Frederick Wiseman, provided by Zipporah.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Frederick Wiseman, provided by Zipporah.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
However: I've previewed four films for this year's DOXA festival, and all have been excellent - engaging, entertaining, and memorable. I'm recommending all of them, but not because of any payola-moochin', ass-kissin', favour-curryin' ulterior motive (it's not like DOXA is buying advertising space on my blog; no one is!). You still have a chance to see American Swing, by far the horniest and funniest of the bunch, tomorrow night; and on Saturday, there will be a screening of Frederick Wiseman's film Welfare, which I will be writing about at greater length in the next couple of days. (If you don't know Wiseman's work, you should check this out). Another film that I haven't yet reviewed, that may well be of interest to my blog followers, is In A Dream (official site here), a lovely but at times painful documentary about a singular American artist, Isaiah Zagar, who has decorated much of his South Philedelphia neighbourhood with elaborate mosaics - stunning to behold and a tourist attraction (his official site includes a map of his work and several images of it).
Isaiah and Julia; photo from the In A Dream website
In A Dream is shot by Isaiah's youngest son, Jeremy Zagar, and covers some harrowing ground indeed. Isaiah Zagar has difficulties with reality, both due to mental illness - he describes himself at one point trying to pull off his penis and testicles - and due to the fact, it seems, that he is an extremely sensitive and perceptive man possessed of considerable vision, who thus realizes that much that passes for "reality" these days is in fact insane, pernicious horseshit. (This in turn contributes to what his wife, Julia, describes as "delusions of grandeur" and what he himself describes as an addictive relationship to his work). Some of his troubles are in the past - like his suicide attempt at age 29; some of them were happening during the period when the film was being made, like his split with his wife or his older son's struggles with addiction. Through it all, we gather, art has been a coping mechanism and a source of identity and joy for the elder Zagar, who appears to be remaking the world - or at least his corner of it - to suit his vision of things, as artists are wont to do.
Jeremy Zagar approaches his subject with a gentle, dreamlike aesthetic that lends a certain artful unreality to proceedings - how, perhaps, he imagines his father perceives the world; it makes the film quite lovely to watch. There are passages I was not very comfortable with - there's something a bit strange and vaguely objectionable about a son documenting his mother and father breaking up, for public consumption, and I would have frankly been more interested in hearing about Isaiah's relationship to his work than seeing real-time documentation of his failings as a man. But the film was compelling throughout, and reveals something about the troubled relationship of the artist to the world that I don't recall having seen so honestly laid bare.
I really don't have that much else to say about In A Dream - but if you're someone who needs to see it, I've probably already said enough. It screens tomorrow at the Cinematheque.
I'll have one more entry, about Frederick Wiseman's Welfare, up in the next few days. Hope at least some of you are enjoying the festival...
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Note: after having put this up last night, to get it into the world, I decided that I wanted to re-think portions of the review. So it's been re-written and, towards the end, substantially changed.
I have never quite understood Dungeons and Dragons, or any other form of "role playing" - in the SCA, S&M, or what-have-you. There's some base level of discomfort with the idea of "lets-pretend" that I cannot wholly explain, which may reveal more about me than about D&D (which is surely no weirder than, say, Zombiewalks, which I have participated in most gleefully). As a child, I role-played often; I can remember "leading" a group of kids at the Glenwood Elementary jungle gym during recess through a make-it-up-as-you-go storyline called Dinosaurs on Mars, where we were the crew of a Star Trek-like spaceship evading prehistoric beasts while completing missions. I cannot remember any of the narratives we created - or even if there were any really "developed" stories - but I do remember being the captain of the ship, sitting atop wooden structures in the playground and shouting out to my crew to "Look out for that allosaurus!", for instance. This all seems like normal, healthy, and creative behaviour for five year old children to indulge in, but somehow, for adults in their 20's - or 30's or 40's - to invest significant amounts of their time in variants of such behaviours now seems to me to be suspect and wrong. Perhaps I fear that if I embrace such returns to childhood, some schoolyard bully will come along and beat me up? ...Whatever it is, it hits me at a gut level, which I then try to rationalize in any number of ways, usually by reference to perceived flaws on the part of the role-players: "These are social failures who have not been able to realize their perceived identities in the real world, and are resorting to make-believe as a way of making themselves feel better about themselves," and so forth; I'm sure you've heard this sort of thing before. But the fact may be that I simply don't have the courage or creativity to participate in such activities; I would be too embarrassed, too inhibited to even know where to begin, and if I actually found myself enjoying it, I would probably freak out and quit...
