Friday, April 29, 2005


God, what a grim, depressing movie this is. The whole film fairly rolls around in its own darkness. I normally can enjoy dark art, but this film seems so extreme in its bleak vision of humanity that I left the theatre wondering what possible purpose it could serve. Thematically, it's ultimately similar to Memento, showing us how morally compromised we all are, how eager we think we are to learn the lessons of life and, once we've learned them, how desperate we can become to forget; there may be truth in that, but why one would want to consume it is another matter.

The story revolves around a man, Dae Soo, imprisoned in a mysterious room for 15 years for a crime he does not remember, and his attempts to investigate his own past and bring justice to the person who did this to him. "Pyrrhic" is too mild a term for his ultimate "victory," which leaves him as broken a character as I've encountered in cinema. The film is crafted well enough and rich in psychological detail, tho' it does constantly stretch credibility -- it feels like a comic book at times, which is understandable, as it was adapted from a Japanese manga for adult readers (and no, I don't mean hentai manga, though the film is more frank in its depiction of sex -- even taboo sex -- than I'd expected from Korea, since they often censor that sort of thing from foreign releases -- the homemade porn scene from Love, Actually, I'm told, was completely cut from the South Korean release). The film also contains the most disturbing, gut-churning scene that I've seen in a movie; in a way, it's more disturbing, even, than Brakhage's autopsy film, The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (which at least seems instructive, and which did not involve the filmmaker having to kill any of the people whose bodies he films): Dae Soo stumbles into a sushi bar, shortly after his release, thirsty for revenge and understanding. He tells the chef, a young woman, that he wants to eat something alive. She places a live octopus, apparently real, on his plate. She asks him if he'd like her to cut it up. He picks it up, bites the head (tentacles of the creature wriggling), and then stuffs the rest of it whole into his mouth, the tentacles squirming. I can only hope it was CGI, but I don't think so.

(People know that cruelty to animals is more acceptable in Asian countries, right? I once watched a perfectly ordinary Japanese man use meat shears to cut the legs, one by one, off a live crab, and split them open; he sucked out the meat while the crab sat on the kitchen counter, watching. He offered me some, but I declined... There are also Japanese fish dishes that involve the cutting open, cooking, etc. of live animals -- the more lively they are when they're prepared, the fresher the meat, is the theory. I mean, we have veal and that exploding goose dish to answer for, and the everyday ugliness of factory farm practice, but most people here find these things revolting, and many seek refuge in vegetarianism, while eating live things is pretty much completely culturally acceptable in Japan and vegetarianism is seen as an aberration, even among many Buddhists. I can't say about Korea -- one student did once relate a story about how her pet puppy, which she gave to the neighbors to look after, ended up in their kitchen -- but given how real the octopus looks, I expect the situation is much the same).

Oldboy is the newest major import from South Korea's rapidly developing cinema. It's already a couple of years old, there, and won honours at Cannes (I forget exactly which). I'm hoping Silmido also makes the screens here -- a North vs. South war/action film, I gather, which has been a blockbuster throughout Asia. As interesting as it is to see films of this caliber emerging from Korea, I can't enthusiastically recommend Oldboy -- it's just a bit too grim and I'm not sure it will help better anyone's life. I'm feeling my life needs some bettering lately...

Jazz Festival lineup announced

The lineup for the 2005 Vancouver International Jazz Festival has been announced. Since it's what I know and get excited about, here are some avant garde and free jazz performers coming to take note of (links take you to musical samples and descriptions):

Lol Coxhill (avant-sax)
Free Fall with Ken Vandermark (avant-clarinet)
The Marks Brothers (double bass duo feat. Mark Dresser)
Roscoe Mitchell (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago)
Phil Minton (experimental vocalist who's worked with John Zorn, Fred Frith, Paul Dutton, and more)
Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra (check out the wild minute long MP3 of that one!)
Evan Parker (legendary sax player who didn't actually excite me much last time I saw him, but he's a big name, so I'm including him on the list).

