Sunday, July 31, 2011

Six Days of the Condor: differences between the book and film

Newest stop on the pulpwagon: Six Days of the Condor, the basis for the film Three Days of the Condor, recently praised here by me. I found a battered ex-library paperback for 25 cents at the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift shortly after writing that piece and couldn't resist. It is just fine as a fast, pulpy read, but it turns out that the people who adapted the film from it (Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel) took considerable liberties with the text, from the title on down, and that many of the things that are of lasting interest in the film are their inventions. Some significant points of difference:

1. Nearly all character names were changed in adapting the book. Redford's character in the film, codenamed Condor, has the real name of Joseph Turner; in the book he's Ronald Malcolm. Joubert (von Sydow) is Maronick. The Faye Dunaway character in the film, Kathy, is a Wendy. And so forth: it's like someone thought the names in the book weren't glamorous enough... which half seems the point in the book - you don't call a protagonist "Ronald Malcolm" without intending something, and indeed, he is presented as a bit of a dullard, at least at the start of the book, farting (quite literally) around the office, avoiding work...

2. The hit at the CIA "literary society" is motivated not by something Condor has found in a thriller he's analyzing, but by a secondary character discovering a discrepency on an invoice that is ultimately explained by a criminal clique within the CIA doing a bit of heroin smuggling. That's what they're covering up.

3. The Middle East, thus, plays no role whatsover in the book! Oil, geopolitical conspiracy... the final accusatory conversation that touches on peak oil... it was all invented for the film.

4. There is simply no character corresponding to Cliff Robertson in the film. He was invented for the movie. Instead, the prime "good guy" involved in seeking out Condor is very briefly played in the film by John Houseman.

5. Kathy, in the film, resists Turner for a bit, then becomes a reluctant helper, somewhat cynically mocking the whole affair (calling herself a "spyfucker" at one point). She's got a whole complex backstory involving photography, depression, a lover, and such. Nothing of the sort is to be found in the book; while the initial abduction of Wendy takes place in pretty much the same way as one sees in the film, she almost immediately, after being convinced of Condor's plight, leaps into bed with him, and much is made, in pulp fashion, of their sex. Both she and Malcolm are presented as less attractive characters than the casting of Dunaway/ Redford would suggest, so there's a bit of a romance to having average people caught up in a dangerous game; author James Grady even makes time to suggest that Wendy's not much of a looker, tho' she gets to disguise herself as a big-chested blonde at one point. She still helps Condor, but seems more of a signifier of male fantasy than a fully developed character...

6. ...which may be why, once her purpose is served, she is shot (but not killed) by Maronick and excused from the action until the very end of the book.

8. The assassin, Maronick, like Joubert, changes sides at the climax and helps out Condor, but in the book, Condor is not content to reconcile and befriend him; he takes what Maronick has done to Wendy - to say nothing of his coworkers - personally, and hunts down Maronick at the airport and kills him.

9. Finally - while the film ends with Turner as a rogue and whistleblower, disgusted with the CIA, there's the suggestion that for having survived his ordeal, Malcolm will be promoted, allowed to play spy for real; the old man is impressed with his performance.

On the whole, the book is far less interesting than the film, is much more of a formula thriller, though well-plotted. Next stop on the pulpwagon: William Goldman's Marathon Man.

Thinkin' 'bout the Crucifucks

Man, I love the Crucifucks. Best punk band name ever, and that first album - with Steve Shelley on drums, didja know? - is some kind of musical masterpiece, with really catchy, memorable, potent tunes, and some very witty lyrics - such as "Oh Where, Oh Where," which captures (for the only time in history, songwise, as far as I know) the universal experience of having lost an important piece of paper (and for the record, I do NOT believe he's talking about a piece of blotter acid). It's one of the funniest songs in punk, which leaps to mind whenever I find myself searching my pockets for some receipt or such that I need - tho' of course, on that album, it got upstaged by the more controversial "Hinckley Had a Vision" and "Cops for Fertilizer" (which was the first time I ever encountered a punk song enthusing about the killing of cops, years before Ice-T's "Cop Killer;" those were different times). Here's a live version of another favourite of that debut album - "Democracy Spawns Bad Taste" (with its refrain of "Be a good American - fuck off!"). I actually don't know their later catalogue so well - but check out the video for "The Mountain Song," or this one for "Earth by Invitation Only;" hearing these, I suddenly want to catch up.

Looking back on them now - having only recently re-acquired that first LP - it turns out that Doc Corbin Dart, the lead vocalist, went on to put out some pretty interesting solo albums, none of which are easy to find, but which have an unexpected and very contemporary pop sensibility to them. The songs I've heard off 1990's Patricia are really powerful, personal, and memorable - check out "Out My Window" or the title tune. There's also a lot of his solo stuff, off the hard to find Black Tuesday cassette release, here; the Mark Prindle reviews of these albums are uncharacteristically informative, as are his Crucifucks reviews - read the comments! Most recently, in 2004, Doc Dart changed his name to 26, renounced swearing, and released an album called The Messiah, which he discusses in a fascinating overview/ interview by Sam McPheeters, here. I don't know much about what Doc Dart is up to since - we gather that he's sworn off watching the news, has taken up mysticism (tho' of what sort the Sam McPheeters article linked above does not say), and is basically living as a recluse in his now boarded-up house (but not unhappily, apparently). Oh, and he's taken to feeding the raccoons and other animals in his neighbourhood, which probably hasn't endeared him to his neighbours - but here's hoping he's doin' okay. A totally unique voice in American music. Godspeed, Doc! (Er... um... Godspeed, 26!).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peaks, Valleys: the manic-depressive nature of writing

Other writers have commented on the weird bipolarity of this craft. The first part of many projects, especially involving interviews or research, is a bit of a slog, but as you work and work and work to get a project done, and the energy and excitement of it increases, until you find yourself at some weird crazy peak of creativity - it feels great, is a highly stimulating state to be in. Then you finally finish the piece and stick it out into the world, proud that it's done. That feels pretty good in its own right, and (if you're like me) you might spend a day or two tweaking it and re-reading it and just feelin' good about yourself for having DONE something. But you might also notice around that time - with no other project ongoing, to keep your energies up - that, actually, you're well-primed for a reward. Money, fame, appreciation, a blowjob - SOMETHING. Even a nice thank you note, a bit of positive feedback, increased hits on the blog, being Tweeted or "liked" or recommended or so forth.

As often as not, nothing happens, and you're left with nothing but the prospect of the next slog down the line, with echoing questions in the background: why did I bother? What did I expect? What's the point? Why am I doing this?

If it's an article you're getting paid for, when you get the cheque, it might take care of some of those problems, but I'm still doing a shitload of stuff I'm NOT getting paid for, dig? Occasionally it pays off - in new friendships, cool perks, interesting follow-ups, new insights into the stuff I've been writing about...

...but sometimes it's just a grind...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More on Phil Ochs - some personal reflections on his music

To be perfectly honest, I'm actually of mixed feelings about the music of Phil Ochs; I certainly don't love it all. I understand Dylan's criticism that Ochs was actually engaged in a sort of "musical journalism", since at times some of Ochs' songs feel just a little too much like newspaper editorials - like "The Thresher," for instance (not on Youtube; the link is to the lyrics). One needs only to compare that tune, about a sunken submarine, with the songs of Stan Rogers - who can milk such pathos out of a sinking ship - to see how uninspired it seems; it really does read like a song written by someone who, almost as an exercise, flipped open a paper, saw an article, and tried to make something topical and tuneful out of it, with recourse to a standardized chatecism of acceptable left-wing views. Ochs' catalogue, particularly on his early albums, is dotted with such yawners, which generally have aged poorly, and are my least favourite of his songs. Though SOME of his early songs have great passion to them - like the Latin-inflected "Bullets of Mexico," or the painful "I'm Tired," which seems to be the first song of his, of many, to prefigure his eventual suicide - prior to Pleasures of the Harbor, one has to tread somewhat carefully through his catalogue.

