to terms, previously, with Imaginos, or who know nothing of these “soft doctrines,” will find themselves plunged into a very deep rabbithole that will shed light on all sorts of things BÖC-related (no doubt also including some out-there conspiracy theories and sheer speculation; I mean, what story that links alchemy and occultism with extraterrestrials and Nazis is not going to have those elements?)

Sadly, back in the 80’s, I’m not the only one who didn’t “get it.” Imaginos was a commercial failure, and led to the Blue Öyster Cult being dropped by Columbia.

That’s a very sad thing, because the BÖC has made two excellent, rich albums since, 1998’s Heaven Forbid (check out, say, “Real World” ) and 2001’s Curse of the Hidden Mirror (the high point of which is probably the Lovecraftian epic “The Old Gods Return,” with lyrics from science fiction writer John Shirley). Both are out of print, and without Columbia’s muscle behind them, went unheard by all but diehard fans - a real shame, since Eric Bloom has indicated that the commercial failure of those two albums led the band to sort of decide there was no point in recording anything new.

However, the story goes - almost 20 years since their last studio LP - that the Blue Öyster Cult has a new album coming out (perhaps in 2020?), along with several slated reissues. They certainly have a local show upcoming (at Ambleside on August 18th). If you’re diligent, you might just be able to read the whole story of Imaginos by that time. None of that album appears on the band’s recent setlists, but if you delve into the backstory, you’ll have a whole new appreciation of one of the most interesting hard rock bands of all time. See their official site for more.

Live clips I've watched on Youtube suggest the band is in fantastic form these days; check out "The Last Days of May," live in 2011, if you haven't already seen it.

I am so excited to see this band live again - 37 years and four days since the last time I saw them! It's kind of hard to believe... 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Of Kaiju, Robin Williams' suicide, and the cinema of Vincent Ward

Personally, I would rather an interesting but flawed film than a perfectly-made, empty bit of idiocy.

I went, for instance - somewhat against my better instincts, caving in to curiosity - to see the new Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the other week. It's flawless in terms of craftsmanship. The special effects are terrific, and, while I'm not really a fan of the sort of smoky, red pallet that cloaks everything, no one could say it was poorly photographed. I'm sure the performances are fine, too - though I have begun to forget the details already. I recall that I spent a distractingly long amount of time wrestling over whether the lead actress was Sarah Michelle Gellar or Maggie Gyllenhaal, to discover to my embarrassment that she was actually Vera Farmiga (whom I liked in Source Code but haven't seen so often onscreen), and I always like to watch Charles Dance, based on a lasting fondness for his pre-Hollywood work in such films as White Mischief. (There's even a connection with the filmmaker I'm actually going to write about, as soon as I finish this preamble). Hell, I even kinda like Kyle Chandler; he's the perfect leading man for a big-budget sci-fi/ horror film (witness also Super 8), and it isn't his fault if it happens that he has only been in one film I enjoyed (Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong, probably the last film of the summer-blockbuster type that I was really, really entertained by; Kong: Skull Island was also okay, mind you - but nothing particularly great).

The problem with Godzilla: King of the Monsters was not the craftsmanship: it was the utter and complete lack of ideas or passion. It attempts nothing. It's interested in nothing. It has no real ideas at its core. There is nothing special or outstanding about it that sets it above, say, Pacific Rim, or the previous American Godzilla film, or any other vast, empty spectacle that exists so people without a thing in their heads can gorge themselves on explosions and monsters and excitement. Of course, I'm not actually a huge fan of the original franchise of Godzilla movies, after the first one, and I'm sure this new film might be different to an actual student of kaiju - but there seemed pretty much nothing to care about in this reboot at all, for me. Even as a non-kaiju fan, I bet I could find 100 more interesting things to think about, and derive 100 more enjoyment-units of enjoyment from, say, watching War of the Gargantuas, which is also not exactly a film for intellectuals (I'm picking it as an example of truly bottom-drawer kaiju action, in fact). I would, I am sure, feel less like I wasted my time.

Damn, now I want to see War of the Gargantuas again. (It really upset me at age 10 or so when one of' 'em picked up the poor terrified lady and popped her whole in his mouth and chewed her up. I had watched a lot of kaiju movies, and probably even Harryhausen dinosaur movies - including ones where dinosaurs eat people - by the time I saw it, but the "chewing up the woman" scene just seemed so damned nasty and sadistic by comparison - maybe because the Gargantua in question seemed more human like than the reptiles in those films - that it counted as maybe the fourth most traumatizing childhood movie experience I've had, after a) the Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz (at age 5 or 6, with my parents, who had to remove me from the theatre - the Stardust! - because I was crying so hard in terror of what would happen to Dorothy at the hands of those fucking... flying... monkeys); b) Ida Lupino being attacked by maggots in The Food of the Gods (filmed on Bowen Island!); and c) the TV trailer, late at night, for Larry Cohen's It's Alive.

(RIP Larry Cohen. You dyin' made me really wish I'd written a certain article last year - because I briefly had a window where I might have interacted with you, and I didn't. Thanks for Q, particularly, and for whatever the hell effect that It's Alive trailer had on me as a child. You were also an interesting filmmaker of imperfect cinema, although very different from Vincent Ward.)

But I digress.

