Thursday, September 30, 2021

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: reactions and opportunities, and a few film recommendations

It is easy to be skeptical about having a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. There are, no doubt, people out there who will experience this as mostly a day off work or out of school - who won't really care about why they're getting the time off or use it to educate themselves. Marcus Reichfield - a Victoria painter - described it in a comment on Facebook as a "hollow government gesture," and another Facebook friend, Bruce McKiel, writes that it is that "100%," characterizing it further as, "The government slugz giving themselves a day off to pat themselves on the back while the working class (indigenous and non-indigenous) are out working in the rain... A classic example of the 'We need to do better' stuff the politicians just don't seem to get."

But there is still potential here. To keep this from being "more lip service," there has to be an actual attempt to do something with the time. That doesn't seem impossible to me; we use Remembrance Day, another holiday that serves as grim reminder of the past, as a platform for education, and there's no shortage of resources that could be brought into the classroom in the run-up to this new holiday. Opus Art Supplies, for example, at the location where my wife works, are having a day of what sounds like very positive things, with an Indigenous staff member smudging the building and... well, I'm not sure what else; it's happening as I write, but they've given the person who is doing it, Ruby, free reign, I think, to design some activities, present stuff; not really sure what yet. And the school where I work, Vancouver Community College, is committed to Indigenization, as well; obviously I haven't been there for the last couple of days, but they've ALWAYS tried to prioritize Indigenization, funding staff to take the San'yas Cultural Training program, for example. Last time I was at the Broadway campus, they were in the process of removing a bust from the library of a guy who I think I have to describe as "some king," not because he necessarily had a destructive impact on Canada's First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations, but because they'd rather have Indigenous art or something relevant to the school on display than a bust of someone that even I, a descendent of settlers allegedly tied to European history, cannot describe with clarity. The hell was that? "Some king." "Why are we taking it down?" "Indigenization." "Did he do something bad?" "No idea." ...when that is the level of connection to settler history you feel, it's hard to object to removing something, and if putting some other piece of art up in its place is going to make Indigenous people feel more comfortable using the space, do it! 

Here's a few things that might be of interest, re: the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: I've already mentioned, apropos of my Kier-la Janisse interview, below, that Jesse Wente's book Unreconciled is out, and it's at the top of my "to-read" pile as I recover from my surgery. I did not mention at that time that Wente will be conducting a virtual Q&A session with Tanya Talaga at part of the upcoming writer's festival, with the event taking place October 23rd (I might just feel better enough to attend?). 

A subsequent happy discovery is that the film Reel Injun, which is where I first encountered Wente as part of the San'yas training, is actually available for purchase online. (Not through Amazon or eBay, though, where it is treated as an out of print collectible; it isn't - just go to McIntrye Media, linked above). It's a great film. 

It's not a great ad, putting the two famous white guys' names first on the list, but I do understand that Clint Eastwood has more "draw" than John Trudell, and he does appear in the film - speaking most interestingly about the Adam Beach role in Flags of Our Fathers, where Beach plays Ira Hayes. Wente - in his role as film critic - and Trudell are the high points, though. I usually find Trudell a little hard to take, but recall a really blow-you-away moment where he talks about white people in the 1960's trying to adopt European fashions - buckskin jackets and so forth - in a very sympathetic light, observing that they, like all peoples of the world, were once part of a tribe, and it's not necessarily so much that they're trying to be Indians, as they are trying to reconnect to their own tribal roots.  Another great bit of journalism in the documentary is where they interview Sacheen Littlefeather about her standing in for Marlon Brando when he declined the Academy Award for The Godfather, asking her to read a speech about how he was declining because of the treatment of American Natives - which caused quite a ruckus and considerable hostility to Littlefeather. It also, however - and this is one of many moments where Reel Injun attains greatness - greatly lifted sagging spirits and morale in Pine Ridge, during the ongoing Wounded Knee Occupation and conflict with the FBI. Russell Means, who was present, also appears in Reel Injun, talking about seeing Littlefeather on TV making this speech while the FBI closed in. If you love movies, and love to think about movies, and care about representations of Indigenous peoples in movies, Reel Injun is a must see (it can also be streamed if you are Campus subscriber, but I don't know what Campus is). 

For VIFF enthusiasts, there are also four NFB shorts appearing at the VIFF this year, available for streaming as of tomorrow. Two - Mary Two-Axe Early and Nulujuk Night - appear as a program of shorts, here.  There is also Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics, also part of a program of shorts. 

There are other films in VIFF with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit content, like Returning Home, the high-concept SF film (?) Night Raiders, and quite a few other films (you can actually just search their website for the word "Indigenous;" there are more than a few options available.

And of course, it's never too late to read the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the summary volume of which you can buy as a book (Indigo/ Chapters stocks it as does or read online. It's sad, sobering stuff, but you won't find more relevant reading for today.

As a slightly irrelevant final note: my post-op "comfort food" movie last night was a film that has no overt Indigenous presence at all, but seems still strikingly relevant: John Carpenter's The Fog. I have no idea if anyone out there has connected that film to the history of colonization, but it's not a big leap. A town is about to celebrate its hundredth anniversary, but a priest (Hal Holbrook), discovering an old book, learns that the town was founded on acts of "theft" and "murder." The specifities of that theft and murder have nothing to do with American natives, but rather with the ghosts of angry but wealthy sea-bound lepers seeking to establish a colony nearby, who are tricked by the townsfolk and drowned; somehow, by removing all trace of the REAL acts of theft and murder that the United States and Canada were founded on, Carpenter creates an absence that the mind can't help be drawn to. 

And it even touches on the themes of church complicity and the indecency of having a celebration - think this last Canada Day, "cancelled" by many after the mounting number of First Nations graves. Hal Holbrook, as a drunken priest with a conscience, mutters "our celebration is a travesty," at one point, and prepares to sacrifice his life in order to give back to the, uh, nautical leper ghosts what was stolen from them, in the form of a big golden cross. Leading by example, there, Hal. It's kind of a norm of Carpenter's cinema that he often doesn't seem to quite understand what he's doing - the most thought-provoking things in most of his movies (They Live aside) are usually above, between, and beneath the lines, so to speak... but he still manages to do it pretty well with this one. I'm not sure if The Fog counts as a productive activity to do for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation - I suspect it counts as a cheat -  but I sure enjoyed watching it in this light. 

Cancer Surgery, Round 2

Note: some of the photos below might be TMI. 

I arrive eight minutes late to the surgical check in area. The door is closed, and there are half a dozen people, all also waiting for surgery, milling around outside; you don't get to go into the room until your name is called, which I assume is some sort of new COVID protocol. I don't really remember how things went down in 2017, but I don't recall it happening this way.

I ask a stranger, also waiting, "Did they call Allan MacInnis, yet?" Nope. It feels very strange, being in a waiting room that is just a hallway with a few chairs, in front of a closed door. 

But there are seats, so I sit.

Eventually I am led into the main room, where I go over my information with a series of about five different nurses, first at the front desk, then later as I get in bed and people come to ask me questions. It's a funny level of redundancy built in - like, someone pretending to be Allan MacInnis, with the services card of Allan MacInnis and their photo on it, would probably know what Allan MacInnis' birthday is, too - since it is ON the services card; I'd have to be a pretty bad imposter to suddenly forget it, but I still have to tell it to every single nurse I talk to. (Maybe the redundancy is about screening for dementia, or making sure that you don't have the wrong person with the same name? Dunno.). I am led to a bathroom and given a bag of clothing to change into and an unlocked locker to leave my pants and shoes and such ("take any valuables with you," they say, so I negotiate stuffing three pieces of ID into my cell phone cover). The underwear seems too small, but fits. The socks are big weird green things, rectangular at the end instead of rounded, and the slippers are disposable jobs that have no obvious "correct" way to go on your foot that I can see. I snap a few selfies while I can.

Later, lying in bed, my attention is drawn to an old guy who I hear nurses warn each other is "quite hard of hearing" as they approach him. That explains why he speaks with a booming voice - a form of compensation I have used myself, when my hearing has been bad (or when I've had headphones on). I get to hear a fair bit of their check-in with him, which is about all I can pay attention to, because he's plenty loud and the internet reception in the hospital is terrible and I've brought nothing else to distract me. He's come for a scalp resection, I learn, has a growth on the back of his head, and I watch my oncologist - who I guess is a "whole head" man, not just an internal guy - interview him while a nurse measures around his neck ("Is that for the noose?" the old guy asks, and I instantly like him.) I think nothing of the fact that we are both large men with beards in our fifties or so until my oncologist, when he comes into the surgery a bit later, as the anesthesiologists are preparing to knock me out, and identifies me to his team as the scalp resection (the fact that everyone is wearing masks doesn't help). No, no, I'm the partial glossectomy! ...his team sets him straight soon enough. 

I surrender my phone, which is placed in an envelope in a safe. Two nurses have failed to find a way to get the IV into the back of my hand - my veins are hard to find, and though they break skin and poke around a bit and make me flinch, it doesn't take hold either time. I joke with one of them as she tapes up my hand that I'm going to write an expose on the role of Big Tape in the hospital system and she chuckles and says, pleasantly "We sure do go through a lot of it." 

