Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Upcoming: bev.davies show, plus DOA at the (new!) Smilin' Buddha

Bev tells me that the images in the show will all be shots she took at the original Smilin' Buddha. She'll be on hand for opening night (March 13th) and then again for the 14th, when DOA plays.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A rant re: BC film (again)

I've always found Vancouverites (to speak of them as a vast homegeneous mass, which they obviously aren't) both narcissistic and insecure about their city. Are we or are we not the most beautiful place to live in the world? Are we or are we not a world class city? Are we or are we not one of the least affordable cities? Good or bad, we love surveys that place us in the top ten of anything (do we or do we not have the highest population per capita of drug-addicted homeless and mentally ill wandering our sidewalks?) and we seem to be forever quoting them at each other, like we're trying to prove our pretty little provincial backwater actually counts for something. But there's obviously more than a little fear that we don't. A hint from my years of psychedelic introspection, folks: if there's something you're afraid of about yourself, if you go around worrying all the time that you're too this or not enough that... then the fact is, it's probably true, and you need to accept it and get on with things. BC is a pretty little provincial backwater, though not without value. If we're not exactly a world class city, we're a world class location, because of the trees and mountains and fresh air and water and so forth, but that doesn't mean we should feel an inflated sense of pride for living here; none of these are things we have accomplished. (Nor are they things that we'll have much longer if we keep selling our resources off to the lowest bidders!). We need to take stock of what really is valuable about this province (whether it's our water or our culture or something else) and to take steps to defend it, to preserve it, to feel a real pride in what we really have accomplished here, rather than obsessing about where we rank on this-or-that international survey...

When it comes to cinema, considering how self-obsessed we are, it seems strange to me that there's so little awareness of BC as a hotbed for film producton. There are odd books, sure, like Spaner's Dreaming in the Rain, but, like, during my time at UBC, I brought up to a couple of people in the film department the idea of having a course that dealt with films made out of BC, or even out of UBC, and people seemed puzzled by the idea, not exactly enthusiastic. There are some very interesting films (anyone remember Mary Daniel's Connecting Lines?) that have been completely forgotten by our province. that never resurface, that probably are just aging in cannisters somewhere, essentially lost due to total neglect and lack of resources to preserve them. Even active filmmakers like Oliver Hockenhull, whose doc on psychedelics is going to play the Cinematheque soon, can find very little interest in properly archiving their older films for preservation; his first film, an experimental documentary about the Squamish Five, Determinations, is only viewable on home video through a VHS tape that Hockenhull made by pointing a recorder at a wall where the film was being projected! (Or so he told me, last year; maybe things have gotten better since?).

If we need external validation that these things are worthy of preserving, note that one of my proudest moments as a BC film enthusiast came when I visited Japan, popped into a VHS rental store in Kawagoe, in Saitama-ken, and saw not only that they had a "Canadian film" section, but that Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed was on the shelf. I actually went out of my way on eBay to buy a Japanese poster for that movie, because of that connection. It was her UBC thesis film, folks, and here it was representing BC on the shelf of a video store across the Pacific! ...I can't begin to explain how proud I felt. As I've ranted about elsewhere, I find it really troubling that a filmmaker as talented as Stopkewich - who should be regarded as a provincial treasure - has been working in TV since 2000, when her second feature film was completed, Suspicious River. (I mean, she's made one short film somewhere in there, too, but - I mean, it's a short film. How do you even see those, anyhow?). I mean, great she's working, but why shouldn't it be easy for someone as accomplished as she is to have a career making feature films? What's wrong with our province, these days? (Could it have anything to do with the shallow vulgarians we elect for office?).
And okay, so - never mind BC film, what about the films that were shot here? If I were responsible for tourism on Bowen Island, for instance, I'd do my best to curate a little museum with stills from actors who have been there, along with a map of locations that people could visit on the island ("visit Ida Lupino's cabin from Food of the Gods!") and a DVD library from which overnight visitors to the island could check out movies that were shot there. (Silly as I am, I actually have phoned a couple of places related to Bowen Island tourism to see if any resources for promoting Bowen's film history exist; of course none do!). And if I ran Cineplex or so forth I would make a point of promoting every single shot-in-BC film as having been made here - to put a little star or something beside every listing for a BC made film, so that consuming our own province could be part of the experience of watching these movies. A recent case-in-point: I neither enjoyed nor despised Fifty Shades  of Grey - it's not a horribly constructed film, it has a couple of cute moments, and its problematic gender politics are simply not surprising or unusual enough to seem actively offensive (la la... viriginal sexless girl loves controlling rich man... la la... look at her tits!). But I totally enjoyed trying to spot the Vancouver locations. How I had been allowed, as a BC film viewer, to get into the theatre without knowing it was shot here I don't know, though I enjoyed the surprise. Still, I bet there were a few people who had no clue that they weren't actually seeing Portland or Seattle up there on the screen. I would have one of those useless little minions who have to walk in front of the audience every now and then to do some silly safety check bullshit announce to the audience to keep an eye out for familiar locations so that even the sleepy-eyed can play. Hey, maybe there could be a smartphone section of the seats where people tweet places they recognize - Hotel Vancouver! - and win a prize for the most correct answers....?

