Sunday, December 23, 2007

I was a pretty weird kid

Jeez. I just watched the South Park episode on sex education - in my spare time, to help cope with the stress of all the major writing projects I'm not working on, I've been cycling through episodes, backwards -- and it's put me in mind of all sorts of things. One vivid memory was of telling my friends in Grade 7 or such that I really kind of liked the smell of my sweaty jockey shorts, say after I'd worn them for a couple of days (and maybe once or twice to gym class). It was sweet and musky... I wasn't sniffing them for pleasure, you understand -- I hastened to clarify when they all told me I was gross; I would just, you know, inspect them based on scent from time to time to decide whether it was time to change them. Somehow my explaining this fact did not make the practice seem any less gross to them. I went through a period in my pubesence of being painfully aware of the smell of my crotch, actually; I felt like I had developed certain smells before the other boys and was terrified I was weird (and this was in the days before the Won't Get Weird campaign). This led to such extreme practices as splashing my father's aftershave on my balls once. I do not recommend doing this.

Blogging when you've been smokin' a bit might be dangerous, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peter Stampfel in the Nerve Magazine

About the only thing wrong with my new Peter Stampfel interview is the Nerve "goofy caption" on the photo, which identifies Mr. Stampfel as drinkin' whiskey instead of water, when the article specifies that he's been off drinking for awhile -- since 1988, he reports. Ah, well - minor error; anyone who reads it will get their facts straight. (Note - the link above is temporary; if you're reading this after January 2008, you'll need to go to the Nerve Magazine website and search it out in the archives). More from that interview will appear (in Q&A format) in an upcoming Bixobal, and you can hear Stampfel's new song, "Stick Your Ass in the Air," which I mention in the article, on Youtube. Funniest thing I've heard in awhile - Stampfel truly lightens mah load with songs like this.
Also in the Nerve: ace photographer and artist Femke van Delft has a bunch of really cool photos illustrating my Scratch Records Birthday Celebrations review. Femke's shots look even better online than they do in print, but it was still delightful that the Nerve gave us a colour spread...!
Meantime - promises, promises, but I still plan to put up Bev Davies, Blake Nelson, and Keith Parry interviews, REAL soon. Like, over the holiday. Watch this space. BTW, people interested in weird music for the holidays should check out the Meme Lab for the 27th - the Her Jazz Noise Collective (whom I plugged in the "best of 2007" section o' the Nerve) will perform there, among others.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Am Legend

Yet another theatrical release that I quite enjoyed. I'm really getting kind of confused -- is my brain atrophying or something? 30 Days of Night, The Mist, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, I'm Not There, and now I Am Legend: I've liked almost every film I've seen in a commercial movie theatre lately, and I haven't been to either the Vancity Theatre or the Pacific Cinematheque in weeks. Is this some weird bi-product of personal stresses and age, a leveling of tastes, the very thing I used to feel contempt for in those around me? (How many times have I heard people whine words to the effect of, "I work hard all day and when I get home, I don't want some art film - I want to be entertayyyyned!" God help me, am I becoming One of Them?). Then again - maybe these are all just, well, pretty good movies! I'm used to associating the megaplexes with mediocrity, but perhaps things are actually changing for the better...? Each of these films has been a surprise and a treat, far better than I expected them to be; I feel grateful as all heck to actually be able to find a film playing at a commercial theatre that I can genuinely enjoy.

I haven't much to say about I Am Legend, though. It's no great work of film art, you understand - my praising it should not be mistaken for my taking it seriously! - but it's still damn good at what it does. The craft with which we are presented a post-plague, overgrown, deserted and strikingly silent Manhattan is impressive, as is the restraint with which the material is handled; I was worried that I'd have to put up with Will Smith playing the clown and a vast amount of gunplay, but in fact, the film is far more about mood than it is about action (Michael Bay fans probably won't like it very much, which is fine by me). It even has a relatively short runtime; in an age where the prevailing concept of a blockbuster is a film that, like a powerful sex toy, provides climax after climax, each leading onto the next, to assemble a feature that clocks in at a lean 101 minutes, and has a fairly uncomplicated, singular, and even somewhat brief peak, is actually kind of daring. I didn't like it as much as I enjoyed Francis Lawrence's previous feature, Constantine (which remains a huge guilty pleasure), but it's so good at what it does that I can accord it nothing but respect. It's more of a remake of The Omega Man than it is an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel (anyone who tells you that the ending follows Matheson has obviously not read the book), but this really doesn't matter much (the novel is nowhere near as good as Matheson's Hell House, anyhow).

One element of the politics of the film that I find odd: in exactly the same way that 28 Days Later updated the concept of the zombie, the "vampires" of Matheson and The Omega Man have been replaced by the inhuman "infected," which is how they're referred to in the end titles. There's something vaguely disturbing about a climate where being monstrous and inhuman is seen as a matter of whether or not you've contracted a disease, and where having contracted this disease is enough to completely transform you - where the barrier between the human and the inhuman is so terribly fragile (bizarrely, the vampires of The Omega Man and Matheson - and probably the Vincent Price film as well, tho' I don't remember it very clearly - were more human than the "infected" are here; they could talk, think, plan, whereas in I Am Legend, they're defined almost entirely by their vicious rage). A friend suggested over a meal today that the designation of the monstrous as infected probably stems from AIDS paranoia, but I'm not so sure that's what's going on; there's also a "humanization" of the monstrous that seems to be afoot - a growing recognition that human beings are a lot scarier than, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or any other quaint critters of yore (The Mist is interesting in this regard, too, since, for all the tentacles and claws that abound, the people in it eclipse the monsters as the primary source of fear). If you aren't infected, you're either immune, a carrier, or in danger of contracting the condition; in which case we must be ever vigilant, lest we become monsters ourselves. Not sure what to make of it, but it's a trend that bears following... viruses seem to have overtaken the occult as the source of world evil!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bizarre Waking Dreams of Mingus

In the dream, I am in Grade 4, in Elementary School, and the whole class has been assigned a presentation on a Charles Mingus composition (in my actual Grade 4 class, presided over by a hippie named Terry Hansen, we used to listen to popular music on his reel-to-reel and discuss the lyrics in a booklet he had written out for us, but I'm not sure the dream-class meshes with the real one). The title is obscure - I know it in the dream, but not when I awake; it's one of Mingus' poems set to music (not the lyrical version of "Fables of Faubus," because I remember thinking that in my dream). Whatever it is, it's supposedly on Let My Children Hear Music, tho' now that I'm awake, I don't recognize it in the track listing. The next day, I am late for school, and I have to find the CD. My father (in the dream only; there is no correspondence between the dream father and the real one) supposedly has the song on a CD - he has tons of stuff on Mingus, and he has a bio on Ken Russell in which Russell discusses (supposedly - this never happened) a film version he made of the Mingus composition (it looks strangely like the hardcover edition of Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Lantern, though - nothing in this dream is quite "right.") We can't find the song, though, and the majority of the dream is me climbing up and down the stairs in the building - not the actual one I grew up in, which is the usual setting for such dreams - trying to locate it. Finally I get off to school half an hour late, without the song, wondering if I'll get in trouble. I have some other Mingus-related material in my bag, but I'm not sure it will suffice.

Then I wake up, and have to get to the school where I teach. If I had any around, I'd listen to Mingus on the walk to work, but I don't!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bad Feng Shui and Me

This odd feeling: I’m trapped by my stuff. I have all this stuff. Even the area beneath the computer monitor is a cluttered mass of felt pens, business cards, CDRs, batteries, lighters, cassettes with interviews on them, a notebook... Everything screaming for attention, attention, attention: notice me! Deal with me!

That’s me that’s screaming for attention, asking to be dealt with. And even moreso the “cool” stuff all around me – posters, books, movies, CDs. I’m overcompensating. I’m not just some fat nowhere kid, some boring mediocre suburban schlub (or to update myself: not just some fat balding 40 year old ESL teacher. Fuckin’ yikes): I’m screaming out to the world: Look at all this cool stuff I’ve got. I’m interesting! I’m worth knowing! ...It’s like a neon sign on a dingy building, a sleight-of-hand distraction so you don’t see the peeling paint.

It’s also like a security blanket. It reinforces my identity, reassures me that I’m interesting, reassures me that at the very worst I will have the good company of all this manifestation to see me through, even if single. My books and my poetry to protect me.

It might not be all bad. To some extent, it’s also just a natural extension of my mind. It’s how I think – my mind is a busy mess of buzzing, competing interests, and so is my room. But there’s a lot I don’t think about, and that’s also reflected in my space. I don’t think as much as I could about the areas I’m weak in: controlling my life, improving it. Working on my health – losing weight, getting stronger physically; controlling my money – getting out of debt, not indulging myself so much, not NEEDING more stuff. Improving my social status – working on relating in a new way with the people around me, so the need to acquire more stuff and define my worth THAT way isn’t so predominant in my character. All this stuff I’ve got keeps me busily distracted, so I don’t have to attend to this.

