Saturday, June 29, 2019

George RR Martin, The Armageddon Rag, and Game of Thrones

I came late, this month, to Season 1 of  Game of Thrones - a phenomenon about which I have felt some curiosity, but also some desire to protect my time from. It seemed to require a considerable investment of same - like it would be a lot of work; like the author, George RR Martin, expected a fair bit of his readers.

I am speaking, above, of course, of the HBO series, but I also did attempt - long before sitting down to watch an episode - to read book one of A Song of Fire and Ice. I got a few chapters in, but the demands placed on a reader seemed perhaps... in excess of what I would get from the novel. Were I to wish to put a great deal of effort into reading, maybe I'd tackle Moby Dick or Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion again, or do the major novels of Ursula K. LeGuin (I've only read The Lathe of Heaven, and loved it, but I gather it is atypical). It's not just that I'm too lazy to enter into  a relationship with a writer that requires a degree of work - I am a big fan of Blood Meridian, for instance, and have read all the novels of Cormac McCarthy minus The Orchard Keeper; it's that one of the things I value about pulp is its efficiency. If I'm going to read crap, I like it to be concise. From hardboiled crime to classic SF, there are very few pulpy entertainments that I've read that have exceeded 350 pages, and the series I've delved into - Bosch, Reacher, Ellroy's Los Angeles novels, or what-have-you - can be read in any order, without having to construct charts or diagrams, explaining who each family is, what land they are from, and what long-standing ambitions and resentments fester in their hearts. Other than the first novel in the Dune series, I have read very little in the way of epic, world-building fantasy, and have largely been content to keep it that way. Robert Jordan, for instance, I am not remotely curious about. And Tolkien? I read The Hobbit. 

Perhaps George RR Martin is not crap, though? There does seem to be some heft to this series - it's not just escapism. There seems to be some ideas beneath it, something it has to say about power and human nature and honour and so forth - the big themes of the first season. And some of the characters - Tyrion Lannister, obviously, as played in the series by Peter Dinklage - are truly memorable and interesting creations, almost Shakespearean. Not sure what to make of it, as literature, really - not having actually read the books - but I must say, after dragging my feet through episodes 1 to 6, forgetting characters, having to play things back to keep abreast of plot points, and constantly finding myself asking myself "Is this really going to be worth the time I'm having to invest?", I found myself utterly gripped and engaged by the last three episodes in Season One. Which Erika and I watched back-to-back, tonight. It was very compelling.

And thus, I am curious about Season Two, and Three, and... At the very least, I think I'm committed until I find out what a Red Wedding is. I have deliberately kept myself ignorant on these matters; for instance, I had no idea before sitting down to Season One that Sean Bean would... well, let's leave the spoiler out, I guess, for the sake of other GoT virgins.

I'm not sitting down to write about Game of Thrones, anyhow.

I'm sitting down to write about The Armageddon Rag, George RR Martin's fourth full novel, originally published in 1983, and purchased off a Coles Remainder table by me in hardcover around 1984. Read it and loved it then, and about five years ago, I read it and loved it again. May I just say, if it is not already being filmed somewhere, this novel has amazing potential for a megabudget hit, if handled right. Movies about rock bands can be lucrative, and seem to be in vogue of late. Apocalyptic fantasies are popular, too. Most importantly, though, someone has to make this movie while the Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper and Wayne Kramer and Iggy Pop and and Robert Plant and so forth are still active. We've kind of lost out on Black Sabbath, already. I'm not saying that any of these people need to be involved in the movie (it would be cool but unnecessary), but they should be alive to dig any references to themselves, so fans can enjoy imagining them enjoying it, and if we wait too late - wait til kids in their 20's are going "Who is Jimmy Page?" - some of the potential for a hit gets lost.

Mind you, it's been  awhile since I read this book, so I can't give you the most detailed accounting of its story, but anyone with an interest in rock music (especially the rock music of the late 1960's) should check it out. Steve Newton, especially, should read it. Bev Davies should read it. Any of my fellow writers and editors at the Straight should read it.  It's basically about the failed revolutionary potential of rock music, about the promises made in the 1960's (to "kick out the jams, motherfuckers!") versus what actually was delivered. It's the 1960's viewed from the hindsight of the 1980's, through the eyes of a disappointed Big Chill boomer who was there. It also has occult and quasi-Lovecraftian elements, as I recall - about murders being committed in the wake of a reunited rock band - sort of equal parts Blue Oyster Cult and MC5 - whose reunion is actually designed to bring about something supernatural: a veritable rock and roll apocalypse...

Anyhow, I've said enough - and I don't remember much more to tell - but it's a fun read. It's also, unlike A Song of Fire and Ice, something you could, if highly motivated, read in a day or two. (Or a week or two, if you're busy and tired all the time!).

...I mean, it's a very silly book, but filled with ideas and entertainment. The rock band is named after the dark riders in Tolkien - the Nazgul. What a great idea for a band name! And a great idea for a novel.

Maybe I should take another stab at the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, now that the series has provided me some cheats....

