Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Upcoming at the Cinematheque: Police, Adjective and more

I have heard very good things about the Romanian film Police, Adjective, which I hope to catch at the Pacific Cinematheque on Friday. It's playing as one of their Best Of The Decade series... which I quibble with on many counts, to be honest. Wendy And Lucy is a necessary and powerful film that everyone who cares about American cinema should have seen by now, but I have much more admiration for Kelly Reichardt's previous film, Old Joy, sadly not screening. Silent Light has some lovely images, but I simply couldn't get with its program, emotionally or philosophically (I have a hard time with Ordet, too), and don't really understand the fuss; is this just a matter of pretty photography? Children Of Men is simply not that significant as cinema - an effective action film, maybe, with some arrestingly bleak political and environmental predictions - but so what? It will be quickly forgotten; it contributes nothing vital to world cinema, is simply not an important film. Neither, in my opinion, is Pan's Labyrinth; it's visually splendid, and a crowd pleaser, but hardly a "best of" on the list of any discerning cinephile; truth be known, I vastly preferred Hellboy, which, while somewhat sillier and hardly a "best of the decade," either, has richer character development and engages in very entertaining and creative ways with noir's convention of the Byronic hero and with the superhero formula. It's simply more entertaining... Sokurov is an important filmmaker, but Russian Ark is basically an extended visual gimmick whose aesthetic value, aside from the paintings it showcases, seems marginal. The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu is an effective and powerful film that does have value, but there are easily fifty movies I'd put above it on my own personal "best of the decade" list, if I had time and energy enough for sufficient reflection. There are a few titles I haven't seen that will be playing, and a few that I don't quibble with at all (I vastly prefer Todd Haynes' homage to Sirk, Far From Heaven, to his Dylan film, I'm Not There, but the visual maginificence, cinematic innovation and sheer ambition of the latter film makes it essential viewing, and I'm glad Haynes ends up with two films on the programme). Cache, too, I have no quarrel with at all, and I suppose not A History Of Violence, either - though it's overrated, it does mark an important new direction in the work of David Cronenberg, and it's certainly one of the most widely-appreciated Canadian films of recent years. I understand its inclusion, put it that way.
Still, I have my own ideas about the best films of the last ten years. I'll restrict myself to North America - I don't have the stamina to consider world cinema in this light (plus my favourite foreign films of the last few years, like the Japanese Linda Linda Linda or the German False Confessor - also known as I Am Guilty, for the DVD release - wouldn't necessarily have a place on this list; much as I admire them, I can't objectively argue their overwhelming importance as cinema. I could argue - if I wanted to be perverse - that Hostel 2 has significance, but a bunch of people would roll their eyes and call me a troll, which is what I would be being, much as I appreciate that film. No; I'll be serious, and sober, and North American about things). Most significantly, Robinson Devor's Police Beat is being scandalously neglected here; it's by far the greatest accomplishment of American cinema in recent memory, even if it hasn't found a wide audience. It's nowhere as financially successful, but Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is more innovative, politically relevant, and accomplished than half the films above - certainly a more important film than Children Of Men. Malick's The New World, which I didn't like much at first, has finally grown on me and begs for inclusion - especially the longer cut. Some acknowledgement should really be made to mumblecore, too - an exciting development in American cinema, even if it doesn't prove long-lived; my favourite films associated with that "movement" are Quiet City and Baghead, but there may be even better ones that I've missed. And a personal favourite of mine from the last ten years, very sadly neglected commercially and critically but idea-rich, joyously funny, politically challenging and perfectly crafted, is Gregg Araki's pot comedy Smiley Face, which, to my knowledge, has never screened theatrically in Vancouver. It's certainly a film that deserves praise, even if it hasn't been widely recognized as yet. I feel certain that someday, when people look back on this decade, that will be a film that will be remembered and talked about, assuming that film criticism emerges from its present function as an adjunct of advertising... The Cinematheque's list seems to place too much weight on wide recognition - as if box office makes a film worthy of inclusion; while there's a safety in this approach, it's not a very risky list at all, nor particularly educational (at least they didn't include There Will Be Blood in their programme. It's kinda satisfying how utterly that film appears to have been forgotten, after all the skirt-lifting that attended it...).

