Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Bats

Lee Shoal of the Creaking Planks shares this useful Yukon instruction manual for "building a bat nursery home."   If only building bat houses could help the bats of Maple Ridge! There have to be some bats LEFT before you can house them; from my Googling, it seems like many bat species in North America are threatened with extinction, or at least a massive depletion in numbers. First bees, then bats... does anyone detect a very scary pattern, here?

By the way, inspired by the bats of Japan, which I frequently saw when riding my (three-wheeled) bicycle home from the school where I taught, I wrote a lyric years ago that I would love to see adapted into a country or bluegrass song, if anyone wants to do it. Get in touch and I'll sing it to you, so you know the tune (I want to know it's found a good home). There should be a fiddle or a banjo in your band, to make this work properly:

If I Was a Bat
by Allan MacInnis

If I was a bat, lord, if I was a bat
I'd eat lots of mosquitoes
Til I got really fat
I'd come out in the evening
And fly around so free
If I was a bat, girl, would you still love me?

If I was a bat,
I guess I would be blind
to all your imperfections
or at least I wouldn't mind
I'd hear your voice ring clearer
for all I could not see
If I was a bat, girl, would you still love me?

If I was a bat
I'd fly by every night
I'd hang outside your window
Til it started to get light
Then I'd creep into your attic
And sleep so safe and sound
If I was a bat, would you let me hang around?

If I was
If I was
If I was a bat
If I was a bat
How would you feel 'bout that?

Upcoming Vancouver arthouse fare

Many interesting Iranian films playing the Vancity Theatre soon - the most celebrated of which, This is Not a Film, is Jafar Panahi's response to being forbidden to make films by the Iranian government. Haven't seen it yet;  the one that I have seen that's upcoming, which impressed me greatly, was The White Meadows, a symbolically rich, beautifully photographed, highly poetic film that brought Cocteau to mind; a more thorough and revealing piece of writing on it can be found here, though western audiences may not be as attuned to the film's political allegories as that writer (I've seen some cinema blogger online likening it to Jodorowsky, which says more about the person writing it than the film, but it is quite a surreal trip of a film, so it's not like I don't understand where said writer was comin' from). A few interesting one-offs coming up, too, like Kurosawa Akira's stunning, richly cinematic black and white adaptation of MacbethThrone of Blood. (Rather than trying to translate Shakespeare into Japanese, Kurosawa lets the images tell the story, which is a very, very good idea). There's also a screening of Apocalypse Now next Tuesday, recently abused by me in my Pink Floyd post, below (like "Comfortably Numb" and Dark Side of the Moon - or like the other most over-represented, over-emphasized, over-marketed film in recent history, Blade Runner - it's a piece of cultural product that I think needs to be locked away in a bunker for at least a decade, so people have a chance to experience other films and so that it can regain a little freshness. Clearly Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, the Cinema Salon presenter, disagrees). More surprisingly, there's also a series of Bobcat Goldthwait films, including one based on a recent standup routine. I didn't like the one Goldthwait directorial effort that I saw, the rather cruel/ maudlin World's Greatest Dad, starring Robin Williams as a father trying to cover up the fact that his son has hanged himself in an act of autoerotic asphyxia, but maybe I shouldn't have watched it with my Mom. All the same, Shakes the Clown has enough of a reputation that I'm curious, and God Bless America really does sound like a movie after my misanthropic heart, so...

Meantime at the Cinematheque - I missed plugging the Highway 61 night and the opportunity to repeat the anecdote about how I once got Art Bergmann to sign a rental copy of the VHS at the Maple Ridge Rogers Video where I worked. Those sore about missing this wonderful film (and the various short tributes constructed to it) can console themselves by catching the new 35mm print of Bruce McDonald's most celebrated movie, Hard Core Logo, tomorrow and the next night - a must-see for anyone interested in Vancouver punk, and a delightful, character driven comedy-drama to boot, brilliantly shot by local cinematographer and former Spores singer Danny Nowak (for some reason the only Spores song on Youtube is their Christmas putdown, but if you don't own News Weather and Spores, you're missing out. The Spores at their best combine a love of horror movies with punk politics and really crafty instrumentation; many members of the band continue to play together as part of Aging Youth Gang).  To be honest - having seen Hard Core Logo more times than I can count, and even having caught the live theatrical adaptation of it last year - I don't really need to see it again for a looooong time (though unlike with Apocalypse Now, I don't wish to condemn it to a locked door; it's not like EVERYBODY has seen it yet). Personally, tho', I'm much more curious about the Alexei Gherman series, as I'm assured by a Russian cinephile friend that he's a masterful filmmaker, honest to the point of being cruel and brutal; she suggested I seek him out when she discovered my passions for Cassavetes and Ingmar Bergman, which is more than enough to get me curious. These are films Vancouver cineastes will likely have few opportunities to see otherwise - I'm sure many of them are unavailable on DVD. By comparison, Hard Core Logo - hell, I bet it plays the Rio at midnight at least once a year, eh?