I further can appreciate what Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders says about the overly-sincere, somewhat overcooked earnestness of some of Ochs' material: it's not surprising that anyone who believed in the importance of his own contribution to the world so much that he aspired to change it with his songs would end up with problems with alcohol and depression, as idealism and ambition gave way to disappointment and despair. One could imagine Phil's friends advising him to "lighten up" - an infuriating bit of advice, whenever it's given, but maybe a wee bit appropriate, in this case.

On the other hand, I quite agree with Stampfel that there's a a charm to Ochs' later, somewhat playful, decidedly countrified material - like the delightful "Gas Station Women". The sort of playfulness on hand there could have, perhaps, offered Ochs a way out of his creative impasse, had he received the slightest encouragement to go in that direction. I absolutely love the whole Nudie-made gold lame suit shtick that began with his humorously-titled Greatest Hits album - a shtick which, referencing his desire to blend Elvis with Che Guevara, combined self-deprecating self-satire with a brilliant provocation of his audience (tho' I must say I didn't really need for him to go so far as to cover "Okie From Muskogee," which he did, to boos and catcalls, wearing said suit, at Carnegie Hall; that appears on the rare 1970 Gunfight at Carnegie Hall live album, released only in Canada, since the label had no faith in it. Including that song in the set seems less like a provocation and more like suicide-by-audience).

Eugene Chadbourne, my favourite living American musician (due to pass through town in early September, more to come on that later) has done some terrific covers of Ochs' material, notably "Knock on the Door," one of the more timeless songs Ochs wrote. He said this about Ochs' gold lame years - during which Ochs would also pepper his set with Elvis and Buddy Holly medleys and the like - when I interviewed him a few years ago:

I saw [Phil Ochs] several times when I was a teenager, I always had to go alone because all my friends hated his voice. He was a huge inspiration. One thing that is interesting is in Boulder, Colorado, he did his rock and roll shtick and nobody objected at all. I thought it was weird when that Gunfight in Carnegie Hall disc came out with the audience getting upset, I thought New Yorkers must be really uptight.

True enough, but then again - as I think Doc Chad and I continued off-the-record, the suit was SUPPOSED to get a reaction... Regardless, I love the idea of it, as I generally love it when Ochs actually uses his HUMOUR to make points. Take "The Party," for instance - which, with its "laughing maniac" narrator obsessively retuning his piano from beneath a rug, definitely seems to have some bearing on the psychedelic experience, regardless of what's been said about Ochs being uncomfortable with drugs. It's bursting with sardonic wit, imagining Ochs as a sort of lounge-singer/spectator in the midst of a display of contemporary decadence that taints everyone present, including the singer. (Lyrics here). It's a brilliant piece of songwriting and shows Ochs seriously grappling with the complexities of the time he lived in and his role in it - it's always seemed one of his masterworks.

Ochs' humour could also turn savage, too, in songs like "Cops of the World," still one of the great songs about American imperialism; in my ESL classes, I occasionally provoked interesting conversations among Korean and Japanese students, familiar with American military bases and the various rapes and such that occur in their proximity, by playing them the song and drawing their attention to the lines, "We're hairy and horny and ready to shack/ and we don't care if you're yellow or black/ just take off your clothes and get down on your back..." I was very happy to see some of my students get it, and happier still to know that the song probably raised their esteem for Americans a bit, knowing that an American wrote it. In addition to a very clear, very honest perception of political realities, there's a really fiery wit at work here, razor-sharp and fearless; it's one of Ochs' more appealing attributes (tho' on the whole I think I prefer "Gas Station Women," to be honest!).

I also love Ochs' romanticism - evident in "Pleasures of the Harbor," say, inspired by the John Wayne/ John Ford collaboration The Long Voyage Home; and, despite finding them painful, I also really appreciate his songs about his depression, especially "The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns." Say what you will about self-pity, self-indulgence, or narcissism, all of which are evident in this song (or "Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Me," or "No More Songs" or "Rehearsals for Retirement") - there are times in ones life when one really does need to SINK a little bit, to keep sailing; as Nietzsche says somewhere, "the thought of suicide is a powerful solace; by means of it, one gets through many a bad night." In the long term, that didn't work out so well for Ochs, obviously, but if he hadn't written such songs, perhaps he would have come to an end even sooner...

So I don't love EVERYTHING that Phil Ochs recorded. I just love ENOUGH of it that he fascinates me. Hope people will get out to see the documentary about him at the Cinematheque; if I have the stamina, I'll post some outtakes from my Kenneth Bowser interview tomorrow night.

Graham Peat to host If... at Vancity

Fans of the "revolutionary '60's," Lindsay Anderson, British cinema, Malcolm McDowell, or Videomatica should not miss the screening of If... on Tuesday at the Vancity Theatre, hosted by Graham Peat, as part of the Cinema Salon series. I'm more of an O Lucky Man! man myself, but retain great fondness for If...

New stuff online: Phil Ochs, Amon Amarth, Tunnel Canary

In today's Straight - articles by me on the Phil Ochs documentary, opening Friday at the Cinematheque, and on Swedish Viking metal band Amon Amarth, playing at the Commodore on August 4th.

Also, for the good of Tunnel Canary, I've put my old Bixobal article about the band on the Big Takeover site, with lots of illustrations. Anyone interested in the prehistory of Vancouver noise should check it out (and if any of you have the wherewithal to forward it to people like Thurston Moore or Carlos Giffoni or such - anyone who can get the band more notice - please do so!).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Source Code DVD review

Unlike the magnificent, Saul Bass-y theatrical poster, above, the box art (left) for the DVD for Source Code - here in Canada, at least - presents the film as an action movie. Apparently this is because someone out there figures that rather than helping the film find the hard SF audience that is most likely to appreciate it, the disc will move more units in the short term if packaged thus.

I don't really respect that sort of marketing cynicism - I also preferred the more minimal, cerebral art for Duncan Jones' previous film, Moon - but alas, it's not wholly unjustified, in this case. Jones fundamentally remains a hard SF filmmaker, but he does appear to be aiming for the blockbuster audience here. In addition to complex thoughts on parallel realities, life after death, death itself, and a rather daringly imagined new military technology (which owes a bit to Deja Vu, that Tony Scott thriller with Denzel Washington - a point of reference that is not being widely made), there are thrills, jolts, and the sort of inspirational, feelgood climax that everyone seems to be aiming for these days (inspirational, feelgood climaxes being the current opium du jour of the masses). The theatrical poster, in fact, makes Source Code look altogether more restrained and Hitchcockian than it really is.

Don't get me wrong - the film, like Limitless, is excellent if you're looking for a good thriller; it's far above average, far smarter, far more engaging as cinema than most action movies NOT written by someone with an obvious flair for hard SF. I heartily recommend it if you're seeking that kind of thing. However, I gotta say it, I find it kinda sad when some gifted, smart indy film like Moon is made, then, after it hits, is followed with a brisk plunge into the waters of Hollywood. I vastly prefer it when someone deliberately chooses to follow their own vision (Kelly Reichardt, Larry Fessenden, even Jim Jarmusch and the Coens), making films to please themselves, rather than making films to please the largest market share attainable.

