Sunday, November 10, 2019

Remembering Lemmy Kilmister: Talking War for Remembrance Day (an old interview!)

I usually don't have much to say for Remembrance Day, but seeing Sonny Dean post about "1916" on Facebook made me remember talking to Lemmy Kilmister about that song, and about the whole issue of war, which came up several times during our first few interviews. I ended up regretting harping on the theme, in the end, actually, because in fact, I love Motörhead's war-themed songs, which sort of disappeared from their albums after this conversation (conversations, actually: more than one talk has been spliced together here). Some of this has appeared in different forms in different papers and magazines, and some of my questions have been tinkered with to help transitions from one quote to another. Oh, these conversations took place somewhere around the time of Motörizer and The World Is Yours.

RIP, Lemmy. We miss you.

Motörhead: In The Black
An interview with Lemmy Kilmister
By Allan MacInnis

Much as I love Motörhead, I was quite intimidated to discover I was going to interview Lemmy Kilmister. His image - somewhere between a biker and a pirate, often decorated with an Iron Cross, and usually dressed in black - exudes a certain stylish menace. There are, further, innumerable episodes in his autobiography,  White Line Fever, where he calls people (Sony execs, say) idiots or describes himself getting into confrontations on the road - like the one with the “boneheaded bitch” flight attendant who tries to oust him from a plane for having a pint of Jack Daniels (“Fuck her! And the horse she rode in on!” he concludes - which he then expands to include Sony, too). You get the sense that he doesn’t much tolerate fools or foolishness, which he’s encountered in abundance, no doubt, in dealing with the media. Add to that his living legend stature and the sheer aggressive energy of Motörhead’s music, with subject matter of songs like “Smiling Like a Killer,” “Serial Killer,” and his innumerable references in his lyrics to death, fighting and war, and there’s something quite daunting about the prospect of talking to Lemmy - particularly when you’re writing for a German magazine, and plan to ask him questions about his collection of Nazi memorabilia or that time he dressed like Hitler onstage with Slayer.

Rather to my surprise, Lemmy was warm and engaging and extremely tolerant of a few foolish questions of mine, as I probed about looking for the interesting stuff. Getting at his Nazi collection in particular was interesting - it actually took me two separate interviews to get around to what I really wanted to ask, since I was at first so horrified by the possibility Lemmy might say something truly unforgivable (and thus sour my love for Motörhead, a terrible thought to entertain) that I could only tread so close before scuttling away. By the end of our second talk, I was convinced not only that Lemmy is no Nazi, but that, contrary to appearances, he’s quite a media-savvy and generous guy - giving truth to Diamanda Galas’ old quip that Lemmy is a “closet genius.” We spoke on the phone shortly before, and shortly after, Motörhead’s October 1 Vancouver concert, earlier this year. Thanks to Joachim Hiller, Rhonda Saenz, Femke Van Delft, and Bev Davies for helping make this article possible. [And Dave Bowes and Tanya Van and the Skinny team, too!]

I want to ask about some of your darker songs. War seems to really be a theme that’s come into the fore in recent Motörhead albums.

There’s always been plenty of war.

True, but... I mean, in what gets called the classic Motörhead line up, there’s not that many songs about war. There’s “Bomber,” and whatnot... but it seems there are more and more lately...

Yeah, maybe. Well, there’s more war nowadays, isn’t there?

Yeah. I was hoping you could explain a couple of the songs, though. “Sword of Glory” (off 2006’s Kiss Of Death) is one that kind of confuses me. On the one hand, you advise young soldiers to “read the books, learn to save your life” - to learn from the history of all those who died in past wars and not be a “bloody fool” and make the “same mistakes” they made. On the other hand, you tell them to “grab the sword of glory,” an attitude that surely informed those very mistakes. This seems contradictory. Isn’t the desire for glory part of what drives young men on to their death in war?

 It’s like putting yourself in the past, the feeling they had then: got to grab the sword of glory, y’know - that was what people thought like.

Is it an attitude you’re advocating now?

Only if you’re invaded.

Okay... I know you’ve called the war in Iraq ridiculous, but - do you find that soldiers get strength out of songs like this? Do you ever hear from soldiers who say they like Motörhead?

Yeah, a lot of them. Europeans too, are over there - quite a few German soldiers have come up and said they loved our music.

And do you feel good about that?

Yeah, I do. I mean, they’re just kids, you know - they’re children, they send over there, basically, compared to me. I’m 63. You should see 18 year olds over there - I think it’s fuckin’ disgraceful. Same thing with Viet Nam, you know? They’re wars you can’t win, Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t win a war where the enemy doesn’t wear the uniform to be identified by, y’see. If everybody looks the same, then anybody can be the enemy. Therefore, you think that everybody is the enemy - that’s when you get atrocities, y’know?

Some people have said that that was Osama Bin Laden’s purpose, in attacking America on September 11th - that he wanted to draw America into a war they couldn’t win.

I don’t know - it’s possible, you know, but the thing is that Osama Bin Laden, there’s actually no evidence to link him to 9/11 - no hard evidence. There’s only word of mouth. It would never stand up in a court. I’m not saying he wasn’t behind it, but I don’t know that he was, either; I haven’t seen all the so-called evidence - but it seems to me that what they’ve trotted out isn’t true.

So you think we’re being lied to about 9/11?

I think it’s very possible. I think in order to get a grip on the American people, George Bush engaged in several false flags. One was 9/11, one was Osama Bin Laden, and another was certainly Saddam Hussein.

Yeah, there were certainly lies coming from the Bush administration.

Sure. Lots of them. Almost everything they said, basically.

Mm. So do you consider your songs to be antiwar or anti-military?

Pretty much, yeah. I mean, we got stuck with this label of being warlike and pro-war, after writing all these anti-war songs. So I thought I’d write a pro-war one, after we’ve written all these anti-war songs. So I wrote a pro-war one, and everybody said, ‘what a good song - it was anti-war!’” (laughs).

Which song was it?

It was “Kill The World,” you know that one (off 2002’s Hammered).

I wonder, though, about metal and fascism... There are people like Mike Watt who have compared rock concerts as Nuremberg rallies... Or take, for example, punk bands like the Subhumans - Canada or UK, take your pick - who are identifying with the victims of the Holocaust, while metal bands tend to identify with the oppressors. Would you say, that there’s something overall about heavy metal that’s kind of friendly to fascism, compared to punk?

Well, not really. Because there’s no message, except the music. There’s not anybody saying, fight and die, you know?

“Death Or Glory” (off Motörhead’s 1993 CD, the German-distributed Bastards) seems a little pro-war, too, though. You identify with various soldiers, marching “with Hitler down the bloody road to war,” being “a Sturmbannfuhrer fighting in Berlin” and so forth. The music is really fast and exciting, there’s that cool “marching” sequence in the middle - you seem to draw power and strength from this, no?

It’s like, you feel powerful going in. You march into battle, the flags flying and the trumpets tooting, and you’re part of a large human machine. It must be a marvellous feeling, to be united that way and march into battle that way and defend your country. But it’s not like that when you’re sitting there trying to hold in your guts in some corner of a muddy field, y’know?

