Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An exciting early summer at the VIFC

As the Hollywood Theatre approaches demolition and video stores everywhere start selling off their stock, cinephiles in Vancouver should perhaps pause for a moment's gratitude that we have two great arthouse & repertory film theatres right downtown. I've written quite a bit about some of the fare playing in the next while at the Pacific Cinematheque - especially the must-see Machete Maidens Unleashed! - but there's also a really strong summer shaping up at the VIFC, aka the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour near Davie). There's always room for David Lynch, whose Blue Velvet and Eraserhead will play soon, but the "Surreelists" series, coinciding with a major exhibition of surrealist works at the Vancouver Art Gallery, is most exciting to me for the short selections (June 28th - momentarily not on their website, but double billed with Belle De Jour) and the chance to see two great Jodorowskys projected, El Topo (projected from Blu-Ray) and his under-valued Santa Sangre (from 35 mm!). Their music series includes interesting-sounding docs on Miles Davis and Nina Simone, and there's a whole series of Terence Malick films, programmed just in time for Malick's win of the Palme D'Or for The Tree of Life. I'm probably ready to re-visit The New World - a film that disappointed me on first blush that I have come to appreciate quite deeply. The Thin Red Line, Badlands, and Days of Heaven are all films I watch every few years. There are also two inspired surprises, films I myself have not seen, deeply connected to Malick but not often remarked upon: Pocket Money (with Paul Newman and Lee Marvin; this film I knew about, from reading the box on a VHS copy that kicked around Maple Ridge for awhile, at a Mega Movies) and a film I had never even heard of, The Dion Brothers, AKA The Gravy Train. I think that's the one that will draw the really hardcore film freaks out of the woodwork...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

RIP Gil Scott-Heron

Using a friend's Macbook, which is doubly unfamiliar to me (as a desktop PC guy), so I can't post links, but I'm saddened to hear of the untimely death (following a long drug-related decline, we gather) of Gil Scott-Heron. Anyone out there remember Tupelo Chain Sex's riposte to his "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," entitled - perhaps you can guess it - "The Revolution Will Be Televised?" It might also get streamed or torrented or perhaps be the subject of a podcast.

One thing I can say for sure, however - the revolution will not be rented at a DVD store.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

random notes from a net cafe, covered in sweat from the moshpit, most of it mine

Bruce Greenwood was seen riding a bus earlier in Vancouver today. Or at least a bunch of us thought it was him. I opted to leave him alone, rather than tell him I admire his work. Hope, if he was heading to a screening of Meek's Cutoff, the theatre had gotten the lens issue sorted out. Welcome to Vancouver, Mr. Greenwood.

Loved the use of lighting and music to suggest orgasm in the Gregg Araki film. Loved the rich colours. Too bad I had a 20-minute time limit to talk to him - so much more I could have asked. I like that during his film, as in the run up to the Pixies show, when the eye-slitting from "Un Chien Andalou" was shown, some people in the theatre gasped.

Wonderful, warm pit at the Nomeansno show. Encore of "Two Lips, Two Lungs, and One Tongue" contained a delightful digression into "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement" (or whatever, exactly, the title is). Last night's first encore of "The River" was replaced tonight by "Victory," dedicated to the Canucks. Followed by "Rags and Bones." "No Sex" was still in the set. Strongest of the new songs performed - a toss up between "Jubilation" and "Slave," that wonderful, industrialized, overt blues. "All the Little Bourgeois Dreams" didn't make the set list.

Funniest moment: sweaty mosher beside me bends to the floor to retrieve a wallet, shows it to me, and, thinkin' he's looking out for a brother, says, "Is this yours?" I shake my head. He examines it, recognizes it, and his face changes. "Holy shit, it's mine!" As you give, so shall you receive. He was real happy about that.

Lots of other emotions in a pit, tho'. During the wind-up of "I Need You," another mosher turned and confided in me that the song made him sad. "Reminds me of a girlfriend." He'd been mouthing the lyrics throughout, though. Both nights, there were a fair number of girls in the pit, and I think one of the frequent female crowd-surfers was there both nights.

The Biltmore has a really low ceiling for crowd-surfing. Someone surely has bumped their head wickedly at some point.

Finally, it looks like those vinyl Live & Cuddlys the band has been toting around for the last couple of years have finally sold out. There were some at the merch table last night - but none today. There is a new pressing w. a new cover for Tour EP 1, tho'. And the 2LP version of Wrong.

Wonder what the next Nomeansno vinyl reissue will be? I'm voting for a 2LP set of Worldhood - it only ever came out on vinyl in a very abbreviated form.

Wonder what the next box of vintage NMN vinyl to be discovered in a Wright's garage will be.

It was a great night.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Meek's Cutoff now open in Vancouver

IMPORTANT NOTE: apparently the print of this film received by International Village is in some unusual format, requiring a lens they do not have to screen it. The 4:15 screening today has been cancelled, while they try to get a lens. They may have one by tonight but they may not, as of this writing. Just a wee caveat.

The two most exciting filmmakers in the United States at the moment, for me, are both from the Pacific Northwest: Robinson Devor (esp. as teamed with Charles Mudede) and Kelly Reichardt. Not sure what's happening with the new Devor/Mudede film - should be out soon - but Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, which I gather looks at the settling of the west from a female point of view, opened today in Vancouver at the cinema formerly known as Cinemark Tinseltown (how I would hate it if Cineplex Odeon destroyed their beautiful neon, now that they've renamed the theatres the "International Village." It is likely inevitable, alas). If you poke back through my blog - do a search for "Reichardt" in the search box above - you'll doubtlessly find several pages of enthusing for her films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. Meek's Cutoff is her first period piece, and promises to be an ambitious departure, but I wouldn't know - haven't seen it yet! If you want to read the perceptions of someone who has, Katherine Monk has done a substantial review of the film in today's Vancouver Sun - Ms. Monk's non-cineaste status makes me regard her writing with some suspicion, and I try NOT to read reviews of films that I know I want to see, so I have only skimmed her piece - but it looks like she did some sincere work, in writing about this film.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On the phases of Nomeansno/ Tour EP 2 review, AKA "aw, fuggit."

All of what follows is a preamble to a statement. Albums might be listed out of sequence, but what do I look like, a search engine?

(Note: this piece has been edited to reflect having seen Nomeansno last night at the Biltmore; they play again tonight).

Punk musicologists of the future, when they turn their eyes towards Nomeansno, will likely divide their discography into five distinctive periods (…or more, depending on how many periods are left to this band before their figurative musical menopause inevitably sets in - which may take awhile yet, given how energetic they are, live; for all we know, if the world doesn’t end, we’ll have twenty more years of Nomeansno in some form or another, something I am all for).