My high school buddy David said it over 20 years ago – that my stuff is like a womb, inside which I’m suffocating. (These are old issues with me, which at different times of my life, I’ve attended to better than others). Need to find a different way of relating to the world. Minimize a bit, create a space that doesn't scream so hysterically of the need to be noticed. I think if I really put some of this shit AWAY, calmed my space down, I might also be a calmer, more focused person. It’s stuff I could afford to work on – to re-organize my environment as a first step in reorganizing the self. I feel so much more relaxed in other people’s spaces – no one I know dwells in quite this cluttered an environment. It’s gotten oppressive. Needs dealing with.


(And then I go online to post this and am confronted by this rather jarring article in Slate on pseudocide – faking ones own death and disappearing. It might be easier than clearing up all this goddamn stuff).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Exhausted, Non-Blogging Me - plus CineAction 72 is Out

Photo by Dan Kibke: Al of the Living Dead

Well, sorry, folks - there's a huge feature in the Dec/Jan Nerve Magazine on Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders and a two-page spread on the Scratch Records birthday celebration, but I haven't posted much at all on this blog o'mine lately, which I'm well aware of. I'm pooped, for one - those two articles, plus my dayjob, plus visits out to my parents in Maple Ridge every couple o' weekends - plus the untold mundane stresses of life (getting laundry done, dealing with intermittent electrical problems in my building, helping a buddy move, etc) have kept me far from writing. The odd moment I've been able to spend at the computer has been devoted to downloading episodes of South Park and/or things involving the female of the species (or at least IMAGES of the female of the species, which are so much easier to work with).

I am currently working on (for this blog) the Blake Nelson interview, a Bev Davies piece, and a somewhat late but definitely readable Keith Parry piece, tying in to the Scratch article. I also have contributions to Bixobal and Razorcake that I'm working on, as long as whatever I'm doing for the next Nerve Magazine (in February). With luck, I'll get through all of this during the Christmas season, in between orgiastic consumption of turkey and, we hope, a couple of rolls in the hay. Those of you who are impatient to read more of me, if you actually exist, can always head to your favourite quality magazine stand and search out CineAction 72, just out now, which features my feature interview with Charles Mudede, dealing with the films Police Beat and Zoo, and of course, the Enumclaw horse sex case. I am too pooped to bother posting links to these things, but you know how to Google. I am very proud to appear in a journal associated with critic Robin Wood, one of my favourite film writers ever...

Anyone wishing to soothe my weary, under-appreciated self by giving me a massage, a blowjob, free alcohol, a better-paying and more rewarding dayjob, or flat out hard cash, is welcome to comment below. Re: the blowjob, I am still currently only fielding applications from women, but I'll keep you posted.

And now I'm going to take off my socks, stretch, and watch some South Park.
Oh: by the way, I highly recommend Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which is a finely crafted, very entertaining, and psychologically rich film, featuring fine performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney. (I personally don't care much for Ethan Hawke, but he's not at all bad in this). I have nothing to SAY about the film, but the less one knows about it beforehand, the better: just trust me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm Not There

Apologies for the lack of image. Our friends at the Weinstein Company make it just difficult enough for an independent writer to access their promotional materials -- the "Contact" link doesn't work unless you're already registered with them! -- that I'm simply not going to bother (even though, of course, a Google Images search will net you hundreds of images from other websites. But fuck'em: if they'll give me nothing I can legitimately access -- the I'm Not There site also has no free downloads -- then I'll restrict myself to text). It's kind of silly to be such control freaks about a few measly stills, since they can only serve to generate excitement - but then again, at the preview screening I went to tonight, audience members had to leave their cell phones and laptops in baggies with the security dudes out front before being allowed to access the auditorium, which hardly generates a mood of fun, either. (Anyone entering the preview with the intent to pirate the film, of course, could easily have done so, since we weren't patted down or strip searched or such, nor were we visibly observed during the screening. It makes for a bizarre token gesture of control, sillier than it is offensive, inconveniencing the innocent and doubtlessly only amusing the guilty -- ultimately nothin' more than a tight-assed reminder that the Weinsteins are above us on the food chain. Kinda makes you wish someone DID sneak in a recording device, actually... no doubt there are pirated versions of the film floating freely out there as I type.)

Weinstein and security aside, I quite liked I'm Not There. I'm kind of relieved to allow the distributor's general mood of spoilsportism to dissuade me from writing at length, because the film is huge, complex, and sprawling, and frankly too much for my mirror at the moment, anyhow. There are moments of great beauty and poetry, as chaotic and confusing and compelling and arguably profound as Dylan's most obscure verse, and it will do wonders for Todd Haynes' profile in America (and Cate Blanchett's, since she's astonishingly good); but I challenge ANYONE to put it all in perspective (while saying anything that isn't rather obvious) after just one screening. I do have a few reservations -- I always think it's a sign of a lazy viewer when someone says a movie is too long, but I peaked well-before the two hour mark and just felt exhausted and drained by the time the film reached it's 135th minute; maybe I just wasn't prepared for such a feast -- if I'd done something to enhance my perceptual appetite before the film started, f'rinstance, I might've felt more enlivened by the time it ended. It didn't help, either, that my enthusiasm for Dylan has waned in recent years; if I'd seen this back when Dylan was a staple of my musical consumption, I'd no doubt be raving, now.

Still: good film, recommended. One thumb up, unless I'm supposed to raise both of them. With the premise of the film - having a variety of different actors play Dylan -- I was worried that I'd end up feeling like I'd been subjected to inconclusive, incoherent gimmickry-for-it's-own-sake, as with Todd Solondz's abortion film, but instead, my admiration for Todd Haynes has grown considerably. This is a helluva piece of film.

One thing: it helps if you KNOW a bit about Dylan - if you're savvy enough to pick out the nod to Harry Smith in the first ten minutes or so, or at least to realize that Julianne Moore is playing Joan Baez, you'll do fine. Don't Look Now and Scorsese's doc will serve as adequate cheat-notes, if consumed beforehand. (Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid would be a good thing to be familiar with, too, for the Richard Gere segments). I'm not sure that people can "get" the film without some background.

Oh, and: stick around to hear the Sonic Youth song (covering Dylan, of course) over the end credits; it's great.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tom Charity's 100 DVDs wrap up

Anyone who likes reading about film might like to check out Tom Charity's 100 DVDs wrap-up, which appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently and (at least at the moment) is online. Charity tends to be more generous to more commercial films than I am; he liked No Country for Old Men - see the comments below my review of it, a few posts down - and disagrees somewhere with me, I think on this blog, about the merits of Borat, which I see mostly as a Jewish artist slyly (and quite viciously) using American credulity to viciously satirize Muslim backwardness, even if the character of Borat is not religious per se. It's simply too angry a film for me to want to embrace it. Charity also includes a few films on his list, like LA Confidential, that I find over-hyped and thoroughly negligible. Still: he writes well about film (and gets paid for it, which is rare in my case), he's written a book about Cassavetes, who remains a heroic figure to me; and he can outdo me at "Golden Age of Hollywood" cinema trivia any day of the week. So he's a sempai even if I want to quarrel with him at times.

By the way, if I were doin' a top 100 DVD list for Sun readers, of the ones I've seen, I certainly would agree with #91 (the Cassavetes box), #87 (The Hustler), #63 (Edvard Munch), #50 (Psycho), #46 (The Thin Red Line), #16 (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), #14 (In a Lonely Place), and #12 (The Battle of Algiers). If I were to draw up my own top-100 must-see cinema lists, even with my intent to be less of a populist educator and more of an elitist provocateur, I'd agree completely with the inclusion of these DVDs. That's about it.

That's not to say that I disagree with the rest of his list, tho'. There's a few films that I consider odd choices and would quibble with, but I'm in the same ballpark: I don't think the BRD Trilogy (#11) is actually Fassbinder's finest work, preferring his smaller scale, darkly humourous domestic dramas from a few years previous (Fear of Fear, Martha, The Merchant of Four Seasons, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul are the ones I most love, of the dozen or so Fassbinder's I've seen, and I'd probably choose the last one on that list as the one people should seek out first. I like it so much I have a framed German poster for it on my wall, under the original title, Angst Essen Seele Auf).

Speaking of New German Cinema, I also don't think I'd include #17, Wings of Desire, which, tho' I'm fond of it, now seems like "the beginning of whatever Wenders we have now," versus the Wenders we'd all like to have... none of which is really available with English subtitles on DVD, unless you're in Australia, save for The American Friend; that would be my token Wenders, until Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities get distribution.