Yeah. I still think ‘1916’ (about the Battle of the Somme) is one of the best anti-war songs ever written.

Thank you. They actually used it in Britain in a school class thing about the First World War.

What was the school?

Several schools - it was as a general thing. And also there was this guy who came to a concert once, and he said he played it to his grandfather, who was there, and his grandfather broke down. He said it was true, it was exactly like that, so I really got it right, y’know?

What about a song like “Heroes” (off 2008’s Motorizer)? On the one hand, you’re looking at the power and the passion of it, but then there’s all this death and hopelessness...

Well yeah, that’s it - there are two sides to it.

It seems very Nietzschean to me.

You think so?

A sort of affirmation in life in the face of death - the amor fati, kinda thing...

It’s possible, I suppose. But I’m very cynical, too. I’m more cynical than Nietzsche was, especially later in his life (laughs). I don’t believe in any of the things they use to bring the kids in.

Such as religion.

Oh, fuckin’ - that’s the worst of the lot. Don’t get me started on religion.

Well, if you don’t mind, just a little... I’m curious - is there anything you admire about the character of Christ?

It’s funny, Christ y’see - because he could be an allegory, completely, couldn’t he? I think possibly the guy existed, but I don’t think he was anything like he is in the New Testament. I don’t think the Bible is particularly accurate. I think it was more of a parable, really.

So you think we can’t get a sense of him?

I mean, the Bible wasn’t written until 200 years after his death - you know how a story in the local bar gets amplified after a month? 200 years is a good distortion, I would say. It’s difficult to see that far back and see if it’s true or not - there’s no way to tell, really.

It is strange that a Jewish leader from 2000 years ago still has any influence at all in the modern world.

I know! It’s the power of the ministries, y’know - and the theme parks! (laughs).  

Are there any religions you respect?

Probably if I were going to go for one at all, I’d go for Buddhism. It makes the most sense. But who says it has to make sense, on the other hand... It’s tricky. I don’t believe in a grand design, but I do believe in a power of some sort. I would believe in reincarnation, if I was going to believe in anything.

So you believe in karma as a way of getting people to live morally?

I think we should live morally anyway, even if there isn’t any reincarnation. We’re not just hedging our bets, here.

So do you feel fairly cynical about humanity? Some people I know seem to think we’re living in the last days of the human race...

I don’t think it’s the last days, but I think we’re going to wipe ourselves out. I don’t think there’s any alternative, really. When you get a culture that’s advanced like ours has, in the last 200 years - in leaps and bounds - the psyche hasn’t kept up with the technical advances. Therefore you’ve got people who still think in caveman terms, of like, ‘club a person over the head and drag him back to the cave and disembowel him.’ The trouble is, they’re now doing it with atomic bombs. So I don’t see any way around it, really.

If I could ask you a bit about the Iron Cross you often wear - does that ever get you in trouble in Germany?

More in France (laughs). Yeah, we don’t get much trouble about that in Germany. Germany likes its Iron Cross. It’s a symbol that goes way back before Hitler. The swastika really worries people. I would never wear a swastika in Germany - well, I’d never wear one anywhere. But the Iron Cross is a great symbol - it’s a symbol of courage, and a great artistic symbol, too - it’s a very strong image.

Actually, on that topic... I was reading in your autobiography, White Line Fever, about you dressing up with Hitler onstage with Slayer in the 1980’s...

It was a rubber face mask, you know? And a brown jacket like he wore during the war.

No swastikas on you anywhere, then?

No, no, nothing like that.

And what was the purpose of dressing up like Hitler, exactly? Perhaps you intended it as a provocation?

I think it’s funny. You’ve gotta see the thing with a sense of humour, at this distance. I mean, the Second World War happened, and it was fucking awful, and the Jewish thing was double awful. But you can’t go on wringing your hands and sobbing forever, y’know? I mean - the Second World War had some funny figures. Big fat Goering, little Hitler with his stumpy little moustache, and Goebbels with his club foot, talking about the master race. Talking about blond gods! It’s fuckin’ extreme, you know - it is funny, I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. It is funny. Monty Python did that famous sketch, did you ever see it, about Hitler and Ribbentrop and Himmler living in a guest house in Devon? It’s marvellous. They’re ‘Mr. Hilter,’ and ‘Mr. Bimmler’...” (laughs).

Haven’t seen it, but fair enough. I was reading online, though, that you were facing criminal investigation in Germany for wearing an SS cap.

No, that was a press invention - that was a complete invention by the press. Because I travelled through Germany the day that article was in the papers, on my way from somewhere to somewhere else. I mean - I never wore an SS hat for an interview in Germany, anyway, because I’m not that crass, and if I had done, I would have been ready for anything - because it’s against the law, the swastika, you know. I would never do that in Germany. I’m not dumb - deaf, not stupid, you know! (Laughs).

There was a photo of you in an SS cap that I saw...

Actually, if you look closely at that photo, it’s a Motorhead logo on the top of it. Looks like an eagle, from a compilation we did a couple of albums back, and there’s the skull on the headband, right?

Oh, okay. So it’s not even an SS cap.

No.

You own Nazi uniforms, though.

Oh yeah, I do.

I was going to ask a bit about that. I don’t actually know the size of your collection. How much stuff do you have?

Oh, I got a lot of stuff. I collect daggers and swords, too, y’know - and stuff like that. And bits of uniforms, badges, medals, decorations from that area... I’ve got a set of Hitler’s cutlery (laughs).

You have a set of Hitler’s cutlery?

Yeah.

Oh my God, how did you find that?

It was in the catalogue - one of the guys from the US 1st Wing Division that liberated the Berghof [one of Hitler’s most famous residences, in the Bavarian Alps. Actually, Lemmy appears to be in error, since according to my research the Berghof was liberated by the US 3rd Infantry Division, followed by the 1st Battalion; though then again, between trusting the internet and trusting Lemmy...]. He got a set of cutlery, like a hundred pieces, and he’d been selling them off over the years. Got a knife, fork and spoon with the eagle. And they ate on ‘em.

That’s fascinating.

It’s a great investment. They double in price every year!

I think I read somewhere that it was your retirement, this stuff.

Yeah. It’s my pension scheme - rock’n’roll doesn’t have a pension scheme, y’know? (Chuckles).

Do you show this stuff to people who visit?

Yeah, I mean - you can’t help it. It’s all over my house. You’ve gotta put it on the wall - there’s nowhere else to put it. I think it looks great - it’s a pity it’s for the wrong reasons, but the design of the medals and uniforms is great design. I can’t help tellin’ it - it’s true.

I actually agree about the aesthetic, and it kinds of suits you. I was wondering about the photo that Bev Davies took of you in Vancouver the other night, though. You weren’t wearing your Iron Cross, you were wearing stars... what are they?

Oh - the thing with the gold star in the middle, that’s just a necktie. I got it in Vegas - it’s an American like necktie-thing, a bootlace tie.

Are people often scared of your Nazi collection? You must get weird reactions from people.

