Saturday, May 31, 2014

A dream involving Spinal Tap, Thurston Moore, and the Subhumans

I'm on a cruise or a ferry trip and I keep noticing this fellow with a big black moustache. I keep thinking the same thought about him - is he who I think he is? Finally, I'm seated with a friend, and we're talking, and I look over and there he is again, just sitting there. So I say, "excuse me - are you Nigel Tufnel?"

Note: my dreaming brain has this wrong. Nigel Tufnel is the wrong member of Spinal Tap. The guy with the 'stache, the guy I thought I was addressing, is Derek Smalls, as played by Harry Shearer. To my dreaming brain's credit, I did keep thinking, "should I address him as Mr. Shearer?" once the conversation got underway.

Because indeed, a member of Spinal Tap he was, and - apparently ratifying my incorrect naming of him - he leapt into action, giving me a brand new Spinal Tap CD and saying hello in character. I looked away for a second - to tuck away the CD he'd given me and to reach for my tape recorder or such, then turned back. He was out of makeup now, presto-chango, but still sitting there, I presumed. I revealed that I was a music journalist, had just had my first review in Rolling Stone (not so) and that I would be happy to give the band press.

The guy was no longer the same one I'd been talking to. He chuckled at me and said that Nigel had left. I had not recognized this.

Later in the dream, I'm walking past a table, see Thurston Moore sitting at it, and, I think, identify him, too, as a member of Spinal Tap (sorry, Mr. Moore!). I overhear that they're talking about the Subhumans, listen long enough to determine that it's the British Subhumans, but decide to make my conversational entry into the table by asking, as I move towards an empty seat,  "so what about the Vancouver Subhumans?"

This works, and soon I am chatting with people at the table about the Subhumans, about Dimwit, and about how the band got their name ("Gerry told me!" and there's an ooh and an ahh. "I'm privileged to have interviewed him a couple of times"). I look up at some point and discover that in fact Thurston has snuck away now that a music journalist type is at the table but I'm enjoying myself so I don't really care.

I wonder if Gerry's moustache had anything to do with his popping up in the dream? Come to think of it, it is a bit of a Derek Smalls moustache. I don't think that there was a connection, though.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A dramatic dream

In the dream, I am with my mother in some sort of religious event. I don't want to be there - we were there for some other purpose, and this ceremony has taken its place, like a church service following a bingo game. Not sure what it is but it's something new agey and vaguely culty, involving someone playing organ and singing songs, which the congregation joins in on or such. It all seems creepy weird to me, but my Mom doesn't want to leave yet, is curious what's going on, and I'm trying to do what she wants. Problem: the seats are filling up and though I've got her seated, I can no longer find a seat myself; the ceremony has begun and she's loudly asking me questions about what's going on, and we're getting shushes and stinkeyes from the cult leaders and congregationists. I can't seem to explain to her that she has to be silent if we're going to stay - as in life, she doesn't always know exactly what's going on. Finally, I have to escort her out of the auditorium.

My plan is, at that point, to take her home, because I have to go to class and continue with my studies (I am not, in life, currently taking any classes, but I am in the dream). No: she wants to come with me. We end up at another building and have to go upstairs to the lecture hall; I find a position that works and carry her up the stairs. It's difficult but not impossible - in the dream, the information is provided that she only weighs 80 pounds, which is less than she weighs in life. I see a photographer I  used to work with, and it turns out she's giving a guest lecture. "So you're a professor now?" She just glares at me - doesn't seem to want to acknowledge the statement. I try to apologize, if I've spoken wrong or accidentally seemed to be sarcastic or something ("I don't mean anything by it, I just don't know the right words to use!"). but class is beginning and I have to go. I get my Mom seated, point out the regular professor to her, show him a drawing I did of him in my notebook, so she can recognize him. (My notebook seems to have more doodles than words in it). But something comes up and I have to step outside, go on an errand. I tell her I'll be right back.

I do whatever it is I have to do and come back and the building is burning. People are standing outside, looking through the windows from a distance, but no one is going in. It appears to be completely engulfed in flames. "Does anyone know if anyone is alive in there?" I wonder if this is how I'm going to lose my Mom. Typically when I dream that I'm responsible for someone, I end up failing in that responsibility, but can this be a variant of the pattern? Suddenly someone else curses ("fuck it!") and runs into the building. We see him run up the stairs, which are open and visible through the glass - a big stairway, like the one at the Vancouver Centre for the Arts - and we all wait in suspense. Is he going to join the death toll or is he going to lead people out? After a minute, there's a gasp and we all look and see that he's leading a small group of people down the flaming stairway.

Suddenly a bunch of us are running into the building, including me. The stairs are shaky as I sprint up them. I'm very aware of the possibility that everything is going to collapse around me, that I am going to die without my gesture having meant anything. But I get to the auditorium. My Mom is exactly where I left her, apparently seated calmly, waiting. She's the last person in the room. I am stunned for a second - doesn't she even realize that the building is on fire? But then she runs over to me (she could never run that fast in real life). I pick her up again, slinging her over my shoulders this time, and race down the rickety, burning stairway with her. I run and run and get to the bottom of the stairs, and then I collapse, exhausted. We're not out of danger. Mom is apparently okay, but I'm now lying still, sprawled, face blank. Have I died of exhaustion? Will someone rescue us? Will the building collapse around us?

That, I'm afraid, is where the dream leaves me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Golers to play Maple Ridge!