There is the “early phase,” in which the band HAD no consistent musical identity, each recording from which bears only marginal resemblance to the next, from the Residents-y, charmingly amateurish single “Here Come the Wormies” (for which I confess abiding fondness; the Residents should actually cover it, to repay Nomeansno for doing “Would We Be Alive”) through the stripped down bass and drums (but not bass’n’drums) of Mama and the full on caffeine-injected punk of the Fear Anger Hatred Betrayal 7" (or whatever the sequence is: I've never bothered to memorize it). No one, based on a sampling of these recordings, could give a very fleshed out description of Nomeansno; each release could be regarded as a period of its own, almost (though this would complicate matters greatly). It isn’t even that easy to see a lyrical consistency from song to song here – there’s a pretty far reach from “Wormies” to the present day (tho’ maybe “The Future is a Past” could be mentioned as a possible analogue; some arc-leaps between periods do occur). “Intelligent lyrics and a vaguely prog-funk inflected bass-based melody, emerging from a loosely punk social context, with very precise drumming” is about as much as one could say to sum up these early recordings – a rather vague, broad category that fits better with some songs than others (tho' it still applies today).

Next, there’s what might be termed, if Nomeansno were an ESL student, the Upper-Intermediate level, which ranges from You Kill Me and various EPs to the Small Parts/ Sex Mad recordings. There is certainly a musical identity forming, along with the growing popularity of Nomeansno as a live unit to be reckoned with, but within a given album, the band don’t quite have a complete grasp of their mature grammar. If it helps, I’ll mix my metaphors a bit: although the ingredients of the mature Nomeansno are all present in the pot, it is not quite the soup that it will become. There are carrots (“Victory”), cucumbers (“Body Bag”), cilantro (“Sex Mad” – grammatically, the imperative in the bunch) and potatoes (“Hunt the She Beast” – or is it an onion?), but they’re kinda floating around free of each other, a bit, not really forming a cohesive mélange (is that the word I want?). Some disagreement will doubtlessly exist whether to classify Wrong as belonging to this period or not, but most will agree: Wrong is the first album of…

...The Mature Nomeansno: with a sound that stretches from Wrong through to All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, this is where Nomeansno seems to have come to full confidence and know who they are and what they want to do about it. The bit about the lyrics and the bass still applies, as does a certain variability between albums (with One as an extremely dark point and Ausfahrt as an almost compensatorily - tho' inconsistently - peppy, poppy, playful one); but from song-to-song, album-for-album, there is a greater cohesion of vision – this despite the departure of Andy Kerr and the arrival of Tom Holliston, midway through this period! When fans are asked by clueless friends what Nomeansno sounds like, this is the period most likely to be referred to. Collaborations done during this period, such as the one with Jello Biafra, also reflect this unified vision of the band’s sound; the soup is ready to serve.

Finally, we have the latest period of Nomeansno, now ongoing, and it’s what one almost might call the post-punk period (not in the sense that it sounds like GY!BE or such but insofar as it ceases to really make any sort of sense to call this "punk rock" - it owes more to King Crimson, 70's funk, and the blues than it does to, say, Black Flag. Though kids can still mosh to it. Kids can mosh to pretty much anything, these days, tho'). At this point, Rob’s interest in electronica, his use of Pro-Tools as a means of recording fully developed demos, and the band’s presumed distance from the punk scene (because Nomeansno, when they’re not being Nomeansno, are family men now, with rich hobby-level interests like golf and beer brewing, and aren’t really that active on the punk scene anymore, outside their own gigs – not like people like Subhumans vocalist/ Trespassers bassist Brian Goble or SNFU’s Mr. Chi Pig, say, whom you see at almost every major show in Vancouver; I’ve seen Tom Holliston at five gigs for every one I’ve seen a Wright brother at, bearing in mind that I've only seen Tom at two gigs, both by Mission of Burma). Rob’s songwriting has become somewhat unpredictable in this phase, with songs that sound like Middle Eastern martial music (“Something Dark Against Something Light”) to deconstructed blues ("Slave") to loping, slow waltz-timed numbers like “Old,” which may even see a bit of the Wright brothers' Irish background creeping in. Even songs that remind one of classic punk Nomeansno ("Jubilation"), on vinyl, anyhow, sound somehow different from what one has come to expect of Nomeansno - an intangible difference, and very hard to pin down, especially after seeing how well such numbers work live. Some fans, like me, are simultaneously worried and excited. The proverbial “old dogs” (no offense!) have been taught new tricks; what the fuck is going to happen next?

(One pleasant possibility, to make a circle of things, would be a decision to return to the musical aesthetic of Mama, actually –maybe even an updated recording of that album, call it Mama 2012? I was most delighted to see "No Sex," the greatest punk offering to the GLBT community on record of which I am aware, in the set last night. I wonder if Xtra West - almost typo'd that as "Xtra Wet," chortle - would pay for an interview with Rob Wright about that...?).

End preamble.

Picked up Tour EP 2 at Red Cat and I'm delighted with it. (It will also be sold at the show tonight, no doubt). My favourite song thus far recorded in this “ongoing” period of Nomeansno is “All The Little Bourgeois Dreams.” “Jubilation” and all of the other side are pretty damned good, too. I like Tour EP 2 (digital download here) much, much better than Tour EP 1: I guess Tour EP 1 served to pave the way… I get it now, I'm ready. Tour EP 2 is very, very good. The songs are killer live (tho' we only got "Jubilation" and "One and the Same" last night).

Nomeansno play Friday night at the Biltmore. If you have never seen this band, you are truly missing something. One of the great rock bands - fantastic. PS., Does Rob look like he's about ten years younger, suddenly? Is this somehow an effect of fatherhood, or what?

Susanne Tabata, Kibatsu cinema, and a side-note on Jafar Panahi!