Tho' it's not entirely free jazz, Eric Boeren and the Bad Plus are both going to be fun to see (the latter link leads also to a sample for the Scorch Trio, who also sound promising). In terms of local music, I'll possibly check out Bernie Arai and Mike Allen, both of whom I've seen play really, really well. Brad Turner I didn't mind, either, the one time I saw him. I'm mostly not that enthusiastic about local jazz -- there are more artists I make a point of avoiding these days (having seen them play in contexts that were embarrassing, even if they weren't themselves that bad... tho' sometimes they were) than I try to see. There's a lot more life on our pop music scene than our jazz scene, it sometimes seems to me. But I don't want to run down anyone, lest I be run down by someone, so I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Death Clock

Anyone else know this site? They calculate the day and year of your death, based on a variety of factors (it's the BMI that kills me). As of today, my death is foretold as happening on Friday, December 17, 2038. Helpfully, they link to a site that teaches one how they can delay their day of death; unfortunately, it seems oriented around the consumption of longevity drugs.

The hardest Free Cell yet

29596. Have I mentioned that number before? It's a really hard Free Cell.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Battle of Algiers

Just watched Gillo Pontecorvo's film, The Battle of Algiers. One I'd highly recommend -- an essential film, and I can readily understand, finally having seen it, why the film has become so popular in recent years. The film deals with the (ultimately successful) insurgency in Algiers in the 1950s and 60s, which saw Muslims fighting the French colonial government. Though the film is obviously on the side of the insurgents, and seems to have been made as an attempt to offer hope and strength to those who would take up arms against their oppressors, it is complex and intelligently-crafted enough that it doesn't fall into the rather easy trap of demonizing the French -- which itself is no easy task, since the French used torture, which is a very difficult thing to show on screen without one identifying absolutely with its victims (consider Salo). The film has a grainy, documentary-style feel and stars non-professional actors; it's an intense and complex film experience of considerable relevance, raising questions of whether terrorism can be successful, how a government should respond to it, the legitimacy of torture, and so forth. Most interestingly, the people at Criterion -- at whom I'm still a little pissed about over their rough handling of Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney, but I guess I'll let that slide for now -- have organized some really exciting extras, including an Edward Said -narrated documentary on Pontecorvo and a special-for-this-disc interview with "former counterrorist experts" Richard A. Clarke (who I believe turns up in Fahrenheit 9/11, saying none-too-kind things about the Bush administration) and Michael A. Sheehan. Christopher Isham of ABC interviews both men, asking them their opinions of the film and the lessons its offers; what's fascinating is the extreme delicacy with which the three men approach criticising the Bush administration. They engage in this odd task of drawing lines to read between; one almost wonders if the interview was scripted in advance, since they manage to constantly imply that the US reaction to 9/11 has been heavy-handed and misguided without every directly saying as much. The care with which they speak is extremely revealing of the current political climate in the US.

Anyhow, the film is a must-watch, and its actually available at some Rogers Video locations and other large local chains. Too bad Pontecorvo has made so few films; he's approaching 90, now, so I'm guessing there'll be nothing else from him. Burn!, with Marlon Brando, is also a great film -- a new print was screened a few months ago at the Cinematheque, which, we hope, means that eventually it will come out on DVD. There's only one other film of his available in that format at present, The Wide Blue Road, about class struggles among fishermen. Sounds a little less compelling, but it's highly praised, so I guess it's one to seek out...

bill bissett to read at pulp fiction

Canadian sound poet bill bissett, who performed as part of an xcellent series of readings in Maple Ridge that my friend Liz organized, will be reading at the Main Street location of Pulp Fiction on Thursday, April 28 (2o05!) at 6 pm. bill is playful, eccentric, freer than free (tho' his books, CDs, and paintings cost money) and apparently (tho' in his 60s) is growing taller -- from 5' 11" to 6' 1" in the last couple of years. My favourite bit from the reading in Maple Ridge was a charming singsong lyric to the effect of "I don't want to suck empire/ I just want to suck you..." I liked his shaker stuff, too, tho'. Anyhow, I'll be there, and some other people prolly will be too...!

