Friday, June 29, 2012

If I lived in Vancouver...

...I would go see the Monophonics for free tomorrow at David Lam Park - this is awesome old-school funk...

Contemplating a withdrawal, plus Daniel Johnston review

Looks like I may have to call this quits again for awhile. I have more Beyond the Black Rainbow stuff pending, but it's become pretty apparent that I'm not going to be able to support myself through writing anytime soon, and that my involvement in blogging or trying to interface with the music/ cinema scene in Vancouver - at least as I have been doing it - is not only not leading anywhere, but is standing as a distraction from serious life issues, like, say, getting a job. I guess I had hoped when I set out on this course - the whole freelance journalist/ blogger thing - there might be work at the end of the tunnel, but it's failed to materialize, such that this no longer seems a justifiable use of my time and energy. Hell, I'm not even sure if contributing to the Straight makes sense, at this point; I can't pay my rent on an article or two every few months...

...Though speaking of the Straight, I reviewed Daniel Johnston's new hardcover comic book, Space Ducks, in this week's issue - an interesting and fun little assignment. Thanks to Adrian Mack for recommending me for the job and Brian Lynch for askin' me to do it...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little Otik at the Pacific Cinematheque

While you're waiting for Beyond the Black Rainbow to open (or for me to post my next interview pertaining to it), check out the first five minutes of Jan Svankmajer's Little Otik on Youtube, and note that you can still catch it on screen, in the "church of cinema," at the Pacific Cinematheque, along with two other recent Svankmajers. Insanely creative, perverse, provocative and playful, if Jan Svankmajer's films were a woman, I would propose marriage to them. It would be, no doubt, a disastrous relationship, and eventually end in madness, but MY would it be intense while it lasted!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow: interview with Norm Li, csc

This is the first of what I hope will be two or three interviews pertaining to the Vancouver-shot Beyond the Black Rainbow, opening July 6th at the Vancity Theatre - the must-see film this summer for any and all Vancouver cult/ SF/ drug-movie buffs or fans of 1970's/1980's science fiction cinema. As the film has a remarkable visual sensibility - psychedelic, intense, and persistently, aggressively retro, self-consciously evoking various cinematic forbears and striving to appear an authentic product of the early 1980’s - it seemed appropriate to begin with the “eye” of the film, cinematographer Norm Li, csc We conducted the following interview by email; rather than tidy it to give it a more conversational tone, I’m electing to preserve the email structure. Thanks to Norm Li for agreeing to our extended conversation (It's relatively spoiler-free, though you won't really understand some of what we discuss until after you've seen the film). Thanks also to Mr. Li for providing some images from the film shoot!

Allan: How did you come to the project, and how fleshed out were the ideas for the "look" of the film before you got on board? (Was it storyboarded? Were references to other films decided in advance of the shoot? How much of the "look" of the film sprang from Panos' head, before you were involved, and how much of it emerged during the shoot)?

Norm: After shooting my first feature Altitude, I had re-edited my reel with some new footage from the film and sent it off to a few producers and directors that I had previously worked with. Literally, a few minutes later, Oliver Linsley, the producer of BTBR who I had not talked to for a few years calls me, said the new reel looks great, and asked if I would be interested in a weird sci-fi film that he was producing. His word for word pitch was "It's like THX 1138 meets Blade Runner." I was definitely interested but obviously asked him to send me the script first. I read it right away and fell in love with its simplicity and style. I called him back the next day and said I would love to meet the director. I met Panos soon after at his apartment. After a few hours of chatting and showing each other references of films, I went home thinking our first meeting went pretty well. The next morning, I received a phone call from Panos (Cosmatos, BTBR director) asking me if I wanted to shoot the film.

We discussed the look of the film but from what I remember, Panos was still figuring a lot of it out as well and it wasn't fully concrete in terms of the cinematography and use of colors. These ideas were fleshed out during our prep together but that being said, Panos is very specific with design and style. He knows what he wants.

Allan: How did you shoot it/ what did you shoot it on? (It LOOKS like it was shot on film, but my thought watching it was that it couldn't possibly have been, given the amount of care and control that inform the images, and how manipulated they are; surely it would require a lot more money than the project could have had, to achieve what it does and still be shot on film...).

Norm: This is an interesting story. Panos and producers all wanted to originally shoot on a RED camera. I think that every project has a specific shooting format required, whether it is film or digital, 35mm or 16mm, RED or Alexa, etc. it's all about the aesthetics to match the story in my opinion. After many hours discussing and trading references for films, I noticed a common pattern and look for all of Panos' references. They were all grainy, colorful, and full of texture. They were all from films mainly in the 70's and 80's. I felt that 35mm was the only way to shoot this BTBR so I brought this up in a meeting with Panos and Oliver and they both instantly said it was too expensive and they couldn't afford it. I told them to give me a few days and this is where I did my homework and research. I spoke to all my reps at Panavision, Technicolor, and Fujifilm and was able to figure out a way to make shooting 35mm affordable. We shot on a Panavision GII 2-perf 35mm camera which basically saves 50% in filmstock and processing costs because it natively shoots in 2.40 aspect ratio with each frame butt up against another. It doubles the shooting time per magazine so a 400' mag would be about 9-minutes and and a 1000' mag allows for 22minutes. 2.40 is my favorite aspect ratio and the aspect ratio that Panos and I had already discussed and agreed on early in prep. In the end, the numbers worked for them and we decided to shoot on film.

We did a lot of extensive testing in prep with different filmstocks, filters, lenses, lighting, flaring, etc. We tried everything in all combinations to really understand what we could do to best achieve the look and feel Panos and I wanted. There was a little bit of slight tweaking done in the color grade but basically everything you see in terms of the primary colors, lighting, flaring, etc is all done in-camera. We only had 2 short greenscreen shots in the whole film. We were very happy with the results.