To return to the main point (or arrive at it for the first time, really) as is emphatically not the case with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, there is a TON to care about in the films of Vincent Ward, even if, the further into Hollywood he gets, the less perfectly his ideas make it onto the screen. His best films by far (not counting his documentaries or his small-budget first feature, which I have not seen) are his first two big-budget features, Vigil - a pagan coming of age movie about a young girl growing up in a misty, green, romanticized version of New Zealand, with landscapes that will remind you more of the early films of Werner Herzog than the shorn rolling hills the English settlers created in that country to make it seem like back home (and provide pastureland for sheep); and The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, a fantasy about a small band of emissaries from a plague-ridden village who make an unusual pilgrimage into the modern day, hoping to save their people with an entreaty to the Gods, as laid out by a child in his dreams. (The whole main adventure in the film is sort of contained within an "it was all a dream" frame, but one of the most unusual and interesting such frames ever employed; no idea what it means, but it's utterly unique). I saw that film about five times, theatrically, back when it was first run here, where it was clunkily befitted - in an early example, I believe, of Miramax meddling/ dumbing-down -  with an idiotic opening subtitle, so idiots in the theatre would know what they were watching.

Vigil (pictured above) and The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (pictured below) are Ward's two perfect films. They are also screening this July at the Vancity Theatre (click the titles for event listings).

Alas, because of those two films, Hollywood noticed Vincent Ward. I'm not sure how Ward feels about his 1990's output; both the features that he managed to direct, Map of the Human Heart and What Dreams May Come (which features an appearance by Werner Herzog!) are ambitious, idea-rich, and full of stunning, striking imagery - they're both really interesting films! But you also kind of want to read between their lines a tale of strife and frustration on Ward's part; I know nothing of what he went through, but it's very easy to imagine, when the films get excessively melodramatic, cute, or seem structurally less-than-perfect, that it's due to the demands of producers saying that this scene should be there, or needs to be shorter, or so forth (I know very little about their production history but you kinda develop a nose for these things). Only about 85% of either film really seems to work, as I recall, but you end up disinclined to blame the 15% that doesn't on Ward, because you suspect it's not fully his vision you're seeing on the screen.

Map of the Human Heart - which connects the dots between life in an Inuit village, a residential school in Quebec, and bombing runs over Germany in World War II, while also finding time for a love story and a betrayal - needs to be about an hour longer to not feel rushed. It tries for vastly more than it is able to fully accomplish, giving it a dizzying effect; I would be unsurprised to learn that there's a three hour cut out there, somewhere, that no one has ever seen.

What Dreams May Come - well, it's been a long time since I've tried that film, but considering its visions of heaven as an impressionist painting, and its casting Max von Sydow as a Charon-type boatman, it must have made at least a few missteps that I've avoided visiting it for years. It's adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson, and not produced by Miramax, maybe because of whatever experiences Ward had with them in his previous work...? I don't have vivid recollection of why I found it a flawed film, but it is very, very possible that it suffers from "Robin Williams syndrome," being made at a time when it seemed impossible for anyone to reign in Williams and make him give a disciplined performance. At least the film isn't marked by his apparent desire to take off his pants and caper about naked, as he does in The Fisher King - which is the one film I've seen from the period that almost crafts a story that can contain and channel the intensity of Williams' exhibitionistic excess.

Both films are ambitious and respectable attempts to do something magnificent, even if they don't ultimately live up to their immense potential.

Of course, the last time I saw What Dreams May Come, Robin Williams was still alive. I am somewhat afraid to revisit this film, which deals in part with suicide, for the emotions it may bring up. I do not fully understand Robin Williams' decision to kill himself, am saddened by it, and at the same time reluctant to invite his films deeply back into my life. (I actually kind of understood Henry  Rollins' reaction - almost an angry one, though I was also glad Rollins apologized for it later; save for one very deliberate viewing of The Fisher King, I don't believe I have watched a single film of Williams' since his suicide, which I have not yet found a place for. It is weird to deal with grief for someone you did not actually know, but whom you knew, in part thanks to his exhibitionistic streak, so damned much about!).

We also probably owe much that is interesting about Alien 3 to Vincent Ward, as well, since he was the director to begin developing the project - which, by the by, is the Charles Dance connection mentioned above. Ward, for reasons I forget, was eventually removed from that film, and replaced by a novice director (which must have stung, at least until that novice - David Fincher - proved himself to also be a singularly talented filmmaker in his own right, even though, compared to Ward, he is the lesser artist. Maybe the better craftsman, but the lesser artist).

Sadly, Ward's later career, since he left the bigger budgets of Hollywood, has been less than prolific in terms of film, amounting, since What Dreams May Come, to a documentary and only one fictional feature (an interesting Maori adventure called River Queen, starring Samantha Morton and Fear the Walking Dead's Cliff Curtis; it won't be screening at the Vancity). It's telling that that feature saw him returning to his native New Zealand; one kind of assumes Hollywood is now behind him (which is probably for the best, really, since his New Zealand years were his best years - but it would be great if he was still making movies!). Ward is truly a visionary filmmaker, very unique, trying to do vastly more with cinema than almost any other filmmaker to command a big budget in North America. People with an interest in storytelling, in myth, in film as a sort of mystical experience should seek his films out. What's really remarkable about his Hollywood years is not that Miramax or whomever managed to leave their money-man-slime-trail on portions of the films, but that so much of his idiosyncratic, striking vision actually DOES make it onto the screen. Maybe that's a better way of looking at it.