I'm kind of fascinated by the Golers. For those unaware of Nova Scotia's (real life) Goler clan, Wikipedia will serve nicely (though they're also the subject of a book, On South Mountain). Quote follows:
The Golers lived together in two shacks in a remote wooded area... outside the town of Wolfville. Like most other mountain clans, they were isolated from most of the residents of the farming district in the Annapolis Valley and most of the nearby towns. The adults, some of whom were mentally deficient and/or handicapped, had little schooling and rarely worked. The children were generally forced to perform any menial chores (such as preparing food or removing trash). Garbage was simply thrown into the attic, until it was completely filled, and then the adults would make the children haul it all out. 
In 1984, one of the children, a 14-year-old girl, revealed the details of a long history of torture and abuse (physical, sexual, and psychological), to a school official. According to further details uncovered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, this abuse and forced incestuous relationships had been taking place for multiple generations. As the case was investigated, authorities learned that a number of Goler children were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins, and each other. During interrogation by police, several of the adults openly admitted to engaging in many forms of sexual activity, up to and including full intercourse, multiple times with the children. They often went into graphic detail, claiming that the children themselves had initiated the activity.
As anyone who has familiarity with the Vancouver punk/ metal scene knows, the Golers are also a band - and a long-running one. I wrote about one of my first times hearing about them in 2009, when I did this cartoon; I'd been aware of them for a year or two before that. I would love to sit down and interview them at some time (when being paid to do so, mind you; freebies are too expensive for me to do these days!). I would love to get their story about how they came to name themselves after the Goler clan, and how that decision affected them when they toured Nova Scotia for the first time, earlier this year (or was it late 2013?). I'd like to know their own sense behind the politics of their name - because it has proven controversial in some quarters:
Truth is, I'm not in the slightest bit offended by the band's name (though maybe my not having read On South Mountain is working in their favour on this point). There's a long tradition of punk bands with offensive names, from the Crucifucks to the Inbreds to Crackwhore (who apparently also drew the wrath of the PC crowd at a recent show). Tasteful such names aren't, but that's generally part of the point, plus to all appearances the Golers are identifying themselves not just with the victimizers, but the victims, who were all part of the same family - which point seems to be lost on the commenters above.
Still, I didn't really do justice to the Golers in my CD review of their last album, where I admit I rather copped out on actually reviewing the music, hiding behind a description of the band and their subject matter(s) and avoiding the question of whether I liked what I was hearing, which is a pretty important part of any real review. Trouble is, fascinating or not, the Golers are one of those bands I can never quite "get," like I never really feel like I'm liking them as much as I'm supposed to, or, to put it another way, as much as they deserve. They are obviously ferociously talented, and seem to be pretty nice guys - so I actually intended to write a positive review - but their music is just so fucking intense and relentless, and, uh, kind of grim that I only can enjoy it for snippets; compared to the Golers, Slayer are practically singing Christmas carols.  I keep wanting their songs to be catchier, funnier, or more fun, or something - for their music to have at least some of the playfulness that's evident in their lyrics. As it is, the music itself is just a bit on the violent side for me; my need for catharsis through brutal music is simply not this strong anymore (if, indeed, it ever was), and I rarely if ever break out my Golers CDs (though I have a full complement of their releases, and have seen the band play two or three times now). Admitting this in public kind of feels like I'm declaring that I just don't rock hard enough; I sure don't rock as hard as these guys. So I kinda copped out on that review, I admit.
All the same, if you're a punk or metalhead in Maple Ridge (or the outlying areas), I would highly advise being at the Wolf Bar on the 30th for this show. I pretty much can guarantee that I won't be, because after dragging my girl to see a band like this I think she would force me to go to a Sarah McLachlan concert or something horrible like that, and I would probably feel like I owed it to her. This must not come to pass...
All photos and cartoons (but not the gig poster or snarky Facebook comments) by Allan MacInnis. Not to be reused without at least the offer of sexual favours. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Petunia, Dishrags, and more

Lots going on this weekend! Tonight, I may not go out at all (my girl just isn't into punk and we had a terrible night's sleep so sorry, Ani, I think Funky's is off the books). Tomorrow I think I will peek in at the Dishrags' record release party, so I can nab a record - it's great! - and then head to see Petunia and the Vipers... Maybe somewhere in there I can finally see Under The Skin...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Viva Cultural Specificity: a pet video peeve, plus six great non-North American English-language genre films

Ever notice that the people who package DVDs and Blu-Rays for the North American market - particularly if they're action, suspense, or horror movies - almost always try to obscure the fact that a film comes from another country? Sometimes if it's actually in a foreign language you can figure it out by seeing the spoken language listed in the fine print on the back, but if it's from a foreign country where the first language is English, chances are, the people who write copy will make it a point not to mention that, not to even hint at it. It's been a peeve of mine for decades, which I'm only now thinking to rant about, but I've often been highly frustrated, when contemplating buying or renting a video, to find myself unable to determine such basic information as where it comes from, even after reading every last bloody word of copy on the box. It's as if the consensus is that people who watch movies couldn't possibly actually be interested in such things, couldn't possibly care about cultural specificity in their cinema consumption - that the majority of would-be video purchasers/ renters are likely xenophobic, sheltered morons from the lowest common denominator who will be turned off by a film if they realize it's not, in fact, Made In America...   
Here are a few striking case-in-points - all of which, by the way, are films I heartily recommend, if you haven't seen them: 
Eden Lake: an interesting, slightly nasty variant on the urban-rural horror film, starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a middle class couple terrorized on vacation by young thugs. It makes an explicit problem the issue of class relations, often dealt with subtextually in this particular subgenre of horror, but seldom so intelligently; the copy mentions that the film is "relentlessly tense and immaculately paced," but other than the fact that two of the reviews quoted are from UK publications, no mention is made anywhere that the film is a UK production, not even in the fine print. I immediately got excited on discovering this, since (unless you count Straw Dogs, which I don't) at the time when I first watched it, I had not yet seen a UK variant on urban-rural horror, a genre I'm partial to but tend to associate with the USA (Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes - that sort of thing). For me, that it wasn't American was a selling point. Had to actually get the movie into my DVD player to discover that, though - I probably would have snapped it up sooner had it been described more accurately. 
Storm Warning: Another urban-rural horror film, much more savage and cathartic than Eden Lake, though perhaps less self-aware. The copy writers describe it as a "terrifying trip into the depths of human depravity," about a couple who are forced by a storm to land on "a remote island," where they end up in a "a bloody fight for survival" against a demented family. The remote island, should you wonder, is actually fucking Australia, where the film is set. If you really, really squint you can make out the word "Australian" in the fine print, but this film rivals Wolf Creek and Rogue for having a survival-in-the-outback level of relevance - though it's a swampier, wetter side of Australia than you usually see, which makes it even more exciting for someone with an interest in international locales. As an added bonus, Storm Warning has a level of savagery that I have come to associate with Australian cinema - where the horror movies in particular are often rather grim. But I like my urban-rural horror savage, besides which - have I ever seen a film made in Australia that I did not enjoy? It's almost a guarantee of quality, so once again, it would have been a selling point had the copy writers thought to mention this.  
The Horseman: this was the film that actually got me started on this line of thought tonight. It's the perfect revenge film, sort of a murderous variant on the Paul Schrader film Hardcore: a bereaved father sets out to murder the men he holds responsible for the death of his daughter after she was given drugs during the making of a porn film. Once again, it is an extremely brutal movie, which does not flinch from making its acts of vengeance as unpleasant as they can be, which is utterly in keeping with the demands of its subgenre and a sort of moral imperative to not make revenge seem a happy or satisfying thing; it may even be darker than Death Sentence, previously the darkest revenge film I've seen, with Kevin Bacon as a Death Wish-style avenger who becomes ever more dehumanized by his own actions. The copy for The Horseman describes it as a "shocking and merciless experience," but nowhere on the box - front, back, spine, you name it, even in the finest of fine print, is there a clue that the movie was made in Australia. I dug it out of a Dollarama discount bin for $3 today, but would have gotten to it sooner had I realized... 
Red Road: not a horror movie, but a Dogme film, also with a bit of a revenge theme. The copy talks about a woman who works as a CCTV operator who "watches over a small part of the world, protecting the people living their lives under her gaze. One day a man appears on her monitor, a man she thought she would never see again, a man she never wanted to see again. Now she has no choice, she is compelled to confront him." Copy like that, applied to product that's made-in-the-USA, suggests, in fact, a pretty shitty movie, with cardboard characters, melodrama, and the general falsification of reality you get in American mainstream cinema, where people in movies almost always behave more like they're in movies than like they're people in real life. There's no mention at all that the film is shot in Glasgow, Scotland (unless it's buried in print that is so fine I cannot be arsed to squint hard enough to make it out). That fact alone would change my estimation of the film, had anyone thought to share it. It's actually a great film - and it's always interesting to see Glasgow in cinema.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed: this is a tense, smart kidnapping movie, made with a sensibility that rather reminded me of the Wachowski's Bound, but without either lesbians or mobsters. I'm not linking to Wikipedia on that title, because the description begins with a spoiler that completely ruins an aspect of the film; sometimes, surprises should stay surprises. But there was no need for it to be a surprise that the film was made in the UK, or - if you really want specificity - shot on the Isle of Man (!), a neat location for a film to come from. My DVD copy of this one is at my girl's, so I can't check the box, but I vividly remember my surprise when I plugged it in and discovered people speaking with British accents. Again, I'd have gotten to it sooner had I known - though yes, I should have twigged that it was British when I saw that Eddie Marsan was in it!
Donkey Punch: I actually crapped out of finishing this film because I was so unsettled by where it was going, but I totally admired the first half; I just didn't have the stamina at the time to continue. The copy on the back reads as follows, making it sound rather like an instalment of Girls Gone Wild:
It's party time on the Mediterranean and three hot girls are out to lose themselves in a hedonistic whirlwind of sun-soaked, booze-drenched, depraved fun. When a group of likeminded lads offers to keep the party going by taking to their luxury yacht, it's just the glamorous adventure the girls are up for. But then the evening suddenly erupts into a drug-fuelled frenzy of bizarre sex acts including the 'donkey punch,' savage violence and a ruthless fight for survival.
Granted, they use the word "lads," and elsewhere on the box if you read the fine print you will see by the runtime the letters "UK," but they're not actually doing much to emphasize that this particular brutal sexual horror movie is British. The fact that it's British makes it much, much more interesting to me, since the Brits aren't exactly known for either violent film fare, thanks to the whole Video Nasties controversy, or very sexually intense cinema, which, presumably, this is; like I say, I copped out, so I don't really know where it goes... 
Well... yes I do.
There are other examples - including Canadian ones, like Don McKellar's Toronto-shot-and-set Last Night, which makes no mention of being Canadian on the box I have. It's a shame. The consensus for years has been to "dumb down" the copy on video boxes, only one aspect of which is this denial of cultural specificity. Now that the lowest common denominator have pretty much given up on home video altogether - having shrugged off the problem of un-stable platforms by opting either for Netflix or torrenting - the people still putting out DVDs and Blu-Rays might want to learn from the above, that at least some of the people who are still in fact buying Blu-Rays and DVDs actually do care about such things, and would appreciate accurate, descriptive, informative copy rather than breathless blurbs about plot points...! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On the underwhelming nature of summer blockbusters