I don't know a single one of the Kibatsu cinema films this year, though there are always gems in that series. I'm more excited about the Jan Svankmajer retrospective coming later this summer, since - I confess - I have seen far fewer of Svankmajer's films than I should. Rather than trying to explain what he's up to as a filmmaker, though, may I direct y'all to Darkness Light Darkness on Youtube - a 7 minute film that I guarantee will make an impression on you...? The above image is also from a Svankmajer film, but not that one. The man is a genius of cinema whom I have yet to fully wrap my head around; it may prove impossible to do so...

Yet More Vancouver Store Closures and Sales: sad news that YOU can take advantage of!

Al at Carson Books

Some of y'all might be mourning the much-publicized closure of Book Warehouse*, but as the son of a man raised during the depression, who used to religiously go through the coupons every week and do all his shopping based on what was on sale, the discounts there have never been sufficient to get me that excited. I don't want books at 20% off, I want them for 50% off or less - or better yet, I want to buy them for 50 cents at a thrift store and sell them for $2 or more to the bookstore, getting effectively paid to shop. As a bookscout - the name for that particular avocation, which I've pursued all my adult life - the next three used bookstore closures in this city hit me far closer to home than any previously, though those of you with a mind to shop may have cause to be briefly happy to hear the news.

Tim Carson in action

Later this summer, Carson Books and Records will be closing its Broadway store (3425 West Broadway - if you're coming from the east, get off the bus at Blenheim and walk towards Alma one block). In preparation for this, all books are at a substantial discount as of now (I think the proprietor, Tim Carson, told me 20% off everything, plus an added discount if you buy five or more items). Carson's has a great selection of SF, fantasy, self-help and spirituality, bestselling crime, literature, and lots of surprising nonfiction gems to be found (there was even a leprosy treatment manual in the medical section, last I looked - you don't see those around very often!). He's the man to see in this town if you're interested in Philip K. Dick, and I know for a fact he has several Osho books around at the moment (unless he sold them already), because he got them from me. There are sections devoted to Beat writers, drugs, conspiracy theory, Buddhism, yoga, philosophy, travel - all the staples of a good Vancouver used bookstore.

There are also some amazing records at the store - especially blues, bluegrass and folk; Tim bought a great collection last year and still has a lot of cool stuff around. I sometimes work at this location myself (usually when the Minimalist Jug Band is on tour), so I'm very sad to see the store closing. I've sold books (and sometimes records) to Tim for close to twenty years now - he's actually one of my oldest acquaintances! - and have always found him very fair, honest, polite and knowledgeable; he has a great little shop - perhaps a little overshadowed in recent years by the hipster cachet of Pulp Fiction, but still, one of my favourite bookstores in the city. The end of the road is in August, though Tim will keep his Dunbar location open after that; meantime, over the next couple of months, you have a  chance to get some great deals.

I'm equally sad to note that Canada's only Book Off - a Japanese chain store specializing in Japanese and English-language comics, books, DVDs, and CDs - will be closing on June 23rd. They're located on Hornby between West Georgia and Dunsmuir. If you have no passion for manga or Japanese novels and magazines, the draw for Book Off is indubitably going to be that THEY HAVE THE ALL-ROUND CHEAPEST PRICES in Vancouver for CDs and DVDs. As CD sales have dropped off in recent years, they haven't kept their stock up quite so much, but still, the baseline price for non-Japanese music is $3.50; you can hardly go wrong with prices like that, and devoted scavengers are bound to find one or two cool albums (speaking of punk alone, I've found CDs there over the years by Fear, Bad Brains, Nomeansno, the Dreadnoughts, the Damned, Fugazi, the Cramps, the Melvins and many other bands, all for super-cheap prices, though usually it was a matter of spending forty minutes looking through their entire stock before I found any one of those CDs, which was usually the only CD I ended up buying on that day). DVDs start at $3, with most of the stock priced at $5, and there are some great deals there, too; in the last year, they've figured out that Criterions should be priced for MORE than $3, but they still don't always stick to that rule, when Criterions turn up (very infrequently). Sometimes they overprice things, as well - they had copies of Cannibal Holocaust and Bad Taste priced at $30 for the longest time, which I think is around what either cost new. But again, with diligence, you can usually find one or two movies you're willing to pay $3 or $5 for, and every so often you'll end up with a total gem at a bargain price. They also have two large sections of English language books - one where softcovers range generally from $5-9 and another where all books, softcover or hardcover, are $2 each - often enough of a discount to make it worth the while of bookscouts and bookdealers to shop there, unlike, say, the rather extreme-for-a-supposed-thrift-store prices of Value Village. A lot of their $2 stock is stuff that didn't sell in the $5-9 section - they're very pragmatic about their markdowns - but sometimes they'll stick stuff directly into the $2 section that you'd have happily bought at new prices (I've bought, over the years, two copies of Chomsky and Hermann's Manufacturing Consent there, for $2 each time, which I promptly bused down to Tim's; I've also found $2 Kerouacs, Patricia Highsmiths, Cormac McCarthys... you get the idea). I'm not sure when Book Off's discount sale kicks into gear, or what the details will be, but there will definitely be a sale happening soon; given their usual low prices, a storewide sale should be enough to inspire quite a feeding frenzy, so I would advise checking them out sooner rather than later. Even if the sale hasn't started, the prices generally cannot be beat. The store closure will be a huge loss to the Japanese community in Vancouver, but will also make scavengers like me very, very sad; it's probably my favourite place to shop in Vancouver (and no, I don't JUST buy the super-cheap items).