So kudos to the Vancity for programming these films. Also, if you haven't seen it (and aren't working Monday, since it's an afternoon screening) Tom Charity will be presenting on the superb space-race film The Right Stuff, as part of their Film Studies series. Personally, I don't really give a damn about rocketships, and for me, the words "land speed record" are a reference to Husker Du, but even still, I found this a gripping film, and the cast is great (I mean, Sam Shepard? Ed Harris? Fred Ward? Lance Henriksen? VERONICA CARTWRIGHT!???!... are ALL IN THE SAME MOVIE.. with apologies to Scott Glenn and Scott Paulin and Dennis Quaid and Barbara Hershey and other fine actors who are also in it too...). The film proves that something can be perfectly made AND interesting at the same time, which contemporary Hollywood could learn a real lesson from.

So there's some good stuff happening at the Vancity in July! (And a lot of stuff I know nothing about; The Serengeti Rules sounds interesting!).

Also, if you didn't read my Straight piece with Carin Bondar, about the Nerd Nite series, do so, and watch the links... That event has passed, but the article has penises in it, and there will be other Nerd Nites in the future!

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Bullfrog on my shoulder: a dream

In the dream, I am living, again, in downtown Vancouver, albeit in an area I have never actually lived in, down by where Richards on Richards was, somewhere on the northern margins of Yaletown, hear Davie. It is raining, in the dream, and I am taking a walk down Richards Street - there is an earlier part of the dream involving the effects of the ongoing storm, but I have forgotten it - and suddenly am surprised to see an enormous bullfrog leap from the street onto the sidewalk (by "enormous," I should say, it is still in the realm of actual bullfrog-size, not some Harryhausen-sized monster frog). I chase it for half a block, hoping to catch it, but not for my own selfish pleasures: I am worried that it will get smushed by a car (as frequently happened in Japan, when I lived there: bullfrogs - a ubiquitously invasive species - would come out onto the sidewalks during the intense, semi-tropical bouts of rain, and I would see the evidence in the saddest of ways, finding flattened bullfrog carcasses on the road on my ride to work. Saw a turtle that way, once, too, and would periodically get off my three wheeled granny bike to investigate its corpse in stages of decay). The bullfrog can jump too fast, too far, however, and it soon is clear that I will never catch it this way. None of the other pedestrians appear interested, but at some point, the bullfrog gets turned around, reacting to people walking towards it, and starts coming back my way, which I observe; I get to one knee and make friendly gestures and sounds at the bullfrog, in the hopes that it will come to me, realizing that I mean it no harm.

(...I realize as I type this that this part of the dream may have been informed by watching a small Asian girl playing with her two pet chinchillas in the schoolyard outside our window the other day. They also would never have been caught if they hadn't wanted to be).

The bullfrog actually does come up to me, to my surprise, and soon I have the bullfrog on my shoulder, walking down Richards and turning right on Davie. I take some selfies of myself, thus, as I walk down the street, like some pirate who couldn't afford a parrot; I may even shoot a little video. I'm going to meet my wife on Davie Street, and I figure that I can try to find some water where I can safely deposit my froggy friend (because in the dream, False Creek has morphed into the Fraser River and has fresh water, which is where I presume the frog has come from). I explain my intentions, and am surprised to see that the bullfrog actually seems to understand me; we may actually be communicating a bit! I get to the area I'm going to, and set the bullfrog down in a quiet area, near a brick wall, telling it I will return and that it should wait for me - I need to interact with people a bit, and it will be easier for me to do this without a bullfrog on my shoulder.

 I see a pub I want to go into, maybe to scope out the back "yard," in case there is river access. There isn't, but there is a small, fenced-in lawn (because apparently businesses on Davie Street have lawns and yards in back!), and I see that there is a pond in the far corner of said yard. Okay! I find the owners - there are two people in a side room, shooting pool - and explain my desire to put a bullfrog in their pond. They seem amenable, so I go back out and discover that Erika has arrived.

We talk a bit - I excitedly explain about the bullfrog. There is part of the dream here that relates to something forgotten, something that didn't make it into my waking life, where we see potatoes I'd abandoned previously on a grassy hillside, because they'd gotten damaged by the storm, and I ask Erika if I should try to keep some of them, but on investigation we see that they're deformed and weird potatoes, the skins broken, potato-flesh bulging out, and she confirms that they were worth throwing out. I'm not sure what that part was about, though I do briefly wonder if the potatoes will sprout roots and there will be potatoes on Davie Street (I believe my sleeping brain here conflates Davie Street with a part of rural Maple Ridge, the dikes off Laity Street, where I did once, as a teen, catch a bullfrog, about which there is a long story, involving my sock and underwear drawer... I took Erika for a walk in that area awhile back. There was also a compost pile in Maple Ridge where as an even younger child I discovered that "wild" potatoes were growing from scraps that had been thrown there, some of which I brought home to my parents. It doesn't really fit with the rest of the narrative).