You know, I like a good summer blockbuster as much as anyone. I like the idea of big, entertaining spectacles that make you ooh and ahh and feel things communally, that make you spill your popcorn, make your eyes wet up, make you laugh aloud and gasp and react audibly, so that you briefly feel the bonds of kinship with the other hopefuls in the megaplex, gasping and laughing and so forth along with you. Elitist or not, film snob or not, I am not immune to these pleasures, think they're an important part of the experience of cinema, of why we go to the movies in the first place. It's just that no one seems to know how to make good summer blockbusters these days! (Maybe the conditions of film production in North America no longer make them possible?).

I loved Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong. (My original reactions to that here). I realize that that's a controversial position and admit that you have to work with him a little, and that the film is not without its issues (particularly the bizarre, apparently deliberate, but still seemingly purposeless foregrounding of the racist subtext of the original story; that bothered me far more than, say, Jack Black's hamminess, or the excessive CGI, or the lack of subtlety, or excessive sentimentality, or...). But Jackson's love for the original pours through at every turn, the sincerity of his joy in movie-making and his desire to have fun and offer fun to his viewers that I loved it wholeheartedly, or near enough wholeheartedly that the parts of my heart that loved it beat the parts of my heart that didn't into submission and silence. I went to see it at least five times during its first theatrical run, and have seen it a few times since on home video, including the extended cut. I will probably see it again someday. I remember being grateful at the time - "at last, a big summer spectacle that I can enjoy!" I would have gone to see other movies during its theatrical run but each time I went to the theatre there was nothing playing that I thought I would like even half as much as I liked King Kong.

I think that's the last blockbuster I really loved. (I mean, I went to see Constantine a bunch of times too, that year, and retain fondness for it... but it hardly counts as a blockbuster). I've been disappointed enough for long enough now by my other attempts to satiate myself on big Hollywood movies that I'm actually getting a bit bored with the feeling.

As a Peter Jackson fan, I've dutifully sat through the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and enjoyed bits of them here and there, but the source material has no particular appeal for me; I'm more of a horror/ SF guy than a fantasy one, don't care about Tolkien at all, and basically spend the whole of each movie waiting for Gollum to appear. In no way did I feel cheated or disappointed by these films - and I thought the most recent Hobbit film was probably the best of the lot, in fact - but I cannot say they are movies I loved. They were... okay.

The Batman movies - the Christopher Nolan ones, I mean - are all such reactionary right-wing propaganda that they actually have come to fascinate me, particularly given how completely unwilling their fanbase is to see them in that (glaring, unavoidable) light. I even own the first two on DVD, and have seen the third. Still, I cannot say I like them much - see here for more. And speaking of Christopher Nolan, Inception was without value or charm for me. The parts that weren't plagiarised from Neuromancer mostly involved brainless shoot-em-ups in dreams - a realm where I have no recollection of ever having encountered a gun, let alone a shoot-out - which were made vastly over-complicated (but not more intelligent) by specious "levels of reality" meanderings. See here for more of my reactions to that film; I saw it once, and have not considered watching it again since, nor would I.

Prometheus insulted my intelligence more than any other film I've seen in ages. (More here). Oblivion was almost as bad, but in less remarkable ways. Given a choice between revisiting either of those films and M. Night Shyamalan's poorly received After Earth, I would probably pick After Earth (but I would probably opt to stay home and clean my kitchen instead, if that were an option; even that film managed to be somewhat disappointing).

I obligingly sat through the Star Trek and Spider Man reboots. Neither were, uh, that bad, nor were either that great. They made pretty much no impression on me at all, in fact. The Total Recall film at least made me mad that they fucked things up so badly, made a film so totally unnecessary, wasted so much talent and opportunity. I was kind of grateful to at least feel annoyed by it; most times with these films, you've forgotten you saw them at all five minutes after the movie is over.

Case in point: Pacific Rim. I sat through it, was engaged enough at the time - much of which still hopeful expectation that it was suddenly going to become good - and then forgot it, without having ever been stirred to care. I have no idea why the film has fans; I mean, I consider myself borderline desperate for entertainment, so many of these crap films have I spent money to see, but Christ, I'm not so desperate that I mistook Pacific Rim for a good movie...

World War Z was equally nothing special. A few nice ideas survived from the Max Brooks' book, and translated into a few memorable images. Mostly it felt like a waste of money.