Susanne Tabata, the maker of Vancouver punk rock documentary extrordinaire Bloodied But Unbowed, will be curating this year's Kibatsu cinema series at the Pacific Cinematheque (1131 Howe St) this weekend, both because she was invited to, and, she explains, in memory of her father; she's programmed everything from Yakuza films (Seijun Suzuki's 1963 Youth of the Beast, poster above) to anime (like Paprika, poster to the left) - including a film that I believe is having its Vancouver theatrical premiere. "A group of DTES kids - the anime selection team - picked The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya", Tabata tells me by email. "It's a blockbuster in Japan. The distributor let the film come here because they were so captivated by the story. Here's a photo of them:"

"The kids are on our heels...: ( l to r ) UNA, AVY and ZUKI. Power to the DTES" - Susanne Tabata, photo, not to be reused without permission

There's also a documentary on the independent Tokyo music scene that I sadly will miss, Live from Tokyo. I went to a few shows in my days in Tokyo - often in the western reaches of Shinjuku (or was it Shibuya?), in the tiny Penguin House, say (where I caught Haino Keiji, playing to a packed house of 40 people) to Star Pines Cafe (where I saw Ruins-Hatoba, featuring Yamamotor - Seiichi Yamamoto - of the Boredoms and Omoide Hatoba) to... hell, I'm not sure of the names of some of them were. (I mostly went to western rock concerts when I was in Japan, like Joe Strummer, GY!BE, and Lou Reed, in part because it was a damn sight easier for a solo-travellin', non-kanji-readin' gaijin like me to find venues like the Akasaka Blitz or the Liquid Room than it was to find some little live house in Koenji; fewer questions to be asked of strangers in broken Japanese, eh?). I wish I could be there for this film, actually, but I have other plans. By the way, Tabata informs me that "There is a music tour called NextMusicFromTokyo which does three Canadian stops - Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. They will be at the Biltmore in October."

Lastly, there's also a screening of the giddily deranged 1977 recent western cult hit "discovery," House, and the Vancouver premiere of Go Shibata's Doman Seman, which Susanne describes as "the biggest kibatsu or off-the-wall flick" in the series. "It's a nihilist tour de force attacking the conventions of 20th century greed and human chaos," she writes. "Go Shibata is an indie cult hero. Having paved the way with Late Bloomer - the film about the handicapped serial killer who seeks revenge after his heart is broken by going on a killing spree. Doman Seman pushes the boundaries further with a mash up of music (ska/thrashmetal) and riveting rage against society."

Sounds pretty fuckin' punk rock to me, actually.

Also of note: there's an upcoming series of films in support of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has managed to be persecuted both by the Americans and the Iranians, while making compelling, provocative films (I've only seen The Circle, pictured above, which is a structurally inventive feminist film, but it was very moving and educational). He's currently serving a six year sentence for "sedition-like charges," having pissed off the current regime, and has, apparently, been barred from making films for 20 years. Looks like he may be a "future filmmaker in exile." Abbas Kiarostami fans may want to note that one of Panahi's films to screen, The White Balloon, was scripted by Kiarostami - Panahi's mentor.

See also my piece on Machete Maidens Unleashed!, below, and note the really interesting-sounding film its paired with: Orgasm, Inc.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Playing the Friday the 27th at the Malkin Bowl - Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! From the Monkey Warfare soundtrack: "What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?" Hell yeah! More of their music here!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gregg Araki, Kaboom, and an unexpected return to the realm of autofellatio

Gregg Araki's Kaboom - opening this Friday at the Vancity Theatre - has a scene that floored me, which I simply could not elaborate upon in my interview with Araki in the Georgia Straight this week; for one thing, the reasons it caught my attention were entirely too personal. The main character, the sexually "undeclared" film student Smith, is fixated on his surfer roommate Thor, a big, dumb blonde straight dude; one night, Smith does a double take, on entering his dorm, to see that Thor is lying on his bed with his feet raised above his head, doing a flexibility exercise that, he hopes, will help him to eventually suck his own penis. Thor declares happily that he read about how to do this on the internet. I felt a very strange shock run through me at this scene, because I had mentioned my own (only semi-successful) attempts at autofellatio in one of the odder - some might indeed say queerer! - digressions in writing about film, when (sort of) reviewing Gregg Araki's previous film, Smiley Face: could it be that Araki had read my piece of writing, and was somehow inspired to incorporate an autofellatio scene into his movie?

Note: Thor is not in the autofellatio position, here.

When it looked like I might actually be interviewing Araki, I posted a link to my Smiley Face piece on his production company's Facebook page. When, in fact, the interview did get set up, I had the question ready. As I set it up, I was met with Araki's laughter.

Gregg: Oh you’re the one who posted that! Ha ha!

Allan: Yes, I am, I am – hi. So I wrote this review of Smiley Face where I felt obliged to mention that I had attempted autofellatio. I don’t know how I got there.

Gregg: Why not? It makes perfect sense.

Allan: Well, Smiley Face and autofellatio – (and here, sincerely, no pun was intended) – it’s a bit of a stretch. Not so much with Kaboom, though. So where did the autofellatio scene come from?

Gregg: Well, I don’t know where some of the stuff – like, my movies come from totally mysterious places; I sit down and write some of these scenes, and I don’t know where they come from - like, the thing with the dumpster, like, I dunno where that came from; I saw a dumpster once, and... When I write my movies, I just have this kinda “movie in my head," and it’s just all these images and scenes and characters and stuff happening. I didn’t read the thing that you wrote about autofellatio, but obviously I’ve seen whatever, net stuff – just the same shit that everybody sees, you know! And it was just really funny to me: the Thor character was this vivid character in my head, and just this idea that he was torturing smith with his, like, heterosexuality, but at the same time, he’s blowing himself; there’s something about that image that was really wonderful to me. I don’t know exactly where it came from – somewhere in my subconscious!

Allan: And –

Gregg (laughing): And no, I’ve never tried it!

Allan: I wasn’t actually going to ask you that, but thanks for setting the record straight! So how about language. You have these wonderful, wonderful images, like, “sucking the farts from a dead pigeon” and such. Does this stuff just come to you, or do you keep a notebook, or…?

Gregg: I do keep a notebook. I’m really, really into language and slang. I always have been. But a lot of the slang in my movies isn’t even real slang, it’s not like I hang out at the mall and listen to see what the kids are saying today; I just make some of this shit up, y’know what I mean? To me, that’s the funnest part of it, is inventing your own kind of slang. And that’s just something I’ve always been really interested in, this colourful way of speaking. It’s a testament to me of how great the actors are, that they can take these weird phrases and weird dialogue and make it sound like normal, like kids are talking like this everyday. Because a lot of it is very stylized and over the top. It’s one of the reasons I hate reality TV so much, because it’s so not interesting, you know? I don’t really watch the show, but somebody sent me that Laguna Beach show or something, once, and – watching these sort of inarticulate kids say “uh, well, um” with no sort of flourish – the way kids really talk, which is just, like, nothing, you know what I mean? It bores me! I don’t really go to the movies to watch inarticulate mumbling. I’m more interested in something more stylized and fun to watch.

Allan: The ending of the film seems to owe a great deal to Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive. Was that an inspiration?

Gregg: No, I haven’t seen that movie. The ending of the movie was almost like a dream – it just sort of came to me as an image. For me, it was the only way the movie could end. It’s funny, because when John Waters saw the movie, John really loved it, and he emailed me saying that the ending is his idea of a feelgood ending, so… that was good to hear! (laughs).