Anyhow - I bring Erika to the pub to wait for me, and go out to find the bullfrog. I go to the wall where I'd left it (and here, Davie Street actually returns to resembling Davie Street a bit), and find I cannot see the bullfrog anywhere. I had left it at eye level, on a ledge, or perhaps clinging to the wall, in a way I doubt a real bullfrog could do. But eventually I look down, and there it is! I pick up the bullfrog and we "converse" a bit, me explaining that I have found a pond for it. The bullfrog may actually be able to speak back - I'm a bit foggy on this detail. I place the bullfrog on my shoulder and go back into the pub, where I announce to Erika and the pub owners that I have found the bullfrog -

- and am greeted by weird looks and laughter, and briefly catch an image of myself from without: the bullfrog is, in fact, part of ME, and when "it" speaks, it is with MY TONGUE. I am confused: is the bullfrog hiding in my throat? (I do have a bit of a cold - a "frog in my throat" - in reality, though it seems unlikely my sleeping brain would concoct so elaborate a metaphor for this). In fact, it seems that the bullfrog was me all the time, that it was a delusional manifestation of something from within. Erika is marvelling at my strangeness through this, but she is being kind about it. I scroll back through my photographs and there is, in fact, no frog; I am unsettled by the thought that I was the bullfrog all along, that the bullfrog was merely a projection of something inside me. But what? What does the bullfrog represent?

I wake up at 3:40 AM, needing to pee, contemplating the symbolism of my dream bullfrog. I attempt to go back to bed, but I am too focused on not forgetting this marvelous, strange dream, and within half an hour, I'm back out of bed and typing this.

Everyone's got something to hide except for me and my bullfrog.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Diabolique! (Or, Les Diaboliques!) and other goodies at the Cinematheque

There's some great stuff happening at the Cinematheque over the next while. Tonight, there's a new restoration of a very well-regarded Czech science fiction film, Ikarie XB 1, also known as Voyage to the End of the Universe, which seems very well-paired with Claire Denis' first venture into SF, High Life. I haven't seen that film, but loved Ms. Denis' previous venture into English language genre cinema, Trouble Every Day (which is only partially in English). 

I love the Cinematheque's summer program, actually: they know on the one hand that to get people who are not diehard arthouse junkies out to the movies in the summer is not easy, but they also know that the megaplexes are stuffed to the brim with comic book adaptations and other noisy blockbusters, leaving people with a love for real cinema gasping like fish on the beach. Focusing on genre films that are respected by movie-lovers, but have a high level of pulp pleasure to them - like their yearly noir program - is a very, very smart move, solving both problems at once. (And yay for them for playing two films in their noir series that were directed by Ida Lupino, The Bigamist and The Hitch-Hiker; both are excellent).

The idea of playing films that straddle the worlds of highbrow and lowbrow was previously discussed by myself and Donald Brackett in regard to the "High and Low: From Pulp to Poetry" program he curated, which is still ongoing. Four new titles have been added to that series: Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows (which features a Miles Davis soundtrack, if I recall); Orson Welles' Touch of Evil - which I hope I need not say much about); Hitchcock's Vertigo - a film I've had some trouble with over the years but which currently holds the #1 spot in the BFI list of the top 100 films of all time - and, most excitingly for me, Henri Georges Clouzot's Diabolique, or Les Diaboliques. One of my favourite thrillers, and far better in the French, black and white original than in the later American remake, it involves two women who are brought together in the act of murder - which has unforseen consequences. It's worth seeing without knowing anything more about it, should you be lucky enough to fit that description. That screens this Thursday, Friday, and next Monday, so I'm not giving you a lot of notice, but if you  haven't seen this film (or haven't seen it on the screen), it's a must-see.

There's lots else to be excited about this summer. For people who like noir and French cinema, for example, there's a potent August retrospective of the films of Jean Pierre Melville, including my favourite of his movies, Le Cercle Rouge (which I believe Bruce Sweeney tipped me to when I interviewed him about The Crimes of Mike Recket; thanks, Mr. Sweeney!). I've been thinking about playing Erika Army of Shadows, too, since we've enjoyed a couple of French resistance films lately. I love it when the Cinematheque's agenda and mine overlap...

All told there's some great film fare coming up at the Cinematheque over the next few months - films that will entertain AND nourish the soul. Nicely done, people! 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

George RR Martin, The Armageddon Rag, and Game of Thrones

I came late, this month, to Season 1 of  Game of Thrones - a phenomenon about which I have felt some curiosity, but also some desire to protect my time from. It seemed to require a considerable investment of same - like it would be a lot of work; like the author, George RR Martin, expected a fair bit of his readers.

I am speaking, above, of course, of the HBO series, but I also did attempt - long before sitting down to watch an episode - to read book one of A Song of Fire and Ice. I got a few chapters in, but the demands placed on a reader seemed perhaps... in excess of what I would get from the novel. Were I to wish to put a great deal of effort into reading, maybe I'd tackle Moby Dick or Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion again, or do the major novels of Ursula K. LeGuin (I've only read The Lathe of Heaven, and loved it, but I gather it is atypical). It's not just that I'm too lazy to enter into  a relationship with a writer that requires a degree of work - I am a big fan of Blood Meridian, for instance, and have read all the novels of Cormac McCarthy minus The Orchard Keeper; it's that one of the things I value about pulp is its efficiency. If I'm going to read crap, I like it to be concise. From hardboiled crime to classic SF, there are very few pulpy entertainments that I've read that have exceeded 350 pages, and the series I've delved into - Bosch, Reacher, Ellroy's Los Angeles novels, or what-have-you - can be read in any order, without having to construct charts or diagrams, explaining who each family is, what land they are from, and what long-standing ambitions and resentments fester in their hearts. Other than the first novel in the Dune series, I have read very little in the way of epic, world-building fantasy, and have largely been content to keep it that way. Robert Jordan, for instance, I am not remotely curious about. And Tolkien? I read The Hobbit. 