More quibbles: Ordet (#96) I could not enjoy, because it takes an idea seriously that I simply find ridiculous, that of resurrection based on faith; I think The Passion of Joan of Arc is a much more important Dreyer film. The only Scorsese film I care about now is Who's That Knocking at My Door, his first and, it seems, most heartfelt/passionate film; Casino IS a masterfully made film, as is, I suppose, Raging Bull, but Scorsese is so over-hyped that, for the time being, I just don't care, and am content to leave these films in distant memory. In terms of Peckinpah, The Getaway kicks The Wild Bunch's ass; and Michael Mann's Manhunter holds up under repeated viewings much better that Heat (#31). I like The Long Goodbye (and even McCabe and Mrs. Miller) so much more than Nashville I'd let them take it's place (#48), even if Nashville is more important, objectively; and I think Seven holds up better than Fight Club, even if Fight Club is more ambitious. In terms of Bresson, I loved Pickpocket, and fell asleep during Au Hazard Balthasar, which I haven't gotten back to, so - admitting that I haven't done enough Bresson to really be a fair judge, I'd stick Pickpocket on anyhow. Call me Paul Schrader. And L'Eclisse is an Antonioni that I really don't think has aged well; I'd point people to The Passenger or Blow Up first, since Zabriskie Point isn't available yet. Finally, as far as minor quibbles go, I don't think that I'd stick Winter Light (49) up as my "token Bergman." My favourite Bergman is The Passion of Anna, but it's so fuckin' bleak a vision of humanity I'd probably point Sun readers at Through a Glass Darkly, instead; you have to break people in easily. (Then again, you can only get Winter Light in Region 1 format if you buy the box with Through a Glass Darkly in it). I'd probably also include a couple of other Bergman's; one Bergman isn't really enough.

Most of the list, really, seems to be written from a somewhat educational point of view: if you're going to be in the know about cinema, you've got to start somewhere, and that seems to be why North by Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho are on the list - or Citizen Kane, or The Searchers, or The Rules of the Game, or... . I could hardly quarrel with their inclusion, though none are favourites of mine, or even films I presently own. I'm not quite sure that people don't already know about these films, but if the purpose of the list is educating Sun readers (who, I guess, ARE largely non-cinephiles), I guess I can see why they're up there.

The only surprise on the list - a film I haven't seen in a long time, and didn't expect anyone would be claiming as a classic - is Cutter's Way. I might check that out again, actually. I remember being shocked at how good John Heard was - I had no idea he had it in him.

Full disclosure: films on the list I have not seen: #3, Tokyo Story (I've seen Late Spring and Floating Weeds and am not particularly keen on Ozu); #7, In the Mood for Love (I haven't gotten to Wong Kar Wai; I was put off by the one film of his I tried, ChungKing Express, and haven't returned); #8, Hoop Dreams; #15, The Shop Around the Corner; #19, The River; #22, The Leopard; #23, The Lady Eve; #25, The Wind Will Carry Us (tho' it's around here somewhere); #26, Code Unknown (tho' I liked Cache and to a lesser extent The Piano Teacher, the only Haneke I've seen); #27, Some Like It Hot (the only one I'm really embarrassed about, particularly since I really like Billy Wilder, and absolutely love his film The Apartment, which would be my Wilder entry, alongside, maybe, Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard); #33, A Canterbury Tale; #34, Bringing Up Baby; #39, La Belle Noiseuse (my one Rivette experience, Paris Belongs to Us, was less than riveting); #41, YiYi; #45, Lovers of the Arctic Circle, which is one of a very small number of films on the list I've never even heard of; #50 - I've seen some Buster Keaton, but certainly not enough; #53, Toy Story (and if I were going to put an animated film on such a list, Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind would be the one, or maybe Spirited Away); #56, A Nos Amours (for a Cassavetes fan, I've seen little Pialat); #57 (blush), Red River; #59, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; #64, Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales (I tried Rohmer when I was in my early 20's; I may have been too young, but I enjoyed it so little I have had no inclination to go back, despite some earnest urgings of cinephiles I respect); #65, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, another film I don't even know; #73, The Documentaries of Louis Malle (haven't seen a one); #78, Sansho the Bailiff (just haven't gotten around to it); #81, The Big Heat (ditto); #83, Sweet Smell of Success (ditto); #85, Ratcatcher (ditto); #86, To Be or Not to Be; #92, Nobody's Fool; #93, Children of Paradise; #94, The Decalogue (I've seen A Short Film about Killing and, to be honest, wasn't that excited by it); #99, Birth; and #100, A.I., which I have no intent of seeing. Spielberg couldn't pay me to write about him (tho' I do like that Charity calls him "needy," and I get a secret kick out of his more misanthropic, people-getting-eaten fare: Jurassic Park II is actually my fave of his films. Spielberg doesn't really need our help, tho').

Here are a few what-the-fuck omissions:

Um, Tarkovsky, Tom? NO Tarkovsky? SOME people who read the Sun must be up for it. No Nic Roeg (Bad Timing, at least, surely...)? No Bela Tarr? No Dusan Makavejev (Tom: wouldn't you love to see what Sun readers would make of Sweet Movie? You could put it close to the end of the list, so as not to lose your job...).

No Jim Jarmusch? No Lars von Trier? No John Sayles? No Sirk?

No M? No Wages of Fear? (No Clouzot at all?). No Maltese Falcon? What about Kubrick's The Killing?

Atanarjuat is fine, but what about Hard Core Logo, or Last Night, or some Guy Maddin? Is The Fly really the BEST Cronenberg film? (It's certainly the one Sun readers are most likely to appreciate, but, well... you see what I'm sayin'). What about Lynne Stopkewich? Atom Egoyan? We Canadians need our limited cultural institutions flattered, dontcha know?

And what about a couple of political documentaries? Winter Soldier? Hearts and Minds? In the Year of the Pig?

Token experimental cinema: the Criterion Brakhage box, no?

For a Cassavetes fan, you don't seem that excited about American cinema of the 1970's. What about Scarecrow? Blow Out? Deliverance? The Gambler? Badlands? Electra Glide in Blue? All of these are films within the range of the Sun readership, and maybe not as familiar to them as some of the films you've told them about (I don't really understand the recommend-films-they-already-know-and-love tendency in listmaking, frankly). Mikey and Nicky?

What about those few truly great independent American films to emerge in recent years - Happiness? Old Joy? Police Beat? Safe?

And I'd put Romero's Dawn of the Dead up, on general principles, even if zombies are being overused lately. Not enough horror cinema, or transgressive cinema, on the list. Visitor Q? (yeah, right).

There's a bunch else. Maybe I'd draw the American content from Jonathan Rosenbaum's alternate AFI list - now THERE's an intimidating list of movies (I mean, I haven't even seen about 70 of them... it might as well be entitled " great American movies I've seen that you haven't!") There must be a ton of things I'm forgetting. Tom, if you comment - if you could do it over, would you add anything to the list?

More of Tom Charity's reviews can be found on Rotten Tomatoes by searching for "Tom Charity" under "critics." Y'all might also be interested in my interview with Tom Charity about a rare Cassavetes screening here a couple of years ago.

Uh: and now I'm gonna go see a movie with a friend.

The Mist

Worthy little SF/horror film - quite faithful to the Stephen King novella (which I remember quite liking when I was a much younger man); and a fascinating injection into the current body politic. If you enter horror films with an attentive eye for subtext, seeing how they speak to the state of society, this will give you lots to ponder, even with a relatively simple plot (the Rio Bravo scenario, I think it sometimes gets dubbed - group of people trapped in a space with bad things outside: think Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, etc). As I've said elsewhere, there was a moment in the film where nearly the whole audience cheered; I haven't felt so proud of - or entertained by - an audience reaction in a long time. Critics are going to stay away from enthusing too vocally about this one (68% on Rotten Tomatoes when I first copied the link, tho' I notice it's gone up a notch since). This means nothing - the film is too lowbrow for any but the most confident critics to get behind it, even if they obviously kind of liked it; I mean, there are monsters in it, the kind with tentacles and claws and so wings! Pay no heed: genre fans or people who just flat out like movies will be amply rewarded by this film (even if the CGI effects are kind of fake and cheesy); and it may even have a few ideas worthy of serious contemplation in it. I had a lot of fun, anyhow. Official site here.
Oh: even if your kid likes horror movies, this may not be the best one to take children to. I could see it leading to very odd conversations.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Joe Lally Monday night!

Hmm - here's a gig you might not know about: Fugazi bassist Joe Lally is playing Monday night at the Gaff Gallery (684 East Hastings). Some samples of his music on Myspace - sounds pretty cool! Opening bands include Capillary Action (from DC) and Shearing Pinx. And I'd wanted to stay home and write! Shit!
Thanks to Peter for the heads up...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

All Hail Thor!