Allan: It’s being said in the press that the movie stems from something John Waters said – that he asked you to make an “old school Gregg Araki” movie. But that’s not actually true, is it?

Gregg: It didn’t actually stem from that. It’s been a something I’ve been working on for years. I mean, it’s a project that I’ve been writing and working on and… but a few years ago I had run into John and he mentioned that he wanted to see me do an old school Gregg Araki movie, which I found (a) very flattering, but (b) kind of a good omen for the project.

Allan: I’ve actually seen (Araki’s undistributed, unused, but easily torrented year 2000 MTV pilot) This is How the World Ends, and I know there’s a lesbian witch subplot there, and there’s a lesbian witch subplot in Kaboom – so was that a source of material?

Gregg: There’s definitely a relationship. The MTV pilot is something that I worked really hard at, and it would have been a fun thing to do. And actually Kaboom at one point was written as a TV pilot, and was intended to be, like, a cable TV show. So there are definitely things – stuff that was in the pilot – that I loved, and I really wanted to have it seen, like the lesbian witch and – there’s a few other things. But the idea of the pilot ending – it ends literally on this big cliffhanger – and the idea of a movie that ends on a cliffhanger was kind of – there’s definitely a relationship between the two.

Allan: So is there a plan to continue with Kaboom? I mean, you call it a cliffhanger, but (SPOILER!) the world blows up, so… that seems like the end of the story to me!

Gregg: The cool thing about Kaboom is, Kaboom is set up in this universe… that was one of the most exciting things about working on the movie, was – it’s set up in a universe that’s kind of more stylized, it’s like, hyperstylized, and influenced by comic books and graphic novels and stuff. It’s kind of this world where anything could happen. It was really fun to work in that milieu, and so within that context, I think – you never know what could happen!

Allan: So as you've said, the film is much more optimistic than your early works. I’m wondering, though – there’s a quote from Robin Wood – you’re familiar with him?

Gregg: I actually met Robin in Toronto. When I met him – I read a lot of his stuff when I was at film school; he was the first openly gay film critic. The movie, The Living End, that I did back in the early 1990’s, the subtitle is ‘an irresponsible movie by Gregg Araki,’ and that title actually comes from an article that Robin wrote called “The Lure of Irresponsibility,” which was about Bringing Up Baby, one of my favourite movies. And it’s actually from that article, and The Living End in a way based on the same sort of paradigm as Bringing Up Baby. Robin Wood was very excited to hear that an essay that he wrote like, whatever – 40 years ago, at that time – that it actually had an impact on my movie.

Allan: Excellent. I know he was fan of The Doom Generation, which he wrote about in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan – the updated, revised version. But he also says, somewhere in there - he is despairing about the state of things in America, and the state of cinema in America, but he says that one of the things that has improved is that the media and the public in general have gotten a lot less homophobic. And that’s also a big difference between Kaboom and The Doom Generation - about the only trace of homophobia is when the two jocks are rolling on the floor calling each other a “fagburger and a side of fag fries” and such…

Gregg: (Read Gregg’s complete answer as quoted in my Georgia Straight article!).

Allan: So do you spend a lot of time among young people? Your last couple of films have been very youthful in orientation...

Gregg (laughing): Smiley Face is more just stoner-oriented than youth oriented to me! And not necessarily… I mean, I have friends of all different ages, most of my friends are “old like me”… Really the genesis of Kaboom, is – of all of my movies, it sounds crazy to say it, but because it’s such a nutty movie – but it’s really my most autobiographical movie. It was sort of a revisiting for me, of that time in your life when you’re totally unwritten, where you don’t know what your place is in the world, you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’re going to be. Your whole life is a question mark. The Smith character is very much based on my own experiences as an undergraduate film student at UC Santa Barbara. The school is basically based on my old school, and my best friend at the time was an art major at the College of Creative Studies. So much of the milieu of the movie is really drawn from my own personal experience – the movie is more me. It’s not me hanging out at a 2011 college campus and taking notes and making a movie about that! It’s really for me a kind of revisiting of my own youth. That’s one of the places where the movie comes from.

Allan: Something I’m curious about in the film – you’ve said it’s one of your more transgressive movies, in terms of there being no negative consequences for having sex. But something in it reminded me of Nowhere. In Nowhere, just as our main character is about to find possible love, in the form of Montgomery – Montgomery transforms into a giant alien bug. And now in Kaboom, Smith seems like he might have a workable love interest in Oliver, but just as that looks like it might develop – the whole apocalypse thing intrudes; at one point Smith actually says – “I’ll call you even if the world ends” – and then the world ends! So I wonder what that means: characters in your movies can find sex, but they have a much harder time finding love.

Gregg: There’s definitely that sense of yearning, there. To me, my movies have always had this romantic underpinning. In Nowhere, the Jimmy Duvall character is just this kind of bleeding heart looking for love in a hostile world, basically – and constantly having his heart broken. It’s been a part of all my movies, but it’s also very much a part of that age; there’s that sense – at least for me , particularly – when you’re in college, and you’re in these new relationships, and you’re learning about yourself and learning about other people and sex and love and everything else – you’re always kinda searching, and you’re always, in a weird way, yearning for something. It’s frequently unrequited, and I think there’s something kinda poignant about that. And I think that’s a big part of the soul of Kaboom.

Gregg Araki, centre, directing Kaboom

Gregg Araki's Kaboom opens Friday at the Vancity Theatre!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Independent Flixx: another one bites the dust

(sign from Reel Bulldog video, RIP).

Seems like video stores are dropping so fast this spring that evolutionary theorists should take note - it's like they're caught in some sort of mass extinction death spiral...

When I lived in the west end, I would rent sometimes from Independent Flixx on Denman. I don't remember all the titles, but I know I rented - and thus first saw - Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! on VHS from them, back before that film was available on DVD, as well as the documentary about Negativland and company, Sonic Outlaws. They did a pretty good job of mixing up highbrow and lowbrow, arthouse and trash, and had - or so it seemed - a bigger-than-average selection of GLBT themed films to appeal to the Davie Street rainbow market. Guess what? A friend informs me by text that they're selling off their stock. Maybe people are rushing to get out before the market for used DVDs is saturated? You can already find stores with large selections sale priced between $3 and $5, and Rogers has "Buy one get two free" sales periodically. It's gotten so that charging $9.99 for a used DVD seems unrealistically exorbitant...

...News 1130 reports, further, that Blockbuster are closing a third of their Canadian stores on May 26th (they identify Videomatica as a "smaller chain" - oops).

