Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Tim Chan Interview (apropos of the same Saturday gig I just interviewed EddyD about, below)

    China Syndrome at the 2020 Bowie Ball, photo by Dave Jacklin

I have seen Tim Chan's band, China Syndrome, a dozen times or more, but the last time I saw them - at the 2020 Bowie Ball, which I wrote about, with terrific pictures by Bob Hanham, here - the band was significantly different. They were lacking long-time guitarist Vern Beamish - who, incidentally, is one of a shortlist of guitarists that Pete Campbell, in conspiratorial mode (and talking while his friends were onstage, to boot) has called "the best in Vancouver." Beamish had always presented as the most cerebral member of China Syndrome, and sometimes his introspective onstage demeanor made a striking contrast with the bouncy, ebullient Tim Chan and Mike Chang. 

At a very different end of the introvert/ extrovert gradient, at the Bowie ball, Beamish's replacement - a temporary one, Mark Richardson - rocked out like he was part of a Guns'n Roses cover band or something, almost upstaging Chan and Chang. It was a very different feeling for the band, and a big deal, since Beamish goes back to the beginning, has done plenty of the writing, and often took the lead solos (which, when he and really Chan hooked into each other, as during a particularly potent reading of "One Too Many," in Surrey, there was a real fire generated. That performance didn't end up on Youtube, but this one cooks pretty hard too). It's one of those member changes that, if you follow the band, you're really curious about... what will they sound like as a three piece? If  they find a permanent replacement for Beamish, what energy will that bring to the band? It's an interesting development... 

In the face of COVID, Chan has been granted some time to figure things out. "The Bowie Ball was," Chan reminds me, in fact "the last time China Syndrome played. We had already planned to take a few months off after that and, of course with COVID-19, that's turned into a much longer hiatus. The guitar player filling in for Vern at the Bowie Ball was Mark Richardson. He's an amazing guitar player and has played in several Vancouver bands including the Lumps and Drive By Poets (with Mike Chang of CS) and also has been a mainstay of musical theatre here in town. He currently leads the amazing symphonic metal band Ophelia Falling -- check 'em out here and here. COVID-19 has delayed our decision to add to China Syndrome's lineup at this time. We are carrying on as a three-piece for now, and if we do add another member they do not necessarily have to be a guitarist -- keyboards may be a possibility!"

For his part, Beamish, Chan says, "is laying low and working on completing his music degree program. He is involved with a few choirs in town (he toured South Africa with a local choir in January) and is focusing on his classical guitar chops." He will presumably surface again in Vancouver, but doing his own thing.

So when was the last time Chan did a live solo set? It's somewhat hard for me to imagine what that looks like, though not unprecedented. "I played a solo set at last year's International Pop Overthrow Festival at the Fairview Pub," Chan tells me. "I was a last minute replacement for a band that cancelled that night. So it was pretty impromptu as I did not really practice for it. Here's "My Pal Dan" from that set. My setup will be similar to what you see in the video, just me and electric guitar."

Chan plans a set drawing on both China Syndrome originals and a few covers. Unlike EddyD, interviewed below about the same show, Chan often includes covers in his sets, including a couple of really delightful interpretations of Squeeze; but he's not hinting as to what they'll be, this time - just that most of them are songs "I would not normally play with China Syndrome." 

Pill Squad at the Lou Reed tribute, photo by Sacha Moiseiwitsch

As COVID has ground on, Chan has kept busy, "playing both live with Pill Squad" - who gigged at the Princeton during June and July, and have a new show coming up August 28th, also featuring StrobCam (2/3rds of Coach StrobCam) and Finn Leahy' band Air Radish.   

Chan has also kept active via online video collaborations, which he calls "iso-collaborations," such as  this one with Mike of China Syndrome, reworking China Syndrome's song "Nowhere to Go," off their 2018 album Hide in Plain Sight; or this take on Squeeze's "Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)," with the Vanray's Eric Lowe and Gordon Rempel. (Chan notes that "we were stoked to see Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze commenting on it and liking it on Instagram!"). 64 Funnycars, too, "have also done a few iso-collaborations -- here's one of "Here Comes that Monday Feeling." However, "China Syndrome has decided not to play or practice in person during this time. We'll take things as they come and will definitely reconvene when we all feel comfortable about doing so," probably in three piece form. 

Does Chan have a history with EddyD. or Sinead X. Sanders, also on the bill Saturday?

"I've known Eddy since the 1980s - Eric Lowe introduced me to him back in the day when they played together in the Fabulous Wallys and Chainsaw Running. Of course, we've shared many bills together with our respective bands over the years. And I've been a guest player with Eddy D and the Sexbombs, appearing with them at Bowie Ball 2019. As for Sinead, we've also shared many bills together in the past few years, especially with Pill Squad. We were both part of the Night of Nilsson (tribute to Harry Nilsson) gig last year at LanaLou's and earlier this year, we both participated in the Lou Reed tribute show at the Princeton."

Anything I've missed?  "Nothing much more to add about the gig other than it will be a rare chance to see some performers who usually rock out play a low key, quiet show. Sinead, of course, usually plays solo anyways but she is always fantastic, what a great voice!" 

More information on the gig here. It starts and ends early, so it's a great excuse to go for dinner; note that Lanalou's makes a damn good poutine...

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Lilith For Dudes 2020: One of Two Balls

A few images from last night's "first ball" of Lilith For Dudes, in which David M., Dave Dedrick, and Pete Campbell, in different permutations, played yet another very entertaining, generous, and abundantly COVID-friendly set of covers and originals, a few of which I have shot video of here, here, and here. Note: Pete Campbell was on hand to chastise Dave Dedrick for rupturing the "stage condom" as seen here below:

"Me & Warren Beatty & Mick Jagger Have This Problem"

The next show will be next week, also at the Princeton!