I mean, readers must have some idea what I'm talking about, but we can name a few names. I actually enjoyed the one Fast and Furious film I saw (That being Tokyo Drift: ridiculous and just-flat-out-wrong as a representation of Japan, but giddy cinematic fun no less) but I *respected* Better Luck Tomorrow, the film that broke Justin Lin, and would love to see what he might be doing with his talents if he eschewed the megabudget bait and made more personal films; he seems locked into the race car franchise now. I respected and enjoyed Doug Liman's Swingers and Go!, and briefly considered him someone to follow, but I want nothing to do with his Bourne film or Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton was fantastic - a film I admire and respect and will continue to revisit for its characters, dialogue, and morals, which couches its inspirational elements in so much despair, anger and cynicism as to make them palatable even for grouches like me. His follow-up, Duplicity was possibly excusable - a lighthearted creampuff of a romantic thriller - but I see he's now part of the Bourne franchise, himself. Guess that means no more Michael Clayton's for us. Even with the feckin' Wachowski's - my favourite film of theirs remains their first, the lesbians-vs-the-mob noir, Bound; while I liked the first Matrix, and obligingly tried to enjoy the second and third, with little luck, I drew the line well before I got to Speed Racer, and there it remains. Even sainted cinema heroes like Martin Scorsese can be tarred thus; I mean, if John Cassavetes thought Boxcar Bertha was a piece of shit, as the famous anecdote goes, what would he think of Shutter Island? Yet more: I'd rather watch Chris Nolan's Following or Memento than anything he's done since. PT Anderson's most satisfying features remain his first two, while his most grandiose and hyped, There Will Be Blood, is (I still think) a bit of an embarrassment. Hell, I was even disappointed when Quentin Tarantino followed up Reservoir Dogs with the much lighter Pulp Fiction (tho' he redeemed himself with Jackie Brown, before returning to safer, shallower waters). Joining the dark side from time to time is fine with me, to finance ones "real" projects or to just keep busy or relevant - Brian DePalma is a master at it - except the problem with American cinema is, to quote Paul Sorvino in The Gambler (or at least paraphrase from a faulty memory), in American cinema it seems that once you ain't a virgin, you're a whore; joining the dark side generally means crossing a line that few ever re-cross in the other direction, as they content themselves with making less and less meaningful, less unique, less personal, less daring films with generally bigger budgets and more impressive and hyperbolic advertising campaigns.

Maybe there's time to arrest Duncan Jones from this trajectory, though? Sure, Source Code is a really entertaining film, and deserves every penny it makes - I hope it does very well - but come on, man, there's enough blockbuster fare out there; you're able to do something better than that, no? Something that SF fans will be talking about for years to come?

Because no one talks about Tony Scott's Deja Vu, now, do they? (Or while I'm maligning the Scotts, does any of Ridley's post-Blade Runner work hold real interest for anyone?). I was really, really excited to see what Duncan Jones would follow Moon up with. Good as Source Code is, it's compromised enough that now I'm not so keen to see what comes next.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Phil Ochs in Vancouver: an interview with Steve Rodgman

(Left: Phil Ochs Inspired Agitators poster by David Lester)

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can pin down the people who turned you on to a certain musician. I don't remember where I heard of some of my favourites - Eugene Chadbourne, for instance; I think I stumbled across a Shockabilly album somewhere (at Ty Scammell's record dealership in the corner of the flea market? Maybe). I know for sure that Matt Rogalsky turned me on to the Holy Modal Rounders, that Creem magazine introduced me to Sonic Youth and the Minutemen, that Henry Rollins, in a famous article in an early issue of Spin, led me to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and that a local artist named Ian Cochrane introduced me to Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman and the world of free jazz. All were important moments, where knowledge was passed on that made a big impact on my listening. One less-expected (but no less significant) torch-passing occurred when my high school writing/ English teacher, Steve Rodgman, plugged me into the music of 1960's folk singer and activist Phil Ochs, here in Maple Ridge in 1985. By good fortune, having run into him a few times, I've been able not only to THANK Mr. Rodgman for the influence (it never really feels natural to call your old high school teachers by their first name, you know?), but interview him about his experiences with Ochs and his music.

Note: all of this is apropos of the upcoming screenings of the documentary, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, starting Friday at the Pacific Cinematheque. More on that to come!

Phil Ochs, March 13, 1969 at the Vancouver Gardens Arena
copyright 1969, 2010 by Mark Millman

A: How did you first encounter the music of Phil Ochs?

S: I first heard his music during my second year teaching (1970-1971) via a US-born house mate who had come to Canada a year or so earlier. (Likely a real draft dodger). He had grown up and gone to school near San Francisco, so had a first-hand view of lots of the issues unfolding at the time in the area and in the US. He was a fan and had some Phil Ochs LPs. I became a fan myself right away. I was really struck by the message, delivered so powerfully, but in such a simple way. Just a guitar. And with such a sweet voice that could draw you in so wonderfully. He sang about things that were current (or had been) and in a story-telling way; some of the songs were unbelievable in their topics. He didn't pull any punches. He was bold, had guts, and didn't care if he upset someone with the truth. He really drove home the message. Many of the songs are as relevant today as they were when he first sang them.

As a young teacher, I was idealistic and naive, lacking in awareness and in having a world view. I had lived in Florida as a young child, so had witnessed the racial issue first hand. But after that I lived in Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island -pretty isolated from the stormy social and political issues in themid- 1960's. In high school, even though we saw stuff on TV, theimpact of what was happening in the US/world never really hit home. While at Uvic, various issues started to make their way onto the scene. Sit-ins and demonstrations made their appearance. A few transplanted US profs opened my eyes a little. Jerry Rubin even held a Yippies Rally on campus (yes, in Victoria.) But, by also taking in Phil Ochs music as a young adult, so much was brought to my attention and my awareness was heightened dramatically. All of this was part of my first impression of Ochs and his music.

A: Any stories about seeing Ochs live?

I'm not sure how many times he played in Vancouver. I know that he played at the PNE Gardens in March 1969 and this was made into an LP incorrectly titled
There and Now: Vancouver 1968
[see photo above. Mr. Rodgman is here disabusing me of a poetic fancy I've long held, since I was born in March 1968, the same month that Ochs supposedly played that show - which would seem a nice correlation, were it accurate]. He performed again in October 1970 at the Coliseum as part of a Greenpeace concert with Joni Mitchell and a then unknown James Taylor. This is available now on CD as The Concert for Amchitka. I did not see these shows. Ironically, I was introduced to Phil Ochs along the way later that same year 1970-71.

When he performed again here in 1973, I didn't miss it. I was fortunate to see him live at The Egress, a club now long gone, on Beatty St. in August, 1973. (No radio advertising for Phil Ochs at the time, but thankfully it was highlighted in the Georgia Straight). From what I can remember, he was everything I had hoped for. Made some great intros to his songs with comments in between. Funny at times. Good sense of humour. Sang fantastically. Every song got a huge reaction. No gold lame - just a sports jacket and shirt. Regular haircut. Just the way he looks on some of his album covers and in many of the posts on Youtube. His voice was terrific. I know he suffered vocal chord damage after an attack in Africa, also in 1973, but this happened later that fall. I also saw no indication of any drinking problem which developed.

A: Did you have reactions to his suicide?

S: I don't remember hearing about his suicide at the time. Not sure why. Likely not front page material. I had continued to pick up an LP here and there, if I came across one, but with no internet to keep track of tours and no local performances, Phil drifted off my radar. (Except for using his songs at times in my English classes.) When I did learn about it, I was shocked and saddened - as with the death of anyone you admire and whose "company" you have enjoyed. I knew that a gift had been lost. A real tragedy. Only 35 years old. Since that time, I've continued to learn about him and, of course, see him perform through the benefit of the internet.

My interest in him was rekindled in a major way in 1988. I saw a one-man play The Ballad of Phil Ochs written by Ross Desperez (and performed by him) at the Cultural Centre as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. I couldn't believe it. It was fantastic. Spoke with him backstage after. (I have not done this, but it would be interesting to contact him and see if The Ballad... might ever be resurrected. He is now in the Theatre Department of Vancouver Island University - formerly Malaspina College.)

On the anniversary of Ochs' death in April, 1996, I happened to listen to an outstanding in-depth CBC radio program covering his life and music. At the same time, the Vancouver Sun published an article reviewing his life. In October 2004, Sonny Ochs brought A Celebration of the Music of Phil Ochs to Cap College. She recruited Zach Stevenson (of Buddy Holly fame) to perform. (He had played in The Ballad... in Ottawa and occasionally did a Phil Ochs tribute). All of this has helped me keep my thread of interest in Phil Ochs. When I realized a movie was being planned, this got me paying attention to him again even more over the last year or so.
A: Any thoughts on Ochs vs. Dylan?