No, not really - I mean, I’ve also got photos of a couple of my old girlfriends on there, one of which is black. So I don’t get a lot of trouble - I mean, I’m the worst Nazi you ever met - I like black girls! I got a lot of black buddies, and a lot of Jewish friends. My manager is Jewish. We got a lot of Jewish pals - I’m not a Nazi, man. A lot of people collect that shit, it’s not just people like me. I mean, Hermann Goering’s brother-in-law had two daggers made, one for Hermann, one for him? And they were selling the brother-in-law’s dagger in one of the catalogues I get, and the starting price was a hundred grand - before you started bidding, right? So this is not your average skinhead buying it, this is lawyers and doctors.

Right. Actually, I heard a funny story the other day about a Jewish psychoanalyst with an SS costume that he got someone to try on...

Right, right. The biggest dealer in New York was this old Jewish guy, and he used to have a bundle of stuff, and all his relatives give him shit about it. And he says, “Hey, it’s business! You don’t like it - buy it! Burn it!”

Right, just pay for it. The only thing that would worry me would be that Neo-Nazis might think, “Oh, Lemmy is cool, he thinks this stuff is okay...”

Oh, a couple of them have tried that, yeah. One guy wrote and said, “Obviously you understand about the Fuhrer” - I wrote back and said “fuck off,” y’know? I got no time for that.

Okay.

I mean, you shouldn’t worry about the Nazis - the Nazis are all dead. You should worry about the fucking government here (ie, the USA, where Lemmy now lives) and in Britain. That’s what you should worry about - that’s the next step.

I can understand why Germans are worried about Nazism, though - that there’s a law against wearing that sort of stuff in Germany. Do you agree with that law?

I don’t think it makes much difference - if people are Nazis, they don’t have to wear a badge. There are a lot of Nazis in this country that aren’t wearing any kind of badge, but you can hear them in bars every night - “nigger this” and “nigger that,” right? I mean, there are a lot of people in the States that are really prejudiced. Look at the trouble Obama’s got into - he got elected all right, but now he’s getting killed, he’s getting slaughtered - he’s getting obstructed in everything he tries to do. They’re even paying people to demonstrate against him.

Yeah. When you tour through Germany, do you go to any important historical sites - former concentration camps, or any of the old Reich buildings?  

Yeah, I’ve been to... well, there’s not much to see anymore, everything’s been flattened. There’s a couple of buildings in Berlin that are left - only a couple, though. In East Germany, occasionally you get an old village that’s like a time capsule as far as architecture is concerned. That’s interesting. There’s a place called Bad Blankenburg, that’s just over where the wall used to be. There’s a section of wall, still, in a field just to the west of it. We played in this place where the houses are nearly meeting across you in the street, leaning-forward houses - the old beam houses? It was really picturesque, the old Germany - the old Gothic sort of German buildings.

You like that sort of thing.

Yeah, I do - I like the old English buildings, too. I like the old English villages, too - I figure it’s a much nicer setting than sheets of glass, tinted (laughs).

Have you gone to former concentration camps?

Well, see - they’ve taken the bodies out, so it doesn’t affect you like it should. It just looks like a row of huts - they can have all the photographs they want, but it doesn’t bring the horror home to you.

That’s true.

If they showed you all the bodies as well as the buildings - that would have an effect, like it really should have an effect. Like when they paraded - they took all the Germans from the cities near the concentration camps at the end of the war and made them walk through, you know that?

Yeah - I’ve seen footage of that in the film Billy Wilder did for the US government for distribution in Germany, Death Mills.

Right. That’s what you should see.

You were born in 1945, right?

Yeah, I was born the year it all stopped. But it didn’t stop there, it went on for a few years... I remember a lot of the wartime stuff in my younger life. There was still rationing until I was seven, in Britain - and the Germans didn’t have rationing at all, they were straight on American provisions! (Laughs). You know, winning the war nearly killed England!

Do you see echoes of that - tension between Germany and England?

Well, the football crowds still shout “Okay, who won the war then?” occasionally, when the Germans are winning. We’re the only country that does that - the Americans don’t shout it.

Though there still is some British-American stuff that I’ve seen come up.

Yeah. There’s all kinds of lingering hatred in the world, whether it’s for real or imagined insults.

My father has some lingering issues with the Japanese, actually - he knew people who got tortured in prisoner of war camps. Do you have any lingering stuff...?

Well, our generation - although we were born close to it, we weren’t actually involved in it, and I think you have to be involved in it to feel that hatred. And I think that’s justified; if he was in a place where he saw all that stuff with his own eyes, y’know - that would be very different from theorizing about it, which is all we can do. I mean, we can tell ourselves that it was the way they were brought up, but it doesn’t make any difference to him, seeing his friends get tortured.

No, though he didn’t actually see them get tortured - he just saw them after they got back. But speaking of Japan, then... do you have any war relics from the Pacific?

No, I have a couple of swords - I have a couple of samurai swords, but they’re touristy stuff that I got in Japan. I don’t have any of the decorations, no. Maybe I should, because they’re beautiful.

Have you been to the Hiroshima museum?

No, but it was a really fucking terrible thing that we did to them. That was - I don’t think that was necessary. They were already trying to surrender.

You think the west was just trying to test out the bomb?

Yes, I do, exactly. And then the more disgusting aspect of that is, they saw what happened with the radiation poisoning, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then they did it again in Nevada, and marched American GI’s into Ground Zero, as the bomb went off. I thought that was fuckin’ disgraceful. Because they’d seen what happened.

Yeah. There’s a lot of bullshit authority in the world, a lot of abuse of power. Let me ask - are there authority figures you do have respect for? Have you met cops, teachers, government officials that you actually admired?

I don’t make a habit of meeting government officials, really. It’s not necessary to find out what they’re about. I think there’s a lot of people who have tried to do their best, until they found out the temptations. And then they succumb, always, it seems to me. I don’t know about Obama. I think the jury’s just about still out on him - but I think he’s surrounded by the wrong people.

Yeah, it seems that way... I’m curious: what do you read?

Ah, the great lost art of reading, yes. I just read a really good book by a guy called C.J. Sansom called Sovereign, about Henry VIII’s progress around Britain.

So a lot of British history?

All kinds, but mostly British, because I’m British.

Do you take books on the road?

Yeah, always - I buy them on the road, more or less. I always take an emergency stock in case I can’t find any good ones.

I think I’ve seen in a documentary about you that you’re a PG Wodehouse fan.

Yeah, he was hilarious. He’s very English, as well - I think you have to be English to appreciate a lot of his stuff. Having said that, he was very big in America. He was writing about the wastrel upper class - the people who were born into lots of money and never did anything to justify it. The Lost Generation, they used to call them in the 1930s.

And there’s a butler who knows more than they do, that does everything.

Yeah - Jeeves, who sorts out all his master’s problems.

The other night, you dedicated “In The Name Of Tragedy” to William Shakespeare. What’s your favourite Shakespeare play?

Richard III.

(Laughs). Aha!

The Lawrence Olivier version. Did you ever see that one?

Yes - but I kinda like the Ian McKellen film, with the Nazi stuff in it. 

I like both of them actually, yeah, that’s very good. It’s hard to make a bad version of that - it’s a strong play, strong monologues from the characters. It’s very good indeed, one of his best.