An Eddy Dutchman Interview, apropos of a Saturday gig with Eddy D. & Jazzy, Tim Chan, and Sinead X Sanders

There's going to be some great albums when COVID-19 finally runs its course. While I'm grateful that some bands, like X, the Pretenders, and the Residents are letting their new arrivals drop, for the vast majority of bands, there's not much point releasing anything when you can't tour and can only play to small rooms: so what that means (I hope) is that bands suddenly have the luxury of time to write, to re-record, to re-think weak cuts, to get everything perfect for the day when things are "back to normal." From Red Herring to the Black Halos, I know a few people who are lining up ducks, making plans, with albums in various stages of completion. But truth is, I thought EddyD. & the SexBombs had already just released their new CD, Yikes!, when COVID-19 hit.

Not so, Eddy Dutchman tells me. "The CD is not finished...we are doing the whole thing ourselves, every aspect of it..and we are one busy band of musicians, so its taking a very long time. When it's done you will receive the first copy; right now we are mastering it. Everything else is done... and to be honest Al..i think the days of CD's are done..its about singles and Spotify and videos...and likes on your FB page..."

With that in mind, the Sex Bombs have been putting out some pretty entertaining videos - see "Boom Boom," here, from last year, or "Are You Ready?" And Eddy D & his partner, Jazzy Zircon, who front the band, have a two-person gig lined up for Lanalou's this Saturday, August 22nd, under the new bandname, 2020. First, obvious question is - why is this not a Sex Bomb's gig?

"EddyD & the SexBombs are a big stage band," Eddy writes by way of reply. "That's where they are most at home and at their finest. We like the Biltmore, the Fairview, and of course the Rickshaw." However, "because of COVID, all these venues are closed... We owe it to our fans to be the best we we will only play at venues that work for EddyD & the SexBombs...but in the meantime, Eddy and Jazzy" - the principle songwriters for EddyD & the SexBombs, though Preston & Fletcher, who are in the band, also contribute -  "will perform as '2020' doing new and old EddyD & the SexBombs songs...the full band will wait till the larger venues open up."

COVID regulations are also going to force people to be more creative (and minimal) with their lineups, Eddy observes. "If a venue only holds 50 people max, and there's three bands, that's like 15 to 20 seats taken just in band." This is one of the reasons why Tim Chan of China Syndrome (whom I've written about here and here, and seen easily a dozen times in the last few years) will be doing a rare solo set for the Lanalou's gig, and why Jazzy and Eddy will be re-framing SexBombs songs "as a two piece," Eddy explains. "Personally, I  think full bands are really going to suffer. And remember: right now there's no getting up; the audience is restricted to sitting, and staying seated." There are also time restrictions: "The entertainment starts at 8 and has to be done by it makes it very difficult...but some of us are determined to figure out how to play in a safe and responsible way, but for now, it's 'Eddy and Jazzy are 2020.' Will the rest of the SexBombs be there?  Hell yes - but only to watch..."

How far do you and Jazzy go back? She's your wife, right? Were you musical collaborators before you were in a personal relationship? (Note: I'm going to stop fixing Eddy's eccentric punctuation here, since it is consistent and deliberate. He punctuates like Celine...). "Jazzy is my wife..of 40 plus years now...EddyD & the SexBombs is our first musical collaboration.  Over the many years together, she has always supported me and been my biggest critic. I have been performing for 30 years. I used to street perform..juggler..been all around the planet..and Jazzy would be there..not as a performer ..just as my support...but..Jazzy is an artist..she has always painted" (Eddy tells me elsewhere that she was "part of the punk art scene with Braineater and Lincoln Clarkes and that crew"). "She has done shows...she is also a about 6 years ago..she expressed an interest in being in a band..i called a few friends...and EddyD & the SexBombs were is her first take her tool them into a song structure..i add the music...bang is a very successful formula...she is my,," 

                                                        Jazzy & Eddy, by Bob Hanham

Did the name EddyD & the SexBombs come from Flipper's song "Sex Bomb," or is there another common ancestor between them?

"EddyD & the SexBombs started out as the railway club..first show..about 7 years was just me and a couple of pick up guys.. i wrote a bunch of songs along the Faust know...EddyD sells his soul to Satan for fame and fortune...all the songs told that an went over really well..EddyD did a few more shows and Jazzy made a few cameo appearances...she really liked it and that's when Jazzy and i put EddyD & the SexBombs together... the name Sex Bombs comes for Tom our speed than Flipper..although we used to run a booze can..Stalag 13..and i think Flipper played all connected...but..Tom Jones doing a version of a song called 'Sex Bomb'...excellent version by the way...that's were it came from..."

Do you have songs you will be doing especially for this occasion, or will you be repurposing Sex Bombs material?

"One of the positive side effects of Covid is we now have time to write new '2020' will be doing new some soon to be new EddyD & the SexBombs songs plus all the older EddyD favorites..Jazzy and i are still fully committed to EddyD & the SexBombs..but are just adapting to this COVID environment...we do have one song specially written for these weird's called 'Back Away'..i think from the title you can imagine what the songs about.,,we are committed to new material..i think we're up to 40 songs now...all originals."

Curious about covers and originals. I don't know my vintage R&B and 60's stuff, which I assume you're steeped in, so I always figure when I'm seeing the Sex Bombs that there's a good chance some of the songs are covers. Are there any covers you usually play? Are there any planned for the set with Jazzy?