I think guys feel obliged to entertain their nurses a bit, to make up for the debt they feel to them. There are worse ways to be in the hospital. I was considerably crankier in 2017, but Erika has set me right, there.

The main anesthesiologist - a large fella with a delightfully foreign African name, which I try to say correctly at least once before I go under - does better with the IV and gets a vein in the back of my right hand in no time. I can never tell if it's skill or luck, but whichever it is, it does seem to vary a lot between hospital staff. Then I've got a mask being fit over my nose and mouth and, without particularly noticing the descent, am unconscious, and my oncologist is cutting away either what is recurrent cancer or else severe dysplasia (I am assuming there will be a biopsy after the fact but as yet I still don't know which). He got a bit abrupt with me when, before I went under, I mentioned that last time I went through this, I was allowed to develop a nasty case of oral thrush, so I ask if there can be some preventative measures taken this time; he seems annoyed by the question, a little, but I get a scrip for an anti-fungal when leaving, so, I mean, I don't really care. He's a good man - a hard working, devoted man, I can see -  but you still have to advocate for yourself in our hospital system, because if you don't, you can't really trust that anyone else will, either. 

I mean, they might, but they might not.

Surgery starts just after 8. I wake up about an hour later - I think by this time it's something like 9:15am - with a little less tongue, a lot of pain in my throat, and weirdly clear nasal passages. I learn that they had problems intubating me, so I could breathe during surgery - which is why my throat is sore, and that they had to go up my nose, instead, blasting a clear passage up my narrow nostrils. I haven't breathed so clearly through my nose ever, as I did on waking up.   

Weirdly, my tongue - the actual main object of my oncologists' attentions - feels fine, better and more normal than it has since before the 2017 surgery, really, since it's never been without a bit of discomfort (and has been very sore over the last few weeks). It feels like a normal tongue, though it still looks a bit weird - I have no idea what the black stuff is on the side, here. Whatever the doc did to me, I think I'm going to recover fully, and hopefully be cancer free for awhile again.

But for any vaccine-hesitant people out there, I will say this, if you haven't already got the memo: intubation is a big deal. If you end up intubated for a long time due to COVID, you are going to suffer. I'm suffering now, fifteen hours later, and they didn't even have the tube down my throat for more than a few minutes, it seems. I can't swallow without a lot of pain, even on painkillers, which means that my mouth tends to fill with saliva and my throat dries up. And a mouthful of thick saliva is kind of disgusting - it's hard to make yourself WANT to swallow it, especially when you know it's going to hurt like hell. I've walked over to the kitchen sink a dozen times since I started writing this to spit a small pond of it down the drain. I do have a cold drink at hand - cool seems to go down better than hot, and at least seems worth swallowing; but there is something about the act of drinking that makes you salivate more, so you can't really win. The pain does go away if you stop swallowing altogether for awhile, but then it's worse when you DO get back to drinking something, while oddly, when you ARE drinking, it seems to somehow soothe the throat, make it relax; you just have to get over that first hurdle, and then you'll want to drink more and more. 

But not saliva.

I've also been peeing a ton - because I was on IV fluids during surgery, and that stuff has got to come out. They give you a portable urinal; one nurse was un-shy about pulling aside my tiny man-panties and helping me affix the jug - seen below, with the odd bend in the top - over my genitals, but mostly they left me to figure that part out myself (I actually had to ask someone, being a bit woozy, which end was supposed to face up). 

...and lest you think nasal intubation is no big deal, while I do admit that it hasn't caused me discomfort - in fact seems to have improved my breathing - I blew some truly disgusting things out of my nose after the operation. Clots of blood, I think, though the dark splotch here felt disturbingly solid and tissue-like, so I don't know. Not the only one like this I blew, either. It's the weirdest sensation I've had of something passing through my body since I peed out my fragment kidney stones, a few years ago.  

But some discomfort is a small price to pay for being cancer free, and overall, I was trulyimpressed by the speed and efficiency of the whole process. There weren't even any visible "COVID roadbumps," at least on my end of things (I'm sure the hospital staff have a few). I'm back home now - Erika, who has been the ever-supportive, loving wife, has driven me about, taking me to the hospital, coming back here for my CPAP machine (which we didn't ever end up using), taking me to get prescriptions filled, and best yet, stopping for a big tub of vanilla ice cream for milkshake purposes. The dairy makes my saliva even stringier than it already is, but the act of swallowing mouthfuls of milkshake - not from a straw, note, because that hurts a bit - was pure relief. My main concern now is not that my tongue will heal up - it did before, and I'm confident it will again, though right now my voice is a mushy mess not fit for human ears. No, my main concern is my throat. It's worse than any illness-borne sore throat I've ever experienced, feels more unnatural, like someone was jamming equipment down there, which is exactly what they did.

Barring any major new developments, though, I'm going to just leave the cancer blogging behind. I had cancer; I had surgery; the cancer (or something like it) returned; I had surgery again. 

It's not all that unlike your second root canal, really. The first one is a big deal, but the second is like, "Oh, shit, this again? Oh well."

Not that I want a round 3. 

Thanks to everyone who has checked in or wished me well, eh? 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Alan Zweig interview: Records, Failure, and Acceptance (with shout outs to Kevin James Howes and Reg Harkema)

Alan Zweig in Records, 2021

Alan Zweig in Vinyl, 2000

Note: the following piece was written in last minute in the face of impending surgery, and substantially revised once I had gotten out. 

Alan Zweig's feature-length documentary Vinyl, the year 2000 precursor to his new feature Records, takes a fairly dark angle on record collecting. Zweig himself says, in Records, that the earlier film is "about failure," and if you've seen the film, you can understand why. Zweig, being reconciled at the time of that film's making to his own self-confessed variant on social failure - mostly defined around his not having a family - seems entirely comfortable asking people if they feel they are compensating, in their collecting, for things they lack. 

It's a great question, and opens doors onto issues of the pathology of collectors that any collector will walk away from pondering. It isn't always a comfortable experience, however. For example, Zweig interviews a fellow whose apartment is a squalid jumble of disorganized records and CDs, seen below. The subject gets defensive, angrily justifying his apparent hoarding with explanations about his testicle cancer, and lashing out at Zweig a bit, seeing Zweig as criticizing him. Zweig, actually, is just asking questions, and you could see bravery in his willingness to go there, but the segment still brings to mind documentaries like Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason or Terry Zwigoff's Crumb - all films which enter bravely into some pretty emotionally uncomfortable territory. (You might also be reminded of the cinema of Henry Jaglom, a bit). It's brave cinema, honest cinema, and has an emotional impact that most documentaries generally don't even attempt to achieve (which is pretty remarkable, really, given that it's a film about record collecting, which you might expect to be kind of fluffy, trivial thing; it is anything but). 

Records is a much easier, gentler, more "fun" film about record collecting. As Zweig himself says in the film, if Vinyl is about failure, Records is about "acceptance." 

That doesn't mean there aren't still a few fearless and revealing questions put in front of his subjects, many of whom, this time out, are couples, like Cindy Wolfe, the Tennessee Twin (left, below) and her partner, Toronto filmmaker Reg Harkema. Often Zweig is curious about whether his film's couples keep their collections separate or merge them together, and asks at least one couple (I'm forgetting who) if the decision to merge or not to merge their collections is a potentially ominous sign in terms of the couples' faith in their relationship. I don't know if Zweig himself thinks of that sort of question as brave, but as someone who has done a share of interviews, I probably would be really nervous about asking it, fearing that, fair question or not, my subject might take offense: "How dare you question whether my relationship is on solid ground?" 

But Zweig is in a different relationship to the subjects of this film than to the subjects of Vinyl; they're successful peers, for the most part, and of a generally higher socioeconomic strata than the people depicted in the earlier movie. As with Vinyl, there are deep emotional insights attained into exploring people's relationships with their stuff, but the overall picture is not of lonely single people with no lives, engaged in compensatory or pathologicial hoarding. You get to see just how much people - including people in relationships - get from their collections. You even get to hear a few really fun bits of music (the bit about bellydancing record will stay with you, but I don't want to spoil it). 

Conversation between Zweig and I began on Facebook, with a bit of back-and-forth about how the film's few Zoom interviews (with Jello Biafra, for example, glimpsed above) merge pretty well with the rest of his movie. I said something about liking the "charming lack of tech flare" of the film, referring in particular to how, for Zweig's own on-screen appearances, he uses the rather unpretentious (but nicely composed) shots of himself talking into a mirror, in the later film visibly shooting from a mounted iPhone. It's such a great idea - because where, in real life, does one talk to oneself, if not in a mirror? - that is made all the better for its humble means, and in fact looks great (Zweig's compositions are slightly altered for the images here, note, so I could crop out the runtime counter at the bottom of the screen!). 