Still, I've been told Police, Adjective is a really good film - a VIFF favourite of a couple of people I spoke to last fest - and the other films on the list that I haven't seen (like Tropical Malady, which I haven't even heard of) do seem to merit looking at, if only because they've been given a place here. (And yes, folks, I haven't seen My Winnipeg, it's true. Guy Maddin is the olive of Canadian cinema for me - there's no denying his potency but what he does when I bite in is often unsettling and overwhelming, and I just can't figure out how I feel about the experience). It's great to have a "best of the decade" recap, one way or another, however much I quibble...

A Noise Gig in No Fun City

I wonder - I know that there's a long tradition worldwide of having underground punk clubs and rave houses and such, but is it normal for the arts scene in major cities (not that Vancouver is one) to have experimental music venues with names like "The Secret Location," that only insiders can find? ...Or is this strictly a phenomenon for a city where the government does pretty much everything it can to discourage creative youth from getting together (unless they pay the right people off...?). It's hilarious that Vancouver has bent over backwards to create the Granville Atrocity Exhibition, inviting suburban UFC-watchin' drunk driving jocks'n'sluts and other assorted affluent, cultureless assholes to party all fuckin' night and smear their ugly money over several city blocks, creating a vast noisy weekend no-go zone for most locals and agreeing to make little of the odd drunk driving casualty, random assault, or bloody barfight, while harmless tucked away spaces in East Van where maybe a few dozen civilized and intelligent arts-oriented kids get together to socialize and enhance their perceptions (mostly) through entirely legal means, like, say, art and music and converation - exist in a state of peril, reduced to promoting events without giving their address??? I mean, how fucking SAD is this city, really? It happens that someone was venting to me at the Western Front just the other week about how he badly wanted to see a gig at the Secret Location where Nic of Shearing Pinx was going to play, but couldn't find out where the hell it was. Alas, I didn't know myself at the time (and now that I know, have been told to keep it off my blog, natch). Nic will be playing again there tomorrow, as N.213, if you can figure it out on your own, along with some touring Californians and varied well-liked locals (see poster!). Bands start at 8:00pm sharp, last act on at 11:30, cover is $5... Just try not to enjoy yourself too much, or the good vibe might attract negative attention...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thoughts on Antichrist

Antichrist is a remarkable piece of cinema. I highly recommend it for a certain stripe of cinephile, though I have reservations, which I will get to. Bear in mind that I am still working through my reactions, having seen it for the first time earlier tonight.

The story - which I will offer at this point relatively spoiler-free: a husband and wife are making love when their young child topples to his death through an open window. The first section of the film - "Grief" - that follows this prologue focuses on the husband's attempt to draw his wife out from her protracted suffering over the loss of her child; he's a therapist, mistrustful of medication as a solution to his wife's trauma. He's well-intentioned, but acknowledges that he's breaking a rule - that therapy and family should not mix; and is perhaps somewhat too detached, too distant from his own feelings. His wife is anything but; even a month after the death, she is still hospitalized, overwhelmed with grief, incapacitated by it, stuck in it, her pain acute and ceaseless. In a bid to help her work her through her feelings, he brings her to a cabin in a forest (Eden) where she had worked on her thesis, a book on the persecution of witches entitled Gynocide; she confesses that she is now terrified of the place, which is why he brings her there. At first things seem to go well - though there are hallucinatory moments (a self-disembowelling fox that proclaims to Dafoe, "Chaos reigns," for instance) that stand as omens of worse things to come; but there is eventually some tenderness between the couple, and the sense that he is actually helping her - though this may be superficial, as things only turn for the worse after she declares herself healed.

The talking fox aside - a moment of excess that is more likely to produce chuckles than dread - everything in the above is remarkably well-crafted. Von Trier opts for a degree of stylization in his images that I don't think we've seen from him since Europa (or Zentropa, if you prefer); the film's dedication to Tarkovsky, positively assaulted as an unjustifiable act of arrogance by some, seems quite acceptable to me, based on the very intense engagement with the image von Trier generates, the very atmospheric and compelling use of sound, and the restrained but lucious palettes (which, like Stalker, emphasize human figures in muted colours situated in almost otherworldly fields of green. Also as with that film, the forest is granted a near-mystical potency laced with elements of uncertainty, threat, and foreboding, though perhaps of a darker, eviller sort than the metaphysically perilous Zone). So often do comparisons to Tarkovsky mean next to nothing in the mouths of critics - often signalling merely that a film is artful and in Russian - that I'm surprised to find myself on the opposite side of the fence, defending the drop of Tarkovsky's name against those who would say it has no place.