Is this the onset of my mid-life crisis? I saw Thor at the Scratch birthday celebrations last weekend - from which the above photos, by Femke van Delft, came - and I absolutely loved it.

I watched some of the Youtube clips of Thor that Nardwuar directed us to while MCing, and found them - well, a tad baffling, but, er, highly entertaining. (A more recent feat of onstage strength can be seen here, by the way).

I wrote Mark Prindle to ask why he has no Thor reviews on his site, and he responded with one line: "Because he's awful?" I actually considered arguing. Whatever Thor may be, "awful" is not the word for it. "Absolutely ridiculous" might apply, but then, weren't the Ramones also absolutely ridiculous? Isn't a goodly part of the rock and roll transaction fundamentally absurd? Would it be fun any other way? Since when in the world of rock has "ridiculous" been tantamount to "bad?"

I have written a praising review of Thor for next month's Nerve Magazine. And today, I braced myself against all sense of shame and good taste and marched into Scratch to buy me some Thor CDs.

The cover art for Thor Against the World says it all, really. God help me, you know - I almost hoped I would roll my eyes and come to my senses as soon as I popped it into my discman - but I actually think I enjoy this album. The guy at Thor's merch table warned me that this would happen, but I didn't believe him. And then Thor mounted the stage in Norse warrior gear and began to wave his hammer in the air, and... at first I was startled, and then I was confused, and then I was fascinated... and then I started to actually enjoy myself.
Please, friends, don't worry about me. I'll be okay, really.
I highly advise anyone in this city who has NOT seen Thor to go to the Backstage Lounge on December 1st for his CD release party for Into the Noise, his new album. You will be entertained, I promise. You may be other things as well, but I promise: you will be entertained.

No Country for Serious Cinephiles

I lost considerable respect for Chicago Reader movie critic Jonathan Rosenbaum when, as cinephiles everywhere were still getting used to the loss of both Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni (on the same day last summer), he published a rather disrespectful obituary on the former - "Scenes from an Overrated Career" - basically suggesting Bergman was now irrelevant (you can find it online if you look). Certainly Bergman has fallen from his previously held stature among the majority, but I see this as more of a comment on the times: most cinema-goers are simply not morally serious enough to want to grapple with the questions that Bergman frames, and to side with them (while praising, say, Joe Dante's Small Soldiers, a favourite of Rosenbaum's) is in fact far more revealing about the critic than the criticized. The problem wasn't really Rosenbaum's opinions of Bergman, however (friends of mine share his indifference to Bergman, and I don't hold it against them): the real issue was that I felt it indecent of him to publish such a thing so fast after Bergman's death. Perhaps he'd been waiting to do so, either not having the courage or the cruelty to publish it while he was alive; it seems more likely that he just thought he could maximize the attention it would convey upon him, to write so disrepectfully of a man whom others were mourning. In a way, it's a sort of backhanded compliment, to be so eager to capitalize on someone's death, but no less, it was in extremely bad taste, and proof that Rosenbaum's own opinions, however perceptive he may sometimes be, need to ever be regarded with some degree of skepticism.

I have to admit, though, I still read his reviews. There aren't many mainstream critics I do that with. I'll usually will poke my head in to see what Ebert says, or Vancouver-based Tom Charity; and I'll read Rosenbaum. I read, for instance, his views on Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men. Whatever his failings, they make for an interesting take on the film - questioning why we need another romanticized portrait of an invincible evil, and how that functions in the current political climate. One suspects that Rosenbaum was predisposed to dislike this film - he doesn't care much for the Coens, and has written well about their failings in the past (I'd recommend seeking out his review of Barton Fink, for those interested. I don't believe it's online, but it is in one of his books, maybe Movies as Politics. It's perceptive, well-written, and is so sensitive that it would almost suggest that Rosenbaum does have some fairly refined principles of taste and decorum, which simply don't apply to speaking ill of the dead). His approach to No Country for Old Men, however, is kind of lazy. He praises the craft of the film, but, since he doesn't want to be bothered at looking closely at it, he simply rejects it as a whole for the story it presumes to tell.

In fact, there are many, many more reasons to reject No Country for Old Men than Rosenbaum provides, particularly if one has read the novel on which it is based. Though this has been an issue of contention - a surprising number of members of the Criterion Forum completely disagree with me, and the film has 95% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment - it seems to me, anyhow, that the Coens show the same contempt for folksy rural types that runs throughout Fargo, framing them as ridiculous throughout. They introduce various notes of humour that lighten the film's impact - smugly framing an overweight trailer court manager as being utterly ridiculous, for instance. Worse, they considerably bungle their depiction of one of three main characters in the book, an aging lawman driven to despair by the brutality of the crimes he's witnessing. Tommy Lee Jones is directed to portray the character as a weepy-eyed, blinking, often-near-comical version of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo. As I recall, half of the time we see him onscreen, he's eating - hardly the most dignified of actions. The idea that his point of view should be taken seriously is completely effaced in the course of the film, even though his voice, impotent though it may nonetheless be, is the closest to McCarthy's own in the book; only in the closing moments does Jones gain any degree of moral credibility, and by then, it's too late.
The story goes like this: good guy finds a great deal of money at the scene of a drug transaction in which all participants were left dead. Takes the money, is pursued by a bad guy, while a well-meaning Sheriff looks on. The bad guy - comparable to Judge Holden in McCarthy's most-praised, and most ambitious, novel, Blood Meridian - presents as an articulate voice of evil. He's the only character with a clear philosophy, and it seems to work for him. My copy of the book is elsewhere at the moment, so I can't do Chigurh's worldview justice, but it IS frighteningly compelling, and informs his peculiar choice of allowing matters of life and death - the life and death of others, that is - to be occasionally decided on a coin toss. If Rosenbaum had read the novel, he might have tried a different tack in condemning the Coens' latest film, since the meaning of the story would be clear: the opposition between a virtue that cannot compete (our powerless Sheriff Bell), but which our moral impulses side with, against a completely unacceptable, predatory, but coherent and strangely, brutally attractive philosophy of life, is a significant question for our time. What can mediocre virtue do in the face of great evils? Will virtue prevail, and if so - how?

Not only do the Coen's fail to get us to identify with the voice of virtue in the novel, however - they fail to make their evil force particularly great. Javier Bardem is creepy as Chigurh, but rather repulsive - more of a menacing, evil clown than a Satanic minion - and his exposition of his philosophy is so abbreviated that it hardly compels our agreement. An episode at the end of the film - I cannot be specific without spoilers, so I'll remain vague - that should seem like a black joke at Chigurh's expense, courtesy of the very forces that he believes he is allied with, comes across as random and meaningless. It's a great shame, really, that the Coens fail to bring this story to the screen; I would have been quite pleased if they'd kept their smarminess in check and did justice to the tale, since I think that McCarthy's voice, and this book - light though it may be, relative to the rest of his canon - are important to our times. And in an age where Ingmar Bergman can be blithely dismissed as overrated, cinema clearly is in a state of crisis. What was the last morally serious new film YOU saw?
I can bet you this: it wasn't No Country for Old Men.

Best moment in the film, for what it's worth: when Moss finds the crime scene at the beginning of the film, he looks through his binoculars to see a wounded dog running away. The dog looks back over its shoulder at him. It's a chilling image - it has the quality of an omen. It's a shame the rest of the film doesn't live up to it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens: the complete interview

Vancouver's gay and lesbian biweekly, Xtra West, ran my interview with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens a couple of weeks ago. It looked great, and was a fun read; I've always been utterly happy with how Xtra West handles my articles, but there was a LOT of material that didn't make it into the paper, due to space restrictions. The full text of my interview with Annie and Beth (including a more expansive introduction) is offered below. Note: sorry, this isn't promoting any upcoming visits to Vancouver, I'm just stickin' it up while it's still more or less current!

Love, Peace, and Breasts: A Chat with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens

When last a feature on Annie Sprinkle ran in one of Vancouver’s alternative papers, fans of hers had cause to be worried: the positive-minded New Age sex guru, filmmaker, and PhD sexologist had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Though cancer of any form is never welcome, to those aware of her work, this may have seemed a singularly cruel fate: for years, the former pornstar has used her breasts as an asset and objet d’art. Sprinkle supplements her income with “tit prints” (produced by coating a fulsome boob in paint and pressing it to paper); she ended her last Vancouver appearance to hearty applause by unsheathing her breasts for the audience and making them dance to Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz (the “Bosom Ballet”). Those worried for Annie can breathe a sigh of relief – not only has the resilient Dr. Sprinkle had a lump successfully removed, without need for a mastectomy, she is in typically good spirits about the whole experience. This is in part due to the efforts of her primary caregiver, partner, and collaborator, Dr. Elizabeth Stephens.

