Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch redux: piquant discoveries! Plus Fawlty Towers tie-in!

Here's some fascinating "deep cinema" news for y'all, with a bit of relevant Fawlty Towers trivia at the end.

I interviewed Bertrand Tavernier last year, about the DVD/ Blu-Ray release of his 1980 film Death Watch (La Mort En Direct) - an old favourite of mine, starring Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton, and a just-terrific Max von Sydow, in a film that presciently targets video voyeurism and reality TV, in a dystopian world that looks all too like our present one, but was a work of considerable imagination at the time. That talk ended up seeing print in Video Watchdog - in issue 173, which you can buy here (it is a just-great journal of real film writing, in an attractive, DVD-sized, glossy colour format; plus their current issue has American Mary on the cover!). In the interview, Monsieur Tavernier and I talked about the changes between the European and American cuts of  the film, which are quite remarkable and affect the ending. During our talk, he never mentioned that he had any sort of dissatisfaction with the European version's twist, let alone any role in the changes made to the American cut, which omitted said twist when the film first was released here. The relevant excerpt is below; note that if you have not seen Death Watch, there are some major spoilers in these quotes, and that these spoilers still apply if you've only seen the old North American VHS (or a US film print), since the twist ending, present in all DVD versions, is omitted from those:

A: To your knowledge, why was Death Watch shortened in North America?
B: I don’t know, I don’t remember - I think they were afraid of the film! (Laughs). I think the film frightened a lot of people. I don’t even know if Harvey knew about the cuts. It was all the idea that the audience would not accept the film [without the cuts] - which is mad, because every time I showed the complete version, it was working.
A: I think the complete version is far more powerful. When you say “afraid,” you mean they were afraid of the political implications?
B: Politics - I don’t know. They are afraid the twist will not be accepted, that it will make the people of TV seem too nasty, because they were really killing somebody in order to film it. They were thinking they would save her, but - the plot [against Katherine] was extremely horrible to start with. But that was the idea! I wanted to say that there is a moment where you want so badly the ratings that you lose all moral values, ethical values in the storytelling.
Fair enough, but here's the thing: UK film scholar Brad Stevens tracked down an interview between esteemed, departed film critic Robin Wood and Bertrand Tavernier in Cineaction #7, where Tavernier offers quite a different take on things. Cineaction #7 is apparently out of print, but editor Susan Morrison offered me the following as a helpful summation of the section in question:
Tavernier does say that he 'got a little lost', and that 'he should  have taken out some of the plot twists, which were too complicated and especially in the first third and at the end.. As for the twist at the end, I feel ashamed about it, that she was not dying. I could have done the film absolutely without that and it would have been better.'
Finally, Susan explains that Wood offers as a footnote that 'Tavernier was able to cut this 'plot twist' for the North American release.' This is fairly far out of step with the conversation I had with M. Tavernier - he said then, and has since repeated, that he had never seen the North American cut of the film, which implies (though not forcefully) that he had nothing to do with the changes made, even if they happen to conform to his wishes of the time (as they now appear to do). The explanation might be quite simple: it could easily be that Wood saw the North American cut, shortened by someone else - perhaps someone who knew of Tavernier's feelings, or perhaps not - and that he assumed Tavernier had a hand in it; it would be a reasonable surmise, based on his past conversation with Tavernier. I could have made the same mistake, if that, indeed, is what it was.
Monsieur Tavernier was kind enough to respond to an email inquiry on these matters, to say that "one changes his mind after some time. I am less adamantine against this twist, which is minor compared to what the film says." He also says that when the film was first prepared for DVD - presumably he means the French version - that he "shortened this last twist and made it less underlined."
The net result of that is that I'm really kicking myself for having sold my old Japanese VHS copy of the film, which contains the original twist ending; it was by stumbling across the film on VHS that I discovered the twist in the first place! At some point, foolish me, I sold it for pennies at the now-closed Vancouver location of Book Off, figuring it was redundant, since I had the French DVD. Now I learn that in fact it was likely a different cut of the film, even if only by seconds. D'oh! I confess when I finally saw the film on DVD I thought that the twist was less pronounced than I'd remembered it as being, but assumed that it was simply because the element of surprise wasn't there for me, discovering that a film I loved had a very different ending outside North America.
(Oh, and I probably wouldn't have gone on the rant in my introduction to the Video Watchdog piece about the cynicism and ignorance of movie distributors, meddling in the works of great directors, had I known that Tavernier himself had wanted the ending of the film changed... At least my rant still applies to the two versions of In The Electric Mist...). 
As an amusing footnote, I had a much smaller Death Watch epiphany this week. It happens that I watched "The Kipper and The Corpse" episode of Fawlty Towers twice in short order; once with my girlfriend, and because we both enjoyed it so much, once again with my Mom. The first time through, I was struck by a feeling of recognition for the man who plays Mr. Leeman - the corpse, but couldn't pin him down. On second viewing, I realized - he's the author-turned-journalist who offers Katherine a counter-proposal to NTV's offer, near the beginning of Death Watch! His name is Derek Royle.
Finally, those seeking further news on Death Watch, should they make it here, can find another curious comparison of similarities between that film and the Sydney Pollack film The Electric Horseman, here.
I was supposed to be researching an entirely different film while writing this, but - ah well! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wings of Desire, Nick Cave, and Orpheus