Speaking of movies - there’s that movie being made about you (Lemmy: The Movie). Are you enjoying that experience?

Yeah, it’s fun. They’ve popped up around a lot of corners - they’ve been around on three tours, filming stuff. They should have enough by now. I think they’re editing right now.

Do you know when the release is slated for?

They always keep telling me, “next year,” so they’ll tell me that again - 2010.

It’s a great time to document the band - especially during the last few years. I think Inferno, Kiss Of Death and Motorizer are among the strongest albums you’ve done - you guys seem to be getting better with age.

We’re doing the same things, y’know; it’s just like - I think we just sort of hit our stride with Inferno. And the producer helped - Cameron Webb, he’s on all three of them. I think he’s a great help.

Is he lined up for the next album? (Motörhead plans to return to the studio shortly after their German tour).

Yeah, he is.

Terrific. Coming back to Germany - what happened with the album Bastards? That’s still only available here?

What happened was, it was on a German dance label (laughs). They offered us the most money, y’know? So we took the money and made the album - because they said at the beginning that we could hire whoever we wanted to distribute it in America. And then they turned around and they said, “No, we’re going to distribute it ourselves.” And since they knew nothing about American distribution, it fell flat on its ass.

It’s too bad. It’s a fantastic fucking album - there’s some great songs on that.

Thank you very much. 

I wanted to ask you about “Lost In The Ozone.” It seems like an unusual song for you - you’re almost wearing your heart on your sleeve, a bit, showing your vulnerable side a bit. It seems to be about loneliness and isolation.

I imagine when you’re shipwrecked, alone, it’s fairly isolating.

But is that you in that song - or is it just a character?

It was an exercise in imagination. I was imagining how it must feel.

Was there a specific inspiration?

Well, shipwrecked mariners have told all sorts of terrible stories - you know, being shipwrecked in a boat and they have to eat each other and shit. It must be fucking awful. And you’re surrounded by water, and there isn’t any. It must be incredibly tragic. They find boats with nobody in them, but I’m sure there was somebody in them when they started out. You don’t get too much of it these days, because there’s radar and everything; you can find people easier now - but in the old days, people were just lost.

Going back even earlier, what about the Sam Gopal album that you’re on? [The Sam Gopal album is a pre-Hawkwind psych-rock album founded by tabla player Gopal, with Lemmy, under the name Ian (Lemmy) Willis - his stepfather’s name - playing guitar, singing, and doing most of the songwriting]. Do you feel proud of that?

Yeah, it’s all right. I wrote all the songs in one night, except for the Donovan cover and “Angry Faces” - Leo Davidson wrote that one. It was the first album I ever did.

The Rockin’ Vickers (for whom Lemmy played guitar, 1965-67) didn’t put out a whole album?

No. We only did singles with the Vickers.

Okay. Well, it holds up - it’s a really interesting album. I love that your sense of dark humour is so visible on the album - with lyrics about how if “you like me when I’m living/ you’re gonna love me when I’m dead.”

That’s because people get better when they’re dead! I mean, Buddy Holly and Randy Rhoads - they acquired much more dexterity on the guitar when they were dead. Nobody seemed to notice it before...

Is death something you think about?

Well, as you get older, you think about it more, as a pressing thing. But it doesn’t really bother me. Being a live is the same thing as being dead - only more still! (Laughs).

(Laughs). Anything else you want to say to German readers?

Just say guten tag and (Lemmy says in German) “break your leg and your neck.” It’s a good luck thing, y’know.

Any special plans for the tour?

No, just we’re going to go over there and be Motörhead at them.

A final question - if you don’t mind, I have a question about substance abuse...

(Wearily) Do you really?

Do you get tired of being asked about drug and alcohol intake? Is it a boring subject?

Yeah, it is, really. I don’t recommend it, anyway, for anybody else. It’s not going to be particularly good for anybody. I’m not trying to espouse it.

There’s something kind of funny about it, though - it seems like some people try to make you into the ubermensch of substance abuse - people want to see you as this heroic figure who can take anything, drink anything...

I know, there is that about it, isn’t there. I don’t know where that came from - I certainly didn’t do it!

I heard a story from Vom, of Die Toten Hosen, The Boys and Doctor And The Medics, where he was talking to you and doctors said that the lack of substances in your blood might kill you - that you were told not to quit?

No, they didn’t say that! They told me not to give any blood transfusions (chuckles). 

Is there any other mythology around you in the media that you want to dispel?

Ah, I don’t really care. They’re going to come up with stuff anyway. I’ve been dead twice, you know? A French magazine printed my obituary. So when you get to that stage, anything else is just pastry, innit?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Ah, Scorsese

So Martin Scorsese responded in more detail to his comments about about Marvel movies not being cinema, but theme parks.

Along the way, to mitigate that claim, he mentions that for his generation, at least some Hitchcock movies were also theme parks, as a way of demonstrating that, you know, not all theme parks are bad, and that theme park elements have always been an aspect of cinema.

But hey, I've taken an elementary formal logic course or two, and I can assure you he has also just committed himself to the proposition that Hitchcock movies are not cinema.

Marty in a corner. He also talks about the "painful emotions" at the heart of North By Northwest, which are really what keep us coming back, rather than the thrills, but I'm not buying it: at least I go back to that film a) to appreciate the craft (which Marvel films have tons of on display), b) for the historical value (which, granted, comic book movies have little of), and c) for those very thrills (and laughs and such).

The guy should have just left his cranky initial comments stand.

But hey, somehow, the Vancity Theatre has gotten its mitts on The Irishman, Scorsese's new Netflix film! So that's good. I'm looking forward to it. Opens November 16th!

Friday, November 08, 2019

Jeffrey Lewis (Sunday); Ejaculation Death Rattle tonight!


Folks: Jeffrey Lewis is the subject of a big, new feature I did for the Straight site (and several old ones on this site). Really enjoying his new album; gig at Pub 340 on Sunday.

Also: Ejaculation Death Rattle plays tonight at the Toast Collective - their first gig in years! More to come on that. I realize they aren't the headliners (sorry, Sam Shalabi and Elizabeth Millar!). I kinda love everything about this band, though.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Strange Dream of Being a Lawyer

Sometimes I have dreams that could be movies, or novels, or such - that have a really interesting logic to them, that could end up being used as the basis of a more-fully-developed story. Last night, with a chest cold keeping me semi-awake last night, presumably in a hypnagogic state - half-asleep, half-awake, and dreaming, but with a bit of "authorial input" from my semiconscious brain - I came up with a kind of great one...

...in the dream, I'm some sort of lawyer or such with an interest in human rights, righting wrongs, and so forth. I live pretty comfortably, and believe myself to be a good man, deserving of what I have. One day, though, I discover I am the target of a malign figure, who starts to stalk me; I get upsetting phone calls, have my home violated - I don't recall the details of that part of the narrative. The person who is doing this to me seems to be testing me, challenging me, putting me through ordeals less about punishing me than they are about setting a high bar that I have to jump over. That's how I interpret it, anyhow. While struggling to survive the series of ordeals, I try to figure out who is doing this to me and why. 