Gravity was visually compelling, was a gripping piece of spectacle. And that's it.

I have no fondness for Baz Luhrmann - none - but to please my lady I did take in The Great Gatsby; and even that managed to disappoint me. (I did enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street, mind you - speaking of DiCaprio - but hell, it's a Scorsese film, he doesn't deserve to be mentioned in this company, even when indulging in populist slumming, which The Wolf of Wall Street kind of was).

I have not cared at all about a single film with the name "Bourne" in the title. I watched a bit of the first one and gave up. I have no curiosity whatsoever about any projects undertaken by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Bruce Willis (though I did watch The Expendables, believe it or not, and maybe even The Expendables 2. The Expendables 3, upcoming, is one disposable action movie too many in this franchise, however).

After being delighted by Crank, I attempted a few other Jason Statham films and have learned my lesson.

 I can no longer be moved to follow X-Men movies, though I tried to like the first couple. I have had mixed feelings about all these Marvel Avengers-related projects - I was kind of amused by Iron Man 2 and Thor - but realized at some point that I just did not care. I still have not seen The Avengers film, which everyone apparently loved, because I think at this point I have a pretty good idea that these films are simply not made for me; I know now what pleasures they offer, and prefer to live without them. Captain America, Superman - whatever. Guardians of the Galaxy at least looks like it's vaguely original (and it has Michael Rooker in it!) but I cannot say that I'm excited about it; why would I be?

After The Island, I will never again watch a Michael Bay film; after Django Unchained, I'm even considering giving up on Tarantino.

There are a handful of "big" films I did like. The first Planet of the Apes reboot - that is, Rise of, not the Tim Burton thing - was startlingly good. I was passably amused by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And to my amazement - because I expected to find it contemptible - when I caught up with Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing on home video, I was totally, brainlessly, happily entertained. I feel quite out of step with other moviegoers (and certainly other critics) in that regard, though, since it's got 23% on RT. That's actually in keeping with my responses elsewise, since two other "big" movies I rather liked were critical and box-office flops: John Carter (51%) was kind of great, and I felt at the very least to be inclined to be charitable to 47 Ronin (13%). I certainly was more emotionally engaged by that film than I was by Godzilla.  

Mostly, though... jeez, is it hard to care about the big-budget, big-screen bullshit we're being offered nowadays. It's all sequels and comic books and reboots and "safe bets," devoid of heart, soul, or anything in the way of a fresh idea. Occasional movies flicker that make me curious, like Transcendence, but they almost always disappear from the screen before I get to them. Mostly I think I'm happy to just avoid the megaplexes for the time being. That way at least I can say I learned something from my experience of Godzilla...

Would someone please put out Kelly Reichardt's film Night Moves soon? That and Eli Roth's The Green Inferno are about the only two upcoming (more-or-less) mainstream movies that I have any hopes for.

(By the by, Roth fans and horror buffs should note that Aftershock, a film Roth acts in, recently distributed on home video, is perfectly entertaining, though not particularly groundbreaking... Presumably it was made on the quick while he had some time on the Green Inferno shoot. Was more involved in that story than I was by Godzilla, or in Pacific Rim, or...).

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla vs Monsters: a review

Everything that is interesting about Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is more interesting in his previous film, Monsters. People who aren't going to rush to see the big G onscreen are urged to enrich their experience of it by watching Monsters first; not only is it the better film, but seeing it may well highlight the things that actually work about Godzilla. It is really quite remarkable that he's managed to bend Godzilla, obviously a huge, expensive film, so far as to actually reflect his own areas of obsession; he would seem to be a genuine auteur, for what that's worth.

Many motifs are repeated between films. The need to enter a quarantined zone, and looking at the things therein with cautious, questioning eyes. The strange experience of a world laid unfamiliar by massive destruction: finding yourself in a brave new world with monsters in it, and much wreckage to boot. Destruction and death coming to America - Edwards' whole sensibility seems shaped by 9/11, the idea that we are no longer invulnerable and have to get used to a changed reality. Images of said destruction on TV, where the headlines pack relevant information. Strange glowing monster eggs with creatures wriggling inside; the sense of a world on the cusp of an even more frightening transformation, which we may not have the power to stop. And then there's the main role of humanity in both films, of standing on the sidelines as creatures you do not understand enact rites wholly alien to you. In Monsters it's a tentacly mating, in Godzilla it's plus-size fighting; but in both cases we're mostly there to bear witness.
It is probably revealing that the best scenes in Godzilla do not involve any of the main (human) characters. True to the aesthetic of someone who is mostly interested in the act of bearing witness, the most exciting, emotionally involving moments have characters seeing something that they cannot process, and reacting to it with fear and awe. These include a little girl, a little boy, and a dog - all in separate segments. When the dog runs away in terror from what he sees, you feel more emotional engagement with its plight than you do for any other character in the movie, and you really like - or, well, I really liked - that Edwards gives the dog a second shot, so you get a little bit of a story out of it.
Edwards' main characters also see things, of  course - with Edwards repeatedly teasing us with the limits of their vision. For instance, we glimpse action we would like to see (like monsters fighting) over the shoulders of our hero as doors close behind him, shutting out the view. There's also a lot of dust and fog and murk for a 3-D spectacle movie; I actually count this as one of the good things about the film - its skillful , moody manipulation of the visuals - but at least one person in the party I was with was not pleased with the amount of gunk obscuring the images. There is rather a lot of it! Maybe the idea is to make a film you'll want to see again just so you can try to actually make out what's going on...
Unfortunately for all concerned, however, a film in which characters just look at things and marvel at their horrible weirdness, enacted beyond the human scope - which almost describes Monsters - is not the sort of thing that studios hoping to craft a summer blockbuster are going to accept as sufficient. No: you need to have drama - a family that needs to be reunited, a son who needs to vindicate his father, mothers who get separated from their children, and so forth. These elements in the film are handled so formulaically, ring so hollow, seem so much the stuff that gets drawn up in the boardroom by people trying to force a hit into existence that you wonder if Edwards even tried to take an interest in such things, or if he just let the producers take control. The  plot points and character actions that are meant to be central and dramatic almost all fall utterly flat. Bryan Cranston has an interesting role at the beginning of the film - but is replaced for the main action by his younger son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, an actor I have not seen before, who has almost no charisma or gravitas; I'm not sure the whole storyline with Cranston, probably the most interesting plot-stuff in the movie, is in the end even all that necessary, or what its relationship is to the film's second half. If the son's arc is meant to complete the father's, that element in the storyline seems to fail. (You also don't much buy into the son's relationship to his own family, from whom he is separated for almost the entire film; the need to be reunited with them doesn't exactly seem an overwhelming one, nor is his connection to them particularly believable or moving). Meantime, the characters not directly involved in the whole family-in-peril formula are often of the stock variety, who may seem significant at first, but never really do that much: Ken Watanabe's character - a Japanese scientist named Serizawa, in homage to the original film - gets to issue a few ominous lines, but has no character arc, no important role in the action, no climax to his story. In an even more thankless role, you have poor David Strathairn, whose talents have never been more egregiously wasted than in his role as a commander whose only function is to give orders to drop bombs - in a movie where the bombs don't even work. He has no depth, no soul, undergoes no transformations, learns nothing, and ultimately just disappears from the screen. He's like something from Pacific Rim - an even more disappointing recent attempt to breathe life into the giant monster movie, but not that dissimilar. In fact, you could probably replace all the main characters in Godzilla with other characters, with other stories, and the things that are interesting about the film would remain so; that's how inessential the characters and plot points seem.
The monster battles, mind you, are definitely fun to watch - not that you can milk a lot of depth from monster battles. It's kind of pleasing that Edwards has opted to bypass the original Godzilla mythos ("nature's revenge on humanity") in favour of the function of later Godzilla films, where he's the King of the Monsters, defending humanity from creatures even less friendly than he is. It's certainly the more sequel-friendly avenue of approach. It's also interesting that you manage to identify with Godzilla's exhaustion in various parts of the film. He's like an old fat movie star who can't quite cut it anymore, like Schwarzenegger or Stallone or such, gone to seed, getting up off the couch to fight one... last... battle for humanity. You kind of feel for him; he's a monster with a bit of pathos to him. Wish the film he had been a bit more involving, though.