Zweig responded, "Well the mirror idea comes from Vinyl, but back then I had this huge mirror, this time I went to Value Village and found that one and it seemed perfect. I'm not sure my producer or DOP would like what you call 'lack of tech flare,' but I think I know what you mean, there's Zoom, there's old bits of Vinyl which was shot in hi-8 and there's the mirror stuff shot with my phone... and I like that too... It's not that I want anyone to like the film for that reason, but I would hate to think that anyone dislikes the film for that reason, though over the years I have met people who didn't like my films for their lack of conventional flourishes." 

After that, we switched to Zoom. 

Just to make it explicit. I love your aesthetic, I love the sense that these are just real people talking, with as little artifice between them as possible. I hope I didn't offend you with my thing about lack of tech flare.

No, okay - I mean, yeah... It's not something I exactly chose, but I did become aware at some point that it was different, and at that point, it was like, I saw no reason to change it. Although some of my films are slicker or prettier, if the subject matter calls for it - I can be less rough. 

See, I don't know the films you made between - but you've seen things like Shirley Jackson's Portrait of Jason, and you've watched a lot of cinema. It's not an un-studied aesthetic.

Yeah. When I made Vinyl, I didn't think about it, but if I did think about it, I thought, "It's not the only documentary ever made that looks like this." The thing is, documentary has conventions, and documentary filmmakers have an attraction to those conventions more than I would expect filmmakers to be attracted to them. Documentary filmmakers, or the industry, is somewhat conservative. And that's why I started hearing a lot that my stuff was different. I feel like, in fiction filmmaking, there is quite a bit more of a range of aesthetics; there are auteurs with their own with their own style. Nobody is telling Harmony Korine every time, "Your films are weird." I would say my aesthetic is not so much what I do, as what I don't do. Like, I don't do B-roll unless the B-roll naturally flows from the subject. But I don't go out of my way. It's like, what was I going to do with people I was interviewing about vinyl, cut away to a dance sequence, or to them walking through the park, just for the hell of it, so we don't have to watch them talk in front of their records? I see no reason not to stay on the person who is talking. But people notice that - people notice the lack of B-roll. But anyway, we don't have to make a meal of that. 

Okay. I see that there are some friends of mine in the film, who have Vancouver ties. I mean, not super close, but I know Reg Harkema, who shot some of his first film, A Girl Is a Girl, was shot in part at Neptoon Records, and Kevin James Howes. 

It's funny - I just wrote Kevin and not said, "Just a warning, not everything you and Dane said ended up on the cutting room floor, and - it's going to Vancouver, and maybe some of your friends are going to see you. 

And yeah, Reg is from Vancouver; I expect his father, Bill, to come to the screening. Reg and I are friends. Kevin and I are friends, but not hangout friends. But Reg and I have a history. 

It's an interesting behind-the-scenes connection with Vinyl, because Reg has worked with Don McKellar on a few projects.

 Reg and Cindy went to the Blinding Light on a date, to see Vinyl. And I've met a lot of people from Vancouver who saw Vinyl at the Blinding Light. I never made it there, but it was one of the sweetest gifts I ever got was that Vinyl became a hit at this underground cinema, and the only reason it happened was that the recently departed Dave Barber, from Winnipeg, recommended it to all kinds of people, including whoever was programming the Blinding Light. I know that Vinyl has a connection to Vancouver, for sure. 

I volunteered at the Blinding Light for awhile - I saw a John Porter presentation there, and a few other fun films, and one gruelling film about Guy DeBord. I learned how to use a popcorn machine, too... I am guessing it was probably Alex MacKenzie who programmed it. 

Alex MacKenzie, yeah. 

Vancouver vinyl enthusiasts Dane Gordan Joulet and Kevin James Howes

Coming to something that is important to both films. If you had asked me, before I saw Vinyl or Records, about my record collecting, I would have said "well, it's really about the music for me." And one of the startling and funny things about both films is that it seems like people are in a bit of denial towards their orientation towards the artefacts. Like, they have 83 records by a given artist, multiple copies of it, and say they're not a collector. Or they have 10,000 records, and say they're not a collector. Or there's the guy who talks about having to buy every single album by an artist he likes who, in the next breath, says, "But I'm not a completist." What do you make of this? Is it denial?

I would say some are actively in denial and some... The thing is, when they say that, they're creating a straw man. They're saying, "There's a bunch of people who collect records not for the music. Therefore, you cannot justify 20,000 records in your house if you just want it for the music. And I believe there are those people, and I want you to know I am not one of those people." That's what they're saying.

And I didn't expect that to come up again here. The whole point of this film was kind of that on Vinyl, I got sort of sidetracked on the "It's not the music" thing, to the point that I wouldn't really even let in music. The film - Vinyl - is kind of about music, but it's kind of not at all. And I was like, "I'm going to make it again, and this time I am going to try to talk about music." And I think I did talk about music, this time, but I didn't think that that whole sawhorse, "I collect for the music" - I didn't think anybody would still say that. And then bang, they're saying it again.  Like, "They're pulling me back!" (mimes Al Pacino in The Godfather III). 

I think it's basically like this: if you have records all around your house, and it's not for the music, you're a hoarder. If you have records all over your house and it is for the music, you're an art lover, an art collector, you're a man or woman of good taste who collects fine objects of art. And I say, well, it's like the guy in the film says when he gets an attack of Parkinson's: "I go to the room, I pull out a record, and go, 'I have this.'" Does he put it on? No - he doesn't say, "I put it on and the music cures me." He thinks about the music; he imagines the music; and he might not have that record if not for the music on it. But... y'know. like, what does somebody who collects stamps say? What does somebody say - "I don't do it for this..." "I collect comic books; I do it for the stories." Like, of course you do, but I'm just saying...

Part of me quibbles a little, because people who say, "It's not about the stuff, it's about the music" - yeah, you're right, they're probably differentiating themselves from less attractive things like hoarding, things they think are pathological, but they may also be paying respect to the really serious collectors, who they perceive on a whole other level. Like, a serious collector might know what's written in the dead wax on the end of the side for each one, or how many pressings of a given album there were and the cover art variations, or, like, "Did this come out in Slovenia." Like, Rob Frith at Neptoon is a collector. Calling me the same thing as him would do people like him a serious injustice. 

Right, yeah, you're right, and I don't want to make it about quibbling, but - and this is kind of boring, but I will say it, anyway. Most of us, like you and me, are not technically record collectors, because a collector in every other thing involves getting a complete set. Like, say he collects Bowie; he has all the pressings. He has the Italian pressing. Maybe he has Mick Ronson or Tony Visconti records, too. That's a collector. If you're like us, we blow with the wind: "I've got a couple of Bowie records, but why would I need a hundred?" I've got ten Dylan records, or, you see in the film where I'm like, "I've got six Mike Nesmith records, and that's too many, I don't like him enough to have six records." So we're not record collectors, technically speaking. But I asked somebody once, way back in Vinyl, "Okay, what should we call ourselves, then?" He said, "Accumulators." And I tried to introduce that into the language, but it didn't stick. They're collectors and we're collectors, but they're real collectors, and we're, y'know, "vinyl enthusiasts," or something like that.

But you're right, there's a lot of knowledge about records that might not constitute music. You just talked about Reg. Reg knows about the dead wax, Reg knows about who cut the lathe. There's a term people use this term "Pork Ears" [?] or - I can't remember what they use, but those people who know who cut the lathe will say it's because the music sounds so much better when this guy cut the lathe, versus that guy. And they would definitely say, about all this information they have, "Yes, I'm aware of all that, but it's because I want my music to sound better." There's nobody who would say, "It's not about the music." Nobody. 

And the thing is - it's not important. It's funny that people have a feeling that collecting is frowned upon, so they want to separate themselves from those people; I might have felt that way too, back when I made Vinyl. But I don't feel that way now. I think, if you  have thousands of records, and you listen to music, and you love rummaging, and it makes you happy - good for you. You're lucky! You found something that makes you feel happy. You don't have to hide behind false distinctions. 

Just to see what kind of collector you are, though - I have a question about something that makes me a little crazy, that is becoming the new norm among record collectors and sellers. Here's my prize: the private pressing of Nomeansno's first record, Mama. Only 500 of these were made, and this one is signed by John Wright; I though this would be fun to illustrate with. What drives me crazy is that people have now started to store their records outside the sleeves, like, between the protective plastic and the cover, so to prevent ringwear on their valuable items. They don't use the cover for what the cover is for. 

To me, that's too much - it's too artefact-oriented. I grant that yes, it's going to protect the record cover from wear a little, in the long term, but it just bugs me to imply that, you know, we shouldn't use the cover of the record like the cover of the record. Even with this one, I store it inside the sleeve, where it belongs.

I am not precious at all about my records. I don't even have them in plastic sleeves, because I don't like how they look on the shelves. I throw the plastic sleeves out. I'm shocked to find out that I'm a way small minority in throwing out plastic sleeves! But I am not trying to preserve my records for the future, or so that I can sell them for a lot. When I sell them to stores, sometimes I get ten bucks, sometimes I get five bucks, but... I'm  not a condition freak. In fact, let me show you. I'll show you what kind of collector I am. Here's one example (holds up Andy Robinson album): somebody cut holes in it, and put things in them, apparently, I'm guessing, so they could put their album covers in a binder and go through them. [Imitates flipping pages]. Somebody else would not buy this record from this, but I would buy it because of this. 