S: Ochs or Dylan? Well, I like them both, Tough to choose. Have seen Dylan a few times. Some similar messages. Ochs never got the airplay or notoriety that he deserved. If he had become a household name....? Maybe Ochs has a more journalistic approach in his message? Both have unique voices, but I think Ochs' is actually better. Several of Ochs' songs have been covered by others (not as many as Dylan's.)

It's unfortunate that Ochs got labelled a 'protest singer' early along. Yes, he spoke out about various social and political issues with a sense of protest, but he was far more. He was much more than"I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" and "Draft Dodger Rag". Many of his songs are haunting, melancholy , beautiful and timeless. "Pleasures of the Harbor" is brilliant. Although maybe there is a touch of 'protest' in some of the songs, it is a long way from his early work. Dylan has released 17 studio albums (not counting compilations) since 1976. No #1 singles. Where might Ochs have been? Arlo Guthrie isn't mainstream, but he still has a big following. He has written many fine songs over the years, and still tours regularly. Witness Amy Winehouse right now. It can be said of all the (possible) greats that have died young. It's a "what if....?" But, had Ochs not died, and maybe re-crafted or re-invented himself a little, who knows where his music and writing might have gone. He was only 35.

If it means anything, I listen to Ochs a bit more often now than I do Dylan. I've checked out a lot more postings for Phil Ochs than I have for Dylan. I also admire Ochs for the risks he took. Check out a post of his singing "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon" at the University of Michigan. Would Dylan have done this? Food for thought: "Power and the Glory" would have been a huge hit for Johnny Cash, if he had recorded it. Just my opinion. [Note: that link is to a live clip from after Ochs suffered damage to his vocal cords in Africa; his voice is a little deeper, lacking his previous range].

A: As I have first hand experience of, you've used some of Ochs' songs in your teaching. I'm curious if that ever generated controversy - for example, I remember hearing "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" in your class, with the line about how "smokin' marijuana is more fun than drinking beer." I can't imagine a lot of high school teachers risking that now.

S: I used quite a few of his songs in class, but tended to use ones that fit into a particular theme or had certain poetic value. For example, "Changes" and "There But For Fortune" and "When I'm Gone" have a timeless/universal message about the human condition and are great poetry in themselves. So are "Cross My Heart" and "Flower Lady." Despite the one line (it never caused any problems), "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" still has a powerful message. It actually got mainstream pop radio airplay for a few months when it was first released. "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" , "Draft Dodger Rag" and 'The War is Over" all fit into a 'Poetry of War' discussion and make for great comparison against poems from a great war poet such as Wilfred Owen. One song that continued to amaze students year-after-year, even very recently with their awareness of Iraq and Afghanistan, is "Is There Anybody Here?" What a song.

In listening to Phil Ochs more recently, I'm surprised a little at how many of his songs I did use. Aside from those mentioned, there were many others, including "The Highwayman" ,"One More Parade", " I'm Going To Say It Now", "No More Songs", "Pleasures of the Harbor", and "Crucifixion." I always found students quite open-minded and willing to listen. Especially if you made the effort to explain and place the song in the context of the time. Like any work of art. There was never any controversy about using his music. At least for me. Phil's songs strike a chord even today.

Showtimes for Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, opening this Friday at the Pacific Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street).

Postscript from Steve Rodgman:
Hi Allan, Just came across these...

1. On Sonny Ochs homepage: a posting of a complete video of the PhilOchs Song Night last October.

2. Check out: Zachary Stevenson sings Phil Ochs "(I Ain't MarchingAnymore") This is new. [says he was asked to put up a post.] As mentioned, the fellow (also played Buddy Holly), who has done aPhil Ochs tribute. Uncanny.

- Steve

Al's 10 favourite 70's thrillers for thinking people

Leaving aside Blaxploitation, westerns, and horror cinema, as genres of their own - and written kind of off-the-cuff, such that I might have missed one or two films, my top ten would be (in no significant order):

1. Three Days of the Condor: A low-level CIA analyst whose job is to analyze spy thrillers (Robert Redford) stumbles unknowingly onto a plot to invade the Middle East and gets his entire department killed. He then has to figure out what the hell is going on, with the coerced help of a somewhat masochistic, mistrustful photographer (Faye Dunaway). The shots of the twin towers look weirdly, presciently ominous in hindsight; the great Max von Sydow is at the top of his form as the assassin Joubert.

2. Marathon Man: There's a weirdly surreal quality to this crime drama, which touches (but not too overtly) on both the persecution of Jews by the Nazis and of the left by McCarthy. Dustin Hoffman plays a jogger, trained for endurance, with a brother (Roy Scheider) in intelligence work; an escaped Nazi war criminal, on a high-stakes trip to New York (Laurence Olivier) decides Hoffman may or may not know something about some of Olivier's plans, and tortures him - using dental tools! - to find the answer to the eternal question, "Is it safe?" The idea of torturing someone while repeating this question always struck me as a wonderful image of operant conditioning - since only one conclusion can possibly be reached at the end. The best scene in the movie, though, involves a soccer ball that bounces out of the dark towards a paranoid Scheider, imbued with more menace than a soccer ball should rightly ever be able to carry; the irreducable pregnancy of such images, the niggling feeling that the film is accomplishing more than you can ever consciously pin down, and a sense of the omnipresence of history make it a film you can always return to.

3. Sorcerer: Scheider again, here in William Friedkin's terrifically re-envisioned remake of Clouzot's (also-great) The Wages of Fear, with desperate men from diverse backgrounds hiding out in a Central American country, where they agree to what may be a suicide mission: trekking cases of sweating dynamite across impassible jungle roads to help put out a fire at an oil well. Tangerine Dream's finest soundtrack, and Bruno Cremer - recently deceased - is just great as one of the drivers, a corrupt French businessman hiding from his past. Oh, and one of the four is a Palestinian, uh, militant... Friedkin might be some sort of cryptofascist or spook or something, but who better to adapt a white-knuckled existentialist thriller? His finest moment - I was delighted to read that Alex Cox likes it, too. Come to think of it, I betcha G. Gordon Liddy would dig this movie.

4. The Friends of Eddie Coyle: anyone who thought The Town was a good Boston crime thriller needs to wash that film out of their minds and chew on this: a very grim, very sad, very gritty, perfectly written story about the decline of a low level hood (Robert Mitchum), who may or may not be so desperate as to be cooperating with the authorities. George V. Higgins' novel is also terrific, and has a bit of plotting the film leaves out that enhances the story.

5. Who'll Stop the Rain: this is a dark horse choice for me, since it's just not as good as the book it adapts (Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone - which for most of my 20's and 30's I described as my favourite novel; I'm not sure I can name a favourite novel now, but it's still the one I've read the most and feel the most sentimental attachment to). Nick Nolte plays a self-styled Nietzschean -cum-Zen warrior, a romanticized, countercultural figure of American strength inspired by Neal Cassady (whom Stone knew), who, against his better judgment, agrees to smuggle heroin out of Viet Nam for a morally mediocre, deeply confused, and somewhat perverse buddy (John Converse, terrifically played by Michael Moriarty; I am happy I once got to compliment Moriarty on this role. Converse, more than any other character in American literature, captures my sense of life, God help me). Trouble, of course, ensues, as a corrupt Fed and his thuggish henchmen, wanting the heroin for themselves, pursue Nolte and Converse's drug addicted wife (Tuesday Weld, interestingly cast against type) across America. The film is good, but nowhere near as good as the book; still, there's such great work from the cast - also featuring a great Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey - that it's well worth watching.