Beth Stephens is described on Annie and Beth’s site,, as a “sexy dyke playboy,” and as a ” Professor of Art and of Digital Art/New Media... affiliated with the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.” Her artwork, as described at, sounds brilliant and very funny – for example, The Academic/Porn Star Panty Collection, a series of bronzed (used) undergarments designed as a “homage and a wink to the bravery and chutzpah of porn stars and adventurous academics who are physically and intellectually stimulating, be it in the classroom or on the silver screen” (Annie’s panties are included in the series and can be bought through the shop at Together, Annie and Beth are currently touring Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art. The description on the Love Art Lab site describes it as “a theater/performance art show about our relationship, exploring artificial insemination, breast cancer treatments, queer weddings, art experiments, aging, sexuality and more.” The piece is intended as “a response to the war, anti-gay marriage sentiment and the politics of breast cancer,” and will be coming to Toronto for Buddies in Bad Times, on June 19th (note: this interview is actually almost a year old, so that was LAST June...). Annie and Beth “invite everyone to a genuine celebration and critical public exploration of the deepest realms of romantic, sexual and familial love to bring about positive social change.”

Over the course of a three way phone conversation, Annie and Beth talked about their experiences overcoming cancer, and provided a bit of background on their current work. The two just held a “big fat queer wedding” in Calgary – the first legal marriage of the three they’ve undertaken thus far, thanks to Canada’s progressive legislation. It’s colour-coded as the Yellow Wedding, corresponding with the third chakra and a focus on “Courage and Power” (each year has a colour, a chakra, and a theme; 2005, the Red Wedding, focused on Security and Survival; the Orange Year, 2006, was themed around Sexuality and Creativity).

Allan: What was your impression of Annie when you first met her?

Beth: Oh, I thought she was just as hot as could be.

Annie: Aww!

Beth: My first impression was like, I got totally wet panties.

Annie: It was lust at first sight.

Allan: When did you meet?

Beth: When I first met Annie, she lived in New York City. I was in graduate school, and then we met again later in San Francisco. I moved to the west coast and then she moved to the west coast and we got together for a date out here.

Allan: Were you at all intimidated by Annie’s background?

Beth: No, I think it’s great that she slept with all those people, so that she’d have a lot of practice for me! They got her ready. Annie: Not too many lesbians could handle, y’know, their lover having had thousands of lovers –

Beth: But I just say, “Bring it on!”

Annie: – so it was very nice. She’s very open-minded. And very sex positive. Of course I’d have to marry someone sex-positive.

Beth: Well, you wouldn’t have to.

Annie: Thank god I married someone sex positive!

Allan: Beth, are you from New York originally?

Beth: No, I’m originally from West Virginia, which is a little redneck state in the Appalachian mountains.

Annie: She’s a rodeo girl.

Beth: I’m a hillbilly.

Annie: A very smart hillbilly.

Allan: You’re an academic, right?

Beth: Yeah, I’m the chair of the art department at UC Santa Cruz. That makes me not exactly an academic.

Allan: You’ve done graduate studies?

Beth: Well, we’ve both done graduate studies. In fact, Annie has a doctorate, and I don’t have a doctorate, but I am a professor – go figure! (laughs)

Annie: She has a Masters in fine arts from a very good university, from Rutgers.

Allan: I was actually confused by that when Annie spoke up here in Vancouver. It sounded like she said part of her doctorate was honorary...?

Annie: Oh, no – I got several credits for life experience, I might have said that. But no, I did a PhD dissertation, and everything. I went to the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. There’s only about three places where you can get a degree in human sexuality, and that’s one of the few. And it’s been around a long time... My dissertation was on “Providing Educational Opportunities for Sex Workers.” It was about, where do sex workers learn about their work, and if they want to learn more about their work, where do they go? And I developed a program to educate sex workers. It was a research study, and I developed an educational program that would be a four day intensive, called the Sweat Training. So I created a training...

Allan: Is anyone using it?

Annie: No, uh-huh. It would be fantastic. Maybe someday.

Allan: So right now, you’re making your living more or less as an artist, right Annie?

Annie: Yeah.

Allan: If I could ask, then, the issue of medical insurance - how did that work out with Annie’s brush with cancer?

Beth: Well, in the state of California, there are domestic partner laws, and my university is very – very -

Annie: Progressive.

Beth: Progressive, yeah. So we had health insurance.

Annie: Beth takes very good care of me.

Beth: That’s mutual. Annie takes very good care of me, too.

Annie: Aww! ... (To me): You’ve done your research, obviously.

Allan: Well, yeah. And I’ve been a fan of Annie’s for years, though I don’t know Beth’s work very well. Some of it sounds brilliant, like the bronzed panties...

Annie: It is a stunning piece. You should see how beautiful it is.

Allan: How do academics respond to it?

Beth: Well, of course, it depends on the academic. Some of the people who write about the most outrageous things wouldn’t be caught dead letting me bronze their panties, but, um, some academics, they just love it. I mean, it’s very titillating, and they really get off on it. I think academics aren’t used to being seen as sex objects, although some academics are. There are always the students who have the crushes on their teachers.

Annie: I find academics really hot.

Allan: You have a thing for, like, lawyers and straight types, right Annie?

Annie: Yeah, well – particularly academics.

Beth: This year.

Annie and Beth: (laughter).

Annie: I used to have a thing for lawyers, now its academics.

Allan: You’re obviously proud of your PhD – I mean, even your email address says Dr. Annie Sprinkle – but you’re making your living as an artist...

Annie: I also am a sexologist and a sex educator, and I actually use that email address because I was doing personal coaching – sex-life coaching – so I kind of wear a variety of hats.

Allan: If I can ask about finances, do you get royalties from your old porn stuff?

Annie: No. I own a few of the movies I produced, but of the old movies, no. But I do sell some porn movies on my website.

Allan: Those are the ones you actually have the rights to?

Annie: No, I buy them wholesale and sell them. But I get a good deal, so I still make money on them.

Beth: But we’re good Americans, so we’re really in debt. We’re working to get out of it.
Annie: We have two beautiful houses that Beth bought and re-did, and we’re hoping to buy another one.

Beth: Well, the bank has two beautiful houses that I’ve redone.

Annie: She’s very handy.

Beth: I figure if I can just buy one more house and fix it up and sell it, we’ll be doing okay.
Annie: But yeah, I’m actually in a business course right now, because I have spotless credit, but I have not been good at managing money.

Beth: But she’s been great at making money.

Annie: Good at making it, and even better at spending it... College gigs pay the best, probably, if you go by the day, but we love doing theatre. We have a piece called Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art, and that’s really the work, I mean, that’s the hardcore heart of the Love Art Lab...

Beth: We also make visual art.

Annie: We’re great collaborators, and we’re very happy working together, but it would be great if there was more funding in the United States...

Annie and Beth (chiming in): For the arts.

Annie: And less for war.

Beth: We’ve actually worked internationally more than we have nationally. We’ve worked in Germany, we’ve had pieces in Russia, we’ve had pieces in France, and Austria...We’re going back to Austria.

Annie: We’ve worked more out of the country. They have better funding in Europe.

Beth: In Canada, too!

Allan: What was Calgary like?

Beth: We loved it. The people were so generous, and so enthusiastic about our wedding – we had a beautiful wedding, and all these artists, all these Calgary artists came and performed and did beautiful pieces.

Annie: We only knew four people, out of 250 people, at our wedding – but it was a big happy family. In fact, my Maid of Honour was Victoria Singh, who used to run the Western Front there in Vancouver. She was the curator of the Western Front.

Beth: And she was just extraordinarily lovely.

Allan: Tell me about the chakras and colour coding – how do they apply to this year?

Beth: Well, we’re going to forefront the colour yellow in our lives, and we’ll also really concentrate on projects that have to do with courage and power. So it’ll be a guiding theme for our work throughout the whole year.

Annie: Our wedding was yellow, so it’s called Yellow Wedding Three. It was part of the One Yellow Rabbit High Performance Rodeo in Calgary.

Allan: This sounds like LaMonte Young named it.

Annie and Beth: (giggle)

Beth: We did one of his pieces too!

Annie: We did a LaMonte Young piece?

Beth: Yeah, we did. “Zen for Head” was actually LaMonte Young, but Nam June Paik made it famous.

Allan: So...pieces centering on courage and power. What sort of things are you planning to do?

Annie: Get arrested.

Beth: Yeah.

Allan: Get arrested?

Beth: Well, we really use the Love Art Laboratory as a platform to speak out against things like the war. We make comments on a lot of the sort of newsworthy items that are happening around the world. We’re trying to counteract some of that stuff. So we’re hoping this year to be really courageous and to make a really big political statement at some point, which in the United States can get you arrested very easily.