Haven't Forgotten The Winks

Okay, so I've been a bad Winks groupie lately. I missed their CBC performance and I didn't even know about Tyr's cello recital until after it happened. I might go see them play live on Saturday, tho' it's in North Vancouver and I'm a non-driver, so I'm making no promises. I'm still really fond of the Winks. Hi, Winks.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Finger Food; James Toback doubt the above lame joke has surfaced elsewhere, along with various riffs about giving Wendy's the finger, but the finger story has finally gotten interesting: the woman who found the finger in the chili at Wendys in the US has "a litigious history" and, or so the story seems to imply, possibly planted the finger herself as part of a scheme to sue. She was arrested today.

If I were the head of Wendy's, I'd cash in and add a new item to the menu, so that clerks could ask, "Would you like fingers with that?"

I always liked the word finger, too. Especially as a verb. And then there's that Harvey Keitel movie. I'm kinda a minor-key James Toback fan. I'm out of touch but damn, I liked The Gambler, and there's lots in Fingers and even Exposed that I was fond of. Did anyone who knows who he is see that new one...? Does anyone else at all even follow James Toback?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Dreams of Chomsky

Yesterday's brief chat with Attila Richard Lukacs appears to have influenced an odd dream I had last night, where Noam Chomsky gave a speech and was sitting answering questions from an audience. It was also at a movie theatre and Chomsky had talked about some foreign film he admired; one of the questioners -- a former friend of mine from high school, blustery, intense, and not particularly articulate, who had once attended an event at SFU with me, wherein two people debated whether God was real, and also participated in the Q&A -- tried to accuse Chomsky of political inconsistencies as revealed by his tastes in film. The question was ridiculous and barely coherent, in fact, but it was delivered with such passion and such a conviction of the speaker's rightness that the whole audience cheered, and Chomsky, uncharacteristically, blushed and couldn't respond. I was sitting in the second row, very close to Chomsky, so I gave him a little covert thumbs-up-it's-okay signal and he grinned. I believe a child of his (but not a grown one, as I imagine his children are) was in attendance on the table next to him. I think the child was drawing pictures...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Attila Richard Lukacs at the Cinematheque

I discovered Attila Richard Lukacs (pronounced Lukash, by the way, in the Hungarian manner) on a high school field trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery. They had a mediocre touring exhibition of Dutch masters paintings -- the worst, least interesting examples of van Gogh and Rembrandt and such -- and I was wandering around, wondering what the big deal was (I didn't ever really get to appreciate art galleries until I was living outside Tokyo, which has some amazing ones). Then I stumbled onto a gigantic canvas -- I remember it as towering above me, being of truly formidable size, dominating the wall it was on -- of Henry Rollins (or so the tatoos suggested -- this was in his skinhead days, by the way), sitting naked in a cage, surrounded by cherubs, grapes, and the entrails of a disembowelled minotaur. He was looking out at the viewer impassively. This must have been during or shortly after the Young Romantics show that really got Lukacs his start. Even then, the painting floored me. Not just because, as it happened, I was a Black Flag fan -- but because of how it represented the male body, as a source of erotic power, but one hemmed in, constricted, shot through with a sort of fascism; it affected me physically, and I don't mean it gave me a hard on. Anyhow, Lukacs is in attendance at the Cinematheque tonight, for a screening of a biographical documentary about him, Drawing Out the Demons; I'll be there, assuming that the lineup doesn't stretch to Richmond.

Postscript, post-film:

So I got to ask Attila a question! He's lanky, skinny, giggly, quite full of life. I related my punk rock teenhood introduction to his work and asked about the guy with the Black Flag tattoos -- if it was a member of the band, etc.; he explained that it wasn't, that in addition to art historical references he wanted to include in his work a contemporary reference, for which tattoos were ideal. Other answers to questions from the Q&A: the stuffed German Shepherd is still in a box in storage somewhere; his paintings are back from New York and in storage on Denman Island, which required the use of the "largest ever truck" to make it to Denman; the kids in the film almost burned down his studio in Hawaii; and -- well, he had no comment to the question about who upholstered his Mom's couch, but he giggled a lot at the question. His detox time in Hawaii with a straight surfer roommate did not lead to the artist attempting to surf, we also learned; but it did inadvertently influence a series of paintings done on surfboards. Apparently it is quite cheap to fly surfboards to and from Hawaii -- they get a special rate, or such, so common they are; so he used them to send paintings back, wrapping six paintings around one surfboard, for a total of seven surfboards, saving hundreds of dollars on shipping. So now he has these surfboards and nothing else to do with them, so he's painting on them... Someone also put him through answering a question about how he felt about looking back on his crystal meth use, but the answer is what one would expect: grateful to have survived it and thankful for the support of those who helped him out. We only had ten minutes with him, though, since the Cinematheque lined up another show.