(Laughs). Okay. 

And I'm going to give you one more example: Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. I already have it. I used to love this record - when this came out, I played the shit out of it. I probably haven't played it a few times in the last ten years. Anyway, I had to buy this copy, because the people were so bold in putting their names on it. Like, I like when people put their names on it, but - obviously, these guys even had stencils. I would even consider, as a fantasy, of trying to find Gloria and Dave Lemon and being like, "Hey, I got your Neil Young record!" 

So on the topic of Neil Young, then. I didn't understand a scene in the film, where you're speaking into the mirror and you have the back covers of four Neil Young albums on view, not the front covers. Why did you do that?

Um. [Thoughtful pause]. Because I thought that if somebody objected to my showing Neil Young records, or wanted money, they would be less inclined to do so if I showed the back. How many people would know that? 

Okay, well, I'll tag him in this, or something. But if I could ask - I have a favourite moment in Records, where your daughter teases you about the size of some of your audiences, theatrically. That's charming. It was spontaneous, not scripted at all?

No, I wouldn't script that. I mean, I've told her many things about my life, and when my film, A Hard Name, played at the Royal in 2009 - going back to my films I made in the 1980's and 1990's, I would be happy to get twenty people, ten people. But I particularly remember A Hard Name, when four people or six people would show up. And the weird thing is that you're actually very grateful to those five people, because all it would take would be for five people to decide not to go out that night, and you would have had zero people. And I've never had zero people, but I've been five people away from zero people! 

But she busts my balls, that's what you're saying, and yeah, she does; every once in awhile, my daughter says something, and I stupidly say, "How'd you get so sarcastic?" And she's like, y'know, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." 

You have a family? A wife?

I had a wife. Keely has a mother; she and I were together for nine years. We split up when Keely was about six, which was about five years ago. I met somebody two years later, and now I live with my girlfriend, and I have my daughter, all this time, three and a half days a week. 

It's something I noticed was absent from the film. Not a flaw, but you talk about other people's collections, do they merge their collections and such, but you don't really go into your family situation that much. Do you share music with Keely?

No, not really. I know people do this, and people have told me they do this, sitting their daughter down and playing them stuff. I couldn't imagine doing that with her. I don't do that with people, period: "You've gotta listen to this!" So no. Occasionally she'll hear me playing things, but I'll let her come to it or not come to it. I have introduced her to movies, maybe, or some TV stuff, but mostly we watch and listen to stuff that she knows, like "Call Me Maybe" by Carly-Rae Whatever. Like, one time her and her mother heard a song on a Turtles record that they thought was hilarious, and they used to do imitations of it, and it is really quite a weird song. But the kind of stuff I listen to, I don't really impose it on anybody, and I don't really even impose it on my girlfriend. I play music for her, but I am careful not to play her music that I don't think she'll like, because she has very good taste, but quite different taste from me; our tastes intersect here or there. But, y'know, one time I was listening to Rotary Connection. They made a bunch of very weird, conceptual psychedelic soul records. They're semi- half-black half-white records; Minnie Ripperton was their singer. And I thought - my general tastes, she's not going to like, but she might like this; they were covering the song "The Weight" by the Band, and they were covering it in the kind of way, like they do, that would seem, almost, you couldn't tell that it was that song until they go "take a load off Annie." And she told me, "I've never liked this song. I didn't like the original. Too male, the Band. Too male."  

I do have stuff that she likes, but I have two rooms where I listen to my music: Downstairs, where I put all the stuff I can play for my daughter or girlfriend or at a dinner party, like Van Morrison, Jackie de Shannon, et cetera, and upstairs, where I have the 60's swampy/ psychy stuff that I don't expect anybody else to like, and I listen to it by myself. 

Relationships seem to be a huge part of the film. You've said it's about acceptance, and we've talked about collectors who are in denial, but the moment, to me, the one that really stood out was the single woman in her 60's who says, "I suck at relationships, too; they take me away from my stuff." And that's a really profound moment, that tension between relationships and your stuff. It's the first time I've seen anyone go into it - I guess Philip K. Dick touches on it a little with the "your house is on fire, what do you save: your family or your books" thing. It's kind of the same paradigm.

When I made Vinyl, I think I made it very clear, in this film, that I thought somebody who didn't have relationships, didn't have a family, only had their records - which also describes me at the time! - was missing something, and maybe even was a bit of a loser. Now, I didn't make fun of them, but I had some pretty extreme examples of those kinds of people, who found me, came to me, and they were kind of examples of cautionary tales. And it wasn't totally on purpose: the guy whose wife left him and took all his records, the guy who had memorized the K-Tel records, the guy whose record I stepped on; those were just people I met who I put in the film, but they ended up being part of a theme, which was my judgment - and I wasn't the only one who had that judgment - that you're missing something; that it's better if you have these other things in your life, and that your records should find a more reasonable level. 

Now, I kind of knew I didn't believe that anymore, but I didn't know how much I didn't believe that anymore until someone brought up this guy Imants. I could see the old me judging him, and the present me going, "That guy was one of the happiest people I ever met!" And the thing that Margaret, who you mention, says - she's in Vinyl, a little bit, too, and I'm proud of her for saying it, rather than 25 years ago, going, "Well, good for you, but you're wrong! Now I think otherwise, and here's how I think I arrived at that: I'm extremely happy and grateful that I have my daughter, but having her, I realize it was a choice I made, to say, "I won't be happy unless I have a daughter." It was a choice I made, and I could have made another choice. I could have chosen to be happy in a different way. As much as she's the best thing in my life, I also realize that was a choice. [When I made Vinyl, I was like,] "Here are the things I have, here are the things I don't have, and I'm going to focus on the things I don't  have and be miserable." And y'know, I just profoundly don't feel that way anymore, and that's why there's nobody in the film that I'm judging, and don't want anybody else to judge. I'm not going after anybody, I'm not nailing anybody. I'm glad they found something that makes them happy.

You wouldn't have been able to do that if you hadn't had a daughter.

That's true. I couldn't have. But it's not just my daughter. The thing about this film was, Vinyl was an earth shattering thing for me, personally; it changed my life. And I think it's a very self-indulgent choice I made, to make this film Records, as an homage to that film, which was earth shattering for me. Vinyl changed my life. I became a filmmaker. I got an audience. I became somebody that people would support. So that, and my daughter: two things I didn't have when I started to make Vinyl, which made me happier, and kept me happier to this day. But you're right, I had to get them to get the insight to realize that it was a choice. Whereas these other people, like Margaret, they've made their choice, and they're better people than me. 

[Note: This is not a photo of Margaret, just a screengrab of a very well adjusted family whose partners both collect]

Thanks, Alan. One final question, just a very basic one. You don't use name cards at any point in the film. I'm curious about that. I didn't recognize Reg and Cindy at all, at first, since it's 14 years or so since I hung out with them, and, I mean, I only know what Steve Albini looks like from old Big Black album covers from 30 years ago, so I still am not sure who he was in the film. 

That's just been something I haven't done since the beginning. One reason is that I don't want to identify every Tom, Dick and Harry, just so you'll know that's Steve Albini when he comes up; and if you have a few famous people, and they're kind of recognized, then the audience will also wonder if Dan Lovranski is a famous person they've never heard of. And then there's the fact that I don't really want to put too much focus on the famous people. And lastly it's because I consider my films to be collective stories, a bunch of people with similar issues and experiences, and I don't want to focus on any one of them too much. And finally, if I haven't already said finally, it's because I associate putting names under subjects with educational films or films trying to prove a point or argue something and they have to let you know that this is so and so from the oceanographic society. I know I have suffered from not putting the names and frustrated some people, but I just could not let myself do it, It's something that I would never do. it feels wrong and I don't need a reason, but I also don't want anyone going "Ooh, that's Steve Albini."

Alan Zweig's Records gets its world premiere at the VIFF on October 1st, and has both virtual and theatrical screenings; see the link for more. He's going to wear a mask for eight hours - "I've never worn a mask for eight hours," he says unenthusiastically - to negotiate the airport and the flight and the airport in order to be here, so come out to the screening and give him a hearty welcome! (Bring him a record!). Also note, Neptoon Records will be doing some sort of giveaway of two tickets, but I was unable to confirm the details before my surgery. You'll have to figure it out yourselves!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The day before the day before my surgery: Bawdy Ballads and steak

Was going a bit stir crazy yesterday, two days before my surgery - which happens tomorrow at a yet-to-be-determined time. Had barely gone out for a couple of weeks, staying home to protect myself from COVID (lest it delay my surgery) and get writing done. I'm happy with my progress, here: I did a major interview with a major band (enlisting the help of David M. who knows their work more than I do), did my Kier-la Janisse piece (a few posts ago) and got a good start on Alan Zweig (which I hope to put up later today). It's been productive, and I'm grateful to my employer (and to CUPE) for the stellar benefits package that allowed me to work from home again - but I *needed* to get out of the house a bit. 