Allan: I thought the film had a remarkably authentic old-school/ "retro" look. From the visuals alone I would
have guessed it was made in Toronto in 1983, NEVER Vancouver in 2010. I'm curious if the images were manipulated to give it its particular retro graininess and colours, and how these effects were achieved, and if most of that occurred during the shoot, or in post-production. I'm also curious if there were any rules or procedures implemented at any point to make it seem authentically a product of the 1980's - in terms of equipment used, how shots were set up, editing, etc. That is - did you (or Panos) set out to shoot a film LIKE IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SHOT in 1983, using equipment from that time, or did you set out to make a film that had the look and feel of that time, while being made on digital equipment, using computers and such...?

Norm: There were many things we did to achieve the special look and feel of BTBR. The entire film was shot on Fuji Eterna 400T film which has a nice neutral but very low contrast and slightly grainy look. We also shot most of the film 2-3 stops, sometimes 6 stops overexposed, and pulled 2-3 stops in the grade to milk out the blacks more and to give it more of a dream-like feel. To further enhance this "hazier" feel, we specifically used the Panavision Ultraspeed lenses and shot them wide open to bring out the softness. These lenses are very old and easily flare. Most of the film we shot with 1/8 or 1/4 Black ProMist filters to soften a touch as we well. Sometimes we stacked up to 4 specialty filters to achieve a certain look. This was mainly in Barry Nyle's home residence. One more technique to further haze the image was flaring. This was a bit experimental each time we did it which was most of the film because you're never sure exactly what you get on film when you flare. It's always a surprise. We rigged little Xenon flashlights gelled with a certain color (red, blue, or yellow) and used them for specific scenes to compliment the scene's overall color palette. These little flashlights were in a fixed position just blasting down the barrel of the lens. The flare color also represented a certain opposing mood of the character which was pretty consistent throughout the film. BTBR was a pleasure to work on because it was extremely experimental and Panos supported trying the craziest things to achieve the aesthetic.

Allan: What films were you conscious of as visual inspirations? Based more on text than images, Cronenberg and Burroughs came to mind, but visually, I thought of THX 1138, Dark Star, 2001... even Begotten, during the "trip" scene, and maybe (just slightly) some Stuart Gordon (From Beyond, say). What else informed the look of the film? Did you go out of your way to duplicate certain effects? (There are moments that consciously seem to evoke THX 1138, for instance). How much of this was you, and how much of it was Panos...?

Norm: There were many films that inspired the look of the film. I think that's a Panos question really as he had countless references. However, a few certain come to mind. Phantasm, Electroma, Suspiria, THX 1138, Darkstar, etc.

We didn't go about trying to duplicate any effects really. We just did our own thing and it happened to be all been influenced by a melting pot of bizarre, experimental, and brilliant films. We also looked at abstract paintings, photographs, illustration, and architectural design books.

Panos wasn't aware of this but a lot of how I suggested we framed shots, moved (or didn’t move) the camera, and lit shots, were based on my childhood nightmares. There were three recurring nightmares that I had as child that are still vivid to this day. It's very interesting how nightmares or dreams are usually intangible, faded, fragmented, and not within grasp. I embraced these common characteristics and tried to apply as much as I could visually to this film. One of the nightmares was a high school spiralled stairwell that I would descend from the top floor, which continuously got darker and darker as I walked down countless floors. I would eventually reach the bottom which was basically pitch black. I remember a single door at the opposite end of the room that I would walk up and try to open it only to discover it was locked. In fear, I would turn around and try to run back up the stairs I came from but it would crumble before me. I would then turn around to look towards the door that was locked but notice it to be cracked ajar. I would walk up to the door and open it slowly to reveal a labyrinth of floating staircases that had no railings, going up and down, sideways, upside down, etc. The distance and the abyss below was pitch black but with a faded dark red haze to it. I would run up and down these stairs carefully but at the top of one staircase which was very steep that ended in a straight drop, there was a indescribable gigantic demon-like figure, the size and height of a 30-story building. This is where I would wake up as a child and scream uncontrollably and run to my parents room in the middle of the night!

All that being said, the slow-burn paced editing, haunting score and sound design, beautiful production design, and amazing performances of the film were all obviously equally integral parts in achieving the nightmarish and surrealistic style of the film.

Allan: You don't have to answer or out anyone, but I have to ask: were drugs employed in the making of Beyond the Black Rainbow?

Norm: Haha, not for myself but I don't know about the rest of the crew!

Allan: Have you had reports back from viewers who were on drugs? I saw it on marijuana, which was great for the images and for Jeremy Schmidt's soundtrack, but not so useful when it came to making sense of what was going on. (I need to see it again to attempt to understand it. Of course, that might not be the pot's fault). Frankly, it made me want to take LSD again, or 'shrooms, though on the other hand, it seems in a way to be a kind of anti-drug film, trippy as it is, and I wouldn't be surprised if the experience of seeing it on acid proved deeply traumatic...

Norm: I read a couple of reviews and comments online about how they took different drugs before watching the film. They seemed to enjoy it but many have said and would agree that watching the film free of drugs will make you feel like you've taken drugs already. It's definitely a mind-trip.

Allan: The shaky-face thing that Elena does when, uh, "scanning" someone... how was that done?

Norm: When Panos presented this effect to me verbally, I suggested we try using the Clairmont Shaky lens adaptor which allows you to shake the image in X and Y axis are different intensities but when we tested it, the effect didn't feel right. We tried shaking the camera our self but it wasn't enough and was hard to control. Our SPFX guru Robert Brant McIlroy suggested we shake it using two industrial sized motors placed perpendicular to each other other. They were rigged to a platform of plywood leaving room for a tripod which we bolted down. We also had a large soft cushion underneath the plywood to give it some give. He was able to adjust both motors intensity and the effect was perfect. It shook so violently that it shook the film out of the magazine a few times. I was afraid the camera would actually break from how insanely fast the whole platform was moving! But it was fine.

Allan: The “Begotten” flashback to the 1960's, where (forgive me if I get this wrong) Barry takes a "trip" and Elena is born... how was that done? And, uh, what exactly WAS going on there, because... (Was that SUPPOSED to be LSD he was taking, or something far more malign? Who is Elena's mother? Who does he kill? Why?).

