Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A really fun read - John Dies at the End

Just some random praise for David Wong's John Dies at the End, here, which I dug out of a thrift store just now, and may read again (as soon as I finish my re-read of Dune). It's one of the most fun experiences I've had with a book since I last plunged into Robert Anton Wilson, whose novels have a similar fusion of the philosophical and profound, on the one hand, and the over-the-top wacky on the other, except instead of Wilson's more-or-less good-natured, agnostic optimism about human experience and potential, which informs even the most ridiculous scenarios in his writing, Wong - real name Jason Pargin, of - creates a universe of malign, apocalyptic, mindbending paranormal absurdity in which to plunge his more-or-less well-meaning, but not particularly competent or intelligent, slacker protagonists, whose limitations will be familiar to you, even if the scenarios they face are not. The book has a bit of the ho-hum attitude towards (averting?) the end of the world that you find in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, but updated for our age, and made vastly more demented; enough so that it's a wonder that it still manages to feel familiar, like there is something about the  paranormal investigators who are the main characters doing battle with a poltergeist made of frozen meat - something in their ATTITUDE towards the challenge - that sinks profoundly deep, despite the many implausibles at hand. The Don Coscarelli film is fun, and an accurate representation of what's in store, but vastly foreshortens the story - something that could not be helped, shy of reconfiguring it as a long-form TV series - so if you saw it and liked it, I would highly recommend picking up the book, if you haven't already...

And if you have, but stopped there, may I add that the second novel in the series - This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It - pushes the philosophical aspects of the first book even further, and maybe is even richer, so you can't take it "just" as a horror-comedy, unless you're really not paying attention. I have not yet read the third book in the series - the aptly-titled What the Hell Did I Just Read? - but am enjoying John Valeri's review of it here, which gives you a peek at the plot and its "unabashed lunacy" - though I love that Valeri also notes that there is a serious aspect to the novel, saying it tells "a story of survival that, despite its many absurdities, is one we’re all living." The book manages to be weirdly therapeutic, vastly inventive, and idiotically grotesque at the same time - and for a measure of its cleverness, its hidden sincerity, note that the whole opening set up - the question of whether the axe is the same axe - is the equal to a question of the problem of identity that was seriously discussed in my Introduction to Metaphysics class back in my first foray into undergrad studies at SFU, when I was considering getting a philosophy degree, though instead of an axe, our professor, Norman Swartz, used the Golden Hind, I believe, posing a problem for the class: because as parts wore out on the ship, they would be thrown away and replaced, which presumably could happen so many times that the ship might lose all its original bits; would it then be the same ship? (Discussions turned to further consider the implications, if someone carefully salvaged all the thrown away bits and reconstructed the ship; which would have the better claim to be the "real" Golden Hind - the one made of all the original parts, or the one with - Swartz favoured this version - the unbroken continuity-through-time...? 

I'm sure there are rock bands out there that this ponderable might resonate with, as well, but Wong uses an axe and a zombie... which is much, much more fun than the Golden Hind, by me, but essentially the same question, framed as the true mystery of the universe. Really fun to be taken back to Professor Swartz's class in this unexpected way.

Thanks David Wong (or Jason Pargin) for having written these books... they're weirdly inspiring, as therapeutic as they are gross, funny, and absurd. Seriously, folks... these are a fun read...

Monday, October 25, 2021

Hal Willner, the Velvet Underground, and the Scenics

Okay, so there is a new tribute to the first Velvets album, orchestrated by Hal Willner before he died, last year, of COVID-19. I haven't really dipped deeply into it yet. Up to the Kurt Vile cut, it's pretty shoegazy and spacy, and a bit neither-here-nor-there (Michael Stipe doing "Sunday Morning" sounds EXACTLY like what you might imagine Michael Stipe doing "Sunday Morning" on an album produced by Hal Willner would sound like),  but it's, uh, not at all offensive (in-joke, there). I dug the Andrew Bird/ Lucius take on "Venus in Furs" well enough, though the Kurt Vile is the first track to actually excite me ("Run Run Run.") Haven't gotten further into it yet - just picked it up yesterday, and have NOT yet heard Thurston Moore take on "Heroin," which of course is bursting with potential - but it's amazing to me to have this gift-from-beyond-the-grave from the sorely missed Hal Willner, who produced my favourite late phase Lou Reed album (Ecstasy) and whose compilation album projects are always delightful (none dearer to me than Stay Awake, and I don't even LIKE Disney, but damn does he hit a sweet spot on that one. Weird Nightmare is pretty inspired, too, if you want to hear Leonard Cohen and Diamanda Galas on the same song, for instance, featuring writings by Charles Mingus accompanied on the instruments of Harry Partch; that's some genius-level musical stew, there, folks!). 

But listen, I have a question. This is, I gather, the final album that we will ever see from Hal Willner, so it seems like it would be appropriate to have Hal Willner's name visible SOMEWHERE on the art for the album, doesn't it? I mean, I don't know that it always is, and I'm not gonna go dig on my shelves to see if all the others have his name present, but Rogue's Gallery - close at hand - has the words "A Hal Willner Production" right over the title of the album, which seems totally fitting to me. By contrast, there's nothing on the front cover of the Velvets project, and unless it is in the tiny print on the back - which I can't read without a magnifying glass - there's nothing there, either. I don't know the story, but it seems disrespectful and offensive; and even if there's a good reason for the omission, it's a stupid idea, because guess what: HAL WILLNER HAS FANS OUT THERE, has brand recognition to his name that might make the difference for some people, like me, as to whether to dig into their wallets or not. I mean, true story, I was shopping for albums when I first saw the vinyl of this, a couple of weeks ago, and I *did* take it from the rack to look at it and see who was doing what, but absent Willner's name (and not knowing he was involved - I mean, why would I think he would be, when he's been dead a year?), I put it back and nearly forgot about it. I don't have enough enthusiasm for any of the artists doing the covers to want to shell out fifty bucks for the vinyl, and ANYONE can cover the Velvet Underground if they want - it's kind of a lazy move, in fact - "instant cred." Neither the artists on it or the idea of Velvets covers on their own was sufficient to sell me. It was discovering it was the new Hal Willner that sold me - as soon as my friend Judith Beeman posted about it on Facebook, I was, like, "Oh, I gotta get that after all!" Whereupon I went back to Sunrise and picked it up and inspected it again, and sure enough, the man's name is nowhere to be seen...

It kind of rankles, and like I say, it's just dumb business (unless there is a good reason for it, but I can't imagine what one might look like). 

While we are at it, while this is a fun project, let me mention two things about OG Toronto punks the Scenics, who have an album of all-Velvets covers that I adore: How Does It Feel to be Loved? I got it out of a cheapie bin at Scratch Records, when they were on Cambie, circa 2008 or so; I think Keith Parry was actually around that day to explain to me what it was, and I bought it and fell in love. It's "just" jammy, punky covers of a variety of Velvets songs, drawn from all phases of the Velvets' career - but it's REALLY GOOD! It also has the advantage of being super cheap: you can get it on Discogs with shipping for less than the cost of the CD of the Willner, and (sorry, Hal) it's consistently more exciting than the Willner project (which is good, don't get me wrong, but it's just more exciting to hear a real good, underappreciated Canadian punk band jamming out to "What Goes On," say - on video, here - than it is to hear Michael Stipe doing his kinda obvious, kinda unnecessary thing on "Sunday Morning." Maybe it's just me, but Scenics > Stipe any ol' day, and Stipe even gets the lyrics wrong at one point; he sings "praise the dawning," rather than "brings the dawning," which is completely antithetical to the original meaning of the song; it is about waking up to the realization - not the literal dawn - that you've done really shitty things the night before, and feeling haunted by the awareness; it is hardly a song of praise. Either it's a lazy accident, or it's total fuckin' arrogance on Stipe's part, to figure he could turn the song on its head. Maybe it's a little offensive after all?).  

So if you aren't convinced on the Willner, trust me on this: the Scenics album - the whole thing is on Youtube - is just great. 

...And if I'm gonna shill for the Scenics, I gotta mention something about Jason Flower and Victoria record store/ archival label Supreme Echo, who have partnered with the Scenics to distribute an album, In the Summer, of vintage Scenics originals. You can buy the vinyl for $20 or the download for $5 - just click that last link. I actually haven't got the cash til payday to pick up the rekkid, myself, though I plan to, and hope supplies last. There are no Velvets covers on this record, and I actually do not know the music well - I have only ever heard their Velvets album, before - but based on how much life and passion they bring to said Velvets album, I'm totally keen to hear this. 

Maybe I was too hard on that doc? Now I kinda wanna see it again.

Friday, October 22, 2021

EddyD and the SexBombs Part Two: a Bob Petterson (Jelly Bean Beaudine) interview

"Bob Then": Bob Petterson on the left, by bev davies, playing with Buddy Selfish before the Cramps, May 21, 1982 at the Commodore 

"Bob Now," Dec. 31, 2020, at Lanalou's with the Frank Frink 5 - screenshot from a vid I shot

Bob Petterson - AKA Jelly Bean Beaudine, Bobby Beaudine - has a verrry long history as a bassist in Vancouver, dating back at least to the early 1980's; he was posting on Facebook the other day, on Lux Interior's birthday, in fact, about having been lucky enough to have been in a band - Buddy Selfish and his Saviours, with Ian Tiles of the Pointed Sticks on lead vocals - when they opened for the Cramps back in 1982 at the Commodore, and I never got closer to seeing Buddy Selfish than the gig this summer in New West with Mike Van Eyes - which Bob wasn't at - but there are easily half a dozen other bands I've seen Bob in over the years - certainly the Frank Frink 5 and EddyD and the SexBombs, but there are doubtlessly many more. I've always enjoyed chatting with him; he's a charming fellow, a snappy dresser - I think of him as  "the man in Vancouver most likely to own, or at least covet, a Nudie suit" - and a constantly engaging and enjoyable bassist. I was interested in hearing more about that Cramps show, and just wrote a big piece with Eddy Dutchman apropos of the Saturday Food Bank Benefit at LanaLou's... so why not get some stories from Bob? 

This is a quick, straightforward email interview, without EddyD to orchestrate it into something that sounds like a conversation (it's hilarious and kinda great that he did that - made it real easy on me, actually!). Anyho, I'm going to revert to my usual formatting - italics indicate my questions, while non-italics indicate Bob. Enjoy, and maybe see y'all Saturday at LanaLou's? 

Allan: So how many bands have you been in, over the years? How many are you in now? 

Bob: More bands over the years than I have fingers and toes. All sorts of genres and configurations. I’m down to maybe a handful now if we’re counting bands like the Frank Frink 5 who only play once a year nowadays. Currently Sinead X Sanders’ backing band, Mike Van Eyes, the Frinks, EddyD and The Sex Bombs, of course. A couple of new projects just starting up and still too new and raw to talk about right now. Always open to one-offs and sessions. For example, played on a couple tracks of the just released new SuckerTrap EP [new project of Pinto Stilleto]. 

Bob with Randy Rampage, photo by Vincent Kuan

You posted on Facebook that you opened for the Cramps at the Commodore? What band were you in, and what was that like? Did you get to meet Lux? 

The Cramps at the Commodore, 1982? That would have been with Buddy Selfish & His Saviours. It was a transcendental experience, still one of the highlights of my so-called “career” and yes, we did get to meet, converse, hang with Lux and Ivy. I cannot reveal all…|

I was startled by your facefur in the "Lemon Squeeze" video - how much growth was that? Have you shaved since? [Bob with beard at top, over Shelley's head!]

Ah, the facefur in the "Lemon Squeeze" video… COVID/ quarantine related absolutely. I’ve always played around with facial hair over the years. Sideburns/chops, goatees, soul patches, full beard etc… might have done it all except for the “Abe Lincoln”. The "Lemon Squeeze" video was “Covid Beard” #2. Maybe 6 months growth there. I’m the clean shaven evil twin bro again right now. 

(Bearded Bob by Tony Lee)

Do you contribute to the writing for EddyD? Do you come up with your own bass parts?

I wouldn’t say I actually contribute to the songwriting in the strictest sense but I do have the full freedom to come up with my own bass parts and the band likes it when I add a little bit of spice to the mix maybe. A bit of a funky, bluesy, soul inflected, r&b groove where it might not be expected. That sort of music from the 1960s and 70s (all the “Ms”: Memphis, Motown, Muscle Shoals) is where I’m most rooted as a bass player although I did also grow up loving 70s hard rock (Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Steve Marriott and Humble Pie etc… ) and singer-songwriter stuff.

Bob by Vincent Kuan

What do you play, basswise?

I probably have more basses than I reasonably need and you’ll mostly see me playing live with a Fender Jaguar (I have four of those) or Fender Precision (I have two of those). I do have others: In that "Lemon Squeeze" video I’m playing an Eastwood reissue of a 1968 Vox Saturn IV; in the "Boom Boom" video it’s an Epiphone Rumblekat (love THAT bass); and in the past year's EddyD and the SexBombs livestream show I brought out a cheapo Danelectro 1963 re-issue just mostly for matching with the overall look of the stage setting for the broadcast (you can see it on YouTube). Nice to have the luxury of being able to do that.

Bob Petterson with Richard Duguay, shot by David Nagy

Who are your favourite bassists?

Favourite bassists? Oh, there’s so many that I fear leaving some out if I try to do a proper list. Let’s just say that my favourite bassist of all time is the Memphis studio and Booker T. & The MGs legend, Donald “Duck” Dunn. Can’t pinpoint any one single thing that makes it so but I have always strived to emulate his approach to playing, attitude and demeanor... or what I imagined it to be. I did have the opportunity to meet him in 2000 when he was touring in Neil Young’s band and you know they always say you shouldn’t meet your heroes because they’ll disappoint you. But not the case here. Super guy. 100% genuine. True southern gentleman. You know he’s had some experiences in a very, very long career but not jaded. Meeting him made me happy that I kind of looked at him as a “role model”, you might say, for so long. Could have done a lot worse. 

Other guys and gals? I always did and still love those classic 60s and 70s Fender players and bass tones so James Jamerson, of course, Carol Kaye, Joe Osborne, David Hood, Tommy Cogbill, John Paul Jones, Carl Radle, Jerry Scheff etc.. others might include Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Bee Spears (Willie Nelson’s band), Willie Dixon, Jerry Jemmott, Bootsy. And, I denied it for years and years but Sir Paul (McCartney) is clearly a very big influence. See, didn’t I say it would be hard to keep the list short?  

Bob Petterson by Bob Hanham

When people ask you to describe what EddyD. and the SexBombs do, what do you say? 

I like to say that EddyD and the SexBombs are “crispy, crunchy, cheesy, chewy with a chocolatey cream filling”

Have you worked with Tony in other bands (or ANY of the SexBombs?)

Tony & I, along with Canada’s rockabilly legend Jimmy Roy, have done a few live shows as the Wretched Sinners backing up local country/bluegrass sweetheart Sparky Spurr and Preston & Fletcher (i.e. Shelley & Scott from the Sex Bombs) have called on me from time to time to fill in for their regular bassist, Dave Reimer when he has not been available. Tony & I have also played together, sometimes with Scott & Shelley and sometimes not, in a variety of one-offs, tribute nights and special events here and there...

Do you all have to buy your own costumes, or does the band have a budget? 

Band budget for stage wear? No. The individual Sex Bombs look after their own wardrobe needs mostly and usually requires very little in the way of shopping. It’s mostly that this is just who we are… I wouldn’t say I’ll exactly be sparkly for this upcoming Food Bank benefit but for the second set I’ll be wearing the same thing I wore in the “Boom Boom” video: a red suede collarless jacket that Tony has described as looking like 1980s Michael Jackson collides with a Russian Cossack in a grommet factory… OK, I made up the grommet factory part.

What is your favourite SexBombs song and why?

Favourite Sex Bombs song? Again, hard to pick just one child. They’re all special in their own way. Keeping it to a handful in no particular order: the “For The Love of Gawd/ Wheeling & Dealing” medley because it’s swampy /bluesy. That one goes back to the original Faustian mini-rock opera at the very first live gig; "Round & Round" has a nice dreamy Anglo-pop feel and sound and multiple layered vocal parts (everybody sings on it); Scott & Shelley’s “Kiss of Death” a Bond movie theme in search of the movie with the same title. It’s ready made. If anyone knows how to get the track into the hands of the Bond movie producers we would be ever so grateful; Also love their “Lemon Squeeze” which I like to call a “Faux-sa Nova” and I normally never get to play things with that feel; and last but not least “So Slow” from the Yikes! CD, Stonesy/Stoogesy guitar riffs and a fun one to sing along on. It speaks to me!

Thank you, Bob! For more information on the Saturday food bank benefit, go here! As Eddy explains in my previous post - bring cash, not food!

Dances with Sandworms: a big, disappointed "Meh" for Dune.

NOTE: Sometimes when I see a film I have high hopes for, and it doesn't meet my expectations, I get oddly angry at it, and criticize it more than it warrants. This might be one of those times! 

The short version is that I prefer David Lynch's version of Dune. It's imperfect, maybe, but it's still a movie that I care about, that seems to care about its source material. The Villeneuve is pretty to look at, very expensive, and not really all that interesting at all. Nowhere near. Lynch is a filmmaker. Villeneuve has apparently become, sadly, just another Hollywood craftsman, albeit one with a distinctive and impressive visual style, which is almost all his new version of Dune has going for it. The new David Fincher, maybe? Kinda sad. 

The long version: you know, I loved a couple of Denis Villeneuve's English-language films. Still haven't seen Polytechnique or Maelstrom or Incendies, but Prisoners and Sicario were both really enjoyable, and showed someone coming essentially from an arthouse cinema background making interesting inroads into commercial movie making; reading Prisoners as a commentary on the whole issue of "enhanced interrogation techniques," which was still a reasonably hot topic when the film came out, made it one of the most politically compelling thrillers of its year, and absolutely in keeping with my idea of what cinema should be - or at least the kind of cinema that I enjoy. Enemy was interesting, too, if very strange, and with what seemed a tacked-on, unnecessarily misogynistic ending that made me think maybe I'd misunderstood everything that had gone on before. I didn't care for Arrival, and couldn't exactly put my finger on why - and haven't sat down to a second viewing yet. I remember it just left me feeling flat and unconvinced. It was clearly supposed to have an emotional impact, but what it apparently intended and what it actually achieved (in me, at least) were so dissimilar I came out of the theatre grumbling, even though I recognized the film had some interesting ideas in it. 

I started to feel less enthusiastic about Villeneuve's commercial filmmaking with the Blade Runner sequel. I am not among those who think Ridley Scott's first Blade Runner film is anywhere near the best film ever made, as was a common assertion among my peers at one point, and though I have seen it a dozen more times than I properly needed to, the film's production design and images seemed far more interesting than its story, which greatly simplifies the Dick novel, and leaves out several key ingredients - electric sheep included. There's a level of distance from its characters, too - the film is so stylized that I never really felt Deckard's feelings, or anyone else's. I think if I forced myself to watch all three cuts of the film in a row, I'd come out liking the first one, with Deckard's narration, the most. 

...And something happens with me when a film is praised and revered far beyond its merit. It's like a song that gets too much airplay; even a good song ("Comfortably Numb" and "Stairway to Heaven" might be good illustrations) that gets elevated to the level of cultural sacred cow starts to grate on my ears, makes me feel like something has gone wrong in the universe, makes me quarrelsome and ill-disposed to participate. It's not that I dislike Blade Runner, or deny its impact; it's that there are a thousand films I value more, and would rather see praised and imitated and talked about. The culture has gone wrong, I think to myself, as yet another edit of the film makes its way before my eyes. I would rather just watch some stupid Marvel film (which at least has the potential to surprise me) than waste another two hours watching the latest tinkerings on a vastly overrated, style-over-substance faux art film. 

So I wasn't really predisposed to enjoy Blade Runner 2049, but nor did I expect that I would be bored to tears by it, and - I haven't yet said this publicly - the one time I tried to watch it, I shut it off after half an hour. Erika wasn't feeling it either. There's no shortage of films we will actually enjoy and/ or admire, rather than wasting effort on an unnecessary sequel to an overpraised film that the filmmaker appears to have no strong investment in, other than a) making money and b) extending the range of his images: because Villeneuve has a definite visual sensibility, and does seem concerned about image-making, but... was there anything else to be said for the film? Was there anything else there that he CARED about as an artist or storyteller? (I mean, I didn't finish it, so I don't really know, but was any of it really more vital or necessary than the last dozen Star Wars movies? I doubt it). Prisoners, by contrast - my favourite of the films of his I've seen - seems to have a sincere interest in character and story and ideas, all of which seemed to me - in the first half hour of Blade Runner 2049, to be subordinated to Villeneuve's aesthetic ambitions. Sure, the film looks great. But sunsets look great, too, and don't cost $15 to see, so... 

Dune is much the same, but is based on a novel I rather love, which has been well-adapted for the screen before - maybe not perfectly adapted, as I say, but I have never had any great problem with the David Lynch version of the film, much as I wish he would assent to fixing up the Alan Smithee cut of the film and making something great of it (because there are some truly great moments in that long cut of the film, even if the ultimate assembly is amateurish and unworthy of Lynch's name - I wish there could be a proper restoration made of it, even if he isn't the one at the helm). 

But if you thought Lynch left out too much of the original Frank Herbert text, I've got bad news: Villeneuve leaves out a lot more. It strips characterization and dialogue down to the bare minimum. It completely disregards huge swaths of the novel - like the highly politically-charged and tense dinner party where Kynes argues with and provokes a Harkonnen-allied banker and subtly shifts to the support of house Atreides, for example - one of the richest moments in the book, but it simply doesn't exist in the film. The idea of Leto dispensing with water-wasting customs is also removed. Kynes - beautifully, if too briefly, played by Max von Sydow in the first film, has been replaced by a black female actress, which in itself is interesting - the only black people in the film are Fremen or Fremen-allied, I think, which presumably connects to what seems to be a telegraphed anticolonial message in the film - by which the whole narrative is framed in terms of the Fremen struggle for freedom against those who would exploit their homeworld. But whatever potential there is in the casting, the film is barely interested in Kynes - her character, like almost everyone in the film, is such a foreshortening of the book that she reads as a cardboard cutout, a plot point, a way to get from point A to B than a vehicle for expression, insight, comment on humanity, or so forth. 

That, unfortunately, is something that extends to almost every actor in the film - they're just not given enough to do to make them interesting or human. Kyle McLachlan may have been too old when he played Paul Atreides, but he was likeable and human and seemed a fully-realized character. Timothée Chalamet, by comparison, is emptied of as much character as possible, as if giving him recognizable emotions or wit or interesting dialogue or the space to be human in might interfere with the audience's identifying with him as a hero, projecting their own traits on to him. It's not really Chalamet's fault - it's Villeneuve's. Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac are equally under-cooked, ciphers and plot points instead of characters, vastly reduced from what you find in the book. I wanted to care, tried to care, but for all the expense and craft that went into image-making, there really just wasn't much to latch onto in any of the principal characters. 

To be fair, there are a couple of actors who are able to build interesting things with their roles, apparently against the odds. Jason Momoa, whom I don't normally think much of - I kinda hated that idiotic Aquaman eyesore - makes a fine Duncan Idaho, even if there's a weird casual quality to his English that sounds far more like how kids speak today than how some futuristic warrior attached to a royal family might. Javier Bardem manages to make Stilgar a complete and real human, or Fremen, or whatever, and steals the best scene in the movie (the spitting). Josh Brolin, as Gurney, has terrific gravitas, even though he's given far too little to do. Charlotte Rampling as the Bene Gesserit who puts Paul's hand in the pain box is creepy and delightful, if only around a short time. And I guess some praise should go to Stellan Skarsgard, who is kind of unrecognizable as Baron Harkonnen, though he's got a fair bit to compete with compared to Kenneth McMillan's hilariously over-the-top revulsion-generator in the Lynch. It is still a testament to the role (and to the makeup artists behind his character) that Erika didn't recognize him, though she knows Skarsgard from many other films; as the credits rolled, she was like, "Which one was Stellan Skarsgard?" 

So that's all fun enough. There is also some terrific production design, some compelling imagery. The worms are neither here-nor-there, not particularly better or more interesting than Lynch's, but the ornithopters are modelled on dragonflies, which is delightful. The visuals are generally amazing, as you might imagine from someone who seems to be following in Ridley Scott's footsteps, and it LOOKS like a Denis Villeneuve film, which, as I say, seems to be the point - to put his aesthetic into a new text, which I guess is the only part of the challenge that really engages him as an artist, now that he's gone Hollywood. But MOST of the characters have so little to do or say, contributing a few lines of dialogue, advancing the plot, then dying or disappearing, that someone who hasn't read the book will wonder what the point is. The Shadout Mapes would be one example - she exists to give Jessica the knife, but there's nothing else intriguing about her, nothing else we learn about her, and between giving the knife and being killed when the Sardukar attack - does she even HAVE any dialogue? Cripes, Marvel characters are generally more richly realized.

That's not good. 

I mean, look, I'm biased, I admit it. I'm not that interested in film as image, primarily; I like a pretty picture as much as anyone, and appreciate the craft of image-making in cinema, but I'm PRIMARILY interested in film in terms of character, story, writing, ideas. Erika and I have been binging on Better Call Saul and loving it, and it's full of all of those things. There MIGHT be some interesting ideas behind the Dune adaptation - along those aforementioned anti-colonial lines - but the film only barely gets to the halway mark of the first novel, so it is kind of impossible to evaluate on those terms, reading more like a very glossy, slightly chilly white saviour narrative, which, pretty as it is, isn't really anything all that new. Dances With Sandworms, anyone - with Lakota Fremen? 


And you know what else I hated? That the film pretty much ends on the words, "This is only the beginning." (Or something to that effect). Like, oh, really, you need to TELL us there's going to be a sequel? Like we didn't already know that? Gee, thanks. It's clear Villeneuve doesn't have a lot of respect for the characters or the writing in Frank Herbert's novel, but ending on a clunkily obvious bit of foreshadowing like that makes it seem like he doesn't have a lot of respect for his audience, either - like the whole point of the film is not to express an idea of tell a story, but get us hooked into a franchise. There is no possible note more likely to generate in me a non-serviam response. Only the beginning, you say? Well, I better tune out now, because I sure didn't think much of it, and fuck y'all for thinking so little of me. Tug on my leash at your peril. 

The best thing to come out of the whole Dune remake thing? That there's a bunch of lovely new editions of Frank Herbert's books. I'm reading one of them now. I'm going to go back to it in a second - pet the cat and read a bit before I join my wife in bed. 

Perhaps I wouldn't be so disappointed if I hadn't been waiting for a whole bloody year for the film to get released?


Edited to add: tried to re-watch the Lynch Dune tonight and couldn't make it all the way. It's got a hokiness to it, a clunkiness, that get in the way of the viewer fully engaging, and - with all its voiceover exposition and weird add-ons, does not really create a "world" (Villeneuve's is better at that) out of Arrakis, and does not create a very powerful narrative drive (here too, Villeneuve gets the prize, tho' I stand by what I say above, overall). There's no propulsion to it, and by the time the Harkonnens attack, watching it tonight, my wife and I were both bored and disengaged and my thumb shifted to the fast forward button, so she could at least get a sense of what happens at the end of the novel, unfilmed in the new version. There's still some great set pieces, and I like Freddie and Brad's eyebrows (and Kenneth's boils and nutso over-the-top performance) more than I like almost anything in the Villeneuve (Momoa>Jordan, tho). It's the more fun experience, maybe, but it's still not really successful - and to some extent, the fun is not entirely dissimilar from the "fun" one has watching the 1980's Flash Gordon (which also has some fun set pieces, and even a prominent shared cast member in Max von Sydow, but which also doesn't really work). At best, it's an '80's curiosity. The ultimate conclusion for me has to be that the book is the only real way to experience Dune, and the films are just Coles Notes versions, neither of great merit, cinematically.   

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Getting sparkly with EddyD & the SexBombs: an Eddy Dutchman interview, apropos of the LanaLou's gig this Saturday

Art provided by Eddy Dutchman, by the late Colleen Caveen (RIP)

EddyD & the SexBombs are one of the most fun live experiences in Vancouver: they have a sense of showmanship and style; a sense of playfulness; and what seems a sincere love for vintage rock'n'roll, soul, and R&B, which they present live with a tongue-in-cheek cheekiness and a roomful of character(s). As skillful as they are, musically, it's not entirely a serious experience - and it has very little to do with punk rock, from which scene Eddy Dutchman hails  - but it's very entertaining, as the videos for "Boom Boom" and "Lemon Squeeze" amply attest, sung by a typically leggy "ShowBiz" Shelley Preston (of Preston and Fletcher) and, uh, "bassed" by an atypically furry Bob Petterson, AKA Jelly Bean Beaudine, also of the Frank Frink Five. (While we are on the topic of lemons, a brief aside: what the hell do sex and lemons have in common, besides juices, anyhow? People have been squeezing their lemons until the juice runs down their legs since the days of Robert Johnson, but never once during sex have I USED lemon, THOUGHT of lemon, or WANTED lemon, nor have I seen genitals, male or female, that reminded me in terms of shape, colour, odour, flavour, or texture, of ANY citrus fruit. One of the weirdest metaphors in music history, if you ask me!).

EddyD & the SexBombs aren't just a fun live show, either; they released their second LP, Yikes!, in the midst of COVID. They didn't really get to support it with many shows at the time, but they have a new gig at LanaLou's on Saturday - a food bank benefit, too, so you can go check it out confident in the knowledge that the money will be going to a good place. (And speaking of food, if you haven't been to LanaLou's, they have some amazing items on the menu; last I was there, my go-to, the lamburger, seemed to have disappeared, but Lana's poutine is excellent, and she makes some sort of Jolly Rancher cocktail that is totally yummy, too). 

 EddyD & the SexBombs, by Gord McCaw

Commence Eddy Dutchman interview (he was a gent and put a lot of work into making this read naturally, since he knew I had surgery recently, so this will follow mostly HIS formatting choices, not mine - I've tidied up a few things, but I sent him a block of questions and he basically took care of the rest!). 

Let’s meet EddyD & the SexBombs! Left to right, using Gord's picture, above: 

Fletch: Guitar whiz, production guru, singer song writer, musical mastermind. 

ShowBiz Shelley: Vocalist extraordinaire, singer/song writer, tappist and banjo. 

Jazzy Pink Zircon: Poet, artist, singer/songwriter, trend setter. 

Eddy Dutchman: Guitar scoundrel, singer/ songwriter, band chauffeur. 

Mr. Tony Lee: Working the tupperware, band youngster, notable public figure 

Jelly Bean Beaudine: The boss at holding down the bottom end. 

EDDY- Hey Al. Good to see you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and giving us an opportunity to push our up coming show. It’s a fundraiser for The Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

ALLAN: No problem Eddy. Glad I can help. We can talk about the food bank gig later. I was hoping to ask you a few questions about EddyD & the SexBombs. You guys have been around for quite a while now. Do I assume the Sex Bombs started with you and Jazzy wanting to make music together?

EDDY: Absolutely Al. 

EddyD & the SexBombs started out as a one off. I was asked to participate in a Halloween show at the Railway Club and I wrote a mini rock opera based on the Faust theme, where EddyD sells his soul to Satan in exchange for being in a rock band. 

Jazzy sang back ups at that first show. And bassist Jelly Bean Beaudine (Bob Petterson) was also present - two original and still active members of EddyD.

The opera was well received so we decided to milk it. With other players coming and going we did the Rock Opera a few more times until Jazzy and I realized this was fun.

We work well together and joined forces and started writing together expanding our musical direction.

She’s an amazing poet so the cross over to song writing was easy peasy.

That’s when EddyD & the SexBombs started to explode on the scene.

ALLAN: Can you give me a bit of history of the two of you?

EDDY: We are soul mates.

We have known each other since our twenties and here we are, still hanging around with each other. We’re a lot of things but most of all, we are really good friends. And we work well together.

We used to write funny songs for our amusement way before punk.

Here’s how I met her.

It was 1974. I was driving home to my dump in Kits and I picked up this chick hitchhiking on the downtown side of the Burrard St bridge. It was Jazzy but who knew what was to happen. 

We talked on the drive back into Kits. We talked and connected about music, film and art. So we made a date for the next day.

Unknown to me, she had also made numerous other dates that night with other guys.

I was infatuated with Jazzy so, the first thing the next day, I was the very first one to get to her place and off we went. Ha ha ha - too bad losers!

We did everything together and even raised a fabulous human being, our daughter (Hi Lyza!). We work well together and have fun doing so.

ALLAN: Wow. You guys have been together a long time. I realize you date back to the old-time Vancouver punk scene - does she?

EDDY: Oh yes. We would go to the Buddha, Windmill, Starfish Room, all the hall gigs. Yes, we went to all those shows together.

Shelley and Jazzy, by bev davies

ALLAN: Do you and she "hear ear to ear" on most music, or do you have different tastes?

EDDY: Well. I guess we have more in common than not. She listens to heavy metal which does nothing for me and I like some country which makes her leave the room. But for the most part, we have very similar likes. 

We were both totally caught up in the Punk and New Wave music of the late 80s. The beginning of that scene really got us enthused about music to the point that we became musicians.

ALLAN: Are there things on the album that really reveal one or the other of you, in terms of your musical influences and inclinations?

EDDY: Well Allan, we have 2 CD’s out. Our first CD, Bombs Away, showcased a more individual song writing approach, with me writing more ballad type songs while Jazzy wrote more up beat songs, while on our second CD, Yikes!, there was more of a collaboration between Jazzy and myself.

Each song there, we both worked on together.

I guess if there were to be a comparison of our styles, I would say Jazzy is more Ramones-ish and I’m more Stones-ish.

People love labels so when I am asked about what kind of music does EddyD & the SexBombs play, I refer to it as original “retro rock.”

ALLAN: What was the order of people joining the SexBombs?

EDDY: Myself and Jazzy and Bob were there from beginning at the Rock Opera days.

Through the years this band has gone through some wild personal changes and Im not going to name everyone that has come and gone but I guess maybe five years ago Fletch (Scott Fletcher) and Show Biz Shelley (Shelley Preston) joined the band.

Jazzy and Shelley were friends outside of this band.

We had EddyD, and they had Preston and Fletcher.

We needed a guitar player and so Jazzy invited Shelley and Fletch to join the band which they did, and man are we lucky.

The newest member would be Tony Lee. We had a real tough time finding the right drummer. It’s the toughest piece to find.

So we got Tony on loan from The New Black and we bribed him with snacks and eventually he joined the band full time.

And that is the current and final line up. If anyone leaves the band now, the band folds since this is the perfect line up for us all.

ALLAN: So Preston and Fletcher were already performing as a duo before they joined up?

EDDY: Yes. They were performing as Preston and Fletcher while we had some version of EddyD & the SexBombs on the go. Shelley and Jazzy were friends before they joined EddyD and Scott had seen me in some other band where I did this bit where I would sing from the top of a ladder. So they knew about us and we knew about them. It ended up being a perfect fit. They are both so talented.

Actually the whole band is super talented.

ALLAN: Do they contribute to writing, as well?

EDDY- Yes they do. We encourage everyone to write as we believe it adds to the diversity of our music.

Fletch and Shelley have a very strong background in pop music and if you listened to either of the CDs you can hear their songs. Like on Bombs Away they wrote a beautiful James Bond-type spy song called “The Kiss Of Death.” And on Yikes! they wrote this great Bossa Nova type song called “Lemon Squeeze." They write such beautifully crafted songs. 

ALLAN: They're a great complement to you and Jazzy, to be sure. 

EDDY: Al, I’m getting kinda tired. Do you think I can plug our next show and then go to bed?

ALLAN: Of course, Eddy. Tell us all about it.

EDDY: Thanks Al - like I mentioned earlier, it’s a fundraiser for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Always a good cause. And because of COVID and trying to minimize contact, we will ‘NOT’ be accepting actual food but only cash. We’re using the motto, ‘CASH IS KING’ and it is because for every dollar donated the Food Bank can get 3 dollars worth of food.

So it’s great value for everyone's donation.

EddyD & the SexBombs are playing all night. We’re doing three sets of all our original music plus costumes changes.


With costume changes.


Entertainment for donations.


It’s on Saturday, October, 23rd at Lana Lou’s.

I should also mention that a Vaccination Passport will be required and we would like everyone to still practice COVID-preventative measures such as masks, social distancing and minimize table hopping.

So admission is by donation and we are hoping to raise $500.00 which will buy $1500.00 worth of food to feed some very hungry people. A great cause.

So come on out. [Eddy also points out on Facebook that the first set will be the songs from Bombs Away, with sunglasses and berets, and the second set will be the whole of Yikes!, in order, with the band in sparkly attire, because, as Jazzy reminds us, "There is no such thing as too much sparkly"]

Al, thank you very much and all our best. Not just from our band but all the other musicians and artists that you support - thanks.

ALLAN: you're very welcome, Eddy! And good luck with show.

EddyD and Jelly Bean Beaudine, by bev davies

Find more information about the gig here, and please folks - I'm still recoverin' from surgery, so a) don't get me talkin', and b) use what Eddy calls your "COVID common sense," and if you don't feel well, stay home!

Appreciating Michael McKean in Better Call Saul: a career best?

I have always enjoyed Michael McKean. I enjoyed his songs and his performance as David St. Hubbins in Spinal Tap, and - having grown up on Laverne and Shirley, as a child - was always positively predisposed towards him, whenever he'd turn up in something else - not that I've seen that many of his performances. I think you'd have to go back to the 2001 film My First Mister, an awkward teen-adult romance film starring Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski, for the last non-Spinal Tap-related feature I'd seen him in, prior to settling into my current Better Call Saul binge; before that, there was 1999's Teaching Mrs. Tingle. (I actually have not seen Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, though I am told I should). 

Michael McKean is still around, of course - this isn't an obit or anything. But I just wanted to say - if McKean has ever been better in ANYTHING than he is as Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul, I sure haven't seen it. Coming late to that show, I'm stunned by the richness of his performance, by the sympathy he evokes for a difficult character and the vividness with which he realizes that character's psychology. It's like John Heard and Cutter's Way, or Treat Williams and Prince of the City: they're also actors I'm positively predisposed to, but did either of them ever play a role remotely as meaty and rich as in those films? Are there better performances to be seen by them, in anything? I haven't seen them, if so. 

Like I say, it's entirely possible that there are other gems in McKean's filmography that I've missed, since there are big holes in my viewing, but damn does he do fine work as an actor in Better Call Saul. He plays a controlling, successful lawyer - brother to Bob Odenkirk's character Jimmy, who has not yet adopted, when we meet him, the moniker "Saul Goodman." Chuck is either afflicted with a poorly understood medical condition, or else a serious mental illness, that has him totally intolerant of - allergic to - electricity. It's kind of akin to the Julianne Moore character in Todd Haynes' masterpiece, Safe; he is adamant that the problem is a real one (and indeed, it is drawn from reports of a very real, but controversial and poorly-understood condition, which you can read more on here) - though other characters in the series prove to their own satisfaction that he's "just" mentally ill (as if that is ever the only explanation for anything; even the mentally ill are human beings, with feelings and intentions and personalities which inform and are informed by their illnesses). 

I'm loving the whole series, of course - Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks and Mark Margolis and Michael Mando and Rhea Seehorn and Giancarlo Esposito are all a great pleasure to watch - but McKean is the discovery for me. I've always enjoyed his work, but had no idea he could be THIS good. 

Maybe I WILL watch A Mighty Wind and Best in Show, now... 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Todd Haynes' Velvet Underground doc: impressive, but also "meh"

There's a lot I didn't expect that was in the Velvet Underground documentary, now streamable via Apple TV. I was pleased that avant-gardists LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela were interviewed, and that substantial screentime is given to Jonas Mekas, whose writings about film are full of vitality and passion. I was happy to learn that American minimalist Tony Conrad - the only person in the film I actually got to meet, once - was in an early version of the Primitives, with Lou Reed and John Cale. It was interesting that Mary Woronov got a fair bit of screentime (she's one of these Helen Mirren types who apparently only gets more striking with age), though curious that her actual interactions with the band weren't much discussed (I believe she used to whip Gerald Malanga on stage during "Venus in Furs," or at least that's how Chris D. told it to me... it's barely explored). I was happy that Moe Tucker got to tell a few stories, and mildly surprised that her current political allegiances didn't come up and/or  weren't allowed to taint things. And there were some charming, completely unexpected contributions by Jonathan Richman, and certainly a LOT of interesting image-making; not a lot of footage of the Velvet Underground playing, but lots of split screen collage-y stuff with clips of band members, scenes from "deep context" arthouse filmmaking like Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, etc. Todd Haynes clearly is interested in situating both this film and the band in the experimental/ arthouse world, specifically that of NY circa 1967, and there's more discussion of that context - including bits on drone music and nearly half an hour on the Theatre of Eternal Music/ Dream Syndicate stuff, very relevant to what John Cale was doing immediately pre-VU - than there is about heroin, or Lou's bisexuality, or the whole "art as hustle" element to things (which maybe runs antithetical to Haynes' ambitions, but is certainly relevant to Warhol, the Factory, and the general milieu; it would have been interesting to have some of the naysayers - besides Cher - give their view of the scene). It's kind of a wart-free, "respectable," respectful, deeply-researched documentary that just, when all is said and done, doesn't make you feel the passion of the band, doesn't really take you into their personalities, doesn't really grip you with any of the tensions and contradictions and dramas of the art world, and doesn't even really talk about the songs. It strives to put the Velvet Underground on one of the very top shelves of American cultural life (which is where Haynes' himself clearly aspires to be; much as I enjoyed it, his choice to have lots of footage of Jonas Mekas says a lot more about him than it does about the Velvet Underground); it may even succeed in doing that. But YOU WILL NOT LEARN HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE by watching this film. It's got about as much sausage-making in it as Jim Jarmusch's Iggy doc has cock in it. It's well-researched, well-crafted, and kind of dead, about a tenth as much fun as, say, Velvet Goldmine. (Which is another Haynes' film I have limited fondness for, but much more vibrant and enthusiastic than this one).

Oh, and the third and fourth studio albums get less than ten minutes screentime each, and there is no mention that Yule went on to record yet another VU album, Squeeze, post-Lou (not much about Yule at all, in fact, and wasn't his brother in the VU for a time? You would never know)... Haynes really is interested in the NY art and film scene more than he is the band or their whole trajectory, and the cornerstone of his "respectable" version of the band is kind of John Cale, at least insofar as the music scene goes.  The film devotes over an hour of its time to the prehistory and the first two albums, the ones with Cale, and he probably interviews Cale more than anyone else, but Haynes loses a lot of interest in the band once Cale is out. There IS some time given for the literary figures who inspired Lou Reed (there are a few minutes set aside to Delmore Schwartz, even mention of Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, tho' no mention that Lou would later interview Selby). People wanting to learn more about Lou's time with Pickwick will find stuff, too. There *are* a fewstories offered that don't highlight Cale or Reed's artistic ambitions or background, like Moe talking about singing "After Hours," or deets about Nico, but charming as moments like that are, they are few and brief, and feel like asides, distractions, digressions, insufficient to really convey much in the way of human warmth to the film.  

I could go on. There were things I learned from the film, but it is a very particular "take" on the band that kind of ultimately left me cold, or colder than I wanted to feel, given how much I love some of their music. By contrast, The Sparks Brothers documentary and the Zweig Records film  are both vastly more entertaining, more dynamic, more enriching, and actually get us reasonably close to the human beings at their core. You're left - especially by Zweig, interviewed a few posts back - asking questions beyond the confines of the film, as it spills out into life, which is the goal. The Velvet Underground remains aloof and strangely outside its subject matter, however deep it goes into the facts, however impressive its eyewitness testimony may be, and it never really seems to open out into the world, just curves back onto itself. You might learn a few things about Lou Reed or John Cale or New York in the early 1960's - but you won't learn much about humanity. There isn't much of it on hand. 

 It's unfortunate - I had hoped for more. 

Bad (?) news: radiation therapy to come

So my oncologist found, it turns out, two incidents of cancer on my tongue, not touching each other. 

It is indeed, by the by, cancer. The biopsy was done post-surgery; there was no question surgery was necessary, whether what I had was dysplasia or cancer, so no need for a biopsy beforehand, which meant there was some doubt before the operation actually took place what I was being treated for... but it turns out it was exactly what I had in 2017: squamous cell cancer. 

Those squamous cells, man ("things I have in common with Christopher Hitchens" - it's a very short list).

That there were TWO sites on my tongue, unconnected, means I've now had cancer in three places on my tongue, and will likely have further recurrences; so radiation treatment is recommended. Gotta whip my tongue cells into compliance or something, to keep them for going rogue again in the future. This will mean taking more time off work (which is a mixed blessing), and in terms of side-effects, I gather, will feel like I have a sunburn inside of my mouth. Unclear when it commences or how long it will last, but the cancer agency is being contacted.

"It's not like I can just keep whittling away at your tongue," my oncologist quipped at one point. 

Indeed. Meantime, I've now weaned off my strongest painkiller and am getting by managing my pain a codeine at a time (three or four pills spread out over a day). If I don't, then when I go to speak or swallow, the pain in my ear is far worse than I want it to be... but I can swallow whatever I need to (soft food is still best), and speech is okay, though I'm a bit sore at the moment (pain med hasn't hit yet). 

Nothing much else to report. Erika and I are watching, and loving, Better Call Saul, and I'm really pleased with the Severin blu-ray release of Blood for Dracula, which has great extras (Udo Kier bums a smoke mid-way through his interview, knowing full well that it will be value-added; I mean, who, on an extra interview, ever bums a smoke? Udo is the man). 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Cinematic comfort food: Phantasm 1 and 2

You know you're deep into the comfort movies when you find yourself watching a Phantasm sequel. 

Phantasm the first, of course, is the best of them. It bizarrely fuses male anxieties about sex and death into a sort of "male brotherhood" movie, by which two brothers and a best friend come together to battle against... what, exactly? The explanation is ridiculous enough to elevate matters into the realms of the totally unreal, like the whole thing is some sort of shared delusion, never meant to be taken seriously: the Tall Man and his team of shrunken-dwarf Jawa ghouls are actually graverobbers from space, converting bodies into slave labour on a distant planet. Oh, and they have yellow blood, can travel through mirrors, and if you cut off their fingers and keep them in a box overnight, they turn into killer flying insects. Some of the most ridiculous and outlandish monster-mythmaking in history - next stop, Cenobites! ...But the beauty is, it really doesn't matter, because whatever the Tall Man and company represent in terms of the story, their primary function is to give the brothers and friend a chance to assert their resourcefulness, their love of tools, their masculine virtues and thereby keep death at bay. It's as strange a celebration of male brotherhood as can be wished... 

...and it actually does get weirder in the second and third and fourth films, as it becomes more and more apparent that set pieces in which the main characters can use tools together to fight against the darkness are the point of the film. There's even, in the second film, a level of homoerotic fantasy to it, which I fully understand: because at 12 or 13, before my hormones really kicked in, I would have LOVED to just become a go-on-the-road monster fighter with my best male friends, and never think about those slimy girls again! Reggie and Mike - played in II by James LeGros, because I guess the suits figured he was more bankable than Michael Baldwin - are like some preteen fantasy version of what adulthood must be like that is recognizable and charming and quite comforting to inhabit; you want to revert to your own 12 year old sense of the world so you can be one with them, sharing in brotherly love, fighting monsters, fighting the Tall Man... whatever it is he represents. (Adulthood?). There's also a female character who gets a subplot of her own in II, and some rather weirdly Nightmare-on-Elm-Street-like dream stuff (though much of all of the films works in a kind of dreamlike way). There's no real need to extend the franchise beyond the limits of the first, classic movie, but if you haven't seen them, 2-4 are very much still the children of the great Don Coscarelli, and if they add nothing to the first film, they certainly ably extend its pleasures. Let's hang out with Reg and Mike and... doesn't Jody come back in one of them? I have no doubts...  

I've loved Phantasm since a VERY influential double bill of both it and Dawn of the Dead my father took me to in Mission, somewhere around 1978 or 1979. (I saw both films theatrically at the perfect age). I went to see it remastered onscreen at the Rio a couple of years ago, and just yesterday, upgraded my discs into blu-ray as part of my "cinematic comfort food" love-in, which has also featured The Fog, The Mist, The Dead Zone, Children of Men, An American Werewolf in London, Children of the Corn, The Blob remake, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, and a couple of okay but not great films from The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee. (I also grabbed a couple of other Severin titles as blind buys - All the Colors of the Dark, And Now the Screaming Starts, and The Horror of Party Beach, so I can trade off with my Phantasms over the next week. It's all keeping me well-entertained. BTW, if you missed it, Phantasm I and II have just been issued as part of a two-fer set on blu-ray; III and IV are sold separately but on the cheap (though lord knows there are bundles of all films, too, if that's what you want). Ravager, the last one, is a bit of a bummer - it is simply not as fun a jaunt, and is lacking Coscarelli at the helm, though it does continue to wax meditative on death, and possibly is a necessary film if you really want to grasp the full arc thematically... 

Movies like this are gonna keep me goin' this week. Thanks, movies! (Thanks, Don Coscarelli!).  


Thursday, October 07, 2021

4:36 am

So I end up with a lot of drool. Couple of times now, I've had puddles of yellow drool on my pillow when I woke up. I don't relish swallowing it, even in my sleep, so I often also have a cracked dry throat, with the drool I am not swallowing just pooled in my mouth.

My sleep schedule is out of whack from Erika's, because I just go back to bed when I'm tired, which was twice yesterday afternoon. Nothing helps while away time between meds like sleeping.

Anyhow I got out of bed to spit and pee and now sitting here. It seems have an abundance of time and no plan to use it - not just now, with Erika still trying to get her Zzz's before work, but for the next couple of weeks. I have 14 days in a row off! (And maybe more, depending on how well I heal).

I'm still not quite gung-ho to tackle a big project yet - I do have a couple in mind - but I'm mostly on the "just want to watch some movies" page, revisiting old favourites...  not sure where to go next. I wish there was a blu-ray of John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday available - the blimp terrorism one. That would be perfect for my needs right now. Alas, all I have is the non-anamorphic widescreen DVD, which could look so much better. Never came out in R1 blu, it seems. 

I kind of need a great film I *haven't* seen before, but...

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

VIFF Review: Night Raiders is vital dystopian SF

There are certain conventions in play for end-of-the-world horror films at the moment. Think of movies like A Quiet Place, or A Quiet Place Part II, or It Comes at Night, or Birdbox, for some examples: the world, in these films, is no longer normal. Some fundamental rule has changed, requiring people to reorganize their lives; and we enter the film in the midst of this change, watching people following these rules, living in some, tentative, frightened kind of way that we can't fully understand - because we haven't met the monster yet. We must watch and learn the rules, so that when the monster comes, we are prepared; the nature of the monster is essential to understanding what we are seeing...  

Night Raiders begins in just this mode, with an Indigenous mother and daughter making their way through the woods in what we presume is rural Canada. Everything seems wrecked. Drones patrol the skies, but it is not clear who controls them. There is still a society of sorts - people huddled in alleyways, trying to get by, and the odd heavily-uniformed cop exuding menace - and there is some jeopardy, in particular, for the young, who are at the risk of being rounded up - but by whom and for what purpose, we are not told, at least not right away. It is clear that the film has bearing on the Canadian residential school system, but it is set in the future, not the past, and there's a whole lot else going on as well, dystopia-wise...  

Night Raiders has gotten some stellar reviews; some critics dubbed it "the best movie of TIFF 2021 so far." TIFF reviewer Sarah describes the film "packing more psychological horror into 97 minutes than The Hunger Games did in four movies," and calls the film "a sharp, decisive commentary on the harm of colonization and cultural oppression." Steve Newton interviews the director, here. I am not finished the film as I write this, but am certainly hooked by what I'm seeing! (Oh, and Amanda Plummer is in it. Haven't seen her in awhile!). It does strike me that I haven't seen this strong a sublimated anti-American subtext ("fuckin' Jingos!") in a film since Battle Royale II, and that the whole affair is a bit on the paranoid side, but it's healthy to express your paranoias in cinema, isn't it? And these don't seem the most unreasonable paranoias for Indigenous people to have.

 There are no further VIFF screenings booked, don't know if it is still optional to stream it, but keep this one in mind. You'll get another chance to see it...

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

VIFF 2021 review: Be Still

Look, I just had surgery a few days ago. I'm still all doped up, quite legitimately, but I'm still going to give some impressions on VIFF fare this week. These may not be the most cogent reviews I've ever written! First one up is Be Still, a BC-shot film about Victoria surrealist photographer Hannah Maynard, as played above by Piercey Dalton; the actual Maynard is shown below. 

The press release for Be Still, by Latvian-to-Canadian filmmaker Elizabeth Lazebnik, says that the story:

takes place in 19th century BC and delves into the mind of an artist whose shattering grief leads to the creation of striking new artforms. All but erased from history, 40 years before Dali and the Surrealist movement began, professional Canadian photographer Hannah Maynard was perfecting surrealist art techniques in her Victoria, BC studio. The film, which took 17 years to make, is a work of passion and dedication from filmmaker Elizabeth Lazebnik. With 15 short films and three TIFF premieres under her belt, Lazebnik is proud to debut her first feature in BC where Maynard lived and worked.

Elizabeth Lazebnik

In a way, this film was perfect for my bleary, confused, slightly damaged state of mind, post-surgery. It bent my brain in very compelling ways, and occasionally I found myself lulled into dreams that interacted with what was onscreen, like I was being lured into another mental state altogether by the logics of the film's construction. Call it "high" praise - the film is really quite skilled at evoking altered states of consciousness in the viewer, through associative shifts between images... It is a bit too reserved in its pacing and serious about what it does for me to think the filmmakers would relish my use of the word "mindfuck" to describe it, but it does fuck with the mind a bit, in ways that I found intriguing and surprisingly effective, always using its tricks to evoke Maynard's confused thinking (I initially thought that the sheer number of visual gimmicks in Lazebnik's toolkit would throw me off, but none of them are used for their own sake, and seem perfectly subordinated to her filmic purposes). 

And yet, perfect as it is on the one hand, watching this film all wiped out and doped up also does it a grave injustice, on the other, since for all its willingness to experiment and clear desire to induce non-normative perceptual states, there is a story at its heart that, however eccentrically it unfolds, still deserves to be properly processed. I could not do this; I do not fully understand what I have seen. I could see things adding up, could find a through line in terms of theme, but not in plot; there are ideas about women's roles, and women being torn within themselves trying to fulfill these roles, and what happens to women who refuse to conform to these roles. There was a fair bit about Maynard's apparently dead daughter, and a striking (if digressive) look at the ways European artists treated their Indigenous subjects where Maynard becomes briefly the focus for potential criticism. That's a set piece of considerable power - one of many in the film that leaves a lingering impression.  

But ask me to recount the overall story, and I cannot (it might have been challenging even without the dope; this is, ultimately, an experimental film). Though I do not fully understand what I have seen, I was still impressed, and thought Be Still succeeded quite well in doing some unusual things; most specifically, I did not know who Maynard was, and am glad for this memorable introduction. I gather that exteriors were filmed not in Victoria but in locations and Langley and so forth. I recommend being fresher-witted than I if you decide to see it - you can find links to tickets on the VIFF website

Saturday, October 02, 2021

More cancer surgery stuff: tonight's ER visit

WARNING! Somewhat disgusting photos below.

So I started a video diary, to document my healing and the effects of the surgery on my speech, and maybe to provide helpful insights to people facing similar situations. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three - which gets a bit disgusting, since it documents my oral thrush - is here. I plan to keep it up, since it may have some interest value, and it gives me an excuse to practice my speech, and something to look back on, in lieu of a memory, should I ever have to face all of this again.

About oral thrush: it's some sort of common fungal problem that can rise up after all the beneficial bacteria in your mouth have been killed. You feel like your mouth is full of froth; it starts to hurt a bit; and you end up with gross little white growths on your tongue. Despite it being predictable, it appears - in my case, anyhow - not to have been avoidable, because I had oral thrush the first time I had cancer surgery, as well, and I did ask my oncologist, before they put me under, if there might be some preventative measure we could take to ward it off this time. He prescribed me an antifungal, and I have been taking it, but nonetheless, when I arrived at the Emergency Ward tonight, this is what my tongue looked like: 

That wasn't something I figured out about until AFTER I decided to go to the ER, mind you. My main concern was dehydration. It was getting increasingly difficult to swallow, which meant I'd had very little to drink; it was equally unpleasant to know I was mixing any of the liquids I drank with the frothy thrush-saliva foaming in my mouth, though I didn't clue in what it was at the time. And swallowing is even tougher when it comes to pill-form painkillers: I spent most of today wondering if a hydromorphone pill was lodged in the back of my throat without my having the muscle strength in my tongue to work it out. I thought ahead and wrote out a long note for the ER staff, which Erika printed out before driving me: Could I get some hydration? Could I possibly get some IV pain meds while I was at it? Could they look at my achey left ear and see if it seems infected or inflamed? Could he give me something for my oral thrush? And was there any way I could get pain meds in a suppository form? 

Apparently there is - there is an ass-friendly version of Voltaren - but it is an NSAID, and I don't do so well with those. So nix on the suppositories, but everything else went exactly as planned: I got a full bag of IV fluids, got a scrip for the thrush and I even got to chat with the ER doctor about his ties to Powell River, where Erika and I just went last spring. There were entertaining fellow-patients in the Walking Wounded area, too: a guy who'd gotten a tooth knocked loose in a hockey game when the puck hit him in the face, and a little kid crying about having to get stitches, with a bunch of nurses and doctors going "Ooh, you'll be okay, it's just a little stitch and it will make you all better". As they hydrated me, I lay back and listened and felt a shimmer of relief coursing through me. ("Could you throw in some pain meds, while I'm hooked up, anyhow?" And they did!). 

I believe the scrip that the doc gave me for the oral thrush, btw, is called Nystatin, but the pharmacies are closed. I've been encouraged to rinse with apple cider vinegar, which does seem to improve matters. Between that and the opioids I actually feel a bit nauseated, but I feel better than I did earlier, by a mile.

Here's the really gross thing. I have felt there was some sort of gooey mucusy clotty substance up my left nostril - where I think the tube had gone in, after intubating me down the throat didn't work. Normally I've been taking steambaths, or their home equivalent - sitting in the bath with the shower pelting my head - to loosen up the snotclots, but there's only so much that's come up. But without even so much as a shower, when I got into the bathroom tonight, I gave a blow out the left and THIS monster flipped out into my hand. 

No fault if you don't want to see.

You've been warned:

...Sorry, it's disgusting (but it was definitely impressive and a release to get it out of my nose!). 

Anyhow, Erika is in bed. I'm going to sit up a bit - have a bit of mild nausea from the opioids that I'm hoping I can distract with a bit of reading. Not sure if I should try to eat something or not - really don't want to. 

In fact, tonight was actually one of my more successful ER experiences. Everyone was friendly; there was no long wait; and I got almost everything I'd hoped for. I got none of that pain med mistrust that you sometimes see, where they think you're an addict as soon as you ask ("Sure you have kidney stones, haven't heard that before.") And as disgusting as that snotclot is above, at least it's OUT OF ME now. Breathing much better. Whew.