Allan: Annie, I know you had trouble once with getting arrested some of your porn, when you were making a magazine with amputee pornstar Long Jean Silver. Beth, have you had problems with the law?

Beth: Well, not that I really want to talk about!

Allan, Annie and Beth: (laughter).

Beth: But thank you for asking!

Allan: Nothing in the context of political activism.

Beth: No.

Allan: Do you want to be more specific about what you’re planning?

Annie: We’re going to continue our theatre piece, Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art.

Beth: We do have a three week engagement in New York in the spring.

Annie: We believe we’re living our lives as art, so it’s very organic. It’s like – whatever we go through in our life, we make into art.

Beth: So we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do. We’ve just sort of set our intention.

Allan: On the topic of making life art, is there anything you hold back, or is everything made public?

Annie: We try to hold our bellies in, that’s about it.

Allan, Annie and Beth (laugh).

Annie: We’re all for people showing their bellies, but we hold ours in.

Beth: Well, we don’t hold ours in very well. But this being the year of power and courage, the power and courage chakra is located right about in the belly, right in the solar plexus.

Annie: Yeah, we’re gonna let our belly OUT.

Beth: Yeah, we’re gonna lead with our bellies this year.

Annie: So actually we might even show our bellies. That would be about the most courageous thing we could do! (Laughter).

Annie: We talked about riding the subway in New York topless, just because we can. It’s legal there.

Beth: Yeah.

Annie: You can be anywhere in public topless, because men can, so they made it equal.

Allan: Actually, there’s a woman in my hometown, Maple Ridge, who gets arrested again and again doing that. She’s portrayed in the media very unsympathetically – as an eccentric attention-seeker.

Beth: Is Maple Ridge in Canada?

Allan: Yeah. It’s this suburban burg – it’s rednecky. I forget her name...

Annie: Have you interviewed her?

Allan: No, I haven’t!

Annie: You should!

Allan: I might... In terms of the war – what’s the current political climate like there? It seems like Bush is –

Annie: He’s out of control, is the way we see it.

Beth: Yeah, but you know what, we live in California, and we live in Northern California, which is a very liberal, y’know, ‘bright spot’ in the country. I think the war is very complicated right now. We already have all these kids over there, and we’re getting ready to send, what, 21,000 more? I mean, it’s just like Vietnam - if the country no longer supports the war, but we keep sending these kids over there, then they’re just like little sheep to the slaughter. It’s sad. I mean, the United States is pretty much hated in the Middle East right now, except for the little warlords that Bush is smiling upon to give them power.

Allan: If I could ask, Annie, I know your background is Jewish, and I have no idea how that fits into your work...

Annie: Jewish blood, raised Unitarian. And then I became sort of Tantrist-Buddhist.

Allan: Do any feelings about Israel or the problems in the Middle East come into your work?

Annie: Well, I’m for peace and love, all the way round for all people. Wherever there’s war, I’d like to see more love, more peace. I just wish everyone everywhere could tone down the violence, no matter who you are, what country – it doesn’t matter what nationality or borders. I see one world with lots of really violent people, and y’know, just whoever’s being violent, stop it right now! (chuckles). The thing is, Beth and I wanted to do art to comment on the war, but we didn’t want to add to the violent imagery out there. We wanted to do something kind of – how did we describe it?

Beth: We wanted to put our energy into things that we were very attracted to, not to the things that – um -

Annie: Repulse us.

Beth: That repulse us. And so instead of protesting the war directly –

Annie: Or making some piece of art with blood and bombs and blown up cars, to try to show the violence of it –

Beth: We decided to make work about love. I mean, that’s really very simple. It’s a very simple strategy on our part. And people have responded. I mean, these weddings – who would think that anyone would want to go so see two middle-aged lesbian ladies putting on this sort of crazy wedding ceremony? But we sold out days before the wedding happened, and people really enjoyed being someplace that was just dedicated to love, y’know? And I think there’s a real need for that in the world right now. I think people are burned out, really, on all the violence, all the scandal, all the political muckracking.

Annie: A lot of negativity. And people want more hope. Y’know, I think there’s so many churches. And Hallmark! We’re offering an alternative to Hallmark cards and church.

Allan (laughing): We need that, very much... Um, if I could ask you about cancer, that’s another big theme in your work lately. Annie, you’re totally okay now?

Annie: Mm-hmm! I mean, I have both boobs, and I’m a year out of treatment now. And Beth helped me get through it together, ‘cos Beth took on the cancer – we took it on as a couple, and took it on as artists. So we made art out of our experience, so... I can look back and go, that was a worthwhile experience because of what we made, you know?

Allan: How sick did you get?

Annie: I was never, ever sick. I just got sick from the chemo and from the radiation.

Beth: She was very tired.

Annie: I was just Phase One, but the treatments definitely made you kind of sick, but the actual cancer, it was just a hard spot in my breast that I felt. It was never an issue really, but if you leave it there, you can grow.

Allan: What were the reactions on ward to your “Chemo-Fashion Show,” where you dressed up on ward in various funny costumes? Were other cancer patients seeing that happening?

Annie: Yeah. We had a wonderful doctor, and you go into this room – and it’s like a beauty parlour, with ladies sitting in chairs, attached to these IVs... They were very supportive, and we were pretty disruptive, doing this.

Beth: But I think that the patients liked it, even though, I mean – we heard some really sad stories, because there were people there that obviously were not going to be cured. But it wasn’t just about death and dying or being sick. We were really doing something else – were being creative.

Annie: It was about love. That room, where all the ladies were getting chemo, it was a very loving place, and so Beth and I were really inspired by that. We made what we called a “Love Infusion Center,” and we don’t have the pictures of this on our site – actually, there’s some pictures of a Love Infusion Center we did in our garage, the first one... So we made these places where people can go and sit down on a couch or a chair or a gynaecology table or whatever, and they can be attached to coloured liquids...

Beth: We actually had a laying on of hands at our last Love Infusion, when people would just stand around this one person and put their hands on them and just send them love.

Annie: We gotta get those pictures up on our website. They’re really wonderful... so we made these Love Infusion Centers, so everyone could get loved up, because everybody has something to heal, or some pain, or some sadness. It’s the human condition.

Beth: Everybody needs some love!

Annie: Everybody needs some love.

Allan: Speaking of that – I read about an elixir that was used. Were there actual, uh, chemicals involved in that?

Annie: It was more alchemy – we mixed fruit juices –

Beth: Transubstantiation. Speaking from a non-Jewish point of view here.

Allan: What did it mean to be Annie’s primary caregiver?

Annie: Well, working on a theatre piece!

Beth: Yeah, we started our theatre piece during the time when she was getting chemotherapy.

Allan: Exposed.

Beth: Yeah. So we were working on a theatre piece. I went to all of her medical treatments with her, and made sure that she was getting good care. And then while we were at the medical treatments, we were often documenting the medical treatments, so I was the primary photographer for all that. You know, we also had to have the costumes ready to go to the medical treatments, because every time we’d go, we’d dress in a different costume. And then, I don’t know... as much fun as we had, it was hard, also. I actually took a medical leave from school, and I just tried to take care of everything, so she didn’t have to worry about stuff.

Annie: And she helped out financially, so I didn’t have to work. But we did make a lot of art stuff...

Beth: Yeah, we really made a lot of work.

Annie: We made collages out of the radiation treatment plans, the computerized graphics to find out how much radiation to give. I got copies of those and we made collages. Beth: They’re for sale. You can buy them through the website...

Annie: We’re showing them in art galleries... we have one in France right now. When we get our new website up, there’ll be a shop.

Allan: And of course, Beth, you shaved your head to be in solidarity with Annie... Annie, did you need to shave your head, or were you just trying to anticipate what was going to happen?

Annie: Well, it’s always much nicer to shave your head than to have it every day falling out, because that’s really upsetting and unpleasant, whereas if you shave your head, it’s kind of a cleansing experience.

Beth: It’s proactive.

Allan: It’s a marvellously sensual thing to do.

Annie: Yeah. That’s funny, because we’re going back and forth if we should shave our heads again for Exposed.

Beth: There’s a very important part of the show that involves our heads being shaved, at the climax. That’s nice to hear you describe it as a deliciously sensual thing to do.

Annie: Maybe we should just tell people we shaved our heads because it’s erotic!
Beth: An erotic ritual.

Allan: It also does odd things with gendering. I think Elizabeth said somewhere that in Scotland, there was a piece where people were confused about your gender identities because you were both bald... You see more bald men than you see bald women.

Beth: Yes, usually.

Allan: I read somewhere that during the Cuddling piece (an event held during the Red Year, in which gallery visitors could cuddle with Sprinkle and Stephens under a red “security blanket,” to correspond with the year’s theme) there was a bit of a problem, a riot or something.