Perhaps George RR Martin is not crap, though? There does seem to be some heft to this series - it's not just escapism. There seems to be some ideas beneath it, something it has to say about power and human nature and honour and so forth - the big themes of the first season. And some of the characters - Tyrion Lannister, obviously, as played in the series by Peter Dinklage - are truly memorable and interesting creations, almost Shakespearean. Not sure what to make of it, as literature, really - not having actually read the books - but I must say, after dragging my feet through episodes 1 to 6, forgetting characters, having to play things back to keep abreast of plot points, and constantly finding myself asking myself "Is this really going to be worth the time I'm having to invest?", I found myself utterly gripped and engaged by the last three episodes in Season One. Which Erika and I watched back-to-back, tonight. It was very compelling.

And thus, I am curious about Season Two, and Three, and... At the very least, I think I'm committed until I find out what a Red Wedding is. I have deliberately kept myself ignorant on these matters; for instance, I had no idea before sitting down to Season One that Sean Bean would... well, let's leave the spoiler out, I guess, for the sake of other GoT virgins.

I'm not sitting down to write about Game of Thrones, anyhow.

I'm sitting down to write about The Armageddon Rag, George RR Martin's fourth full novel, originally published in 1983, and purchased off a Coles Remainder table by me in hardcover around 1984. Read it and loved it then, and about five years ago, I read it and loved it again. May I just say, if it is not already being filmed somewhere, this novel has amazing potential for a megabudget hit, if handled right. Movies about rock bands can be lucrative, and seem to be in vogue of late. Apocalyptic fantasies are popular, too. Most importantly, though, someone has to make this movie while the Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper and Wayne Kramer and Iggy Pop and and Robert Plant and so forth are still active. We've kind of lost out on Black Sabbath, already. I'm not saying that any of these people need to be involved in the movie (it would be cool but unnecessary), but they should be alive to dig any references to themselves, so fans can enjoy imagining them enjoying it, and if we wait too late - wait til kids in their 20's are going "Who is Jimmy Page?" - some of the potential for a hit gets lost.

Mind you, it's been  awhile since I read this book, so I can't give you the most detailed accounting of its story, but anyone with an interest in rock music (especially the rock music of the late 1960's) should check it out. Steve Newton, especially, should read it. Bev Davies should read it. Any of my fellow writers and editors at the Straight should read it.  It's basically about the failed revolutionary potential of rock music, about the promises made in the 1960's (to "kick out the jams, motherfuckers!") versus what actually was delivered. It's the 1960's viewed from the hindsight of the 1980's, through the eyes of a disappointed Big Chill boomer who was there. It also has occult and quasi-Lovecraftian elements, as I recall - about murders being committed in the wake of a reunited rock band - sort of equal parts Blue Oyster Cult and MC5 - whose reunion is actually designed to bring about something supernatural: a veritable rock and roll apocalypse...

Anyhow, I've said enough - and I don't remember much more to tell - but it's a fun read. It's also, unlike A Song of Fire and Ice, something you could, if highly motivated, read in a day or two. (Or a week or two, if you're busy and tired all the time!).

...I mean, it's a very silly book, but filled with ideas and entertainment. The rock band is named after the dark riders in Tolkien - the Nazgul. What a great idea for a band name! And a great idea for a novel.

Maybe I should take another stab at the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, now that the series has provided me some cheats....

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blaze, plus Lucinda Williams review

Erika and I watched Blaze last night on Netflix, about Austin singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley was the subject of two songs by other more noted musicians ("Drunken Angel," by Lucinda Williams, and "Blaze's Blues," by Townes van Zandt) and himself the author of well-regarded country tunes like "Clay Pigeons," covered by John Prine, and "If I Could Only Fly" - covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (with Merle coming in on a verse). While there was nothing overwhelming about it, it's well worth seeing; it's gentle, expansive, fond of its subject matter, filled with striking images, and has excellent lead performances. Ben Dickey, whom I don't know at all, plays Foley, who, like Dickey, was born in Arkansas; 80's popstar and sometimes Bob Dylan band member Charlie Sexton does good work as Townes van Zandt; and there are smaller roles for Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, and Richard Linklater. It's directed by Ethan Hawke, and adapted from a memoir by Sybil Rosen, Foley's wife, who is played by Alia Shawkat, another performer I did not know (but who does fine work). I have not read Sybil Rosen's memoir; the film does have a bit of a "spouse's eye view" of Foley, putting the relationship front-and-centre in the narrative, reminding one of that Joy Division movie that was made a few years ago from the point of view of Ian Curtis' widow, but it does take in the years after Foley and Rosen separated.

Besides using Rosen's memoir and memories as a source, the filmmakers also seem to have done deep research into Townes van Zandt, since many of the jokes and anecdotes Sexton's character offers in the film are drawn from actual jokes and anecdotes that van Zandt told. (The whole story about voluntarily falling from a balcony, if I recall correctly, pops up in Be Here to Love Me, the documentary about van Zandt, which would make an excellent film to watch before or after Blaze).  I am not sure if the central "radio interview" conceit that the film is organized around, with Hawke as the DJ, quizzing van Zandt, is a fiction or not, but suspect it is. There's a nicely understated bit where van Zandt - as played by Sexton - tells an untruth and his collaborator gets up and leaves the studio, without comment. He does seem to have been a bit of an unreliable, if engaging and entertaining, source to draw from, as anyone who has heard his various, mutually incompatible explanations of "Pancho and Lefty" will realize...