"we don't do covers..we only do originals...its a much harder road..and a more satisfying road...we see our fans singing along with us...we have other artists doing some of our original songs...that's very gratifying....and...we like to keep our audience on their's a challenge for the audience...for them to decide for themselves if its a song they can be uncomfortable for an audience to hear a song for the first time and feel safe liking it...and personally..if i am going to put time and effort in to learning a song...i want it to be one of mine.,,not to say i don't know any covers..i probably know hundreds...but i forget them quicker than i learn ...mostly british rock...but actually covers.. i like to say when asked about covers......'play one're in a cover band.'..we're an original band...hahahah."

Anything else to say about the gig?  Any special plans...?

"the gig....i know a lot of musicians are staying home..i am taking a different route..i believe we have to figure out a way to keep music alive and to do it in a safe and responsible way...its a new way of doing things...reserved seating...making sure the audience understands this is for our mutual good...ticket sales..reserved seating...early finish..i came from the DIY crowd...i have always been about self promotion...and this is just another challenge...."

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Soska Sisters' Rabid: a belated negative review

I don't much trust critics, so when the overall critical consensus on the Soska Sisters' 2019 remake of Rabid seemed pretty negative, I didn't invest much in it. I also didn't rush out to see it - I had plans to, at one point, but something-or-other came up, and then the film was out of the theatres pretty much for good. When I saw it on the shelf today at Sunrise Records - with a few extra bucks in my pocket, a desire for distraction from the heat, and no better ideas for films to watch tonight - I picked it up, both to finally scratch the itch and because there was some feeling of supporting something local. I mean, I've crossed paths with Jen and Sylvia a few times, have enjoyed observing their brand-building, and if there was a certain clumsiness to moments in American Mary and See No Evil 2, there were also some charming and memorable bits in both films, a sense of genuine playfulness and enthusiasm and subversive intent that made you want to overlook any flaws you might notice. If I had some misgivings that they could do justice to remaking one of Cronenberg's most interesting and ambitious early films, I was still curious to see what they would do with it. 

Plus, you know, you want your local talent to flourish, right? Even if their films aren't actually set in Canada, they're made here, and I like that Jen and Sylvia have done things like host screenings of The Shining at the Rio while wielding an axe, you know? They've done their bit to support the scene here, so you kinda want to support them back. Or so I felt at one point...

So now that I've paid my $25 and bought the blu of Rabid and invested two hours in it, I can now fairly say it: what a disappointing mess the film turns out to be. I was able to engage with it for the first half, which only had a few miscues - though those were notable and irritating: why does Stephen McHattie look like his face is paralyzed throughout his walk-on as Dr. Keloid? Why does he let Rose look in a mirror, then tell her not to look in mirrors, pretty much a minute apart? (If the abrupt self-contradiction is meant to be funny or ironic, the Soskas bungle it; it just plays as incoherent). And why did no one correct his pronunciation of "keloid" to be in keeping with the way the doc's name is pronounced in the first film, and to maintain Cronenberg's deliberate pun on a term for a kind of scar tissue...? 

Also irritating: why, when there was a perfectly fun name for the clinic in the first film - the Keloid Clinic - do they give that name to a minor character, and name the clinic after William Burroughs? It's too obvious a name to drop, really, taking you out of the film's own reality for the sake of what seems a meaningless wink, which problem is compounded further by having a voiceover of Burroughs, apropos of absolutely nothing, reading about psychic vampires, inserted into the film (I guess it's done to give some tenuous sense that Burroughs' work has anything to do with the ideas in Rabid; but it doesn't, that I could see, save for the connection to Cronenberg - or at least one of his other films, with not much bearing on this one). 

And speaking of distracting fangirl winking, the red-gowned operation scene lifted directly from Dead Ringers also seemed unnecessary and irrelevant. Like, why not stick some car crash fetishization, telepods, and sex parasites in there, too? (Or better yet: remake one film at a time...?).

There's also a rather ridiculous before-and-after transition from Rose being completely disfigured to being completely healed, within a few minutes of screen time, which doesn't do much to help suspend disbelief, to invest you in her journey, or create any sort of illusion that we're dealing with something remotely scientifically or medically possible. 

But the hell of it is, that's all from the first half of the film, which is the better of the halves. Annoying as all the above is, there was at least a solid, pathos-generating performance by their lead actor, Laura Vandervoort, to get you through it, and a higher level of cinematic craft and restraint than I've seen the Soskas muster before. There was, too, some interesting potential to re-locating the film within the fashion industry, and even a FRESH IDEA in the film, something not present in the Cronenberg film, of having Rose go from shy, self-doubting vegan wallflower to confident, bloodsucking success as the result of her "transformation." In Cronenberg's film, Rose seems beautiful and confident both before and after her surgery; we don't really get to know her that well prior to the motorcycle accident, but there's really no "before and after," no sense that the operation changes her character in any meaningful way, and it was an interesting thing for the Soskas to do, to give us some time with Rose before things change.  

