Tuesday, September 20, 2022

VIFF 2022 Previews #3: Three documentaries: OKAY! (The ASD Band Film), Soviet Bus Stops, and Anyox

Previewed three superb documentaries at the VIFF: OKAY! (The ASD Band Film), Soviet Bus Stops, and Anyox.

For the record, ye mistrustful, I'm not just shilling. I have developed a rule for this fest that I won't write about films I don't honestly like. I have tried one screener for a film that I loved the premise of, but that left me wanting in its execution (it just didn't have enough control of its material, was making it too challenging to find the through line) - but I won't even mention what it is! (A fellow film writer picked it as one of his top 10 movies at the TIFF, so there is always the possibility that it might just be me). Rather than struggling to be nice to a film I didn't think merited viewing (and thus doing a possible disservice to my readers) or possibly crapping on films unfairly (and thus doing a possible disservice to the film), I'm following  a rule here to only write about films I'm enthusiastic about. I am very enthusiastic about all three of these Canadian-made documentaries and heartily recommend them to anyone looking for an entertaining film this VIFF - with the first being pretty much a Canadian must-watch...

(The ASD Band, L to R: Rawan - Spenser - Jackson - Ron)

Being on the autism spectrum may not mean what you think it means. As this highly enlightening article explains - catching your present author in a misunderstanding in which I, too, long partook - people are typically prone to thinking of the autism spectrum as a gradient, which it isn't. People who are "high functioning" in some aspects may be low-functioning in others, without that making them more or less autistic than each other - just like, on a spectrum, there is no reason to think of red as a shade of blue. The neurodiverse are not just different from the neurotypical, they are also different from each other, with differing strengths and weakness, different challenges and capabilities. They're people. People are quirky. People are individuals. People are all different, whether they have Autism Spectrum Disorder or not.   

I have no particularly good segue to the next paragraph, but OKAY! (The ASD Band Film) certainly does present us with a collection of unique individuals, making music together in the ASD Band, which first came together at Jake's House, an Ontario community centre run by Irene and David Bodanis, the parents of two adult children on the austism spectrum, whom we meet in the doc. The Bodanises wanted to offer people with Autism Spectrum Disorder a place to hang out and work on their social skills, initially figuring that they would "teach individuals one at a time," Jake's House co-founder David Bodanis explains, but it turns out that people on the spectrum, brought together by a common love (of music, for example), can accomplish a lot just working together. "If you start to look at what ASD Band is," Bodanis says, "It is an idea that was just dying to find itself."

The film focuses on the members of the band as they get ready for recording their first EP, Fireflies, which you can find on Soundcloud and Spotify, and their first live show (two dates get mentioned but it appears to have taken place of February 15th this year at the Opera House in Toronto). Jackson - the Elvis-loving guitarist, who likens having autism to performing in a play on opening night, but without having a copy of the script, which theme then resurfaces in his song "Masquerade" - seems the most overtly ambitious member of the group, saying in the run-up to recording their first album that the ASD Band are going to be "forging brilliance together." I think most non-autistic people, speaking thus of their own bands, would coat those words in a protective shield of irony; as articlate as Jackson is - he is very lucid at figuring out what people who are not on the spectrum need to know to understand his condition, and becomes the film's de facto "voice of autism" - I am not sure that protective shields of irony come very naturally to anyone with his condition (but who knows?). He further reveals hopes to play the Hollywood Bowl, in the context of a "dream venue" conversation (he also may well understand that this is not going to happen anytime soon); and we see him baldly (and charmingly) jockeying for centre-spot in a group photo, explaining that this will approximate how the band appears onstage, which rationalization quickly backfires: Spenser, the group's drummer - who also plays with a neurotypical punk band and surrounds himself with the iconography for the Descendents, NOFX, and Lagwagon - explains that if approximating the stage setup was the goal, as drummer, he would actually be in the centre, and so they have to switch places, which looks like it miffs Jackson a bit. 

This is called "getting busted," Jackson, and we've all been there.

Jackson shares lead vocals in the band with Rawan, who, we learn, had a childhood propensity for screaming, and now has a terrific singing voice; she seems a bit shyer in larger social settings than Jackson, determined to not look in the camera for said group shot, looking off to the side for both iterations of it, though again, it is hard to know what to conclude from that: maybe she was just trying to strike a modest pose, as during rehearsals and in more intimate interviews, alone or with friends, one wouldn't necessarily think she was affected by ASD at all (also true of Spenser). Rawan - also the group fashionista - gets a little less speaking time in the film than Jackson, with her most insightful words taking the form of lyrics and most potent moments coming when she is singing, but one gets the feeling of abundant resources within her that she has yet to tap (the band seems a great start, since she seems nowhere more vibrant or expressive than when she's up there on the stage).   

Ron, the pianist, goes along easily throughout, though we do see people encouraging him not to be shy, so we get the feeling he might be; his mother voices concerns about his dependency on the family. He is the only member of the band who displays savant-like abilities, with the rest of the group at one point quizzing him to attach days of the week to random dates (Jackson gives him a random day in 2063, looking at his phone for the answer, and Ron shoots back, "Tuesday," which it is/ It's fun to see that his bandmates are as blown away with this ability as we are). He also is a prodigy on the piano, though you get more of a sense of that when you see footage of him playing classical music than in a band context, where he keeps things pop-appropriate. One of many amusing moments in the film comes when the group's bassist (a neurotypical bassist from Jake's House who I believe is filmmaker Mark Bone) suggests to Ron he warm up - "play some Chopin" - and Ron sets to playing music of exquisite complexity with apparent ease. No obvious simile comes to mind but it's akin, say, to watching someone warm up for their morning jog by running a marathon. 

Presumably Ron does have to work to do that, but he seems a very humble man. It must be quite a challenge to house such extremes - to barely able to tell a knock-knock joke and yet to breeze along on the piano with such deftness. 

There are occasional embarrassing moments, where you might feel bad about chuckling at revealed human frailties (cf. miffed Jackson, above, or said knock-knock jokes) or feel awkward for the unfiltered emotions you sometimes see on members' faces (the film is reasonably gentle about this, not sharing anything that makes people look too vulnerable - it's no Spinal Tap wince-fest - but Rawan does still seem to be crushed, at one point, at feedback she receives about coming in at different points during takes of a song she wrote, a minor correction that she seems to take to heart). You might also feel awkward at detecting what might seem condescension on the part of people in the film who do not have autism, or maybe find your own misunderstandings and condescensions embarrassingly dragged into the light. Bone, if anything, is more protective of the band than he is exploitive, but what IS the appropriate reaction when people at a disadvantage say or do something unintentionally funny, or embarrassing, or reveal a vulnerability without necessarily knowing they've done so?