People who watch Godzilla and wonder what all the fuss is about should watch one other movie besides Monsters to get a sense of the value of this particular monster: that of course being the original Toho 1954 Gojira - the one without Raymond Burr, in Japanese with subtitles. Humble as the special effects may be, that film actually has a rich and fascinating story, and is a meaningful and moving experience, relating to real-world events (the Criterion commentary for it is particularly illuminating on that count). Sadly, the 2014 Godzilla is just another big, empty, and only momentarily engaging blockbuster, with a few interesting things happening on the peripheries. If you have the money to blow and want a night out, it's not offensively bad - but it's not a very moving experience.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Random notes: Petunia, Jarmusch, Blowing Wild

Been too busy to blog a bunch. 

Haven't seen Under the Skin yet. Want to.

Saw the new Jarmusch. Liked it - thought of Brian Jones, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Burroughs... vampires as junkie rockstar elitists hiding in the shadows of decaying Detroit and Tunisia. I have pretty low expectations of Jarmusch - he usually finds a way to subvert his own movies with self-conscious silliness - but this is the film of his I've enjoyed the most since Dead Man. Nice to see John Hurt still workin' - I keep expecting him to retire, so I get fonder of him with each role (speaking of actors who haven't retired yet - Max von Sydow is in the upcoming Star Wars film? Really?).

Excited about the Petunia and the Vipers show next weekend at the Imperial Theatre, wrote about it here. Will also be seeing Red Herring the night before at the Prophouse; Stephen Nikleva will be on guitar both nights! Sorry to Ani Kyd - I will be missing her Fuel Injected .45 show at Funkys...

Finally: I found a rather familiar-seeming old classic on Blu-Ray with an unfortunate title and a plot similarity to The Wages of Fear (and thence Sorcerer): Blowing Wild. At least part of the plot involves the trucking of nitroglycerine across treacherous South American terrain to put out an oil well fire; I gather it also "borrows" a bit from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I'm not sure if it's any good but Barbara Stanwyck is in it and I'd watch her in a cat food commercial. Gary Cooper and Anthony Quinn co-star.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stress Position at the Vancity Theatre

Very interesting film opening next Friday, March 23rd, at the Vancity Theatre: Stress Position. Not quite sure what to make of it. In a way, it's a shame I'm getting to it too late, because an interview with the director would be a natural, since I have more questions about the film than opinions. But interviews are too much work to take on unpaid, which is what this would be at this point; if Mr. Bond wants to respond to any of what follows, the comments section is there for him...

For example, one question I might have is, is any percentage of Stress Position real? Initially, the film presents as a "bet" between two friends, the film's co-director (UBC filmmaker AJ Bond) and its lead actor David Amito, "playing" themselves. The film's set up has them challenging each other, saying they can withstand Guantanamo Bay-style tortures (no severe pain or serious injury, but a lot of discomfort, fear, and mindfuckery), inflicted by the other, for one week, in a very expensively-designed, somewhat science-fiction-y torture chamber. Amito goes first, and for awhile, the film maintains the illusion that it is exactly what it claims. It's all likened to reality TV, and at at least one Vancouver personality, director Mina Shum, appears as herself, lending a sense that what we're seeing is real.

Certainly some of Bond's actions and Amito's reactions do have a certain unscripted rawness to them. However, as the plot grows ever thicker, it becomes almost impossible to maintain any level of belief about the film's authenticity; it seems clear that the whole experience is an exercise in faked reality - a scripted, manufactured attempt to seem unscripted and authentic. As with the film Catfish, there's simply too much narrative cohesion for it to be otherwise. All of which is fine with me - the film itself raises questions about its own authenticity, encourages you to approach it not from the point of view of trust and faith ("this is really real") but skepticism ("a big part of this might be fake"), but it still raises other questions...
...such as the issue of queer content. I was initially kind of irritated that the press materials for the film and the description at the Vancity Theatre hadn't pointed to it as a possible feature for an article in, say, Xtra West, since, having no reason to believe it had queer content, I didn't realize that Xtra could be a potential home for a feature for it. As things were, I didn't think to pitch it at them until it was too late for me to do anything with it. Imagine my surprise when it's announced at the outset of the film that AJ Bond is gay, and when his tortures of Amito - whom he accuses of homophobia - take on an explicitly homoerotic cast, with him stripping and kissing a bound Amito as the cameras roll? (None of that's a spoiler, really - it looms from the outset of the film, as they set up their rather kinky male-male game, not unlike a game between boys where they tie each other up and tickle each other until one or the other cries uncle - but undertaken here between adults, with an adult level of sophistication and cruelty, and something larger than crying uncle at stake). How is it that no one out there thought to point any of that out? It left me kind of grumpy for awhile, watching a potentially cool writing assignment and concomitant paycheque not materialize, thinking about what a cool article I could have written if I had only known...

...but by the end of the film, I understood why the film was not pitched in those terms - as being of interest to a queer audience. It may still be, but not in an uncomplicated way. This becomes a spoiler, so those with a real interest in seeing the film should probably tune out of this paragraph and come back to the next. The punchline of the film, AJ Bond's confession when he is finally broken, the climax of the movie, the point of the exercise, is the revelation that he doesn't think he is gay. If the film is, as it appears, a scripted and structured experience, this then raises huge questions about what we have seen. Is AJ Bond, the filmmaker, actually gay? Because that would be one thing - a gay man scripting and structuring a film (or if we buy into the premise, setting up a "real" experience of torture and intrusion) to get at his doubts about his own homosexuality. It would be quite another thing for a straight man to make a film where he plays a man who presents as gay but is really kidding himself, because what he really is, for instance, is a straight sadist in love with making people uncomfortable, who has found an ideal venue for that in adopting a pretext of homosexuality. If so - if Bond really is that straight kinky sadist - it means at the very least that he probably has a long and successful career in cinema ahead of him, since that seems like an ideal personality type for a filmmaker, but if not - if even that "level" of authenticity is not "really real," and the whole exercise, including the character Bond is playing, is a work of fiction - what exactly is the politic of that, in terms of the queer community? Is Bond saying that some people who present as gay aren't really, but are just weirdos trying to piss other people off? 