Finally: though I haven't shopped there so often lately, I've retained fondness for the former Granville Book and Comic Emporium, which is now located on West Broadway by Oscar's Art Books, and usually pops up in phone books with names like "ABC Books" and such. Under their former incarnation, the Aabaca Book Bin (I believe it was), they were one of the first used bookstores I recall shopping at in Vancouver; only McLeod's Books has been part of my experience for so long. Used to be that whatever I picked up in my scouting that Tim didn't want, I'd take to the Granville location, which was one of the largest used bookstores in the city, and thus a bit more generous with what they'd give credit for; that was my habit for years, a fine way to cut my losses, and often led to my finding a book I wouldn't have otherwise realized I needed. The Broadway location simply hasn't worked out for them - high rents and a general downturn in the used book business are a bad combination - and they'll either be closing or moving 'round about August, last I heard (I haven't checked in with Skip and Gavin lately about their plans). As you might expect, they have an ongoing sale, and have some great stock - especially comics and old magazines, if you're into such stuff. Some of their comic stuff is tempting even to a non-comic reader like me; the last time I was there, they had a huge selection of brand new hardbound anthologies of Creepy and Eerie magazine, selling at nearly half-price. I used to love the old Warren magazines, though I've talked myself out of buying them, myself. Maybe someone else has already swooped in and snagged them all? They're lovely objects, but an indulgence I can ill afford at the moment.

It's very, very sad that these three stores are closing - but I like a sale as much as the next guy. Those of you who feel the same way might want to take advantage of these...

*By the way, I gather that one location of Book Warehouse is being bought by Black Bond Books, who will  keep it open in some form or other, but I have no idea what the details of that are. Presumably they will continue to sell new books at a discount - though how long they'll be able to keep that going is anyone's guess. Good luck to'em, tho'!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Batquest 2012: where have all the bats gone?

There once were abundant bats in Maple Ridge. Some of my earliest memories are of going to my old elementary school field as dusk descended to watch the bats fly overhead. My friends and I, standing in the back parking lot of a local bar - not one of us older than seven years old, I'd guess - would throw rocks, not aiming to HIT the bats, but to deke them out into thinking that a singularly large moth or mosquito had entered their sonar range. We made a bit of a competition out of it, as I recall: a successful throw was a throw that a bat actually mistook for a bug and dived for, which they often did. Sometimes, the bats would actually catch the rock, scooping it up in their tail membrane, then inspect it midflight, discovering that it was inedible; we would laugh and cheer as the bat - which often seemed, perhaps from an anthropomorphic perspective, at least a bit pissed with us - "threw the rock back at us," or so we would describe it amongst ourselves. I heard that some of the crueller, bigger kids would do a similar thing with fishing rods and tied flies, hoping to snag a bat, which I recall hearing they did, once, but I was never on hand for such a thing and feel nothing but sorry for the bat in such an instance, since I imagine these guys, being bully-types, most likely killed it. Don't judge them too harshly, though, these boys: this was around 1975, before VHS tapes, personal computers, Super Nintendo or so forth had made their way into Maple Ridge, and they had no Street Fighter type games or extreme horror movies or such to help them sublimate their natural primate aggression. And there wasn't even that much to keep gentler, more cerebral children like myself amused in the evening, especially if there was nothing good on TV. As strange as it may seem to kids today, throwing rocks for bats to catch seemed as valid an amusement as turning over boards and looking for snakes and salamanders, or catching bees in jars, or digging holes in the front yard so I could bury myself up to my waist, or putting leeches on myself at the local frog pond (long since made into a condo) to see how difficult they were to get off, all of which I also did in my childhood. The other kids in Richmond Court swapped stories and half-baked childish theories with me about rabies, or about bats trying to get into your hair. We went to our elementary school library to read up on bats - I remember big illustrations of how bat sonar worked. Bats were a part of our lives, back then, something - even without the influence of horror movies - that occupied a corner of the imagination of at least some of the children of this town. They were neater than raccoons or squirrels, and thanks to the rock trick, we could make a game out of interacting with them: go throw a rock at a raccoon and see where it gets you. Somewhere back there, as I recall, I even dreamed I was a bat, flying through the skies above this town.