I am having, near the end of my dream, dinner with clients or such, and start getting text messages from the person who is stalking me, and things start to fall together - that this person is enacting a non-specific revenge on "the system," taking out on me sufferings that they themselves went through. I figure out that they've been badly wronged in some way, and start approaching the person from that point of view. What they've put me through over the last few days is monstrous - but it is also, I realize, a "cry for help."

It happens, though, that I'm a lawyer, and I am in a position to possibly help them. I get up and go to the men's room next to the restaurant I'm at, because I have a brainstorm that my stalker is there. They are! And we talk. I learn that they were the victim of government sponsored medical or mind-control experiments, years ago; that they are still suffering the effects of these experiments; and that they have tried to talk about them many times previously. No one has been interested.

I reassure them that I am interested, that I know about these sorts of experiments, and that it sounds like they have the stuff of a winning case, and that I do occasionally take on pro-bono work - especially when I think there can be a payout at the end, which is my feeling in this case. "So I could help you."

They object - but what I've been doing to you is horrible, they say. "Yeah, it is, but lucky for you, you've been doing it to someone who kind of gets it, and better, is in a position to do something about it..." 

Suddenly my stalker/ tormentor becomes my client, as I set out to do justice for them. It's a happy ending...!

That's all I recall, but it's kind of structurally neat. Could be a good thriller, sort of. But life, work, tired, yadda yadda. Wanted to make a note of it, though.  Crappy sleep, but a good dream.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

See you at Keithmas 2019

It is very cool to hear that a) Keithmas is celebrating its 10th anniversary and that b) it is spreading to Calgary, for the first time! There are still tickets left, though it always sells out.

Sorry to say, I have very little energy for writing right now. A seasonal cold, a 9-5 job (more or less) and a few other writing commitments = no time or enthusiasm for writing. I'll be back soon enough, no doubt.

Or else I'll see you at Keithmas...



Thursday, October 31, 2019

The SBC, BB Allin, and Lanalou's Halloween Hellraiser

News broke this week that the SBC Restaurant has had its liquor license revoked, and that all gigs there have been cancelled, seemingly permanently. Some people have speculated that that is due to the recent dragging mishap, which left a 24 year old woman quite badly injured - even though footage has emerged that that may not have been entirely the fault of the driver. Others have speculated online that it may have something to do with development plans for the block ("FOLLOW THE MONEY," one observer, herself no stranger to venue closures, wrote, all in caps...). And of course, there's the chance both situations apply: that opportunists waiting for an excuse might have seized upon the dragging as a pretext to take the SBC out of the picture. Whatever the reason, Cecil English and Donna Mabbett (previously involved in booking the Flamingo, I believe, which also bit the dust as a venue location not long ago) are left venueless for the time being; and another historic location in the Vancouver punk scene has bitten the dust. Even a gig I was planning to write about and attend this weekend got cancelled: that being Bloody Betty Bathory's GG Allin tribute act, which I had previously written about here.

So it goes. Meantime, people who, like me, were hoping for a Betty Bathory-level of derangement at a gig this weekend can take heart: Betty also has a gig this very night, with Daddy Issues, at the Lanalou's Halloween Hellraiser. I am not promising that I will be there - I've been nursing a cold all week, loudly coughing up - to the great disgust and dismay of my wife - great greygreen goobers, and have already missed one gig (David M. at the Princeton on Monday) and two horror movie double bills (see below), as a result (and even one day's work, last Friday; and most of the Adicts show last Thursday, though I did stay for a couple of songs, having bought the ticket and so forth. But whether I am up for a show tonight or not, the least I can do is plug the gig.


So here, copied directly from the Facebook page for the event:
Halloween night come raise hell with the spookiest freaks in town. For real. Don't miss the most action packed horror filled evening guaranteed to shock, titillate and (knowing you all) OFFEND.

Featuring:
**********
DADDY ISSUES:
If you haven't seen them you've definitely heard OF them. Featuring members of Dayglo Abortions, Powerclown, No Likes, The Subhumans and Bloody Betty.
Nope, nothing offensive to see or hear here.

NEIL. E. DEE SIDESHOW:
Vancouver's reigning master of the bizarre. If you have somehow avoided this man's show thus far you should just stop that crap RIGHT NOW. No extra charge for the lasting mental trauma sure to ensue. He really stays with you. Sometimes he even follows you home.

STEADY TEDDY AND THE K-TRAIN BABIES:
Are SO FUCKING GOOD you cant afford NOT to see them. Seriously they are one of the best bands in Vancouver right now. Give them your money.

THE GRAFFENSTYNE CREATURE:
Responsible for the splatter F/X, temporary genitalia and severed appendages that adorned the stages of Bloody Betty and The Deadly Sins shows for almost a decade. Shes gonna eat a corpse. You probably don't wanna see that but you should anyway. It'll be good for your constitution.

BLOODY BETTY:
If you haven't heard about her we aren't gonna tell you. Yeah it's that bad. Soooooooo we dare you.

DOORS @ 8
SHOW @ 9
$13 @ The door.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Resident


Maybe my favourite of the sorta-recent Hammer horror movies is The Resident. It's got a very interesting story, some rich psychology: it takes you inside a damaged male mind in a way that is seldom done in cinema. It pulls some of its punches, in the name of appealing to the mainstream - because a man who has allowed himself to degenerate sexually to this extent would live in a world of pornography, for one thing, of which there is no trace. And like a lot of thrillers, the "who will win" contest at the end of the film is less interesting than the set-up. But there are fine performances by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in a role very dissimilar to Negan; Hilary Swank; and the late Christopher Lee, who is very effective, even if only briefly used. I can understand the film's villain in ways that disturb me, in ways I shouldn't publicly admit. It would be a fine double bill with, say, Tobe Hooper's best later film, The Toolbox Murders, or grouped with other movies (like Rosemary's Baby or Panic Room) which involve a woman and/or family moving into a new building. Kind of recommended (Wake Wood, as I recall, is pretty good, too, of the recent Hammers, in a more Pagan way - kinda like Pet Sematary Meets The Wicker Man).

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

And also! Sunday Morning (with Bruce Wilson)


...so if I'm going to write about China Syndrome's new video, I should also mention Sunday Morning's one, too! Quite haunting (or haunted?) and beautiful. It's actually a little outside of my usual realm (unlike Bruce, I didn't mature THAT much past the days of Tankhog; and I never really did get into the Scott Walker thing, much as I respect it. I mean, no one is required to want to listen to EVERYTHING, right? No married man who wants to stay happily married will insist on that!).

...But I mean, I like it way better than, erm, this new Nick Cave album, say! (Which - sorry, sorry! - I also respect but I kinda prefer "King Ink," you know? Like I say about my maturing...).

Still, read my giant feature on Sunday Morning (and Tankhog) here! It sort of prefaces this material a bit. (Maybe I shoulda held off?). Buy the song or read the lyrics or check out other Sunday Morning here.

Note, yeah, it would be better if I did another Straight piece but I just can't right now; I have too much else on the fire, other commitments, etc.