Wim Wenders' 1987 film Wings of Desire was a very significant film for me, a kind of gateway drug to the world of serious cinema. I had seen arthouse fare before on late night TV - stumbling across late-night screenings of Cassavetes, Antonioni, and Fellini, for instance - but, curious though I was, I didn't really understand what these strange films were, nor did I identify myself as a consumer of art films or foreign films up til that point; in particular, prior to age 19, pretty much all of my film consumption had been English-language only. I'm not sure what prompted me to check out Wings of Desire as a 19 year old, when it first screened at the Royal Centre cinemas (RIP), but it was an eye-opener. Though I wasn't (and still am not) that fond of the ending - a rather strained and talky "exchanging of vows" that I think indirectly suggests Wenders' own insecurity about committed relationships, often thematized in his earlier films - the first half hour, with the poetic density and beauty of its images and sounds, taught me how much richer cinema could be than the mainstream fare I had been consuming up to that point. When Michael Walsh, then-critic for The Province, described the film as being - I believe I quote exactly - "long and boring," it further helped me draw a line in the sand between the cinema and cinema criticism that I was interested in, and a certain stripe of populist journalism that I had nothing but contempt for - the "stupid and proud of it" crowd, which thankfully has grown less vocal in recent years (Walsh's favourite film from 1987 was the John Candy-Tom Hanks vehicle Volunteers, which, as I recall, made him the butt of a few jokes among cinephiles at the time).
Anyhow, I strove to see every other Wim Wenders film I could  after that, including Kings of the Road, Alice in the Cities, The American Friend and The State of Things, all of which still have great resonance for me today. From Wenders, it was a short leap to Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the New German Cinema as a movement; then on to Bergman, Tarkovsky, Ozu and so forth. Wenders' writings also made a mark on me; I bought a pamphlet with a lengthy, influential interview with him and the first edition of Emotion Pictures, with his criticism provoking me to think about movies in a new way. He helped get me interested in westerns and noirs, in American independents like Nick Ray and Sam Fuller (both of whom I first knew as actors in The American Friend); he also got me thinking about the politics of film, in his descriptions of how the American occupation of Germany had resulted in a flood of gangster films and westerns, brought into the country to help re-educate the populus, and all but erasing local film culture (which was in a shambles, anyhow, thanks to Nazism). Not everything he said made sense: he described One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, at one point, as a "fascist" film, and praised the fairly ideologically stifling Salt of the Earth, about striking Mexican miners, as a work of great film art - which it didn't seem to me, when last I checked it out, though I have not seen it in decades, so perhaps I would feel differently about it now... The fact that I more often than not had no idea what he was talking about made me eager to learn more about cinema, to come to a place where I *could* easily process his ideas; it was the start of a long and productive voyage, which I might not have embarked on - certainly not with the excitement and enthusiasm I did - had it not been for Wings of Desire...
If, in 1987, I had no real precedent for Wings of Desire, I did recognize,a couple of the artists therein; I was, thanks to exposure to Cassavetes, a big fan of Peter Falk, for one (and yeah, sure, I liked Columbo, too!). Plus my musical tastes were a little more advanced than my knowledge of film at that point, so I immediately smiled in surprise when Nick Cave popped up to perform "From Her To Eternity" near the film's climax. Cave is why I'm writing this blog entry, in fact: to point out what is either an amusing coincidence or a tip to the hipness of programmer Jim Sinclair. Wings of Desire is paired this week with Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, and, of course, Nick Cave wrote a brilliant and darkly funny song based on the myth of Orpheus, "The Lyre of Orpheus," which everyone who cares about either of the films screening, or Nick Cave, or the story of Orpheus, should promptly listen to, if they don't already know it; it's one of my favourite late-period Cave compositions. Orpheus probably has all sorts of other resonances with Wings of Desire, and seems a perfect film to pair it with, but my mind immediately goes to Cave as the link between the films... damn does he look young in Wings of Desire...
A final note: any appreciation of Wings of Desire seems incomplete without briefly mentioning with sadness the passing of three of the actors therein. Otto Sander, who played Cassiel, above, died recently (he also starred in the sequel to Wings of Desire, Faraway So Close, which briefly featured the recently departed Lou Reed). Dead, too, are Peter Falk and Solveig Dommartin, the circus performer with whom Bruno Ganz falls in love. Somehow that three of the key figures in the film are departed makes the film even more appropriate as a film to watch during the Halloween season, double billed with a movie that voyages quite literally into the underworld. Those who have not seen Wings of Desire should see it this week, on screen at the Cinematheque, and those who have seen it before might want to consider checking it out on the big screen - it's not a film that plays theatrically that often, these days, and it will be projected on 35mm - an increasingly rare format for viewing films in this digital age, which I discuss with Jim Sinclair here...
(Note: I wrote Jim yesterday to ask if there was any connection between Cave's song and the choice to double-bill these two films; his answer was, "nope!").

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP Lou Reed

Saw Lou Reed twice in my life: in 2000, at the Akasaka Blitz in Tokyo, touring the Hal Willner-produced album Ecstacy, and as part of Willner's tribute to Neil Young in Vancouver.