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blaze, plus Lucinda Williams review

Erika and I watched Blaze last night on Netflix, about Austin singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley was the subject of two songs by other more noted musicians ("Drunken Angel," by Lucinda Williams, and "Blaze's Blues," by Townes van Zandt) and himself the author of well-regarded country tunes like "Clay Pigeons," covered by John Prine, and "If I Could Only Fly" - covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (with Merle coming in on a verse). While there was nothing overwhelming about it, it's well worth seeing; it's gentle, expansive, fond of its subject matter, filled with striking images, and has excellent lead performances. Ben Dickey, whom I don't know at all, plays Foley, who, like Dickey, was born in Arkansas; 80's popstar and sometimes Bob Dylan band member Charlie Sexton does good work as Townes van Zandt; and there are smaller roles for Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, and Richard Linklater. It's directed by Ethan Hawke, and adapted from a memoir by Sybil Rosen, Foley's wife, who is played by Alia Shawkat, another performer I did not know (but who does fine work). I have not read Sybil Rosen's memoir; the film does have a bit of a "spouse's eye view" of Foley, putting the relationship front-and-centre in the narrative, reminding one of that Joy Division movie that was made a few years ago from the point of view of Ian Curtis' widow, but it does take in the years after Foley and Rosen separated.

Besides using Rosen's memoir and memories as a source, the filmmakers also seem to have done deep research into Townes van Zandt, since many of the jokes and anecdotes Sexton's character offers in the film are drawn from actual jokes and anecdotes that van Zandt told. (The whole story about voluntarily falling from a balcony, if I recall correctly, pops up in Be Here to Love Me, the documentary about van Zandt, which would make an excellent film to watch before or after Blaze).  I am not sure if the central "radio interview" conceit that the film is organized around, with Hawke as the DJ, quizzing van Zandt, is a fiction or not, but suspect it is. There's a nicely understated bit where van Zandt - as played by Sexton - tells an untruth and his collaborator gets up and leaves the studio, without comment. He does seem to have been a bit of an unreliable, if engaging and entertaining, source to draw from, as anyone who has heard his various, mutually incompatible explanations of "Pancho and Lefty" will realize...

Anyhow, it's an enjoyable film, my viewing of which was directly inspired by Lucinda Williams' anecdotes about Foley and Townes van Zandt at the Commodore the other night, which, by the by, I wrote a review of for the Straight. In point of fact, I only ever asked to write the review so I could get Erika into the show, which plan was foiled a little when she caught a very bad cold and bailed. I ended up going alone, not entirely wanting to, just to live up to my end of a bargain; it turns out I'm very glad to have been there, and am a much bigger fan of Williams than I was prior to the concert.

One little follow up: anyone who happens to read this who is publishing a book or such on the work of Townes van Zandt should note that yes, bev davies took photos of van Zandt in the 1980's when he was playing the Vancouver Folk Festival, which pretty much no one has seen. The one she's shown me is simply too good to get its world debut on a mere blog; someone go offer Bev some money for it!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly at the Vancity Theatre

An interesting conversation sprang up shortly after the Vancity Theatre screening of The Wild Bunch, the other week.

As I had mentioned previously on this blog, that's a film I had always struggled with. What I saw as Sam Peckinpah's glorification of male-on-male violence, and nostalgia for the days of "real manhood," had always kinda left me non-plussed, on my frequent previous attempts to engage with it. Somehow that changed for me this screening, maybe because I finally figured out that that Ernest Borgnine and William Holden's conversation at the fire, about pride and having the sense to know when you're wrong, was actually meant to have deep thematic echoes, to create a conversation that resonated throughout the rest of the film. Cluing into that, this time, I enjoyed teasing out the implications of that conversation, which seemed rewarding and worthwhile; and I loved how the film looked and sounded. I have seen the film on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, and projected once at UBC (from what source I am unsure), and it's never looked better than it did that night. About the only complaint I could muster, once it was all over - besides the guy beside me chatting with his friend during the film and noisily rustling his popcorn - was that it sure did sprawl: it was hard holding onto the thread of meaning, introduced at that early juncture in the film, through endless shots of canyons and trains and people riding on horseback. I'm sure it's heresy to say it, to some, but the film could have lost 20 minutes, easily, and been punchier and more effective (which is probably what the studio execs who chopped it down initially thought, too).

With an awareness that The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was coming up at the Vancity (on July 9th), I took to Facebook, where I ended up in conversation with a fella who goes by the name Nick Mitchum, who, as NO FUN and DOA fans might know, is also an artist named ARGH! He'd been present for The Wild Bunch, and we ended up in a discussion about the tendency of later Leone to sprawl. It's something you first see in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (which, I gather, in its longest cut, runs a fullsome three hours; the version coming up at the Vancity Theatre, which they're describing as the "definitive cut," is actually 20 minutes shorter). I opined, as I have been given to do, that I preferred, of Leone's works, his first two spaghettis, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, which are much more efficient engines for generating meaning and entertainment: there's very little in the way of fat on either of those films, whereas later Leone gets pudgier and pudgier, going from sprawl (TGTB&TU) to bloat (Once Upon a Time in the West - which never gets better than its first fifteen minutes) to two films of his that I can no longer watch at all, Duck You Sucker! (for all its well-meaning political posturings, a naive, self-indulgent mess) and Once Upon a Time in America, which was so bloody dull the last time I tried to sit through it - in its full, restored, draggy glory - that I had to turn it off.