Record Scouting in Maple Ridge

...there's not much to be found here. There are a handful of thrift stores that still have vinyl (sometimes for as little as 25 cents), a corner at the Haney Place Mall Antique Fair (which, it happens, is closing down on Tuesday), and one old couple on the Lougheed Highway who sell records out of their costume/ dance shop, with a highly arbitrary filing system that suggests very little knowledge of the music they sell. It would be possible to look at every record for sale in downtown Maple Ridge within a three hour span, if you simply walked from location to location, as I have sometimes done. Begin at the Hospital Auxiliary thrift store on the south side of Dewdney between 222nd and 223rd; cross the street to check out the Cythera Thrift store in the old Haney Mall, near Liquidation World; walk east from there along the Dewdney to the Hospice Thrift store, around back of the insurance brokers at 224th and Dewdney; detour past Haney Place Mall (unless you're in town this weekend, in which case the Antique Fair will still be open); then hit Bibles for Missions thrift store, on the Lougheed Highway, between 224th and 225th. Once you're done, turn west and walk straight through the 224th intersection, where - a few stores past the Tim Horton's, you'll find the old couple's shop. If you continue to the Pitt Meadows side of town, around 207th, there's a Value Village, and around 202nd there's a Salvation Army. Unless I've missed something, you'll have thus seen every used record for sale in Maple Ridge. (Unless you come on Wednesday before 4pm, mind you, which is when St. Andrews church has their thrift sale).

Whether you'd find anything you wanted would be another matter. For every obscure gem you might find, you'll get your hands dusty and get a kink in your neck from flipping through a bazillion Mantovani, Bert Kampfert, Perry Como, Alfred Apaka, and Dionne Warwick albums; pickings are so slim that even finding a Reveen record is cause to smile. In the goin'-on-two-years since I've moved back here, doing the thrift store rounds out of sheer lack of there being anything else to do in Maple Ridge, I've netted only about half a dozen gems, like a Sidney Bechet anthology, a somewhat scratchy (but 100% free!) Esquivel, or an album of Spike Jones interpreting Hank Williams tunes. The good thing is about making a find in a town like this is that it will likely cost you 50 cents, which is the going rate for a slab of vinyl. (The highest prices, at said old couple's shop, are $2 each, or three for five dollars).

Today's pickings were a bit better than usual, as it happens. Devoting myself to a thorough poke through the Haney Place Mall netted me two Martin Denny albums, while the dance shop on the Lougheed netted me an old-school country-cum-rockabilly album by Spade Nielsen and the Gamblers, featuring a most appealing cover and what I father is their hit, "Pickle Squirts." (Sorry, folks, it's not on Youtube). I had been hoping to find some funk or blues or oldschool R&B - maybe the original version of the Supremes "My World Is Empty," would be fun to hear, since the Little Guitar Army cover it on their new CD; still, the rule is, take what you can find. And, I mean, how can I not want to hear a song called "Pickle Squirts?"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed! ...and coming to the Cinematheque!

"One of the great ironies of the Filipino pictures is that you have these movies being made about revolution against a fascist dictatorship... in a fascist dictatorship!" - John Landis, in Machete Maidens Unleashed

There's a fascinating, exuberant new doc that rips breezily through the history of Filipino-made exploitation cinema, called Machete Maidens Unleashed! (trailer here), playing in early June at the Cinematheque. It's directed by Mark Hartley, who did the well-liked documentary on Ozploitation fare, Not Quite Hollywood a couple of years ago, and features interviews from the likes of Pam Grier, Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman, Dick Miller, Christopher Mitchum, and indeed, key members of the Filipino film industry, including Eddie Romero, Eddie Garcia, and various others whom I don't know, like prolific producer/ director Cirio H. Santiago or Franco "Chito" Guerrero (star of The One-Armed Executioner ). It begins with a brief overview of the state of Filipino cinema, shortly before the arrival, in the late 60's, of Americans like Kane Lynn and John Ashley, and spends a generous amount of time on the various Blood Island films and Roger Corman produced women-in-prison pictures - though, covering about a fifteen year span, it also takes in later, more domestic projects like the films of Weng Weng (a three foot tall but porportionate dwarf who played a James Bond figure, say in For Your Height Only) and the much later, much larger American production of Apocalypse Now. No knowledge of these movies is required to appreciate the film; it's actually probably more entertaining, in some cases, to see just the highlights than to see the films themselves (though so much information is provided that you may feel yourself a bit overloaded on first viewing; if you don't already have an internal filing system for Filipino exploitation cinema when you arrive at the theatre, your cup will be running over by the end). The film compiles a vast collection of clips, trailers, and press snippets, deftly interweaving them with the interviews such that a clear narrative arc is formed. It is narrated simply by the quotes, which are often memorable (from Jack Hill: "Someone had a gunfight in the lobby while some of my people were there... but apparently those things were kinda common.") And many of the people interviewed (like Joe Dante and Allan Arkush, talking about the trailers they edited for New World Pictures, which often had no bearing on the films themselves) are delightful raconteurs, filled with humour and a sincere love of film. These are often extremely garish, unsubtle, violent, leering, and sometimes very badly made films, mind you. Brides of Blood, the one of these films I saw part of, involved natives sacrificing virgins to a mutated beast who comes out of the jungle to rape them; for all its T&A and gratuitous violence, the film had a weirdly anti-capitalist subtext, since the beast turns out (I gather - I never got this far, before accidentally trading the film in at Videomatica)to be the alter-identity of a wealthy capitalist who lords over the townspeople, and must eventually be defeated. Apparently this sort of oddly revolutionary subtext was common in these movies, which channelled some of the unrest Filipinos felt under Marcos - though it's more prevalent, we're told, in the American productions shot there for the international market than the domestic films, which were subject to greater censorship. More notable is that the film has some of the worst-looking make up and special effects one can imagine; the radioactive killer plants are particularly awful, so it's a shoe-in they'd be included in Machete Maidens Unleashed!

What really makes Machete Maidens Unleashed! interesting, however, is that a subtle turnabout eventually occurs, making you aware of how much of a deal with the devil these films were. Initially, the horrifying anecdotes one hears invite a chuckle, at how off-the-map-and-into-the-jungle conditions were in the Philippines in the 1970's. Sid Haig tells of seeing a kitten carried off by a rat and an army attack dog being used in a shoot eating a DOP's lightmeter. Actress Celeste Yarnall talks a bit more critically - though with a smile on her face - of being a pregnant woman subjected to dangerous stunts and unsafe working conditions, and about how she was cajoled into doing a nude scene that she thought, wrongly, that no one but the Japanese market would see. (Some discussion is included of how these films - which often feature tough but topless women - might be viewed from a feminist point of view, by the way). As for health and safety, the glass that Filipino stuntment fell or was thrown through in these pictures was apparently real glass - the Filipino film industry had no idea of candy glass, we're told. And re: the exploitation of cheap labour, the average Filipino involved in the making of these films was paid $5 a day. The film at first encourages you to slap your forehead and grin at tales of aspiring, possibly somewhat naive film crews working in such conditions - but around the time that we're hearing stories of helicopters that had just gotten back from strafing rebel forces arriving on set to be used in a movie (or the rumour that the dead bodies seen strewn about in Apocalypse Now are actual dead bodies, kept in a special cooler) it becomes clear that the Americans are involved in something morally questionable. Interesting how long it takes for that revelation to set in, in fact; something about film, especially BAD film, makes it seem more immune to criticism than, say, a running shoe or other sweatshop-produced garment.