The performances, too, are exceptional; Roger Ebert has tried to find meaning in the film by faulting the character played by Dafoe, but it must be said that Dafoe does a very good job of retaining our sympathies, while at times - as therapists will - seeming condescending, removed, and superior. Gainsbourg gives the really outstanding performance, though, as someone plunged in a bottomless abyss of grief. It's harrowing to be confronted by so believable a display of emotional pain. It makes Dafoe's detachment seem both inhumanly cold, on the one hand, and
a reasonable response, on the other - because someone in the relationship has to remain able to function. Dafoe and Gainsbourg represent, if you will, poles of human experience, in the face of loss - alternate strategies of coping, one of plunging into emotion and the other of trying to impose order on it and make it manageable; it is very tempting to see these as being figured as "male" and "female" approaches. (Tentatively, I'd like to suggest a possible meta-cinematic reading, as well, encouraged by the stylization of the film, which makes us consciously aware - again like Tarkovsky - that we are watching film as art, not merely moving through a narrative or thematic programme: by this reading, Dafoe and Gainsbourg represent two different levels at which the audience responds to cinema, with Dafoe as the rational, detached voyeur, viewing events from without and seeking their meaning, and Gainsbourg as the emotional, gut-level reaction, unmanageable and instinctive and scarily intense. There are many times during the film when our identifications toggle back and forth - from outside to inside, from male to female, from therapist to patient, from emotional reaction to thoughtful reflection, as we try to process our own feelings about life, death, grief, and the menacing aspect of nature - the main themes thus far raised; the film is at its best when challenging us to find our own position in between the extremes, and thus a comfortable location from which to view it - which we may never find).

Spoilers follow. At about the three-quarter mark, things turn for the worse, in a few ways. The ending of the film is definitely imperfectly realized, compared to the near-flawless first three quarters. Von Trier seems to lose confidence that he can convey what he wants to by sticking with the emotional development of his characters alone, and so throws in some rather muddled symbolism (the "Three Beggars" whose appearance heralds death; huh? Creepy animals is one thing, but a fucking constellation that doesn't exist, and exposition as to prophecy around it? Does this not feel a bit like a desperate tack-on?). There's also a somewhat surprising revisitation of an motif from Dogville (Dafoe being "hobbled" in a way that might remind one of what happens to Nicole Kidman); and a bit of Antichrist-for-Dummies thematic meditation, in which Dafoe and Gainsbourg discuss the nature of evil, Gainsbourg somehow coming to the conclusion that the female, identified most closely with nature, is a force of evil - something her liberal husband argues against, claiming his wife, in her self-hate, has gotten confused about her own thesis, that the witches burned at the stake and so forth were the victims of anti-female hysteria.

Or were they? Suddenly, the possibility that his wife IS evil is reinforced by the suggestion that she has been torturing her son by systematically putting his shoes on the wrong feet, as shown in photographs he discovers in the cabin. This discovery rather changes the rules that we've been playing by; we are no longer dealing with the problem of unconsolable grief and the element of pain/ "evil" in nature, but with a woman who may or may not have always been malignant, or at least a bit nuts - rendering whatever thinking the film has moved us to, up to that point, somewhat irrelevant. Almost as soon as Dafoe begins to regard his wife mistrusfully, she attacks him. She assaults his genitals - the consequence of her attack being shown in a horrific, bloody ejaculation - and attaches a weight to his leg by means gruesome and painful. He tries to crawl away, but is discovered, and she drags him back to the cabin, where she decides to punish herself in kind, cutting off her own clitoris with scissors, and producing a similarly bloody "ejaculate." There is the suggestion at this point - the climax of the film - that she either saw, or at least now imagines she saw, her son crawling towards his doom while she and her husband were having sex, giving her acts of violence against both their genitalia the aspect of highly focused punishment. At this point, Dafoe manages to remove the weight from his leg, freeing himself as Kidman did in Dogville to finally turn against the person he has been trying to help. As she tries to stab him with scissors, he strangles her to death, and limps away to find himself in a forest filled with what I assume are meant to be the bodies of dead women, the victims of the "gynocides" of history (there is actually no indication that the corpses that litter the hallucinatory landscape he limps through are women, but it would seem for the film to be coherent they would have to be; he has failed his wife and joined the ranks of female-murderers, his pretenses of therapy and liberal idealism having been no match for his wife's emotional maelstrom). In the epilogue - if I understood it correctly - these "ghosts" rise up to surround him, though they don't seem as intent on violence or retribution as one might hope...