The Dungeon Masters, it turns out - playing at DOXA on the 26th - is the perfect D&D film for an ambivalent but curious outsider. It's directed by Keven McAlester, director of the very interesting doc on Roky Erickson, You're Gonna Miss Me, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in music, mental illness, psychotherapy, or dysfunctional family dynamics. Like that film, it manages to be quite fond of its subjects, while occasionally squinting quizzically at them, and sometimes openly chuckling. (Indeed, there are moments in The Dungeon Masters that are laugh-out-loud funny - like footage of a perfectly costumed Star Wars Stormtrooper exiting a bathroom stall at Gen Con, the role playing games convention that the film begins with, where McAlester met two of the three gamers he focuses on). The film isn't a history of D&D, and doesn't even do much to explain how the game is played; it mostly shows three different Dungeon Masters doing what they do, while sketching out their personal lives away from the world of gaming.
Like me, McAlester is an outsider to D&D, which has made some people within the gaming community skeptical about the movie; one gamer who reviewed the film found McAlester particularly unkind to two of the three gamers he focuses on, Richard Meeks and Elizabeth Reesman. There is probably some truth to this, insofar as I found both of them, as depicted by the film, quite unsettlingly strange, initially. Meeks, who - well-groomed and neat and possessed of a melodious, slightly femme speaking style - initially presents as gay, is gradually revealed to be a rather perversely sadistic Dungeon Master and a nudist (he's also an Army reservist and a convert to Judaism). The child of a broken home, he talks about the abruptness with which he walked out of his first marriage, and we are left to wonder just how happy his second marriage may be. (His current wife, Karen, says she finds gaming "a little strange" and rather boring). He appears to end games or kill off gamers with the same abruptness with which he left his first wife, chuckling at the thought of setting impossible challenges for his players, flat-out wasting them in a Sphere of Annihilation, or petulantly withdrawing as a Game Master when he tires of his players' quarrelling. Reesman, too, also seems to have difficulty in relationships, describing herself as a "drama attractor" who doesn't date well; she lives out the majority of her social life online, and her attraction to the matriarchal Drow Elf character she plays (and dresses as, when acting as a Dungeon Master at Gen Con or attending LARPs) seems tied to her men issues. Her decision to get into full-body Drow makeup - while definitely visually striking and even, in a very disturbing way, quite sexy - certainly crosses my threshold between "normal" and "weird," both compelling and repelling me at the same time (though as the film progresses one comes to accept it as simply an aspect of her life). Gamers who bristle at the cliche that they are "socially maladapted" types will probably not relish being represented by Reesman and Meeks in this film (and indeed, Reesman and Meeks may have their own issues with the way they are depicted).
(Elizabeth Reesman in costume, courtesy of DOXA; note that she even colours the part in her hair)
McAlester is kinder to his third subject, and the one, we gather, he got to know best, Scott Corum (who does not appear to have a website). Scott openly confesses to a level of social awkwardness as a youth that fuelled his interest in role-playing, which he admits to having gotten into "a little too deeply" at some points. Now a middle-aged father, Scott is shown trying to keep his creativity alive and to pay the bills and look after his family; his various career choices not having panned out - he's a trained hypnotherapist, for one, but couldn't find any work in the field - we see him working on a fantasy novel and plotting a self-promotional venture in the role of Uncle Drac, whose "repeated failures as a supervillain" have led him to a gig hosting a cable access talk show. There's heartbreakingly sweet footage of Scott playing with his son; he remains sympathetic during the odd bickering session with his wife (who must surely just want him to "get a real job"); and he tells many enjoyable and engaging stories (here's hoping that the tale of his experiences getting a vasectomy, left out of the film, makes it as an extra on the DVD). While hardly a prototype for success or maturity, he's a reasonably attractive and likable character, and makes it safe to be curious about D&D and role playing, insofar as he seems more-or-less normal.