Maybe it's just that I know a bit about the history of American involvement in the Philippines, thanks to my recent interview with John Gianvito about his film Vapor Trail: Clark. American presence there has always been part of a colonialist venture, exploiting cheap labour and the freedoms that come from being far out of the scope of American public concern; in some cases - such as the toxic wastes left behind when Clark base was closed - this has had disastrous side-effects for Filipinos. These sorts of moral/ political considerations are definitely left out of the film, which maintains a lighthearted, fun tone, but I wonder if there are Filipino stuntment alive today with lasting injuries from participating in some of these movies? (There is brief mention, too, of people dying during a shoot - something that John Landis is not asked to comment on, though he seems to be the most critically sensitive of the various interviewees, actually, generally showing that he has a very finely-tuned bullshit detector and functioning moral conscience). At some point during the film, I even started to think of an old saw that gets repeated in certain circles about what's happening in the downtown east side of Vancouver - that artists are the first wave of gentrification. It figures: creative types, willing to sacrifice creature comforts and scrimp on security in order to be able to leave their dayjobs, with all the risks that that implies, and make art, will be among the first people from the middle classes to move into poor neighbourhoods, accepting the dodgier conditions there as part of the price they must pay. So is an aspiring musician renting studio space or an apartment in a run down building in the DTES, so he or she can make art, on some level akin to Roger Corman, moving the production of The Big Doll House from America to the Philippines, to make his movie bigger and cheaper? ...Bearing in mind, of course, that Corman may well be more of a capitalist than an artist, as John Landis points out during the documentary. Troubling questions, these: if artists are the avant garde of gentrification... where do they fit in the globalisation of capital? And even though this particular chapter of cinema history is closed, what does it imply about the current state of labour practices, world wide (which, ironically, currently sees Vancouver as one of the locations of choice for low-budget American film productions)?

These final thoughts are well outside the scope of Machete Maidens Unleashed!, but I'm pretty sure anyone seeing this movie will have lots to think and talk about afterwards, since it does open up onto larger issues. It's also a hell of an enjoyable ride, as a film, and a must-see for anyone passionate about exploitation cinema. I gotta see me some of these women-in-prison movies... they look to be a hoot...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ford Pier rocks!

Ford Pier by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

So I declared myself on petulant (temporary?) strike re: writing about Nomeansno awhile back. My saying that was not entirely serious - it wasn't even something I had planned to make public, except that I'd had this dream that (Nomeansno drummer) John Wright was in, and felt the need to write it out; and how can you write about a dream without explaining the context it may have emerged from? I'm still a fan and so forth - I just kinda get the feeling that the brothers Wright don't really care about press (or maybe they just find me irritating; it's not outside the realm of possibility!).

All of which is fine, they don't need me to be a great band. I'll be seeing them on Thursday, and am still vacillating about whether to go on Friday or not, assuming tickets are still available. I have tentative other plans for that day, but I'm suddenly really keen to see the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio (his official site is here), having just caught them in front of Mike Watt. They only open for the band on the Friday show... I've seen Ford a bunch of times in the past, without him ever being the main reason I was at the show, without knowing a single song he was singing (unless it was a Show Business Giants tune, which is a bit different - that band is mostly Tom Holliston's, these days, with Ford, if I recall, singing and writing the odd song). I mean no slight against him - but as it happens I doubt there is any other artist I have had quite so much exposure to without actually having sought it out.

The laundry list: I've seen Ford Pier perform twice in Ontario, in Waterloo and Hamilton, I believe, in front of NMN; I had no idea who he was, at that point, and barely paid attention, as sometimes one does with opening acts - I was more concerned with drinking, socializing and scribbling notes on the Jandek show I'd seen that same week. Then I saw Ford join Nomeansno on stage in Toronto to sing the Show Business Giants' "Sugartown" for the sake of the smattering of people who were in-the-know enough to appreciate what was going down; there were doubtlessly several Nomeansno fans in the audience who were utterly non-plussed - "who is this dude onstage? This ain't a Nomeansno song!" I barely knew what was going on myself, but was impressed by Pier's enthusiam. It made me more curious, as did plunging shortly thereafter into the music of the Show Business Giants, even seeing him onstage with that band. After that, I caught Ford again onstage with Daniel Johnson at Richards on Richards, where he did a rather introspective and abstracted opening set; it had been over a year since I had seen him, at that point, and his music was so different from my past associations with him that I didn't recognize him, to my embarrassment. I figured that out at Red Cat Records, where I actually spoke to him for the first time, shortly thereafter; I've spoken to him there on numerous occasions, sometimes very productively (he recently recommend an uber-cool anthology Indonesian psych-funk to me, and boy was he right about how good it is). Ford Pier by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

It was only after all of that, within the last few months, that steel pan player Judith Scott of the now, I believe, defunct Sister DJ's Radio Band (who have a new 7" out, if you can track it down!) introduced me to a really funny, warm, sharply observed song of Ford's about a couple who fall in love at a bingo hall - certainly the first song of his that really caught my attention (I forget the name but am told - by Ford - that it's on Meconium; it's kinda up there with Stompin' Tom's "Sudbury Saturday Night" as a slice of smalltown Canadian life). It was memorable enough that, when I found DOA's The Black Spot in a dollar bin, I bent an ear with some curiosity to hear the song - or was it songs? - that he sings on that album (It was an interesting listen, overall, though it's, without faulting anyone, a good contender for the weakest DOA album of all time; it has a rather ironic title, considering. John Wright drums, filling in for their previous drummer, Ken Jensen, who had died in a fire). It has gotten so that, having had so many experiences of Ford without having ever really done anything to follow up on them (ie., buy and listen to one of his CDs), that I have been starting to feel a little sheepish, shopping at Red Cat. Like at some point, I knew: I was going to have to actually put my mind to this Ford Pier and his music, because he is clearly an interesting & significant dude.
Eric Napier with the FPVT, by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