Thankfully, any such considerations are rendered moot by the fact that the ASD Band are actually pretty great at what they do, which is the key to making this film a real treat to behold. Who doesn't love a good success story? The individual members are all talented musicians; they have clear musical chemistry; and it's really fun getting a behind-the-scenes peek into their processes. The apparent core songwriters in the group, Rawan and Jackson, are both shown bringing lyric ideas to group practices, as they approach recording their first EP, working them up from vague ideas to full blown, genuinely enjoyable songs ("Fireflies" ends up the earworm - you'll walk away from the film humming, "We're different but not less" to yourself). I had lots more fun watching the ASD Band work up these two songs, both explicitly about being on the spectrum, than I did struggling through that deadly dull Godard film where the Rolling Stones compose "Sympathy for the Devil." And I'd much rather watch a documentary about the challenges of being in the ASD Band than, for instance, the challenges of being in Metallica, for instance - "normal" people, I guess, but who really wants to hang out with them? 

Still, I almost always have quibbles with films, and OKAY! is not exception. There are times when Bone, perhaps wanting to keep a zippy pace, makes choices that I would not have made, as when Ron seems to respond instantaneously about that random date in 2063: it was important to the film not introduce an edit between question and answer, so we can see this feat performed in real time - which it may be, but the quick cut (perhaps even a change of camera) allows to wonder if Ron took a few minutes working things out, allows the audience to maybe mistrust both his gift and the film, when a single sustained take would have allowed for no such possibility. 

Another quibble: it is irritating to me that I had to look up Spenser's non-autistic punk band's name, Lime Ricky, also given as Lime Rickey, since it isn't mentioned in the film that I noticed (or mentioned so briefly that I managed to miss it, even though I was interested). I'm pretty sure that's Spenser pissing in the bathtub in their video. Did Bone not think people might not care? The other members of Lime Ricky don't get interviewed about working with Spenser, either, for reasons not explained, though we do briefly hear some of their music. Maybe his punk bandmates are the people who Spenser's family later talk about taking advantage of Spenser (this is left unclear), or maybe they just didn't want their band name to be in there, perhaps because they're not keen to be overshadowed by the autists? If the latter, sorry to break it to ya, fellas, but your drummer is now your star! 

There is one other feature of the film that might leave viewers unsure if they are annoyed or impressed, perhaps depending on how quickly the band sets out on a cross-Canada tour, because the movie seriously leaves you wanting more. We do get some performance footage of the ASD Band's first gig, but it looks to be less than one entire song. You only get to really know two of their songs in the film, "Masquerade" and "Fireflies." If that's a contrivance to leave film audiences hungry to actually get the full-meal-deal of seeing the band in concert, bravo! But audiences who have invested their hopes in the lead-up to the concert might have enjoyed seeing a bit more of the show. I sure would have.

But overall, this film was a delight to watch - positive, funny, and more like the feeling of watching other "young people band movies" (Linda Linda Linda, say, which, note, is not about the Linda Lindas, though fans of the latter should definitely check it out) than watching a film about musicians with mental health issues (like the docs on Roky Erickson or Daniel Johnston, for instance). 

Hey, Spenser, if you're reading this, I have a free idea for you: you know the Big Boys? (The original punk/ funk hybrid band, from the early 80's Austin scene, along with the Dicks and MDC; I gather the Red Hot Chili Peppers, when they got started, were known dismissively by some as the "Little Big Boys," which sort of says something about the Big Boys' rep). They had a song, "Apolitical" - one of their more hardcore tunes - that I always thought could be re-written by someone on the spectrum as "Aneurotypical." Yours if you want it, though you'd no doubt have to substantially re-work the verses and clear it with the surviving Big Boys (And maybe don't tell Jackson that the two comps of their songs were issued as The Skinny Elvis, for their early years, and The Fat Elvis? Unless you think he'd be amused. I like my Elvis skinny, note, but I much prefer the Big Boys fat...).  

Oh, and you might want to look at Youtube vids of Christophe Szpadel, a heavy metal band logo designer, the Lord of the Logos, who himself is on the spectrum. Oh, and you might get a kick out of Dayglo Abortions drummer Blind Marc's side project, Mutated Earthlings, with bassist No Thumbs Dave (more on that in an upcoming Murray Acton interview. 

Now where can I buy that ASD Band EP...?

Living in a foreign country for any length of time, you discover things that a casual tourist might miss. It took me weeks to figure out, for instance, when I lived in Japan, that the dial for my stovetop element was not set up like the ones in Canada, where the first setting on the right is invariably "high" and the last setting, going around clockwise, is "low." In Japan, they do it the opposite way, thinking (I guess) of heat like we think of radio settings, where to get to high, you have to twist it all the way around (or just go to the first setting to the left, if you are turning the dial counter-clockwise; I'm not even sure which paradigm applies). It took me weeks of setting my element on low to figure out that it wasn't just that I had a crap element ("it barely gets warm!"), but that there was in fact a basic cultural difference at work. You also discover differences in valuation: it was fascinating to discover that all the Japanese bands I knew, for example - who I thought of as relatively successful overseas exports, like the Boredoms or Shonen Knife or Melt-Banana - were regarded by most Japanese as weirdos and misfits, minor bands playing to tiny houses, while the artists that were filling stadiums when I was over there, like Glay, were unknown in North America and sounded pretty crap to western ears. 

Neither of those experiences have direct bearing on Kristoffer Hegnsvad's very entertaining documentary, Soviet Bus Stops, but they did come to mind in the course of watching the film, which is in part about a Canadian photographer and architecture enthusiast, Christopher Herwig, trying to make sense of something strange and delightful that he has encountered abroad. At some point in is travels through the former Soviet Union, Herwig stumbled across a really weirdly creative bus stop, given the Soviet propensity for architectural brutalism and standardization. I don't recall  the details of his first encounter, or how the questions raised by this atypical shelter grew into an obsession, but soon he found himself on a mission to visit and photograph any and all of these non-normative rest areas, the locations of which are undocumented and tend to be rural and remote. He's shown approaching strangers on the street to ask them if there are any interesting bus stops near by, and the film is structured around his attempts to access a singularly remote one, after his car gets stuck in the snow (spoiler: a friendly snowplow driver helps him out). 