Whether all of this is misogynist or not, I cannot say. The film certainly tables the theme of misogyny, quite explicitly - the "t" in the "Antichrist" of the titles and posters is the symbol for the female (though nature is also identified with evil in the film - and the female, to some extent, with nature). There is no sense - as at the end of Cronenberg's The Brood, for instance, where the protagonist, too, strangles the monstrous female - that Dafoe has done the right thing; in fact, he has failed to help his wife, becomes instead, at last resort, reduced to something he would have previously loathed, his whole endeavour previously now seeming an arrogant over-assertion of his faith in himself (I was rather disappointed that the ghosts of murdered women didn't actually dismember him, frankly, as the final image of the film - though I imagine it would have done nothing to ameliorate accusations of misogyny). The only truly suspect move von Trier makes - at least that I can recall now - is the suggestion that Gainsbourg had been systematically abusing their son before his death. The violence she does to her husband's and her own genitals can be justified as an extreme expression of her inability to forgive herself, or him, for their son's death, and the extremity of her emotions as a sincere attempt to figure something that is threatening to men about women - the intensity and unpredictability of their feelings, which Dafoe is further "punished" for failing to respect sufficiently... but the suggestion that she had been torturing her son throughout his life, for no reason that the film cares to delve into, does seem to raise the further possibility that women are monstrous, questions of pain and grief aside. This is not a possibility the film needs to table, if its purpose is just to query misogyny. A serious investigation of that phenomenon probably does not need to include among the theses it investigates the possibility that women really ARE evil, horrible critters. The film would be better off without the shoe business (or the clunky but unclear symbolism of the Three Beggars, or the highly direct exposition on misogyny) - would have been better just following the emotional arc of the characters, wherever it lead (perhaps even to genital mutilation and death!) - and then letting us figure it out. My main problem in the end with the film is not that it may be misogynist - since half of Hollywood cinema is misogynist, in ways less likely to invite discussion or reflection - but that von Trier doesn't quite live up to the promise of the project - the film, in its first half, sets a standard for itself that it does not ultimately live up to.

All that said, the film is aesthetically remarkable, compelling to watch, and, provided you can stomach the more disturbing images, will reward reflection sufficiently that I recommend it to anyone who cares about cinema. You might reject Antichrist, when its over, and that may be a reasonable reaction, but I suspect that attentive viewers will find enough of value en route to the troubling ending that they will appreciate having had a chance to reject it for themselves...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Canadian obituaries: Kate McGarrigle, Paul Quarrington

My only real association with Paul Quarrington is Whale Music; I'm familiar both with his novel and the delightful film made from it (starring the great Canadian character actor Maury Chaykin in a rare lead role, as a drug-addled, burned-out rockstar, loosely based on Brian Wilson, who finds himself drawn back into the human realm by a mysterious young female visitor). Cinephiles interested in Canadian films need to seek this one out, as an eminently likeable experience; tho' written in Toronto, certain familiar landmarks will give it away instantly as being filmed in Vancouver. The book is great fun, too! It's enough for me to want to take off my hat at Quarrington's passing - and I may pick up the solo album mentioned in that obit, to hear his song about the experience of dying ("Are You Ready"). Quarrington died at 56, after a brave battle with lung cancer, and kept working right to the end.

Also departed, also Canadian, also taken by cancer at too young an age: Kate McGarrigle, my primary association with whom is her charming rendition, with her sister, of "The Log Driver's Waltz," that accompanies the sweetly clumsy NFB animation of yore (talk about Canadiana!). And then there's Rufus Wainwright - shown here with Kate and Anna doing "Hard Times Come Again No More" - and Martha Wainwright, both mothered by Kate and fathered by Loudon Wainwright III, whom I gather is the "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" that is the subject of one of his daughter's songs. Yes, folks - I know Kate more from Loudon's songs about his troubled relationships more than I do her own music, and I won't try to fake it... but my condolences to those who knew her and knew her work better than I did...