I mean, maybe so, but that stops seeming something appropriate to pitch at a gay and lesbian paper, at the very least. It becomes politically a bit more complicated...
Leaving aside the question of what's authentic in the film, there's also a different question, about the relationship to reality. The film deals throughout with enhanced interrogation, but in the end, it seems far more about the mindgame between these two men, the obsession with cracking people to reveal their authentic selves, or about the entire idea of "authenticity" in psychology and social life (and cinema), than it is about torture, or Gitmo, or Abu Ghraib. Initially when watching the film, when contemplating it as a potential article, I had several exciting flashes for questions I could ask: about the uses of homoeroticism in Abu Ghraib as an implement of torture, for instance. The further you get into the film, the less these things seem relevant, but there's still an inescapable resonance against real-world phenomenon, and this is where the film makes what appears to be its one kind of unforgivable mistake. This occurs when Bond says in passing that at one point that some people withstood torture in Guantanamo Bay for five years - framing the observation in the past tense.

Of course, there are multiple things wrong with that statement, which seem to reveal a certain inexcusable carelessness about the subject matter. For instance, as of March 2014, there were still 154 people imprisoned at Guantanamo. The number may have changed somewhat since then - maybe one or two have committed suicide, say, or starved to death on a hunger strike (which I suppose still counts as a form of suicide) - but by no means is Gitmo something of the past. Not sure exactly who these 154 people are - it's not like there's a "who's who at Guantanamo" website you can turn to - but at least potentially, some of them could have been there since 2002: twelve years in Guantanamo Bay, and maybe another year or two to come before the camp actually gets closed, if, in fact, it ever does. They may never get out alive, and if they die by suicide or self-starvation or so forth, or by any other means by which people have died at Guantanamo, I don't think you can actually say they withstood the experience, can you? The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are people, who remain vanished from public discourse, on the very edge of being forgotten and abandoned, who may well still be being subject to methods of enhanced interrogation, while outrage about Gitmo dwindles and people simply forget that it still exists and privileged white filmmakers make movies that treat torture and confinement as the stuff of kinky, entertaining mindgames, with no bearing on the present political reality at all... That one flippant line of dialogue bugged me more than anything else in the movie.

That said, while Stress Position may not be the most socially responsible movie on the block, it's definitely not dull. It has some provocative psychology, interesting sets, a compelling electronica score... I'm not sure how I feel about it ultimately, because I'm not really sure what it is, but people who enjoy kinky weird mindgames, in film or in life, may still find it an entertaining experience. Supporters of Vancouver film might want to check it out on that principle alone...

Blu-Ray review: Uomini Contro: Many Wars Ago - essential viewing!

When Francesco Rosi's 1970 anti-war film Uomini Contro was about to be released on home video in North America, I wrote an expression of interest here, which frames my excitement in terms of the presence of Mark Frechette. It's one of two films Frechette made in Italy after working with Michelangelo Antonioni on Zabriskie Point, but before engaging in a bank robbery that he framed in public statements as a political act. (Quote: "I am afflicted by a political conscience. We did it as a revolutionary act of political protest... We saw the American people sinking deeper and deeper into apathy and we felt an intense rage. They did not know the truth and they did not want to know the truth. We know the truth and wanted to show it to them. Because banks are federally insured, robbing that bank was a way of robbing Richard Nixon without hurting anybody" - though apparently one of Frechette's accomplices was shot and killed in the attempt. Frechette would himself later die in prison, in 1975, at the age of 27). Since Uomini Contro - the English title is Many Wars Ago - only ever turned up that I could find on Blu-Ray, it took me some time to see the film, but now that I've finally entered the age of Blu, I wasted no time in getting it. I needed to see it regardless of its subject matter, because of my interest in Frechette. The pleasant surprise is, it's actually a fantastic film.
To be honest, I wasn't particularly excited by Salvavatore Giuliano, director Francesco Rosi's other internationally praised film, and one of the two films, along with Uomini Contro, that he is proudest of in his own filmography, according to an interview cited in the booklet for the latter. That one is certainly the more formally ambitious film, in that it proposes to posthumously dissect the character of a man whom we almost never see alive onscreen, based on the stories other people tell about him after he has been gunned down. Giuliano is, depending on your point of view, either a criminal or a revolutionary, unless your politics are such that you classify criminals as revolutionaries of a kind, in which case he is both (Mark Frechette would surely have something to say on this point). That film is politically interesting, as it should be, in that it is co-written by the screenwriter for most of Gillo Pontecorvo's best-known films, Franco Solinas; my problem with it is that Solinas covers the same ground ("bandit or revolutionary?") in some of the most entertaining spaghetti westerns ever made, which he co-wrote, such as The Big Gundown, Tepepa, and the somewhat lesser but still interesting The Mercenary. Rosi's film is just so dour by comparison with these vastly entertaining - but still politically punchy - gems that I couldn't enjoy it much; while I'm sure it has its admirers, for me, it registered at the time of my viewing it mostly as a highbrow treatment of something Solinas has much more fun with elsewhere.
Uomini Contro is grim, but not dour, and it is narratively quite straightforward, which I welcomed (the formal aspects of Salvatore Giuliano are a bit distracting from the point of the film, I felt; I kept waiting for the character of Giuliano to appear onscreen!). In fact, it's one of the best anti-war films I've seen, probably even ahead of classics like Paths of Glory, with which it deserves comparison, since both films focus on soldiers being executed by their own armies during WWI. The Kubrick film suffers by comparison, in fact, in that it brings far more Hollywood melodrama and the glamour of Kirk Douglas' star power to its story, which lessens its power (Glenn Erickson over at DVD Savant agrees with me on this point - I read his review AFTER writing the bulk of mine, note). If you forgive the fact that the actors fall down and die throughout the battle sequences not like soldiers being shot, but like actors (and Italian ones, at that) falling down - flinging their arms wide, clutching their hearts, and so forth - Uomini Contro is a nearly perfect anti-war movie, gritty, bleak, honest, and maddening. The film chronicles the growing disillusionment of a young Lieutenant Sassu (Frechette) as he watches the generals and majors issue insane orders, treat their soldiers with total disregard for their lives or well-being, bleat nonsense about honour and glory, and relish in their insulating class privileges, while the men under and beside him - including a fantastic Gian Maria Volonte, in a small but essential role - sacrifice themselves left and right for no seeming purpose whatever. Slowly Sassu becomes politicized; eventually his superiors notice.
Mostly the film is just a well-staged chronicle of the horrors of war, with confused soldiers running about in fog and smoke, getting shot left and right, but there are a couple of great moments of cinematic suspense along the way, as when Sassu leads the hated General Leone (Alain Cuny) - a mild spoiler follows - to observe the Austrian line through a peephole we have already been told, and which Sassu well knows, is frequently targeted by a particularly talented enemy sniper (end spoiler). Some of the horrors and indignities the soldiers are subjected to are so absurd they border on comedy; when General Leone sends his men to cut through the enemy barbed wire in what looks like medieval armor, today's viewer can't but think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Even this scene comes across ultimately as grim and depressing, however. The soldiers seem to live from cigarette to cigarette, without much hope that they will ever get to go home. It's not much fun, but those hoping for fun from an anti-war World War I movie are probably in the wrong place, anyhow...
Viewed on the Raro Video Blu-Ray, I'm left with questions: most notably why it is presented in 1:33 aspect ratio. Many of the screengrabs online seem to be for a widescreen film, so even though Rosi approved the Blu-Ray himself, there is some question about why it is being presented thus. Nothing about the compositions appears obviously compromised - even at the wrong aspect ratio, it looks pretty great - but for someone using a Blu-Ray player with an old squarish TV, the only way to view it is with black bars on all four sides of the images, which is a bit annoying. Strangely, too, the right margin of the image was occasionally not all that straight; I suppose this could be an artefact of the Blu-Ray player or TV, but at times the upper line of the image curved inward weirdly, which was somewhat distracting. I would recommend people interested in the film do their research to find the best presentation possible; I suspect the Raro Video Blu-Ray may not be it - though it comes with some nice extras and a booklet with informative essays, so it's still worth getting, if no better option exists. The colours looked vivid and the image clear; the film was consistently watchable and compelling; and I was not particularly bothered by the fact that, obviously, Frechette was being dubbed into Italian; it's handled very well.
Frechette is great in it, by the way. He delivers scene after scene with gravity and conviction; one conversation he has with Volonte on the point of taking up arms against your superiors even resonates against a key conversation in Zabriskie Point. You have to wonder if his acting in two fairly angry political films (I haven't seen the third) had anything to do with his ultimately taking up arms himself? I am excited to note that there is actually a 2008 documentary about his life, Death Valley Superstar, which I would love to see; though it is apparently only 27 minutes long - one minute for each year he was alive? - there's so much that could be told about the man, from his time with the Mel Lyman cult, to the making of Zabriskie Point, or his later brief career as revolutionary bandit, that I would imagine it quite compelling. If you're the type of cinephile who thinks that would be an interesting documentary to see, then Uomini Contro is absolutely essential viewing, too. World War One buffs - and yes, Danny, I'm thinking of you here - should rush to check it out, as well.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Zero Boys, the Jolts, and the Excessives at Funky Winkerbeans