And while some locals remain entirely nonplussed by Herwig's quest - one shopowner even seems hostile to having his stand, built around one such stop, documented - some of these stops have extremely funky, odd, and colourful designs. It's not hard at all to understand why Herwig is enthusiastic about them ("in Canada, all our bus stops are boring," he explains to one puzzled passerby), though also not hard at all to understand why locals might associate them with less free times, and/or take them for granted. The film does include interviews with some of the designers of said bus stops, and shows dozens of Herwig's photographs, including photographs of stops that have since been destroyed. But the film raises more questions than it has definitive answers for. How did these bus stops, funky and fun in the land of grey totalitarianism, come to be in the first place? Did they serve some sort of propaganda function, convincing the credulous that freedom and creativity could in fact flourish in a totalitarian state? (This strategy works, if so, though the most overtly propagandistic bus stops are not very subtle in this regard; a bus stop that looks like a bird giving shelter with its wings does not seem to have any propaganda value at all). Or did they somehow slip through the cracks of the Soviet system, proof of the resilience of human creativity under oppressive circumstances, the designers quietly competing with each other, having fun, and making unique, individualistic (bourgeois?) bus stops because bus stops were too "minor" to attract much scrutiny from the authorities?    

In any case, the fact that they these magical feats of minor architecture are not appreciated (and that no central registry of their locations exists) lends an unusual urgency to the filmmaker's quest, since these stops can get torn down at any time. To some, they may be a painful reminder of a past they want to forget, but to an outsider, they're a real treat.  Anyone with a passion for architecture and/or travel, anyone who has pursued knowledge of an obscure art, and any students of the way human creativity can flourish under oppressive conditions, will find the film fascinating and delightful.  And while the score of the film seems to be mostly Soviet electrop - kind of Kraftwerk-y, which should please some people I know - ultimately, I was left with the title of a lesser Sonic Youth song swimming in my mind (it may come from somewhere else, but I haven't checked where): "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" - though in this case these "flowers," the bus stops, are themselves sometimes made of concrete, which is even more impressive: to spin an old Marxist (Gramscian?) saw on it's side, you may not be able to take down the master's house with the master's tools, but you can build one hell of a bus stop with them.

3. Anyox 

You don't always have to travel to another country to find landscapes that are radically, startlingly unfamiliar. You don't even need to travel in time - though as the film Anyox shows, that can help. Shot in Northern BC, in an area that can only be accessed by air or boat (unless, maybe, you're a bear), Anyox investigates both the past of a long-abandoned copper mine and smelter, and the present, where the waste products from the copper days (giant mountains of slag, which presents as rock dust) are mined for roofing materials. I am hoping to do much more on this film in a subsequent post, but I went in expecting a very standard urban exploration documentary - my friend Dan Kibke, who is a Brittania mines habitue and urban explorer in his own right, pointed me to the Viceland Abandoned series and the "Exploring Abandoned Mines" Youtube Channel, which both have Anyox installments, and I expected more of the same. What I got was far more artful and intriguing, so that the names I came away referencing were Baichwal/ Burtynsky, Mettlier, Bill Patterson, John Gianvito, and James Benning (though different segments of the film remind me of different filmmakers, and the most striking footage - the archival stuff, which is a real treasure trove - had me thinking of Fritz Lang). More to come on that, I hope. 

In other news, documentary enthusiasts take note that I have now received the screener for De Humani Corporis Fabrica, which  I mentioned in a previous VIFF blogpost. I am equally excited to see it, and terrified. Haven't I had enough surgery this last year? Maybe more to come on that, too. 

VIFF Previews #2: a lazy person's guide to some major VIFF events, AKA, a shake through the auteurist sieve

So some other VIFF notes... I have already mentioned a few high profile films that I will likely have to wait until the VIFF proper to see, or that for one reason or another I will not be previewing. Here are some other films that made me perk up, all as yet unseen by me. Consider this a lazy person's guide to the VIFF, a heads up for those who don't want to go through all the listings. 

In terms of high-profile films generating online buzz, The Whale has garnered a lot of attention - the new Aronofsky, with Brendan Fraser, in a comeback role, playing a fat man. I am happy that Fraser has revitalized his career, having gotten used to seeing him as the butt of various clickbaity, cruel "where are they now" sponsored posts on Facebook about people whose careers had tanked; I've seen him at least as often as I've seen posts that for no reason at all try to trick you into thinking David Suzuki has died - but I am not really interested in Aronofsky - I mean, Noah? Give me a break - and fat men hold no mystery for me. 

In fact, having gotten very close to 400lbs in my life - I've lost about 100lbs since - I hereby decree that I am allowed to crack a fat joke: If I want a fat Brendan, I'll take Brendan Gleeson over Brendan Fraser any day, which is to say that I'm much more excited to see that Martin McDonagh - the Irish fella who brought us In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri has a new film. The Banshees of Inisherin reunites  Gleeson with Colin Farrell. I still remember having to re-file Farrell from "annoying, smug pretty boy" to "actor to watch" with In Bruges. He's done his best work with McDonagh, so count this one as a must-see. Tom Charity, btw, picks it as a top-ten TIFF must-see, so there's that, too. 

People who like their cinema dark and surreal - fans of Rubber and Mandibles, for instance -  will want to see the new Quentin Dupieux, Smoking Causes Coughing. I'm enough of an auteurist that I read his name and go no further - ooh, a new Dupieux! 

Fans of The Endless will want to see the new Benson/Moorehead, Something in the Dirt, from the Altered States catalogue. Again, names I recognize, and a great title, too, so I read no further. 

That section, Altered States, also houses a curious-looking multiple-universe film, Quantum Cowboys, which I had audio problems trying to preview, but which, based on a few minutes' viewing seemed very visually ambitious and philosophically dense, with some of the animation evoking Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. And while they are not the stars, having Gary Farmer and John Doe in the cast cannot be bad things! Doe even sings, apparently. 

Fans of Belgian Catholic auteurs the Dardennes (L'Enfant is probably their best known work?) should know that they have a new film called Tori and Lokita, which is themed around the struggles of immigrants, as are Nanny and Know Your Place. I'll be trying to write about those, especially the last one, which views Seattle through the eyes of two African immigrants; the description reminds me a bit of one of my favourite VIFF experiences ever, the Devor/ Mudede collaboration Police Beat. 

Maybe it's because I'm a blogger, but it's interesting to trace through lines - films united by themes. So speaking of the immigrant experience, there is also a more locally-themed immigrant-themed film Riceboy Sleeps, about Korean immigrants to Vancouver. I'd previously enjoyed In-Between Days at a VIFF - about Korean immigrants to Toronto. But let's go back to a "name"-centered approach for a few more films...
French auteur Claire Denis also has touched on themes of immigration in her work; she has a new film in the VIFF, Stars at Noon. We once had a brief, somewhat awkward interview where I did learn that Trouble Every Day was inspired by former U-J3RK5 member turned photographer Jeff Wall, and that the truck-driver/ hitchhiker sequence in that film was not a homage to Cronenberg, as I'd assumed. One of two interviews that went so weird I was glad to escape, to be honest (the other was Blowfly).  