6. The Gambler: Not entirely an action thriller, unless by "action" we mean high-stakes gambling, but there's plenty of psychological suspense and danger. James Caan plays an utterly compelling asshole - a literature professor who spouts Dostoevsky, is addicted to self-destructive behaviour, and caught up in a very strange relationship of dependency on his parents, which is where the text gets really rich. You won't want to recognize yourself in this man, but you might. James Toback has made a few films I've appreciated (Fingers, Exposed); this one is only written by him, but, despite being directed by Karel Reisz (who also made Who'll Stop the Rain) it's really Toback's baby.

7. Blow Out: technically from 1981, but no matter, this film is '70's, spiritually: Brian DePalma's masterpiece, mixing a vast host of his areas of obsession - Kennedy assassination stuff, voyeurism, conspiracy theory, the lone man fighting injustice (also well-developed in his much later Casualties of War). The title, of course, references Antonioni's Blow Up, so it helps a bit if you know that film. A soundman (John Travolta) records what might be evidence of an assassination, and decides he's too pissed off to partake in a hush-up...

8. The Long Goodbye: It's been a long, long time since I've seen this film, but it's brilliance remains with me; my favourite Altman. A withdrawn, joking Philip Marlowe in 70's LA, perfectly realized by Elliott Gould, tries to preserve his dignity and ideals while wisecracking his way through a convoluted murder case, which places him in the orbit of an alcoholic writer (Sterling Hayden). Because so much of the film seems to be a comment, at times with transparent self-reflexivity, on Hollywood cynicism, I always wonder if Hayden was cast because of the horrible experiences that resulted from his being called before HUAC... another film that history echoes through...

9. The Getaway: Peckinpah's most perfectly realized film, probably. I once played the film for a friend, who was completely unmoved by the desperation and intensity of the prison sequences at the beginning, finding them boring, drawn out, and annoying; though I said nothing, I lost a great deal of respect for both his ability to read montage and his perceptual/emotional intelligence. Particularly interesting in that the ending takes a bleaker-than-bleak Jim Thompson and twists it, against the odds, into some sort of triumphant ratification of (elitist, criminal) male-female romance. My eyes wet up every time; my favourite film roles by either Steve McQueen or Slim Pickens. (I'd say it's my favourite Ali McGraw, too, but I can't recall seeing a single other film she's in, so it'd be disingenuous).

And now we get to number 10, and I start to have trouble. I watched Thunderbolt and Lightfoot for the first time the other week (!) and loved it, but I'm not sure I liked it THAT much, y'know? Electra Glide in Blue is a really interesting film, which dares to "like" a cop (Robert Blake) at a time when respect for cops was at an all-time low in America, but it doesn't personally move me the way these other films do. Blake is also really good, as I remember, in a 1974 cop film called Busting, also with Elliott Gould and Allen Garfield; but I haven't seen that movie in so long I can't really praise it fairly. If I'm going to cheat with Blow Out, I could also, I suppose, cheat with Prince of the City (also 1981), with Treat Williams doing great work as a young cop who agrees to participate in investigating police corruption; it would get Sidney Lumet on the list, too - except it's not really an action movie or thriller, it's a straight drama (a great one, tho'). Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is also a film I have fondness for; it reads, like Race With the Devil, as figuring a sort of death for the '60's counterculture (call'em thematic sequels Easy Rider)... but I don't feel confident that it's of significant cinematic merit to warrant inclusion here. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has a great Warren Oates role, but Peckinpah's drinking takes an even heavier toll on this film than on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which makes it a bit sad to watch (it's also a bit bitter, maybe even sloppy). I don't really like a lot of Scorsese's films, save for his first (Who's That Knocking at My Door, AKA I Call First, made in the 60's, also the debut of Harvey Keitel); thanks, I think, to Jonathan Rosenbaum, I have too much moral suspicion of Paul Schrader 's intentions to really praise Taxi Driver. And while I do understand why some people out there love The Parallax View, I just don't think it's that well made! Much as I hate to bow to popular opinion, I guess I have to go, all things considered, with:

10. The Conversation: but surely nothing more needs to be said about this film, right? Delighted to have seen it introduced by Walter Murch - I wrote about that night somewhere on this blog, a few years ago.

Okay, so... what am I missing?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ridiculous Pictures of Celine Dion blog shut down

Too bad!

Todd Solondz' Life During Wartime: DVD review

I am a great admirer of Todd Solondz' film Happiness. Having seen all of his feature films save his first, Fear, Anxiety & Depression, it's the only one I really love; while I concede that certain others do interesting things, Happiness strikes so close to my heart - it's so dark, so daring, so horrifying, so cruel, and yet, once you get over the transgressiveness of it, so richly funny, truthful, and profoundly cathartic - that I watch it almost once a year, since I feel compelled to share it with anyone important to me. I've yet to wear it out, having seen it, I should imagine, around a dozen times since its release in 1998.

I don't quite know what to make of Solondz' "sequel" to Happiness, Life During Wartime, now on DVD. It completely changes the cast, and loses much of the first film's humour, while still following the same characters - some (Helen, played here by Ally Sheedy) rather unnecessarily, it seems; the brief digression that deals with her contains one of the funniest scenes in the movie, involving (supposedly) Keanu Reeves, but it is not particularly relevant to the plot or main themes of the film. This is true of much else that is funny in the film - the comedy, insofar as there is any, is nowhere near as inherent to the story as it was with Happiness. In fact, overall, the film is very bleak, as characters struggle to try to a) come to terms with their own transgressions; b) forgive and/or forget the transgressions of others; and c) secure forgiveness for themselves, insofar as it can be found. Much of this involves the younger brother of the Maplewood family, now 13, who has learned for the first time that his father was a pedophile. At least one character, Allen - memorably played by Phil Seymour Hoffman in the first film, here less interestingly characterized by Michael Kenneth Williams, an African-American actor with a perpetually pained expression and a backstory that in many respects doesn't seem to mesh with the previous Allen's - is relegated to a very small corner of the story, mostly only of interest insofar as his actions impact Joy (Shirley Henderson, replacing Jane Adams). Solondz seems more interested in her relationship with the long-dead Andy, whose ghost is here played by Paul Reubens.

There is much more that I could say about the film - for instance, that Jewishness seems a much more significant aspect of the film than it does the previous, with repeated mentions of Israel and a climax at a bar mitzvah; or that the shadow of suicide looms larger over this film than most, with at least two overt suicides figured, one implied, and one earnestly solicited. There are even things I could praise - the cinematography is gorgeous, and there are terrific roles for Charlotte Rampling, Michael Lerner, and Reubens - an inspired casting choice, given that he was once charged with possession of child pornography (...a charge he was cleared on, note).

None of this comes close to making up a substantial review, however, and without being paid to write one, I don't think I'll bother, save to say that when the film ended, I was shocked, having expected at least another half-hour's worth of narrative. I felt highly unfulfilled, and tracked back through the movie in my mind to see if I had perhaps missed something, to justify it ending where it did. In truth, I could see that I had missed things - that watching this film through the filters and expectations of my Happiness-fandom had led me to pay less attention to what it was acutally accomplishing on its own merits. There is substance here, somewhere, I think - interesting stuff being done. Yet either there is not enough of it, or this feeling is not strong enough, for me to want to ever revisit the film, which would be necessary were I to write anything substantial about it. Plus it's really a rather depressing experience, and I'm depressed enough as it is.

So fans of Happiness should, I guess, be cautious in their approach to this film. JR Jones is much more articulate in writing about the film here; Tom Charity's review also jibes with mine, and is here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Breivik's manifesto PDF'd online in English here; it's title is "2083: A European Declaration of Independence." It's a bit huge - it appears to be 1518 pages long. I'm presently on page 12, which is where it really starts, tackling the ideology of "political correctness," and its history. Before that is what appears to be a variety of chest-beating exercises and suggestions for disseminating the text (which also, I see, contains bomb-making instructions, a detailed, doubtlessly highly prejudicial history of Islam, and praise for different Swedish National Socialist groups. But I've only skimmed).