In the late 1990's, I left Maple Ridge. At that time, it was commonplace to see bats pretty much anywhere in the town at night, swooping and diving around streetlights, feasting on the huge swarms of flying insects that sought out the light. There were never a lot of them - if you saw more than two around one light, it was something to remark upon, and very often there'd be no bat at all - but they were present nonetheless, in pretty much the same numbers as they'd been in the 1970's. I remember, in my mid-20's, sitting at dusk on the banks of the Alouette River, a couple miles north of town, and watching in delight and amazement as bats swept along the surface of the water, catching bugs, but also occasionally dipping into the water itself for a drink - a brief splash that made it look rather like someone was standing downriver and skipping a bat against the current. Hell, in the late 1990's, I even recall seeing a small bat clinging to the stucco'd wall of the local bingoplex, which - now mostly filled with slot machines - is just around the corner from where I write this. I examined it from all angles before leaving it alone; if I'd had a cellphone, I'd have taken its picture. As far as memory serves me, there were bats aplenty, right up to 1999, when I moved to Japan.

I don't want to spend too much time talking about the bats of Japan, or the bats of Vancouver, when I moved there in 2002 (because unless memory fails, I did see the odd bat around Kits Beach at night). I'm not obsessed about bats or anything - I just kind of like them. Flying mammals, creatures of folklore, nearly blind, hunting by sound, eating the mosquitos that would otherwise feed on us - they're funky little creatures for whom I have lingering fondness. Sufficiently so that, after I moved back to Maple Ridge in October 2009, after awhile - when spring and summer 2010 rolled around, say - I started to notice a curious absence. There are no bats to be seen anywhere in this town, these days - certainly not in the downtown core (or what used to be the downtown core; development has been creeping further and further west in recent years). In fact, the same streetlights where bats once flew now barely even have any bugs around them, these days. And both of these developments worry the hell out of me, in the same quietly paranoid way that I've been worried about colony crashes in the bee population, because if there IS some problem being caused by GM foods - if, say, some genetically engineered pesticidal gene has leapt the barrier from one food crop to other plants, and spread throughout North America, which is what I'm afraid might be happening - then we would start to notice that other insect species are also declining, and that the predators that prey on them - like BATS - would also be dwindling, along with their food supply.

I mean, maybe there are just a lot more condos in Maple Ridge, and a lot fewer barns for bats to roost, but like I say, this whole part of town hasn't seen that much development in the last ten years or so; most of the major new malls and townhouse-clusters and so forth are happening closer to Pitt Meadows. It's been over two years since I've seen a bat, though, on these same streets where they once were quite commonplace. There may be an entirely undramatic explanation for this absence - but until I encounter that explanation, some small corner of my mind is growing slowly more and more concerned. Especially since I doubt very much that if there were sharp declines in the mosquito or moth populations of North America - which might explain a concomitant drop amongst bats - it would attract a lot of public concern or worry. We noticed the decline in bee populations because we humans get something from bees. If moths, on the other hand, or other such insects that we count as a nuisance if we deign to notice them at all, suddenly started to also disappear, how long would it take before anyone kicked up a fuss? Since I've heard no one else remark on this phenomenon, I wonder if it's possible that I'm seeing something no one else is. Do I just have way too much time on my hands, or are there a whole lot of other people out there wandering the streets in the countryside, looking up, hoping to see a bat swoop by, and not remembering the last time they did?

I was restless and feeling the need of a bit of exercise tonight, and since - then as now - I don't always want to just stay home and stare into a screen, for my evening's entertainment, I decided, as dusk fell - around 9pm - to deliberately walk out into the country north of here, to stroll down 224th until the townhouses and condos gradually start to be replaced with farmhouses and fields and deer crossing signs and the odd clump of horseshit on the gravel shoulder. It's not exactly summer, but the day has been temperate, enough so that I wore only a thin fleece for the walk; it doesn't seem unreasonable to think that on a night such as tonight in the 1970's, or 1980's, or 1990's, there would have been bats around at least every second streetlight, increasing in number as I got further out into the sticks. As you might expect, though, during my half-hour walk north, I saw not a single bat. I sat down by the Alouette river on some concrete siding and looked back and forth from streetlight to streetlight, at either end of the bridge. I leaned over the railing, to see if bats could be seen flying up and down the river, as I'd seen before. I didn't, given the past two years of total batlessness in Maple Ridge, expect that my conclusions would be anything but thus, but still, I'm disturbed: there really are no bats here. And there sure seem to be fewer bugs around, too.

Again, I have yet to establish why any of this might be. Part of it might be due to the fact that in the more recently-developed areas, what I presume are halogen streetlights are being used, which seem to attract fewer insects than old fashioned yellow light. Until I caught onto this, I was rather freaked out by the near total absence of insects in the white light - and kept a count for several blocks of what few bugs I did see (averaging about one a block - a lone cranefly, a small moth, a couple tiny specks glimpsed flying with a streetlight in the background). But once I got to the river, out into the areas where people keep stables and some farmer, based on the odd kya-KYAAA cries I heard, apparently keeps a peacock on his property - the lights were all yellow, and I was relieved to see that there WERE lots of little bugs - small motes of reflected light, moving in odd patterns, like ash floating in the wind or particulate from a 3D movie. None of them were very big - I only saw one moth the entire walk that was big enough to cast a notable shadow, as it flitted about a light. But there was at least SOMETHING of a recognizable cloud of life swarming in the yellow.