Anyhow, it's an enjoyable film, my viewing of which was directly inspired by Lucinda Williams' anecdotes about Foley and Townes van Zandt at the Commodore the other night, which, by the by, I wrote a review of for the Straight. In point of fact, I only ever asked to write the review so I could get Erika into the show, which plan was foiled a little when she caught a very bad cold and bailed. I ended up going alone, not entirely wanting to, just to live up to my end of a bargain; it turns out I'm very glad to have been there, and am a much bigger fan of Williams than I was prior to the concert.

One little follow up: anyone who happens to read this who is publishing a book or such on the work of Townes van Zandt should note that yes, bev davies took photos of van Zandt in the 1980's when he was playing the Vancouver Folk Festival, which pretty much no one has seen. The one she's shown me is simply too good to get its world debut on a mere blog; someone go offer Bev some money for it!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly at the Vancity Theatre

An interesting conversation sprang up shortly after the Vancity Theatre screening of The Wild Bunch, the other week.

As I had mentioned previously on this blog, that's a film I had always struggled with. What I saw as Sam Peckinpah's glorification of male-on-male violence, and nostalgia for the days of "real manhood," had always kinda left me non-plussed, on my frequent previous attempts to engage with it. Somehow that changed for me this screening, maybe because I finally figured out that that Ernest Borgnine and William Holden's conversation at the fire, about pride and having the sense to know when you're wrong, was actually meant to have deep thematic echoes, to create a conversation that resonated throughout the rest of the film. Cluing into that, this time, I enjoyed teasing out the implications of that conversation, which seemed rewarding and worthwhile; and I loved how the film looked and sounded. I have seen the film on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, and projected once at UBC (from what source I am unsure), and it's never looked better than it did that night. About the only complaint I could muster, once it was all over - besides the guy beside me chatting with his friend during the film and noisily rustling his popcorn - was that it sure did sprawl: it was hard holding onto the thread of meaning, introduced at that early juncture in the film, through endless shots of canyons and trains and people riding on horseback. I'm sure it's heresy to say it, to some, but the film could have lost 20 minutes, easily, and been punchier and more effective (which is probably what the studio execs who chopped it down initially thought, too).

With an awareness that The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was coming up at the Vancity (on July 9th), I took to Facebook, where I ended up in conversation with a fella who goes by the name Nick Mitchum, who, as NO FUN and DOA fans might know, is also an artist named ARGH! He'd been present for The Wild Bunch, and we ended up in a discussion about the tendency of later Leone to sprawl. It's something you first see in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (which, I gather, in its longest cut, runs a fullsome three hours; the version coming up at the Vancity Theatre, which they're describing as the "definitive cut," is actually 20 minutes shorter). I opined, as I have been given to do, that I preferred, of Leone's works, his first two spaghettis, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, which are much more efficient engines for generating meaning and entertainment: there's very little in the way of fat on either of those films, whereas later Leone gets pudgier and pudgier, going from sprawl (TGTB&TU) to bloat (Once Upon a Time in the West - which never gets better than its first fifteen minutes) to two films of his that I can no longer watch at all, Duck You Sucker! (for all its well-meaning political posturings, a naive, self-indulgent mess) and Once Upon a Time in America, which was so bloody dull the last time I tried to sit through it - in its full, restored, draggy glory - that I had to turn it off.

I am not alone in noting this tendency to self-indulgence in later Leone. Alex Cox - the Repo Man and Sid & Nancy director, who wrote one of the most entertaining books on spaghetti westerns ever written, 10,000 Ways to Die, says of the longest cut of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:
There's a tendency among critics to think that 'longer is better' and that the director always wants/ deserves/ should get the longest possible version of his film. But that isn't always true. Directors of very long films can sometimes be accused of losing the plot. In this instance, what is the point of the (rediscovered) scene where Tuco visits a cave and his gang slide down on ropes to meet him? It's cartoonish, not very well lit or shot. The scene where Sentenza visits a ruined fort is beautifully photographed, but it's irrelevant, and its dormitories of wounded soldiers reappear in later scenes. The long 'restored' sequence in the desert where Tuco further tortures Blondie is embarrassing, childish and slow...
Alex Cox, mind you, loves The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and it appears on his list of the top 20 spaghetti westerns (but after For a Few Dollars More, note). The only question is how long it should be. (I am guessing some of the scenes he finds unnecessary, above, are actually not present in the "definitive cut" that is to screen on July 9th - so others out there might agree with him, too.)

What was interesting was discovering from Nick Mitchum that he actually prefers the late Leones to the early ones, and thinks the director's cut of Once Upon a Time in America, which I hold to be unwatchably dragged-out, is Leone's masterpiece. "I do love the Man With No Name trilogy," he wrote on Facebook, "but I also find them kinda cartoony... I like the Once Upon a Time trilogy more... they could be hours longer... I wouldn't care... I find myself entertained by every frame... and of course the Morricone scores... I could close my eyes and love those movies..."