Interviewing someone with a co-interviewer was an interesting experience. I often have anxieties after an interview that I didn't get what I needed, especially if I had interesting questions planned that I didn't manage to get answers for - but in fact, the conversation, I see now that I've gotten it transcribed, was pretty rich. M., weirdly, brought some seriously highbrow elements to it, getting into a discussion with the band of Schoenberg and 12-tone opera, which is an area that I cannot really access (the prospective title of the piece is "Somewhat Like Stravinsky, or Schoenberg for Now," though I do wonder if my editors will change that. M is of a more even keel than me, I think, and emerged from the conversation pretty confident it went well, while I was afraid to get transcribing, with every stumble magnifying itself in my memory and the things we *did* get that were interesting having faded, a little. Ultimately it was a success, but I worried for a day or two that it had been a failure.

Anyhoo... you'll see who we interviewed when the next issue of Big Takeover comes out. 

Between working from home and getting writing done, I was feeling extremely restless, and aware that soon, I would be stuck at home even moreso, post-surgery; so yesterday, once the article was submitted, while I still could - I went thrifting, pretty much my only excursion out of the house, a few food runs aside, in the last few weeks since I discovered the cancer was back. There's a Salvation Army that I like, where I almost always find a few interesting records; yesterday was no exception. They had two Ferron LPs (ones I already have, and left behind - Testimony (which has Stephen Nikleva on it, and the next album, Shadows on a Dime, which has my favourite Ferron song, "It Won't Take Long." But I'm always happy to run into records I like when thrifting, even if I don't need them; they're like friends saying hello, and I'll move them to the front of the stacks so other people can find them). They had a couple of Sesame Street albums, too, which, again, I didn't buy, but which have begun to beguile me when I see them when thrifting - they are probably pretty fun to listen to. And they had two LPs I actually needed, the final two Oscar Brand Bawdy Ballads LPs that were missing from my collection, Volume 1 in the series and the "Goes to College" one.   

I am not a Brand completist - there are dozens of albums that he released before, between, and after albums in this series, some of which, no doubt, are fun, but they're mostly, it seems, less funny. I've wanted, for awhile, a complete set of this particular series, however - which at some point, after having nearly identical titles for volumes 1-4 (except the words "volume 1," "volume 2," etc), become slightly less obvious (I remember thinking that Bawdy Western Songs, volume 6, which does have the words "volume 6" on the title, might have been the sixth volume of a different series, but no, it isn't; there is no "Bawdy Western Songs" vols 1-5).  

Some variation in titles aside, however, the common elements - cover art and fonts; vulgarity that is gleeful, but not explicit, since these were coming out in the 1950s; and the mostly common presence of banjo accompanist Dave Sear - make them an identifiable set. Like, it is obvious Rollicking Sea Shanties belongs to it, as well, but is lacking even the common denominator of all the others, the word "Bawdy." 

Because volumes 1, 2, and 3 all have an acoustic guitar prominently featured in the art, and no people (or, in the case of volume 3, only an arm poking out of a bed), I actually thought I might have had the first one already, when I found it yesterday. I considered not buying it, even, then thought I would go ahead just in case and pick it up; I could always just gift it to someone if it turned out I already had it, which I've done before with repeats in the series. I was doubly delighted to get home and find I didn't have it in my collection at all. I now own Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads Vol. 1-4, Bawdy Sea Shanties, Bawdy Western Songs, Bawdy Songs Goes to College, Sing-Along Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads, Rollicking Sea Shanties, and Bawdy Hootenanny. I have one other related album he did, Brand X, which retains some of the features of the above, but, coming much later (in 1971) doesn't shy away from the profanity that is dodged above, and which is missing the cover art commonalities, which makes it a bit of an outlier. Some of other Brand's stuff is a bit more "straight folk," though I did send another that I had, Every Inch a Sailor, to Jello Biafra, because it's got a song on it about Guantanamo Bay on it.  

I am under the impression no one cares about Oscar Brand records but me. I've never known anyone else to go on about them; they sell for peanuts on Discogs, where there is no shortage of them; they're common enough in thrift stores. About the only other evidence I have that anyone but me loves these records is that the Meat Puppets covered "Blinded by Turds" at an in-store that got released on a DVD, retitling it as "Wonderful Song" (though of course, I cannot be sure Brand was their source for that song, which they may have heard performed by someone else; that will be a very fun thing to discuss if I ever interview the Meat Puppets, but I don't expect it will ever happen, since I imagine they might have difficulties getting into Canada). 

After my adventure, I went to meet Erika, and she took me for dinner at the Keg, which was delightful, but a bit challenging (because my jaw and throat are both a bit inflamed/ swollen, which was a side-effect of the cancer back in 2017, as well; I've even had a mild earache for days in the side with the cancer, which I also recall from last time). Steak is a little bit on the "requires effort to chew" side, but it was delicious - we had top sirloin, and I had mashed potatoes, garlic shrimp, and a chocolate milkshake. One of the anxieties you get about tongue surgery - besides the potential impact on speech - is that it might impact your sense of taste; and even if it doesn't, it certainly will reduce me to eating soft foods for awhile. Anyhow, I've been a bit impulsive about wanting to eat certain things before I can't anymore - like buying a Kit Kat bar. It's not like I can vividly recreate the flavour of it in my memory, sadly - I'm not sure if that's a skill other people than me have - but it was nice to have one last Kit Kat, in case I never get to taste a Kit Kat again.

Wasn't the case in 2017, and I presume it won't be the case in 2021, but your mind goes a bit funny when they're going to cut an unknown-sized strip of your tongue out. 

In any event, I now have a complete Oscar Brand "Bawdy" series, so there's that. Will have a couple of other VIFF-related articles up before Wednesday, I hope. I'm told Azor is "fabulous" by Adrian Mack; the description of it reminds me of Costa-Gavras' Missing, which is a film I admire a lot, but I doubt I'll get to that in time. 

Wish me luck! 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Surgery Recovery Reading List

1. Unreconciled by Jesse Wente.

2. House of Psychotic Women by Kier-la Janisse

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

4. The Mathematics of the Breath and the Way by Charles Bukowski

5. Winner Take Nothing by Ernest Hemingway

There will be at least one more blogpiece before I go under on the 29th - on Alan Zweig's Records (I might review a couple of other VIFF films, as well, as time permits). I will check in here to let y'all know how the surgery goes, but I don't expect I'm going to be blogging much in October, besides that, so happy VIFF, happy Hallowe'en, etc. 

Waiting for Erika to get home with pizza. We're not sleeping well, so maybe we'll take a pill tonight... 

Unsolicited opinions about the vaccine passport

 Okay, so, here's the thing: I totally understand why people are resistant to the the "vaccine passport" idea. 

I'm doubly-vaxxed, and I have my passport. I was still mildly surprised that, when going to dinner last night I was asked for two pieces of ID, in addition to my passport, in order to eat in; I had left my ID at home, was not prepared for that, and had to beg for an exception to be made (I did have the QR code on my phone, and my doubly-vaxxed wife to vouch for me). Generally I have been quite compliant throughout this pandemic, and am more inclined to see incompetence and bungling, when things go wrong, than malignity or conspiracy...

...but I do have my concerns. I cannot help but wonder: we have known about Delta for awhile; we were "on track to reopen," here in BC - Dr. Henry was saying that well into August. We were vaxxed at 85% of the population or something... being assured that the vaccines were effective... that a rising case count was expected and no cause to panic... and then suddenly we were at 500, 600, 700 cases per day, and weren't on track anymore, such that Phase IV of the reopening was cancelled. Clearly something, somewhere, went wrong. Friends of mine on Facebook have weighed in that it was all down to Delta - but surely the PHO was factoring that into their plans?; others suggested that it was more about people being overconfident in the vaccines and throwing all caution to the wind (like at a certain Betty Bathory show I wrote about below). And there are no doubt people out there who are using this as an excuse to question the efficacy of the vaccines. However you explain it, there was obviously a problem somewhere. Something went wrong. We can't go from being "on track to reopen" to "Phase IV is cancelled" without it being reasonable to conclude that somewhere, the powers-that-be fucked up.

Note: I am enjoying writing "Phase IV" as a reference to the Saul Bass film, but I don't actually think the PHO used roman numerals: "We are sorry, ants are not taking over the world at this time..." (Maybe they should?). 

I mean, there is more than one person in my life who is skeptical about the vaccines, resistant to them, UNVACCINATED ("unclean, unclean!"). I won't out anyone here, but I've been talking with them, you know? Maybe they're pouring poison in my ear. I do feel kind of concerned for them. I would like to see them vaccinated. I want to engage them in discussion. I do believe that our medical system is stretched to the max, and I trust that the more people who are vaccinated, the better our chances of getting out of the mess we are in while we have a semblance of normalcy to return to. But they're not insane people, folks - sorry to those of you who expect uniform railing about batshit antivax conspiracy-theory nutjobs, but I've listened to a few of the videos said friends have recommended, and it's not all dubious Trumpy conspiracy shit. No one is talking microchips that I've seen.  Dr. Robert Malone is the most persuasive person I've encountered, pointing out some of the concerns about these vaccines and how they are being rolled out, and getting censured and marginalized for it; and even he is doubly-vaccinated. [Note - there is a debunking article on him online here, on the Atlantic].