Scott Corum in The Dungeon Masters, still provided by DOXA
Aside from any issues of whether it is entirely fair to Meeks, Reesman or Corum - because like Erroll Morris' Gates of Heaven or Chris Smith's American Movie, it does seem willing to laugh at its subjects a little - what The Dungeon Masters does really well is to use the stories of these three gamers to paint a portrait of an America where people's inner experience of ourselves - fuelled by fantasy and desire and delusion and the subjective experience of our own importance - diverges considerably from and competes with a far more mundane reality: the reality of the social roles that we all must play, of our jobs, business dealings, of our marriages and families and our responsibilities to others, who often don't care in the slightest how we "really" experience ourselves, as long as we fulfill our roles. As we watch yet another of Reesman's relationships fail, or watch Meeks reject yet another surrogate family, or see Scott find yet another failure waiting at the end of years of labour, the film becomes quite poignant, and by the end, whether we've judged them as weirdos or not, we wish all three well in their ongoing "quests" to fully bring their precious, unique selves into the world, by whatever means necessary. "I think, anybody that you dig into their lives, it becomes atypical," McAlester observed when his film screened at the 2008 TIFF, and one senses that he's right; our ability to identify with these gamers by the end of the film suggests that on some level we must be no less strange, no less human...
I think anyone interested in role playing and D&D (or who enjoyed You're Gonna Miss Me, which is tonally quite similar to The Dungeon Masters) would find much to think about with this film, and much to enjoy. Go with friends; you'll want to talk about it afterwards. (If you're a gamer, you may wish to strap on some armour before making it to the theatre, since there will be a few barbs thrown in your direction...).
The Dungeon Masters plays Tuesday at 9PM at the Vancity Theatre
The project is terrific. Dave Chokroun quipped "the wrath of math" at one point; I was kinda thinkin' "the Melvins go prog." Intense, involuted amplified acoustic guitar noodlin's and cleaver-chop chords from Albanese; Dave permuting loping electric basslines and perversifyin' them into - well, different loping electric basslines; Lyons alternately channeling Billy Martin (in terms of how he sounded) and a young John Wright (in terms of how he looked). Lyons was pleased to hear that I thought he acquitted himself just fine as a drummer, saying, "that means I have you fooled, as well" - though he also drums for Books & Branches, Cloudsplitter, Dixie's Death Pool, and D Trevlon, none of which have I heard. I wasn't really able to make out what Julian Gosper, on electronics, was doing, but then, I'm never quite sure what Martin Swope or Bob Weston are up to for Mission of Burma, either, unless the rest of the band quiet down so I can hear their contributions; my ear for electronics in live band contexts is simply not that sharp.
French For Sled Dogs are focussed and intense without being bugfuck; "math rock," as Chokroun had called them, is not an appellation that I immediately get excited about, since at times it suggests music that makes my head hurt, but there was a freedom in what French For Sled Dogs did at 1067 that kept things from getting too cerebral or manic. It was very easy to close my eyes and just listen (or to watch them; Chokroun seems to play electric bass with his jaw, or at least his lips, slightly off-kilter, something I don't recall noticing when he drums or plays his more regular acoustic bass). "I think that we play the music that I write in an organic way," Albanese tells me. "Before the guys agreed to play in the band, I usually explained that it would be some written music and some improvised. As for what I write, I would say atonal, strong rhythms and a specific mood. The guys write their own parts, unless I have a more specific idea for the rhythm section. That way it is more democratic..."
I asked Albanese about the origins of the name "French For Sled Dogs," which seems to oscillate between two different readings - the French word for "sled dogs," and, say, Berlitz instruction for huskies working in northern Quebec. Albanese directed me to Stephen Lyons, since Lyons came up with it. "The vibrating meaning between the two options is the very reason for the name," Stephen tells me. "I'm attracted to those intersections of meaning where misunderstanding is highly possible. Most people ask 'well, what IS French for 'sled dogs?' wanting to hear some French term, but fewer picture a husky sitting at a cafe, pawing through his vocab book, cramming for his coffee order..."
Lyons reports Fond of Tigers will be undertaking a tour in June, climaxing with their performance at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival with Mats Gustafsson (who now has his own website!). With luck, French For Sled Dogs will play again in town before then (and maybe use the recordings from 1067 online somewhere so I could link to'em). I'm not always wild about what I see at 1067 - since sometimes I feel like I'm watching people jam in their practice space (which, depending on the musicians, is exactly what I'm doing), but I had a great time at this show Saturday. Nice to hang out with Femke again, too!Stephen Lyons and Julian Gosper, by Femke van Delft; not to be used without persimmons.
Opening act Spectrum Interview were also interesting, but in a more subdued way; tho' Toby Carroll, on Korg, certainly got my attention when he picked up what I think was a speaker and began to bang it around on the floor in the interests of producing feedback. You don't see many people thumping their instruments on the floor these days. I encourage it.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Thanks to Theodore Stinks of the Art Bergmann fansite for pointing this stuff out!