Also in terms of international heavy-hitters, fans of Korean cinema might want to know that Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) has a new film, Decision to Leave.

Mumblecore star Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation) has a new film called There There...

...while admirers of the recently departed Jean-Luc Godard - did he go to the same end-of-life clinic Elizabeth Fischer did? - might want to check out See You Friday, Robinson, about Godard's correspondence with Iranian filmmaker Ebrahim Golestan. Mostly, to be honest, I found Godard's cinema painful to watch, though I did enjoy the humour and transgressive pointedness of Weekend. Having a film about him in the VIFF certainly is timely, though - it will be a must see for some folks, but not me.

Old school European arthouse followers might be interested in EO, the new Jerzy Skolimowski, the description of which immediately evokes Au Hazard Baltasar. I am really glad that Skolimowski is working again; you've probably seen him acting in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, as the cranky, racist uncle, but he also directed a couple of very well-liked films back in the day, Deep End (which Can's "Mother Sky" is an important piece of) and Moonlighting, with Jeremy Irons in a tale of Polish migrants working in London (never actually caught up with that one). I wasn't crazy about his attempt to be minimalist and topical, a few years ago, Essential Killing, starring Vincent Gallo as a jihadi fleeing through a hostile landscape, which reminded me of Losey's Figures in a Landscape. But I'm glad he's still making films (he's 84).

Also, Ruben Ostlund, who directed Force Majeure, also has a new film, Triangle of Sadness. But while I am aware he is well-regarded, I have not gotten to his cinema, so can help not at all there. 

Of course, the "auteurist sieve" is not the only filter you can shake the catalogue through: the VIFF catalogue has plenty of films of topical relevance, but in particular re: aboriginal experience in Canada, including residential schools, Bones of Crows sounds like a must-see. It's the opening film. 

I had already mentioned Sarah Polley's Women Talking, which looks at rape and other issues within the Mennonite community; people wanting to follow that thread might be interested in You Can Live Forever, set amongst Jehovah's Witnesses, who do attract some dissent, mostly from former members (look up the "vast apostate army"). I don't know the film, but I liked Liane Balaban, years ago, in a Nova Scotian coming-of-age comedy directed by Alan Moyle called New Waterford Girl, and the film has been picked up by Mongrel Media, who generally only handle quality cinema. So if the topic is of interest, it's probably a safe bet.  

Another distributor whose films generally have value here in Canada is Filmswelike, and I was pleased to see their name attached to Riotsville USA, which captures some of the turbulence of the 1960's using archival footage. I was born in 1968, so I do feel like my life is rooted in that decade, even if my parents were both pretty straight, far removed from the hippies and Yippies and such.... 

As for locally-made films with feminist content, while I only know Sophie Jarvis from the short, "Zeb's Spider" (also playing the fest, previously written about here), I am keen to see Until Branches Bend, about a fruit-packing Okanagan whistlebower who discovers a potentially invasive insect in a peach and, if I'm reading the festival guide right, sets of some sort of apocalypse (??!). The bug in the peach could also be a metaphor for her unwanted pregnancy! 

Oh, yes, another recommendation from Tom Charity, seconded by some of his Facebook friends, is The Mountain. I'm intrigued, but since Tom has taken pains to not spoil any of the films surprises, I won't read about it before seeing it...

There is lots else (including that 100th anniversary, live-scored Nosferatu event at a church - yowza!). There is now a physical program guide, or you can access the full VIFF catalogue online. I have a few features in the works, and lots of films I WILL be seeing and writing about - kind of a last stand of major blogging projects before I return to work...

More to come! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

VIFF Previews #1: Sick of Myself, Zeb's Spider, Maigret, Women Talking, and the new documentary from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab

So the VIFF schedule is now online. I always do a fast peruse to see what I might be excited to catch or write about, mostly looking at director's names, sometimes noting special events, and basically requesting media screeners for anything and everything in the Altered States series, which is the go-to section of the festival for people with an investment in horror, cult cinema, taboo-busting transgression, or flights of extremity (not my sole areas of interest, but certainly ground I have found fertile over the years). The three films I was most excited to learn of, off the bat, are Patrice Leconte's new Georges Simenon adaptation, Maigret, starring Gerard Depardieu; Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, which is the new film out of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab; and Sarah Polley's Women Talking. Bearing in mind that I have not seen these films yet - and in some cases may not until after the festival starts, as not every film has a media screener and some screeners are a bad match for my present tech situation - some notes on each may be in order. 

Maigret: Patrice Leconte is a French filmmaker active since the 1970s, known for finely-crafted films that are associated with arthouse cinema in North America, because they're French, but which have also had a significant commercial reception internationally; he's probably best known in North America for The Man on the Train, The Hairdresser's Husband, Ridicule, and Monsieur Hire. For his new feature - his 31st that is neither a short nor a segment of another film, if my count is correct - Leconte has adapted a Maigret novel, Maigret and the Dead Girl, starring Gerard Depardieu in the title character's role. I have never seen any film (or read any books) involving this famed French detective, but I have long heard that Simenon's best novels rank up there with classics of American hardboiled/ noir fiction; and there are two Georges Simenon film adaptations that I have enjoyed immensely. One is Bela Tarr's The Man from London, which I caught at a past VIFF; the deliberate extreme slowness of the storytelling, the minimalism in terms of dialogue, and the sumptuous black and white photography will separate the serious scopophiles from the masses, but are more features of Tarr than Simenon, and I think the film was of more interest to people who had seen and enjoyed other Tarr films, curious to see what he would do entering the world of genre filmmaking; the film plays, as I recall, rather like a European arthouse variant on the "trouble caused by found money" theme seen also in Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan and the Coens' No Country for Old Men.  

Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire in Monsieur Hire

The other Simenon adaptation I've enjoyed is also a Patrice Leconte film, the aforesaid Monsieur Hire, about a reclusive, refined tailor with a (refined, non-masturbatory, but still pretty creepy) voyeuristic obsession on his  pretty female neighbour; he ends up a suspect in the murder of a different young girl, and definitely has secrets to keep, but there are some rather large reveals as the story progresses, so it's best I say no more. I saw that film a good half-dozen times when it came out, including a screening where I found myself the only patron of a luxurious older movie theatre in the bookstore district in Bellingham back in 1989 - one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my youth, indeed of my life; I felt like Leonard Cohen in that poem about the bus ride - all of this technology and opulence just for me! A later film of Leconte's, The Hairdresser's Husband, combined with Monsieur Hire, made me wonder if there was, in fact, a streak of misogyny in Leconte, but for reasons unclear, that seems a fairly common trait in highly controlling, artful male filmmakers (Hitchcock, Kubrick...). 