It actually turns out to be rather ironic, that everyone in the media has taken such pains to note that Breivik is not a Muslim (thereby implying that Muslims have a monopoly on terrorism), when in fact it turns out he is an "anti-Muslim," railing against "the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe," ie. "Eurabia."

It appears that Muslims are officially "the new Jews" of the European right.

Not going to presume to evaluate the whole thing (which would require reading it), but after a skim, I have to say, it ain't no Unabomber Manifesto. (Now that's a pretty compelling read...!).

The Face of Jesus forms on Wal-Mart Receipt

Wal-Mart must be very pleased.

And in Norway...

A Christian right wing fundamentalist sets off a bomb and goes on a shooting rampage, killing kids in Norway... and every news article about the guy (apparently one Anders Behring Breivik, though some media sources seem to be still avoiding using his name until the police release it) makes sure to note that he is not a fundamentalist Muslim. I'm not sure if it's laughable or offensive - maybe a bit of both. (By the way, he's not a black metal musician, either). And such horrible images from Norway on the TV... My only associations with Norway are some very extreme and interesting music (I was recently blown away to discover that Enslaved and Fe-mail did an album together, as Trinacria, which I definitely need); I know almost nothing else about the place, but I'm horrified by this news...

[REC] 2: ridiculously fun horror fare

I said of the Spanish "rage zombie" film, [REC], back in 2008:

It's the sort of film that strives to ratchet up the tension (and the hysteria) to unbearable levels, and the last half-hour had me jumping constantly. I liked it best before the rollercoaster got rolling, in fact, since relentless shakycam stuff - Blair Witch, Cloverfield, whatever - starts to all sort of blend together in my mind, just as too much music with the knobs turned to eleven starts to ultimately have a numbing effect - but I don't mind the odd jolt of extreme cinematic experience, and this is certainly that. What was it that Ray Hicks said - a little adrenaline cleans the blood?
What I didn't bother to praise, as self-evident, was the simplicity, the elegance of the film: one group of people and one camera locked into one building with one nasty-ass variation on the "rage" virus spreading like wildfire inside. The North American remake of the film, Quarantine, kept pretty much to this formula, too, without trying to impose too much of its own imprint on things: a straight-up English language remake, it worked almost as well, though losing points, of course, for not being the original.

Here comes [REC]2 - Spanish trailer here - and it really feels like the filmmakers are defying the Americans to copy this one. Gone is the elegance, the simplicity. We now have (I think) seven cameras to toggle back and forth between - though some go out of service at different points. In the course of the film, we will discover three different groups of people in the building, not counting the infected. And - we approach spoilers - what seemed a relatively straightforward explanation for the infection, involving a virus, is now significantly complicated with a Catholicism so intense that it makes Constantine look like social realism. I made Ma watch it this evening, and she was rolling her eyes toward me every five minutes and - with traces of a smile - announcing repeatedly that the film was "ridiculous."

No argument there! But it's also highly entertaining, and I have to hand it to directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró - who also made the first film - the shakycam stuff is deftly handled indeed; it's amazing how much information can be captured by a camera as it spins out of control to the ground. There's also a completely unexpected homage to/ theft from a certain early Cronenberg film that will get true genre fans grinning from ear to ear in its audacity, and a moment that at least bears SOME resemblance to the "blood test" in John Carpenter's The Thing - but only some. While it's utterly impossible to take what transpires seriously - it's so over-the-top metaphysically that I don't even begin to want to analyze it - horror fans will definitely want to check this movie out, and will likely love it, even if they can't take it seriously.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Whatta day...

Woke up early to do an interview that got cancelled. Couldn't get back to sleep. Felt lousy and sick all afternoon.

Decided, since certain confluences lined up, to make my way to Vancouver for the Thurston Moore gig after all, where Nathan Holiday met me. Great, but: we didn't get a chance to connect with Thurston (I am convinced Thurston would value being in touch with Mr. Holiday, seeing the Tunnel Canary documentary, and perhaps even be useful in setting up a couple of live shows for the band, but attempts to get through - Nardwuar and I did some scheming to this effect once, to no avail, as well - have thus far not worked out).

It wasn't really standing-up-at-a-rock-concert music that Thurston was playing tonight - it would have fit better at the Orpheum than the Rickshaw, if you nevermind the size discrepancy; someplace more oriented towards sitting. I mean - he had a harp and a violin onstage; this wasn't exactly Goo he was playin'. He was affable and warm (sharing anecdotes about everything from Mike Watt's preference for lagers over ales to the band's experience of the back alley behind the Rickshaw) and no doubt broke out a few old favourites somewhere in his set ("Psychic Hearts," at least, surely?). The surprisingly youthful crowd were pretty receptive and willing to listen, too; the room had a nice dynamic to it. All the same, with a long commute home ahead of me, feeling tired and worn out, I opted to buy the album and leave early, better to appreciate his new music from the comfort of my living room, sometime when I felt better. Said my goodbyes to Nathan, made it onto a bus just before midnight, got to Coquitlam by 12:20... and discovered, as I suspected, that I had arrived there forty-odd minutes before the connecting bus to Maple Ridge. I could wait the forty minutes, and then spend another forty on the bus... or I could buckle and take a taxi.

I took a taxi. And in that taxi, I experienced my one small triumph in the day: I finally told a cabbie that I would really much rather listen to his Indian dance music (93.1 Red FM) than the bad western dance music he deferentially put on to cater to my presumed tastes. ("Is okay, we're used to it" - "Yeah, but I LIKE YOUR MUSIC BETTER!" - whereupon he switched back and cranked it).

With apologies to Mr. Moore, that Indian dance music, as we zipped along the Lougheed, was the best part of the night, musically...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

If I had the stamina...

...I'd go see Thurston Moore tonight at the Rickshaw, and try to use whatever semi-insider mojo I could muster to get a copy of the Tunnel Canary documentary to Thurston, and let him know that they would really like to do another show, if he was interested in helping set something up... The day may well come when I regret missing this show, since it looks like Thurston's doing some kinda appealing Beck-produced introspective stuff, "co-headlining" with Kurt Vile. It's not REALLY what I'm in the mood for lately - I'm listening to Deicide, at the moment, you know? - but it beats the hell out of that last Sonic Youth album, The Eternal, which seemed (to me) highly forced and uninspired...

...but regardless, the energy just isn't there...

RIP Lucian Freud

One of my favourite figurative painters has died at age 88.

Meditating on The Gratuitous Umlaut

Richard Meltzer, somewhere in the essential collection of his writing, A Whore Just Like the Rest, gives himself credit for inventing what he calls "the gratuitous umlaut," the double dots over a vowel in rock band names, saying he suggested the idea to Sandy Pearlman, when the Blue Öyster Cult were being born; elsewhere, apparently - on the BOC's website - Alan Lanier takes credit for the same. I've never tried to confirm either version. According to the "metal umlaut" Wikipedia page - the very existence of which delights me, to say nothing of the host of great trivia therein; it is perhaps the funniest Wikipedia page I have yet encountered - the first use of the umlaut in rock was in fact in 1969, by Amon Düül II, but this was a non-gratuitous, ie. functional umlaut, and therefore doesn't really count... Also, from said page, I learn that the same year as the BOC debuted, apparently there's an umlaut over the "i" on the cover of a rare single pressing of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," so there are in fact several possible double-barrelled points of entry. The debate appears unresolved.

Though I've spoken to him twice, I've never thought to ask Lemmy about where he sourced Motörhead's umlaut back in 1975; he might well have been aiming directly at Nazi-like typography/ iconography, and not joining on a sort of stylistic rock bandwagon (tho' they'd also opened for the BOC, so who knows). Maybe someday in the future I will get my chance...

It occurs to me - I'm doing a bit of Viking metal homework this afternoon - that, in fact, Ragnarök, the Viking apocalypse, is (besides Amon Düül), about the only non-gratuitous umlaut one sees in rock these days. Or am I just not listening to enough Germanic rock?