Sadly, if there's ultimately any coherent through-line about beauty and self-confidence and fashion and the female, if there's any meaningful connection between Rose's transformation and the social disorder that erupts in her wake, if, in fact, there's any theme at all developed, it gets lost in the flailing tentacles, body horror grossouts, and mood of general excess in the film's second half. While there is one great scene at a bar where the Soskas use a sort of freeze-frame effect to highlight the spread of the virus in the film, you never really feel that social order is threatened, or even that the plague that erupts is rabies; while we do see one or two people with froth on their lips, one of the "infected" seems to become some sort of mutant zombie, with a giant misshapen head and a stagger that out-Frankensteins Frankenstein's. Rose's armpit tentacle, too - a small, stiff, phallic prong in the original - when it finally appears, is a couple meters long and given to flailing, reminding me of the killer plant tendrils in some 60's Filipino exploitation film I saw (Brides of Blood, I think). Wriggling tentacles in horror movies generally rate down there in terms of realism with the floppy rubber bats in Hammer horror films; while generally I want to like practical effects, it's been awhile since I've seen special effects as bad as these in a contemporary film. Weirdest, there isn't even a need for the tentacle; while in the original film, it's Rose's feeding tube, all her early attacks in the Soskas' film are done simply by biting her victims, vampire-style, so when the tentacle suddenly DOES make its appearance, it's entirely of a what-the-fuck-is-THAT nature. Maybe it's meant to be campy? ...or maybe it reflects a really juvenile sense that the point of horror movies IS silly grossouts and gore, not subversive and provocative ideas and harrowing emotional experiences...? 

There are plenty of silly grossouts and gore in the film's second half, mind you, so maybe there's an audience for films like Rabid. Maybe this is some millennial's idea of fun. It certainly seems like the Soskas were having fun with this film - more than I did, to be sure. 

I mean, I still kinda want to like the idea of the Soska Sisters and their brand and their success. I don't want there to be hard feelings, particularly since the last time I saw the Soskas in person, they were toting an axe. But jeezus, I kinda wish they'd either left Cronenberg alone, or done a little bit of a better job making sure there was a point to this remake. Wasn't one that I could see. 


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Dark Horse De Palmas: Snake Eyes versus Raising Cain ("director's cut")

A post of Robin Bougie's the other week listing a "fan edit" of Raising Cain as one of his favourite De Palma's got me briefly excited to revisit that film, which I'd always considered a lesser De Palma. While it is full of the stylistic excess and Hitchcockian cinematic flourishes of his "signature" work - with no less than two sequences lifted directly from Psycho - I always found the theatrical cut - which I saw first run in the 1990's and have never since revisited, tho' I have had a DVD around of it for years - to be dramatically inert and borderline incoherent; I wanted to like it, but I didn't. The idea of a fan edit, re-sequencing the film to follow De Palma's original vision (taken from a leaked early screenplay), seemed to burst with promise and delight, and it excited me even more that De Palma had himself given the re-edit his thumbs-up, having included it as a "director's cut" on the Shout Factory blu-ray that came out a few years ago. I had ignored the release at the time, but got really excited to see it, even moreso after swapping a few messages with Robin; I quickly purchased the blu-ray, took at home, and discovered that:

a) the fan edit is indeed vastly superior to the theatrical release, becoming dramatically far more effective (and also even more incoherent, since it tells much of its story in flashback and leaps from dreams to reality in truly demanding and disconcerting ways)

b) it has one awkward transition, since there was  no cutting room material to work with (not even in De Palma's command, apparently), but otherwise does look and play like a professionally-done cut of the film (something I was actually slightly concerned about before I saw it) 

c)  it is formally one of De Palma's more interesting films, since in either cut it uses its fundamental incoherence to undermine our sense of stable identity (relevant to the theme of MPD)

d) it still is a lesser De Palma, if you want to actually be emotionally engaged by a story. I mean, I've loved Frances Sternhagen since I saw Outland in the theatres, and I love Psycho, but having an extended riff on Psycho's clunkiest scene, where the psychologist (in Raising Cain, the role played by Sternhagen) explains Norman's split personality... I just didn't need that, and unless you're the type of movie lover who is gonna get excited about riffs on Hitchcock for their own sake, it's gonna play exactly like what it is: excessively clunky exposition that bogs down any sense of human drama. It's also really, really hard to connect with some of the characters, with Lolita Davidovich - whose perspective is fronted by the new arrangement of the film - playing more of an archetype than a human being. I was curious to have seen it, was glad to watch the extras, and tip my hat to the re-editor, Peet Gelderblom, but no way is this film ever going to displace MY dark horse De Palma favourite, which is Snake Eyes. (Note that fans of Raising Cain on Facebook, including Bougie, think I'm as weird as I think they are for this choice). 

It is hard for me to defend Snake Eyes, because it's a film I love deeply, and to this day do not understand why no one else seems to. To me - besides Nic Cage being a vastly more entertaining overactor than John Lithgow - it's a fascinating portrait of innocence and corruption, America-style, with the film's formal qualities doing much to echo its themes. Cage plays an innocently corrupt, full-of-himself, unashamedly crooked Atlantic City cop named Ricky, who shakes down drug dealers, places illegal bets, brags about screwing around on his wife, flirts hornily with two other women, and boasts constantly throughout the first 13 minutes of the film, while repeatedly saying he should run for office (ha!). All the while, he grins, dances, cheers, and otherwise reveals that he really and truly does not realize that HE IS ONE OF THE BAD GUYS; he loves himself, and his life, too much to actually take this in, and somehow has been allowed to get away with this for years. The plot of the movie turns on his discovery of how compromised he is, his "I Ain't No Nice Guy" moment, and how he comes to terms with it,,, all of which is very interesting and entertaining for me, but even moreso because the first 13-and-a-half minutes of the film formally echo the unbroken flow of "innocent corruption" that has been Ricky's life up til that point, by at least pretending to be shot in one seamless, breathtaking 13-and-a-half minute long flow. Just like Ricky - form mirroring content - De Palma cheats throughout this sequence, disguising several edits in camera pans, at 2:45, 4:30, 7:22, 10:16, 11:30, and 12:45, sometimes in the process of jockeying back and forth between a character looking and what the character sees, but never so obtrusively to break from the sense of breathless, exuberant continuity. Only when the assassination attempt happens - the "here comes the pain" moment in the film, where in fast sequence a boxer fakes a knockout, a politician is shot, and Ricky in horror realizes that he has blood, literally, on his hands - only THEN do we break from the flow into a couple of quick shot-counter-shot cuts and a "god's eye view" overhead of the arena. I once, in taking George Rosenberg's History and Aesthetics of Cinema at SFU, was tasked to write about a minute of my choosing in a film, highlighting all the thematic elements present in that minute and connecting them to the text as a whole; at the time I chose a scene from Pasolini's Accatone, but if I had a chance to do the assignment again, I would pick the moments immediately before, during, and after the scene where Ricky's (and our) flow is broken and we learn that all is far from right. 