Anyhow, I'm very excited to see Maigret! 

As for the new Paravel/ Castaing-Taylor film, De Humani Corporis Fabrica - "on the fabric of the human body" - I'm actually more frightened of seeing it than I am excited, because the last film I saw of theirs, Caniba, which I reviewed here, was by far the most horrifying/ disturbing/ gag-inducing film I have ever seen: longer than "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes," vastly more worthy of serious consideration than the repugnant exploitation of vulgar crap like Cannibal Holocaust, and about as unwholesome a tale of brotherly relations as you find in Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, the film tells the true story of Issei Sagawa, an obsessive, disturbed Japanese art student in France who developed a fetishistic obsession on a female fellow student, You can and should skip to the next paragraph if you are sensitive or squeamish: as an expression of his his erotic fascination, Sagawa invited this unfortunate girl - Renée Hartevelt - to his apartment, where he murdered and ate her, storing pieces of her for consumption over the next few days. I forget if he had actual sex with any of the parts but it seems possible; forgive me if I cannot bear to read about it again. Briefly imprisoned in Paris, Sagawa found himself the beneficiary of bureaucratic loopholes (possibly aided by his coming from a connected or wealthy family) - that saw him return to Japan essentially a free man. He had difficulty finding employ after what he had done, so he opted for the next best thing: milked his crime for celebrity, appearing on television (mostly as a commentator on crime stories, but also in, I gather, a steakhouse commercial - the equivalent of Ed Gein advertising leatherwork. People who think I have a dark sense of humour should go spend some time in Japan) . He also wrote and illustrated a truly obscene manga, shown liberally in the film, that described his crime. Sometimes when a film is repugnant and hard to watch - the August Underground films, for instance - I just turn it off or walk out, but Caniba is serious enough, and about a story I have sufficient interest in (having lived for three years in Japan, knowing that Sagawa was out there somewhere; plus I even own the Rolling Stones album where Sagawa gets a mention, in the song "Too Much Blood") that I stuck it out, but it made me want to vomit at times, to be honest. 

They seem like such nice people!

The other Paravel and Castaing-Taylor film that I have seen was far easier to watch was a fascinating depiction of time on a fishing trawler, Leviathan, which - shot in part on Go Pro cameras, which float among the fish heads and drag behind the boat with the seagulls, among other things - gets my vote for "greatest shakycam movie ever made." I interviewed the filmmakers for CineAction about the film, as part of feature I wrote about films that include slaughterhouse footage (sadly, I missed my chance to include Zev Asher's Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat in the article, which deals with slaughterhouses in part, but has no footage of them, but more on on that here. See also my giant interview with Zev, done the last time I saw him in Vancouver, here).

Press still for De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Anyhow, with a sickening film about a cannibal killer and a fascinating but at times gory doc where you get to bob and swirl in bloody water with the severed heads of fish, one cannot but wonder what will happen when Castaing-Taylor and Paravel turn their attentions and innovative filmmaking techniques to the human body, the internal workings of which are usually hidden behind taboos so deep and profound that we seldom even realize they exist. And clearly the last few years of my life - in which I have been treated for a massive infection of my foot, pissed blood for months due to a kidney stone stent, had pieces of my tongue cut out (four times now), had patches of my wrist skin removed (from both wrists, after the first graft failed) to rebuild said tongue, patches of my thigh skin removed to cover my wrists, both forearms slit open to harvest veins and arteries for use in the flap (the graft), my neck dissected - slit open from ear to larynx, basically - to harvest lymph nodes and saliva glands for biopsy, and had a tracheostomy to boot - make me the perfect man to watch and review this film, which does indeed dwell, the guide says, on "the abject horror of open surgery" (yikes!), the surprising beauty of medical imaging, and possibly muchmore besides (I have an interview request in but it's got to happen via email, given my current computer failure; I will not hold it against them if they decline) . 

Frankly, as someone who has occasionally fainted at the sight of blood, I do not exactly want to see De Humani Corporis Fabrica, after Caniba. I am a bit afraid even to read about it (though you can, if you like, here - a Slant Magazine feature). But given my history with the filmmakers, my recent life experiences, and the importance of the work of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, which I have profound respect for - some of the  most innovative and powerful documentary filmmaking going on at present - I feel like I must see it, must write about it. I'll be sure to let you know if I barf - though know in advance that I will be barfing in praise. There *is* a screener coming my way, apparently. We shall see what we see (with our own eyes, so to speak). 

Finally, in terms of films I am keen to see, but cannot preview, Sarah Polley has adapted Miriam Toews novel Women Talking. Not sure if the title is in any way a reference to the Bechdel test (I hope it is!). If I know that I want to see a film based on the names or themes, I prefer not to read about it until after I have seen it, so all I can say about this film is that a) I have always enjoyed the work of Sarah Polley, who I know best as an actor; b) esteemed Vancouver songwriter Art Bergmann, when I asked him what novelists he read and admired, named Toews first; and c) the book rather surprisingly appeared on a CrimeReads list of the "most genuinely terrifying novels ever written," alongside two other books I am afraid to read (The Consumer by Michael Gira and The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum), and one that I probably won't read, but the film adaptation of which - Polanski's The Tenant - I have always admired. Add to all this that the film is being described as #MeToo among the Mennonites, and it becomes a festival must-watch: if I read anything further about the film before its VIFF debut, it will be Toews' novel itself. 

So that's it in terms of writing about movies I have NOT seen. We will now turn to my VIFF preview #1: Sick of Myself  

Sick of Myself - receiving its Canadian premiere at the VIFF on October 6th and 9th - plays sort of like what would happen if Lars von Trier (or perhaps Joachim Trier?)  remade Todd Haynes' Safe as a black comedy. About the lengths people will go to get attention, the film is dark enough that it even has a joke, albeit a small one, about someone on a shooting rampage, which, given the film is coming out of the country that gave us Anders Behring Breivik, is a bit brave, really (Todd Solondz' Happiness also comes to mind as a touchpoint, or perhaps even Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster; fans of those films should find themselves right at home in the audience for this one). It's about a woman who deliberately abuses a drug known to cause a severe and disfiguring skin condition, so that she can use the condition to compete with her rising art-star boyfriend, whose art consists of ripping off furniture and recontextualizing it in galleries (which reminds me of a friend of mine in a local band used to steal things about the city to use in his art, but it's probably for the best if I don't mention his name! Some of you will know who I mean). 