"It's like a pair of eyes. You're looking at the umlaut, and it's looking at you." - David St. Hubbins

Cooked and Eaten tour fundraiser!

Cooked and Eaten tour fundraiser this Saturday at Funkys! (Poster art by Alison Lilly - check her stuff out!).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

X Japan: bad news, good news

A few days ago, X Japan's original bassist, Taiji, committed suicide - the second member of the band to die by hanging; original guitarist Hide died in 1998, though whether that was suicide is unclear. Some heavy sadness follows this band, it seems - my condolences to them for their loss.

There is also good news, however: the band has realized its ambition of recording a song in English, reworking their tune "Jade." From the press release:


LOS ANGELES, CA - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 -- "Jade," the long-awaited new single from X Japan, one of the most influential rock bands in Japanese history, will be released in North America, Europe and Latin America on Tuesday, June 28 in all digital formats. "Jade" is the first track from the band's English debut album, currently in the final stages of recording.

A "Jade" full-length ringtone will be made available exclusively in Japan on June 28, and the single will be released there and in Southeast Asia two weeks later on July 13.

"This is a years-long dream of X Japan's, to release a record in the Americas and in Europe," said Yoshiki, X Japan's leader/producer/songwriter/drummer/pianist. "Music is very powerful, and we believe it can help us bridge the gap between east and west. We hope that 'Jade' will be the first step."

Written and produced by Yoshiki and mixed by Andy Wallace, "Jade" was recorded in both Japan and at Yoshiki's Los Angeles studio, the same studio where Metallica recorded its classic Black album before Yoshiki bought it and turned it into a private facility.

The song features the thunderous drums and bass of Yoshiki and Heath, respectively, the searing twin guitar work of Pata and Sugizo, and Toshi's dynamic vocals. With most lyrics sung in English, "Jade" is a hauntingly romantic tale of embracing the beautiful sadness of death, and showcases X Japan's eclectic mix of rock, goth and classical music.

The release of "Jade" coincides with X Japan's June 28 sold-out show at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire and the kick-off of their world tour that includes stops in Europe and South America.

X Japan is one of the most successful rock bands in Japanese history, having sold more than 30-million albums, singles and videos, and filled the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome a record 18 times with its classic "Queen meets Guns 'N Roses meets 'The Matrix'" sound. The popularity of the band in Japan has made them a cultural phenomenon in music, fashion and business. X Japan made its North American debut at the 2010 Lollapalooza festival, and sold out their New York City debut at the famed Roseland Ballroom as part of the band's first American tour last fall.

(End press release - you can find X Japan's fall tour dates and more information about the single on their webpage).

Limitless DVD review

Limitless is a very smartly-made thriller involving a "cognitive enhancer" with amazing potency and its effect on a failed writer, who suddenly finds himself damned near invincible.

Or so he thinks.

Wish I'd seen it theatrically, it's really quite impressive. A commercial film, sure, perhaps squandering a BIT of its potential by spending so much time in the waters of genre, as it's not without elements of the action movie or corporate espionage thriller - since our main character gets ambitious, and gets in trouble; but it's also a hell of an interesting drug film; an exciting and inspiring ride; and a finely crafted, nicely observed bit of filmmaking. Not sure I admired it enough to ever want to own a copy, not sure it's morally important or politically significant (it's not the sort of film Robin Wood would have spent much time getting excited about)... but I watched it twice today, on DVD, with only a few hours in between screenings, and there aren't many movies I encounter rich or engaging enough to sustain that level of attention. I'd welcome a sequel, since there's a lot of stuff that could be done with the premise of this film that it doesn't even approach. Even still: highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Infernäl Mäjesty vs. Phil Smith

The catalogue of Infernäl Mäjesty is completely out of print, I'm told, but there's plenty to be found on eBay; I'm currently catching up with None Shall Defy, and enjoying it quite a bit more than I'd expected to (I frankly didn't realize there was Canadian metal THIS GOOD in the 1980's; maybe I gotta check out Razor and Sacrifice and Exciter and all that?) "Into the Unknown" is my favourite so far - tho' it's a bit catchier and more "'80's" than the rest of the album, which sorta spices up an overall slightly-slower-Slayer quality (vocals, lyrics) with angular shifts into unexpected death metal complexity. Either way, it's going to be pretty damn cool to see these guys with Corpsegrinder on vocals!

You know what's weird? Listening to that song somehow reminds me of Phil Smith and Corsage's "The Shame I Feel." Strange, I know... I think it's the vocal...


Photo by Tony Bardach! Not to be reused without perversion.

Al Mader, the Minimalist Jug Band, pictured above with the author, will do his thing with yodelin' cowboy Petunia on Wednesday at Cafe Montmartre, starting about 9 or so. Petunia's on the road a lot these days, so this is a bit of an opportunity - if you like Hank Williams or Jimmy Rodgers, Petunia is your guy locally... Turns out I have an interview to do early Thursday, so I won't be there, but someone should go and have a good time for me, okay...?

Also, on Saturday, the towns OTHER Bison sideproject, Dan And's grindcore band Cooked and Eaten, play Funky Winkerbeans... that I might go to. I've had a hankering for beer the last few days, and the Canterbury Dark Milds that they serve at Funky's are pretty tasty...

Dan And gives a roar, by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without persimmons

Suburban Frustration

Grr. I can't win. I was finding myself going a bit nuts on recent trips to the city. Because Maple Ridge, where I grew up and now live, has basically no culture - and certainly no counterculture, having (the odd all-ages metal gig aside) no real music scene, no real cinemas, no interesting (non-megacorp) video stores, and certainly nothing like a community of which I feel a part, I've always been a bit of a packrat - because without access in my environs to the media (and the tokens of community) that I care about, I have to surround myself with as much stuff I can that reminds me of who I am, who I want to be, and what I like: identity reinforcement through shopping. Lately, this has meant spending money I don't have on things I don't really need - including records that I've barely listened to since picking them up and movies and books that have just gone onto the shelf. It's patently obvious that MORE STUFF IS NOT THE ANSWER to my problems, but it's doubly hard to resist temptation, in Vancouver, when I know once I get back to Maple Ridge, there'll be no sign of such things: there are no Dayglo Abortions albums to be had in THIS town. No Luis Bunuel DVDs, no hot psych-funk vinyl, no death metal CDs... no old punks that I can see... How can I not rationalize indulgence on trips into town, knowing that I'll be returning to Nowheresville to continue my penance alone?

Anyhow, I made a vow on my last trip into the city: NO MORE. I don't need to spend any more money, don't need DVDs, or LPs, or CDs, or books, or ANYTHING: I have PLENTY e-fuckin'-nough of these items as it is, and what I should do is just USE'm - use my downtime to stay home and WATCH some of these movies, LISTEN to some of these albums. That was a few days before the July 9th Scarebro gig, which I allowed myself to come into the city to see, even then spending too much money on God knows what; ten days later, having divided my time between hanging out with Mom, writing, and reading Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer (far better than the film!), I am going stir crazy. I am: horny (I have a girlfriend in Victoria, but she's broke too, and she's in Victoria); lonely (I have one friend in town - a decent dude, but not someone I want to spend more than a couple days a week hanging out with); angry (because plans to go to UBC have been somewhat scuttled by bad advice and poor planning); broke; more or less unemployed; depressed (because who gives a shit about my writing anyway?); and frustrated. Mom's off on a casino jaunt again, so I did the "thrift store shuffle" this afternoon, making my way through the stations o' my particular suburban cross: Cythera thrift store (nothing), the Hopsital Auxiliary thrift store (an Alec Guinness bio in pb for 25 cents and a $1 DVD of Young Frankenstein that Mom might be amused by); Rogers Video (rented the new Todd Solondz, plus Rec 2 and Limitless); the Bibles for Mission thrift store (nothing); Zellers (toilet paper - I'm out); the weird little vinyl section at the dance and costume shop on the Lougheed (nothing); and the local pawn shop (James Dean in The Public Enemy for $4 on DVD; I got White Heat there, too, the other week and loved it - suspect someone traded in a Cagney box set). Along the way, I consumed one cinammon roll, one chicken donair, one decaf coffee, and a can of Coke; and have come back home to face the fact that, yep, I'm alone in Maple Ridge in my little suburban box with nothing much to do, once again. Not that I don't have options: I could do my laundry; masturbate; do my dishes; or smoke some pot and watch the Todd Solondz DVD, since of all of them, that's one I can't really share with Mom. Maybe I can combine a few items on the list, even: masturbate in the laundry room. Smoke pot and do my dishes. Somehow, though, these are not the elements of a fulfilling life.