Still no bats, tho'.

I must persist in my investigations, to see if this is the same elsewhere in town, or in other parts of the world... I wonder if I Google "where have all the bats gone," if I'll get many hits?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In which Sam Peckinpah directs my dream

I dream that I have a female friend visit me in my apartment (not my actual apartment - my dreaming brain gives me one completely different, unlike any I have lived in). This is a woman to whom I've hoped (in the dream as in life) to get closer for some time. Unfortunately, when I take her out on the balcony to show her the view, it transpires that my neighbours have decided to throw a party, and since the balcony space is, in fact, enormous - larger than the apartment itself! - and connected to theirs, they have spilled out and are everywhere. They are full-of-themselves drunken redneck types who expect me to be "be cool" about their party when it's fucking with my life, but after my initial outrage, I decide to try to be understanding towards them - "okay, okay, have fun, if it's just for one night," rationalizing to myself that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, only to discover that the woman I've brought over is unimpressed with my territorial cowardice, and is disgusted by the complete lack of privacy. She leaves by a long flight of stone steps, descending into the night; my hopes are dashed. As my obnoxious neighbours look on, chuckling, I race back into the apartment, thinking at first that I will catch the elevator, beat her down, and meet her on the other side; but I discover that somehow - no doubt due to my neighbours - one of my doors has been forced off its hinges and is hanging damaged in the frame. I try to repair it (this being an apparent reference to a piece of writing I've been working on, by the by) but am growing in my frustration, and a sort of rage at my neighbours is building - plus a valuable print of mine on the wall has been damaged along with the door. I race to the window - my window! - where, outside, my neighbours have stacked their stereo, and I wrathfully push it over, screaming at them to get out, flailing at anyone within reach. I hear some of them chuckling at my impotent rage and others clucking about how they'll charge me with assault of various forms ("he touched me and I'm only 15, do you think we can get him for sexually assaulting a minor?"). I race to my phone, to call the police, but it's been disconnected, no doubt by my neighbours, in anticipation of possible trouble. I stumble to find my cellphone, but when I start pressing buttons, it also doesn't work. I can hear my neighbours hammering at the damaged door. It's shaping up to be a bad night.

That's the last I recall of the dream - it ends like the whole thing has been an overture to my own personal version of Straw Dogs. Not all my dreams are quite so disturbing these days, but the ones I remember have been.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thanks to all who came out

Death Watch was quite a success. Thanks to the Vancity Theatre, the Creaking Planks, Clayton Holmes, the Rebel Spell, and, especially, everyone who came out - 'specially if you paid to be there, because we have to pay the rights holders of the film, even though they couldn't provide us a film print. I'd love to just guestlist everyone, frankly, but, I mean, I'm not exactly holding these screenings in my living room... Anyhow, people seemed to enjoy the film, which I'm very glad for - it's almost a forgotten film at this point, so I'm very glad so many people came and (apparently, from the feedback I heard) had a good time.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Un-"Comfortably Numb": the case against a "classic"

Were I a crueller man, I would have posted this as a comment directly on the Georgia Straight website, where Steve Newton and Martin Dunphy (and who-knows-who-all-else) have been writing about their experiences of seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall in Vancouver tonight (or last night, or however you wish to think of it). A whole post was devoted, in fact, to "Comfortably Numb." I really don't want to seem a party pooper, or otherwise subtract from Martin and Newt's enjoyment of the concert - because I've abused this song before and thus hurt people who remain attached to it, which proved far less satisfying than I'd hoped - but having had my spleen stirred, it must be vented somewhere: because I cannot believe anyone (certainly not someone who was alive and listening to music when The Wall was first released) would actually want to listen to "Comfortably Numb" by choice, given the massive number of times one must INVOLUNTARILY listen to it in public. Certainly for one such as I - who was already starting to skip that side of the album out of weariness for the song when I was 13 or so, back when I still had The Wall in my collection - the experience of having it come on the radio in a car, or hearing it while shopping, or eating, or sitting in a dentist's office (which is sort of a fitting environment for it, actually) has long since ceased to be welcome. Its ubiquity has transformed it from a song that once was about something (however minor) to a sort of cultural wallpaper that serves to validate the identity of a generation, to affirm their tastes and ratify their horizons and help block out any new musical experiences; my own frustration on hearing it is such that I cannot but be suspicious of anyone who is not as sick of it as I: What are they getting out of it, REALLY? What craving for security and validation keeps them returning to THIS song, when there are so many other ones out there? ...Because let's face it, folks, there is only one more tediously overplayed rock classic in existence, and THAT one involves bustles in hedgerows. (At least people don't badly busk "Comfortably Numb" on Granville Street over and over and over and over and over. How much sicker still would I be of it, then?). If there were one Pink Floyd song that needed to be locked in a bunker for at least thirty years, to give the world a chance to listen to something else (or at least give the song back some of its long-lost freshness), this is the one, this is the one. Given a choice between having to listen to "Comfortably  Numb" and pretty much any other music in the world, from Barry Manilow to Pakistani disco to fuckin' Def Leppard, I'd -- well, I might have to think for a bit about it if the other choice was Def Leppard, but you see where I'm going. Pakistani disco, on the other hand... I mean, I don't have any clue what that might sound like, but I'd take an hour of it over "Comfortably Numb" in a second, you know? Christ, wouldn't YOU?