Sick of Myself might piss some people off, might push some buttons - especially if you find yourself a target for its barbs - especially a scene in which the protagonist, Signe, attends a self-help group and a fellow member of the group dismisses Signe as being unworthy of serious attention because her condition is physically demonstrable, visible on her skin, and thus not subject to the same mistrust and accusation that greets sufferers of fibromyalgia, brain fog, migraines or so forth. I could see people reading between the lines that filmmaker Krisoffer Borgli is implying that these conditions, too, are suspect, brought on by their sufferers as a result of attention-seeking behaviour. At least in Safe it is clear that, whatever is wrong with Julianne Moore's character, Haynes is on her side, feels compassion for her, is even proud of her for sticking to her guns ("it's the chemicals!").

Sick of Myself might also have pissed of the makers of the drug Signe abuses - Lidexol, whose website claims they have sent a cease and desist order to the filmmakers for misrepresenting their product... but it seems likely this is actually a bit of Blair Witchery on the part of the film's marketing department. But Sick of Myself works very well as a critique of our willingness to pimp out our tragedies and traumas on social media for cheap attention. There's more horror - often quite gross, enough that several reviews mention Cronenberg - than there is laugh-out loud comedy, though I did in fact laugh out loud in surprise and delight at a couple of moments.... ut, like, I've seen Happiness at least half a dozen times, think of it (after you get through the fear on first viewing that it is not okay to be laughing at any of this) as one of the funniest films ever made, so....

I wonder if Signe's name means "sign," in Norwegian? You won't actually like her, or Thomas, or any of the film's characters, very much, but if you allow yourself to read them as signifiers of your own willingness to exploit your suffering for attention - as a sort of critique of the human condition, at present - you'll find a lot to like here. Pimping out my own recent tragedies - from the recent death of my cat to my cancer surgeries last September and December - on this very blog, and recognizing some of Signe's more comical behaviours, like taking photos of herself in a hospital mirror, I had already been thinking that there was something suspect about my desire for online attention and validation, already been contemplating detoxing from Facebook ("maybe it's a good thing my computer has crashed?"). Might be a good cautionary tale to make teenagers watch before getting Facebook accounts, eating Tide Pods, or going on shooting rampages (Makes more sense than the field trip I found myself a part of for the VIFF screening of Let the Right One In, because the teacher had heard that bullying was a theme...). 

More information about Sick of Myself on the VIFF website...

VIFF preview #2: Zeb's Spider

Speaking of cats, there's a cat that's part of the plot of the Vancouver short Zeb's Spider, a highly-detailed stop-motion animation, less than ten minutes long, about a reclusive person with a talismanic fixation on horseshoes and wishbones (and perhaps some mental health issues; the film kind of reminded me of Ryan in that regard). Zeb is at first is terrified by a spider that appears in her  apartment, but then basically gives it its own room, feeding it flies, while ignoring the harmless alleycat that lives outside her window. There is not much else I can say about a film so short without spoiling it - it reminded me of one of my favourite-ever actual nightmares, in which I was the janitor in a building charged with going into a certain basement room and exorcising it every night, lest bad things happen -  but I was startled when the credits rolled to realize that Zeb was voiced by Vancouver's own Frazey Ford, of whom my wife and I are both fans (her video for "Done" is one of the greatest rock videos, maybe the greatest rock video, ever filmed in Vancouver). Frazey doesn't do much more than mutter occasionally - I'm presuming she is friendly with either Alicia Eisen or Sophie Jarvis, the filmmakers, since it would be otherwise rather odd for her to seek her acting debut as a voice actor in a film that the program guide itself says is "without dialogue" - but fans of Frazey's still might want to check the film out, since it is compassionate, interestingly-realized, and oddly memorable. It is playing as a short feature in front of the Spanish language film Huesera, which I have not yet seen, but sounds like a very appropriate compliment (see the link for a description). 

That's all for now! More VIFF blogging to come...!

Monday, September 12, 2022

Weird dreams of shitting myself, plus death and ashes

This blogpost is dedicated to the memory of the late Harry Creech, a Vancouver Island musician who wrote the best song about shitting yourself ever. It was oddly mis-identified in some places as being a Fugs song, but nope, it's the Salty Seamen. This temporary replacement computer is way too slow for me to provide you a link but just Google "the Salty Seamen I Shit My Pants" and you will find the song). 

...So Shockabilly have a song called "When You Dream About Bleeding, It Means You're Embarrassed." Not sure if that's true or not, but I have learned from experience that dreams about peeing probably mean you need to pee.   

But what does it mean when you dream you shit yourself? Because I woke up with a start at 5:30 this morning, my dreams disappearing (save for maybe the vague feeling that Burt Lancaster had been in them), coming to full alertness in the belief that I had actually shit myself. I had felt a wet bubble come out with a fart, felt my underwear fill up, smelled a vile smell, all very vivid and real-feeling. It did not feel like something that had happened in a dream, but rather, something that happened in reality, in my body, there in the bed, waking me from a dream. Full of dread and shame and annoyance with my own flesh, I got out of bed far quicker than I wanted to be moving and felt the topsheet for a wet spot, using the light of my phone screen - not the flashlight - to check for discolouration of any sort, hoping not to wake my sleeping wife. Then I rushed to the bathroom. The topsheet had been fine, but I thought I could feel a pile of hot wetness in my shorts as I walked: "I hope I'm not dripping on the carpet." I sat down on the can, pulling down my underwear and pajamas, afraid of the mess that I would find, and...

...I discovered nothing. I had expected a puddle, expected to be washing out my underwear and PJs in the tub and having to do an unplanned load of laundry, but I couldn't even see a damp spot. I carefully eyeballed my shorts (red with white and black stripes; I favour loud and/or illustrated underwear and socks, mostly to entertain my wife, who often now buys them for me for Christmas). There was nothing in them that I could see. Before commencing to poop, I did a quick bum-wipe - "check it now before you produce more and mask the evidence" - but again, nothing. Finally - a bit trepidatiously - I reached down into my underwear and felt the fabric, first tentatively and then with increasing confusion: was there even a damp spot? 


So I guess I just dreamed it. Irritation with my prank-playing subconscious and relief that I had dodged the bullet - or, uh, what's a more appropriate metaphor, "fired a blank?" - competed for primacy, though my wife, after she woke up was entirely on the side of "relief" as I recounted the story. I stayed in the toilet to poop just in case, but it took awhile - there wasn't even an urgent need for it, I just figured I'd best play it safe. 

All in all, if you'll pardon the vulgar and obvious segue, it's been a shit week. First the computer dies, then the cat (I won't even bother mentioning the Queen). It's been pretty sad in the apartment - though Erika and I took Saturday off to take a ride, ending up by chance in Ladner at a delightful farm day event at Westham Island Herb Farms, where we've picked pumpkins before. We toured around a few farms, actually, finding an egg stand (farm eggs are amazing!) and some flowers and fresh veggies. But we both are feeling his absence when we return home: the apartment is kind of haunted with our memories of him, even though he didn't pass here. So many things remind us of him, and we both start crying periodically, though not always at the same time or in response to the same thing. 