But whether "spike is toxic" or not, whether VAERS numbers are apparently strikingly high for adverse reactions, whether there may be some reason for concern that the oversight in producing these particular vaccines has been, in the rush to arrive at SOMETHING, lacking, which is what Malone has suggested... neverminding all of that, I accept that the news stories about stressed out health care providers are true, here in BC. I do not doubt for a second that there is a level of desperation amongst our public planners that is behind some of the policy decisions here. I was warned that, because "COVID trumps cancer" in the hospital system, that I might face delays in getting my surgery (scheduled to go ahead middle of next week, so so-far, so good). 

I mean, our medical system was stretched to the max before anyone heard of COVID-19, you know? I've had a fair share of experience with it in recent years, over the course of which I found myself watching my father die of cancer that could have been detected and removed if it wasn't for long delays in getting him in for a colonscopy; watching my mother die slowly of heart failure while the hospital worried about her gallstones, and doctors ran around behind my back cancelling suggested procedures without telling me, even though she was clearly incompetent to make decisions without me; watching myself get a gross case of (totally preventable) oral thrush after my first surgery for tongue cancer; having had an unnecessary and painful stent rammed up my penis that made me pee pink (or red) for months, caused me untold discomfort, and ultimately blocked the exit of my kidney stones from the system, which took four small surgeries and a year of deep pain to accomplish...  I have had my fair share of close-up experience of the medical system over the last six years, folks, and I gotta tell you, there are some problems with it. There are tons of good people in it, and, don't get me wrong, I prefer that we have to a model where I would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt by now, but when nurses and doctors talk about being burnt out from COVID, at the point of exhaustion, I believe them, and I look at the cocksuckers protesting outside hospitals and kind of hate them. They remind me of the limpdick coup attempt that served as the climax of the Trump shitshow in the 'States; they seem so misguided that they might as well be wearing facepaint and buffalo horns. I try to sympathize with my friends who object to these particular vaccines and are trying to delay getting them for as long as possible, because I don't think the alternative is productive - of disengaging from them and accusing them, falling into in-groups and out-groups, and blaming the people who are not complying with the suggestion to get vaccinated for the fact that we are still in a pandemic - which seems to be the tenor I see on Facebook - but I don't have any doubt at all that, when doctors and nurses and so forth plead with people to get vaccinated because the health care system is on the verge of collapse, they are 100% sincere. 

I'm personally willing to oblige. But - poison! in my ear! - I do also hear some of the concerns these friends have and think them reasonable. I mean, holy hell, I'm an Astra-Zeneca person - remember that? (They've renamed it now, in an attempt to get away from the bad hoodoo around that name, but guess what, that doesn't make me MORE comfortable with them; it just makes it look like they're trying to hide something, like when Aum Shinrikyo's devotees rebranded the cult as "Aleph" to distance themselves from the bad PR from the Tokyo nerve gas attacks. I guess Karla Homolka's name change might have done her some good, mind you, because I completely forget what her new name is, but generally the strategy of hiding a dodgy past with a name change isn't very trust-inducing and puts people in pretty bad company). I sat there trustingly while my pharmacist explained to me that there are serious side effects, but very rare. I said I understood, and let them shoot it into me. Then suddenly it was not recommended and our supplies were being shipped off to developing countries... what? That change in public messaging was the first major opportunity to question that our leaders really knew what they were doing, and the Phase IV cancellation the second... And now there's a very strong likelihood that a third major shift in public messaging is coming down the chute: "Remember when we told you you only needed to be vaccinated twice, to be fully protected? Hey, sorry, that was wrong.  You're going to need a booster. Actually, you might need several of them." Are they actually surprised that people are losing faith, at this point? A friend has likened the situation to Windows Update - a Long Emergency in which to remain socially enfranchised you're going to need booster after booster after booster, or else...

I mean, that's a reasonable concern, innit? 

And then there's this whole vaccine passport, by which the powers-that-be, already having dubious credibility, are outsourcing the burden of pressuring people to get vaccinated to fucking restaurant workers, basically, or ticket takers at movie theatres. It's just gross, and whoever thought of it probably needs to be dismissed from office forthwith. I mean, if you're going to be totalitarian about things - if we're going to be all "ja, ve need to see your papers" about this - then just get behind yourselves and BE TOTALITARIAN: "There may be some reasonable concerns about these vaccines, but to ward off collapse economically, to keep the health care system from failing terminally, we must now ask everyone to be vaccinated."  I would at least respect a flat-out vaccination mandate (what was that Colonel Kurtz was saying about, what was is it, clarity? Moral courage?). It is pathetic and wrong to make it the job of servers and clerks to try to punish people who are unvaccinated, and it's not going to protect you from people in ESSENTIAL sectors who are not vaccinated, you know? Like maybe you can feel safe in restaurants and concert venues, but it's not going to protect you from unvaccinated coworkers, unvaccinated transit users, unvaccinated shoppers at the grocery store. It is not only outsourcing the work of enforcing vaccination on the wrong people, it is only looking at a tiny area of our public lives - one that by definition is non-essential. I might feel safer going to a concert knowing that everyone in it was vaccinated, but I would rather that that was something that was accomplished by government decree and enforced by law, not at the door by the ticket takers. 

If the vaccines really are so trustworthy and safe, if they really will lead us OUT of our current dilemma, then bloody well get behind yourselves, you government folk, and make it a public health order that VACCINES ARE MANDATORY. Don't just try to ANNOY people (and stress out servers) with this namby-pamby sideshow of passports. Make it a legal necessity to get vaccinated, if you are so behind these vaccines: put your money where your mouths are, kill the mixed messaging, and just MANDATE VACCINATIONS.  

...but that's me. I thought the ending of Phase IV was a happy one, you know? I like ants.

Kier-la Janisse interview: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, folk horror, and All the Haunts Be Ours

I am not sure when I first encountered Kier-la Janisse, but I know where it was: between movies at Cinemuerte, a horror film festival that she curated several years in a row at the Cinematheque in Vancouver.  I was living in Japan between 1999 and 2002 for the first few festivals, and am particularly bummed to have missed the one where Udo Kier was a guest of honour - photos here! - but I loved pretty much everything I saw at Cinemuerte: Lady Terminator, Class of 1984, Vice Squad, Miike's One Missed Call...  IMy first film at Cinemuerte, I think, was Tobe Hooper's The Toolbox Murders, circa 2004, complete with a revolting sausage-eating contest (Videomatica's BJ Summers was a contestant), emceed by Edwin "do you like headcheese" Neal, from whom I bought a Texas Chainsaw Massacre promo pic which he inscribed with those very words... I still remember the gag-inducing smell of what seemed like uncooked sausage, as BJ, a Korean guy (who ultimately won), and maybe one other person power-fed themselves sausage after sausage and Neal cracked revolting jokes. It was a very entertaining night, and also the night where I first chatted with both BJ and Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie, in a sort of "film afterparty" booth at the Templeton... Either that was the year or the next when I first approached Kier-la to congratulate her on putting on such a delightful festival, and she thanked me and grumbled something about how expensive it was to do and how attendance wasn't what she hoped...

That was something she echoed when I did a similar thing in regard to the Big Smash festival of music-themed films, circa 2006, which was very poorly attended, considering how great the films were, with documentaries on Roky Erickson, Nina Simone, and Albert Ayler, and fictional features like the ridiculous Aussie film Stunt Rock, Peter Watkins' Privilege, and Phantom of the Paradise, with Paul Williams in attendance. Wreckless Eric was on hand, as well, to introduce his pick for the festival, Godard's Sympathy for the Devil and to play a gig at the Railway Club, which I saw and much enjoyed. I was stunned that one person could be the driving force behind so many great theatrical experiences, and apparently doing it in a sort of self-started, personally-driven DIY fashion; she wasn't a paid programmer, didn't have a cinema of her own, but was putting these festivals together out of love for film, especially its less "respectable" elements, and a desire to share it with others. 

I wrote at some length about the Big Smash films, early in the history of this blog, but the key piece of writing I did regarding any of Kier-la's programming back then was a piece on Zev Asher's film Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat, which ran in the final issue of Terminal City newspaper - remember them? (It was also my first time being edited by Fiona Morrow, who now works with Montecristo Magazine, whom I still write for from time to time). I would later try my hand at curating a short program of films, including one of Zev's, for Noise Night! at the Vancity Theatre, which also featured a short live performance by Asher - who did a major interview with me while in town, which can be found here (RIP). Kier-la was truly an inspiration: it hadn't occurred to me that cultural events like Cinemuerte or Big Smash could come about just because one person with a passion DECIDED TO MAKE THEM HAPPEN. I tried, with some success, to make a few things happen myself, following her lead, a little. 

But there is no equivalency to be had here: Kier-la is a next level phenomenon, and her history after she left Vancouver is impressive  indeed - programming at the Alamo Drafthouse, running the Blue Sunshine microcinema in Montreal, writing a book (House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Film), founding the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and the Spectacular Optical publishing imprint, and now working with one of the most exciting cult-and-horror DVD/ blu-ray labels out there, Severin Films, who are releasing a massive box set of folk horror films, including one (Clearcut) that I have great love for (more to come on that; I had some involvement in a couple of extras, but it remains to be seen which will make the final disc, and which will be held back for a possible future stand-alone).. 

Kier-la has also made her first feature film, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, which is coming out as part of that set (and as a stand-alone disc), and playing the VIFF this October (Rio screening October 8th). She answered several email-interview questions about both the box set and the documentary. I've seen it, and it's great - see my previous post on this very blog for more in the way of review - and it will leave you with a long list of movies that you simply must watch, some of the most exciting of which are in fact on said box set. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is like your own private seminar in folk horror, looping in experts from around the world to talk about vastly different films, united by a common theme...

Allan: I have not seen a documentary on any genre of film to do a depth analysis quite like this - but I don’t watch that many documentaries about film. Are there inspirational films for you, favourite documentaries about film that you took a lead from?

Kier-la: The only documentaries I referred my editors to were Johan Grimonprez’ Double Take and another called Bunker 77, the latter mostly for aesthetic reasons in terms of the super 8 and sun flares etc. But Double Take was a big influence in how I wanted the film to ‘feel’. Obviously Los Angeles Plays Itself is a touchstone in that it’s a very comprehensive movie doc, but I think other than that my film is very different. The main thing I got from other film docs was the resolution to not fill it with famous people who have nothing meaningful to say. I didn’t care if the interviewees were scholars that people hadn’t heard of, it was more important to me to have researchers allowed to share their own research in their own words, to get direct credit for their ideas. I also didn’t want it to just feel like a list of films. So I avoided the structure a lot of film docs take which is purely chronological.

Did the short "documentaries" you prepared, I think to run between films while you were with the Alamo Drafthouse, provide a meaningful way of cutting your teeth as a filmmaker...? I think
I Was a Teenage Quincy Punk was yours, and I remember seeing something you put together on Krautrock that played between films at the Big Smash festival in Vancouver. It kind of surprised me to see Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched described as your first film - but if I remember my impression at the time, you didn't seem to have that much invested in those short films...

I think of those more as things I edited. I didn’t shoot or create new footage for those, they were all compiled from existing footage and kind of slapped together. The Bubblegum one [Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, based on a book by Kim Cooper and David Smay, 2005] was definitely the most accomplished, but still they were sort of me making-do with whatever I had in my collection. I see this film as completely different because even though I’m using a lot of film clips, I had to create it from scratch, collaborate with others, there is a much stronger vision behind it. That said, those bibliodocs (as my friend Hope Peterson calls them) were certainly a training ground for how to structure footage to tell a story.

It seems that with a lot of genres of film, especially horror film, there is a single determining factor for whether the film belongs. A werewolf movie pretty much has to have some kind of werewolf, for example. But folk horror isn’t like that – there’s more than one factor that has to be in place. Do you have a final list of factors/ criteria? Do you agree with Adam Scovell that it’s not a “genre” but a “mode?” 

 I don’t know that horror is as easy to determine or define as you say. Horror fans argue about it endlessly, whether this film or that film is ‘horror’. So the slippery definition of folk horror is much the same, I just allowed people to interpret it how they saw it, and tried to support their arguments for why something did or didn’t fit. There was a longer intro that had people giving stricter definitions of what folk horror is and I took it out. It appears as an extra on the blu-ray. Ultimately it felt presumptuous and even a bit condescending. And as several interviewees mention, a lot of these films were made without any attempt to fit into a genre with each other and are very different - even the films in the Unholy Trinity [Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan's Claw, and The Wicker Man] are all quite different from each other. Ultimately people decide what it means to them.

Have both the documentary and the folk horror box set been tied together from the outset, and completely your baby and synched up to enter the world the same year in a really impressive feat with few parallels that I can think of… or did one project get underway first, and influence the other?

The documentary definitely came first, and as it was nearing its end, like in summer 2020, David Gregory started looking into rights on all the films mentioned that didn’t have US distribution with the idea of releasing some to tie in to the doc. Over time this became a box set, inspired no doubt by the success of our Andy Milligan and Al Adamson box sets, but even then we were thinking five films. That eventually became 20 films, a book, a couple CDs, and a ton of custom merch. But I have overseen it all, I chose the designer and art-directed it, I curated the films from a wish list, edited the book, worked with the composer of the spoken word album that comes in the set to get the music how I wanted it, chosen all the merch we would make, etc. of course there is a whole team of people at Severin facilitating all of this but they let me take the lead on it creatively. 

The section on Paganism seems notably shorter than other sections of the film. Why? Do you have any personal history with neoPaganism or neoPagans, or the occult in general?

Originally all the sections were meant to be that length, it’s just that the others got longer! And there are already so many documentaries about paganism/ witchcraft/ occultism that really that topic is better served elsewhere. So it was an important bridge between other ideas in the doc, but to make something really comprehensive would have required much more research and screen time. One thing we lost from that section though that I didn’t realize til the film was done, was we originally had a little section on Alex and Maxine Sanders, that somehow got cut and I didn’t notice, and so I do wish there was at least a picture of them onscreen. So, an oversight there. I don’t have much of a personal connection with paganism other than buying a lot of witch books as a teenager and trying to make charms and do spells etc. and there are some superstitions I hang onto from that time. I do read oracle cards most mornings. But I tend to use them more as behavioural guides than as anything with divine or psychic properties.

The mossy woods stuff at the start of Woodlands – it looks like it could be Super 8 stuff shot in BC; is it? Is it found footage, or was it shot for the film? It reminds me of the forest stuff in Dog Star Man… were portions of the film made in BC?

Some of this was filmed in BC, on Pender Island, by a local photographer named Rachel Lenkowski, one of my oldest friends. We had some super 8 shot in the UK by Neil Edwards, but he got the forest on a rather pleasant day and it wasn’t quite ‘dark’ enough, haha. So Rachel and I went out one days and she shot more B roll, on video, and then our animator Ashley Thorpe added some fox to it to try to make it match the grain and stutter of the super 8 we already had, so that it was less obvious when we cut between them.

[Pop up animation by Ashley Thorpe]

You do something kind of slippery with the narration. You don’t speak at all in the first section, then introduce yourself as an interview subject in the second chapter, then later use the “interviews” with yourself (as with others), overlapped by images in the film. You end up the de-facto narrator, but it’s a pretty gradual, even relucatant, introduction. What was the idea there?

This was purely practical. I didn’t want to be in the film, and I hate that I’m in it. I saw one review that mentioned how I “slyly snuck myself into the film” to seem as important as the other people being interviewed, and that stung because it wasn’t the case at all. But often there would be transitional things I needed or there was something I wanted mentioned that no one else had brought up, and because these people are scholars and critics, not actors, they’re not going to just say lines I’ve scripted for them. Often I’d try to get someone to say something but they’d give a much more complex response than I needed for a transition and so it was easier to say it myself. The chapters were edited as they appear in the film, so by the time we got to editing the international section we were in full COVID mode and it wasn’t safe to film people, including myself, so I recorded a bunch of audio that we tried to pretend was interview footage covered with imagery. So if that feels clunky at all, I blame COVID. 

There are, inevitably, going to be people asking, “Why didn’t you include this film?” I’m going to try not to do that so much, but I’m wondering about the absence of Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo, the Netflix film Apostle [above], and the Southern Gothic cannibal movie We Are What We Are. Are they just films that fell through the cracks, or was there a reason for excluding them? Were any films excluded for particularly interesting reasons?

There are dozens of films not in it. Nothing was really left out because I didn’t want it there, as much as we just couldn’t fit everything in, or maybe they didn’t illustrate the ideas being discussed as well as other films. Because remember, I didn’t want a list. The only way we could get the film to a reasonable length was to stick to the big ideas and use clips to support them. The Apostle is in there briefly, however. There were a couple films like The Blair Witch Project and The Hallow that I kept making notes to myself not to forget them... and then I forgot them.

 I was confused by the inclusion of Hour of the Wolf. It’s certainly closer to horror than most of Bergman's films, but The Virgin Spring seems to tick more boxes for folk horror… was The Virgin Spring just too obvious, because of the connection to Craven, or were there other factors in not mentioning it?

Hour of the Wolf was there because Kat Ellinger and a couple other people mentioned it in interviews. In some cases we cut out the bits of them talking about the films and just had the visuals onscreen, in order to tighten up the film. This happened with Clearcut (which Jesse Wente mentioned), Lake of the Dead (which Jonathan Rigby mentioned) , but again we didn’t want the film to be a list of movies so if all they said was “this film would count as folk horror” then we tended to cut them saying that and just show the film. Hour of the Wolf fit better in the context of what Kat was saying (about magic landscapes etc) than The Virgin Spring did. The Virgin Spring is an adaptation of a folk tale but its presentation is less focused on the strange and uncanny. There’s also a much different discussion of that film’s relationship to the original folk tale than the film allowed for here, as the tale’s moral and sympathies originally lay with the male sons who are denied their birthright. The celebration of the daughter is, if I remember correctly, a 19th century addition to the tale.  