There's a whole other anecdote that I won't tell in detail; a bearded, well-dressed gay man who seemed to know Attila (and who I briefly took for the filmmaker) gave me his ticket, just as I was being turned away from the sold-out theatre. I felt a little suspicious of it -- because I'd taken him for the filmmaker, because he was giving me something for free, and because the ticket looked like it was old and wrinkled, like it might have been a year or two old. I didn't thank him as effusively as I should have, mostly because I felt like I was slinking into the theatre illegitimately; but I made it in, so -- bearded gay man, thank you! (Now I can do something else with the rest of my evening).

Good film, by the way -- intimate, perceptive, more interested in the artist than his art, but definitely an interesting show. It plays Saturday night as well, if you missed it. Maybe Attila will show up for that show, too. I suspect he kinda likes attention...

Hurt Birds

Just had my second encounter with the realm of bird rescue... My first was when I rescued a parakeet that had escaped from its owner's apartment. I was in Burnaby, on the way to SFU, when I noticed this clearly displaced bird sitting on it's owner's patio. I approached and tried to catch it. It had had its wings clipped somehow, so it was easy enough to get my hands on -- it could only fly a few feet at a time and, panicked and out of its element, eventually gave up, exhausted. It tried to bite my hand with its little hooked beak as its heart raced in its tiny chest, but eventually it accepted that it was being held and calmed down a little. I walked along the sidewalk trying to figure out what to do with it, wondering to myself what a bird in the hand was really worth. The clerks at the Seven Eleven wanted nothing to do with it, looked at me like I was insane, some guy walking around with a bird in my hand; they treated me like I might be dangerous. It made me a little angry, but as my mood blackened, I could feel the bird starting to struggle, so I tried to calm down. I tried to approach someone in the parking lot, but, appearing as I did ("he's got a bird in his hand and he seems to be containing a certain amount of anger") they rolled up their windows and drove away quickly. I finally found a guy who would listen to me ("Look, this bird needs help; we need to get it to an animal shelter or something; do you know if there is one near here?"), and he drove me to an "animal actor's" establishment, a place where some guy was training and renting animals for use in movies; he phoned the SPCA, and made a deal that if they couldn't find the owner they'd give the bird back to him. The amount of indifference and self-interest I encountered -- even the guy who gave me the ride insisted on giving me a business card and explaining that he was involved in some sort of multi-level marketing scheme -- seemed disgusting; my compassion for the bird marked me as some sort of freak, seemed to require more justification than the selfishness of the people I appealed to for help.

Well, either things have gotten better in the world, or Vancouver is markedly different from Burnaby. I was on the way to pick up a presecription (Topicort for my eczema) at Shopper's Drug Mart today when I encountered another bird -- a small, sparrow-sized creature -- that had apparently flown into their window. It was sitting, panting on the sidewalk, obviously in distress, making no move to get away. I went into the store and approached the first clerk I saw, a guy about 25, with a blonde goatee, glasses, and kind eyes.

"Hey, uhhh... This is a bit weird and has nothing to do with Shopper's Drug Mart, but there's this hurt bird on your sidewalk... I was hoping we could phone, like, an animal shelter or something?"

"Damn!" he stood up. "I am not the guy you want to tell about this sort of thing. I wish you hadn't told me. I can't take it!" He immediately started looking through the phone book. "I don't even know who to call..."

"You could call 411, ask for an animal shelter..."

"No, I'm blocked out... Uh... Let's see. The SPCA." (He started looking for a listing for the SPCA, muttering how he can't stand to see animals suffer.

"If it's any consolation," I offered, "the bird looks like it'll be allright. It's not that badly hurt... Hey, do you have a box or something we could put it in? You make the call, and I'll get the bird."