The Akasaka Blitz show - setlist linked above - was terrific, because Lou paid no attention to fan favourites and, for the whole main set, did expansive, jammy renditions of mostly recent songs, opening them up with a second guitarist whom I presume was Mike Rathke. He was totally engaged in making music, totally alive up there; when he did treat us to an older tune, like "Smalltown," it came as a welcome surprise, and clearly was a song picked because it had life for Lou, not to fulfill any extraneous demands. It was a fantastic experience, a privilege to watch. Then he did an encore of hits that was as brief and perfunctory as it was, apparently, gruelling for him, running through "Sweet Jane" and "Vicious" and "Perfect Day." He seemed so bored of these songs, like it was truly the "work" part of work to play them. (The setlist also lists "Dirty Blvd." but I honestly don't recall that happening; it was a long time ago, though). I had the chance to see him the second night, too, but it was such a perfect experience I didn't need to go - though sometimes I wish I did.

The second time I saw Lou,  as part of that Neil Young tribute - the one that Elvis Costello totally stole - it was as a total bonus. He came onstage to do one Neil Young song: "Helpless." A perfect song for Lou to sing. I think he might have popped onstage for the big ensemble at the end, getting calls of "Lou!" from the audience - but he didn't sing for that - he might not even have been there, I forget. "Helpless" was great, though.

Anyhow, my condolences to basically the whole fuckin' world of rock that Lou has departed. That's all I have to say at the moment, but 71 is far too young for a guy this creative to go.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Devils tonight!

A rare screening of an amazing film, one night only, tonight at the Vancity Theatre, after Haxan...! I'll be on hand with a trivia prize and, after the film, will play a notorious scene cut from the movie! Read Roger Ebert's "zero star" review of The Devils here! (If Ebert gave it a zero, you know it's gotta be great!)

By the way, I did a short email interview with Harlow MacFarlane about his plans for the live score for Haxan, here....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Devils, Haxan, Sexcula, and more

See here for my interview with Tom Charity about the Vancity Theatre's Halloween programming!

Dreams of Finding Rare Dick!

I frequently have dreams in which I shop: usually in thrift stores and record stores. This makes sense, since I do this often in life. Last night I dreamed, however, that I hit the motherlode.

Understand that it has become almost impossible to find something truly valuable at thrift stores. There was a time - before the internet made it very, very easy for anyone with access to a computer to research the value of things - that one would stumble across books and records that could fetch enormous collector's prices out there. I personally know people who found the Subhumans' "Death to the Sickoids" single at a thrift store, or the William Burroughs' Ace Double Novel version of Junkie. I myself have found rare early Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and B. Traven editions, which I got very nice money for. (The Traven, a copy of the US first of The Rebellion of the Hanged, was the first book I ever bought to re-sell to an antiquarian, when I was a mere teenager. I found it at a Salvation Army in Maple Ridge, and had the good sense to phone MacLeod's books about it - even though I did not know the shop in the slightest at the time; I picked them out of the phone book! Don Stewart is a big admirer of Traven, so I found the right person; I believe he gave me $75 for the book, which I had paid some 50 cents for. I was quite proud of that transaction, remember the flourish with which I brought it out of my jacket, where I'd been sheltering it from the rain...).

Last night, in my dreams, I found a copy of Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney: Or How We Got Along After the Bomb, signed by Dick, at a thrift store. It was a completely fictitious Dr. Bloodmoney; it was a hardcover first edition, for one, of a book I know quite well when I'm awake first came out in paperback. Besides that, while I know that Dr. Bloodmoney is a slim-to-average sized Dick, the book in the dream was much thicker, an enormous, Atlas-Shrugged-size tome. Why my dreams do this I do not know; being lazy about details is one thing, but getting things very notably wrong is another. Is my mind protecting me from the possibility of mistaking dreams for reality later, by falsifying recognizable details? Or perhaps it's a mere matter of sequencing: the thickness of the book was dreamed first, when I saw it on the shelf, and the title was added later? My dreaming mind went along with it, in any case. The signature on the book actually did resemble Dick's, which I've seen online...

Anyhow, the majority of the dream was spent trying to get the rare Dick safely from the thrift store to the bookdealer I deal with, without anyone catching on that I had a valuable book in my position and without it sustaining damage. There were other parts of the dream, but the excitement when I phoned the bookdealer I work with to let him know what I'd found was palpable. It was the most exciting book I have ever found in a dream!

I had other plans for the morning, but I think I had better go use the next while thrifting... 

A Hammer Halloween, continued: Brides of Dracula

Managed to squeeze in a fun but flawed entry in the Hammer Dracula series this evening: Brides of Dracula, from 1960. It has many of the charms of classic Hammer: elaborate, detailed, and convincing Gothic sets and costumes, gorgeous Technicolour, and Terence Fisher's superb craftsmanship. Sadly, the film fails to live up to the promise of its first, terrific fifteen minutes, wherein an idealistic young French teacher with abundant red hair (Yvonne Monlaur) is waylaid en route to her new school by an aristocratic old woman (Martita Hunt). The woman's son, the Baron Meinster (David Peel), turns out to have a mysterious ailment that requires him to be chained up at all times... Little does our heroine suspect that she has been brought to the villa as a snack; in fact, she is so naive and trusting that when the handsome Baron attempts to seduce her into freeing him from his chains, she is all too willing to go along, without even considering the possibility that he is chained up for a very good reason...
Her naivete aside, the film's many flaws really begin to make themselves manifest soon after the first bat appears. It is, in fact, such a bad, bad bat that it alone takes the film solidly out of the "classic" category and places it in the "camp" one. It is one of the stiffest, fakest bats ever to dangle from a stick, even if its wings do flap a bit (an effect I'm sure they were proud of at the time but which falls far short of realism). And once it shows up, somehow, the film's shortcomings start to accumulate exponentially.
Sure, one can overlook the fact that Christopher Lee is absent from the film entirely, and that Brides of Dracula apparently was made before Hammer productions figured out the appeal of cleavage, since it is almost 100% boob-free; but there are also many things that seem like writerly failures. Surely after the young teacher releases the Baron from his bondage, and he promptly murders his mother, she would think twice about being further wooed by him, for instance? Sure, he's handsome, and she's naive, but he's not THAT handsome, and she gets to see the holes in Ma's neck close up. (It also remains unexplained why, given that bat ankles are somewhat thinner than human ankles, the manacle he wears kept him prisoner at all, when he could have presumably just transformed and flown away). Our heroine's stupidity really stretches credibility when her friend Greta (Andrée Melly), bitten by the Baron, rises from the grave right before her eyes, and makes to bite her. Somehow, after she is rescued, she manages to deny the evidence of her own eyes: surely it was simply someone who looked like Greta, and not really her?
Peter Cushing, as van Helsing, has one great scene where he has to find a remedy for a vampire bite in his own neck - it involves holy water and a very hot piece of iron - and even seems to handle his own stunts, for instance in a scene where he leaps several feet from a balcony; but no amount of actorly zeal can make up for certain strange choices his character makes, again due to writerly failures. In two cases, for instance, village women are found dead, during the daylight, by vampire bite. He realizes what has happened, and knows how to deal with it, but in both cases, he elects to do nothing, and wait for nightfall, for said Brides to rise from the grave before he stakes them. Why does he hesitate at all? It could be explained - he doesn't want to alarm the villagers with his stakes and mallets and such - but it isn't, making him seem a most inefficient, strangely passive vampire hunter ("best wait til nightfall, when they attack me, or else people might get upset!"). This hardly describes his character in the other Hammer Dracula films. In lieu of action, he's given a lot of dialogue about the "cult of the undead," but the shoddy plotting shines through....
All the same, I enjoyed Brides of Dracula immensely. I was very pleased with myself to recognize Mona Washbourne, who later appeared in Lindsay Anderson's If... and O Lucky Man, in a small role (above), looking not much like she would in the Anderson films (it was her voice that was unmistakable). Yvonne Monlaur (still alive as of this writing, as is Ms. Melly) is pretty to look at, the film is tightly paced and  nicely shot, and the film has a fairly entertaining method of dispatching with the vampire at the end (spoiler alert!): the blades of a burning windmill are turned so their shadow becomes a gigantic cross, which falls upon the Baron as he flees. The film makes an interesting study of how flawed a movie can be and still work. In fact, I think I liked it better than Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, which is better written, but rather slow and predictable, and nowhere near as pretty to look at...
Perhaps it's childish of me, but I keep thinking of ironic variants on the Hammer Dracula titles: Dracula Has Driven From the Bank, Taste The Beef of Dracula, The Satanic Raps of Dracula... They're more fun to spoof than the Hammer Frankenstein titles, though I'm also fond of Frankenstein Must Be Subpoenaed...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween III: Season of the Witch: recommended seasonal viewing!

Wow. I just caught up with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a film I ignored on its release in 1982 and am delighted to have finally gotten around to. It's one of those Debra Hill/ John Carpenter co-productions franchised out to another filmmaker - in this case, Tommy Lee Wallace. What it feels like, however, is the best damn John Carpenter film that John Carpenter never made. In fact, it feels more like a John Carpenter film than his recent The Ward - which is watchable, but not particularly inspired or original; and it positively beats the pumpkin seeds out of Halloween II.

Nevermind the complete absence of Michael Myers (or Jamie Lee Curtis or Donald Pleasance) in Halloween III, or the absence of any slasher motifs whatsoever: the film has all the hallmarks of classic Carpenter - an excellent score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; a solid lead performance by Tom Atkins, whom Carpenter fans will recognize from his roles in The Fog and Escape From New York; and a story involving a malign plot by an evil corporation, which involves a broadcast signal that must at all cost be stopped - which is at least somewhat reminiscent of They Live.
There's more that I won't go into - including a rather silly, strange but unquestionably inventive method of killing that seems to combine elements of technology and witchcraft (and fragments of a chunk of Stonehenge - not much of a spoiler there; any genre fans will know that when a TV broadcast mentions that part of Stonehenge has gone missing early on, said chunk will turn up again before movie's end). To think, had the film been appreciated at the time, we might have had a yearly franchise of inventive, Carpenter-produced, non-slasher Halloween movies, exploiting different facets of the season, instead of a bunch of unwatchable, forgotten retreads of ye olde slasher formula! Wish I'd given the film a chance back in 1982, but, um, better late than never....  
I have not lived up to the Hammer Halloween proposal - I haven't been able to get one Hammer in a day - but I've seen The Devil Rides Out (which is just terrific) and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (which is pretty damn dull; so far I'm not convinced if it's Hammer I like, or Terence Fisher). I may try another Hammer tonight, however. Hands of the Ripper, anyone? How about Rasputin, The Mad Monk?

Meantime, watch my Huffington Post page for more writing from me. (My interview with Jim Sinclair of the Cinematheque about their programming and the merits of 35 mm vs. digital should be of interest to a few people, but there's more to come, I promise...

New in the Straight feature on the Regional Assembly of Text and The Paper Hound. Print's not dead!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thanks, Nardwuar! (UPDATE)

Chris Towers of the New Creation and I had a great time on Nardwuar's show, which you can now hear on his website... the more I see of Nardwuar in action the more I am awed by his genius! Vinyl copies of the New Creation's Troubled repress are presently in stock at Zulu, Red Cat, and Audiopile, with more to come, we hope (you can also order them on the Companion Records website). A lovely object, and great music (even if the point of view is a little, erm, puritanical at times!).

Thanks again, Nardwuar!

Bigfoot dream

I made my own version of Willow Creek in my sleep last night. Details are foggy, save for the end. My wife and I have successfully trapped a baby bigfoot, have it in some sort of container. We have emerged from the forest after a harrowing ordeal, baby still inside the trap, and are in some sort of trailer or vehicle that won't start. Help is on the way - there are sirens in the distance; at this point in the movie - the dream, that is - we (the audience) still have yet to see bigfoot. I go to the back of the trailer to check something and my wife screams - "he's gotten loose!" A little bigfoot runs around the corner, looking kinda like a sixteen-inch-tall bigfoot action figure, determined to run back into the woods. I grab him and hold him and try to calm him. Shh, little guy, it's allright! We're not going to hurt you! ...but he's shrieking and terrified and keeps trying to get loose. My wife is watching as I try to cuddle him and he strikes and resists. The sirens of our rescue are getting closer. Finally I cannot bear to hold the little fella against his will anymore, and I put him down and he runs to the edge of the trailer. I feel great loss, sadness: there goes my dream. And at just that moment, an enormous adult bigfoot (looking an awful lot, in my dream, like a person in a gorilla suit, I must admit; the makeup department for my dreams apparently needs an overhaul) rounds the corner, gathers her baby up in her arms, looks at me briefly and gives the smallest nod of acknowledgement - I did the right thing - and then disappears with her infant off into the forest, never to be seen again...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Hammer Halloween 2: Stolen Face

Enjoyed The Horror of Dracula with my Ma tonight, but also caught an early Hammer studios Terence Fisher film noir, Stolen Face, starring the sultry Lizabeth Scott, to whom I recently mailed chocolate (more on that below). Any reservations about her acting ability - the whole "Budget Bacall" thing, which saw her typecast as femmes fatale in increasingly minor films - should have been put firmly to rest by this great little 1951 flick, since she plays two characters with the same face, one of whom is an American, while the other has a pronounced Cockney accent... This in service of a variant on the Pygmalion theme, with a hint of Eyes Without A Face and (the later) Vertigo: a plastic surgeon (Paul Henreid) at work in Britain romances an American pianist (Scott), but gets dumped by her. It happens that he is involved in charitable work, helping incarcerated criminals reform by giving them plastic surgery to conceal any deformities and give them a fresh start in life. He takes on badly scarred female convict - and surgically replicates the face of his loved one on her! (It doesn't get gory but with hindsight it's hard not to see hints of Frankenstein and his many laboratories in the obsessed doctor's milieu and actions). That's only the start of it, too: the doctor, lost in fantasies of having a perfect wife who is forever in his debt, who just happens to have the face of the woman he loves, romances and then marries his patient. Of course, it turns out a lifetime of criminal habits isn't so easy to overcome... Then the plot thickens further when the original Lizabeth, on tour playing piano, has second thoughts and decides to go back to Henreid - arriving to find him married to a woman who looks exactly like her!

This was my first venture into Hammer noir but it was most encouraging - this is a great little film, highly recommended...

The New Creation and Nardwuar! Plus Run Run It's Him

Looks like Chris Towers and I will be meeting up with Nardwuar for this Friday's show on CITR, talking and spinning records! We'll also be hauling a few vinyl reissues of the New Creation's Troubled around town, time permitting, so that will finally be available in stores (it's a very limited reissue, so act soon!). For those unfamiliar, The New Creation were a local Christian garage/ psych band that released one severely limited edition album in 1970, which would have totally disappeared into the mists of time if it had not been for the ear and efforts of (now deceased) Vancouver record dealer Ty Scammel (whom I knew and liked - he was my initial connection to this story...). They have since also put out A Unique Disaster, a follow-up CD themed around the End Times...

Speaking of The New Creation, I watched a film called Run Run It's Him last night, detailing a somewhat dorky but earnest young man's pornography addiction and his history of failures with women. It uses a couple of New Creation songs on the soundtrack! It's an interesting film, despite its sort of sub-cinematic, home video aesthetic, and it appears that the making of the film actually helped get its subject laid, which I guess means it has a happy ending. There seems to be something like a taboo about talking about formative male sexual experiences - especially solo ones - so it's interesting to see them discussed frankly and sincerely. I personally would not have the guts, were I making this film, to put my parents (were they both alive and able) on camera to discuss the times they found my porno stashes...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Hammer Halloween

I have resolved to have a Hammer Halloween. That is to say that I'm going to try to consume a Hammer horror film every day - or at least every day I have the chance to watch a film - from now until October 31st. In the last week I've taken in The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and I'm presently halfway into Curse of the Werewolf, featuring Oliver Reed in his first credited acting role (above). Each of the above is absolutely terrific (perhaps because they were all directed by Terence Fisher?). I managed to miss all of these in my horror-watching childhood, am mostly familiar with them from photos in Famous Monsters of Filmland, since Hammer films seldom ran on TV and weren't widely available on VHS in Maple Ridge. That means I have a lot to catch up on - and I couldn't be happier at the prospect; I can't believe I waited so long to do this! 
Granted, Hammer films are generally not astonishing, groundbreaking classics of cinema. They don't stand out like, say, Ken Russell's The Devils does (playing at the Vancity Theatre October 26th!). They are firmly planted in genre, often fairly conservatively filmed and structured, and - the odd hint of perversity or sadism aside - offer less in the way of surprises and more in the way of horror-loving comfort, as their stories play out true to form, delivering exactly what you'd expect. The thing is, they do this with craft and skill and great respect for all involved; they make a serious investment in offering detailed, well-told stories, often with imaginative sets and costumes, entertaining scores, lovely Technicolour colours, and some fun early gestures at gore (which is often imaginatively evoked, rather than shown: the most disturbing thing in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, for example, is the sound of Frankenstein's saw as he cuts through skulls, during his ill-advised, obsessive attempts at brain transplants. You don't actually see the skulls being sawn through - or at least you don't see much of it - but you hear them, and really, that makes it far worse).
The whole period element is novel for me, too; I'm so used to modern horror films being set in the here-and-now that it's actually quite charming to take in what used to be the norm - horror set in the 19th century or earlier. I suppose at the time this was a comforting way of displacing the horrific elements in the films, adding a level of safety and lets-pretend to make the stories less traumatizing for their audiences, but from a contemporary point of view, it lends to a whole other level of craftsmanship to be appreciated. Much as I'm fond of a good slasher film, when did you ever catch yourself admiring the detail and imagination that went into constructing Camp (frigging) Crystal Lake? Compare it to a good Frankenstein's lab sometime! (It appears that the good doctor's lab is destroyed in the course of every single film, too, so it looks different each time...).
Add to which there is a very high quality of acting throughout. Peter Cushing is fantastic in each of the above films (Christopher Lee only appears in two of the ones I've caught thus far. He's somewhat underused in the first Frankenstein film - the only one he appears in, I believe - and is wrapped in bandages through most of The Mummy, so he's getting undersold at the moment, but I'm working my way up to The Horror of Dracula - which I have also never seen - and plan to do Mr. Lee full justice in time). Even supporting actors, like Richard Wordsworth - great-great-grandson to William, who appears in Revenge of Frankenstein and Curse of the Werewolf - make an impression. Plus Hammer had a way of choosing busty leading ladies (like Yvonne Romain, below) and packaging their cleavage like it was about to explode out at you like airbags deploying from a steering column; I can't say it's not a look that appeals to me. (I won't even mention The Vampire Lovers in this context).  
Yes, folks, I think I'm going to have a happy Hammer Halloween. Most of these films can be found on DVD (or elsewhere), should others care to join me. In addition to the various Frankenstein and Dracula films, I hope to catch The Devil Rides Out, Twins of Evil, Straight On Til Morning, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Witches, The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Nanny, and Demons of the Mind (how can a film called Demons of the Mind possibly not be terrific?).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Free streaming preview of new Motörhead

Aftershock is online for a free (official) preview, and in stores soon. I thought, after a bizarrely good late-period winning streak (Inferno, Kiss of Death, Motorizer) that The World Is Yours ran out of steam - maybe effected by Phil Campbell having to contribute his guitar parts from afar, since family matters brought him back to Wales. It has a few good moments, but it's just not up to the level established by the previous three Cameron Webb productions. Aftershock (also produced by Webb) sounds to be a return to form... I like it when Lemmy diversifies - "Lost Woman Blues" is pretty exciting, say, and the following track "End of Time," sounds like a real bone-cruncher... that's as far as I've gotten so far but this one is sounding like a winner...

Vancouver Polish Film Festival

VIFFers who missed Ryszard Bugajski's grim, very political conspiracy film The Closed Circuit, who would like to see it in the context of other - mostly recent - Polish cinema should turn out to SFU Woodwards this upcoming weekend for the second Vancouver Polish Film Festival! List of films here, schedule here. Alas, I have other plans this weekend, but we see so little Polish cinema in Vancouver - screenings of Wajda, Polanski, and Kieslowski aside - that I'm very pleased to hear this festival exists. Particularly intrigued by the 1990 film, The Escape From The 'Liberty' Cinema, which won a VPFF audience award denoting it a Polish classic; the film tackles the thorny issue of Polish censorship (it helps stoke my interest that I've been recently discussing just that topic with Ryszard Bugajski himself!).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Here's a shock....

...after what seemed to this film viewer to be an immensely successful VIFF, Alan Franey has resigned as festival director! I've always thought the VIFF in excellent hands under Franey; I don't know him well, but I've enjoyed every interaction I've had with him and long admired his poise, style, charm, and wit. I am most startled and worried about what changes this may bode, and hope all is well with Alan and the VIFF...

The Last Stand

Where arts and media and writing are concerned, everything feels like a last stand these days - like, "just one more and then I'm never going to do it again," like I'm a bank robber going for one last score, the junkie having one last shot. Maybe I'm deluding myself, that this is all a protracted rationalization for clinging to my old bad habits - but everywhere in my life I look it feels like one last cup of coffee for the road.

It's been feeling like that for awhile, actually, but lately, more than ever.

The concerts I'm seeing, for instance, have to be really, really big, important things to me to justify the time, expense, effort - like I'm saying goodbye to that part of my life and want to see bands and artists that I may never get to see again, bands that I want to have seen at least one (more) time. That's how I felt about Ray Davies, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Kris Kristofferson, Black Sabbath, Roky Erickson - events I couldn't (or in the case of Roky, can't) miss; with one or two exceptions - a couple Funky's shows I caught when I had the opportunity - I think that's pretty much every concert I've caught in 2013. There have been a ton of shows over the last couple of years that I would have loved to see - High on Fire, Channel 3, Om, Melvins, Guitar Wolf - but none that I figured I would have been kicking myself for missing, years later. A few people, familiar with my past incarnations, asked me in really excited terms the other month, "Are you going to go see The Sonics?" But I never even considered it, and when the day came, I wasn't there. I went most of my adult life not troubled that I never saw the Sonics, and I can continue to live that way just fine, despite having now had the chance. I have a short list of bands I couldn't miss if they came through town, but most of that is implausible stuff like the Flesheaters: as if they'd ever regroup and tour Vancouver, or the Dutch art-punk collective The Ex, if they ever came back. But I won't be going to those shows anytime soon...

Records and CDs feel the same way. Unless I come across something in a thrift store (like Nico's Chelsea Girl, which I found for $1.50 the other day!) there aren't many albums I'll buy lately (or download, or whatever - it's not that I'm stealing music; I'm not really acquiring it by any means). I have my old favourites to fall back on and mostly that's what I'm doing. Something like the Roky Erickson reissues happen and I have no choice, but generally, I'm staying out of record stores altogether. I'll make an exception for the new Motorhead album, but there's not much else I'm planning on picking up this year; I don't even want to know about what's new...

Same with DVDs. I want to get Only God Forgives later this month, otherwise - what I find in thrift stores is just fine. I still scan DVD Beaver, to see what new releases are upcoming, but that's just to see if anyone has announced Clearcut, or a restored Phase IV or Sorcerer yet. Scanning the list of titles, mostly I think to myself, "I can live without it."

And it's not just consumption, either. The writing thing seems to be nearing an end, too. I'm very aware that next week marks the 10th anniversary of Alienated In Vancouver. I have definite plans to finish a few articles - I need to get the big Zev Asher memorial interview into the world, in addition to Bugajski, mentioned below - and I have a few other concrete things to get off the books, but the excitement has waned a lot since I started this. The challenges aren't new and the rewards have never been that enormous. I've met most of my musical heroes and a couple from the world of film. Some I've liked, and some I haven't; some have become friends, and some are total strangers (and some I've decided I'm just fine on keeping that way). But none of it feels that important to me, anymore. Too much of my writing has involved subordinating myself to others, making them look good, supporting the causes of artists I admire; it hasn't amounted to much personally, for me, and at this point I'd rather live my own fulfilling life than talk to other people about theirs...

Even my Mom seems like she's on the way out, like these are the last years I'll know her.  I don't see myself in my present role many years longer. Maybe I'm wrong, but...

The thing that's interesting is that the main area where I don't feel this way is my relationship with my girlfriend. That's where I'd *like* to move forward, where there's a sense of there being meaningful challenges, meaningful discoveries, new horizons, places I want to arrive. It seems so much more worthwhile than all this other stuff I've been distracting myself with, so much more important. What was the point of the last ten years of this? What would be the point in continuing? This blog and what I've been doing with music, movies, film... it's been fun, it's been an entertaining hobby, but it's not real life. I feel like I could even walk away from the Internet for awhile. It seems vastly overrated...

That's what I'm thinking about these days...

My (Ongoing) Interview with Ryszard Bugajski, versus getting a real job

Powerful distractions. I need a job - a paying, bread-on-the-table job, need to quit dicking around and get 9 to 5 for a few years - but instead I'm interviewing Ryszard Bugajski, possibly for some publication that won't even pay me for the final interview! I'm doing it out of sheer overwhelming interest, and the sense that, well-placed, it could actually do some good. And my God is it rewarding thus far... We spent the morning talking about his formative years (he was a big fan of Friedkin, after a very striking exposure to the film The Boys In The Band; it fascinates me that Friedkin's cinema is an influence on Bugajski's films!). Tomorrow I hope we can take time to talk Clearcut and The Closed Circuit (and General Nil, though I haven't seen it). I haven't felt this way about an interview in a long, long time - it's very exciting stuff.

I'll get a job next week...

Edited to add: a useful description of the plot and themes of Clearcut is here

Friday, October 11, 2013

Black Flag, Roky Erickson, plus cinema: The Swimmer, Tyrannosaur

The Black Flag lawsuit is dead in the water... Perhaps FLAG can come to Vancouver now? (Keith, you owe us one, sleepyhead...).

In other news,  Roky Erickson is coming to Vancouver for the first time ever, as part of the Fall Down/ Get Down festival in mid-November... The Light in The Attic reissues of Roky's The Evil One, Gremlins Have Pictures, and Don't Slander Me - all presently popping up at record stores in Vancouver - have apparently been mastered in some new/ weird way and sound pretty incredible (on first spin, I thought they'd been mastered too fast, but I've grown convinced that I was simply being overwhelmed by the clarity of the sound; it's so precise and crisp that I thought something was wrong)... More detailed reviews of these reissues here. I really, really am trying not to buy any more records, guys, so cut this shit out, okay?