That time is apparently now. I caught the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio when they opened for Mike Watt a couple of weeks ago, and Ford and his bandmates (Brad Lambert and Eric Napier, who are also in Slowpoke and the Smoke, whom I wrote about here) were so tight, sharp, smart, and jaggedly, engagingly energetic that they caught me well off guard. I was thinking at times of Rush, because of occasionally unpredictable, proggy song-structures, or - as Ford leapt and bounced and twisted and put his back into his playing - of a certain stripe of muscular, distinctly Canadian rock of yore (Max Webster, anyone?). Then the Sorrow and the Pity's Dave R. Bastard - an insidiously bright dude - mentioned being reminded by Ford of "everything he liked about The Who," which completely replaced my own perceptions; suddenly, in my mind, Ford became Canada's answer to Pete Townshend, minus the self-indulgence and the jumpsuit. (Does Ford even have a Ford jumpsuit? He should). The songs were eccentric and original enough that, while teetering on the verge of a kind of classic rock, they were somewhat challenging to follow, not always doing the predictable rock thing; played so passionately, precisely and powerfully, with me on full focused attention (mandating myself to finally PAY ATTENTION TO FORD PIER), I was kind of quietly blown away. Ah, so I have been missing something! I see... Ford's set was, in fact, vastly more entertaining than watching Watt relentlessly jog through his new opera nonstop (tho' nowhere near as cool as the Double Nickels encore or the sheer energy from Watt and band towards the end of the set; I can't get too carried away, here). I'm really keen to hear recordings by the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, when they happen - if they capture what I saw at that Watt show, their album is going to be a Canadian classic. Brad Lambert, by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Maybe I'll check out Friday, after all... I might actually recognize some of the songs from the Watt show (& it won't be the first time I've seen Nomeansno two nights in a row!).
Ford Pier by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Extricating Lars

I am pleased to see someone doing the work to extricate Mr. von Trier from the rather awful place he has blundered himself into (amusingly enough, he ends on a note similar to mine, below). Thanks, Dan, for the link!

(EDITED to add - and thanks to Theodore Stinks for this fine bit of self-extrictation from Mr. von Trier, in which the connection between Melancholia and the Moomintrolls is elaborated...!).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Give The Rickshaw a Liquor License!

The Rebel Spell performing at the Rickshaw, photo by Femke van Delft

Sure, there are too many bars in the DTES already, but the Rickshaw - which hopes to get the first new liquor license in the area since 1990 - is not a bar, it's a performance venue. Since the destruction of Richards on Richards, it is one of the only places in Vancouver appropriate to housing a certain size of show and type of show, which has led to it rather cornering the market on the punk and metal scene in Vancouver - at least for mid-sized bands. 75% of the concerts I've gone to in Vancouver in the last year have been there, many of them by bands from Vancouver, many of whom - because of the values of the people who tend to play there - are identified as "East Van" bands. It's by far my favourite venue to catch music in in the city (I mean, technically the Commodore is a better space, but it's a bigger venue, which doesn't attract the sort of bands or crowds the Rickshaw draws; in two years, the Rickshaw has come in many ways to fill the gap left behind by the Cobalt, as it was formerly run, becoming a sort of punk community centre, at least on the nights when there are gigs; with apologies to wendythirteen, it's just a much nicer space to see shows than Funky Winkerbeans!).

I can understand, in fact, the concern about gentrification in the area, and wouldn't support the creation of a sports bar or other drinking establishment in the downtown eastside, but there's a big difference between The Rickshaw and some Yuppie watering hole; it's only open for events, usually on weekends; it has no daytime hours or tables for people to sit and drink. And it doesn't attract locals whose goal is just to get drunk, since the shows usually cost at least $20 to get into. There are a billion other cheap establishments for drinking in the neighbourhood that DTES drinkers don't have to pay to get into, in fact, so saying that "another bar is bad for the neighbourhood" is, in fact, a bizarrely irrelevant non-sequitur; with a billion places surrounding it that serve as watering holes for the poor, the Rickshaw being allowed to serve alcohol to its clientele can in fact DO NO HARM TO THE COMMUNITY WHATSOEVER.

No, the question should be whether a PERFORMANCE VENUE is good for the neighbourhood - a performance venue that just happens, like many others, to need to be able to sell alcohol to survive. It's certainly good for the Vancouver arts scene as a whole, but given the sort of people it draws and nurtures, I don't see it as being bad for the DTES, either. Rather than drawing self-insulating Yuppies, it attracts punks and young people - from local bands like The Rebel Spell, whose songs have a roughly anarcho-communist orientation, very much concerned with the fate of the working class, poor, and disenfranchised, to bigger, headlining acts like the Subhumans or Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine (both of whom are photographed at the Rickshaw here). Subhumans singer Brian Goble and drummer Jon Card even work in the DTES, in support of the community, as do members of Bison BC, Black Mountain, and other bands that play the Rickshaw on a regular basis. In fact, on show nights - which usually take place on one or two nights a week - there's a rare dialogue created between DTES residents and non-. You don't see DTES residents interacting with the wealthy salon-goin', condo-owning types who are descending on the neighbourhood, to go to high end pizza parlours or poke into some bizarrely out-of-place boutique - and who would want to interact with people like that, anyhow? But every time there's a lineup in front of the Rickshaw, before doors open, there's always at least a few locals trying to sell scavenged items, cadge coins, bum smokes, or sometimes just entertain themselves by interacting with the 20-somethings in line (not always productively, but - it beats the shit out of complete segregation!). I don't like the "accordioning" of the poor into a smaller and smaller space that we see in the DTES either, or the schizophrenic shift one experiences, sometimes in as little as one block, from gentrified condo-land to crackdealer row, as the wealthy muscle in on the poor. But PEOPLE NEED A PLACE TO PLAY AND SEE MUSIC, and MUSIC IS NOT THE ENEMY.

The Rickshaw is not the enemy, either, folks. Please let it survive.

Now about wendythirteen...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Strange dreams of Black Sabbath

I have just awakened from a complete non-sequitur, a dream that has no apparent relationship to anything that I've been thinking, feeling, seeing or doing: I am at a Black Sabbath reunion show at the Pacific Coliseum. The place is packed and the energy is high. I am aware that a girl I once had an attachment to is in the audience, with her current boyfriend, though the reason for their presence is mysterious to me - they play no further role. Black Sabbath, performing with Ozzy Osbourne, are on stage. They give an exciting show - not that I recall them singing any actual Black Sabbath songs - though at one point, hoping I will not be noticed, I have to sneak away from my seat to take a bowel movement in an odd sort of curtained toilet set up at one side of the auditorium, which is a bit embarrassing (this element of the dream is the only one with an apparent explanation in waking life, since I kinda actually do need to go to the can). Shortly thereafter, when the band stops to take a break between sets, things begin to go wrong - Ozzy goes out to a bar, and we discover later, is disinclined to return to performing. The band members try to do a few solo numbers and finally just open things up to an informal meet and greet with the fans, since the show can't go on; in particular, when Geezer Butler is introduced (why Geezer and not Tony?), the fans mob him, and in the crush, I see one of the member's wives get nearly steamrollered. I go over to her, ask her if everything is all right, and we chat a bit.