No argument from me about the scores, but I was kind of shocked to find he thinks the Once Upon a Time movies (presumably also including Duck You Sucker!) are better the first three Leone spaghettis. I took this discussion to Tom Charity, programming director of the Vancity Theatre and the man who is responsible for programming both The Wild Bunch and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, to see what he thought, and it turns out, he agrees with Nick! "Early Leone is pulp," Charity writes, whereas
late Leone is literature. He grew into himself as an artist. The later work just has more dimensions. Not only (but obviously) in terms of its technical / aesthetic sophistication, but crucially (what you don't like) in Leone's command of time. The films expand, they become symphonic, replaying motifs we can recognize even from the Dollars movies, but with greater complexity that allows room for the surge and sweep of history, politics, and a less callous, more nuanced and forgiving take on human nature.
Charity continued to mete out high praise for Once Upon a Time in America, last night at Lucinda Williams. I must admit his esteem for the film - which I couldn't even make it through - intrigues me, makes me want to revisit the movie. I still suspect, at the end of the day, that I'll prefer the leaner and meaner early Leone's - because I don't really have much interest in cinema as literature, and am just fine with pulpiness if we're talking about spaghetti westerns. My favourite examples of the genre, like The Big Gundown, are equally pulpy... which is not to say they aren't jam-packed with meaning; they're just efficient in how they articulate it. (Charity also has more admiration for Heaven's Gate than I do, too, which says something).

Whether or not I'll come to appreciate Once Upon a Time in America, I can't say, but I already appreciate The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and am very excited to be given a chance to see it on the big screen, in this "definitive" version. It's sort of the middle ground between Leone's modes, expansive but focused, and playful throughout. It's great to have a chance to see it on the big screen, in a top-notch projection. It happens July the 9th, screening one night only. How can we not attend?

Friday, June 21, 2019

The New Questioning Coyote Brigade (with Gerry Hannah) and the Pointed Sticks, tonight at the SBC

Do you miss the Subhumans? (Our Subhumans, not the UK band). Have you  heard Gerry Hannah's roots-rocking re-arrangements of songs like "World at War" and "I Got Religion?" You should, really really. Tonight you get a chance to, at the SBC Cabaret, where the New Questioning Coyote Brigade, Gerry's "new" band (actually active for a few years now, but not yet widely appreciated, I don't think) will open for the Pointed Sticks.

I interviewed both Nick Jones and Gerry Hannah about the gig, here. Truth be known, I have been thinking for awhile now that I have been running out of things to ask the Pointed Sticks, who are rapidly turning into my second-most interviewed local band (after David M of NO FUN, but ahead of DOA, for instance). It turns out I was wrong: I had never asked Nick Jones, for example, where he was when the Direct Action ("the Squamish Five") was active, and if his story intersects with theirs. Turns out it does, a little! So that's a pretty interesting read.

(Sorry to Not Inpublic, for not having mentioned them in that article - I didn't notice them on the poster!).

Also, if you haven't read it, I have an update on the Rickshaw, talking with Mo Tarmohamed about his last couple of years running the venue. Mostly I've been preoccupied transcribing David Yow stuff (see below for some), and soon will need to put aside this little hobby of mine and focus on something more lucrative. Meantime, I have a gig to go to tonight!

David Yow on Upsidedown Cross (a mini-interview)

David Yow with Flipper, at the Astoria, June 7th, 2019, by Allan MacInnis

David Yow is, besides being a highly memorable frontman, quite a talented actor. If you  haven't seen Macon Blair's film I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, it is, as far as I know, still on Netflix, here in Canada; it's a Sundance-winning black comedy that reminded me a little of Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, without being quite as nasty. Yow - for whom the role was written, we gather - plays the leader of a small band of criminals, whose trajectory intersects with that of a female protagonist who is getting steadily more upset by how shitty people can be to each other.   

The recent horror anthology Southbound is maybe a bit harder to see but Yow also has a very interesting role, playing a man searching for his lost sister in a mysteriously purgatorial, supernaturally-governed zone. Yow also has a role in the upcoming film Under the Silver Lake (technically already released, I think, but not so easy to see in Canada at the moment, so let's optimistically call it "upcoming"). It's directed by David Robert Mitchell, who previously did It Follows.     

Most people probably do not know, however, of William Hellfire's film Upsidedown Cross. It's a very perverse, unsettling little movie - sort of as if Flannery O'Connor were making pornography with Richard Kern (or Zebedy Colt), which is not to say that it is actually pornographic (unless something can be pornographic in terms of psychology alone). I picked it up on Yow's recommendation - there are plenty of copies on eBay, and it's not so expensive. The film does have eccentricities and limitations - for instance, characters communicate in exceptionally long monologues, while other characters just sit listening to them; naturalism is not the film's strong suit. And you have to be able to take fairly strong stuff - there is some pretty unsettling abuse that goes on in the course of the film. But there's no shortage of ideas, Yow is terrific, and it actually doesn't look that bad, for a shot-on-video microbudget feature.. If you want a detailed review, to get more of a sense of the content of the film, there is a fair one online, here. I don't want to say much more about it myself, but what follows is from my conversation with David Yow about the film, when he was in town with Flipper.   

AM: Okay, coming back to films, so I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is great, and Southbound is great. And I’m excited to see Under the Silver Lake. What else have you done that I should seek out, that fans of yours need to see, that you’re really proud of?