Also: you all already know about Stephen Hamm Theremin Man, right? More to come on that, I think. That I will do a piece one tho' (because I have never really interacted with Hamm much. Sold him a used book once,* been in the same movie theatres with him dozens of times, but that's about it).

Buy and explore his new album here here.**

Personally, I dig Theremins. Actually, what I want to do is put George McDonald and Stephen Hamm in a room together. "Duelling Theremins": has it been done?

Just kidding. Went shopping at Hobo, if you get me. Anyhow, check this stuff out!


(*Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers. Never read it, myself).

**This is not, like, a paid ad or anything. I'm not shilling; there is no guestlist request pending; I plan to pay for the albums and gigs; this is written strictly because I like and believe in what these guys are doing, a lot. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Killing Them Softly redux

So I've been doing this book challenge thing on Facebook, posting seven books and tagging seven friends and yadda-yadda, which is only partially interesting: I see a lot of books in my thrift store scrounging and it doesn't mean a lot to me to know that some of the books I see out there I have not read, have in fact been read by my friends! However, I have learned about a few books I do not know about, been tempted to revisit a book - Roszak's Flicker - that I actually read, once, when it first came out; and it was really cool to discover one person is a big George V. Higgins fan. I totally admired Higgins' novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle - which I was surprised to discover is even better than the movie, including a detail that resolves the story in a way that never happens in the film.  It moved me to suggest to Erika (who was game) we watch Killing Them Softly, last night. I saw it theatrically, I think - or maybe just as soon as it came out on DVD - and wanted to see if it had improved with time and distance. I haven't looked at it since my initial review of the film, which was positive, in fact, but kind of emphasized the negative, in such a way that it turned out that the negative was all I could remember... 

Watching the film again, I re-discovered the greatness of it. There's some great acting, great dialogue, great characterization, and a refreshingly downbeat and honest look at American life near the bottom of the food chain. Andrew Dominik's best film (not counting the Nick Cave doc, which I have not seen) is still The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, but there is some utterly really powerful stuff in Killing Them Softly.  I stand by everything I criticized about it, previously - there is also stuff that is too on-the-nose and unsubtle; but I enjoyed it more the second time, and will probably enjoy it more yet the third time. So that's nice to note. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

China Syndrome pays homage to Elvis Costello


China Syndrome by Justin Lim

The strangest thing about the conversations with the Nick Cave event the other week was finding myself standing about a foot from Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, as they negotiated the crowds near the beverage area. I got to say to my buddy Will, who had provided the tickets, "dude, look - it's Elvis Costello and Diana Krall," in the classic celebrity-spotting whisper one does; I can't recall the last time I had occasion to do that, but it was probably more on the lines of pointing out Stephen Hamm at the Cinematheque to my wife, which is kinda a less excitable whisper, y'know? (I like Hamm's new material a lot, mind you). Later in the evening, Elvis (but not Diana) got called out by a fan, and ended up the subject of a bit of Mr. Cave's humour: Cave was answering a question about declining his MTV Music Award, explaining it was mostly because he doesn't enjoy the experience of being at awards ceremonies. Observing that he sometimes doesn't even pick them up, he gestured at Costello - "you know what it's like," then chuckled and added something to the effect of how Costello probably does pick his awards up, probably has a roomful of them. It seemed a wee, weird poke at Costello (whose reaction I could not see; I hope he smiled). In any case, Mr. Costello does a spectacular job of walking through a crowd radiating a distinct vibe of "yes, I know you know who I am, but I really don't want to interact with anyone right now." I certainly wouldn't have disturbed him for the world, even though I have been a fan for years (not that I know a lot of his body of recorded work; but the albums I know and like, I like a lot).

Anyhow, Tim Chan of China Syndrome is obviously also an Elvis Costello fan, because not only does he know about Costello's video for "What's So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)" - which I had never seen before today! - but, with the help of Vancouver Island punk documentarian Paulina Ortlieb, whom I interviewed here, he has released a video for China Syndrome's song "Curated," which pays explicit homage to the Costello vid. That video "made a huge impact on us when were kids," Chan explains, "especially because it was filmed in Vancouver, so we thought it would be cool and fun to use it as an inspiration for ours.”

The press release offers a fun story that "during the video creation process, the band had a chance encounter with Elvis Costello himself. Chan recounts, 'We ran into him on the ferry on the way to Vancouver Island. We didn’t tell him about the video, but he was very nice to chat with us and he seemed interested in the band.'"

Elvis can take my word for it, China Syndrome is superb; and they do a mighty fine Squeeze cover or two, as well. My past interviews with Chan can be found here and here.

As the press release further explains, “'Curated' was co-written by Chan and guitarist Vern Beamish and is from China Syndrome’s fourth album, Hide in Plain Sight, produced at Vancouver's JC/DC Studio by David Carswell (The New Pornographers, Tegan & Sara, Destroyer, the Evaporators, Apollo Ghosts). LPs and CDs of the album are available from local stores including Zulu Records, Red Cat Records, Neptoon Records and MusicMadhouse Records; the album can also be streamed from digital music platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Bandcamp, among others."

China Syndrome's next show is on Friday, November 22 at the Fairview Pub in Vancouver.

Hallowe'en Horror Movie roundup: zombies and pagans and gore, oh my!


For awhile now, I've been hoping for an occult-themed horror program to play at a Vancouver arthouse, with films like The Devil Rides Out (coming out soon on Blu-Ray!) or The Devil's Rain, for example. But while I wait for that to happen - it may never! - this is a great idea for a Hallowe'en program: a series of British folk horror films, including Kill List, The Wicker Man, and best of all, Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon, screening at 6pm tonight!


Kudos also go to the Vancity Theatre for programming the (delightful, giddily gory, and ridiculously fun) Re-Animator, this Wednesday. Obscene visual puns about the giving of head aside, it's actually a fairly faithful adaptation of the HP Lovecraft short story, though not even Lovecraft can prepare you for how over-the-top the film gets. It is delightfully paired with an even more over-the-top horror film by one of the people behind Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna, called Society. Gore has seldom been so effectively used as political allegory, if my memories of the film are correct; it's almost like an early Peter Jackson film, but with a targeted streak of class rage at its core. It ends with an orgy of gore that must be seen to be believed:


I am more excited by the Wednesday programme (of two John Carpenter favourites, Halloween - a film and a franchise I am, frankly, tired of - and The Thing) that airs on the Big Day itself, but what the heck, Carpenter is also fun, and The Thing is a great film (I might go just to pay homage to the late, great Donald Moffat, who is the guy who doesn't want to spend the rest of the winter "tied to this fucking couch!" And let's not forget David Clennon's delightful line delivery for "you've gotta be fucking kidding me.").


The Rio, as they often do, aims for crowd-pleasers, but I can see people getting out for Beetlejuice, What We Do in the Shadows (which I almost typo'd as What We Do in the Closet!), and The Exorcist. Much as I love some Friedkin, that's another horror movie I am a bit tired of, but I can watch the stuff with Max von Sydow squaring off with Pazuzu in Iraq over and over again.