Beth: No, there was no violence. People just really wanted to cuddle us up. There was a traffic jam, but there was no violence. I think at the reception of our wedding in Calgary, they hired extra security, because they were a little bit afraid there was going to be a huge mass of people.

Annie: Protestors.

Beth: But so far we’ve never really encountered violence.

Annie: We’re lovers, not fighters.

Allan: Even in the States?Beth: Even in the States. Allan: Are there places where you don’t go?

Beth: We go anywhere. I mean, listen, I grew up in probably what is considered one of the most backwards parts of the United States. And I know the people that are in those places that in those places, and I love the people that are in those places, so I’m not afraid of the people that are in those places. I welcome bringing our point of view to people who don’t share it. We will take the Love Art Lab anywhere. I really mean that. I’d really welcome bringing our work somewhere our viewpoints are not shared.

Annie: With our weapons of mass seduction.

Beth: Yeah.

Allan: Okay, a couple of final questions. Annie, I saw on your website that you were giving your name as Annie M. Sprinkle. I don’t think I’ve seen the M before now. What’s the story behind that?

Annie: Have you ever seen the picture of the tombstone that says Annie M. Sprinkle? There’s a tombstone picture I’ve used in my work and my books and stuff, it’s of an actual Annie M. Sprinkle who died in 1872 or something, and a relative sent me a picture of it. I really have a myth about it, so I took her middle initial and I just say it stands for Mermaid. Because I’m really a Mermaid at heart – or I was in one of my last incarnations – meaning in one of my last nine lives.

Allan: The other thing – maybe the answer will be interesting, but it’s a bit weird: what happened to the tumour? There’s a photo of it on the site...

Beth: We sold it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (laughs).

Allan: You’re kidding?

Beth: I’m kidding.
Annie: We should have saved it! No, actually, it goes into a tumour bank. All tumours are saved in tumour banks.

Allan: For, like, research purposes.

Beth: Yeah, they freeze them and kind of use them for research.

Annie: Yeah, they take little slivers...

Beth: Breast cancer is an absolute epidemic now. It’s in epidemic proportions.

Allan: How worried were you, Annie? Are you a worrier?

Annie: No. You know, it’s funny, because when I came out of all the cancer stuff, I really felt like I came out a winner. I came out ahead, somehow. And I had that same experience with porn. You know, like other people go into porn or prostitution, and, I mean, a lot of people do have bad experiences, but I always felt no matter what I came out ahead, somehow. So I think I just have that attitude. If you learn, you grow. If you learn, you win, so... I never thought I would die, but you never know, I never thought I’d get breast cancer... On the other hand, having breast cancer fits right in with the work I’d been doing, which is all about breasts. So if I had to get a disease, I’m really happy it was breast cancer!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Scratch Records, Nerve Magazine, Blake Nelson, etc: a placeholder

Hey, y'all: in the next week or so, we'll have a Keith Parry interview, a Blake Nelson interview (author of Paranoid Park, recently adapted into a film I didn't like much - see below -by Gus van Sant) and some photographs from Femke of the Scratch Records celebrations, featuring Black Mountain, Thor, and much more... but right now, actually, I've gotta finish some related stuff for the Nerve Magazine, who have a deadline (which my blog lacks). We'll have this all up soon enough, really. Pax.

Saw two really cute things on a wet walk home over the Cambie street bridge tonight (the long route home from Pat's Pub). The first was a rat, scared of me, trying to run away along the endless linear stretch of the bridge, trying to conceal itself by running along the inner edge of the ledge. It would get about thirty yards ahead and stop, amidst flowing rain and wet leaves, to catch its breath, eventually relaxing, then suddenly (as I continued my walk) I was upon it again. It would give a startled leap - literally bouncing up into the air - and re-commence the sprint, as I called after it soothing phrases, feeling guilty for its panic and kind of wanting it to stop so I could check it out. This repeated itself three times - three startled leaps and sprints - before the rat figured out that the bridge was long and that I was going to continue on my course, whereupon it made a move of considerable intelligence, a sort of calculated gamble as a way of solving its problem: it ran in front of me, hopped onto the ledge, and getting as far onto the side as it could without plunging into the water below, zoomed in the opposite direction. Smart guy! I continued on my way, and the rat got to realize that I'd never, in fact, been chasing it at all. I hope he didn't feel too stupid.

Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw my second cute thing: a blonde girl walking home with a boot on one foot - and nothing on the other (if you didn't count her toenail polish). It was a bit of a hobble. I didn't stop to commiserate.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


1. I have a cold.
2. I'm 39, single, a slave to student loan debt, without a home of my own, a family of my own, or a clear sense of what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.
3. My workplace is a haven of mediocrity (the computers reserved for teachers, for instance, are still running on Windows 2000... riight).
4. Half the power in my apartment has mysteriously gone out. I've tested the fuses. All work.
5. (unspecified family issues)
6. While we're at it, human life is spiralling out of control, like a colony of ants that has grown so large it is depleting the surrounding environment and will soon collapse. We drift disconnected from the ground of being, coasting along with flows of capitalism and illusion, barely conscious, barely real.

Feelin' impotent to make changes. Frustrated, despairing. Waah.

Thought I'd share.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Skinny Mangy Bear Alert

Anyone out there with a skinny mangy bear? Bigfoot researchers need comparison shots.

By the way, a compendium of BC bigfoot stories here. And if that doesn't excite you, how about the giant black salamanders of Pitt Lake?

Terrific (new?) Holy Modal Rounders song

Hilarious and wise, a true philosophy of life. It's apparently adapted from the song "Ass Up" by some techno band called Baracuda (sic), but Stampfel appears to have greatly elaborated on the lyrics...

(EDITED TO ADD: Actually, it turns out Stampfel has never heard the Baracuda song and came to the idea of sticking his ass up in the air all on his own. Look for my interview with him in next month's Nerve Magazine).

Potluck Noise Dinner

Just got this in my inbox. Fans of the outside and challenging should make a curry and go. Not sure that I can (I have conflicting plans), but I'm sure a good time will be had by all who attend. Herjazz Noise Collective do some very cool things indeed, Sistrenatus (pictured above) is always good dark fun, and Ejaculation Death Rattle are a great little collective of weirdos with fascinatin' instrumentation and a very interesting fusion of the archaic and new. Details follow:

Potluck Noise Dinner

Saturday, November 17 - doors 7:30, show starts at 8pm
Venue: The Collection Agency (1009 E. Cordova)

Bring a dish to share (preferably vegetarian or vegan so more folks can partake) or a few bucks to pitch in.
Common Collector :

Robert Fisk reviews Rendition

I quite liked Rendition - gripping and remarkably honest (by Hollywood standards), it offers a fictionalized take on the Maher Arar case, and is by far not the worst film you could spend your money on in the theatres at the moment. I really like Robert Fisk's review of it, too. It's pretty straightforward, but I'm very happy the film won his respect; Fisk is a journalist I've long admired - it's nice to see him review a movie!

My Year of Fish, aka Fishing with Ruth: John Lurie, Ruth Ozeki, and a fun little series of synchronicities

(I've had cause to tell this story a couple of times lately, so I thought I'd blog it. Cheers to John Lurie - who I'm told is quite ill these days - and Ruth Ozeki).

In the late 90’s, before it was available on VHS, and before DVDs were widespread, I knew quite a bit about John Lurie’s ironic fishing show, Fishing with John, and was very excited to see it. I’d told a painter friend of mine, Thomas Ziorjen, all about it – he and I were both big Lounge Lizards/John Lurie fans. I was on the way to Japan, though, where I taught English for three years, and if it ever ran on TV in Canada before I left, I missed it; the only way to catch the show was on the IFC in the US, at that point. Ah, well.

It wasn’t long after I settled in Japan that I started regularly visiting my local video chainstore (Tsutaya) – your standard suburban video store in Saitama, just north of Tokyo. I felt a bit isolated over there, so I’d watch a lot of movies. One day I was poking about, trying to find films I hadn’t seen, which was always a challenge, since I could barely read the Japanese titles: they had a few odd things (Jodorowsky, Richard Kern movies, Cannibal Holocaust, different cuts of Todd Haynes’ Safe, Lynch’s Dune and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and some movie directed by Johnny Depp, with Marlon Brando in it, that no one has heard of here). Never did I expect to find the Fishing with John videos, but there they were: long before there was any video release in North America, assumedly because of the Japanese crew that shot the series, these were available in Japan. I rented them promptly, and of course was delighted by them, sitting in my tiny pasty apartment across from my tiny TV, watching them with Japanese subtitles...