Friday, May 22, 2009
In fact, I am in no way so hateful towards downtown these days. In particular, the sheer FUBAR hysteria of our Olympics preparation - which gives one the feeling of being stranded in a citywide clusterfuck of colossal proportions - has made living downtown, in fact, rather amusing! I keep hearing stories that tickle me; for instance, about the dull black areas now embedded in the sidewalk along various points in the much-ripped-up Granville corridor. I had been scandalized and shocked by the decision of the city to cut down all of that street's beautiful and flourishing trees, revealing just how old and ugly many of the facades are and making it look, frankly, rather like Toronto; then I heard that there were plans to make the street into a "world-class promenade." The dull black areas inserted along the widened sidewalk were apparently originally going to be made of some nicer, fancier material - black glass or such - but since we're way over budget and struggling to bring the Olympics through in the midst of a recession, the city has apparently substituted something cheaper, so boring to look at that it calls the whole venture of redoing the sidewalks into question. I also greatly look forward to seeing, when they plant new saplings along the street - as I presume is the plan - how long it takes for drunk 20somethings from the suburbs or the 'States to rip them out of the ground during their weekly revels. If any last longer than a couple of weeks, I'll be much impressed... This is all priceless as comedy, and I am no longer considering a relocation to Commercial Drive or such - I'm staying downtown!
All I need to do is find a building to live in that doesn't have bedbugs...
Sink or Swim
Friday May 22nd
A fundraiser and auction with performances by:
Spectrum Interview Electro-Acoustic Textural Onslaught http://spectruminterview.com/
Birdwise Fehr Rzemieniak Electro-Acoustic Noise Emissions Occasionally Intended For Dancing
Visuals by Victor Ballesteros
Yesod Electro-Acoustic Dub
Jason Corder and Sara Gold Kentucky-Vancouver Electro-Caustic Tele-Presence http://www.offthesky.com/
iDisaster Berlin School
Vincent Parker Dance Party Mahssif Whut http://www.myspace.com/vincentparkermusic
Brady Marks Electroglitch50squeercoreminimaldub http://www.inter-mission.org/bradymarks.html
Thomas Cunningham IV Dance Hearty Pants Party
Cody Gold Minimal Tech House and The Techno
Entrance is by donation, suggested $2 - 10. All are welcome.
A silent auction of local arts and crafts will also take place throughout the evening to be announced at midnight!
All funds generated will be donated to Kiva.org on behalf of the Global Agents for Change who will be riding their bikes from Vancouver to Tijuana in support of Kiva, a micro-loan program connecting independent lenders (you and me!) directly with struggling entrepreneurs in the developing world.http://www.Kiva.org
The Sinking Ship Gallery
440 W. Pender (across from Macleod's Books)
Back alley entrance
7pm until we can't stand anymore.
Limited capacity, get there early folks!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Larry Levenson and his partner, Mary, photographed by Donna Ferrato. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Mathew's co-director on American Swing, Jon Hart, actually got to meet Plato's Retreat founder Larry Levenson. "I was in grade school when I was first introduced to Plato’s Retreat," he says in the press release for the film. "I was having a sleepover party with a few of my classmates and we were surreptitiously watching public access television, Channel J as I recall. Unforgettably, a commercial came on that showed a scantily clad couple frolicking in an enormous swimming pool. It seemed hard to believe that such an establishment was mere blocks from where I lived with my family.
"Years later, I was working as a reporter when I got a lead that the former owner of Plato’s Retreat, Larry Levenson, was driving a New York City taxi. Immediately, a light bulb went on, bringing me back to that commercial: What was the Plato’s story? What had happened to this disbanded Plato’s tribe?
"I tracked Larry down and we met in the West Village on a cloudy, frigid afternoon right before Christmas. I sat in the passenger seat - and turned on the recorder. He was overweight and solemn. But when I asked him about his former glory, he glowed as he drove. 'We were degenerates,' Larry laughed. 'But we were good people.' In his gravelly voice, Larry regaled me with tales of his infamous club and told me that he was once a legend known as 'The King of Swing.' Later, as we drove through Central Park up the East Side, Larry became teary eyed as he discussed his estrangement from his sons. I was fascinated and I wanted to know, well…everything. I interviewed him for hours and compiled hundreds of hours of tapes. For the next four years - right up until Larry passed away following quadruple bypass heart surgery - not a day went by that we did not speak. Larry Levenson was a friend first, a subject second."