I am not alone in noting this tendency to self-indulgence in later Leone. Alex Cox - the Repo Man and Sid & Nancy director, who wrote one of the most entertaining books on spaghetti westerns ever written, 10,000 Ways to Die, says of the longest cut of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:
There's a tendency among critics to think that 'longer is better' and that the director always wants/ deserves/ should get the longest possible version of his film. But that isn't always true. Directors of very long films can sometimes be accused of losing the plot. In this instance, what is the point of the (rediscovered) scene where Tuco visits a cave and his gang slide down on ropes to meet him? It's cartoonish, not very well lit or shot. The scene where Sentenza visits a ruined fort is beautifully photographed, but it's irrelevant, and its dormitories of wounded soldiers reappear in later scenes. The long 'restored' sequence in the desert where Tuco further tortures Blondie is embarrassing, childish and slow...
Alex Cox, mind you, loves The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and it appears on his list of the top 20 spaghetti westerns (but after For a Few Dollars More, note). The only question is how long it should be. (I am guessing some of the scenes he finds unnecessary, above, are actually not present in the "definitive cut" that is to screen on July 9th - so others out there might agree with him, too.)

What was interesting was discovering from Nick Mitchum that he actually prefers the late Leones to the early ones, and thinks the director's cut of Once Upon a Time in America, which I hold to be unwatchably dragged-out, is Leone's masterpiece. "I do love the Man With No Name trilogy," he wrote on Facebook, "but I also find them kinda cartoony... I like the Once Upon a Time trilogy more... they could be hours longer... I wouldn't care... I find myself entertained by every frame... and of course the Morricone scores... I could close my eyes and love those movies..."

No argument from me about the scores, but I was kind of shocked to find he thinks the Once Upon a Time movies (presumably also including Duck You Sucker!) are better the first three Leone spaghettis. I took this discussion to Tom Charity, programming director of the Vancity Theatre and the man who is responsible for programming both The Wild Bunch and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, to see what he thought, and it turns out, he agrees with Nick! "Early Leone is pulp," Charity writes, whereas
late Leone is literature. He grew into himself as an artist. The later work just has more dimensions. Not only (but obviously) in terms of its technical / aesthetic sophistication, but crucially (what you don't like) in Leone's command of time. The films expand, they become symphonic, replaying motifs we can recognize even from the Dollars movies, but with greater complexity that allows room for the surge and sweep of history, politics, and a less callous, more nuanced and forgiving take on human nature.
Charity continued to mete out high praise for Once Upon a Time in America, last night at Lucinda Williams. I must admit his esteem for the film - which I couldn't even make it through - intrigues me, makes me want to revisit the movie. I still suspect, at the end of the day, that I'll prefer the leaner and meaner early Leone's - because I don't really have much interest in cinema as literature, and am just fine with pulpiness if we're talking about spaghetti westerns. My favourite examples of the genre, like The Big Gundown, are equally pulpy... which is not to say they aren't jam-packed with meaning; they're just efficient in how they articulate it. (Charity also has more admiration for Heaven's Gate than I do, too, which says something).

Whether or not I'll come to appreciate Once Upon a Time in America, I can't say, but I already appreciate The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and am very excited to be given a chance to see it on the big screen, in this "definitive" version. It's sort of the middle ground between Leone's modes, expansive but focused, and playful throughout. It's great to have a chance to see it on the big screen, in a top-notch projection. It happens July the 9th, screening one night only. How can we not attend?

Friday, June 21, 2019

The New Questioning Coyote Brigade (with Gerry Hannah) and the Pointed Sticks, tonight at the SBC

Do you miss the Subhumans? (Our Subhumans, not the UK band). Have you  heard Gerry Hannah's roots-rocking re-arrangements of songs like "World at War" and "I Got Religion?" You should, really really. Tonight you get a chance to, at the SBC Cabaret, where the New Questioning Coyote Brigade, Gerry's "new" band (actually active for a few years now, but not yet widely appreciated, I don't think) will open for the Pointed Sticks.

I interviewed both Nick Jones and Gerry Hannah about the gig, here. Truth be known, I have been thinking for awhile now that I have been running out of things to ask the Pointed Sticks, who are rapidly turning into my second-most interviewed local band (after David M of NO FUN, but ahead of DOA, for instance). It turns out I was wrong: I had never asked Nick Jones, for example, where he was when the Direct Action ("the Squamish Five") was active, and if his story intersects with theirs. Turns out it does, a little! So that's a pretty interesting read.

(Sorry to Not Inpublic, for not having mentioned them in that article - I didn't notice them on the poster!).

Also, if you haven't read it, I have an update on the Rickshaw, talking with Mo Tarmohamed about his last couple of years running the venue. Mostly I've been preoccupied transcribing David Yow stuff (see below for some), and soon will need to put aside this little hobby of mine and focus on something more lucrative. Meantime, I have a gig to go to tonight!

David Yow on Upsidedown Cross (a mini-interview)

David Yow with Flipper, at the Astoria, June 7th, 2019, by Allan MacInnis

David Yow is, besides being a highly memorable frontman, quite a talented actor. If you  haven't seen Macon Blair's film I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, it is, as far as I know, still on Netflix, here in Canada; it's a Sundance-winning black comedy that reminded me a little of Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, without being quite as nasty. Yow - for whom the role was written, we gather - plays the leader of a small band of criminals, whose trajectory intersects with that of a female protagonist who is getting steadily more upset by how shitty people can be to each other.   