DY: Well, there’s this guy, William Hellfire. That’s not his real name. He makes extremely low budget horror movies that are very influenced by late 60’s and 70’s shock/ exploitation movies. And he did a movie called Upsidedown Cross. I think we shot it in two days, maybe three, for a budget of, like, $1200. And honest to God, he’s done two movies that he shot in a day: feature length films that he shot in a day. And so the aesthetic is – he doesn’t care about good sound, and it’s not so important about the lighting, and how good that shot is, or whatever, it’s really, really run-gun. And so Upsidedown Cross, keeping that in mind, is kind of a remarkable movie, and if you’re talking about a good performance… there’s a part in it where I play a con man, posing as a preacher, who exorcises this girl who is a prostitute and drug addict. Her Mom hires this guy to exorcise her, and he’s a con man. And there’s one point when she’s tied up on a bed and I’m sitting on her back, whipping her with a belt. They had a yoga mat on her back, and we tested it before, to see how hard I could hit without hurting her, and I could fuckin’ whale, just really, like, hittin’ her. And she’s so sweet, and she’s beautiful, and I don’t want to hurt anybody. And during that scene, where I had to whip her – I want to say it was fun, because it was acting and it was not me that was doing it, it was this other person, but after we shot that scene, and we only did one take – I went outside and cried [Yow chokes up as he speaks], because I felt so terrible that I just beat the fuck out of this girl, um… it was a very, very strange experience. I haven’t experienced anything like that before or since. From an actor’s standpoint, it was really cool, because I was able to pull off this believable thing, but from a human standpoint, it was just horrible, it was just terrible. So that was interesting.

AM: Did you talk to her afterwards? She was okay?
DY: Absolutely. I made sure she was fine, and she was, no bruises or anything.

[...there is actually more to the film than Yow is describing, but I'll leave that for you to discover. It's a remarkable film, and better-looking (for what it is) than Yow's descriptions might lead you to expect. Check it out!]

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Vicious Cycles MC tonight, L7, the Rickshaw, and more!

I only had a small amount of space to work with in my recent Straight piece on the Vicious Cycles Motorcycle Club, so I did not get to include many details - like that bassist Rob "Not of Nomeansno" Wright is related to one of the drummers, Paul ‘Duke’ Paetz, from Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, who also emerged from the Edmonton scene, and have a nun song of their own. If you don't know them, they're probably the greatest libertarian/ Christian surf rock band to come out of Canada, ever. They may be the only one, in fact; I kind of hope so. They're pretty funny, if you don't mind all the Ayn Rand references.

I wonder if more standard variety left-wing Alberta hardcores are embarrassed by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra? (I also wonder if Stephen Harper dug them? He didn't strike me as having very interesting musical tastes - seemed like he might be a kind of Kenny G guy, maybe, or Blue Rodeo, or maybe at the outside the Barenaked Ladies, but hell, what do I know...? I am guessing Jerry Jerry would have been too punk rock for him). 

Donita Sparks and Jennifer Finch of L7, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Anyhow, besides the Vicious Cycles MC, also this week on the Straight website, I have a live review of the recent L7 show. It was edited a bit, both for length and for content, since I went a bit over the rails griping about a couple things that were peripheral to the actual concert review (like, I got really annoyed at being made to check my cloth tote, which meant I had to watch the entire show with a fucking pen and notepad at my side! Grr! Women aren't asked to check their bags - so it's gender discrimination! I've been discriminated against! I AM BEING OPPRESSED! - probably for the best that that all got chopped). There was one observation about a guy getting ejected from the pit by a DIY security force of punk females, who felt harassed by him - that I would have liked to include, but was deemed too peripheral to actually reviewing the band. It was kinda the most riot grrrl thing I saw that night, actually - "sisters are doin' it for themselves" type-thing.

Truth be known, I ain't actually a huge L7 fan - "I like the early stuff" - but it was fun to see how much the crowd enjoyed them, and to be reminded how good "Deathwish" and "Shove" were, and it was great they climaxed with "Fast & Frightening," which is still my favourite song of theirs. 

One thing I think I did say was that I was really  glad they picked such a cool opening act,  Le Butcherettes. I snagged bi/MENTAL, and I'm really enjoying it. The whole thing is interestingly complex pop, polished and sensual and easy to digest without being at all boring; Teri Gender Bender uses "fuck" really well in a few songs; and Jello Biafra makes a fun appearance on the opening track. This seems like the sort of album that it could become a headphone go-to that you listen to over and over and over again, a good "car record." It would be interesting to talk about Gender-Bender's costume choices in light of the issue of cultural appropriation, but...

Also on the Straight site, I have a piece up talking with Rickshaw owner Mo Tarmohamed. It's been very popular on Facebook - people just keep re-sharing it, which I'm pleased to see. Happy tenth anniversary, Rickshaw!

Finally, speaking of the Barenaked Ladies, there's also a film I would have liked to have reviewed, playing this weekend at the Vancity, but it didn't end up happening, about the situation with Norval Morrisseau forgeries. I am under the impression it takes in the ways that art galleries exploit First Nations artists. Seems pretty interesting, and a Barenaked Ladies member does pop up in the story; I gather that Adrian Mack came up with the inspired tagline for Ken Eisner's review, that "this barenaked lady is not for the feint of art." In the absence of a screener, I will just direct you to Ken's review, and mention that there is apparently a panel discussion tonight, when the film screens at the Vancity. 

And see y'all tonight at the WISE Hall for the Vicious Cycles album release (sorry, I don't have time to do justice to the opening acts, but they all sounded really, really fun, Rob had nice things to say about all of you, and I'm stoked in particular to catch Sandstorm!