I am not, I should add, saying that I think Snake Eyes is De Palma's best movie, by any objective standard. I mean, I don't even begin to know how to measure that, though probably for overall significance and richness I'd have to give the credit to Blow Out (which was Bougie's pick for #1, and could as easily have been mine). I actually think it's kind of morally dishonest to go about proclaiming your loves as if they were the only and correct loves, as if the films you like are somehow by virtue of your liking them objectively better than the films other people like. Taste is subjective, and should be, and the less we try to compete with each other about such matters, the better the world is - y'all can love Raising Cain as much as you like, you know? But man, do I love Snake Eyes; it is subjectively my very favourite De Palma, the one I return to most frequently, the one I have the most fun watching; and it doesn't even need a fan-edit-cum-director's-cut, because it's perfect just the way it is! 

BTW, Domino, De Palma's new movie, is now on Netflix, but De Palma didn't have final cut and apparently was not involved in post-production, so, like, how good could it be? In fact, not very: I saw it the other night, and there is very little about it that impressed me; a few good set-pieces, and easier to finish than Passion, but nothing really worthy of the master. I hope he makes one or two more great movies before he retires (looking forward to his project tackling the whole Harvey Weinstein thing...). 

Unhinged: back to the movies at Landmark New West


A cruel zinger occurred to me in contemplating how to write about the new film Unhinged: that it is in some regards a remake of Duel, with Russell Crowe in the role of the truck. 

It's a nasty joke, and I hope Mr. Crowe will forgive me for abusing whatever license I may have, as a fellow Man of Girth, in poking a little fun at him. He is no longer the pretty boy of yore, and may even have a few pounds on me. But above and beyond the sophomoric jab at Crowe's heft, the observation does have some truth to it. Like Duel - Stephen Spielberg's fine debut feature, initially made for TV but available (should you have missed it) in a very attractive and affordable widescreen theatrical release blu-ray - the film is a lean and mean tale of a minor bit of conflict on the road that erupts into a life-or-death struggle between a more-or-less innocent motorist and an utter madman in a truck, bent on destruction. Unhinged does offer some framing comments about road rage and contemporary discourtesy, including disturbing and presumably real news footage, but besides this, it doesn't really attempt to draw any overt thematic, moral, or philosophical observations from its story. As with Duel, thematic elements can be teased out if you have a mind to do so - and some of the reviewers who are comparing it to Falling Down obviously have a particular political reading in mind about white folks with grievances - but it's also possible to view this as a pure thriller, a movie where any and all thematic elements are expressed solely through the plot. It's a sort of filmmaking I'm partial to, actually: a shallow movie if you are shallow, to crib from Jodorowsky, but not without depths if you're prepared to do some work.  

Unlike Duel, however, the truck is not a rig but a mere pickup, and we get to know the driver (barely glimpsed in Duel) quite well: a recently divorced white male who has (we discover in the pre-credits sequence) just murdered his ex-wife and her new suitor (?), blown up their home, and fled. Also unlike Duel, the protagonist is a woman (played by Caren Pistorius), and she's not alone in being victimized: her entirely family and even her lawyer become targets of Crowe's wrath, as tools by which he can teach her a lesson. Finally, while in Duel, it is never entirely clear what perceived discourtesy provokes the trucker's wrath, it is made abundantly clear what gets Crowe's character so mad: a really minor rudeness, but one he makes it his mission to correct, initially even attempting to do so civilly (something the trucker in Duel doesn't bother with).

Of course, there is a whole lot to be said, with or without the promptings of this film, about white male privilege and the type of man who is inclined to fly into a rage over minor things that upset him, because he presumes he has a right to do so, maybe even sees it somehow as his responsibility (wannabe Alphas have to maintain social order, after all, and occasionally that involves punishing a transgressor - very much what Crowe is doing, here). I have been that guy in the past (not, like, murdering people over stuff, but, you know, frothing a bit), though have done a reasonably good job for a few years now of keeping my temper in check (there have been maybe three episodes since I got married where I got vocally steamed at someone, and I'm kind of embarrassed by all three). There are at least two men of my acquaintance (also, interestingly, white men of girth, in their late 40's/ early 50's - failed Alphas, the lot of us) whom I have witnessed get in people's faces over minor discourtesies, where their correction of the infraction was in fact the far greater rudeness, and it's helped make me not wanna be that guy. It would be a reasonable takeaway from Unhinged for people, as they leave the theatre, to turn to one another and say, "So what is it about fat, middle-aged white guys, anyhow?" 

But as lean-and-mean thrillers go, I liked Unhinged a fair bit, and like I say, if it does contain material that facilitates that sort of discussion, it hardly beats you over the head with it. It also ends on a surprising cover of the Blue Oyster Cult (who by the by have announced their new album, The Symbol Remains, for October release). 