Norm: I have no idea what he was taking but I'm sure it's some mega-drug! That scene was the one we overexposed by about 6 stops and had to still push the scene to be more overexposed in the Digital Intermediate to get that abstract blown out white highlights and resemblances of human shapes and figures that were black. I'm not sure what SPFX used but that pool of black goo was pretty intense. Although it looks wet, it was actually dry to the touch. It was very interesting shooting this for black and white with all black and white elements in the frame.

Allan: To what extent did you and Jeremy Schmidt (Sinoia Caves, Black Mountain) work together? The music and the images of the film are both so deeply important that one suspects a closer collaboration than one usually finds, like there needs to have been a "sound designer" credited. Was music used during the shoot or during post-production? Was there a temporary soundtrack?

Norm: I didn't work with Jeremy Schmidt at all actually. I haven't or spoken to him yet but I do want to tell him how amazing of a job he did. I love the soundtrack. I don't know what they did in the edit for temp music so I cannot comment on that.

Allan: Any good Kyla Rose Tremblay stories? (note for readers: Kyla was in charge of make-up).

Norm: Kyla was awesome. She's very talented at what she does. She was always so busy behind the scenes prepping for whatever was coming up next that I hardly saw her on set each day. So unfortunately, not many crazy stories!

Allan: Now that I've seen what you've done on Beyond the Black Rainbow, I'm curious about Altitude - I liked the sky tentacles on the DVD box, but it wasn't enough to convince me to rent it, back when there used to be rental stores. Any comments on that film? It can't surely be as visually exciting as BTBR...?

Norm: It was my first feature with another up-and-coming talented director Kaare Andrews. It was shot on Panavision Super35mm 3-perf. It was a very challenging film to shoot but we're pretty happy with the results considering it was both our first feature film. Whole different style than BTBR but has a unique style of it's own. BTBR is still the most visually satisfying film I have shot to date.

Allan: Has the, uh, visual magnificence of Beyond the Black Rainbow opened any doors for you, professionally? You seem to have a lot of projects on the go now; were any of them based on someone seeing BtBR and going, "I want THAT guy?"

Norm: Yes! Beyond the Black Rainbow has opened many doors for me. In fact, the last feature I just shot and an upcoming feature I'm about to shoot are all because the directors saw BTBR and wanted to specifically hire me. BTBR has received lots of international praise from for it's unique visuals and cinematography. It was a pleasure to be a part of this original film. I want to thank all my hardworking and talented crew members as well. Scooter Corkle my gaffer and Mike Branham my key grip did a fantastic job in the whole studio lighting/rigging setup. There was a lot of lighting used. As a base, we had close to 100 6K spacelights rigged from the ceiling that were all placed strategically and to allow for queued color transitions from a master DMX dimmer board. We had many lights floating on the studio floor that we adjusted for each setup as well. In the Arboria planetarium lobby when she escapes, we employed many colored garden lights, as well as floated balloon lights for a general overall fill. Similarly with the grassy fields, we used balloon lights to create soft pools of lights that were almost surrealistic when combined with our rigged blue flaring.

Allan: Any other questions I should be asking? Were there any challenges you faced during production?

Norm: One of the main challenges we faced were reflections! There were reflective surfaces everywhere. All the walls in the hallways and rooms, the giant piece of glass that was between Barry Nyle and Elena in the therapy room, the infinity-mirrored Sentinaut room, Margo's giant glasses, just everywhere. Sometimes it was very difficult to hide ourselves shooting very perpendicular and straight on into wall surfaces. You would often see the camera assistant, the dolly grip, myself, and the camera and dolly hiding under a sheet of duvatyne. It was easier when the camera was static but if there was any movement, we had to be very careful. I became very paranoid of being in any reflection that I may have not noticed in the viewfinder or the fuzzy video tap from the film camera.

One other curveball thrown at us was an accidental bee attack around 3am in the grass fields. Our gaffer stepped on a hole in the ground that disturbed an underground nest and thousands of bees started to fly out and attack the crew. Many people were stung and the production had to stop for about an hour to see how we could continue shooting. No one wanted to go back to the area we were shooting at to retrieve the equipment!

Terrie Ex, Han Bennink, and Brodie West

What a magnificent (if slightly short) set of furiously improvised jazz this was! Brodie brought a bit more blues to the plate than Han or Terrie, which was most welcome, since those two particular Dutchmen are wild enough that, left to their own devices, they can provoke each other into a sort of mandible-clacking, bugfuckingly Out There cacophony that can be quite a challenge to hook onto (Mr. Bennink gave me a copy of one of their past collaborations, some years ago, and I confess to not having been able to enter it very far). Add one Canadian alto sax player, though, with one foot firmly planted in the land of Ayler and Coltrane (despite his playing the wrong instrument) and another in folk forms, and you have one powerful free jazz trio; the references to the blues made the wildness seem all that wilder and gave the audience a path into the madness that ensued, for which I for one was grateful. Terrie looked very Euro in his rugby shirt, did a sort of two-step back-and-forth pacing through the faster, freer moments, tension coiling through his body, working his guitar - which looked rather like it had seen action in Vietnam - with drumsticks, rubbing it against the Ironworks wall, even sticking a drumstick under the strings on the neck and playing manic plinky "tunes" that ended up structures to jam around. (A friend assured me that the guitar he played was very much a destroyed one, for all intents and purposes; you couldn't play anything like a normal tune on it). He's one versatile guy; I begged him after the show to bring The Ex to Vancouver - it's been far too long, and those who don't know them and like their punk creative and political should pause for a second to listen to this. Han, meanwhile, was his usual showmanlike self, with gestures ranging from pure theatre (as when he leaned forward on his kit to tap the leaves of a potted flowering plant on the stage, which produced, of course, no sound) to exuberant locomotive-like virtuoso drumming, with various points in between (when he hits the drums with towels, or puts a towel on his floor tom, slaps it hard with a drumstick, then lifts up the towel to inspect the damage beneath, there is definitely an element of the theatrical at work, but all the same, when he does such things - or suddenly starts kicking cymbals with his boot or putting his leg up on his kit and soloing around it or frenetically tapping with one drumstick on the other, stuck in his mouth - the amazing thing is, it always sounds exactly right; clown or no, he never sacrifices a beat for a gag). Brodie, his hair in place and spectacles on, was far more an agent of control than chaos, but still followed (and sometimes led) Terrie and Han into an intense, cathartic ruckus. Terry's weirdly-tuned, noisy "figures" aside, he was the man in charge of most of the tunefulness in evidence, but no means does this suggest he was a slouch as an improviser. Funniest moment of the evening: Han held his white towel up to his neck, smiled, and pointed a drumstick in recognition at the dude with the (long white) neckbeard, whose name I have long since forgotten, who regularly comes up to jazzfest events, and whose neckbeard has become one of the great visual signifiers of improvised music in Vancouver (when you see the beard, you KNOW it's going to be a good show). Some cellphone photos follow... hope y'all enjoy the rest of the jazzfest, this is going to be all for me this year...