With apologies to Kate, may I further direct interested parties to Loudon's interesting explanation for the Shakespearean inspiration for "Prince Hal's Dirge" - a song of his I've always liked...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Phil Minton Sunday

There will be a free performance of Phil Minton's Feral Choir Sunday at the Ironworks, starting at 4:00. I honestly don't know if I'll be in a space to make it to the city that day, as big a fan of Phil as I am - I'd hoped to PARTICIPATE in the choir this time around, but this has proven impossible. However, I urge any of you with a taste for unusual but playful music to check it out. My big Phil Minton interview from Bixobal #2 is online here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bed Follies: Time To Buy A Futon

...So I ended up returning that king sized bed I'd bought, having discovered that my greedy addled impulses had not accounted for just how much goddamn space the thing would take up; it was like having a beluga in the bathtub. It cost me a couple hundred clams out of my refund to unload it, but doing so was a relief; I found myself quite happy to return to my air mattress - which was quite comfy, even if it looked like I was camping in the corner of the suite. I've been sleeping on it again for the last week or two, unproblematically - but the idea of buying a bed has never been far from my mind.

The main reason I want a bed, I think, is psychological: I want my space to feel like home. My old apartment had a bed and a futon - both of which were ultimately sacrificed to the bedbugs of the West End. The sense of missing them - of having a bed that was my own to lie in, man - has been slowly building up since I moved into my new suburban suite on October 1st. Not only does this town not really feel like home - not like Vancouver came to - but my own apartment doesn't feel like home. There's no clawfoot tub, no hardwood floor, no gas stove, no large kitchen - it's not a space I chose because I liked it, like my last one (before the mice and bedbugs showed up); it's a space I chose because it was available, affordable, and close to my parents, and to hell with the rest. I haven't even been able to put art on the walls in the living room, since the main space is very well lit, compared to my old, and I don't want my posters and such to end up getting sun-faded. I don't even have a record player, anymore, since it busted when I turned it upside down to shake any bedbugs out of it, when packing. And like I say, no futon, no bed. Tables, chairs, my TV, all that has survived or been acquired anew - but given all the other differences, sleeping on an air mattress in the corner was contributing to my sense of the strangeness of the space, that it wasn't really mine. A bed - or a futon - would make a big difference, I reasoned. This may seem like the whining of the overpriviliged, given that many people live in far less comfort than I do - but understand, this fall and winter have brought about some big changes in my life, which aren't made easier by the strangeness of the environment I come home to. I feel more at home in my Mom's new apartment than I do mine - I've done a much better job of setting up her space so it's comfortable and livable than I have my own.
A bus trip to Ikea in Port Coquitlam demonstrates that no cheap solution will be found there. I almost buy a $600 queen sized foam mattress, marked down to $199 in the As-Is section, going so far to clumsily load up two carts with the mattress and the requisite parts for the frame and getting in the long Ikea line... but I reconsider before I get to the cash. The whole thing - frame and mattress - will cost over $500 all told, which is a LOT of money for me right now. It's just too much of a commitment for a man who is not absolutely sure what he's doing; I don't want to make another mistake. The mattress - with no protective plastic around it - might get damp or damaged during delivery; it might not be comfortable; "as is" likely means no refunds, this time; plus there's something inherently questionable about paying $199 for a piece of friggin' foam, however fancy it may be. Plus what if the damage noted runs deeper than the few visible stains? I can't make myself go through with it - fearing that the impulsive desire to just have DONE with the bed issue is the main driving force behind my desire to buy it, just like my too-hasty king-sized purchase of a few weeks ago. I excuse myself, back out of line, and wheel everything back into place, before trying to figure out how to exit the store (Ikea is a bit of a maze; I'm not very practiced with big box stores). The trip, all told, takes five hours - most of it spent between a busy highway and a garbage-strewn ditch, waiting for a bus amidst a gaggle of Asian-Canadian youth crowded onto the narrow sidewalk.