Alas, that's where the one disappointment comes in, and it's not with the film, but the theatre where I saw it, Landmark New West. I really, really want to support the Landmark chain, who have incredibly comfortable seats, a staff that seem a bit better prepared to do their jobs than that of Cineplex, who have been responsive and courteous when I've had feedback, and who have almost never irritated me in the ways that Cineplex sometimes can do (most recent example: I ducked out of the Train to Busan sequel at Scotiabank last week, to take a fast poop in the men's room in the one stall not closed due to social distancing, only to discover - after I had crapped, alas - that NO ONE HAD BOTHERED TO FILL THE TOILET PAPER DISPENSER. It got messy - but I kept my complaints civil, managed to salvage my underwear, and ultimately got a refund for the ticket, so whatever. I did miss more of the movie than I'd expected to!). Landmark, however, have decided as a COVID safety measure that to avoid overcrowded hallways, they will, on busy days, have announcements from staff telling people which exit to leave from, so as soon as the credits roll and the lights slam on (same as Cineplex, but I guess we have to live with that), they (suddenly and jarringly) drop the volume of the music more or less in half. That meant that my initial delight at the unexpected and ethereal Blue Oyster Cult cover was immediately replaced by irritation that I wasn't being allowed to hear it at full volume. Ironically, this was being done despite a very thin audience and NO announcements about which exit we should leave by, so it wasn't even in aid of anything. I chatted with the manager (also a man of heft, but totally civil with me, and I stayed the same with him) and got his explanation, but I made sure he understood that the sudden volume drop detracted from the experience, for me. I mean, what can I say, I am one of those people who usually stays for the credits, and sometimes can really enjoy the music that accompanies them. It's not like I'm getting to hear loud music in a live setting these days - at least let me enjoy it at the movies! 

Other than that, though, the Landmark experience is in every way nicer than Cineplex's, and rivalled in Vancouver only by the Vancity Theatre (who also have extremely comfortable seats) and the Cinematheque (whose seats are only okay, even after two upgrades in recent memory, but whose programming, as with the Vancity's, is generally exquisite). For first run commercial films, the two Landmarks - there's another right by Guildford Mall - are the nicest experiences in town, overall, and it looks like both are veering back to playing first run features (though New West also had Inception, I guess in preparation for Christopher Nolan's upcoming new SF thriller, Tenet). 

So check out Unhinged at Landmark, if you're of a mind to, and if you too are annoyed by the pointless drop in volume at the end of the movie, leave that feedback on their website. They're pretty responsive (but, like, be polite about it, lest they sic Russell Crowe on you).  

PS, oh, and if you like pasta, you can get a discount movie ticket at the Old Spaghetti Factory and make a meal-and-movie night of it, if that's what you're craving. I am not a man of girth for nothing. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Flannery O'Connor, the VIFF, and the left

SFU professor Samir Gandesha has been posting on FB about the perils of cancel culture. While himself apparently a man of the left, he is more than a bit perplexed by certain forms of censorship, writing on a post from August 5th that the "argument in a nutshell" is that:

if literature, art and music is ultimately unintelligible without historically grounded criticism and if such criticism is displaced by increasing demands for works to be withdrawn from the public sphere, or even destroyed, rather than interpreted or criticized, then the very possibility of art is called seriously into question. All that will remain is propaganda, which is to say, cultural forms with the correct "message."

In a slightly later post, he writes about the decision by Loyola University Maryland  to re-name a building previously named for the writer Flannery O'Connor, asking, "is it not the role of criticism to unearth the complexities of writers such as this?"

There have been other discussions on my Facebook feed lately - longtime Vancouver musician and Sex Bombs bassist Bob Petterson got some lively responses to a post about someone re-writing "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" so as to be an anti-South anthem ("Tonight, Let's Drive Ol' Dixie Down" - he links this Rolling Stone piece on the revising of the song.) While my initial reaction was to disagree with the idea that the original song by the Band was in any way problematic - as people observe in the comments, it's a "character piece," a piece of fiction, though an admittedly somewhat odd one - in fact I have no real objection to the young fella in that article (no idea who he is) rewriting the song. Making new art based on old art isn't a problem, and it's a fairly inspired, of-the-moment bit of propagandizing. If the Dixie Chicks are going to drop the "Dixie" from their name, if we're gonna stop with the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's, if the US seems to be sliding into essentially re-fighting the Civil War (albeit in a small, shabby, and crass way) in the upcoming election, why the hell NOT turn the Band's song into an anti-South, anti-racist anthem? (Maybe we can do something, while we're at it, to address "Sweet Home Alabama," a much more problematic "redneck pride" anthem if ever there was one, what with its only slightly veiled threat of violence against Neil Young...?). There's nothing so sacred about any song that it can't be re-purposed in provocative ways - make new art based on old art; go ahead.  

But why the hell would people turn on Flannery O'Connor, like having a building named after her is somehow something to be ashamed of, a testament to racism? She's an extremely complex writer, and a bloody disturbing one at that - someone who is fascinated by spiritual innocence, but whose own writing seems at times deeply perverse. 