For less obvious crowd pleasers, I would recommend checking out the rental event at the Cinematheque on the 29th, curated by the director of the short film I was in recently, Fun and Games; "The Maestro" Shane Burzynski will be presenting The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue and Fulci's legendary Zombie, sometimes described as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. I am happy to see Shane get on board with 4K digital restorations, since some of the film prints he's sourced at past events (at great expense and effort) have turned out to be pretty damaged. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is a fairly obvious homage to Night of the Living Dead, but has cool zombie effects, and is interesting simply for being one of the earliest British zombie films, under the modern-day understanding of the term "zombie," anyhow. (There are doubtlessly a few earlier "voodoo zombie" films from Britain).


Fulci's Zombie, or Zombi 2, meanwhile, has the interesting distinction of trying to link up the modern zombie phenomenon with Haiti, has one of Fulci's more memorable "eye-damage" moments, and contains as a set piece that legendary scene that inspired the bandname Fake Shark, Real Zombie, though in this case, it's a fake zombie and a REAL FUCKING SHARK.


You haven't seen a zombie fight a shark before? Really? You should see this film. I mean, it's a Fulci film, and not one of his inspired masterpieces, like The Beyond, but it's still a lot of fun. I like that Shane is choosing two films that have great and obvious debts to the first and second Romero zombie movies; it's nice to be able to appreciate Romero through his influences and progeny (it's not just Greg Nicotero, folks!).

Meantime, you home video fans should definitely catch The Devil Rides Out, with Christopher Lee as a virtuous occultist trying to rescue a friend from the hands of an evil cult. I think it hits shelves on Tuesday. It is cool enough that Electric Wizard ripped it off for an album cover (using the image from a version of the film with a slightly different title, but no matter). Do you need further testimonials? I  mean, this is Electric Wizard we're talking about.

Happy Hallowe'en, folks!

Rambo: Last Blood and the evolution of Rambo as a vehicle for propaganda


Erika and I watched Rambo: Last Blood today. We kind of enjoyed it.

Allow me to explain that.

Agreed: the only actual good film of the five - five! - Rambo movies is First Blood. Filmed in BC, directed by a Canadian, and featuring an amusing, VERY brief early appearance by Bruce Greenwood (!), the film is anti-authoritarian, aware of the dangers of the abuse of power, and sympathetic to the plight of soldiers, to the extent that the climax of the film occurs not during one of the shoot'em ups, but when Rambo breaks down crying near the film's end. Best of all, it is all these things without ever seeming to act as a propaganda vehicle for any particular political movement or cause. We take Brian Dennehy and his bad cops as fairly realistic examples of the potential for small town cops to be violent hicks, without ever seeming to need to generalize that all cops are bad, or even that these particular cops are all bad (even Dennehy seems well-meaning at various times). We sympathize with soldiers, but we are aware that soldiers can do and have done - say, in Vietnam - some horrifying things, which they may be scarred by. We also realize that the film is somewhat critical of the American failure to take care of its veterans, but we probably don't want to form our own anti-government survivalist movement and move to a shack in the country to start weapons training for the inevitable conflict. The film is pretty much just a solid drama with no objectionable political subtext or intent.

Rambo: First Blood Part II is the first obvious film in the series to have a real propaganda edge to it, but as I was just Rambo-splaining to my wife, Erika, the film is kind of curious in how it approaches what it is propagandizing. It is dubious that any forces in America at the time of its making actually wanted, for example, to return to Vietnam to rescue missing prisoners of war, or that indeed anyone involved in the making of the film (or consuming of it) actually believed a large number of such prisoners existed, so it's not like the film was explicitly propagandizing such a cause, in the way, say, True Lies is explicitly propagandizing Islamophobia. It's actually a somewhat curious piece of American bullshit, because while it does have a bit of that right wing, flag-waving, patriotism-stokin', enemy-hatin' racist fever at its heart - it's maybe THE film of the 1980's that has the most in common with a Trump rally, like The Dark Knight is in its own way THE action film of generation Gitmo - its influence is kind of generalized, without obvious real-world sociopolitical intention. Wave the flag and attack, well, someone. For some reason. Even if the one in this movie is kinda far-fetched.

Rambo III, meanwhile - as I recall it, anyhow, having seen it first run, and not having revisited it since - is the one with the richest and most weaponized propaganda value, appearing to argue for US support of anti-Russian jihadis in Afghanistan, who are portrayed as heroes and allies. Since the CIA was (apparently) funding (through Pakistan) the training of Mujahadeen, including (I believe it has been established) Osama bin Laden, the film is especially interesting post-9/11. It would be really interesting to think about blowback, about the way old allies become enemies, and the shameless opportunism of US foreign policy, while watching this film with the benefit of hindsight. The film may well have been made with US government aid; it's every bit as potent a piece of propaganda as Triumph of the Will, except with a soldier, not Hitler, as its hero.

I'm actually kind of keen to revisit it, given the above.

Then came just plain and simple Rambo, the film structurally most similar to Rambo: First Blood pt Ii, involving a rescue mission, this time into Myanmar. I suspect that Myanmar was chosen as its location - or were they calling it Burma? - not because of any political objectives or ambitions on the part of the US government in that region, but simply because not many people in North America have strong feelings about Myanmar one way or the other. It was a way to put Rambo at the heart of a bloody political conflict and (doubtlessly) misrepresent it freely to suit the purposes of the story, precisely because most people don't follow what's going on in Myanmar that closely. The Burmese bad guys are like the aliens in the Alien franchise or the zombies in anything: an excuse to have heroes fighting, a pretext for onscreen violence, an enemy to kill. The film is, in a way, the purest action film of the lot, the one least morally suspect, for all its brutal violence; as for the rest - "it's just a movie, don't take it so seriously," as they always say, but this time it kind of rings true. People with a deeper investment in Myanmar may feel differently; and hell, maybe there WAS some US military/ government involvement in Myanmar that the film was somehow trying to justify or drum up tacit support for? I don't really read it that way, but I dunno. (This isn't to say it isn't, possibly, racist or otherwise offensive; apologies to Burma, but I still find it kind of ridiculously entertaining, for how over-the-top its kills are, even though I presume it has absolutely nothing of value to offer by way of insights into the actual conflicts in the region).

So the series, to recap:
1) Begins with an anti-authoritarian drama
2) Develops into vague propaganda
3) Becomes very clear propaganda, with a possibility of direct real-world implications
4) Appears to try to use a propaganda-like structure of the previous two films in the service of a somewhat apolitical action film.

Where would the last chapter land? I was curious.

Answer: pretty close to installment 3, actually, as having very visible/ weaponized propaganda content. As a friend (hi, Ken! ) pointed out the other day, there's obviously a connection between this film and the mood in Trump's America vis-a-vis Mexico, with anti-Mexican sentiment so high in the film that at one point, a character says she wants to go to Mexico, and Rambo's first response, offered with no explanation or cause, is "why do you want to do that?" This is then followed up a Mexican character - the sole sympathetic one - characterizing ALL OF MEXICO as "a dangerous place." The film makes the director's first feature, Get the Gringo, which is also full of images of sleazy, evil, dangerous Mexicans, seem quite fair and evenhandedby comparison, since there are also some virtuous Mexicans among its characters (compared to the single sole decent Mexican in the new Rambo film, whose decency has required her, apparently, to leave her country; she's the one who describes it as "dangerous."