In many ways the high point of the Zero Boys gig on Friday at Funky's was an abortive, but highly amusing, glitch in the proceedings, before the band proper even started to play. The singer, Paul Z., was - or so I was told - asleep in the van until quite close to when the band went onstage. I know, because I'd gotten a copy of their absolutely fantastic debut album Vicious Circle, on vinyl, signed by the three other members of the band: the original drummer Mark Cutsinger - the same guy who played Vancouver in 1982, at their only other gig here! - and new guitarist and bassist Dave Lawson and Scott Kellogg, both of whom proved able hands at rendering the old songs (and who are featured on the Zero Boys' brand new album, Monkey). I was stalking the entrance area waiting for Paul to come in so I could get his signature, which he eventually obligingly provided, so I know he only came in the front door maybe fifteen minutes before the band went onstage. I guess he was getting his mojo working in back, by whatever means necessary, because Cutsinger, Kellog, and Lawson were all ready to go before he came out, and as the wait extended a few minutes longer than usual, a drunk Funkys habitue climbed onstage and roared into the microphone, just standing there afterwards, like he was waiting for something to happen.
So Lawson began to play "Nervous Breakdown," one of those songs you can pretty much figure any punk worth his salt knows the words to, and sure enough, when it came around - there was a moment of suspense where we all waited in anticipation - the unnamed punk began to belt out, with perfectly credible vocal style, "I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, my head really hurts!" Which is about as far as he got into it before a Funkys security guy leapt onto the stage to shoo him off. Which, really, was probably a mistake; it would have been pretty awesome for all concerned if the whole band had kicked in and we got a full fan-led rendition of the song while we waited for Paul (because there was time!). Still, the guy's shrugging, obliging, nobody-lets-me-have-any-fun disappointment as he shambled back offstage was also pretty funny to watch, too. Everyone is a comedian when drunk! It all made a charming mini-narrative that I'm happy to have witnessed.

Of course, when the Zero Boys actually started, they kicked ass. Their first two songs weren't ones I knew, but as soon as they started up on material from Vicious Circle, the pit went pretty nuts, actually. It was a really happy mood, and Paul Z. - apparently only a couple of years older than I am - was definitely fully awake by the time he was leaping around belting out the lyrics to "New Generation." There may not be that many people in Vancouver who remember them, and certainly very few who would have had a chance to have seen them at their last Vancouver show -  when Paul said into the mike "how many of you were even born in 1982?" he had a point - but the people who packed into the pit Friday made up for in the quality of their enthusiasm what they lacked in quantity (because even at capacity, Funkys holds, what, 200 people? 250? But they were the right people, the good people, the people I like; and they had a fucking great time).

I tried snapping photos but I was a bit dizzied on Fireball shooters (sweet and hot cinnamon whiskey! How have I missed this previously?) and my prime directive was to protect the vinyl I'd bought, which eventually ended up getting doused in beer when someone's pint glass went flying across the monitor-protectors and up-ended onto me. (I don't mind, actually: the damage to the first album's cover is visible, but the Sharpie ink didn't run, the beerstink isn't that bad, the vinyl itself is fine, and the scars to the cover were acquired in the best of all possible circumstances, in a way adding to the specialness of the artefact. War wounds!). Plus, like, people were climbing over me, quite literally, to get up onto the stage to stage dive. Most of my photos turned out like this:
But it was a delightful energy, and there were cute girls who wanted to sing along to "Living in the 80's," and the band did a kickass versions of all their best known songs; the new ones sounded cool, too, though I need to spend some time with the album, obviously. There was also some amusement to be found it my attempts to kill time between bands by whipping out a Jack London book I'm reading, Martin Eden, which I've just started. As soon as I broke it out - leaning on the monitor-protectors - the guy to my right - French, I think, or French-Canadian - asked me what I was reading, and I said something like, "Jack London - he was a bit of an alcoholic and I'm kind of drunk so it seemed appropriate!' Then I went back to the book and read a few more lines before the Zero Boys' bassist came over and asked me the same question (the band had not yet started to play but were almost done their soundcheck). For the hell of it, I gave a different answer; since the Zero Boys are from the States, I said, "Jack London - great American literature!" Then I tried to go back to the book, and then had the girl on my left ask me what I was reading. Since she was cuter than the French dude or the bassist, I gave the longest answer: "You know Swans, the band? I interviewed Michael Gira a few years ago, and he said he'd been on a Jack London kick, so I thought I'd give a Jack London novel a try." She proceeded to observe that you don't see many people reading at punk gigs, and I considered responding with, "that's because people keep interrupting," but I just gave up and put away my book. (It got a bit of beer on it too, when that pint glass poured out onto me, but I figure Jack London would appreciate that, maybe. His autobiography, after all, is entitled John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs).