On to Plan B: a futon. Futons have the great advantage of being foldable; if I don't like it as a bed, at least I've got a couch again! I email a bunch of people on Craigslist; the only one who writes back who still has a futon to sell is, again, in Port Coquitlam. He wants $175 - a bit much, given that some people have free ones on offer sometimes, but it's there and available and has the right specs for me: a hardwood frame, a firm queen-sized mattress, in supposedly great shape from a non-smoking, bedbug-free household. The only drag is that once I make it out there, there's not much room for changing up my mind - say, when I discover that the underside has several dog hairs on it from the family pet (it better fucking not have fleas...). The thing is - as a non-driver, I'm imposing on a friend with a van to help me transport it, so I basically have to either take it or leave it. Fuckit: I'm still not quite sure I'm making a good move, but I take it, pay the money, and we load it into her van, dog hairs and all. We have to disassemble it to fit it into the suite, which makes for a bit of a jigsaw-puzzle challenge for me to put it back together correctly on my own after my friend leaves, my first attempt being all wrong and requiring a complete reconfiguration... but I finally get it together and set it up as a bed and stretch out on it...
Hm. Well, it IS a bit on the firm side. A bit TOO firm, really: my lower back hurts just lying on it. Firm is supposed to be good for you, innit? Does it have to be the kind of good that hurts?
Anyhow, I guess I'll get used to it (having no choice in the matter). At least it suits the apartment. I can always make a couch of it and go back to my air mattress, I suppose. After which point, I guess, I'll be giving up the pursuit of a bed. I'd never realized how good I had it in Vancouver - my old bed I bought used through a friend, and it was great; the same friend gave me his futon, which I'd slept on many times before then and knew I liked. Never realized how much luck was on my side back then. I'm learning now, I hope.
...And there's still so much to clean up, to put away: boxes of stuff from my parents' suite... a closet full of keepsakes from my father, some still needing sorting... pots and pans and glasses and cups and plates that Mom didn't want anymore, given her new, smaller kitchen. Papers to organize, books to shelve, CDs to put away - the battle to make this place feel like home doesn't end with getting the furniture sorted; even though I threw away a third of my personal belongings when I came out here, the space feels like a cluttered, cramped mess. I need to put some time into imposing order on the chaos.
Guess it's time to see how it feels, sleeping on my new futon...

Antichrist at the Vancity Theatre

Antichrist opens later this week at the Vancity Theatre, brilliantly double-billed with Day Of Wrath. I simply need to see both these films on the screen. I have seen the Dreyer, about the persecution of an old woman as a witch, before; I have no way of knowing beforehand whether I will enjoy the experience of watching Antichrist, but I've found things to admire in every Lars von Trier film I've seen. As perverse and maddening as he can sometimes be, he is certainly one of the few larger-than-life auteurs that I'm aware of at work in cinema today, and many of his works (Zentropa, the original Kingdom TV series, and Dogville especially) I love deeply. The fact that this is a relatively large production starring two fine actors (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg), dealing with very ambitious themes (apparently death, grief, guilt, sex, misogyny, and violence), that it is nonetheless being described as a horror film, and that it has been praised for both the beauty and surreal impact of its images is more than enough to pique my curiosity - to say nothing of the astonishing image used to promote it (above). The controversy around the so-called "sexual violence" in the film - both male and female genitalia are wounded, I gather - neither disturbs nor interests me much, but I have nothing against boundary-pushing cinema (provided there is a certain seriousness to it - I'm not talkin' Cinema Sewer, here). Plus a friend of mine who is a fellow admirer of serious cinema - it was our mutual admiration for Ingmar Bergman that united us initially - has praised it, as has another friend who knows his horror, cult and exploitation fare; I would be very surprised NOT to be impressed by this movie, given all the above. I missed the VIFF screenings, couldn't make it to its too-short run at the Ridge, and an attempt to hail the director for an online interview predictably bore no fruit, so there's no way I can offer anything more than this to generate interest - which I would like to do, because I would like to see the still criminally-underattended Vancity Theatre flourish and because I'd like to encourage more people to see REAL CINEMA as opposed to Hollywood bullshit, that I might feel less alone in the world... It saddens me to think that the Friday show I plan to attend may be just as poorly-attended as Peter Watkins' astonishing Punishment Park was, last week (I counted seven other attendees, including the cinephile who'd come with me, the night I was there).