He set down the phone and speedily began lining an open cardboard box with paper towels.

"Is that for the bird?" a female clerk asked as she passed us. "Because I've got it. I'll take it to the vet up the street." She walked by with a box, bird inside.

The transaction ended there, and I went to the back of the store to pick up my scrip. On the way back, I noticed that the clerk looked markedly relieved, and was laughing with a customer. I felt like I should say something to him, but I couldn't think of what, so I left.

Shopping Blues: A Rant

Signs everywhere, shops everywhere: downtown, almost everywhere one goes there's an opportunity to spend money. To confirm your power as someone who can spend; to comfort you that however meaningless your life may be, you have the economic stature to gratify desire. Whether you buy a CD, a DVD, a piece of clothing, a slice of pizza: the comfort of it, to go in, to select what you want, to hand over cash (or slide that bit of plastic, so powerful-feeling between your fingers) and be given exactly what you ask for (and doesn't it almost always seem like you're getting a good deal?). Then back into the street to wander along until desire hits you again...

Having one of those epiphanal weeks where all the shit I own seems vaguely alien to me. Why do I need so much shit? What does any of this shit mean? Why have I spent my money on it at all? It all seems like so much distraction, a vast wall of shit that I've built up to keep me from looking at the fact that I'm almost completely morally disengaged from life. I do nothing real -- I produce product (as an ESL teacher or bookstore clerk, that is), which, sure, makes money for me and for someone else; and I consume the products of others; but what difference do I make in the world outside of being someone who buys and sells, what identity do I have as a non-consumer? Mostly with friends I'm just compulsively sharing the stuff that I buy, burning them CDs, lending them movies -- as if to validate, justify, give communal meaning and purpose to my acquisitiveness. Otherwise, what effect do I have, really? I blog, and I write, and I rant about movies with those who will listen -- I grasp for attention, howevermuch of it I can get, but what does any of it mean? What am I looking for it for? Why do I want anyone to acknowledge me -- what is it that I'm doing that's special or different or even remotely interesting?

I mean, what would I have to do in order for my life to feel meaningful? Producing art -- more product, more cries for attention? To what moral end? Helping the poor, so they can become consumers too? Pushing friends to put their own house in order, since mine is a complete disarray? What would putting my own house in order look like, exactly?

I know that I'm going to spend more money today. I've just got paid and have designs on a new pair of speakers (I don't think setting them up counts as putting my house in order, do you?). Plus there are those CDs by the Ex that I want to order (and how critical they are of our all-consuming consumerism), and that John Zorn/Eugene Chadbourne/Tom Cora collaboration I won on eBay, and that maybe-bootleg of Antonioni's Red Desert... I know how to consume for pleasure extremely well, and much of what I consume is tacitly or explicitly anti-consumption. It's still a poor substitute for meaning...

I feel a very old restlessness stirring in me, something I haven't felt for a long time, back during my period of religious fanaticism, when I alienated so many of my friends, made so many difficult but brave decisions, and ultimately changed my life a bit. Of course, I had guidance then; I'm a little shakier at the moment. But it's like I'm being given an opportunity to look at myself, to maybe do something with my condition...

...or to just distract myself and allow myself to sink back into my mediocrity. There's an element of self-mistrust here, a bit of fear; and long-standing habits of spiritual laziness.

Strange days. But now if you'll excuse me I've got to go see how much money I have in the bank. It's payday, after all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Requia for God and Satan

As I promised, "the next time I'm stoned..." Tho' I been drinkin', too.