I rather envy the attendees of Plato's Retreat. I realize there are swingers and swinger's clubs still - even in Vancouver - and internet dating sites all have their share of people seeking threesomes and "swap" situations - but we seem, by and large, to live in a far more inhibited, repressed, sexually uptight time, where such behaviour is accepted (or "tolerated"), but marginalized, feared, and not really talked about. I don't know if AIDS was, as the conspiracy theory goes, engineered by the Christian right in America, but it was certainly a Godsend to them, in terms of reversing the tide of sexual liberation. Like Jon Hart, I'm old enough to remember reading - as a sexually curious teen with a fair stack of men's magazines under his bed - about Plato's Retreat back when it was still open, but I now take a fear of disease so for granted that there's something bizarrely foreign and exotic and taboo about the world of Plato's; the film at times feels like an ethnographic documentary on a people far removed from my own, whose ways could never be mine, however sweet and otherwise "normal" they might seem. It's sad, because listening to these stories, I, at least, can't but imagine myself having a good time indeed in the "mattress room," and how liberating it would be; too bad that Larry Levenson's wish - that swing clubs would be a mainstream institution by the 21st century - never came to fruition.
It's probably too much to hope for, that couples in attendance at DOXA should mix-and-match partners or organize a group grope after the screening (and I'm sure DOXA organizers wouldn't want me to encourage such irresponsible behaviour), but the idea is probably going to occur to a few people watching the film. Here's hoping some of them get up the nerve to follow through on it, and that everyone has the results of their last round of STD tests handy. Sexually speaking, American Swing seems like good medicine - a taste of a time, briefly, where people really weren't so hung up about sex...
American Swing will play DOXA on May 28th, at the Vancity Theatre.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
I rather feel that I owe apologies to the Subhumans, who play tonight (ie. Friday the 15th) at the Ukrainian Hall, in a could-be 30th anniversary of their 1979 Rock Against Prisons gig. Since I've been in and out of Maple Ridge the last few days, fleeing my toxic suite and trying to see if I could adapt to the commute if I moved out of Bedbug City permenantly, I haven't had a chance to do a proper blog piece on the show. I kind of blew my interview with them for The Skinny, too: I fucked up the second paragraph, where I should have identified Subhumans vocalist Brian Goble by his full name, rather than leaping straight to calling him "Goble." Shit like this embarrasses the hell out of me; I don't know how so obvious an error can make it into print despite hours of crafting the damn thing and a dozen or more proofreadings on my part. (It's even worse that it's MY error - usually when mistakes appear in articles of mine, they've been introduced by editors, which means at least I can rant and spray bile at them). Too bad I messed it up: I really like how I set people up to expect me to get into talking about prison with Gerry, and then don't, and I love the title ("It Ain't Easy Being Subhuman.") Of course, the Subhumans misfortunes far exceed thuggery at gigs - there's stories of someone postering for them that died in a car accident years ago - a story I've only recently heard; and they've been bootlegged more than most punk bands, with a current boot in direct competition with Death Was Too Kind (their new A/T release of their singles and first EP). Such a good band deserves better! Here's hoping they at least get a decent turnout. Hey, maybe Brian and Jon, who work in the DTES, can give me some bedbug pointers!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Anyone planning to come to Vancouver for the Olmypics needs a stern warning: before renting a room, even in a hotel, go to http://bedbugregistry.com and double-check that it isn't infested. There are close to 200 buildings with reported infestations in the downtown/ west end area, probably even more in East Van. Actually, you should probably ASSUME an infestation, if it's an older building. ASK THE BUILDING MANAGER - get him to put it in writing, if he says there aren't any. There are also silverfish, cockroaches, mice, rats, and meal moths in some buildings, but the bedbugs are particularly widespread right now.
By the way, if I move out, you're welcome to sublet my space... It's a nice building, really. I may even be leaving behind the furniture...
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Trust me, though: you don't want to download this film, you want to see it with friends in a theatre. It's bound to be much more fun that way, as a collective experience with shared laughter and no opporunity to press pause; and the songs will sound much, much better. It plays at the Vancity until May 22nd.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Note: for those curious, my vegetarian ambitions that I reported in the previous entry on this film - spurred on in part by Peter Singer and Slavoj Zizek's comments in the film, and by considering the work of Sunaura Taylor, the filmmaker's sister - began to compete with my overriding objective of late to spend more time with my family. Specifically, I'd been trying to talk my father into coming into town for ribs - which he loves - at Memphis Blues, and when, to my surprise, the opportunity arose the other week, I "went back on meat" so as to join him. Working on phasing it out again now, or at least greatly reducing my consumption of it...