The propaganda content is not the most interesting part of the film, however, and does seem to come second, as a purpose for the film, to the main goal of providing excuses for Rambo to kill people, as in the previous film. The most interesting thing about the film, in fact, is how godawful the screenplay is, and how - once Rambo breaks out his knife and starts menacing people with it - little that ultimately matters. Despite two screenwriters being given credit (one of whom is Sylvester Stallone; I wonder if his screenwriting credit was given him because he mostly improvised his lines, or something?), the English-speaking characters in this film, including Stallone, seem to be making up everything they say on the spot, with an eye towards advancing the action of the film; with a combination of cliches - which Erika likened to Hallmark cards - and dully literal plot advancements, often offered with an air of grandiose macho posturing, the film feels like it could have been written in crayon...

But even as you roll your eyes at the ham-fisted tough talk, you will also be aware that it doesn't really matter much to being able to enjoy the film, in the lowbrow, a-critical way that it is intended to be enjoyed. After all, no one who has come to this movie is expecting good writing; if they wanted something well-written, they wouldn't be seeing a Rambo film at all. No: we have assembled to see Stallone growl at people and kill them, to stab people in the neck, to create cool 'Nam-style booby traps, to shoot people with arrows, to beat people to death with a hammer, and, with the aid of a giant knife, to rip out a still-beating human heart and show it to its owner (all of which Rambo does in the film, note).

And as atrociously-written as it is, it's very well made, in terms if its images. If you can play past its anti-Mexican, politically suspect/ racist elements, it clips along at a fast pace, is nicely photographed and edited - maybe a bit less so than Get the Gringo, which is written with wit and style, compared to the new Rambo film, and is also a bit showier with its camera-craft and set designs.

In an odd way, it was even kind of comforting to see that the propaganda elements had crept back in; I kind of felt nostalgiaic for the days of Rambo II and III when watching it. You don't get many blunt-weapon style Hollywood propaganda films these days. In that regard, Rambo: Last Blood is kind of an old-school throwback of a movie.

My Mom, had she lived to watch it, would have been screaming "kill him!" at the screen, when Rambo finally squared off against the main villain.

She was fun to watch movies like this with, actually.

Erika and I kind of enjoyed it, too.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Meh

Well, it's better than a Conservative win, and not much different than I expected, but I thought the NDP would do better. Not the first time I have felt this way after an election, and likely not the last.

Fractured and the Mental Health Ordeal film


There's a sort of subgenre of thriller, not to my knowledge being presently grouped together and acknowledged as a subgenre, where a main character gets their beliefs fundamentally challenged about reality and/ or their mental health, often around the issue of a child in jeopardy, who may or may not exist. Some of the bigger-budget examples include The Forgotten, with Julianne Moore; Flightplan, with Jodie Foster; and Non-Stop, with Liam Neeson, which is in some ways atypical, and in some ways not. The formula for the film usually has four distinct phases: the set up, where things are as they seem, and our hero unquestionably virtuous: the challenge, where our hero finds himself in a Twilight-Zone type reality where no one believes them about some fundamental issue, and they become increasingly isolated; the ordeal, where desperation is most palpable, and we and our hero - who is struggling against doubt and perhaps dishonesty and nefarious schemes - are led to entertain the possibility that what we think we know is wrong, and that they really are, as others claim, insane, deluded, deeply in error about the world they have been living in; and the resolution, which can vary, but usually - sometimes at the cost of great improbability, most palpable in The Forgotten (and if I recall, an even more absurd alternate ending for that film) - the hero is vindicated, proven right, and not only is reassured about their grip on reality, but saves the day for others. The borderline between these last two phases of the film is sometimes fluid: sometimes the ordeal "fakes us out" with a resolution that is as we expected it would be, then reveals that really the ordeal has not yet ended.

There are, of course, variants in how this story manifests. Jodie Foster, in Flight Plan, boards a plane with her daughter, then wakes up on the flight to be told her daughter was never with her. Julianne Moore, in The Forgotten, goes to bed one night (as I recall) in a world where everyone remembers, along with her, that she had a son who died in a plane crash, then wakes up in a world where everyone but her has forgotten he ever existed, and she must prove that he in fact was real. Non-Stop deals with an Air Marshall who may in fact not be who he thinks he is; he is trying to rescue passengers on a plane from terrorists, not a child, as I recall, but for a time, reality shifts, and the hero is encouraged to believe, very credibly, that he is, in fact, the terrorist, and is suffering a mental breakdown. Calling into question - in all three cases - the sanity of the protagonist also teases us with the possibility that we, in identifying with them, have been wrong all along; the resolution, in all these examples, soothes us by ultimately vindicating our hero, and assuring us, in fact, we were right.

They're odd films. I find something in them objectionable, in that they seem to suggest no one is ever mentally ill - that people who appear to be in the grips of a deep delusion have been, in fact, correct all along. It's not like people who suffer from delusional thinking need to be encouraged by such films that if they stick to their guns, everything will eventually work out all right for them. (It's such a strong feature of the above films that it almost makes the "happy ending" predictable; I mean, what mass audience is going to pay for a movie where they leave the theatre being told they were wrong all along? Save that for the arthouse!).

But there's also an interesting aspect to them, almost a conspiratorial mindset at work, since often our protagonists are pitted against institutions, authorities and so forth. These are almost always incorrect; sometimes they are malignant, even responsible for the threat in the film. That paranoid mindset, where you are encouraged to disbelieve the reality you find yourself in - where reality and the forces aligned with it seem like some vicious prank - has an almost Phildickian aspect, is kind of subversive and possibly anti-authoritarian. (I don't know all my Dick, but Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said definitely has relevancy here, only there the person whose existence is called into question is the main character, himself). If only the films didn't end with such a strong reassurance that we were  right about reality all along - if only they were allowed to end with a note of doubt - the genre would be even more interesting (it occurs to me that Take Shelter also fits into this "type" of film, though it is far better than any of the other films I've used as examples).

The director of a new Netflix thriller, Fractured, is Brad Anderson; he has previously made two superb films dealing with mental health issues, Session 9 and The Machinist, and another that is at least interesting (Stonehearst Asylum; it's okay, if you're a fan of Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, but it owes a bit more to genre, is not as fresh as either of those films; of course, he has several other films to boot, but none on mental health issues, as I recall).  In Fractured, after an accident, a man - played by Sam Worthington, who does fine work - finds himself in a hospital, where we have seen him bring his daughter; only - after he passes out in the waiting room and wakes up - no one believes she exists, there's no record of her, etc. It definitely fits with the above subgenre of films, and plays on some of the conventions mentioned; but you get the feeling that Anderson has thought quite a bit about these conventions. That's about all I want to say, but it's quite a gripping thriller. It's still not as good as Session 9, but few recent horror moves have been.

Anyhow, check it out. (I really can't say more than that, but personally - and even this is a mild spoiler - I liked the ending a lot. Apparently it has been contentious (bigger spoilers there, and an odd attempt to reference the subgenre by citing an example-free trope apparently named for Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, which I have not seen, but which may also have a bearing here).