The recent horror anthology Southbound is maybe a bit harder to see but Yow also has a very interesting role, playing a man searching for his lost sister in a mysteriously purgatorial, supernaturally-governed zone. Yow also has a role in the upcoming film Under the Silver Lake (technically already released, I think, but not so easy to see in Canada at the moment, so let's optimistically call it "upcoming"). It's directed by David Robert Mitchell, who previously did It Follows.     

Most people probably do not know, however, of William Hellfire's film Upsidedown Cross. It's a very perverse, unsettling little movie - sort of as if Flannery O'Connor were making pornography with Richard Kern (or Zebedy Colt), which is not to say that it is actually pornographic (unless something can be pornographic in terms of psychology alone). I picked it up on Yow's recommendation - there are plenty of copies on eBay, and it's not so expensive. The film does have eccentricities and limitations - for instance, characters communicate in exceptionally long monologues, while other characters just sit listening to them; naturalism is not the film's strong suit. And you have to be able to take fairly strong stuff - there is some pretty unsettling abuse that goes on in the course of the film. But there's no shortage of ideas, Yow is terrific, and it actually doesn't look that bad, for a shot-on-video microbudget feature.. If you want a detailed review, to get more of a sense of the content of the film, there is a fair one online, here. I don't want to say much more about it myself, but what follows is from my conversation with David Yow about the film, when he was in town with Flipper.   

AM: Okay, coming back to films, so I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is great, and Southbound is great. And I’m excited to see Under the Silver Lake. What else have you done that I should seek out, that fans of yours need to see, that you’re really proud of?

DY: Well, there’s this guy, William Hellfire. That’s not his real name. He makes extremely low budget horror movies that are very influenced by late 60’s and 70’s shock/ exploitation movies. And he did a movie called Upsidedown Cross. I think we shot it in two days, maybe three, for a budget of, like, $1200. And honest to God, he’s done two movies that he shot in a day: feature length films that he shot in a day. And so the aesthetic is – he doesn’t care about good sound, and it’s not so important about the lighting, and how good that shot is, or whatever, it’s really, really run-gun. And so Upsidedown Cross, keeping that in mind, is kind of a remarkable movie, and if you’re talking about a good performance… there’s a part in it where I play a con man, posing as a preacher, who exorcises this girl who is a prostitute and drug addict. Her Mom hires this guy to exorcise her, and he’s a con man. And there’s one point when she’s tied up on a bed and I’m sitting on her back, whipping her with a belt. They had a yoga mat on her back, and we tested it before, to see how hard I could hit without hurting her, and I could fuckin’ whale, just really, like, hittin’ her. And she’s so sweet, and she’s beautiful, and I don’t want to hurt anybody. And during that scene, where I had to whip her – I want to say it was fun, because it was acting and it was not me that was doing it, it was this other person, but after we shot that scene, and we only did one take – I went outside and cried [Yow chokes up as he speaks], because I felt so terrible that I just beat the fuck out of this girl, um… it was a very, very strange experience. I haven’t experienced anything like that before or since. From an actor’s standpoint, it was really cool, because I was able to pull off this believable thing, but from a human standpoint, it was just horrible, it was just terrible. So that was interesting.

AM: Did you talk to her afterwards? She was okay?
DY: Absolutely. I made sure she was fine, and she was, no bruises or anything.

[...there is actually more to the film than Yow is describing, but I'll leave that for you to discover. It's a remarkable film, and better-looking (for what it is) than Yow's descriptions might lead you to expect. Check it out!]

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Vicious Cycles MC tonight, L7, the Rickshaw, and more!

I only had a small amount of space to work with in my recent Straight piece on the Vicious Cycles Motorcycle Club, so I did not get to include many details - like that bassist Rob "Not of Nomeansno" Wright is related to one of the drummers, Paul ‘Duke’ Paetz, from Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, who also emerged from the Edmonton scene, and have a nun song of their own. If you don't know them, they're probably the greatest libertarian/ Christian surf rock band to come out of Canada, ever. They may be the only one, in fact; I kind of hope so. They're pretty funny, if you don't mind all the Ayn Rand references.

I wonder if more standard variety left-wing Alberta hardcores are embarrassed by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra? (I also wonder if Stephen Harper dug them? He didn't strike me as having very interesting musical tastes - seemed like he might be a kind of Kenny G guy, maybe, or Blue Rodeo, or maybe at the outside the Barenaked Ladies, but hell, what do I know...? I am guessing Jerry Jerry would have been too punk rock for him). 

Donita Sparks and Jennifer Finch of L7, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Anyhow, besides the Vicious Cycles MC, also this week on the Straight website, I have a live review of the recent L7 show. It was edited a bit, both for length and for content, since I went a bit over the rails griping about a couple things that were peripheral to the actual concert review (like, I got really annoyed at being made to check my cloth tote, which meant I had to watch the entire show with a fucking pen and notepad at my side! Grr! Women aren't asked to check their bags - so it's gender discrimination! I've been discriminated against! I AM BEING OPPRESSED! - probably for the best that that all got chopped). There was one observation about a guy getting ejected from the pit by a DIY security force of punk females, who felt harassed by him - that I would have liked to include, but was deemed too peripheral to actually reviewing the band. It was kinda the most riot grrrl thing I saw that night, actually - "sisters are doin' it for themselves" type-thing.