Times like these, I kinda want to smash my head into the wall. But it would hurt.

New Tetsuo movie? WTF?

Ooh, I just discovered this - there's a new Tsukamoto Shinya Tetsuo movie, The Bullet Man - and this one is filmed in English! This is a fascinating series, a sort of caffeinated military-industrial Cronenbergian cyberpunk in which repressed, armored male bodies erupt into weaponry and go insane... Wilhelm Reich would have so much to say about these films...

Christopher Hitchens on 60 Minutes

A former coworker commented on Christopher Hitchens below somewhere; I've been thinking about him since - even picked up a used copy of Hitch 22, his memoir. He's fighting Stage 4 cancer at the moment. The 60 Minutes segment on him is here, and most engaging. A recent piece of writing on his struggles with cancer is here, focusing on his loss of voice and on the importance of speech to writing effectively (I read aloud every article I write for print, by the way - it's how I really test them out). I take great pleasure in reading anything by Hitchens, even when I completely disagree with him; I hope against the odds that he recovers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alex Cox, Peter Watkins, and Three Businessmen

Great little film by Alex Cox on his movie Three Businessmen, looking at it from the point of view of Peter Watkins theories of the Monoform and the Universal Clock. Three Businessmen is one of those great later Cox films, like Searchers 2.0 and Revenger's Tragedy, that every cinephile needs to see - Cox and his most Bunuelian. DVD Beaver review of it here.

Weird Amazonian discovery!

No, folks, this isn't going to be a cryptozoology entry. It deals with a very curious discovery on digital copies of my old interview with Charles Mudede about the films Police Beat and Zoo are being sold online for $9.95. I have just written the following Amazon review for this piece - I'll be curious to see if they publish it unedited:

Most amusing. I'm the guy who interviewed Mr. Mudede for this particular article. It's one I'm quite proud of. We talk at some length about two films he wrote with director Robinson Devor, Police Beat (dealing with social disorder in Seattle from the point of view of a conservative African bicycle cop, who finds himself - as his relationship disintegrates and his partner makes ever-worse choices involving a prostitute - plunged into a "heart of whiteness") and the documentary Zoo, about an infamous Enumclaw bestiality case, also written about for The Stranger by Mudede under the title "The Animal In You" (- a most piquant and provocative article, which can be found online). They're both fascinating films, and admirers of them will find this article quite enlightening; Mudede is a most articulate and amusing interview.

What I'm somewhat curious about, however, is how this article ends up being sold on Amazon. I signed no agreements giving anyone the right to resell this article in perpetuity; I received only a token one-time payment from Cineaction, when it was published, and was never in any way contacted for permission to sell this work, of which I am the author. And yet here it is, for sale for $9.95. Of which I receive...
absolutely nothing. How exactly does that work?

I might add: if anyone wants to buy it off me, I'll undercut Amazon by half - Paypal me $5 and I'll email the thing to you!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

City of Life and Death: the newest film on the rape of Nanjing

Opening next week at the Vancity Theatre, the most ambitious and probably the most successful film I've yet encountered about the Nanjing (or Nanking) massacre, City of Life and Death (AKA Nanjing! Nanjing!). It was made in 2009 and is just turning up in town now. A huge hit in China, it's less Eurocentric, less formulaic, and more potent than John Rabe - though that was an at least somewhat interesting film in its own right. It's also more emotionally effective, more engaging as cinema, and probably thus will prove more valuable as a tool for stirring the waters politically than the somewhat odd documentary made about the atrocity a few years back (which I wrote about here, including a mini-interview with my father about his feelings about the Japanese). As with John Rabe, it struggles a little to create interesting stories for its Chinese characters, perhaps because the main function of Chinese in the Nanjing narrative is to be killed or raped, usually en masse (in ditches or fields for the former, "comfort stations" for the latter); while at least some of the Chinese who die early on are given ennobled deaths, only a handful we are introduced to make it anywhere near the end of the film, and in most cases, their death scenes are likely what you'll remember most vividly. There may be something inherent in history that this stems from; some 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese died during the Japanese occupation of that city, though Japanese right-wingers - the moral and intellectual equivalents of Ernst Zundel or Jim Keegstra, though there are a fair number of them per capita in Japan, and they are not as reviled or without influence as one might like - dispute that figure, of course.

The stroke of genius on director Lu Chuan's part is to make the moral centre of the film a young, naive, but fundamentally decent Japanese footsoldier, Kadokawa. While in fact the film bends credibility at times in keeping him likeable - and has attracted controversy in China for doing anything of the sort - this is smart narratively; he's around to observe most of the major developments in the film, and since we get to know him a bit and get used to his perspective (as opposed to that of the Chinese martyrs who die in the first couple of reels), can thus be put through transformations that bring home the realities of what happens. Because he is sympathetic, using him as the main character is clever politically, as well, allowing the filmmakers to dodge the obvious bullet of "Japan bashing;" Kadokawa's presence makes the film seem less like a propaganda film than one with only Chinese protagonists would - or at least like a much smarter, more complex propaganda film. It might even help to engage Japanese viewers - if any actually find their way to it, which is unlikely, since films of this sort tend not to get distributed there on any scale, if they play in Japan at all.

Very interesting, too, that what happens in the comfort stations is central to what Kadokawa experiences. Both previous films mentioned above shy away from spending too much time on the treatment of the women of Nanjing by the Imperial Japanese Army, but, tho' it's not without a level of artifice and quasi-Spielbergian manipulation, the film is undeniable effective in these moments - though somewhat weirdly, insofar as it priviliges the fate of a Japanese prostitute brought in to work the comfort stations, before Chinese are being widely rounded up, even though there are Chinese characters who could have served a similar role. It's almost like Lu Chuan doesn't believe Japanese (or international audiences?) will acknowledge, or care about, or accept as "objective" the suffering of these women if it isn't happening to a Japanese character, as well - a strategy which has potentially insulting implications, but which may also touch on something true.

I've got little else to say about the film, but Shelly Kraicer, on the Cinema Scope website, has an excellent and readable article for further consideration, largely dealing with the Chinese context of production and reception. He rightly calls the film on its formal totalitarianism and appears to have done real research for the article; I think I admire it a bit more than he did, since I imagine more how it might be seen by intelligent and sensitive Japanese viewers (who I think would find the film valuable). Also some good comments on the Japan Today site, in response to an article that has been removed.

If these matters interest you at all, the film is worth checking out...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher signs at Scrape today!

As I wrote for the Straight blog, Cannibal Corpse vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher will be hanging out from four to six at Scrape Records today, signing posters and socializing, to promote the August 20th gig he's doing in town with Canadian thrashers Infernäl Mäjesty. Apologies to vocalist Brian Langley, if he's still in the band; between listing him as leaving in 2008, and JJ at Scrape tellin' me that they had no regular vocalist, it seemed like that fact was CHECKED, but now JJ sez that he's "not 100% sure on that." Mea minima culpa! I hate it when I make mistakes...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Skidoo on DVD!

There are many films not yet on DVD which I would have preferred to see released over the notorious Otto Preminger failure Skidoo (described here), but it is still nice to see that someone cares about releasing movies like this on DVD. Not sure where you'll be able to rent it, these days, but at least it now exists in non-bootleg form.