People with an interest in reading me rant further on this topic should see my interview with Bruce Sweeney, Gabrielle Rose, and briefly, via email, Lynne Stopkewich herself, in Cineaction 89. They also might want to check out The Image Before Us: A History of Film In British Columbia, at the Pacific Cinematheque. I've seen and loved two of the films in the program, Bruce Sweeney's unforgettable dark comedy Dirty and Nathaniel Geary's harrowing, honest portrait of life on East Hastings, On the Corner. They'd be on any top ten list I could prepare of BC films that everyone living in this province simply must see - and see on film, since Dirty is presently unavailable for any home video viewing (unless you find the old VHS around somewhere) and On the Corner, while it did come out on DVD, looks far, far better projected (the shot-on-video quality is far less glaringly obvious, for some reason; it actually looks like a film, when projected, but looks like it was shot with Uncle Joe's camcorder when you see it on DVD). There's also a bunch of films I've never seen that are going to screen - like The Grey Fox, also unavailable digitally, and Double Happiness, by Mina Shum. I'll be sure to check Blockade, as well, screening the night before my Clearcut event at the Vancity Theatre... interesting that there are documentaries as well as fictional features set to screen...

British Columbia has had a really interesting and active film culture, and too few of the people living here make time for it. This is a very interesting programme, curated by Emily Carr's Harry Killas. We've already missed a few films on it, but there's plenty more where they came from, so... let's get out and support it, eh?

RIP Bruce Sinofsky, Clark Terry

Bruce Sinofsky, the co-director of the Paradise Lost films - sorry, Lucinda Williams, but these are the docs you want to see about the West Memphis Three, not that West of Memphis thing - has died of diabetes. I can't really say much about his contributions to cinema, as opposed to Joe Berlinger, because I can't differentiate between their contributions to those films, and I've seen nothing Sinofsky did outside his work with Berlinger, but together they made some of the most striking documentaries in history, so that's something. And it's interesting to note that Sinofsky and Berlinger made a guest appearance in Devil's Knot, which I hadn't realized... maybe playing themselves? That's kind of cute, actually, though no reason to see the film.

Also, jazz trumpterer Clark Terry has just died, at age 94. I had a conversation about him just last month, when Tom Charity and I chatted about a then upcoming film at the Vancity Theatre, Keep On Keepin' On, which dealt with his life and work, including his mentorship of a young, blind pianist. He'd mentored both Miles Davis and Quincy Jones in his history, and when the film played, just last week, he was still alive (something that surprised me - I hadn't realized). Clark Terry died on February 21st. Check the man's discography here - he played with Mingus, Monk, Dizzy Gillespie...