(Actually, I did this exercise with my ESL students today -- it's a bit daring -- where I encourage them to ask me personal questions. It's one of those rare opportunities for exhibitionism and excessive communication -- two staples of my psychological diet -- that is actually written into the course material, so that if I ever get in trouble for it, I can point directly to the materials I've been given and say, "Look! Here it is!" ...unlike, say, the zombie movie clips, Abu Ghraib torture photos, and lessons on Rodney King, Ice-T, and "Cop Killer" that I also sometimes bring into the class, I mean I wanna keep it interesting... Anyhow, the students are taught phrases that facilitate asking personal questions -- empowering them to pry, featuring such favourites as "can I ask a personal question" and "I hope you don't mind my asking, but, uhh..." This one brave girl -- was it Sayaka, Yuko, or Haruka? They're all short, apple cheeked, straight-haired, painfully cute-and-innocent looking Japanese girls in their early 20's, so I sometimes, uh, get these three confused, true to the cliche -- asked me if I'd ever done drugs. I told her that I'd done plenty in my 20's; I lied outright when they asked if I was still doing them now and couched it all in Comforting Cultural Generalization #67, that it's very common here. But really, they got to practice their "personal questions" phrases, so who gives a damn whether I gave them the 100% real deal or not -- they couldn't take the real deal).

I get to thinking about Satan lately (I'm listening to Einsturzende Neubauten as I type this, to briefly tip me hat). Is Satan a useful concept? I mean, imagine how productive He used to be. (...there's a screenplay idea, God and Satan applying for unemployment benefits). The idea that the more trivial, base, unhealthy, unwholesome, corrupted influences in ourselves could be the product of an evil half of our nature, a prideful half that rejects God's "authority," as externalized and made comfortingly other (with Satan's pride as our pride, him a symbol and figure for our own rebellious nature)... Identification (as with a character in a movie) has a role in religious text as well; Satan's fall and condemnation are all elements in our own psyches, and hell is internal... It's all internal, it all happens in our mind as we read the text: we can't but find ourselves in it. And isn't it useful to have a Satan, that we can make scapegoat and representative of our own basest, coarsest impulses?

How, drunk and stoned, does Satan figure into my night, then? If I were to force a reading him into my night, Satan is present:

a) in my getting stoned and drunk in the first place
b) in my fat belly, product of indulgence
c) in my decadent, unnecessarily entertaining CD and DVD library
d) in the content of much of my library, as well as in the very size of it
e) in the porn by my bed and the tingle in my cock
f) in the momentary respite from all cares that I am perceiving
g) in the despair that temporarily is informing it
h) in the indifference to all others beyond this room that I presently feel, this selfish self-pitying self-indulgence
i) in the music of Einsturzende Neubauten, too (currently playing "Selfportrait with Alcohol).

Hey: didja know, the "new buildings" referred to in the Neubauten name are actually an architectural style, a sort of modernist human-storage-unit style popular in the 1960's, I think it was? So it's not just any new buildings that are collapsing, but those built at a certain time and period; inside Germany the name has a reference we generally miss here. Thanks to G42 frontman Dan for the explanation. Watch these pages for news of a G42 gig.

Actually, it may be awhile, I'm just trying to put some pressure on.

I like this song for the line (now playing), "Life on other planets is difficult." But then, I'm in a relationship at the moment.


Skull Bong

A 17 year old has been arrested for stealing a skull, allegedly planning to make some sort of water pipe out of it.

I'd like to see what this kid puts together for school science projects...

Rushdie on the US, Attila Richard Lukacs

Salman Rushdie on how US unilateralism aids international terrorism.

Culture consumed this week: Kira Muratova, Borodin Quartet, Nurse with Wound, New Model Army. Highlight of the upcoming weekend: Attila Richard Lukacs will be in attendance at the Cinematheque's Friday screening of the film about him, Drawing out the Demons.

Life and work continue to make much blogging difficult. Next time I smoke pot, I promise...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Monday, April 04, 2005

Nomeansno gig coming up!

Well, a combination of personal issues, other writing projects getting underway, and a busy work schedule have kept me from blogging much, but I thought I'd mention that there'll be a Nomeansno gig soon. From the Georgia Straight:

: Legendary punk-prog trio performs an all-ages show to celebrate its 25th anniversary, with guests Removal and the Feminists. May 11, 8 pm, Mesa Luna (1926 W. Broadway). Tix $12 (plus service charge) at Zulu, Scratch, Noize, and Red Cat Records, info 604-733-5862.

Also exciting: the Gang of Four play in May, and cellist Erik Friedlander.

What else can I write during the remainder of my lunch break...? Actually, I'd rather take a walk for fifteen minutes, while the sun is shining. Sorry!