Take "Everything That Rises Must Converge," one of the stories of hers that has most stayed with me: in it, a young liberal man hectors his mother on a bus ride through the South on matters of race. The mother is an old-fashioned Southern Christian biddy with all sorts of problematic attitudes, which the son revels in pointing out; while she's portrayed - in typical Flannery O'Connor style - as sweet and sincere and spiritually pure, despite her problematic views - her son, despite his progressive attitudes, is portrayed as self-righteous, preening, and in love with his own voice, his progressive politic actually serving as a cudgel, a tool of his will to power. When the argument gets heated, the mother dies of a heart attack, leaving the son in a state of guilt and loss, unable to reconcile his good intentions with the fact that he's basically responsible for his mother's death (and left without her, to boot). It's among the most disturbing things I've read, because - fine psychologist that she was - O'Connor goes right to the reader's jugular: O'Connor KNOWS that the reader will find him-or-herself more in the son than the mother, but makes his righteous, preening wrath as ugly as possible, while making the  mother a sort of icon of purity and innocence. You find yourself in the story - I do - and are left feeling unclean and provoked (and a bit stunned by that ending). There's a literary analysis of the story's themes here; probably the story itself can be found online, these days. It's a highly memorable and rich experience, perverse, unsettling, and valuable. If I don't read O'Connor every day, she's up there in the shortlist of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, by me, so it saddens me to see that the left is apparently turning on her. By all means, folks, knock down those Confederate statues, and get over the glamourization of the South, but can we have a little room for nuance when it comes to literature?

I guess no one is burning her books yet, so there's that... 

Anyhow, this is all apropos the fact that the Vancity Theatre is streaming a current documentary about Flannery O'Connor. It looks like it can ONLY be seen from home, at present (and do read their disclaimers; it may not be Chrome-castable, or viewable over a HDMI hookup, so depending on your connection it might be viewable from your computer alone). Interestingly, there is a "content advisory" over, I gather, the uncensored use of the N-word in the doc:

This film contains offensive language, including an ethnic slur that—in an effort to retain the integrity of the literary works examined therein—has not been muted or otherwise distorted in the presentation of the documentary. Racist language was wrong during Flannery O'Connor's lifetime and is wrong today. This film, the filmmakers and those presenting the film do not condone, support or promote the use of racist language in any way.

It actually seems odd to me that that sort of advisory might be deemed necessary. I mean, we are all adults, and it's not like there are content advisories when the same word appears on pretty much every hip hop album ever recorded.... but, uh, better safe than sorry, I guess. Should be an interesting film! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Film noir, Bruce Lee, Kelly Reichardt: return of the Cinematheque

So the film event I had planned this spring at the Cinematheque - a rare screening of Ryszard Bugajski's momentously confrontational, Canadian-made film Clear Cut - got cancelled due to COVID-19, and there's  no word about it being re-booked; BUT the Cinematheque is open again for business, running some of the greatest film noirs ever made, from well-known classics like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity to the lesser-known but highly entertaining The Black Angel (starring Dan Duryea, but also featuring a great turn from Peter Lorre). A bit later in the month they have a couple of other favourite noirs of mine, Night and the City and Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street - both with the great Richard Widmark. There's even a Lizabeth Scott film - someone I attempted to interview once, about how her career fell apart when scandal sheets reported she was frequenting lesbian bars (she never wrote me back - who knows if she got my letter, even; she has since passed on). The film, Desert Fury, is quite a brisk, giddy, and very colourful affair, for a noir, if I recall it correctly. The complete Film Noir 2020 series listings can be found here. It's a summer tradition that I didn't entirely expect to see happen again this year (kind of odd that they missed the chance to book Panic in the Streets, the most COVID-relevant noir and also a fine Widmark vehicle, but whatever!). I'm really glad that it's happening!

Some of my friends have expressed doubts that it's a great idea to be going to movie theatres right now, with pandemic numbers predictably amping up again, but given the tiny audiences and social distancing measures I've seen in place, I've felt pretty safe at the movie theatres I've gone to since things started re-opening - safer than I feel at grocery stores, for one. So far the only bad experience I've had since returning to the movies was at a Cineplex downtown where I was catching the Train to Busan sequel; it's a fun film, but the minimum-wage-earning kids who staff the place hadn't thought to re-stock the toilet paper in the men's room, which I didn't realize until after I ducked out of the theatre and occupied a stall... we'll say no more of that (it was a bit awkward, especially with all the other stalls closed due to social distancing), but if they can't get something like that right, I am not entirely sure I trust them to make sure theatres are sanitized, y'know? By contrast, I'm entirely confident that the Cinematheque volunteers and employees - serious movie lovers - will do a better job all-round, and am especially excited for the above-mentioned noirs, which are some of the finest American films of their era, worthy classics every one. 

Also, there's a bunch of Bruce Lee films playing at the Cinematheque this summer, and the debut of Kelly Reichardt's, First Cow, opening this coming weekend. I was a bit less excited by Certain Women than I had been with Reichardt's previous films - my favourites remain Old Joy and Night Moves - but I'm certainly willing to give this one a chance, and glad to see Reichardt is back in the Pacific Northwest and working with Jon Raymond again. Looks like we're returning to a historical point of view, too, though what I've seen seems dissimilar to Meek's Cutoff, so... well, I'll take a chance regardless. I mean, I like cows, and Raymond, and Reichardt. I haven't even glanced at the cast list yet (why do I need to, when I already know it's a film I need to see?). 

Not much else to say but maybe I'll see some of you at the Cinematheque? (Haven't even LOOKED at the Vancity Theatre website yet, but I will, I will...). 


What I learned about the internet from Gorgo (lime) and ear infections

So here's something I've learned about how the internet works from this blog: if you have a blogpost named for something unique and somewhat obscure, that matches up with something people Google-search for, but that not many people have posted about (or would want to post about), you are more likely to turn up at the top of a search, which will make your post more popular, which will in turn make it more likely to turn up near the top of search results. It may not get a billion views - because it is unique and obscure and only a small number of people will care about it - but it will have a sort of staying power on the net, as long as a bunch of other people don't start writing about it, too.