I'm still sick, though the nature of the illness seems to be morphing a bit. I felt almost recovered yesterday in the early afternoon. Now I feel worse, in some ways - more nauseated, like I might vomit. Shitty days!

BC film: Sitting on the Edge of Marlene

I did a fair bit of writing, reviewing, and film-watching during the last VIFF, and as any critic will tell you, you don't always have time to do justice to certain films. One that I failed to fully take in was Sitting on the Edge of Marlene. I liked it enough that I thought I might want to see it on the big screen, so I didn't finish the online screener I'd started; then when the VIFF actually began, my schedule didn't allow me to catch it. Admittedly, the most unsettling/ memorable thing about it for me is that it  uses several locations I know very well from having grown up in Maple Ridge. There's a strange little pedestrian tunnel that I always thought would make a great location, so I was happy to see it appear onscreen. I was unsettled, on the other hand, to find my own present APARTMENT BUILDING in the movie; I'd never had the experience of sitting inside a building watching a movie and seeing an image of that same building from the outside, like I was suddenly caught in some weird surveillance feedback loop or something; the space-time continuum seemed briefly to be in jeopardy. But nevermind all that, Sitting on the Edge of Marlene is coming up again at the Vancity Theatre, so maybe I'll get to finish it properly this time? 
The description on the Vancity site does it justice, for those who want to know the story. It's a "dealing with an impossible parent" narrative - one you can't help love, but who is undoubtedly toxic. People with remarkable-but-toxic others in their lives will find things to identify with in the movie. It has terrific performances from its leads, and is really nicely designed and shot; the film has a lush, Sirkian retro quality that rather spoils the eye. It also has, at least in the version I saw, a very strange "timelessness." I couldn't begin to figure out what decade the film was set in. The money we see is contemporary Canadian stuff; the swindles and the decor/ hairstyle/ costuming of the title character - played by Suzanne ClĂ©ment, above left - is very 1950's; and the evangelical group seems to favour a sort of square 70's roller-disco-Christian aesthetic or something. I actually asked the young star of Black Fly, the excellent Dakota Daulby - who also appears in this film, and whom I interviewed just a few blocks from the locations mentioned above, in the Starbucks attached to our now-doomed Target - whether he could figure out what decade the film was set in, and while I don't recall his exact answer, the very clear upshot was, "no." Which makes me curious to revisit the film, to see if this anachronistic quality comes across as a deliberate stylistic choice - some sort of meta-cinematic way of connecting the film to other genres or movies? (Or perhaps it was an error not yet corrected, and the brand new Canadian bills will all be CGI'd to appear older or something?). 
I'm more excited about Clearcut, sure. (See below). And about my favourite life of Christ movie, the provocative, political, unabashedly Marxist Pasonli film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew. But still: this is a neat BC film. And hey, Callum Keith Rennie is in it! Those cinephiles in whom I have an interest will more or less see anything that he's in, just on principle...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Clearcut to screen at the Vancity, March 10th

Those of you in Vancouver who share my love of the 1991 "political outdoor ordeal" film Clearcut, made in Ontario during a period of more-or-less exile by Polish filmmaker Ryszard Bugajski, should keep the night of March 10th free. The film will screen at the Vancity Theatre, with me introducing it; I may manage to get some quotes from my interview with Bugajski prepared before then, too (and might have other surprises in store, like a musical guest...). It will be screened from an illegitimate German DVD based on a TV broadcast master that Bugajski himself prepared a couple of years ago, but which he never intended for release on disc. Fact is, it looks pretty good, at least compared to all other options to see it since the film played Vancouver theatres back in the early 1990's. It has (I believe) the correct aspect ratio, for one thing, so you don't have to deal with that horrible toggling between stretched and pan and scan images that the VHS/ Youtube/ pirated US/ torrentable version all have; and though the colours are a bit stark and everything a bit dark, they're a vast improvement on the previous option. One happy note is that though the DVD is in fact illegitimate, made without his consent, Bugajski has given the screening his blessing. (He only has one 35 mm print of the film, with him in Poland, which he's not prepared to send to Vancouver, so he understands why we're using this particular source. The TIFF may have a print, too, note - but when there's only one known print on a continent, and maybe it's one of two prints in existence anywhere, people with an investment in preserving cinema can get reluctant to part with it...! We did ask...)