None of this is really the song's FAULT, of course - because how many songs out there are good enough to bear up to being overplayed and overpraised to the extent THIS one is? If I had to listen to , I dunno, the Clash's "London Calling" or X's "Los Angeles" as often as I've had to listen to "Comfortably Numb," I'd probably feel the same way about them, too. In fact, sad as it makes me, I very nearly do.

End rant.

Oh, a little note for Ray Davies, who I'll be seeing when he plays Vancouver in July: I kinda feel this way about "Lola," "You Really Got Me," and "All the Day and All of the Night," too, and would MUCH rather hear anything off Working Man's Cafe (or if we must have classics, Muswell Hillbillies or The Village Green Preservation Society, say) than any one of those tunes, 'kay? So don't feel, like, obliged or anything...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Death Watch and the "Eyeborg," Rob Spence

Ah, I'm excited about tomorrow's screening of Death Watch. I've prepared something like sixty programmes for the film - I'll be rather sad if I have to take home more than forty of them, so I hope some people out there plan to see the film! Meantime - since the theme of the film's prescience will factor into my presentation - some of y'all might be interested to read this article on Toronto filmmaker Rob Spence, who, in 2009, apparently had a missing eye replaced with a camera. Wonder how that worked out for him?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Death Watch at the Vancity, May 27th

There's not much online yet about Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch; the one interview with the director I find is entirely too Glasgow-centric - understandable, given the site, but still somewhat frustrating, as there is much more to this film than where it was shot! As an added incentive, then, to those coming out on May 27th to see the film at the Vancity Theatre, I'm going to prepare a handout with portions of a yet-to-be-published interview I did with Tavernier a couple of weeks ago. He became quite enthusiastic, and briefly he and I bonded in a sort of fannish delight for the work of Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, and Max von Sydow in the movie (with apologies to Harry Dean Stanton, who plays a cynical, sleazy TV executive: we didn't really spend that much time on you, but it's a fine performance, really!). Of course, Tavernier MADE the film, so he isn't just a fan, but it's nice to discover he loves some of the same things that I do about it. We also talked at some length about the troubling prescience of the film; he imagines a future very much like our own, not one of steel and glass highrises (as per dystopian SF norms)  but of general dilapidation and decay, where people are all too dependent on computers, tune in to grotesquely exploitive "reality TV" (something the filmmakers had no actual model for, back in 1980) and riots and demonstrations are commonplace. Teachers in particular who are feeling uncomfortable about government plans to increase the use of computers in schools will be particularly shocked, or validated, or something to see one protester with a sign reading "keep human teachers" (which apparently, as Tavernier tells me, is an area of concern in present-day France, as well as in Vancouver). We also talked at some length about the score, by Antoine Duhamel - see the IMDB trivia section for the film for some fun revelations about that - and the screenplay, co-written by Tavernier with esteemed (and now departed) screenwriter David Rayfiel, who also co-wrote the terrific Three Days of the Condor. Apparently both Max von Sydow and Harvey Keitel describe Death Watch as a favourite film of theirs from the period; it's very, very easy to believe, since they're given terrific roles. I highly urge anyone interested in cinema who HASN'T seen Death Watch to be present on the 27th, since screenings of this film are a rare occurrence indeed.

Note: the film is not presently available on DVD in North America (though there's a later release slated for later this summer); all previous versions to come out on VHS and Laserdisc in North America have been substantially altered from Tavernier's vision of the film. We'll be playing the full 128 minute European cut of the movie - actually clocking in at 124 minutes because of PAL speedup, since we're projecting from a French DVD. (Tom Charity tried really hard to find a film print, but the avenues he explored proved either impossible or impractical, and probably would have meant playing the shortened 117 minute version, to boot). One wee caveat: the price of seeing the film at its proper length is that there will be non-removable French subtitles at the bottom of the screen, but y'all put up with Japanese subtitles for years on El Topo and The Holy Mountain, so it shouldn't be too much of a challenge to just ignore'em...

By the way, at no extra cost, The Creaking Planks will do a short set before the film, and there'll be a short subject - a surveillance-themed video by The Rebel Spell... Come early, we'll be beginning at 7pm!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Do the Sponge!

Those intending to see the Dwarves this weekend should check out Blag Dahlia's contribution to the Spongebob Squarepants "yellow" album...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Recognize the Dwarves, Slut!