Take, for example, the search phrase "sleep apnea and ear infections." Apnea itself - obstructed airways when you sleep, associated with loud snoring, gasping for breath in your (highly unsatisfying, oxygen-deprived) sleep, and occasional death by asphyxiation - is a somewhat niche phenom. It is often treated with a CPAP machine, which basically just blows air up your nose to keep your airways open. Some fifteen years ago, when I started on a CPAP machine, it was not commonly known by doctors or reported online that if you run your CPAP machine too high, you (apparently) can get ear infections, presumably as a result of bacteria being blown about inside your head; but it became obvious to me, back when I had my pressure set on 15, because I got ear infections - which I hadn't had since childhood - every few months. I turned down my settings, and the ear infections stopped; I found a way to strike a balance between wanting to breathe while I sleep and not wanting excruciating ear pain. 

And I wrote a blogpost about it, since no one else had done anything on the topic that I could see. Anecdotal evidence has to begin somewhere! This was back in 2008, and very soon after I posted it, I started to get comments from people who had experienced the same thing as I had. These days, there are tons of posts about sleep apnea and ear infections - the anecdotes have mounted and ENTs are now aware of the problem - so the traffic to my post has slowed; the post now turns up on the second page of Google results, after all sorts of more official medical reportage. But for awhile, I got comments every few months (it's now at 45, all reporting similar things), and over the years, this relatively obscure topic has gotten 5664 views. It pleased me a bit that my reportage has seemed to matter to people, and I guess when I go to my grave I can pat myself on the back for having spread the word on this matter: yay team. 

If "sleep apnea and ear infections" is no longer obscure enough to merit the sort of traffic my post got, there is a new post on the rise - a new obscurity on my blog that is generating comments and views. From 2013, the post reports on David M's discovery of a cache of the lime-flavoured chew bar Gorgo. While it is not quite of the paradigm-shifting import as my ear infections post, it has generated a respectable 934 views in the last seven years, and 9 comments: which really isn't bad when you consider that Gorgo - a memorably strange candy experience of yore, and the subject of many NO FUN "commercials" - has been  off the market for something like thirty years. Not many people remember Gorgo, and only a small fragment of those that do would bother to do an internet search for it, but for those that do - just try a Google search for "Gorgo lime," adding the "lime" to differentiate it from the monster movie - and you'll find that this very blog is at the top of the search results. It is, in fact - before I click "publish" on this - the only post (other than a couple of NO FUN vids) with a working link. 

Maybe David M. should do a special all-Gorgo CD to give people who comment on my post? That would be an M-like thing to do. He does a pretty good Richard Butler impersonation for his most recent...

Sunday, August 09, 2020

More news: Neon Waste reissues Siggy Magic

For some dumb reason or other, I have never watched Commercials for Free, at least not completely. Not sure why - saving something for a rainy day, maybe. It's an indy film shot in Vancouver in 1978, included on the deluxe version of the Bloodied But Unbowed set, and featuring footage of the Subhumans, so it's daft of me, or perverse, or perhaps deeply negligent to have missed it. The single of the same name, used on the soundtrack, by Siggy Magic & the Hey-Hoe band, is one of those crazy-expensive local rarities which, unlike, say, the Rude Norton 7", the No Exit album, and the Subhumans' own "Death to the Sickoids" 7", I have never even seen a copy of, let alone owned; this website lists it at $750 (and has some related downloads, which I assume I harm no one by pointing out, since anyone aware of this single is surely also aware it can be found on the internet somewhere; it is apparently also ripped here). Discogs says only 200 copies were made of the original. Not sure how many more Josh will be making but, anyhow, it's coming out again! Or is out already. Can you still buy it? I dunno.

By the way, I got a Chain Whip feature in the current issue of Germany's Ox Fanzine, who usually only want bands that they've heard about, but they liked the band's lean-mean hardcore enough that they said yes. So: cool! 

Generally I am enjoying being off the movies-and-music hamsterwheel for awhile, but, whatever, bands I like have things happening. The Judys have a new album out, too. I don't really know Dennis but I used to feel guilty about never doing anything about him. Maybe I will. But not right now.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

New news for old punks: of David Lester and Joe Keithley

People might be interested that there is a short documentary about David Lester's work as a graphic novelist on the CBC website. David's best known as the guitarist for Mecca Normal, but I interviewed him about his 2011 graphic novel The Listener, which I found enjoyable and interesting. Anarchist perspectives on history don't come naturally to me, and I found it quite provocative - certainly the smartest graphic novel I've read. I've been kind of tempted to check out Lester's other work - on Emma Goldman, or the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Haven't yet, though.

Also, Joe Keithley has a new, "positive and responsible" anthem, "You Won't Stand Alone," about fighting racism, recorded with the Mayor of Burnaby, Mike Hurley, on bass. Mayor Hurley is the first person I've ever voted for to have played with a punk, I think (tho' I did once see Jack Layton and Joe on the same stage at an Iraq war protest. Noam Chomsky was there, too! Neither of them picked up an instrument, however).

Joe writes that "Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley and I have teamed up to record a song about standing up to racial intolerance and promoting diversity, it's called 'You Won't Stand Alone.' Burnaby is one of Canada's most diverse communities and the Mayor and I believe that is a great strength. It's time that we as Canadians stand up to racism anywhere, anytime, any place."

I am glad I voted for these two, and it's cool to see Joe sort of transitioning into this kind of Pete Seeger sincerity (and mixing it up with his political career - that's pretty awesome). 

I mean, to be totally honest, DOA-wise, I kinda prefer "Let's Fuck" - it's funnier! But Joe prolly wouldn't appreciate my sayin' so.