Gonna try not to go on about it, but I've never met a cat as polite as Tybs was - he was full of character and more than a few quirks. As one of Erika's friends has observed, it's kind of like losing a family member. He would have been greatly diminished, even if we had - through daily watering, force-feeding and the like - tried to keep him alive, and it wouldn't have brough his kidneys back - we've already been giving him fluids under his skin for over four years, when his kidney failure was first diagnosed. Even diminished, as he was, he was still capable of receiving and giving love, still happy and purring to be petted, but he was so weak, so deprived (of vision and motion and appetite) and the likelihood that things would only get worse, probably quite rapidly, that it would have felt very selfish to keep him around any longer. I hope he would have agreed with our decision. 

Hard to believe that just a few months ago, after an $800 dental surgery that relieved pain he was clearly in, he was running and jumping and chasing his toys, flinging about his catnip-stuffed flamingos and sprinting about in a way he hadn't for some years. At least because of that, he likely associated his trips to the vet with relief from suffering. 

I doubt this was the kind of relief he imagined. Do cats understand tears? We didn't hold them back... maybe he understood something of what was going on? 

No way to know.

I am relieved that we didn't take the ashes. I have no fucking idea what to do with ashes. Mom and Dad are still in the laundry room storage closet because - well, first off, Erika feels weird about the idea of having my dead parents in the living room with us, and secondly, because I feel like I'm supposed to have some sort of attachment to the act of scattering their ashes, and don't. I don't even know where I want to do that, let alone how I'm supposed to feel about it or what it "means." It all feels alien as hell to me, frankly. My father was definitely wanting to be cremated ("no bugs on me," was how he put it), and both my parents wanted their ashes mingled, so after he died, I held onto him (mostly in my living room closet) to wait for Mom to join him, but I kind of just got used to the idea of having him in my care, and when she joined him, it was just in the form of an urn placed next to him in the closet. What, I'm supposed to just dump them in the woods or water supply? What if the area I pick gets zoned for condos? What if I move out of town - am I supposed to come visit them? 

I don't even know what I would want done with my remains, though fer fucksake, don't spend thousands of dollars on a fancy box or drag me to a church.... I kinda love that Edward Abbey wished for his body to be put in a sleeping bag and dragged out into the desert to be eaten by scavengers, though there are practical reasons for not asking people to do that for me here. I can understand leaving your body to science or wanting them to "cut me up and pass me all around," as John Prine wrote, though he was thinking more of organ donation in "Please Don't Bury Me" than he was a Stranger in a Strange Land scenario (Gerry Hannah tells me that Michael Valentine Smith asks his friends to eat him, at the end of that novel; I haven't actually read the book to completion, myself, but take his word for it, and love the idea, though again, it seems a bit much to ask anyone to want to do - "Sure, I'll eat you!"). I can even grok, if you will, that Hunter S. Thompson had his ashes fired from a cannon, at least making a fun, memorable event of his scattering, but in the absence of any good ideas of my own, I remain my parents' custodian after death, until such a time as inspiration strikes. It did occur to me that if Erika and I had a house, I would see about fashioning their ashes into a brick to be used in the construction, but that's about the only good idea I've had, the only one that actually has felt meaningful to me....

Anyhow, ashes or not, it's weird in the aparement without Tybalt. Every place we were used to him inserting himself - the meow at the door as we unlocked it after having been out, the previously-mentioned walk to the kitchen for treats, the spaces where he used to sleep... we don't have to watch where we step anymore, speaking of misplaced poops. We both catch ourselves expecting Tybalt to leap into bed with us, to come trotting around the corner to sit between us to watch The Walking Dead and get patted and brushed and loved. What's that Kinks' song, "No More Looking Back?" - "just when I think that you're out of my head I hear a song that you sang/ read a book that you read/ then you're in every bar/ you're in every cafe/ you drive in every car/ I see you every day/ but you're not really there/ you belong to yesterday," or something like that...? We've washed out his bowls, thrown out his toys (I think I saved one for sentimentality), laundered his blankets, and made plans to give his remaining medicated fluids and kidney care foods to a local SPCA. We're healing, we're okay, but we sure do miss him.

I will presently turn my attentions to VIFF blogging... enough shit and death and disaster, for now (I hope). 

Think I'm gonna go back to bed, feeling weird that Tybs isn't there to leap up beside me and keep me company. We got some good naps in (though usually he was just coming to wake me up and remind me he hadn't had a treat in the last few hours). 


Friday, September 09, 2022

The decision to euthanize: Tybalt's final day (updated)

Part One: Written Before

Probably the cat's last day. Erika is home from work, and we've been exploring euthanasia options - there are services like Lifting Stars, which a friend used, who will send a vet out to your home and give the cat a peaceful injection, but with the transportation costs and a cremation (without urn), it will come to over $500 - though that's not the decisive factor, which is that they don't have any slots open until Monday, which might just be prolonging the cat's discomfort. We can bundle him in a blanket and get him to his usual vet without much trouble. It will still cost $250 (including cremation), but it can happen later today - though they will check the cat to make sure it is appropriate. We're both pretty convinced, after six days of very visible discomfort and behaviour change, that it is. 

People on Facebook have suggested lots of things, from force-feeding the cat (which I've done a bit of) to rubbing mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant that comes in ointment form, in his ears, but everything here points to his kidneys having shut down, after three or four years of giving him subcutaneous fluids (I think I had said IV fluids, previously, because they're from an IV bag, but they just go under his skin). He can barely walk - probably from kidney pain, which can be really intense - and we have been lifting him onto his favourite places to sit for the last few days, because he can no longer leap (a big change from even ten days ago, when he was shaky and twitchy and a little wobbly, but still able to get'er done). And he really isn't inclined towards food or liquid at all. He perks up when I rattle the Temptations box - his favourite treat - but when I bring him some, he turns his head and, if I don't take it away, makes movements to leave the area. I have squirted some nutrients (and a bit of homemade CBD/ almond milk concoction) in his mouth with a syringe, but that's about it - forcing him to eat won't make his kidneys start working again, if that's indeed what is going on. He had maybe one or two treats a day from Sunday to Wednesday - this from a Temptations addict who would demand treats every few hours, if we were stingy - but yesterday, his sole voluntary intake was a few laps of tuna juice. Today, bringing him tuna juice (fresh from a new can I opened, because he doesn't seem to like cold tuna juice and the other stuff had been sitting out all night), I got a dramatic gag reaction, his mouth opening and gullet working. He stood up - which we've been taking as a signifier that he wants to go to his litter box - and I carried him there and placed him inside, and he gave a foamy white barf (and peed a tiny bit).  The appetite loss is only a symptom of the larger problem, but it seems to be terminal: the vet will not even prescribe mirtazapine, saying bluntly that "with kidney failure, if they stop eating and drinking, you have to put them down."  