Had a very enjoyable conversation with Blag Dahlia of The Dwarves for this week's Georgia Straight; the band, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is having an ultra-cheap show at Fortune Sound Club this (long weekend) Sunday. I last saw the Dwarves back around 1990 at the Cruel Elephant on Granville Street, on what I guess must have been the Blood Guts & Pussy tour, where they played for a wholly satisfying fifteen minutes, knocked some shit over, and made a big impression on me (tho' Blag tells me that now they actually get paid real money to perform, sets are a regular length). Even back then, HeWhoCannotBeNamed was naked, 'cept for boots and a bag over his head (not a wrestling mask - I'm told he's played with many a head cover, including a flour sack, which fits my memory better). Impressed though I was, The Dwarves are one of those bands (like Motorhead, up til a couple of years ago) with whom I've been content to own only a very small sliver of their early work, which I've played frequently and consistently enjoyed without ever once venturing into their later catalogue. In fact, until recently, my Dwarves collection has consisted of exactly one album: Blood Guts & Pussy. I own it on vinyl and CD, and have never felt the need to buy another Dwarves album: it's simply so good and has such fond memories attached to it that it hasn't been necessary to explore beyond its boundaries. It's almost like I've been keeping the Dwarves in reserve until I might really need them, like I've been saving them for a rainy day.

Since I've been experiencing a rainy day in my life for the last three years, how GLAD I am to discover, now that I get off my ass, just how good a band the Dwarves have remained. They're not even *really* a punk band, in my understanding - this is HIGHLY energetic pop music that partakes of punk theatre and transgression, and draws on all manner of other musical influences - surf, garage, hip-hop, you name it (tho' hip hop isn't really present on the new album much - we gather it was controversial on their last one). The Dwarves Are Born Again is a very fun record indeed - with the high point for me being "I Masturbate Me," more on which you will find in the Straight article. Anyone looking for something to do on Sunday night who has any fondness for energetic, outlandish rock and roll should roll into Chinatown for this gig - I suspect it's going to be pretty spectacular. Recognize the Dwarves, slut!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Persecution Dream

In the dream, I'm working as a writer at a newspaper. I'm not sure that the paper was ever named in the dream - but I don't think it matters, since it was based on a patchwork of workplaces and circumstances in my life. My main editor was a female, for instance, which is not the case at the paper where I actually do sometimes write (where everything appears to be going fine); and the staff room was modelled on the Japanese high school where I once taught. Anyhow, I had pushed my luck too far, been too arrogant, too superior, presumed too much on people's tolerances, and suddenly everyone decided they hated me; I was fired, and then - as part of a rarely employed ritual - beaten, crucified, pissed on, and mocked en masse by my colleagues in an orgiastic, hate-filled office party. The dream didn't end there - I was trying to put myself back together and find a way to fight back, in part because they planned to withhold my next check, and I needed the money; but I woke up before I could dream my way 'round to getting it.

Hell of a thing to wake up to on an unemployed Sunday morning.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch at the Vancity Theatre

It's hard for me to keep a list of "favourite films" these days, but for the longest time, when I had such a list, one of the titles on it was Death Watch, Bertrand Tavernier's prescient, seldom-screened 1980 SF film starring Harvey Keitel as a man with television cameras implanted in his eyes, hired to surreptitiously film a proud dying woman (Romy Schneider) for a reality TV show - a concept for which there was no factual basis back in 1980. Harry Dean Stanton and Max von Sydow star; the film is shot in an unnamed European city (actually Glasgow), was co-written in close collaboration (adapting a DG Compton novel) by Tavernier and esteemed screenwriter David Rayfiel (who also co-wrote The Three Days of the Condor, another favourite of mine), and has a very moving classical score by Antoine Duhamel. I just spoke to director Tavernier this morning; I'm not entirely sure what will be done with that interview as yet, but it was apropos of a May 27th screening of the film at the Vancity Theatre which I will be hosting, which seems worth mentioning before we get too close to the day. Cinephiles out there are urged to attend - this is a thought-provoking, surprisingly poetic film with terrific performances from the entire cast (von Sydow is particularly delightful - M. Tavernier told me this morning that along with The Three Days of the Condor, this is one of von Sydow's favourite of his own English-language film roles, which pleases me immensely to hear). The film will be preceded by a musical performance by The Creaking Planks and a short subject, a video by The Rebel Spell (all at no added cost!). It is true that Shout! Factory will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-Ray this summer, but as yet, runtimes listed for that release correspond to a shortened American version of the film, not Tavernier's "director's cut," which is what I'll be screening, from a French DVD; this may simply be an error on the part of sites like Amazon - I'm in touch with Shout! Factory, awaiting a response. More will probably follow here, but be assured - Death Watch is a thought-provoking, moving, memorable film, one with many supporters and admirers (it means a great deal to Keitel, as well). Screening one night only; please do spread the word! 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Going to be away from the blog for a bit, have some other projects cooking...