I mill around the increasingly emptied out Pacific Coliseum, hoping that the show will somehow go on, but soon I am the only one there. A little (Asian?) kid arrives and takes a seat near me; he's waiting for something quite different, and asks me what I'm doing. I explain about Black Sabbath and heavy metal, but he is unfamiliar with either; I try singing him the beginning of "Paranoid," to cue his memory, and when I realize that I can't quite get the lyrics right, revert to imitating the riff. He is amused, but he doesn't know the song.

In exploring the empty auditorium, I notice that there are various bags of items - including things belonging to the band and a few items they had been planning to give away - and amongst them, I notice two volumes of Adam Parfrey's Apocalypse Culture books. They have no obvious owner, and I briefly consider taking them, since I don't feel like I've gotten my money's worth of the night. But I can't justify it in my head. Surely they belong to someone? I put them back and look around - the place sure is empty. I guess the band won't be coming back, after all...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Into Eternity at the Vancity Theatre

...caught Into Eternity at the last VIFF, opening on the 27th at the VIFC: it's a chilly, creepy, artful and educational consideration of the problems posed by building a long term storage facility for nuclear waste - problems such as, how do you post warning signs that will be recognizable tens or hundreds of thousands of years in the future, when knowing nothing about the state of human culture or language at that time? With perfectly used songs by Kraftwerk, access to stunning and unique visuals, and a variety of articulate Northern European scientists on hand to explain the various issues raised, this is a disturbing but fascinating documentary - one which almost feels like a work of speculative fiction. It's also a much more entertaining experience than reading online about the spread of radioactivity out of Japan, say. Some of the scientists' chilly Nordic detachment might even be soothing, 'round about now.

Lars von Trier - pity the poor weirdo

Ah, Lars. You poor shmuck. (He has been barred from Cannes, even though his film Melancholia remains in competition, for saying at a press conference that he can understand Hitler. Personally, more than angering me, it makes me think that von Trier would make an excellent subject for a reality TV show). (A more revealing article here, or a brief Youtube clip, here).

And God help me, because - I don't understand Hitler, but I think I understand Lars von Trier.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid to screen at Dylan fest

Some great films playing at the upcoming festival of Bob Dylan-related movies, Dilineating Dylan, at the Vancity Theatre: Don't Look Back, I'm Not There, and Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home, an unusually revealing documentary, are all well worth your time, if you haven't seen them. The one that needs to be seen by anyone passionate about American cinema, however - regardless of their enthusiasm for Dylan - is Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, playing this Saturday, May 21st. It's a striking fable of the co-optation of America by capitalism and land barons - or maybe it's about getting old? It's a film with more relevance to the American counterculture than people might expect from Peckinpah... but the history of the film is almost as sad as the story it tells, and the cut they're playing is compromised, as are all versions of the film available.

A could-have-been classic of '70's cinema, arguably the most profound and ambitious film Peckinpah ever attempted, with a Dylan soundtrack and memorable performances by James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, and Dylan himself, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was taken from Peckinpah's hands by the studio back in the 1970's and cut against his wishes. Peckinpah kept his own rough cut to screen for friends - not, it has been argued, a final cut, since it meanders and bloats and has several scenes that clearly would not have been retained in a finished, polished product; it looks, for good reason, like the work of a drunken genius, with moments of brilliance competing with moments of obvious self-indulgence and alcohol-soaked poor judgment, never given a final edit because it had at that point been taken from him anyhow; there was no reason to complete it. However, this very rough rough cut was clearly, in many regards, truer to Peckinpah's intentions than the studio version, and has moments of great power that were lost or damaged otherwise, if you can sit through the rest. Among the parts that work, for me is a climactic line, uttered by Coburn, after Billy the Kid (I'm assuming this isn't a spoiler) has been shot; a bounty hunter riding with Coburn goes to cut off Billy's trigger finger as a souvenir, and Coburn, indignant - even though he has played a major role in hunting down his former friend - hits him and chastises him, saying "What you want and what you get are two different things." These words ring like an epitaph for a free America, as romanticized and eulogized by the director; it's a chilling, memorable moment - as is, whichever cut you watch ("with or without lyrics"), Slim Pickens' death scene, to the strains of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," which a certain cinephile friend of mine has described in private correspondence as "the single greatest moment in cinema ever."

Neither of those versions - the chopped up studio version or the indulgent and uneven rough cut - are screening at the Vancity, however; instead, we get the "Peckinpets" cut, prepared by Peckinpah scholars for DVD release a few years ago. This attempt to produce a final cut from what Peckinpah left behind cuts some of the flab off the rough cut, while improving on the original studio version considerably, and, if I recall, adding material found in neither previous version! (There's also been considerable restoration and digital remastering - it looks and sounds great, compared to the rough cut, which was also released on the DVD). Alas, Peckinpets are a group of critics who, as a whole, seem singularly willing to impose their own vision on Peckinpah's work, sometimes clearly deviating from anything Peckinpah would credit: Stephen Prince has tried to argue that Straw Dogs is somehow an anti-violence film without a trace of misogyny (pshaw!), and Nick Redman, the key figure behind this restoration, has inexcusably (by me) chosen to eliminate the "two different things" line, thus doing more to repeat the violence done to Peckinpah's vision than provide a decisive, uncontroversial final version. What's to be done, then? Three versions of the film, none wholly satisfying. Those who have seen the rough cut and grown attached to it will doubtlessly have their own moments of frustration with this revision of the film; perhaps if you've seen no version of it previously, you might actually be in a better position to appreciate what's being offered.

Just remember, when Coburn slaps the bounty hunter down, he's supposed to stand over him and say, in a most emotionally-charged way, gruff, full of power, weariness, grief, and rage - "what you want and what you get are two different things." Sam would doubtlessly appreciate your imagining that line. I'd like the Peckinpets cut so much better were it there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Anyone check out The China Syndrome, yet? Appealing, creative Vancouver power pop fronted by Tim Chan of 64 Funnycars. They have a free show this Friday, Tim writes - "May 20 at the Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir. We're doing a 45-minute set starting at 6 pm. And we're pleased to welcome Mike Chang on bass and Kevin Dubois on drums.

And while we're telling people about gigs, here's Wendy's Punky Thrasherbalts listings: