Monday, April 28, 2014

Upcoming at Funkys...'s the annual performance by Ani Kyd's band, Fuel Injected .45, headlining and evening of female-fronted punk and metal!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vancouver Noise Festival 2014!

Maybe it's just me - I really don't know - but interest in noise in Vancouver seemed to peak maybe around 2008-2010. There was a sense of an oppositional alt-cultural movement pushing back against the Olympics, the Iraq war, and so forth; there were startling developments like the reformation of Tunnel Canary, playing the Shitstorm noisefest in 2008; and there was a thriving above-ground component to the scene in the form of the Cobalt's Fake Jazz Wednesdays, where everyone knew the address of the venue and that, reliably, cool weird shit would be happening one night a week. Vancouver New Music had an active role in promoting some local noisesters, too, inviting units like the Her Jazz Noise Collective to perform at their Festival (and whatever happened to that entity, anyhow? Last I heard they were working on an anthology of past performances, but it seems not to have materialized). 
Then what happened? People got older, some left town, some moved on to other projects, and life got more complex all-around. The Cobalt-as-we-knew-it (and many other cool venues like The Emergency Room and the Sweatshop) died their inevitable deaths, the scene got pushed back underground, and the Olympics steamrollered through town heedless of any dissent. Fake Jazz tried to stay alive for awhile at other venues, but eventually fizzled. Vancouver New Music seemed to move towards a more highbrow/ middle-aged model of presentation, and... I moved away from the city and scene, which might have something to do with my feeling that things changed; maybe if I was still in Vancouver I'd feel more connected? 
But there's still a noise scene, and what's interesting to note is that there are a ton of familiar names from that old scene - harsh noise survivors, drone addicts and black metal diehards - who will be performing at the upcoming Vancouver Noise Festival on May 3rd at the Remington Gallery (108 East Hastings). Show supposedly starts at 6pm sharp. It's nice to know that the tradition continues - that despite all its setbacks and challenges, the underground still persists in making a joyless noise unto the Lord. 
I caught up with organizer Anju Singh about what to expect. Her email to me is as follows - she answers a few question which I won't replicate. Sadly I did not ask what a Throbbing Continuum of Fuck might entail:
The night will contain 4 "sets" with intermissions between them. Each set will contain a curated group of noise artists that will play seamlessly from act to act. During intermission, drone project DEAD WEIGHT will be creating drones in an ambient space to give your ears a break.

The night will get more and more punishing as it progresses. This is an opportunity to see what some of the most respected West Coast Noise and Harsh Noise artists are currently doing. The night allows for a condensed peek into what is happening in noise, experimental music, and harsh noise in and around this area. We have acts from LA, Seattle, Montreal, Kamloops and Victoria. 
The night is $15 and there will be food, drinks, and tea available all night. I would consider it to be more of an event than just a show. It begins at 6pm and we will be done by 1am. The Remington Gallery is an excellent gallery space that is very conducive to performances and nights of this type.

Now your answers:

1. BLUE SABBATH BLACK CHEER is a highly respected Seattle based noise project, UNEXAMINE is Charlie's project (drummer from Knelt Rote), GRIEFER is very well known noise/power electronics from Victoria BC, WORKER, RUSALKA are well respected local acts, BT.HN is The Rita and Sick Buildings Collab, SISTRENATUS is highly respected dark ambient.

2. I'm collaborating with Spencer Davis and doing a project called BENEVOLENT SOCIETY. We are playing before the final intermissions before WORKER/GRIEFER/RUSALKA/BSBC/UNEXAMINE/BT.HN play.

3. I'm mainly doing AHNA, we just released a split 12" with Cetascean (winnipeg crust), a split 7" with Contorture (swedish d-beat) is coming out this week, and we have a split with Grotesque Organ Defilement (canadian goregrind) coming out in the summer, we are also recording our next LP which is called CRIMSON DAWN and due out soon. 
I'm also doing my solo project, THE NAUSEA which is sometimes funereal violin and sometimes harsh noise depending what I feel like.

I'm playing drums in a powerviolence band called WASTE AWAY with my friend Bryan from Six Brew Bantha. 
I'm starting a new project where I finally will play guitar and I'm writing all the songs with my friends Scott on drums, Blair on vocals, and with Graham on bass. It will be primitive grind/black metal stuff.

The lineup in reverse order (headliner first):

UNEXAMINE (PDX/California)
GRIEFER (Victoria)
BT.HN. The Rita/Josh Rose (Sick Buildings)

BENEVOLENT SOCIETY (The Nausea/Nervous Operator)
BURROW OWL (Montreal)
BLANKETS (Montreal)
CSTL (Victoria)
SICK OF MY SELF (Kamloops)
NIGHT TIDE (Victoria)

BRDN (Kamloops)

A few upcoming films

Crazy days... I think I've spent a minimum of two hours a day on the bus (or Skytrain or in a car or so forth) every day for the last couple of weeks.... It's not that I AM actually on a bus every day but the days where I spend five hours or more on one make up for the ones I don't. I just want to stay in one place for awhile but I'm juggling three part time jobs, a Mom, a girlfriend, and a desire to stay at least partially abreast of the Vancouver scene... plus, you know, I need to eat, do laundry, run errands for Mom and myself... not enough time, not enough DOWN time, and certainly not enough money around so that I can take a break from it all... arrrgh...
Lots of interesting cinema coming up in town, though. I'm going to miss the long cut of Oliver Hockenhull's doc on psychedelics, playing Tuesday and Thursday, but I've seen a big chunk of it as an online screener and it looks amazing; I found the shorter version a bit distracting, with its in-your-face, intensely busy visuals, and would much rather meditate on the long version, which I *think* would make a very very very interesting film for an altered state of consciousness, but I'll have to catch up with it at a later date. Spoke to Hockenhull about it, highly recommend the film - you can read/ see more about it here.
What else? I really want to see Blue Ruin at the Vancity Theatre but who knows if I will; tried to see an online screener but guess what, my old desktop doesn't really like hi-def online streaming that much, and no DVD screeners are available. (It's funny to me that so many people presume a Blu-Ray/ high-def top-of-the-line technological access for people writing about film while many film magazines seem to want to pay only a hundred or so dollars for any given article; there's a disjunct there - is the presumption that anyone who would actually waste their time on writing must be an independently wealthy hobbyist?). The Gaudi-related documentary looks great, too. They've programmed a doc on Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band to run shortly after that band plays Vancouver (live show at the Rio on May 2nd); see my old interview with Efrim Menuck here. And I highly recommend for any environmentalists out there the doc about Alexandra Morton and fish farms, Salmon Confidential. It's especially interesting to me to note that Morton worked with John Lilly on dolphins!
In terms of local cinema, I'm also keen about Evangeline, at the Cinematheque, and the films Stress Position and Cruel and Unusual (below - and do not ask me to explain this image!) at the Vancity - who know if I'll get to see them or, say, write about them, but I'm always down to support BC film.
Speaking of the Cinematheque, there's a screening of Fritz Lang's M upcoming - an all-time favourite of dark, paranoid proto-noir starring the inimitable Peter Lorre. If I feel ambitious I will dig up an old film studies essay I wrote in the mid-1990s on that film, so I can scan it and post it; it's a must-see for anyone with a concern for cinema history, for its very early and ambitious uses of sound, and the inestimable influence it has, providing a link between the shadowy insanities of German Expressionism and the cold, dark world of American film noir (where Lang himself flourished; I'm particularly fond of The Big Heat).
I may also try to make it out to some of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series, though I'm kind of sad there's no Ryszard Bugajski screening. I always wondered if Scorsese's ending for Cape Fear was in any way influenced by the ending of Clearcut... They came out around the same time but I believe my chicken-and-egg are in the right order, here.
I don't have a lot to say about the DOXA Fest - I seldom make it out, and won't be covering any films - but the one I'm most interested in is DamNation, about the environmental impact of dams. My interest mostly relates to the desire to do homework for Kelly Reichardt's film Night Moves, which I am getting very impatient to see; but I've often wondered about the impact of dams, and know very little about them, so it's an interesting topic. (Does anyone know what the hell the delay is with Night Moves, anyhow? I really want to see this film!).
I didn't make it to see Jodorowsky's Dune or the sequel to The Raid: Redemption. Are they still even playing? Someone needs to pay me more money (without requiring much in the way of time commitments or, like, work in return) so I can see more movies! I will try harder to catch Only Lovers Left Alive, that I want to see. Meantime, those of you who have not seen Cronenberg's Eastern Promises should seize the opportunity, since it is probably his most interesting and accomplished film of the last couple of decades (and has what should have been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance from the great Vincent Cassel).
 Hope my readers are getting to see more movies than I am (though I did get to take in a bunch of Cronenbergs onscreen, so that's nice).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

RIP Michael Glawogger!

I have only seen two Michael Glawogger films, his documentary Workingman's Death and his fictional feature Slumming - but I found both fascinating, and concluded that he was truly one of the most exciting filmmakers working... so I'm very, very, very sad to read that he died at age 54 today, of Malaria, while on a film shoot in Liberia. Very, very bad news for cinema - this was a major figure in film who had a lot more to offer the world, and 54 is far too young to go...

Respect to William Friedkin!

You know, I think I really, really like William Friedkin?

I haven't liked all his films (I couldn't get ten minutes into The Guardian). I managed to avoid the whole remastering debacle re: The French Connection, so I can't hold it against him. But Sorcerer has always been on my nebulous top 10 movie list, you know? Other titles come and go, but that one has pretty much been up there for 30-odd years, since I saw it as a kid on latenight TV. I've always liked him for considering it his greatest achievement and for holding out for a day when it might be re-evaluated. With the news of its remastering, re-release, and re-appraisal, the last couple of years have been a very happy time for me, at least as far as movie news goes; and I've been happy especially for William Friedkin

Now with the whole debacle of the DVD release, I'm getting even more impressed with Friedkin, who is, apparently, asserting himself with WB, and posting things on his Facebook page like:
Do not buy the Sorcerer DVD yet. WB is making sure it's
Cut out. They are making a new DVD which will be available
Shortly, from the master. 
The SORCERER blu ray is perfect. The DVD is flawed
and Warner's has recalled them. I will make a new DVD
And tweet when it's ready.
That's one of the good guys talking, folks. And you know what? After all these years waiting to see Sorcerer in a proper aspect ratio, I'm quite happy to wait a bit longer; I'm very pleased that he's responding to the demand and making sure a proper DVD edition happens. Good for him! (Hell, maybe in some future universe the "recalled" Sorcerer will be a collector's edition and I'll be kicking myself for not snapping it up when I had a chance. I don't think so, but...).

By the way, a semi-related tip for any Friedkin fans who haven't seen his 2003 film The Hunted: it's a very curious film, and well worth a viewing. It has great performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro, intense action - including lots of hand-to-hand fighting and scary things with knives - and beautiful Pacific Northwest locations; people who like outdoor ordeal films will be particularly pleased. On the level of story, it's a bit of a strange experience, because it feels like there's vast swaths of backstory being omitted, which is somehow more interesting than what you get onscreen (which is "just the action"). Whether that backstory was omitted by design or if material was cut from a longer version of the film is hard to say - either seems possible, though this well-written Time Out review suggests that it was by design - but the overall experience is still weirdly compelling. It's sometimes hard to know which of Friedkin's "lesser" films are worth seeking out ("Should I watch Blue Chips?"), but The Hunted is definitely worth a look!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sorcerer DVD disappointment

 Sorcerer: the new box art, above, and the old below. 
It's not like DVD sales weren't bad enough already. Those of us still fond of the format - as well as those of us who can't afford a few thousand dollars for a flatscreen plasma TV and Blu-Ray player - have been dealt another blow by the recent release of William Friedkin's Sorcerer, which, after months of excitement that the film was finally being re-distributed in a restored version, has been given a lazy, bungled, flat-out insulting DVD presentation.

I'm not speaking of the Blu-Ray version of the film, mind you. I have no means at present to watch it, but I can only assume that it is just peachy, and that, as the box says, it is presented in the proper aspect ratio with a nice high-def transfer. No doubt it decisively makes obsolete the inferior previous DVD release of the film - infamously presented in the wrong aspect ratio and with a grainy, shitty "broadcast master" transfer that looks like you're watching it on VHS or late night TV or something.

The thing is, lacking a Blu-Ray player, I still had full intention of buying the film on DVD to see it in the proper aspect ratio, with a nice clear picture. I would have done this, even though I already own the shitty previous DVD release of it, because I love the movie so much. Under this scenario, I would have bought it yet again on Blu-Ray at such a time as I upgraded to a player that supports the format. The studio had the chance, here, to sell me the same movie THREE FUCKING TIMES, dig? I care about this film enough that I would have done this happily, and surely I am not the only such cinephile out there.

But I had a most unpleasant discovery when I went to pick up the film at Videomatica: the new DVD release of the film is simply a repackaging of the old, inferior release. It updates the box art and DVD label, but contains the familiar warning on the back cover that it is the "standard version," formatted to fit your screen - as if square TVs were the standard anymore! BJ obligingly opened a copy and popped it in the player, and not only did it continue to present the picture in the wrong aspect ratio, with black bars on the left and right of the store's widescreen TV - but it was the same grainy, low-def transfer that was previously distributed, the one that this new release was meant to replace. It's almost funny, really.

So people with a Blu-Ray player get the nice new restoration of the film, and those of us still using DVD - well, who cares about us? We obviously don't have much purchasing power. Hell, we probably won't even know the difference. Why bother spending money to give us a nice transfer of the film in the proper aspect ratio? Just change the cover art and you can get rid of some of these old inferior DVDs you have lying around... yeah!

This is a momentously lazy middle finger to fans of Sorcerer and to anyone who still uses DVD technology (and since none of the people I actually watch movies at home with owns a Blu-Ray player, I know I'm not the only such person out there). Cynical, indifferent, boo hiss boo - though it saved me some money, so I guess it has that going for it...


Thanks to Danny for pointing out that William Friedkin himself has weighed in on the matter on Amazon! I think I kind of love this guy...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dream update

Strange dreams: one involves a summer camp for Marilyn Manson fans. I remember the singer leading people down a street in Vancouver towards the pick-up point, then mingling with the fans at the camp. One particularly irritating comic book geek present turned everyone off with his bombast, and then later, in summer-camp-horror-movie fashion, got beheaded by someone wearing a Grim Reaper costume and wielding a scythe. I am not sure who I was during the dream but there was a point-of-view shot from the eyeholes of the Grim Reaper mask as the Reaper chopped the obnoxious dude down and then proceeded to chop him into a pile of gore and goo. There was some uncertainty whether this was a real murder or something being faked as part of the experience we were being sold.

Another dream involved catching a ride somewhere with an older ex of mine, whom I was still with in the dream. She was helping me transport a large box of books for resale, which we had piled into the backseat of her car; we then took the backseat out of her car and, I guess, were going to carry it to the bus, stacked with books, but first she got a run in her knee-high hose, and was walking around the parking lot with the hose around her ankle, trying to adjust it or something. Some tall skinny guy was standing next to me mocking her: "it's not like anyone is looking anyhow," making fun of her older-woman legs, and then saying something likening her damaged hose to a used condom. He had no idea I was her boyfriend, but rather than leaping to defend her honour, I ignored him, then walked away with her, holding hands (not sure where the books had gotten to at that point).

Not much else to report... anxious to see the new release of Sorcerer, out tomorrow... more on that later...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News flash: David M. is NOT playing the Prophouse on 4/20

I had a very strange phone chat with David M. today, and all I can say with certainty is that there is NOT a gig at the Prophouse this Sunday. I thought there would be. I may have said there was, somewhere on this blog. But there will not be. I was apparently mistaken about this.

He will apparently be doing something else - something performance-oriented or at least publicly visible - to mark the whole Jesus/ Easter thing (by the by, 4/20 was also Hitler's birthday, or so I learned today from Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors). But he didn't really want to say what; or where; or for whom; or how I might direct people to this event, or find my way there. And though he did say the time, since I cannot otherwise give details, I figure I should leave that out, too. All I can say for sure is that it won't be at the Prophouse (or any other known venue), and I will not be there.

Chances are, neither will you.

Unless, of course, you are David M.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Record Store Day, Vancouver! And other things I won't be doing.

I will not be at Record Store Day this weekend. There's really only one serious temptation anyhow - the album with the Pogues being fronted by Joe Strummer. Might try to get someone to put that aside for me but as usual I'm happy not to be tempted...

I won't be at The Fly this weekend either. A new 35 mm print of perhaps Cronenberg's most accessible film and one of the top grossing Canadian movies ever, and IT'S ONLY PLAYING FOR TWO NIGHTS...? Arrrgh! That I would be at, but other plans make it impossible. Nuts!

However, there is now a good chance I will be at David M.'s 4/20 "joint" Jesus/ Marijuana celebration at the Prophouse Cafe. Although he appears to have disappeared from Facebook again, so I'm not sure what's going on with that show... is it going on as planned? Let's hope! There's also the Oliver Hockenhull panel discussion on psychedelics that night, more on which later... we'll have to see what happens.

Right now I'm very sleepy... I think I will let that decide my course of action...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cronenberg night at the Cinematheque

No one laughed tonight (that I could hear) at Robert Silverman's line in The Brood about how the former psychoplasmics patients were thinking of forming a club! Was it too obvious a joke, or did people just not find it funny? It's not like the audience didn't have a sense of humour at all; the guy behind me guffawed loudly when a kid's drawing is placed over the face of the murdered elementary school teacher. Truth is, I felt kind of out of synch with the audience - a pretty big one, considering how nice a day it was - during this double bill, didn't feel like we were resonating at the same frequencies, laughing at the same things, compared to the Shivers/ Rabid crowd (though I was pleased that a couple of people got the joke behind my Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry t-shirt). Still, it was nice so many people came out on such a nice day to see two Cronenberg movies; tonight was much better attended than last week's trip to see Stereo.
During The Brood, I kept thinking about how the film actually continues Cronenberg's theme of revolution, seen in Shivers and Rabid, but it's a rather different sort of revolution, not as explicitly a social breakdown as in those films. At one point Silverman accuses Raglan of encouraging his "body to revolt" against him - something Clive Barker would later develop in his short story "The Body Politic." And there's a definite politic to the image of the two broodniks beating the schoolteacher to death while other children look on in horror. It's not a very friendly image of revolution, but it definitely could be productively mentioned, if someone were writing on the topic, as an image of revolt in Cronenberg's cinema - something which is always a fraught proposition...
Also kept thinking that there's a whole paper to be written on the use of architecture in Cronenberg. It's one of the earliest notable markers of the Cronenberg "eye," beginning with the use of the very oppressive. positively Arthur Ericksonian architecture of the U of T Scarborough campus in Stereo (above). In The Brood, the elementary school in particular is all ominous hard brick and angles, at least in its exterior shots, which are often filmed in such a way as to make the buildings loom over the human subjects; a whole theme, dealing with human relations to institutions, can be teased simply out of the way the buildings are represented, vis-a-vis the characters. There's a shot of kids playing on a tire-swing with a brick wall behind them that particularly stood out, tonight, since it's framed so that you notice the wall more than the kids. Normally an image of kids playing would focus on the kids, would privilege them over what's around them, to emphasize play and innocence and childhood and so forth, but in The Brood what you really feel is the wall (three years before Pink Floyd put out that album, by the way; The Brood is from 1979).  You get the feel of an ominous, impersonal institution, dwarfing any sense of playfulness, making childhood and innocence seem that much more fragile, easily crushed, imperilled... Overall one senses that the modern world is a profoundly alienating place for Cronenberg, that one of the first premises in his cinema, which is so primary it is mostly articulated entirely visually, is that this world is not the world we were meant to live in, that it's not a natural or inviting place, and that a common human condition is to try to find your way among such towering impersonal edifices... I guess that's the antithesis of the flesh, in Cronenberg's films: the frequently looming corporate and institutional spaces, coldly filmed... There's a lot of that in Scanners, too...
...which made for a very pleasant second half to the double bill, tonight, since these two films feature my favourite two Robert Silverman roles in Cronenberg; it was "Robert Silverman night," in a way. Plus I realized for the first time that Dieter, the yogi that the Stephen Lack character almost gives a heart attack, is played by Fred Doederlein, the actor who plays Emil Hobbes in Shivers! I'm normally attentive to repeat performances of given actors in Cronenberg films - like the big bald black guy who plays an assassin in Scanners; I have no idea what his name is,  even after fifteen minutes trying to figure it out on IMDB, but you see him in Shivers and Rabid, too. I like it when directors do this, and was somewhat surprised that I had to wait for the credits to roll to realize where I'd seen Doederlein's face before. He apparently acts in a Canadian-made horror film called Blackout, as well, which is on my to-see list of late. (He has no other roles in Cronenberg's cinema, however).
Anyhow, another great night at the Cinematheque. I'm kind of bummed that I don't think I'll be able to see The Fly/ Dead Zone double bill this Thursday. That's going to be a night of great cinema - two of Cronenberg's easiest-to-watch, most utterly pleasurable films (even Robin Wood liked The Dead Zone!).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Vancouver punk rock weekend

Well, I will be missing The Rebel Spell gig tonight at Lanalou's, but I got to talk to Todd Serious a bit here. It's one of a few cool gigs this weekend, though I will be checking out Scythia in Maple Ridge that night (see below) and won't be able to be there, sadly (they are a FANTASTIC LIVE BAND and I urge your attendance). As for Saturday, if I'm not seeing Off!, playing Fortune Sound Club, I may have a chance to catch the Golers and the Dayglo Abortions, at Funkys; not sure which gig to go to! Reviewed the Golers new album here; actually their music scares me just a little - it's pretty brutal, intense, and unrelenting! - so I emphasized their playful side, which may make them sound cuter than they really are. (Also got to review Kill Matilda's new EP, though I kind of botched that job, since their CD release was last month!). Seeming like it's going to be a pretty good weekend for Vancouver punks....

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Scythia in Maple Ridge this Friday!

This Friday! For those of us stuck in the suburbs, unable to catch The Rebel Spell at Lanalou's, or for die-hard Scythia fans going through withdrawal since they re-located to Calgary, folk rockers Scythia (old interview here) will play a free show at the Wolf Bar in Maple Ridge, with Aeterna and Alchemy Chamber!

The Counsellor: a must-see, but not for everyone

I don't know anything about Cormac McCarthy's recurring dreams, or if he has any, but American novelist Robert Stone has a recurring structure that I remember him recounting (I think in a book on writers dreaming). I can only paraphrase, since it's been years since I read the passage, but it goes something like this: in the dream, Stone is coming into a port, on some mode of transportation, and he's carrying contraband. Everyone knows this fact, just as he knows, beyond a doubt, that he is soon to be caught, arrested, what-have-you: ugly consequences are looming. But no one will help him, there's no one he can turn to, and he simply has to ride out the experience, face his impending doom. It's a terrific frame for a recurring dream, every bit as evocative as my own, where I'm arriving in a town where someone I love or am responsible for is in grave danger, menaced by great evil, and I need to find them in order to rescue them; except I keep getting distracted by other people's problems, or by record and book and DVD stores, and have a growing sense of dread that it is already too late, that I've failed, that I might as well just give up. I've always thought to make my recurring dream structure the basis of a novel of some sort; certainly you can see some of Stone's dream structure enter his novels and stories. When John Converse in Dog Soldiers - so wonderfully played by Michael Moriarty in the film adaptation, Who'll Stop The Rain - returns from Vietnam to discover that the heroin he's had his buddy smuggle into the country is gone, along with his buddy and his wife, and that corrupt narcotics agents are waiting for him, there's a sense that his fate was a foregone conclusion, that he was doomed from the outset ("I've been waiting all my life to fuck up like this," Moriarty says in the movie; it's a great line).
I imagine Robert Stone would greatly appreciate the collaboration between Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy that just came out on DVD, The Counsellor. I know I did - though it has a bit more bearing on Stone's dream structure than mine. A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) with a beautiful young girlfriend (Penelope Cruz) and money troubles decides to get involved in a drug trafficking scheme. He is at a great remove from the action, which involves barrels of dope trucked in a huge septic truck up from Latin America to be cut and sold in Chicago. He is warned of the risks from the outset by his friends (Javier Bardem, who seems for all the world like a debauched, Latino Adrian Mack, and a strangely pudgy Brad Pitt; between them, they gobble up most of the film's best lines). We're told that the cartel he is getting involved with is capable of great evil, and that if anything goes wrong, the consequences could be dire. Some particularly nasty ones are spelled out in the first half of the movie, and then realized in the second. (If you needed a spoiler alert there, you really don't watch enough movies).
There are a few good reasons (that is, besides the current shallow, brain-dead state of mainstream American cinema) why The Counsellor didn't become the huge hit that No Country For Old Men did (or the slightly lesser hit, The Road, did also adapted from the writings of Cormac McCarthy). For one, No Country For Old Men, while it occupies a similar moral universe to that of The Counsellor, is McCarthy's least sprawling book; the novel has amazing economy, no wasted lines, and very, very little of the digressive philosophizing, excess of description, and sheer indulgence in baroque language that make Blood Meridian an unhinged literary masterpiece and The Crossing a bit of a crazymaking slog. McCarthy's second leanest book, meantime, is, indeed, The Road. The sheer, atypical functionality of the writing in both texts makes them ideal for adaptation into movies. Though The Counsellor - McCarthy's first original screenplay - is more or less a lean and mean structure in terms of plot, it is vastly more writerly than either of the films made form those books, and several of its finest moments are individual sentences that you have to stop and meditate on, turns of phrase that cannot be easily and quickly processed before the scene in question is over and the film moving on. Some remain elusive even after the film is over (I'm still not really sure what the whole Bruno Ganz diamond spiel is about). Reflection of the sort required at these moments is easy to do with a book: you can set it down and meditate on a given sentence to your heart's content, or flip back and re-read a passage when something reminds you of it. It's not so easy to do in a movie, unless you're prepared to watch it more than once, perhaps with a finger on the pause button for when a particularly juicy morsel is dropped.
Further, the heavy in this film (I would do you a disservice to reveal who that is) is perhaps not quite as appealing as Javier Bardem's in No Country For Old Men - while perhaps being even eviller. Nor is the protagonist as interesting as Josh Brolin in that film. The Counsellor of the title appears to be deliberately under-developed as a character. He's not given a name, and Fassbender plays him as a slightly cocky, slightly over-self-confident, but not particularly complicated cipher, a hook to hang your identifications on without much in the way of interesting character traits of his own (which, as I say, Bardem and Pitt cut up and share amongst themselves, with a bit left over for Cameron Diaz, who does things with her role here I had not realized were anywhere near her range). The Counsellor is a blank you are meant to fill in with your own identity, so that the impending doom/ punishment that you are being invited to contemplate is not his, but your own. And of course, that's another reason why the film likely had limited success: there is obviously a limited appeal to a film that is more or less all about the inevitability of death and likelihood of punishment for ones transgressions. People who are paranoid about what's coming down the chute for them eventually may find the film cathartic and gratifying, a morbid validation of their apprehensions of how nasty the end will likely be, but still, this is not the stuff of mass appeal.
I admire the hell out of The Counsellor for exactly this fact. (I hope that didn't need saying). In fact, beyond admiring it, I rather loved this film, want to see it again at least once in the near future, and am especially impressed by it given that it came from Ridley Scott, whose accomplishments seldom are equal to the critical praise they receive. Here they vastly exceed it (the film has 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, which says a lot more about the value of the majority of critics' opinions than it does about the quality of this film; it's one of the most interesting films in his career, and is being treated like a massive failure). I hope Scott continues to rally the resources at his disposal to make films as meaty and unpopular as this one. In fact, my main quibble - the only scene that bugged me - is entirely trivial, that there should have been hotter, more explicit (or at least more believable) sex between Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz in the opening scene; it seems called for, but one shot - where you can't see Fassbender pressing his face into her crotch - is blocked in a kind of obviously censorial way, which takes away from the scene a little bit, makes it seem a little too much like something you'd see in a movie. It's time for cinema to stop being prudish, for unclothed genitalia to dangle and drip every which way, for cinema to be honest about sex; if Lars von Trier can do it, so can Ridley Scott. (Tho' by the by, the scene with Diaz fucking the car is priceless, probably the funniest moment in McCarthy since Harrogate fucks the melons in Suttree. And no, in this case, I didn't need anything more there than what Scott shows. Best use of the word "catfish" in a film since, well, Catfish!)
For admirers of Cormac McCarthy's universe, The Counsellor is a major work, the closest we will likely ever get to a cinematic adaptation of his early novel Outer Dark (which also has a character who transgresses and is punished, though in a vastly different setting and with very different particulars from that of this film; recurring dream structures are like that). I'm not sure if you need to have a fairly morbid (or vaguely Catholic) sensibility to enjoy the film - I admit that I do have both, myself, and am biased. But all the same, I liked this movie a whole lot, and suspect that the more often I watch it, the more my admiration for it is going to grow; I can only recommend it to all comers, even though I know most folks out there won't like it in the least...

Friday, April 04, 2014

Cronenberg retrospective begins!

(Note: for my three-part Cronenberg interview, start here).

Ernest Mathijs, in introducing Videodrome last night, commented on the "wink" to horror film fans contained in the idea that the Videodrome signal in the film originates from Pittsburgh. It's something that I've noticed myself but never seen acknowledged publicly before, that this surely is a nod to George A. Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead came straight outa Pittsburgh (as did Dawn of the Dead, and so forth, but Night was the one that got contemporary horror rolling). Watching the film with this in mind - the idea of Cronenberg making a smiling nod to the horror geeks who would get the joke - made me think of another element of the film that seems to acknowledge horror fandom: there's a scene where Barry Convex says to Max Renn that all the other people exposed to the Videodrome signal need intense therapy or are hospitalized, but for some reason, Renn is still more or less able to function, which is puzzling to Convex, and never explained in the film. I've always written in my own reason, during that scene, informed by a sort of ego-gratifying geek self-congratulation: it's because Renn has sufficiently exposed himself to violent, perverse, and pornographic imagery that his brain is tougher, more resilient, and able - to some extent - to withstand Videodrome's effects. This resonates against Wes Craven's repeated observation that horror cinema is a "boot camp for the psyche;" when the going gets horrific, the horror geek acclimatizes better than average. (Granted, Renn is more associated with pornography than horror, but all the posters in the Civic TV offices are for horror movies, not porn, and he clearly is meant as a sort of extension of the director, so he can surely stand in for horror geeks in general, as well). It's a pleasant thought, and as good a rationalization for watching horror as one can offer - that it toughens the brain - although my repeated instances of fainting at the sight of blood would suggest that it may not be entirely true...
I enjoyed Videodrome on the screen last night a lot more than I thought I would.  There was a bit of a sense of the pleasant re-discovery of the power of the church of cinema, which I get to attend only infrequently of late: "oh, yeah, this is how films are meant to be seen!" Before the film started rolling, I thought the same blase feelings that have kept me from really entering it on home viewing lately would carry over - it's one of those Cronenbergs that I feel I've kind of done to death, that don't excite me as much lately. But no: seeing it projected was a great experience, made it fresh again. So I'm doubly excited about tonight's (and tomorrow's) double bill, of Shivers and Rabid, both of which are utterly fascinating to me, and neither of which get projected that often. I'm particularly interested to see which film I prefer the look of; Shivers is getting a new digital restoration - which no doubt means the movie, long out of print in Region 1, will soon be re-released on Blu-Ray - while Rabid is screening from a new 35mm print. I actually am coming to find myself preferring digital projection to film, so it will be interesting to compare these experiences; after years of watching Videodrome on DVD, last night's projection on film seemed too dark, to me - warmer, but not as clear, not as sharp as digital, especially in the shadows. It was a flawless print, too, so I can't blame this on any scratches or such.
Shivers seems to be best read as a Cronenbergian response to the sexual revolution, looking at 70's promiscuity through the eyes of a somewhat morbid artist (that is, the filmmaker  himself) and a detached doctor, his main character and onscreen representative, who presumes to be above it all. This character, Roger St. Luc (played by Paul Hampton, unknown to me otherwise), is the first of Cronenberg's many scientists to be dragged screaming back down to the flesh, the first to receive a comeuppance for his arrogance and presumption of detachment; he's also a superbly comic character, a kind of foil for the excess and insanity that rises up around him. Shivers is easily Cronenberg's funniest film, the one that will inspire the most giggling amongst horror geeks in the know.
If Shivers takes on the sexual revolution, Rabid deals with feminism, showing both the empowering and socially disruptive consequences of a woman whose body is altered by science. Comparisons between Rose's trajectory and (The Fly's) Seth Brundle's are very interesting, and an important aspect of  my article on early Cronenberg, "Sex, Science, and the Female Monstrous: Wood Contra Cronenberg, Revisited." Cronenberg argues in the commentary for the DVD that those who saw misogyny in its depiction of a monstrous female - like Robin Wood - should acknowledge that within horror cinema, being a monster does not make one any less the protagonist; he brings up Brundle himself in this regard, but could as easily point to Frankenstein (which Cronenberg was in discussions to remake, back in the early 1980's, by the by).
Monstrous or not, we identify with Rose throughout the film, and her "Frankenflesh" is shown as giving her the ability to turn the tables on several men who would (or at least could) take advantage of her, while the socially disruptive plague she inadvertently spreads shows the "downside" of her transformation (said plague is weirdly but effectively associated with the FLQ crisis, something further enriched by the Montreal locations). It's my favourite Cronenberg of the moment, though I owe my appreciation in no small part to Robin Wood's objections to it (those who have not read his "dissenting view" on Cronenberg in The Shape of Rage really should check that book out of the library; Wood is frequently wrong about Cronenberg, but thinking about why he is wrong is actually a very productive way of coming to understand what's really going on in the films in question).
Another good reason to see Rabid, by the by, is that it has a terrific performance from (since departed) porn star Marilyn Chambers. Cronenberg probably exploits her comfort with her body by having her appear naked more than another actress might want to; it would be hard to imagine seeing Sissy Spacek's tits onscreen quite as often as we see Chambers' (Spacek was Cronenberg's initial ideal actress for the role). But he gets a terrific performance out of her, nonetheless; she acts her heart out, proves her talent in a straight role in a way I can recall no other porn actress doing, ever. And she IS sexy, Frankenflesh and all: the camera really loves her.
The films on Sunday and Monday are also essential viewing for Cronenberg geeks, though the Cinematheque is (wisely) presenting them out of sequence with the previous two: Stereo and Crimes of the Future (and the two shorts they're coupled with, "Transfer" and "From The Drain") are Cronenberg's early arthouse experiments, and his true first features, though they are very, very different from Shivers and Rabid. Stereo is by far the more interesting film, compared to Crimes, though people expecting exploitation will have to adjust their perceptions to some extent. Especially compared to the genre-referencing, commercially-made exploitation of Shivers and Rabid, it's very definitely an art film, shot in black and white, and without dialogue, with the action onscreen either presented in silence or with voice-over narration - and a very dense, quasi-academic narration, at that (perhaps one should best describe the narration as a satire of academy-speak). I can't begin to do justice to the ideas in it, but fans of Cronenberg's later output will be shocked at how rich, complex, and revealing the film is; it will enrich your perspective on all that came after. (It's also vastly less nasty, more polymorphously perverse and overtly pro-sex than Shivers, which fact rather startled Robin Wood, when he caught up with it after initially publishing his objections to Cronenberg in the American Nightmare pamphlet; Robert Fulford,  the critic who hated Shivers and tried to sabotage Cronenberg receiving any further government money, had previously admired all of Cronenberg's early output).
Crimes of the Future - shot in colour, and also starring early Cronenberg regular Ron Mlodzik, above - is perhaps more ambitious, showing Cronenberg edging towards a more conventional form of filmmaking, but is somehow less compelling for that (unless you're a gay foot fetishist; then you absolutely need to see this film). Cronenberg seems more skilled at inventing his own take on cinema from whole cloth in Stereo than in trying to tell a story; I'd rather a great weird little arthouse film than a flawed attempt at narrative any day, so Crimes of the Future was a hard film for me to get through, the one time I sat down to it on video. I'm hoping that seeing it projected will help. Incidentally: does anyone know where Ron Mlodzik is these days? I'd be very curious!
That's all for now, though those interested in this whole Wood-vs.-Cronenberg thing (or wanting to read more on my thoughts on Cronenberg) are directed here. Unless it's a scam of some sort - I haven't tried the link - you can apparently access my article for free, on a trial basis, on that site, which I suppose I shouldn't be that happy about (since in no way do I imagine these people have any sort of deal with Cineaction, the magazine where it appeared; you can also likely buy back issues of #88 from the Cineaction website, if you want to read the article 100% legitimately). Cronenberg may have made the odd offensive movie, like The Brood, which politically I can't really support, much as I like aspects of it - but he's never made a bad one. (Hell, even A Dangerous Method was more interesting on second viewing than on first). In case I don't get back to the blog, Scanners, The Dead Zone, The Fly, eXistenZ, Naked Lunch and Eastern Promises are all also favourites of mine... hope I'll be able to see all of them projected! And Fast Company - Cronenberg's "anomalous" car-racing film - is also definitely interesting to watch, and the film in the retrospective you're least likely to ever have the chance to see on the big screen again, though in no way does it count as a horror movie...

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Gigs on the fly: some photos

Had pleasant news a few weeks ago when Terry Russell (Slow, The Liquor Kings, that podcast with Hamm) contacted me via Facebook to say I'd won tickets to see Delhi2Dublin at the Commodore. I'd entered a contest, telling a story about a favourite experience at that venue, and had related a tale - I hope it's going to get used somewhere! - about seeing Maple Ridge ska-punk band Los Furios opening for Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and getting an unbelievably genki reception from the hundreds of ESL students in the audience... I had never heard Delhi2Dublin before, didn't even realize they were a Vancouver band, but I proved a fast study, and it was great to be at the Commodore again - lack of money and my suburban dislocation have kept me from seeing anything there for years, maybe since Amon Amarth played there, and it was nice to be reminded what a terrific venue that place is (and introduce my girlfriend to it). We both greatly enjoyed the cultural complexity, playfulness, and infectious energy of Delhi2Dublin's music, which is exactly what it sounds like - a fusion of Indian and Irish music. I have nothing much to say about them, but I now count myself a fan, and snapped these pics:

Then I managed to catch part of Chris Arnett's solo gig at Chapel Arts. The Prettys did an able opening set - they're Kelowna power-pop transplants currently working on an album - then took on the role of backing band; Chris brought his usual playful swagger to his performance, sunglasses on, guitar slung low, arms swingin' in his loose, jangly, at once cool and subtly not-so-serious manner. Love this guy's music and delivery. It's unfortunate that I couldn't stay for the whole thing but it's kind of cruel and unusual that gigs run so late on weeknights; had to be up by 7am so my gal could get to her job, and we faced an hour's commute between the venue and her apartment, so what could we do but leave early? I got to hear "Share the Love" and "Downtown Eastside," anyhow - and we had an entertaining time chatting with Taylor Little in the doorway while he smoked a cigarette or three. He apparently caught the Blue Oyster Cult at the PNE at one of the shows that ended up on On Your Feet or On Your Knees! The Furies will be playing the Summer of Love fest this year in Kits, and Chris told me that he will be working on that second Furies album - meantime, those of you who have not read my interview with him are directed here, and if you haven't heard Chris' solo album yet....

It was very, very hard to get photos of Kill Matilda at the Wolf Bar. I liked Dusty Exner's delivery a lot - nice that the Vancouver scene has a horror-punk riot grrrl bandleader, and Dusty is charismatic and engaging; you can download their new EP (and a free comic!) via their website, and if you like bands like Hole, L7, Bikini Kill or, indeed, early Misfits, you really should. Don't mean to complain - I love that there's a venue for punk and metal shows just a couple of blocks from my apartment (and as I mentioned, Scythia plays the Wolf on April 11th!) - but the bar tends to under-light things, and apparently I didn't keep any of the (dark, blurry) photos I took that night. Sorry, Dusty. Had similar problems getting photos of Beijing rock band Carsick Cars at Pat's Pub - nothing I caught on my camera was much worth showing, though I did get a couple cool video clips (and managed to interview the singer briefly, which I hope to do something with ASAP). Note: the link above is to the unshortened, online-only version of my Straight review of that show, if you haven't read it...

On the other hand, I got more than I needed, photo-wise of Jimy Now, the Milk Pipes, and the Creaking Planks the other night at the Railway Club. Once again, it was a gig that put suburban commuters at a disadvantage; if we didn't want to be on the dreaded "drunk bus" back to Burnaby, we had to split before the last band, My Dearest Friends, even took the stage (or indeed, before the Creaking Planks had finished!). Much as I love the Planks, that night was totally stolen, for me, by certain well chosen covers performed by the Milk Pipes. They brought all the energy (though less of the alcohol) that the classic lineups of the Replacements/ Beat Farmers brought to the stage, and while I don't listen much to either the 'Placemats or the Beat Farmers THESE days, it was still a fun gig to be at (the Pipes should really consider adding "Riverside" to their set). Three members of the band took turns on vocals - the keyboardist taking the front to do a rendition of the Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," the plaid-shirted fellow doing the 'Mat's "Can't Hardly Wait," and the dude in the hat (the one who looked like Heisenberg, as some wit observed) singing, at show's climax, Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." The band punched a hole in that song by STOPPING at the end of the last verse, catching those of us who were shouting along ("he looked like 65/ when he died/ he was a friend of mine") out in the open, screaming into sudden silence, while Heisenberg grinned and said, "psych!" before they picked up again. It was a memorable, fun moment. Milk Pipes:

Roots rocker Jimy Now with friend Esther (Jimy did a set packed with classic blues rock and Bo Diddleyisms):

And hey, how long have the Creaking Planks been covering "Creep" for? Nice one. In truth, I've seen the Planks do tighter sets, but even when they're loose, the "jug band of the damned" is totally charming.

Any gigs I get to see these days are like grapes stolen from a neighbour's vine - covert, hastily consumed, fraught with concern that there will be consequences, but all the more delicious for that. Maybe I might get to attend the Wacken Metal Battle semi-finals on May 3rd at the Rickshaw? I sure would like to, though that might be a hard gig to drag my girlfriend out to... I'm glad Unleash The Archers got a slot, since they were nice enough to come play one of those weirdo church gigs in Maple Ridge awhile back. Speaking of which: anyone reading this might want to know that the Bonedaddies, Montreal's The Skinny, Remember Lite Brite, and maybe one or two other bands will be playing a cheap all-ages gig in Hammond (at the ODC Theatre, 11931 Dartford) on Sunday night! Jonny Bones is trying to make a "stable all-ages venue" out of that place, and has apparently rented the main hall, not the crappy little box off to the side where these gigs usually take place. Not sure what that will look like, but bless him for tryin'. Who knows, I might even show up - show starts at 7:30! Now that's more like it!
(Bonedaddies at Adstock 2013. All photos by Allan MacInnis).