RIP Lonesome George

The last tortoise of his subspecies, Lonesome George, believed to be over 100 years old, died today of presumedly natural causes. Various attempts over the years to cross-breed Lonesome George with related tortoise subspecies have proven unsuccessful (though I'm happy to read that at least several inviable eggs were produced: George may not have been able to pass on his DNA, but at least he was able to get laid now and then, so he couldn't have been that lonesome). If I had beer in the fridge, I would drink one to the memory of Lonesome George.

Friday, June 22, 2012

West of Hell at the Rickshaw Saturday, plus...

It's funny - even just a few years ago, I would have chuckled in a most superior and snobbish way at the music of West of Hell - a music full of corny metal pomp and juvenile glee at predictable thrashed-up Priestisms. Now, exactly the same things that would have been objects of my derision put rather a large grin on my face and make me want to see them play, preferably after having had a couple of beers. Funny how that works, eh? Must be my mid-life crisis. Plus, hell, they relocated here from New Zealand for the sake of their careers - that's some commitment, raises the obvious question of, "Why Vancouver?" and makes me kinda feel like we ought to get out there and support'em, especially since this sounds like a really, really fun gig. Motorhead tribute band Snaggletooth play, as well, and Cocaine Moustache, and The Order of Chaos... Hmm!

By the way, apropos of nothing, the Jan Svankmajer series has begun at the Cinematheque, and a major Fassbinder retrospective is planned for the summer, featuring some of my favourites of his films, including the obscure Sirkian melodrama Fear of Fear, about a housewife having a breakdown, which he shot for German TV. Despair, alienation, loneliness, fear, predation, social decay - nothing says summer in Vancouver like the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder...

Finally, those of you who have been meaning to get out there and plunder Book Off should note that their final day is Saturday. I stopped in a couple of days ago, and CDs were 80% off (with the original price often having been as low as $3.50); DVDs 40% off (with the original price for most being $5), and tons of their books were selling at four for $2. It's getting pretty picked over, but there were still a few gems to be found; I can imagine a real feeding frenzy will ensue if they mark things down further, though much of their stock may simply never sell to anyone... Again, their location is on Hornby between Dunsmuir and Georgia, just a block from the VAG. It's a heartbreaking blow to the Japanese community here - one girl I chatted with said that Book Off closing "makes me not want to live in Vancouver anymore." They were certainly my favourite place to shop when I came into the city, not the least of which because I sometimes shopped at Book Off when I lived in Japan...!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow at the Vancity Theatre

Note: I have now blogged an interview with Beyond the Black Rainbow cinematographer, Norm Li.

Cineastes of Vancouver, WATCH THIS SPACE FOR MORE about the Vancouver-shot, fascinatingly and self-consciously retro, and stunningly visual psychedelic SF cult classic of the future, Beyond the Black Rainbow, opening July 6th at the Vancity Theatre. While you wait, you can read this, or click the title of the film, above, for the trailer and more, including a really cool bit of faux-VHS box art. If you care about psychedelic cinema, or hard SF, or the interface between experimental filmmaking and genre films... If you grew up dropping acid in the suburbs and watching THX 1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey on your parents' TV late at night... if you've read The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, or other books that deal with the interface between the psychedelic sixties and MKULTRA spook culture... If your favourite John Carpenter movie is Dark Star... If you've seen every film David Cronenberg has ever made, but have a special fondness for the early ones, and secretly wish he'd remained disreputable... or if you just want to see a film that hardcore cult film aficionados and elite cinephiles of the future will forever talk about (in tones of confusion and awe) as somehow emerging (with not much in the way of a visible cinema culture to support it) from Vancouver in 2010, when by all rights it should have been made in Toronto in 1983, you MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. Fans of Jeremy Schmidt (Black Mountain, Sinoia Caves) will want to check it out too, since his soundtrack (analog synth worship of the highest order) is amazing; he kicks Vangelis around the block, runs roughshod over Tangerine Dream, and creates probably the coolest electronic film score since Forbidden Planet. Oh - and not that I would ever advocate such things - if you like watching movies whilst under the influence of acid or 'shrooms...

...and you know where I can get some for opening week...

Anyhow, WATCH THIS SPACE. More will follow. (Actually, don't watch this space, but watch the blog, since I'm putting these up as separate articles, the first of which is here).

RIP Andrew Sarris

I haven't read a lot of Andrew Sarris, but realize his influence on auteur theory and film criticism, and thought I should briefly pay  my respects...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mama! (plus Mr. Wrong at the Cobalt TONIGHT).

Wishing Mr. Wrong a happy gig that I'm still too conflicted to attend, tonight at the Cobalt 2.0.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My new Plenty of Fish profile

(Note: my previous Plenty of Fish profile is a few posts back. I have completely rewritten it).