Then again, odds are that if there's only a handful of attendees, I won't have to be distracted by rustlings, coughs, feet thrust over seat-backs, whispered conversations, people kicking the back of my seat, inappropriate laughter, ringing cellphones, and assholes sending text messages in the theatre and such. In fact, fuckit, just stay home, you're probably not worthy of this film anyhow, you crass heathen brutes. Only come if you think you're aesthetically developed enough, okay? I have my doubts, but maybe y'all will surprise me. Try to comport yourselves like civilized people, tho', if you do show up: remember that some of us are there to receive communion.
There's a too-detailed, spoiler-ridden synopsis of the film on Wikipedia for those still unconvinced. I am so glad that this film is returning to the screen in Vancouver - I honestly thought I'd missed my chance to see it properly, projected. Thanks, Vancity Theatre! I'll be there, at least, and... I'll bring a friend!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Free event: Art's Birthday at the Western Front, Sunday

Jeffrey Allport at Solder And Sons, photo by Dan Kibke. Not to be reused without permission.

I've written about Jeffrey Allport before; Glaciers is a very exciting new project he's involved in, featuring the minimalist improvising percussionist performing with electronics guy Robert Pedersen of Main Street bookstore/ performance space Solder And Sons, and Lief Hall of the defunct avant-punk/ No Wave noise unit The Mutators, doing very intense and sometimes quite quiet vocal improv that has little obvious relation to her extroverted shrieking of yore. They're one of the most interesting avant-garde musical projects afoot in Vancouver at the moment, inviting and amply rewarding careful listening; I find an almost hypnotic degree of focus is generated by what they do, perhaps because they themselves are so attentive to the music they're making. They will be playing Art's Birthday on January 17th at the Western Front - a free event, also featuring French For Sled Dogs, whom I wrote about here, another very cool project featuring guitarist Chris Albanese, bassist Dave Chokroun, and Fond Of Tigers honcho Stephen Lyons, dropping his guitar to sit at the drumkit for this unit; this is mathier, jazzier, and perhaps a tad more noodly than Glaciers - though these are jarring, decentered noodles, filled with unexpected bends and breaks. Cubist noodles, maybe: like that. These are two very exciting projects, anyhow, and no doubt Prophecy Sun and Soressa Gardner will be doing interesting things as well... plus it's a free event! Come say Happy Birthday to Art*!

*No, not Art Bergmann. Art, like, as in art.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My father, Motorhead, DOA and Bev Davies: a brief note relating to Ox Fanzine

Well, Dad never got to see this one: I have my first cover story in a non-English-language magazine, a German feature on Motorhead, in the December/January issue of Ox Fanzine (a metal/punk zine of great quality, if you'll take a testimonial from someone who can't read German). It's based in part on the interview I did with Lemmy for The Skinny, to plug Motorhead's Vancouver appearance last October - but with photos from that gig, by Bev Davies and Femke Van Delft, and a Bev Davies portrait of Lemmy from backstage at the Vogue gracing the cover, all taken in time to plug Motorhead's December German tour. The article has been expanded and adapted for German readers, with Lemmy graciously agreeing to some follow-up questions, though it has a similar area of concern (war, Lemmy's fascination with Nazi iconography, and the darker side of Motorhead). My father read the Skinny article, and was impressed with Lemmy - one of the few people I've interviewed he said that about; in fact, at one point in the interview - talking about the leftover hatreds and resentments of history - I mentioned my father to Lemmy, how Dad never got over what happened to two men from his hometown who were psychologically destroyed by their time in Japanese prisoner of war camps. I can actually spot the reference in German to "mein vater," where I mention this to Lemmy; I wish Dad had been around to see it. When it was still in draft stage, I joked about it with him at the table in my parents' old apartment, reading him the section in English and saying "so you'll be famous in Germany," or something silly like that - and he laughed. That may well have been his last week before he went into the hospital.

I won't be posting any more of my Lemmy interview online (at least not in the forseeable future - I might be able to tidy it up and get an English language version into print elsewhere), but those curious about historical resentments should check out my Dad's feelings about the Japanese during World War II, from an interview I did with him awhile back. As I may or may not say there, my father's inability to forgive the Japanese for their cruelties in WWII was one of the things that actually made me interested in that country. He would later give a BC-crested coat to the young son of a teacher I worked with in Japan, saying that seeing this kid - innocent of the sins of history - helped redeem the Japanese for him, make it a little easier to get over his anger...