Were there any films you really wanted to include in the box set that were really, really challenging to get the rights to, or track down prints of? Were there any that had to be left out? Any “ones that got away?”

All the Brazilian films. Currently locked away in the abandoned Cinemateca Brasiliera, possibly succumbing to flood or fire due to the current government’s neglect of their cultural history. It’s a really infuriating situation there. I really wanted Noites de Iemanja and As Filhas de Fogo but no dice. Also [Filipino filmmaker] Mike de Leon’s Itim aka Rites of May. We came close on that, and de Leon was about to restore it and then decided he didn’t want to with no explanation, but I still hope he changes his mind so that film can get a re-release somehow.

Movies about “devil worshippers” like The Devil’s Rain or Race with the Devil are presumably not included because they’re not folk horror – but what makes them not folk horror? Are there other films that you left out of the discussion, because they weren’t “folk horror” enough?

As Robert Eggers says in the Lovecraft section, he was wary of complex occult systems, especially those espoused by educated wealthy people, being discussed as folk horror because they are removed from the ‘folk’. There are a few films that always get discussed in terms of folk horror that fit into this realm, like Eye of the Devil, but overall I adopted this cautiousness and so I didn’t include devil worshipping films unless an interviewee brought them up. That said, in many of these 70s films the Satanism is not especially complex haha and it is definitely a vernacular manifestation of those beliefs, so again it comes down to space.

This question is in honour of Robin Bougie: Is Zebedy Colt’s pornographic film The Devil Inside Her [viewable online, but emphatically NSFW!] a kind of folk horror? [It’s about a rural Puritan farmer whose family is possessed by the Devil, who tricks them one-by-one into incest with each other. There’s also a jealous-sister subplot involving a witch’s curse, and a spectacular, demented witches' sabbath orgy at the end, including Annie Sprinkle, who says she found the film a bit scary to make.] It’s a very DIRTY, sinful, deliberately transgressive movie; the filmmaker was gay/ bisexual and very interested in attacking “straight” sexual mores… It’s maybe the only porno that I grant full respect as genuinely interesting cinema. Are there other pornographic folk horror films? Are there folk horror films that are “sexier” than others?

I haven’t seen The Devil Inside Her so I can’t comment, although yes, it sounds like it would fit. One gay porn film that was recommended to me by a Evan Purchell (of Ask Any Buddy) right as I was finishing the doc, so it didn’t make it in, was Falconhead. Which is a bit folk horror and a bit California gothic. I think sexy is a bit subjective so yes, I’m sure, but each viewer would determine that themselves.

Re: cults in America – has anyone yet made a horror film about snake handling? There’s a great one to be made.
They Shall Take Up Serpents could be the title. I love that you used the photo from the cover of Denis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain [below] in your montage on “weird Christians.” But I don’t think I’ve ever seen snake handling represented in a non-documentary film… 

There are narrative films set in the world of snake handling, I watched one I was considering for the doc but ultimately it wasn’t horror, it was a pretty straight indie drama. There are a few pics from that Sand Mountain book in the doc.

Re: First Nations folk horror - I loved Jesse Wente’s observation that “it’s all an Indian burial ground.” High point in the film, for me – the slap-you-upside the head revelation that going to change how I view that trope in horror films, and chillingly relevant to recent events. Did he bring that to the film, or were you searching for “Indian burial ground” horror films before he says that?

I specifically approached Jesse because I wanted someone to talk about the Indian Burial Ground trope. But what he says is my favourite part of the film too, and many people have expressed that to me. And how eerie given the timing of the film’s release with all the new discoveries of Indigenous remains at former residential schools. Not that these things are new, these are things we know, but it gives his words extra weight when it is in the press again simultaneously. I mean that is true horror right there.

I love that there is a clip of
Clearcut in the film and that you have included that film in the All the Haunts Be Ours box set – as you know, I’ve been keenly advocating for its re-entry in the world. What’s your history with that film? What was the process of getting it included?    

I had not heard of the film til Jesse Wente mentioned it! But once I saw it, it was a film I advocated for including, but I did not deal with the acquisitions for that, that would be my boss David Gregory, who found the materials in Poland and Ryszard Bugajski’s stepson oversaw the transfer at a lab there. 

What were the more exciting revelations for you from making the film? (That is, new perspectives on folk horror that emerged from your research or interviews…?).

Everything that wasn’t Anglo-centric, haha. I went in with a very British perspective, and even the American folk horror examples I was originally considering were all New England based and thus very connected to the early British migration. But the US is so big that that section became very much about migratory patterns and contact between different cultures that lead to regional specificity, and then I was led to Australia and Brazil and Mexico because of colonial exploits there, and then it became obvious that there were two main types of folk horror - folk horror where the horror is the thing in the woods, the thing you use folk customs to guard against, and folk horror where the folk themselves, and their ‘backwards’ beliefs are the ‘horror’. I don’t know if this would hold up to exacting scrutiny, but my impression was that the latter was much more associated with white, western settler cultures. This was something I asked Dejan Ognjanovic to address in the film and he did so pretty beautifully and succinctly I think.

Major coup in connecting-the-dots between New England Puritans, the Jonestown Massacre, and Children of the Corn – when and where did that insight come to you? (Was it something you were cognizant of before interviewing, say, Bernice M. Murphy? (re: The Rural Gothic in American Popular Culture).

.Jonestown and Children of the Corn was something I spotted and asked people to comment on specifically, but Kevin Kolsh brought up the parallel of the poisoning of the coffee pot, and Bernice Murphy made the connection to the Puritans - that was not something I knew. Actually, with her book Rural Gothic, I found myself nodding at her ideas all the way through because she was able to expand upon and articulate vague ideas I had that I couldn’t quite put together, and between that book and another book called Albion’s Seed they were both helpful in structuring the American section.

Had you read all the books by people who you interviewed? Is there one you would recommend as the next step after this film? (Do *you* have a book on the topic underway?)

I had read books or academic essays by all the scholars/historians interviewed, yes, where applicable (some have not written books but been outspoken in championing certain films etc). Adam Scovell’s Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange is a good place to start, Bernice Murphy’s Rural Gothic (she hadn’t thought of many of these films as folk horror but realized a lot of overlap once I asked her), and Kinitra Brooks’ Searching for Sycorax has a great essay about the Conjure Woman in folk horror - I wanted her to be in the film and have this theme be more prominent, but COVID intervened and she was very busy so it wasn’t possible. I also wanted a section on Gullah Geechee folk horror (I really wanted to make a case for Daughters of the Dust being in there) but again COVID pretty much halted the interview process. Because there are so many great studies of folk horror already I don’t have plans to write a book, but I did edit a small book (150 pgs or so) that will come in the folk horror set, which is a mix of new essays and reprints of some older writings including poems (getting rights to reprint a Leslie Marmon Silko poem was a coup imo) and narrative fiction. Dawn Keetley who did an essay in this book also has a book of her own on folk horror coming out, I believe. Yi-Fu Tuan’s book Landscapes of Fear is good for looking at a lot of the landscape issues from a non white perspective, Michelle Reheja’s Reservation Reelism has a couple chapters relating to Indigenous folk horror - and she’s who recommended Kali Simmons for the film, who I think has become a bit of a scholarly rock star over the summer with a lot of participation in books, panels, classes, films, etc, speaking about Indigenous horror. Renee Bergland’s The National Uncanny was also an important guide for studies in the depiction of Indigenous ghosts in settler mythology etc. Howard David Ingham and Andy Paciorek who are in the film both have several books about folk horror and adjacent topics, covering everything from cults to corpse-roads!

Any collaborators on either the film or the box set who are particularly close to you, or who you have interesting behind-the-scenes connections with? How did you get Guy Maddin involved?

Howard David Ingham and Neil Edwards both helped in multiple ways so they were important collaborators. Neil shot interviews for the film but also shot all the super 8, and he paid for the film and processing as a contribution to the doc! Howard’s mom was a spiritualist medium and he grew up in that environment of what he calls “a nice cup of tea and a seance,” so I got him to write the interpretive booklet for the oracle card deck that comes with the folk horror super-bundle. My editors Winnie and Ben did so much amazing work that I think if I ever make another film without them it’ll be obvious that they are responsible for the film’s success more than I am. (Note to self: never make another film!)
Guy was involved from early on, I knew I needed some aesthetic pizazz that exceeded what I was capable of creating myself so I asked if he would consider making some animated collages for the film. We’ve only met a few times, very briefly each time, but I have managed to rope him into doing favours for me many times which I am so grateful for. He has helped me more than our tenuous acquaintance warrants. But we do have a mutual good friend in Caelum Vatnsdal, the author of the Canadian horror book They Came From Within, who has been in Guy’s films, wrote a book about him, and who I went out with briefly as a teenager after stalking him at Movie Village in Winnipeg. So I think Caelum may have been how I first got in touch with Guy. And of course my boss David Gregory, the greatest enabler of all!

See Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched streaming online between October 1st and 11th, or at the Rio Theatre on October 8th, as part of the Vancouver International Film festival. Pre-order the Severin folk horror box set, All the Haunts Be Ours, starting December 7th, here. Thanks, Kier-la!