Around the same time, back in BC, on the Sunshine Coast, my friend Thomas met a remarkable, beautiful, and brilliant Japanese American woman who’d just published her first novel: My Year of Meat (or Meats, depending on whether you get the British or US version). Her name was Ruth Ozeki, and she spent part of her year in BC; her partner is a friend of Thomas’. The novel follows a Japanese American woman who is hired to help translate for an unusual documentary series, being shot by Japanese to promote “American meat” back home. She was explaining the book to Thomas, and saying that some of this material was inspired by her peripheral involvement in the Fishing with John series. (She’s uncredited on the DVDs, that I saw – there’s a “thanks to Ruth” that appears somewhere, but that’s about it. Her website informs me that she spent “several years directing documentary-style programs for a Japanese company,” but I don’t know exactly how she got involved with the Lurie people or what she did with them). As I heard it, Ruth was shocked when it turned out that Thomas knew all about the show, without having seen it. To Ruth (and to most people in 1999), this was a pretty obscure program. How did he ever find out about it? Thomas ended up telling her about me, in Japan.

Cut to: Japan, a couple of weeks later. I’m in Tokyo, looking through the English language section of Kinokuniya, one of the bigger book chains, and there I see this rather quirky-lookin’ book: it’s called My Year of Meat (the UK edition) and it has an image of a cow held between chopsticks on the cover. Thomas had mentioned Ozeki in an email to me, but either I didn’t read it that closely or had forgotten about it – the book didn’t resonate as something that I’d heard about. It just had a really cool cover, and looked like a smart, engaging book (which it was). I bought it based on its own apparent merits.

Sometime after I started reading it, I made the connection between the book, Fishing with John, and Thomas’ email. And eventually - thanks to Thomas - I ended up in touch with Ruth, and she inscribed the book for me (I actually have signed British and US firsts, one mailed to her from Canada, one from Japan, that she signed and sent back to me). It remains one of the more pleasant incidents of synchronicity – Ruth, her book, and Fishing with John all falling across my path in short order, while Ruth was hearing about me; I doubt anyone else has as cool a story about stumbling across either Ruth's book or John's TV show, though who knows...? (The internet, by making all of this stuff SO EASY to seek out, kind of makes stories like this rare these days, I imagine - though there was my Patricia Highsmith online synchronicity awhile back). I was really pleased to see My Year of Meats get promoted widely in BC last year (long after its initial publication). If anyone out there hasn't read it, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Anyhow, after Ruth Ozeki had been so nice as to sign my books, I wanted to send her a gift. It turns out there was a CD released at that time that not many people knew about: Marvin Pontiac, a goofy, delightful John Lurie vocal project that he’d cooked up an elaborate fake bio for. It was one of the funniest CD releases of the year (and, I believe, Lurie's last musical project, before illness overtook him and he switched to painting. See the interviews with him linked here for more on his condition). There was no indication on the packaging of Lurie’s involvement: the first clue would be her recognizing his voice on the first track, “I’m a Doggie” (which begins, “I got a bone for you..."). I bought it in Tokyo and mailed it out: can’t get more perfect than that as a gift. I wish I’d been there when she first played it...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sublime Frequencies at Blim on Friday

Hey, folks - Blim will be hosting a Sublime Frequencies event this Friday. Thought some of you might be interested - the Blim mailing was as follows. I'm told that there may be a Bishop in attendance - Hisham and Robert will be there:
Friday, November 2
$5 – 10 sliding 8 – 11 PM
Blim and CAST EXOTIC ARCHIVES present:

Palace of the Winds
Director: Hisham Mayet

Palace of the Winds explores a culture that is cloaked in mystery and mired in struggle: the Saharawis from the dry, tea-fueled and wind swept Mauritanian Sahara. Journey through music from the northern fringes of the Western Sahara to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott—an intoxicating tapestry of sight and sound from some of this obscure region's most legendary musicians. colour/45 min

My Friend Rain
Director: Robert Millis
A collage of musical segments, tropical backdrops, and mysterious celebratory events from rainy mornings in the lowlands of the Ayerwaddy river to the humid nights of Java's Dangdut scene. Decay and rebirth through the endless Asian monsoon cycle. Captured live and in the moment by Robert Millis and Alan Bishop on location in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia and Laos. colour/45 min

Sublime Frequencies is a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations. SUBLIME FREQUENCIES is focused on an aesthetic of extra-geography and soulful experience inspired by music and culture, world travel, research, and the pioneering recording labels of the past including OCORA, SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS, ETHNIC FOLKWAYS, LYRICHORD, NONESUCH EXPLORER, MUSICAPHONE, BARONREITER, UNESCO, PLAYASOUND, MUSICAL ATLAS, CHANT DU MONDE, B.A.M., TANGENT, and TOPIC.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Another night of strange dreams

The other night, I dreamed that I telephoned a charismatic Lakota "spiritual teacher" of my youth - this being a real person, not a dream; he was quite an important figure in my getting my shit together in my late 20's. We had something of a falling out - a "disillusioned disciple confronts his guru" kind of cliche - after which, he walked away; I haven't spoken to him since (about eight years ago). It was odd, then, to talk to him on the phone, even if it was in a dream. Mostly, on the phone, he talked about himself -- it was a bit of a one-way conversation, which I remember thinking was fitting. I woke up in a more serious mindframe, for having spoken to him.

Last night, I dreamed that I had encountered a charismatic crank - an old man with a Slavic accent who lived in a trailer with his wife and was on some sort of nature trip. I don't remember what the specifics of it were, but I do remembering asking him what he cleaned his dishes with, and him answering that he used soap -- along with water and milk. (The milk made it smell better, he explained). I could tell he was an eccentric, but I was considering becoming his student anyhow. At one point -- while waiting outside a grocery store for my new teacher to finish his shopping -- I phoned my friend M., to report this to her. I told her about some other dream I'd had, involving, I thought, a statue of Pope John Paul II (whom she admires); the statue was hollow, but filled with gold, and I had reached up inside it to get some of the gold out. "What does it mean - it's hollow, it's empty means it's false, without merit - but then, it's filled with gold?" (I was unsure if it was exactly a statue of the Pope - maybe it was a popstar, and said so to her - maybe it was Tom Petty, or someone else. In fact, I'm not even sure if this dream-within-a-dream was actually a dream I'd had earlier in the night, or if the memory of it was false from the gitgo). Then I told her that I was considering subordinating myself to an eccentric spiritual teacher again, maybe to compensate for a perceived lack of guidance in my youth; I remember sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store (in Maple Ridge, where I grew up - I'd perversely located the dream in a place where there hasn't been a grocery store in ten years) looking out at the traffic zooming by, feeling that old feeling of confusion and dismay at how completely insane human life is, wondering how anyone could possibly be guided through all this mess...

There was also my old "interrupted masturbation" dream motif, last night. I had a bunch of magazines I was going to jerk off to, but people kept showing up and I couldn't make it. Part of that dream saw me back in the room I grew up in, in Maple Ridge, listening to a very, very old console stereo I had as a child - it used to have a black and white TV in the center, but we scooped that out when it stopped working and kept it for the stereo. At some point, in the dream, that stopped working, too...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cow-Eating Trees

The site where this appears is laden with sneaky pop-ups, so I've just copied it out. Haven't posted any cryptozoology stuff in awhile, and thought this was pretty special.

'Cow-eating' trees of Padrame
October 23 2007 14:24 IST

MANGALORE: Carnivorous trees grabbing humans and cattle and gobbling them up is not just village folklore.

Residents of Padrame near Kokkoda in Uppinangady forest range sighted one such carnivorous tree trying to dine on a cow last Thursday. According to reports, the cow owned by Anand Gowda had been left to graze in the forests.

The cow was suddenly grabbed by the branches and pulled from the ground. The terrified cowherd ran to the village, and got Gowda and a band of villagers to the carnivorous tree.

Before the tree could have its meal, Anand Gowda and the villagers struck mortal blows to the branches that turned limp and the cow was rescued. Uppinangady range forest officer (RFO) Subramanya Rao said the tree was described as ‘pili mara’ (tiger tree) in native lingo.

He had received many complaints about cattle returning home in the evenings without tails. On Friday, the field staff confirmed coming across a similar tree in Padrane, partially felled down.

However no detailed inquiry was made as the authorities were not asked for any report, Rao said.

Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens: a Love Infusion for Vancouver

Ah, fall: Vancouver is overwhelmed once more by darkness and rain, after barely having had a summer at all. If you're feelin' like things are a bit of a slog - and I certainly am - it may be the perfect time to be cheered up by an interview with sex postive feminist, filmmaker, and artist Annie Sprinkle and her partner (academic and artist) Beth Stephens. The photo above is from their joint website, the Love Art Lab, where there's much to read from them; but speaking in terms of print media, my interview with them for Xtra West has just hit the stands. The article touches on their relationship, Annie's brush with cancer, and their various art projects together; watch this space for a much longer version of it in a few weeks!