Read my previous big article on Clearcut here. Michael Gimenez has started a Facebook page for the film, as well - we may have news there, too...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Worryin' about myself

Totally sick... working reduced hours as it is and we get no sick days... Going into work with a deep viral cough, shivers and sweats and aches and pains, feeling weak and fatigued and dopey (partially from dope: the only meds I have around are Tylenol with codeine or Naproxen, and I'm opting for the former, since the aches have been quite uncomfortable). The doc I saw didn't think it was strep, which my girl just had, which is a bummer because I was hoping I could fight it with antibiotics. No such luck! But the show must go on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Worryin' about Gary Floyd

Apparently Gary Floyd isn't doing so well - he posted on Facebook that he was pissing blood Saturday, in a lot of pain, with a vastly elevated white count. He spent the weekend in the hospital. Dicks fans out there might want to cheer him up and send him their love as he recuperates. Here's a terrifying, moving Sister Double Happiness song about mortality - I think - that might be a little too apropos; it's one of my favourite of his vocal performances. My old Gary Floyd interview for Xtra is here. Wishin' you love, Gary! Get better!

Thinkin' about Spike Lee

My film consumption of late has featured a couple unexpected forays into the world of Spike Lee. A dude selling off his DVDs at Commercial Drive station had a copy of Summer of Sam, which I'd always wanted to see, even when I didn't realize it featured Adrien Brody as a persecuted punk rocker on the early CBGB scene. The film was utterly, surprisingly great, maybe now my favourite of Spike Lee's films. I'd enjoyed all of the early Spike Lee films I saw, in fact, back in the 1980's and 1990's, but somehow in the mid-1990's I kind of stopped caring. Critics praised 25th Hour (2002) as a return to form, so I went to see it when it was first run, but I wasn't so impressed that I ever looked it again. I revisited it last night and liked it a lot; while I remembered Edward Norton, of course, I had forgotten that Phil Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson and Anna Paquin were in it, each one of them doing great work, and all of them are a pleasure to watch. The film waxes a little too sentimental at times but if you want character-driven/ actor-oriented cinema it definitely delivers.
The trouble is, I don't want to see Spike Lee making conventional movies. I don't mind at all about him documenting slices of life in the non-black community, which he does really well, but I don't have any need for him as a commercial filmmaker, and I keep tuning out when he makes a film that any action filmmaker could have made, like, say, Clockers or, more recently, Inside Man. That film, as I recall it, plays like it could be a Tony Scott movie; it's certainly not a badly-made thriller, but so what? And all you hear about his recent films, if you hear anything, tends to be negative or dismissive; he's somehow gone from being one of the hotter young American filmmakers of his generation to being a marginal figure. In recent memory, I didn't go see Oldboy because I was put off by the apparent blatant theft of that dude's design work, and didn't really NEED an American remake of that film, anyhow; the Korean one is just fine, thanks. A few of his films on IMDB I have never even heard of, like Bamboozled or Passing Strange. It's pretty interesting that he would choose to remake the arthouse blaxploitation vampire movie Ganja & Hess (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) but I don't even know how one would legitimately acquire that film these days. I don't want to buy it, it won't be at any Maple Ridge rental store or library, and I don't want to stream it online, so short of torrenting it, I'm not sure what can be done. I won't torrent it, though; it feels wrong to steal something that so obviously seems a labour of love (and one unlikely to make anyone a lot of money, at that). Wonder what else I'm missing, by not having followed Lee closely? Maybe I should see Miracle at St. Anna, or Red Hook Summer, or...?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Final Terror Blu-Ray/ DVD review