Strangely, by the by, a whole bunch of people suddenly seem to be pronouncing Roky's name like it rhymes with Loki, but as far as I know it is and always has been pronounced like "Rocky." It's simply spelled the way it is because it compacts the first letters of his first and middle names, Roger Kynard. Everyone in You're Gonna Miss Me - the amazing documentary about him, dealing with his brother's custody suit to get Roky out of his Mom's care, without which we would not be seeing Roky performing again - calls him "Rocky," and they're, like, his family 'n' shit, so they would know! (See that film, by the way).
Also filmwise, an odd but very interesting piece of 1960's cinema, The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster, plays the Vancity Theatre this Saturday. Adrian Mack writes about it here, with quotes from Robert Elder, who has written a book called The Best Film You've Never Seen - which sounds like a very fun project, and has its own website, here - though I must admit that I *have* seen The Swimmer before, years ago on TV... it's a striking movie.

Tyrannosaur, a very powerful, moving, but somewhat harrowing British film, directed by Paddy Considine and starring Peter Mullan as a raging drunk, plays Wednesday at the Cinematheque, as part of the Frames of Mind series. Mainstream cinema viewers probably know Mullan best as Sid the Fascist Pig from Children of Men, but he's one of the finest actors in English-language cinema at the moment (he's also a director, though I've only seen The Magdalene Sisters, of his films). 

By the by, comments on the blog are disabled for awhile yet, until the jackasses who were spamming me get the message... but feel free to message me if you want to interact... I can be reached... I'm here... I like hearing from people (except spammers)...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Art Bergmann - again!

Look, I guess I fucked up with that Straight review of the last Art Bergmann show. I wanted to go in some direction other than predictable fawning worship and sympathy (the "ailing rockstar overcomes adversity to triumph onstage" angle: yawn). I got all sorts of abuse for what I wrote, which seemed to miss the fact that I sincerely thought it was a GREAT show. Art seemed sauced, though everyone says he wasn't, and there were all sorts of moments of horror when I feared the night was heading down the toilet in the worst possible way: but it never did, and whatever Art's challenges - illness, pain meds, whatever - he pulled off a magnificent, moving set. I failed to convey that message, obviously (to all but a few who seemed to get where I was coming from).

Anyhow. Art Bergmann plays again October 26th at the Biltmore! I won't be there, but everyone else who cares about Vancouver music should. Art rocks, period.

A James Benning mini-interview

This was done in a rush and has a few imperfections, but I hope will be interesting to those who admired Stemple Pass (screening for the final time at the VIFF tonight).

The Dick Knost Show: a puzzled review of a film I liked...

You know, a few critics out there really don't seem to like Bruce Sweeney's new movie, but I don't really understand why not. Ken Eisner dismissed it as looking "cheap and easy." Norm Wilner in Toronto is even less kind, describing it as "just plain bad" and a "cheap looking, meandering bust." Others have disagreed with the film's merits, as well, despite it winning the inaugural "best BC film" award (by the way, how is it that this is the first year the VIFF has had one of those? Am I missing something?).
My response to the negativity the film is garnering is mostly one of confusion. I laughed aloud several times during the screening this afternoon, and wasn't alone in doing so; nor was I alone in the generous applause the film received at the end. Sweeney's writing was witty and entertaining throughout, and very timely (I particularly sympathized with one anti-Twitter rant that Gabrielle Rose's character launches into). And the performances - by Tom Scholte, Rose, and a few others Sweeney fans will recognize, like Cam Cronin and Laara Sadiq from Excited and The Crimes of Mike Recket's Paul Skrudland - were all very entertaining (though Scholte revealed in the Q&A that Rose, unlike Sweeney and Scholte, is by no means a sports talk fan, and simply learned to talk the talk for the sake of the film; she's perfectly credible, though I admit I kind of twigged that she was fakin' it - she overcompensates just a pinch too much...). Granted, it's a much, much lighter film than Sweeney's previous ones (but that makes it quite fun); it does have a bit of a low-budget look to it (but so what? it's a low budget film!); and it doesn't do anything radical or new with the language of cinema (but neither do 95% of the films that get made and praised). And I still like the idea of a filmmaker who makes films in Vancouver and sets them in here, peppering their screenplay with references to local place names and such (Burnaby and Richmond and the Mary Hill Bypass all get namechecked in this one). I wouldn't praise a film I genuinely didn't enjoy just because it does that, but I don't understand why local audiences and critics would not be predisposed to be at least somewhat on this film's side from the gitgo... the idea of BC film viewers supporting films made by BC filmmakers seems somehow foreign to our movie culture, here in Vancouver (apologies to Ben Ratner, by the by... I didn't make it to Down River, but hope to catch up with it at some point).
Of course, there are a few positive, thoughtful responses to The Dick Knost Show out there - the best is by Robert Bell, but there's also this by William Brownridge, say. So I'm not finding myself totally isolated. And there is the award (though sometimes political considerations enter into awards-giving processes, so I'm less inclined to place weight on that). I almost hesitate to recommend the film, because I have no confidence that the things I liked about it will be likable to others. Still, you do have one more chance to see it at the VIFF, on Friday; I thought this was a great little entertainment, very easy to watch, very sympathetic, and you might too...