But to return to matters musical, this very issue of Ox also has another Vancouver connection, an interview with DOA... which reminds me that, speaking of Bev Davies - she has a 2010 all-DOA calendar for sale. Bev has taken some of the most dynamic photos of DOA ever, and my earliest exposure to her work was on the back of DOA album covers. More information about where and how to buy the calendar can probably be found on Bev's Facebook site; Facebook and I are having communication problems at the moment, so I won't be offerin' more specific or certain links on that, but see also here for my 2008 interview with Bev, or check out Bev's blog! (...and wow, she's posted a letter to her from Philip K. Dick, from 1972, I guess when Phil was drying out in Vancouver... holy shit! I know she knows Neil Young, but PK Dick? Maybe I'll shut up and read someone else's blog for a change...).

Friday, January 01, 2010


It's been a bit of a year of loss, for both me and for the scene I've participated in in Vancouver.

I lost my father, and my mother lost her husband. Due to her stroke, she also lost her ability to speak, though she's gotten some of that back since. I didn't exactly lose my apartment while all this was going on - I moved out voluntarily, despite a concomitant decision of my landlord (AKA "the lying cocksucker") to end my lease - but I still have not made my new apartment into the comfortable home my old one was (it just feels like somewhere I'm living temporarily while I sort out my life - like a hotel you move into while your home is being repaired, except there is no other home, this is it). In the process of moving, I lost a friend of 15 years, who chose a singularly unforgivable time to decide to not be there for me. Plus I lost my bed and half my furniture, to lessen the risk of bringing West End bedbugs to my new locale. And while it wasn't an unproblematic identity for me - too much it allowed me to paper over and/or distract me from in my rather lame personal life - with the move, I lost my role as Vancouver scene chronicler and the ability to easily go to gigs or movies in the city.
That's a lot of loss for one year.

As for Vancouver, the music scene lost The Cobalt and Fake Jazz Wednesdays, Richards On Richards, and Slickety Jim's Chat'n'Chew, and (unless Dale has found a new locale that I don't know about) Noize To Go, which may not have been my favourite place to shop for records (it was kinda cramped!), but definitely was my favourite place to bullshit with a record store clerk. Various arts institutions lost their grants and any security in their futures in BC, and there's other budget-cut losses to our city's cultural institutions in the works as I write. Granville Street lost its lovely trees, and Vancouverites lost any connection to the Granville Street we used to know and like - now increasingly a wild-west barzone for obnoxious suburbanites and tourists, so different from what it was like ten years ago (remember the benches dotting the street? The Granville Book Company? The Capitol 6?). I know other losses have happened - I'm not trying to be comprehensive, here; there have been other musicians who died, other venues that closed up (and restaurants and coffee shops and other places of local colour and character that we will not see again), but these are the ones that *I* felt. Ultimately, in fact, I feel like *I lost Vancouver,* because when I go there now - not only does it no longer feel like home, it's like I'm visiting a different city, some place I don't really know. The mood is more Darwinistic, more aggressive - and several of my most significant points of reference on the city's map have been erased.
Possibly some readers of The Skinny might also include me on the list of the city's losses; it would be reasonable to do so, though a bit vain for me to mention it... what can I say, I'm not there anymore, and even if I do get the odd piece of writing done in the New Year - because I do have some old projects to put to rest - it will never be the same again.
It's been a pretty rough year, all told. I'm glad I won't be there for the February festivities; I think I'll just stay in Maple Ridge through that time, at this point not so much because of a feeling of angry boycott but because I'm feeling a bit bruised and don't need more punishment. Besides, there's a lot of rebuilding to be done.
At 11:58 tonight, still at my Mom's apartment, I shut off the TV (where every New Year's celebration had blaring bad music and loud crowds of beautiful people) and opened up her blinds and window so we could look out over Maple Ridge and see the fireworks - mostly coming from the Langley side of the Fraser River, it looked like, but visible through the trees and fog - and hear the people shouting and cheering. We said "Happy New Year" to each other and hugged and watched and listened for a few minutes. It was nice.
I might take a bit of a break from writing here for awhile (tho' usually when I say that, I put up three posts in the subsequent week, so don't hold me to it). If I'm absent, don't worry - I'm doing okay. Check out the Punishment Park links, the Phil Minton interview below. Hope your 2010 is better than my 2009. Happy New Year.