Every few months I break down and buy a couple of Scream Factory Blu-Rays. They're hit or miss - in fact, around Christmas, I ended up giving a stack of three to a friend (The Nest, Final Exam, Night of the Demons) because I didn't think I'd ever watch them again, and I thought sharing them with someone else would make me feel less foolish for having shelled out actual money for them (it beat trading them in for $2 each, which just adds insult to injury). There are bonafide classics on the imprint, mind you - I'm still grateful for their Nightbreed Director's Cut - and a few films I haven't seen since I was a teenager (like Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse) that I've been glad to revisit, but a lot of the films they're releasing are pretty obscure, which is part of their appeal, for me. I mean, The Nest is only okay - some very Cronenbergian special effects and lots of cockroaches that add spice to a somewhat silly story - but how can one resist a film where the box art (however misleading) looks like this - especially if you've never bloody heard of it before?
Another example of a film I hadn't seen before risking a Scream Factory purchase is The Final Terror. A film believed more or less lost, with no negative or interpositive to restore it from, Scream Factory compiled the best surviving elements from six prints owned by collectors to restore the film. It looks pretty decent, considering. A lot of horror geek reviews online mention that there is a very low body count and very little gore for a 1980's slasher film, which leads said reviewers to dismiss it as boring and uninspired, recommending instead films like The Burning (which this does resemble, but which I actually found vastly less interesting). If your love of horror really does involve wanting to see novel ways for your stalker of choice dispatch of campers, you might not care much for The Final Terror either, though you'll have to credit the beautiful scenery (California redwood forests), and the lush photography (by director/ DOP Andrew Davis, who went on to direct The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, and the tidy cold-war thriller The Package, with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones). And you won't fail to notice the cast. You can sort of suss out what kind of movie geek is writing the review in question if they single out Mark Metcalf, Daryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano, and neglect any mention of Lewis Smith (Stuckey* from Southern Comfort, itself the subject of a terrific Scream Factory Blu-Ray/ DVD package). In fact, if you're a fan of Southern Comfort - if your idea of brilliant backwoods ordeal films is Southern Comfort, Rituals, Deliverance, and Clearcut (my faves, in no particular order), then this is a must-see: a slasher film with craft and style and an interesting subtext (which I'll leave you to puzzle out for yourself). It stands up as a nicely crafted piece of cinema, full of suspense and convincingly executed details, doing fresh things with a genre that mostly was content to repeat a fairly stale formula. 
What remains a little confusing to me, however - I have not scoured the extras thoroughly to see if this is fully explained, but from what I can see, it is somewhat understated - is that apparently what Scream Factory is presenting to us is a re-imagining of the film, edited into its present form by "Post Production Supervisor" Allan Zolman, who talks in one featurette about how the original film  - which had languished un-distributed from 1981 to 1983 - was tedious, had overly-long torture scenes that weren't "fun" (!), and generally needed re-imagining. When exactly in the process this re-imagining took place is a little nebulous, but the version of the film put on Youtube a couple of years ago seems identical (though vastly inferior in image quality) to what's on the Blu, so I'm guessing it happened in the 1980's. At the same time, puzzilingly, while this is apparently a tinkered-with version of the film, you have the participation of Andrew Davis, providing a commentary where he waxes cranky about an early scene added without his consent back in the early 1980's, but - in the first twenty minutes or so, anyhow - doesn't breathe word one about how someone else has apparently re-edited his film after the fact. He seems entirely accepting, speaks of it as if it were his film, and not Zollman's take on it. (The reviewers who don't mention Lewis Smith don't know about this either, apparently, because I can find no enlightenment online). I'm also left wondering if the "original" version of the film is out there in some way, and if anyone has seen it. I've only seen the Scream Factory release, but those missing torture scenes could have been exactly what the gorehounds out there needed to swing their vote in favour of this film!
Anyhow, this is the most pleasant surprise I've had from a blind buy movie purchase in a long time. Good thing I don't read other people's reviews! (I would have read Stephen Thrower's but he doesn't deal with it in Nightmare USA). Being sold for 2/$30 at HMV Metrotown, if that's any help (though whatever you do, don't pair it with George A. Romero's The Dark Half (Romero's first terrible film, which I yawned my way through this evening. Three minutes of excellent gore as the bad guy is devoured by SPARROWS, for fucksake, is not enough to salvage a plodding, repetitive, dully-literal imagining of what surely must be a fairly self-indulgent and mediocre Stephen King novel (if this film is any indication). 
*You know, Stuckey:

Friday, February 06, 2015

Sleep (the band), plus Lucinda Williams, Shearing Pinx

To compensate for having missed tickets for Electric Wizard, I briefly, before my life reasserted itself, contemplated going to see Sleep tomorrow night. Just as well that it can't happen: turns out Sleep is sold out too. Which is as it should be. Electric Wizard fans would probably still want to try to get in, though. Start here.

And I'm missing Petunia and the Vipers tonight. Ah, well - I have lots to do this weekend anyhow. And I'm getting to learn to like Lucinda Williams, prior to her Thursday show at the Vogue (which I will be seeing). Essence and West are both better albums than her (okay but kind of mainstream/ lukewarm) current one, though I do like her song about the West Memphis Three. (That's only a bit of footage of her in studio, not the whole song, but you'll get the idea). Two of her best songs appear to be on the current setlist (or at least are listed on recent setlists on "Essence," which apparently conflates semen and heroin (!), and "Unsuffer Me," which also seems to have a lot of druggie stuff lingering in the peripheries (is she kind of hard-living? You get the impression that she might be).

I'll have a cool announcement soon about a birthday event this March. Something I've been working on for a long time.

Oh, and Shearing Pinx fans note, they'll have a record release on February 14th, something somewhere relating to the Red Gate (I'm out of the loop, ask somewhere else!).

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Some films are must-sees not because of what they achieve, but because of what they are.

Truth is, I didn't think A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night achieved THAT much, cinematically. Its language and tone is more or less that of Jim Jarmusch, though it avoids some of his occasionally off-putting cutesiness. And its story, while interesting enough, is fairly slight, nothing that compelling. Still, I think anyone who follows this blog should go see it. I wrote when I reviewed it during the VIFF awhile back that the film seemed to be "about changing roles for women in Iran, coupled with a mistrustful ambivalence about what, for purposes of simplicity, I will call 'the west.' I imagine it can never be shown in Iran - there's female nudity, for one, and pretty frank depictions of prostitution, drug addiction, and other 'that-happens-in-Iran?' kinda things; hell, there's even a fellatio scene! But some of its images - the female vampire skateboarding down a sidewalk - are pretty indelible, and the film is undeniably successful at what it attempts. I saw it after a hard day at work, and found myself fighting the 'movie nap,' so I did miss a few things, like: was the gully filled with corpses ever even explained? But I liked it, I liked it."

It's been awhile since I wrote that, and I must confess, the film has not lingered much in my mind. I haven't picked it up on video, don't think about it very often. In fact, the most striking impression that remains is of the transgressive quality that I mentioned above. I mean, you don't really imagine Iranians hanging out in basement suites listening to Joy Division, do you? Well, I don't. If the film weren't a representation of life in Iran, I would probably say it was cute but negligible, but the Iranian dimension makes it a must-see. I have seen no other signs of a cinema quite like this coming out of Iran (or made by Iranians outside Iran). And hey, it IS an interesting, enjoyable film, to boot, even if it's a little slight. 

Oh, and if you see it, and can explain the corpse-gully, post a comment here, okay?

Petunia and the Vipers/ Quincy tonight!

Fans of roots music who have not yet seen Petunia and the Vipers should head down to the Imperial at Main Street to catch them tonight, on a bill with Miss Quincy and the Showdown... My Big Takeover feature on Petunia is here, my Georgia Straight one is here...