Anyhow, I got a few good pics of The Excessives, the first band of the night that I got to see, playing what was their first gig in Vancouver in six years, I believe the singer said. All their songs seemed to be about sex or drugs or alcohol; they roared and raged and obviously have lots of fans (especially that guy in the Dayglo Abortions' "I Fucked Jesus" t-shirt, who was a bit of a caution in the pit)... but I don't know their material, couldn't really make out the lyrics, and live, loud, and drunk is not the best way to experience anything for the first time, so I can't really react to it. (The song about "good head" sure seemed fun, if that's what was being sung - kinda reminded me of the Nervous Eaters' classic "Just Head").

The Excessives also had by far the best bass drum art (viva Lee Marvin!):
I enjoyed the Jolts' supercharged cover of "Neat Neat Neat" by the Damned, which fit the look of the singer, but I spent most of their set hunting Zero Boys signatures, and didn't really make time to get any good pics. But even from this, wouldn't you think that was the Captain?
I did get about a minute of great video of the Zero Boys, however. I must have accidentally shut off the camera function midway through, so it cuts off - sorry! - but this does accurately convey the spirit of the night, brief though it may be. It's them performing my favourite song of theirs, "Civilization's Dying," about guns and gun violence (the chorus references the attempted assassinations of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, and the successful assassination of John Lennon - respectively, "the pope and the president and the big rock star who made a lot of money"). That's the guitarist's big red shoe that you see, on the monitor protector that I was leaning on. Thanks to wendythirteen and Thrashers for booking this great, great band! (And good luck to the Zero Boys on the rest of their tour).

Thursday, May 08, 2014

James Benning: Decoding Fear - and my first publication in book form!

So here's some news: the newly published softcover book/ exhibition catalogue James Benning: Decoding Fear, published by his Austrian gallery Kunsthaus Graz, includes my first publication in book form: my interview with James Benning about the Unabomber and about Benning's film Stemple Pass. The book is very nicely made, and includes both a translation into German and the original English, as well as several other articles besides mine. In our conversation, Mr. Benning offers provocative revelations about parallels between his history and Ted Kaczynski's, and several surprising insights into his work and life that shine light in areas that other articles I've read about him don't - more because of how forthcoming he was than because I had any great wit about me as an interviewer, but, really, it's an interesting interview! I learned a lot about him by doing it, am even more impressed with him now, and I'm quite proud of my inclusion in the book, though it all came together so effortlessly that I must confess a slight feeling of unreality to the whole process. I put more effort into any single feature I write for the Straight than I did in interviewing Benning! Thanks to Kunsthaus Graz and James Benning for this, and to the VIFF for their continued support of Benning, whose work I might not have encountered otherwise. (Maybe the Vancity Theatre or the Pacific Cinematheque could organize a retrospective of his works...? I would love that.).

Edit: I'm not entirely sure if you can order the book directly from Kunsthaus Graz, based on their website, but you can get it through Cornerhouse; looks like it costs about $40 Cdn (before shipping).

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Perversity re: Sorcerer? Blu-Ray review

Watching the restoration of Sorcerer on Blu-Ray for the first time tonight, I actually found myself feeling an unexpected, somewhat unwelcome nostalgia for the crappy old DVD.

Part of that may be that I now have to say goodbye to the long-held feeling of wanting this film to come out in a decent version. As with Clearcut and the extended version of Phase IV, I've been on that page for so long that now that it somehow has become a part of me; I've gotten attached to the longing, and now that the Blu is actually out there, now that I've gotten (I think) what I've been desiring all along, it's left a blank space. That part of my identity associated with the desire for a Sorcerer restoration now has to move on to something else... there's a tiny feeling of loss, of letting go. I am truly a sentimental guy, I guess.

Still, I'm not sure how I feel about Friedkin's tinkerings with the film. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack has been remixed for 5.1, but I also noticed a few musical cues that I did not recall, ones apparently not by Tangerine Dream, unless they were playing stringed instruments; I'll have to do some cross-comparing to see if I'm right, here (I also want to check the nightmare image of the rooster getting its head cut off; it seemed different - shorter, faster, harder to make out - on Blu). (Edit: there are also complaints on the Sorcerer blog about an added gunshot sound at the end of the film, though Friedkin has said that's actually the sound of a vehicle backfiring... like I say, I'll have to do a close comparison).
Further, there are colours that seem impossibly vivid, considering the age of the film, that seem to remove it from its proper milieu (the 1970's), making it seem like the movie just came out theatrically for the first time this year. It didn't, so why should Friedkin try to make it look like it did? There's been some grumbling about this sort of thing on Amazon, after Friedkin's previous unpopular tinkerings with The French Connection, or his inferior re-working of The Exorcist that has annoyingly supplanted the original film on home video. I can see the counterargument to these gripes - that restoring the film includes making the colours rich and vibrant again, making it look as good as it can, and that it is in fact impossible to restore it to the exact qualities of the original film, given that the negative and such have aged and faded over the last three and a half decades; you simply can't go home again, or step in the same river twice, or... All the same, the colours were never THIS rich or vibrant; and I was attached to the muted, gritty, visibly 70's palette of the previous DVD (if not the improper aspect ratio or the graininess of the transfer). Maybe this is just a baby duck thing that I need to get over, but I think it actually might have something to do with my not connecting with the film as much as I usually do on tonight's viewing. It didn't really feel like the same film that I've loved for years; it's a beautiful presentation, but it's considerably different from what we have been used to (edit: maybe I've been forced to complete the film for myself when watching the inferior DVD, and, compensating for its defects, imagined a different, better version for myself that the new Blu- doesn't live up to?).

I guess in the end Friedkin has every right to try to re-present this film in a new light, especially given that it never got a fair shake the first time around. If the end result is a terrific Blu-Ray presentation, which, whatever my quibbles, looks a hell of a lot cooler than any previous release of the film, why should I hold it against him? Of COURSE it looks different; that's the whole point. Still, I'm kind of shocked and surprised and disappointed with myself, as much as with the Blu-Ray: why wasn't I more excited by it tonight? What did I do wrong? This has been one of my favourite movies for years, but tonight it kind of didn't do it for me. Maybe it just wasn't time to re-watch it yet; I only saw it again a year or so ago, and it's at best a watch-every-three-years movie. But maybe all these changes do actually somehow damage the film as much as they save it, at least for a certain kind of viewer...? One can only imagine how I'd feel if I was actually watching this on a hi-def plasma TV...

Anyhow, there's a terrific interview with Friedkin here (that gunshot is discussed). Thanks to David M. for sharing it. I think I'll go see what DVD Beaver is saying about this film... I wonder how many people out there are responding to it the way I am?