Friday, May 04, 2012

Hansons play the Cobalt follow up

A point of clarity, following up a previous post: I actually have nothing against the Hanson Brothers or the new owners of The Cobalt (where the band plays tomorrow night). Having thought about this quite a bit, while I suspect the attempt to cultivate a punk scene there again may be misguided (from a business point of view), divisive (from the POV of the punk scene) and/or in poor taste, all things considered (considering recent history), I don't in fact have any strong objection to attempts to make live music happen at The Cobalt again; just because various people (including myself) feel they can't go back there ever again, given the history, doesn't mean that EVERYONE should feel that way, or that people who DON'T feel that way are doing something bad. Why should some new arrival to Vancouver, or band not previously connected to the scene there, or non-punk businessperson, or any other otherwise disinterested third party feel obliged to boycott the space? Unless it was part of a blanket campaign to boycott venues owned by the same family (which as far as I know includes at least The Astoria), it's not like staying out of the building will change anything or help anyone. Seems the only real reasons I can locate in myself for not wanting to go back involve my personal sentimental attachment to the space as it was, and my respect for and loyalty to wendythirteen; but I can't generalize these feelings into a principle that others should follow. If enough people feel comfortable re-entering that space to make gigs a success there, so be it...! I got a little touchy, having been called a "pretentious prick" by someone involved in the gig, in the comments section on that previous post, but I am here officially shrugging and walking away. Do what thou wilt, folks, do what thou wilt - best of luck at the show tomorrow, sincerely.  

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Petunia interview online!

Al Mader (the Minimalist Jug Band) and Petunia, onstage at the former incarnation of Slickity Jim's; photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Fans of Petunia (or rockabilly, roots music, western swing, or just plain MUSIC) should check out this interview I did with him about his most recent LP, with photos by Bev Davies, Femke van Delft, and Lee Shoal of the Creaking Planks! Petunia and Al (above) are currently on a Canadian tour - wish'em well!

The Hunger Games: belated mini-review

Plans are afoot in my life that will distract from serious blogging for awhile, but I just wanted to mention that I rather loved The Hunger Games, which I finally caught up with yesterday, and urge adult filmgoers who may be lumping it in with Twilight and other teen-'tween fare and thus staying away to check it out while it is still playing theatrically. It is no great masterpiece of cinema, but will be of interest to anyone who cares about imaginative film fare; further, it is: 

a) Not so derivative of Battle Royale that it deserves to be accused of plagiarism. I was concerned about this initially but was pleased to see that The Hunger Games stands on its own merits, though Battle Royale IS an obvious precursor. (Anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games should check Battle Royale out, btw). 

b) Probably going to be the most widely-seen film of 2012 to deal explicitly with issues of class, race, and social control, though it displaces these onto a future society

c) An intelligent "dystopian game" film, belonging to a long-established genre that uses an SF scenario involving players who "break the rules" of a contest in an unjust society to get at problems in our own society. The lineage extends back through Battle Royale to The Running Man, Rollerball, and Death Race 2000. Like these films, it contains an indictment of the way media is used as a tool of social control, and challenges concepts of celebrity and glamour. Going further than these films, it also shows how romantic relationships and hopes can be manipulated as an aspect of  media/ social control; the film actually raises questions about "the politics of love," particularly where media depictions of romance are concerned. If I had a 13 year old daughter I would be DELIGHTED if she were interested in this film. Hell, I would drag her to it.

d) Highly competent and occasionally quite moving, in that classic Hollywood way - you can't but be drawn by its manipulations, obvious as some of them may be.
e) Nicely production-designed; it's a vision of the future I haven't seen before, and uses its design elements as part of the thrust of its queries (unlike, say, Michael Bay's The Island, which uses design for its own sake)

f) Reasonably respectful of the intelligence of its audience, for a mainstream commercial film; it takes awhile to enter the "world" that it crafts, is comfortable raising questions that it doesn't get around to answering right away, which is a pleasing thing. Adults will not find this a "childish" film, whatever its target market. 

g) Quite well cast; it has a terrific central performance by Jennifer Lawrence, the young actress from Winter's Bone, a much admired independent film of a couple of years ago, and has roles for both Donald Sutherland (who needs never really act again - he can just turn up and be Donald Sutherland) and Woody Harrelson (who, while a likeable fellow, I'm sure, has never REALLY seemed much of an actor, but here steps far enough outside his usual range of characterizations that I was briefly unsure, when he first appeared onscreen, if it was indeed him - a reaction I cannot recall having to any other performance he has given. Later in the film, his Woodyisms manifest, but I still think this is one of his better roles). 

That's about as ambitious a review as I have in me at the moment, but I hope it might sway a couple of you to check out this film. The 3:50 screening at the Fifth Avenue yesterday only had about five other people in the audience, so it probably won't be sticking around much longer. If you're a parent of a teen, go with them, and be on hand to talk about it with them after its over. I think you'll be very pleased, if you do. 

"Around 100 Hits a Day"

Someone overheard me talking about traffic on my blog at the Robots on Fire concert and thought I was discussing my LSD consumption. Ha!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

DJ Voodoo Funk at the Anza!

Be appraised: New York-based DJ and Afrobeat archivist Frank Gossner (AKA DJ Voodoo Funk) will return to the Anza Club this Saturday to spin heavy African funk vinyl - like this. Alex Varty briefly talks with him here, more info here, Facebook link here.