Truth be known, I ain't actually a huge L7 fan - "I like the early stuff" - but it was fun to see how much the crowd enjoyed them, and to be reminded how good "Deathwish" and "Shove" were, and it was great they climaxed with "Fast & Frightening," which is still my favourite song of theirs. 

One thing I think I did say was that I was really  glad they picked such a cool opening act,  Le Butcherettes. I snagged bi/MENTAL, and I'm really enjoying it. The whole thing is interestingly complex pop, polished and sensual and easy to digest without being at all boring; Teri Gender Bender uses "fuck" really well in a few songs; and Jello Biafra makes a fun appearance on the opening track. This seems like the sort of album that it could become a headphone go-to that you listen to over and over and over again, a good "car record." It would be interesting to talk about Gender-Bender's costume choices in light of the issue of cultural appropriation, but...

Also on the Straight site, I have a piece up talking with Rickshaw owner Mo Tarmohamed. It's been very popular on Facebook - people just keep re-sharing it, which I'm pleased to see. Happy tenth anniversary, Rickshaw!

Finally, speaking of the Barenaked Ladies, there's also a film I would have liked to have reviewed, playing this weekend at the Vancity, but it didn't end up happening, about the situation with Norval Morrisseau forgeries. I am under the impression it takes in the ways that art galleries exploit First Nations artists. Seems pretty interesting, and a Barenaked Ladies member does pop up in the story; I gather that Adrian Mack came up with the inspired tagline for Ken Eisner's review, that "this barenaked lady is not for the feint of art." In the absence of a screener, I will just direct you to Ken's review, and mention that there is apparently a panel discussion tonight, when the film screens at the Vancity. 

And see y'all tonight at the WISE Hall for the Vicious Cycles album release (sorry, I don't have time to do justice to the opening acts, but they all sounded really, really fun, Rob had nice things to say about all of you, and I'm stoked in particular to catch Sandstorm!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Lester Interest: More than just a Gorgo-Holder

The whole situation with David M. is unlike anything I have ever experienced with any other musician. He has a small cadre of believers, collaborators, and friends who show up at pretty much every show (or feel guilty and make personal excuses). He has been coaxed (in part by me) into doing larger performances in the last while - like opening for Marshall Crenshaw at the Rickshaw, or playing DOA's Fight Back Festival - but he's said, over and over again, that he prefers the smaller shows; he really prefers intimacy over playing to a roomful of strangers. For instance, at a recent celebration of the music of Paul Leahy, out at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster, apparently exactly one person showed up who was not actually in the band or attached to the venue - but that person was Finn Leahy, Paul's son. M. was delighted with that turnout and I think Finn ended up some kind of participant, as well (M. will often bring members of his audience onto the stage, even if only to hold his Gorgo).

Lester Interest holding the scroll for the sea shanty, "The Ship Called the Anna Maria," Heritage Grill, July 31, 2017

In addition to being a quality-over-quantity kind of guy, he's remarkably loyal; to use a personal example, he played my wedding, performing a song we co-authored - having had worked graveyards the night before. He spent the day commuting to Duncan, where the wedding took place, and then commuted back to the mainland to work another shift, sleeping if at all while in transit. Would I do that for me, if I were him? I dunno.

One of the most loyal of M's friends, it seems - far more than me - was the late Lester Interest (AKA Glen Livingstone), who has been at almost every David M. (or NO FUN) show I have been to, and hundreds that I have not. More than just a Gorgo-holder, Lester read weird-ass, hilarious beat poetry set to M's music, for instance doing an adaptation of Eric Burdon's "The Black Plague," skewed to take in Christmas (so instead of "bring out your dead," it's "bring out your gifts"). He was dry, witty, enigmatic, and a wholly anomalous presence on stage. I suspect he was a pretty talented writer, actually, tho' I haven't read anything he might have done.

But sadly, Lester Interest has passed on. This is the last photo of him I took, last Christmas season, where he arrived late-ish at the Heritage to sit and watch David close the show (perhaps during his varied, 40-minute riff on "Good King Wenceslas?" (also featured in the photo are Bob Hanham, Norah Holtby, and Richard Chapman - like i say, quality over quantity, all the way).

I didn't really know Lester well. We interacted a bit about Doors bootlegs (he knew his Doors, and had, I believe, seen them live more than once). Mostly I knew him from his very quirky contributions to M's shows, but I'm sad I didn't get to know him better, and I have plans to make at least one of David's shows (he hates the word "tribute") offered in Lester's memory. I do not know what David has planned for his friend (he has a whole song cycle, Leahy Stardust, written with Paul in mind), but like the poster says, it won't be M. that I'm going to the show for. See you around, Lester (tho' the way things are I'm hoping it will be later rather than sooner). M's shows will be at least 16% less fun without you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Belated RIPs: Roky, Dr. John

I saw both Roky and Dr. John one time each, both with my wife, and we loved both shows. RIP to both of them. (I've posted about it on FB but not here).

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Dragged Across Concrete

There are lots of reasons to see Dragged Across Concrete. For one, it was shot in Vancouver by S. Craig Zahler, who made Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (and, I gather, wrote a later Puppet Master film!). It has two very talented lead actors - Vince Vaughn, reeling it back in a bit to safer "nice guy" territory after the big stretch he took for Brawl; and Mel Gibson, whose work I like, whatever else one might say about him. It also has some terrific supporting performances from people I like (sorry, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, and Michael Jai White; I'm thinking Jennifer Carpenter and Laurie Holden here). And there's some very witty lines of dialogue, some real tension (and startling moments of violence), and some interesting psychology at work. I haven't liked either of Zahler's films post-Bone Tomahawk as much as I liked that film, but I also have had the impression with both of them that he's making films that are designed to be watched and enjoyed more than once - and that one would have to watch them more than once to really be able to say anything meaningful about them.

I guess I might as well acknowledge that I'm a smidgen disappointed this time out, since I had high hopes for the film, have been waiting for it for a very long time, and found it a little slow in the middle (on first viewing). But overall it was interesting, seems a keeper, and is a film I will probably return to someday. As one critic mentions in the poster above, Zahler seems very old-school in its approach to cinema, evoking 70's crime cinema, without feeling self-consciously retro (a flavour I mistrust). I gather there's some fussing online about Zahler's politics, which are unknown to me, but sometimes seem to resonate to the right of the spectrum. Hell, I've participated in a bit of that myself. I didn't find much of Dragged to be objectionable though; there is a moment - in Don Johnson's office - where some of the banter seems to be expressing what may be Zahler's actual opinions, but he's not the first suspiciously conservative filmmaker whose work I've found things to enjoy in (I'm also a fan of Clint Eastwood and ol' Mad Mel himself).

Anyhow: it's worth watching! (Oh, and fans of 70's funk soundtracks for blaxploitation cinema - "Across 110th Street," that sort of thing - will like the soundtrack, with Zahler co-writing the songs himself, and bands like the O'Jays performing them. The O'Jays are still around? I had no idea). 

The Wild Bunch to screen Tuesday

I don't always see eye to eye with people about Sam Peckinpah. 

I think this is a good thing. I think tastes in film and music should be personal and subjective; I think even if we can say that a certain film is "objectively" the greatest film a filmmaker ever made - like The Wild Bunch is for Sam - that doesn't require you to love it more than other films in his canon, because (just like "what you want" and "what you get," to borrow from Pat Garrett), loving a film and recognizing its greatness are two different things. 

I really, really love, for example, Peckinpah's The Getaway, with Steve McQueen - especially the first fifteen or so minutes. I'm given to calling it my favourite of Sam's films, mostly because of how he uses editing, sound and image to bring us inside the character of Doc's mind. You feel what it's like to be in prison with Doc in those opening scenes; McQueen's acting is as minimal as can be, but his emotions, his anger, his tension, his simmering struggle to stay contained, are all powerfully present. I love it. I also absolutely adore Slim Pickens in that film, and the way the story departs from the source text. Jim Thompson's novel ends on a very grim, downbeat note; as great as it is, I love that a sort of scarred romanticism emerges in the course of The Getaway, to turn it (sort of) into a testament to the ways in which love can survive horrific tribulations. Peckinpah can be pretty cynical, but he also has a romantic, sentimental streak in him, and it pleases me to see that peeking out. People have argued with me that The Getaway was a film that Peckinpah had no deep personal investment in, that it was a project for hire, but it still has some of my favourite moments in any of his films, and you know what, I do not think there is a way that that can be wrong. 

Another thing in The Getaway's favour: it is not a fucking mess, the way, say, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia or Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid or Cross of Iron are (three other films of Peckinpah's that I love, note). I also love Convoy, very much considered a lesser work of his, which was supposedly mostly finished by other people because Sam was too drunk or high to really get the job done. I don't know if that's true, but if it is, whoever worked on it did a very good job, at times, of producing Peckinpah-like cinema, albeit at its most shitkicker/ vulgarian level - the kind of film that has giddy music accompanying a barroom brawl, you know? There's something "made by apes" about it which is at times embarrassing to behold. It's also very, very entertaining, however, and it's considerably better put-together than other "late Sam" movies, with none of the sprawl or self-indulgent sloppiness you see in, for example, Cross of Iron. 

And that whole attempt to rehabilitate Straw Dogs was a crock of shit, sorry. I listened to Stephen Prince's Criterion commentary, and, standing skeptically at a bookstore, read portions of his book; Prince argues that Straw Dogs is an anti-violence, anti-rape text. No way in hell: it's a morally repugnant, misogynist, and deeply problematic film about how women are asking for it and how, sometimes, men are their victims. It's deeply offensive, deeply misguided, even ridiculous at times.

That doesn't stop me from watching it every ten years or so, mind you: I am not saying it shouldn't be viewed, or that there isn't also truth and value in the film, in some places. I'm just saying that you don't need to LIE about it, to contort yourself and your scholarship in absurd ways, in order to give yourself a justification for watching or appreciating it, which is the simple version of what I think Prince is doing. 

Here's the thing: I do not (shoot me now) love The Wild Bunch. It IS probably the greatest of Peckinpah's films - which possibly interferes with my engaging with it; sometimes, a film has so much baggage that comes with it that you can't form your own opinion of it, for grappling with how you're told you're supposed to feel or think about it. But to me, it's every bit as problematic as Straw Dogs is in its attitudes towards women, in its macho romanticization of male self-sacrifice, it's glorifications of violence against the male body. I mean, I'm a male, and I work pretty hard, sometimes, to be a decent one. But I don't really relish the idea of taking bullets for anyone, or find poetry or beauty in it; it's an aspect of the patriarchy that I wouldn't mind seeing queried more. The Wild Bunch seems, to me, to be all about the glory of taking bullets - an uncritical celebration of the beauty of violence against the male body, and the nobility and glory of submitting to that violence. It may be Peckinpah's most "Viking" movie, in a way - about riding doomed into battle, knowing that Valhalla awaits. 

I wouldn't have made a very good Viking, I don't think. I appreciate the film as standing out against the zeitgeist, back in 1969, and I love William Holden, Warren Oates, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine in it, but I have never fully been able to find myself in the film, or take deep pleasure in it, as I am with some of the other films mentioned above (nevermind The Getaway: I would even watch Convoy over The Wild Bunch, given my druthers).  

Maybe I misunderstand it, though. It's been a long time since I've seen it (almost ten years?), and I fully admit that every time I have tried to watch it, I come out the other end feeling like I've missed something. Maybe I have! But I am thinking I will attempt to re-engage with it on Tuesday, when it screens to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the Vancity Theatre. (I shudder with horror to realize that I AM OLDER THAN THIS FILM, which seems something of a bygone era now.) The listing for it says that "the violence wasn’t the point. The pointlessness was the point" - that the film is more about futility than the glory of dying in futility. Maybe the person who wrote that understands the film better than I do? 

I am open to correction.

RIP Ryszard Bugajski

I am very sad to report that a very interesting, under-appreciated filmmaker - who worked in Poland and Canada, and made several very powerful, compelling films - has died. Ryszard Bugajski made one of my favourite-ever Canadian films, Clearcut, which I have written about many times, and once screened at the Vancity Theatre. It's a film apparently stuck in copyright limbo - no one, last I heard, was sure of who owned the rights to it, which meant it has never had a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release - tho' a few different bootlegs exist (the German one is best) and you can see a not-bad, HD version of it on Youtube (the aspect ratio seems off compared to the German DVD, but the image seems crisp). 

Here's the thing: I have been waiting for an occasion to publish a long interview I did with Bugajski (not yet fully transcribed), spanning his whole career, but had hoped that it could be timed to an official DVD release of Clearcut, which WAS under discussion when we spoke. Portions of that interview were published apropos of the Clearcut screening in Vancouver, but there's much more. I helped put someone else in touch with Bugajski in regard to a screening of Clearcut, and I have written a couple of companies about possibly putting something out, including Criterion, suggesting they do an Eclipse box of Bugajski's major films... Second Run DVD were considering it for awhile, too... my understanding is that there is actually a good digital master available of the film, worthy of a Blu-Ray release, but I haven't been in the loop as to what was happening with that...

Unfortunately, with news of Mr. Bugajski's death, the occasion for publishing the interview seems to be now, or soon, since I have a project with a deadline I need to complete, first. My condolences to Bugajski's family, and apologies for having delayed publishing this interview for so long. I'll get it done this summer. I've seen several of Bugajski's films (The Interrogation, General Nil, The Closed Circuit, and Blindness) and they're remarkable, and have a real thematic consistency to them. The story of The Interrogation is fascinating in its own right - a harshly anti-Communist film made in Communist Poland, it also had a very complicated and circuitous distribution history, with many copies of it circulating underground on a bootleg level (as I recall, he facilitated that happening himself). General Nil, The Closed Circuit, and Blindness also all deal with people being tortured wrongly by an overbearing and corrupt authority. None of these films have come out on video in North America, to my knowledge, but people should see them (my favourite remains Clearcut). 

More to come...

Saturday, June 08, 2019

(No, this is not signed by Will Shatter or Bruce Loose.)

Flipper with David Yow: amazing

Sometimes Vancouver's music scene gets it wrong. Missing Three O'Clock Train with the Dils - that was a mistake on the part of a lot of people, which I pointed out, chiding asshole that I am, here. The last band I saw at the Astoria, too - Spear of Destiny - deserved a much bigger crowd, considering the quality of what they did. That's one of the reasons I went to such lengths (part one, part two) to give Flipper press. In terms of sheer transcription time, it's the hardest I've worked to plug a local show in years, but I did not trust that people would know to catch the show, that people would understand what they had the chance to see, and wanted to do everything in my (extremely limited) range of power to help make it a successful night. 

I don't know if my articles helped, or if it was just down to word of mouth about Yow's reputation as a frontman, or if Generic is an album that all the punks of Vancouver actually all know - but I am happy to report that Vancouver - the audience - knocked it out of the park last night. Before even writing about Flipper, I have to say I am soooooo glad that the Astoria was fucking PACKED. It was the most fun I can remember having at a concert, and it does my heart good to know that people got to appreciate this. Some people were more wasted than others, and the bouncers had some stressors trying to deal with the VERY porous wall between the audience and the stage, which Yow broke more than anyone - but from the opening act (the Authorities - did everyone but me know that the drummer was Orville Lancaster of Bishop's Green?) people were totally engaged and attentive and havin' fun. (All three openers were amazing, also including Chain Whip - Joshy of the Jolts sings hardcore! - and Lie, which is supposed to have an accent over the "e" that I don't know how to make, and who sounded like a female version of the Wipers on really powerful amphetamines. I shot clips of all bands, and will eventually get them up in a post-script to this piece). 

...and Flipper was one of the nicest groups of people I've met. I mean, if people tell you "I shot pool with David Yow last night," and you feel skeptical that this is true, believe them. Flipper hung the fuck out. I had heard stories of how intimidating Flipper was back when, but Ted and Stephen and Rachel were really, really friendly last night, and seemed to be having as good a time onstage as we were in the pit. 

(Stephen DePace takes a shot while David and Ted look on). 

...And Yow was insane in the best of all possible ways. Yes, there was nudity (but not the tight n' shiny, exactly, unless I was looking the other way). Yes, he spent a ton of time surfing the audience (or sitting on the audience, or embracing them, or wrasslin' with them). Yes, his most frequently repeated enjoinder to the audience was to suck a dick (we had been talking about sucking dicks earlier, actually, and it warms my heart to know that that may have trickled down, so to speak, into Yow's stage patter: you know that clip from the Ministry documentary that people were all blown away by, where Yow told the world he met Al Jourgensen sucking dicks for drug money at the Greyhound Bus Station? It was all a joke, folks. Quote Yow: "I have never sucked a dick.") (Thanks to Les Wiseman for pointing me in that direction, actually - it was fun to talk about). And if you felt, while you were standing around waiting for the band to start, someone shove you, and then turned around to see someone duck behind another audience member, peek-a-boo style... yes, that was David Yow. My first time seeing him. Sure hope it isn't my last - the Jesus Lizard is now a bucket-list band for me, who I hope someday I'll get a chance to see.  

You can see video of some of it if you like - I shot, for example, the opening number; I have a second vid coming up later, which is even crazier (but wants to turn sideways, since Yow so often was - I'm going to try to see if I can fix that). But seeing a video on Youtube is not the same thing as being there live. I also had watched videos on Youtube. I was not prepared. If you have seen video too, and are still not sure - you people in Seattle, for example, where Flipper plays tonight - just go. Go. Trust me and go. Loosen yourself up by your preferred means, and get right up front. You will NOT be disappointed. 

I am sooooooo glad I was there last night. I am equally glad that pretty much everyone else in Vancouver seemed to have been there, too. Fun as Death was, fun as Bob Mould was... Flipper with David Yow is the best concert I've been at in years. 

That's really all I can say for now. Thanks, Vancouver, you did me proud. Thanks, Flipper, for 40 years of making my life a better place. And thanks, David Yow, for making last night so fucking MEMORABLE. (And being such a sweet guy to interview).  


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Rupture this weekend - the new Jarmusch and much else; plus DVD sale!

So I did some writing for the Straight movie section for a change, reviewing Terror Nullius and The Cannibal Club, which are screening this week at the Vancity Theatre as part of Rupture, a festival of audacious "genre cinema fueled by artistry, originality and adventurousness," as the Viff website would have it. (Note - the links above lead only to the VIFF website descriptions; my reviews aren't online at the Straight yet). If all films are as good as the two I saw, it looks to be a delightful, mind-bending weekend, which kicks off tonight with a screening of Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, his highly-anticipated zombie film. I always feel apprehensive about taking in a new Jarmusch, since he seems to veer wildly between making films that I pretty much love all of (Mystery Train, Down By Law, Dead Man, The Year of the Horse), and making films that I love only parts of, finding the other portion (which varies in size) irritating, precious, or self-sabotaging (Ghost Dog, for instance, or Broken Flowers). I actually quite liked his Detroit vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive, so I'm hoping his return to genre cinema will prove inspired. I mean, Iggy Pop as a zombie? Can we really lose?

The other bit of news is that I'm going to be manning a table through much of Rupture - skipping Friday for Flipper - so that I can sell off a shit-ton of DVDs and Blu-Rays. Basically anything I've had for ten years without watching, which I can't see myself watching in the next ten years, is going on the table, including several films that I've owned for the prestige or importance of the filmmaker, without my feeling any concomitant love of or desire to engage with their work (Jean Luc Godard, say). It looks like I'm never going to be doing any serious work in the world of film studies; there's a hundred different ways of accessing films these days (I can sign out whichever Godards I want to see from the library, I should imagine); and my shelves are still jam-packed with movies that I can watch, neverminding Netflix and so forth. I figure I've packed at least 500 films to the Vancity. With some exceptions (Criterions, out of print films, or really tasty treats), I'll be selling the bulk of them for $3 each, or four for ten, or ten for twenty - with room to negotiate, of course, because I don't want to be hauling these back home when it's done. This is NOT just crap you pass over at the thrift store (tho' there is some of that, too). I'll be curious to see what happens today! 

Nothing much else going on. See you at the Vancity, or Flipper, or somewhere.  

Sunday, June 02, 2019


First part of my Stephen DePace interview is online... part two coming later this week... Talked to David Yow, too, but I'm not quite sure where I will put that. Show is this Friday at the Astoria...