Rant the second (for entertainment purposes only):

Is anyone else like me? The only thing that 95% of the search options I am presented with in trying to find a person I want to meet on PoF have in common is that I never, ever use them. Not once. I mean, forgive me if this offends anyone, but what kind of person actually searches for a mate based on the *pet* they own? Unless you're actually more interested in finding a dog (or such) to be with than a human - which sets off all sorts of red flags, for me - who the hell cares? Hell, I'm ALLERGIC to cats - my eyes puff up and itch, I can't breathe, I need to medicate myself to tolerate their presence, and I've even sneezed because of cat hair on a girlfriend's clothing, when she was in MY apartment, her cat miles away. Yet I would NEVER think to search for someone using the "no pets" filter. If I met someone who I really felt truly compatible with, and she owned a cat - so be it! The girl I'm going to be with for the rest of my life, I don't KNOW if she owns a pet, and nor do I care. Hell, I'd love it if she owned  aquaria filled with snails (like my favourite novelist, Patricia Highsmith, did), but I'm not going to LOOK for her based on that attribute, y’know?

Similarly, I never have yet searched for a possible partner (or rejected anyone) based on eye colour, height, religion, race, hair colour, zodiac sign (!), income level, "easygoingness," whether someone is "people dependent," or whether someone describes themselves as self-confident. My impression is that if someone sets out to describe themselves in a profile as “self-confident,” they are probably hiding massive insecurities (or else just came from a sales training seminar). I do not want to date the female equivalent of Dale Carnegie, folks, I really don’t; my measure of a person’s confidence comes from how they BEHAVE, not how they *say* they behave, and I’m fully prepared to find out about that for myself, without PoF creating a search function for it... I do not care if you have a high school diploma, bachelor's degree or an MA (this is not a job interview, this is LIFE; I've known some fascinating people who never finished high school, and total as$holes with PhDs). I do not care if you have a car, truck, bicycle, a Segway or a camel. I do not need to know if you own a mansion and a yacht. I do not understand why there is apparently a maximum height pre-set at seven feet tall; are the very, very tall unwelcome on PoF? Why do only people afflicted with giantism (there must be a few, since I've encountered a couple dwarfs) actually have to go into the menu and select "I don't care" to get the full range of height options? …and what if they are only looking for someone over seven feet tall, what then?

Admittedly, I can understand a few of these - searching by body type, for instance, or by the use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or attitudes toward having children, fine.  Most of these search criteria, though - hell, there are some that I don’t even UNDERSTAND. Maybe I'm just some sort of moron, but I do not even know what the rather tortured phrase "average family centric" designates. Since I’m not a student of sociology, and have no clue what the current median for “family-centricity” is, perhaps an example would help. Is Michael Corleone an example of someone who might be "strongly family-centric?" What exactly would I be committing myself to if I described myself thus?

...And what about the profession thing? Sorry, but - this one's gotta be designed for women, right? Some of y’all have looked to see what doctors and lawyers were available, huh? (Not many, I’d guess!). Again, from my own point of view, I find the idea somewhat objectionable - a materialistic fantasy of how to find your partner, a way of searching based on money and security, not compatibility or love; maybe I'd feel differently if I were a doctor or lawyer, though. My own experience is that I’ve met people I cared about in all manner of jobs, side by side with people that disgusted me. But I mean, there's an option for searching for people who work in "real estate!" Do people who work in real estate really, really want to find other people who work in real estate to date, or is this for people with a real estate fetish, or something?

The fact is, assuming I actually ever do find a life mate - I haven’t yet - there is much that I do not yet know about her. I have no idea what her career is. I don't know what colour her skin or eyes or hair are, and have no feelings in advance on the matter. I have no idea what level of education she completed, because *I don't measure the value of a person that way,* and wouldn’t want to miss out on potentially meeting the “gal o’ my dreams” by setting the search criteria WRONG. For all I know about the woman I love, she could be an albino Jewish taxidermist who stands 7' 2" and practices Rastafarianism. I’m entirely open to this, depending on my chemistry with this person. On the other hand, I’m not about to SEARCH for someone based on such criteria, unless it’s really, really a slow night, and I’ve been smoking things I shouldn’t. (Does the "religion" search function even acknowledge Rastas, by the way?).

You know what I care about, what search preferences I'd actually use?

I’d like to know what kind of *books* people read - or if they read. I'd like to know what their desert island movies might be. I'd love to find out what kinds of music PoF women are passionate about - or even if they are passionate about music. It's not that I require you to have the SAME PASSIONS AS I DO, I'd just like to know that you have passions that aren't incompatible with mine - like, if you're really into UFC and 4X4ing, as a surprising number of PoF women are, you probably wouldn't want to date me, either! The "interests" function, where I should be able to seek out such things, is pretty much useless as it exists, since so few people get specific about their interests in it, and might describe them using any number of words, making searching for exact terms complicated. Searching for people who like "horror movies" or "punk," for instance - both of which have I done - will only find me women if they've put THOSE EXACT WORDS (as opposed to "scary movies" or "punk rock") in their "interests" field. Sometimes people DO get that specific - I once dated a woman solely on the basis of her listing "Ingmar Bergman" as an interest - but mostly doing very specific searches doesn't net me much. Can we find a way to make it a little easier to find people who have the same basic passions as we do, as opposed to categorizing us by our income levels? ... because I would rather be with a broke fan of Fassbinder than a stinking rich enthusiast for the Transformers series.

...and hell, while we’re at it, how about some filters about divisive social issues, like, say, attitudes towards GAY MARRIAGE? Because I’d be happy to forever filter out people who think same-sex unions are sinful and a threat to family values (“go back to Calgary!”). And why isn’t there an option about something as fundamental and divisive as *attitudes towards eating meat?* Because you know, omnivorous as I am, even I know with certainty that Ted Nugent doesn't want to be dating a raw food vegan, and vice-versa...

...and so it goes. Not only have I still not found what I’m looking for, but there’s no way I can even narrow it down much based on the options I’m being presented, here. There could be someone out there who shares several passions with me, who I'd be a perfect match with, but it's highly unlikely I'd be able to find her. At least I can keep myself entertained by writing these... I'll be 50 and single, at this rate...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

DVD Review: Busting (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

MGM's Limited Edition Collection has released a no-frills, burn-on-demand DVD of a 1974 Peter Hyams film I've always enjoyed, Busting, which might be described as a police story for people without much fondness for the police. A counterculturally-tilted variant on The French Connection, it stars Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as two disillusioned Los Angeles vice squad cops who, discovering their superiors are in bed with the sleazy, well-to-do gangster responsible for most of the city's drugs and prostitution (played by a cherubic, snickering Allen Garfield), decide to take matters into their own hands. What's interesting about the film is that, unlike your typical vigilante tale, Gould and Blake do not end up as righteous winners; they simply get more and more cynical and disillusioned, suffer greater and greater personal consequences for their unsanctioned antics, and in the end - a minor spoiler follows - end up with a victory so near defeat that it calls into question everything they've done. Along the way, we see them arresting prostitutes and harassing clients at a strip club, a massage parlour and a gay bar; the film extends considerable sympathy for their victims, and repeatedly raises the question of the value and meaning of their activities, especially since no one else around them seems to care much or want them to proceed. This is a question the two will come to ask themselves by the end; this is a highly pessimistic film, though not without considerable dark humour. Blake is under-used - as is Sid Haig, in a supporting role - but Gould is at his most entertaining, reading his character as a slightly angrier variant on Philip Marlowe in Altman's The Long Goodbye, made a couple of years previously: full of wisecracks, cynical shrugs and smartassed one-liners. He even calls a character "cutie-pie" - a term associated with the Altman film - and calls a couple of incompetent and possibly corrupt uniformed cops "pigs," something Marlowe also does at one point; it's a bit more shocking to hear when Gould is playing a cop himself. This was Hyams' debut in theatres, is skilfully crafted throughout - especially a foot chase culminating in a shoot-out at an open air grocery market - and is very much of the time and place of its making, having all the hallmarks of the gritty cinema that flourished in the US in the early 1970's.

While I'm glad for the release, and am generally satisfied that the film is presented in its correct widescreen aspect ratio with a decent transfer, I have two complaints. First, the MGM Limited Edition Collection series generally seems prohibitively priced; it doesn't exactly make sense to sell these at $30, given the no-frills, burn-on-demand presentation (the only extra is a trailer, and there are no subtitles or captions; the DVD further has a generic packaging and menu, made with little love and not looking very impressive on the shelf). Not *that* many people are so enamoured of this film, after all; if MGM actually wants general consumers of DVDs to buy these, coming down a notch would be wise. (There's another MGM burn-on-demand, an early body horror film called The Incredible Melting Man, that I would happily have bought for $15, but am in no way prepared to pay twice that for). Secondly, the playback may be dodgy on cheaper DVD players; this is as much a caveat as a complaint. I switched my Mom's player awhile back to a cheapie $25 Curtis, so I could play AVI's and such (which her better-quality previous machine would not do). Most DVDs work just fine on it, but Busting, while being brand new, had various video and audio glitches, the image fragmenting into mosaics, stuttering, and skipping ahead a few seconds at various points. It plays just fine on my own DVD player (an LG), but all the same, people with cheaper or more sensitive players should be warned that, despite the fairly hefty price, you may be getting a disc that won't work properly in your machine. And that ain't cool.

One place I have no quarrel, however, is with the choice to release this particular film on DVD. Better burn-on-demand than nothing; this is a highly entertaining film, too long neglected. By the by, a much more detailed plot description can be found on DVDTalk, here.

RIP Rodney King

Believe it or not, when I was an ESL teacher, I got my best-ever lesson out of the Rodney King story. The Discussion Skills curriculum - a little thin, as most curricula at the school where I taught were - asked me to do a class on violence in the media, which approached the topic from a typically conservative, "aren't these lyrics awful" PMRC-like place, focusing around a fairly violent Metallica song. I wanted something a bit richer than that, something that put violent lyrical imagery in context. So - after a warm up discussion on censorship, offensive song lyrics, and so forth - I told my students the story of the Rodney King beating, then played them Body Count's "Cop Killer," minus the spoken intro that appears on that clip, but with the lyrics printed out. Without explaining that the song actually ended up being removed from retail history in an act of record label self-censorship, I asked them, given the social relevance, on the one hand, and the extremely violent lyrics on the other, if they thought the song should be censored or not. For mostly Asian and Latin American students choosing to study in Canada, sometimes because they thought America would be "too violent," or were aware of problems with racism in the USA, it was always an interesting and animated discussion, after which I'd get them to brainstorm reasons why the song should be censored or not, after which we took a final vote to see which side students were on. I count it as a measure of the success of the lesson that students generally felt free to weigh in on either side, and that the final vote could go one way or the other.

...I actually saw Body Count perform that song, by the way, at an early Seattle Lollapallooza. It might not look it from that clip, but in person, the experience was terrifying. I was unprepared for what a Body Count performance might look like, had never heard the song before, and - from only a few feet away from the stage - was vastly intimidated by the black-clad, all-black band as they launched into the song. (I remember people coming onto stage dressed in uniforms with fake pistols, but I don't see them in the clip, so...). Scarier yet, the pit was huge and intense and some girl in front of me got sucked under, so I felt obliged to dive down and rescue her. Having gotten her safely out, I elected to skip the next band and go pass out by the merch tables, where I remained through the next few bands - I can remember hearing the Butthole Surfers in the distance and just thinking, "Naaah." (Granted, I was sleep deprived and had taken some really mediocre acid in the hopes that it would wake me up, so it wasn't just Body Count trauma that sidelined me so). I only ever caught Rollins and the Violent Femmes and Body Count at that show... the rest of it, I was either passed out by the merch or asleep in the car.

None of this really has much to do with Rodney King's passing, but I really have nothing much to write about him. It's kind of hard to write about someone whose most important contribution to culture was getting the shit kicked out of him by brutal Los Angeles cops! Still, 47 is far too young to die... My condolences to those who knew him.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Han Bennink, Brodie West, and Terrie Ex: a jazzfest must-see

Han Bennink at the Cobalt 1.0 (RIP), at a 2007 jazzfest splinter show featuring Eugene Chadbourne and Robots on Fire. Photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

Gotta confess: not feeling very excited about the Vancouver International Jazz Festival this year. Last year, despite some dissent on the wings about the way things were being done, there were some really inspired and exciting programming choices, including visits from Sublime Frequencies' recording artists Group Doueh and Japanese sax virtuoso Kazutoki Umezu's KIKI Band. This year - I mean, if I had a lot of money, freetime, and lived in Vancouver, I might go see guitarist Terje Rypdal or improviser Ig Henneman, but there's not a lot else that excites me. The move from Gastown to downtown seems to bring the jazzfest closer to the world of the Canucks, the Olympics, and the Granville Street Entertainment Zone (or whatever the hell it's called); this can only bode an aesthetic move closer to the dispiriting mainstream of popular music -- a worry that is not at all assuaged by the fact that the program circulating around town looks like a brochure for cosmetics. Mostly the trouble is, though, that there's just not many names I recognize in it, let alone names of people whose work I follow and/or am excited to see play. Maybe I'm just out of touch with the improvised music scene? It didn't stop me from getting excited LAST year...

All that aside, there's one gig that I think anyone with even a passing interest in improvised music should go to see: Han Bennink, Brodie West and Terrie Ex of the masterful Dutch avant punk band The Ex, playing 9:00 on June 24th at the Ironworks. Bennink is a living legend of jazz, and beyond a doubt the funniest, most expressive, most performative drummer I've ever encountered - a true wildman virtuoso of free jazz. I haven't heard him play with Brodie and Terrie, but I have no doubt it will be quite unhinged and off-the-map. Some of it can be heard on Brodie West's Myspace here.... "Unhinged and off-the-map" doesn't begin to cover it...

A striking Bobcat Goldthwait synchronicity. Or psychic phenomenon. Or something.

I swear that what I'm about to tell you is 100% accurate, honest, a description of a fresh and rather startling experience had this evening, in the very office chair where I now sit, typing this.

I've just finished watching a streamed press screener of Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America - opening this weekend at the Vancity Theatre, with the writer/director in attendance. Midway through the film, I was debating with myself whether I was going to lend it my voice in support. The film has some fundamental problems, which I'll outline presently; it's also pretty damned entertaining, and I admit that more than once it had me quietly laughing and applauding, often at its darkest, least responsible moments. At some point I caught myself thinking of a song, apropos of absolutely nothing; I'd seen no trailers for the film, let alone one that uses this particular tune; the song isn't mentioned in Adrian Mack's interview with Goldthwait in the Straight; and there are no cues in the film - which overtly mentions Alice Cooper, but never The Kinks - that suggest it might turn up, unless they're subliminally buried deep down in the soundtrack, in which case I wouldn't know about them. I swear I had no reason I can think of for the song - The Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" - to come into my head. With Ray Davies coming to town in a few weeks, obviously The Kinks have been on my mind lately - see below for more on that - but this isn't even a song of theirs that I know well. Yet as the film played, suddenly I found myself thinking, out of the clear blue, that it would be just perfect to use it on the soundtrack for the film. I sort of hummed it to myself internally as I scribbled a note, then I returned my focus to the screen, prepared to think no more about it.

About fifteen minutes later, this exact song is used, in completion, to great effect.

Imagine my surprise.

Based on this synchronicity, if that's what it is, I've decided that I'm going to lend my support to this film, have decided that Bobcat and I must somehow be on the same team. His unwittingly validating my ideas about what songs would work in the soundtrack seem to oblige me to validate the movie, in spite of various issues I had with it whenever I stopped to think about it. I will nonetheless mention these. For one, God Bless America presumes to take the moral high ground and lecture Americans about having "lost our kindness" and having ceased to be "civilized" - especially re: vulgarity in the media - while beginning with a man vaporizing a crying baby with a shotgun (or at least fantasizing about the same). I actually had no problems with this scene - in terms of outlandish and bold cinematic misanthropy, it scores pretty high, worthy of the sniper-fantasy of Bill Maplewood in Todd Solondz' Happiness. But kindness and civility are not qualities that one thinks of, watching it. That scene plays thus: Frank, the main character - a sad-sack pudgy middle aged white guy - is lying in bed, sleepless, hearing the noise of his neighbours through the wall. His voice-over narration makes clear that he is subject to migraines and that he finds the banality of their conversation - they are heard discussing Michael Jackson and Lindsay Lohan - impossibly irritating, a "constant cacophony of stupidity" that he finds "soul-crushing." The noise of the blaring Entertainment Tonight-style TV show they favour and the interminable squalling of their baby don't help matters. Cut to Frank's fantasy, where he goes next door with a shotgun. He shoots the TV first, then the man, then - as the mother holds her baby up, pleading for him to have mercy - the baby. The mother is covered in her baby's blood. Frank is merely spattered with it. Bits of fluff from the infant's disintegrated clothing float through the air, as happy music rises on the soundtrack. Then Frank shoots the woman, too, and smiles.

There are really only two rational responses to such a scene. You either immediately get up and leave the theatre (or press stop, or do whatever you're doing to exit the experience) or you cheer and grin and applaud Bobcat Goldthwait's audaciousness. I confess that I did the latter; if you think you might do the same, you should probably go see this film, particularly this weekend, with the director on hand.

It remains the case that there are some contradictions at work here. God Bless America rages against homophobic, racist, anti-female elements in our culture, but it has the same basic feel-sorry-for-the-white-guy structure as Falling Down (a far more reactionary film, but equally concerned with a middle class, middle aged white guy who loses it and goes on a rampage). It presents American popular culture - especially shows like American Idol, Fox News-style political pundits, and reality TV - as a vast cesspool of tastelessness and degeneration, but it holds up no positive alternatives short of going on a killing spree; in fact, to the extent that alternative ways of creating culture are mentioned (like punk rock), they are brought up only as objects of ridicule. Frank sits channel surfing, allowing his soul to be destroyed bit by bit, feeling more miserable by the minute, but simple answers to the problem (like not watching TV!) don't seem to occur to him. Finally, the film wants to have it both ways in regard to its core relationship, between Frank and his under-aged female companion, Roxy; it tells a story on the one hand of a middle-aged man whose life is revitalized by a relationship with a younger girl, while actually including in its screenplay a rant against the exploitation of young women by older men, taking a potshot at Woody Allen and including lines like "fuck Vladimir Nabokov!" News for Bobcat: in Japan, where video rental stores actually consider "Lolita" movies as a genre, and shelve them together - including relatively innocent films as Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon or Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities - God Bless America would likely end up on the same shelf. Not saying that it's not a wee bit fucked up that the Japanese do that - their tolerance for pedophilia is vastly larger than ours - but it still should make clear that there are a few contradictions at work in this film.

All the same, the satire of American popular culture here is pretty damned accurate, and often gleefully savage. Much of the fake TV in God Bless America is as horrifying as real TV, and many of its targets, from the Tea Party to people who use their cellphones in movie theatres - are utterly worthy, if somewhat easily chosen. God Bless America reminded me at various points of some of the crankier later stand-up routines of George Carlin, which I hope Bobcat would take as a compliment; the film is not actually that far removed from being a thinly-disguised stand-up rant, one which would also please fans of people like Bill Hicks or, presumably, Bobcat himself (I actually don't know his stand-up that well; for those who are curious, the Vancity will also be screening a recent performance film he did, tomorrow, in a double bill with God Bless America).

So to hell with it: even if it contradicts itself on a few counts, y'all should go see God Bless America.  Bobcat is probably one of the good guys, and I think pretty much anyone who visits this blog will enjoy his newest film.

Welcome to Vancouver, man.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Don Cherry's Organic Music Society reissued on vinyl!

Haven't heard this yet but I'm very excited to discover that Don Cherry's Organic Music Society - a minor vinyl grail for music fans, originally pressed in Sweden on the Caprice label in a run small enough that it usually sells on eBay for upwards of $200 - has been reissued by Concord Picante. The average price online seems to be $29.99 - you can find it here, for instance, though I should mention that I've never done business with this dealer and can't vouch for their service. This is Cherry at his most spiritually attuned, when he was leading the life of a Bohemian hippie in Europe and exploring world music instruments; there are examples on Youtube. By the way, in case you haven't figured it out, this posting has nothing to do whatsoever with Canadian hockey commentators...

Neil Young pre-sale, plus Americana

Managed to figure out how to negotiate buying Neil Young and Crazy Horse tickets today using the Rock 101 Presale. Pretty uncomplicated, actually. Totally enjoying Americana, too. There are some remarkably bold and effective (and generally very dark) reworkings of what might normally seem annoyingly trite campfire singalongs for kids; to my amazement, my favourite tune on the album is "Jesus' Chariot," a re-interpretation of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" that all but obliterates the original and evokes an Appalachian apocalypse, greatly aided by Ralph Molina's tribal drumming. The poorly sublimated, resentment-driven bloodlust of Rapture-ready Christianity courses through the veins of this tune, makes it a very scary and very relevant song about America today. "Oh Susannah," "Clementine," and "Tom Dula" (AKA "Tom Dooley," here re-worked to suggest a "Down by the River"-style crime of passion), all work damn fine, too. Not all the songs are rendered quite so unrecognizable in the treatment, but then, not all of them require such radical measures to make them listenable and new. I haven't really been excited about a Neil Young album (with or without Crazy Horse) since 1996's Broken Arrow (though I've ignored several, to be honest), so I'm delighted that I'm going to get to see them on an album I think I kinda love. Fans of Broken Arrow (or Crazy Horse's unique brand of jamming) will find this a most agreeable disc; I gather some critics are accusing it of being sloppy and indulgent, with songs that go on too long, but it sounds to me like those folks have no business even listening to Crazy Horse...

One suggestion for Mr. Young: how about an album reworking some songs by African-Americans? It's no criticism of (the pretty much all-white) Americana - I'd just love to see you get your hands on some Reverend Gary Davis (or Charley Patton or Bukka White or Howlin' Wolf or Son House or...).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Adstock 2012, plus Adstock fundraiser gig in the sticks, June 15th!

Adstock, for those who have missed it, is an annual, free all-day outdoor festival of music in downtown Maple Ridge; it happens this year on July 8th, and it's looking like a really vibrant year. Long-lived local ska favourites Los Furios headline, but there are a bunch of awesome bands - including the flamin' instrumental hoedown music of Cornshed, whom I caught awhile back at the Hammond United Church Hall at the first of two Adstock fundraisers. They're quite amazing and the band I'm most excited to see again - they play with all the fury of hardcore, but their music is a countrified Celtic-by-way-of-the-Maritimes variety of instrumental folk, with a mandolin and fiddle as lead instruments (it says something that the fiddle player reminded me of Wretched Erin). Mike Usinger has written praisingly about Anchoress and the Jen Huangs, here and here, two bands that I've yet to really do justice to, but am looking forward to seeing live. Even bands representing genres that I'm not so interested in, like North Hill (who have t-shirts that look like hardware store surplus and musically answer the question "What would Lynyrd Skynyrd sound like if they came from rural BC?"), are incredibly talented and tight - classic rockers will love them. All told, it's a pretty cool free day of music, and much more musically varied this year than the usual exclusively punk/ ska/ metal lineups I'd associated with the event in the past; if you like live music of any sort, it's actually worth getting on a bus and coming to visit me in the sticks for this one.

And while it's less likely to inspire a commute, there's also a fundraising gig for the event on June 15th at Hammond United Church Hall - one of the strangest places I've yet to see a gig, out in the biker bar/ pulp mill backwoods of Pitt Meadows. I've seen the Rebel Spell and a bunch of other great bands there (Todd Serious quipped something like "one look at the place and you can tell nothing fun was ever supposed to happen here" - while I'm sure the church is appropriately churchlike, the hall itself where the gig takes place looks like a gymnasium in a rather bleak and under-decorated elementary school. It's actually rather surprising that it doesn't smell like sweatsocks). This gig marks the reunion of the Secondrate Rejects, featuring members of the Bonedaddies, who will also be playing Adstock.

Got no more to say on this at the moment, but here are some photos from the first Adstock fundraiser in April.

(above and below: Cornshed)

Above and below: North Hill

Above: Damn the Eyes, I think! (Not appearing at Adstock, but an awesome Maple Ridge metal band whom I wrote about here).

Above and below: the Jen Huangs

See y'all at Adstock!