Erika and I both have known this was coming, but it's still striking how big a change it has been, how fast it has happened. Tybalt's regular routine, most mornings, even into last week - right up to his last day before our island trip, Friday the 2nd of September, has been to be at the bedside, waiting for me to wake up. If I've slept late, he'd come up behind my head, meow, and even run his foreclaws through my beard (a rather amazing way to be awoken, really). He's been less inclined to be bossy these past few weeks, since maybe mid-August - a little less demanding, maybe - but even then, he would, every morning, leap down from his bedside perch, get ahead of me, and saunter slowly (but assuredly) towards the kitchen. I would usually break left, in fact, and go the opposite direction, towards the washroom, partially to thin down his treats and force him to be a bit patient, but mostly because I generally need to pee when I wake up. But he would wait in the entrance to the kitchen, where the treats were dispensed, and sometimes meow at me (or yowl angrily) while posturing to block my entrance to the living room - like a barrier, so that I would turn into the kitchen. There's the saying about trying to herd cats, but in terms of his morning treats, the cat has been the one herding me. 

Occasionally at such times, as a variant on the ritual, I have stepped around him, gone to the living room to inspect for barfs or poops (which wouldn't really impact my giving him treats, but we've tried to sort of discourage his fouling the furniture where we can, and I liked conveying the message that his treats were a reward for not having made a mess. After some accident-free months, in mid-August, he pooped almost every day in the wrong place, which probably was the sign that things were getting worse). But normally, I would just follow him into the kitchen, with his slow saunter ahead of me (and choice of stopping point) sometimes delaying my reaching the treat box: "You have to take a few more steps, buddy, if you want me to give you those." (This is a cat who, if he finds himself upstairs, will go to the neighbour's door above our apartment and meow at it to be let in, because - even if he's climbed the stairs himself - he doesn't get how apartments work and thinks the door is ours; he's not the most "spatially intelligent" animal out there, but then again, neither am I). Eventually, I would throw him three to six treats, sometimes one at a time for the first couple, sometimes all in a bunch, and as they scattered on the dining area hardwood, he would run to get them, sometimes "hockeying" them, swatting at them with a paw as they slid past on the floor. Occasionally they'd go under a surface and he'd stretch or scratch to get to them; and if a treat had landed next to a table leg or something, he would have a bit of a hard time seeing it, and reach out to CATCH it with his paw, a decisive little whomp, dragging it over to him like it had been trying to hide, eating them one at a time then looking for the next. No matter how many or how few treats I gave him - even if I'd just thrown him one - he'd sniff the whole kitchen down in case he'd missed something (another thing I understand now was a sign that things were getting worse is that he DID miss a few treats, last week, just leaving them in plain sight on the floor) . The vet has long said not to give him too many treats - which are high in proteins and not great if the cat has kidney issues - but these were really his only chances to hunt, to seek prey, to catch and "kill" and eat something (the odd floor prawn - AKA silverfish - aside). Then a few hours later, I'd get up to go into the other room and see the cat waiting expectantly in the area between the kitchen and dining area, which would be where the treats would end up, sitting up, alert and perky, waiting for his next fix.

This has been a routine that the cat has maintained for years. Now you can bring a treat to him and he might sniff it, but he'll turn his head away. There are a couple of cat treats in proximity to the places where he eats and sleeps - he hasn't gone near them. It's a huge behavioural change, as is his not being able to leap up onto the couch with us, or the footstool at Erika's bedside. But like I say, his not eating is not the problem - it's a symptom of something far deeper. He's just stayed in the bedroom the whole morning, his one barf-trip to the litterbox aside, curled up next to the hot water bottle, which seems to relieve some of his kidney discomfort. He purrs when Erika cuddles him and doesn't seem to be in pain, but that seems contingent on his not moving. Often he just puts his head down, shielding out light from his eyes ("the Blair cat," if you see what I mean) - he's been doing that a lot this week. 

So to the people who have suggested giving him appetite stimulants or force-feeding him, thank you for trying to give hope and make constructive suggestions, but it's been maybe four years - maybe five? maybe even before we were married? - since he was diagnosed with kidney failure, and the best conclusion we can come to is that it is time to put him down. He can barely walk, can barely see. There is almost no pee coming out of him, when he does use the litter box (which we have been helping him into), despite Erika giving him fluids three days in a row (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday - we skipped yesterday, because it just seemed to make it harder for him to walk, though we may give him more fluids today, depending on how things go with the vet). It's really sad, and both of us are crying - it comes in waves, catches us at odd moments - but unless the vet comes up with some other diagnosis or suggestion, we're going to go with euthanasia before the pain gets too bad. Just seems like the right thing to do. 

But he still purrs, especially when Erika holds him. We spent most of last night watching a show and petting him. We brought him to the bedroom in his favourite pink blanket, and set him up next to the bed on a footstool, and he stayed most of the night, Erika cuddling him until it was time to sleep (he did get up to pee around 6AM, but came right back, making it onto the footstool himself - maybe his last unassisted leap?). You can tell that  he feels really loved. 

UPDATE (Part Two: After)

Tybs is gone. The apartment feels really empty, and we're making plans to buy a new footstool, because the one we have was scratched to shit by him.

He had slept most of the day in the bed while we went about our business - including making a final appointment with our vet - with me occasionally checking in to offer him a drink of water, a bit of tuna juice (we opened a fresh can, because he doesn't care for things fresh out of the fridge - if anyone wants a tuna sandwich, feel free to drop by, because we've kind of had our fill of them). He would usually just look away from any other foods I offered, but the day prior, he'd had a few laps of the tuna. This time, the smell of the tuna juice made him gag visibly, a Bill-the-cat "ack" followed by him standing up, which we generally have been taking as a sign that he might need to pee. I carried him (soft, warm, and limp, with rear legs sticking out uselessly) to the litterbox, got him inside - gingerly lifting his back legs in for him - and he peed a bit and barfed a little white foam. Then we took him back to the bed. 

No more tuna juice, then. 

Sometime while I saw bathing, he jumped down from the bed and crawled under it. He did that a few times in his life - usually when he was afraid we were going on a trip and he didn't want to be bundled into his carrier. (One of the signs that things were going wrong, last week, was his complete passivity about being piled in when we went to the island). Erika has very reasonably been afraid that he was crawling under the bed to die, but he always looked back at me when I knelt down.

We decided, having skipped Thursday, to give him a final catwater - his subcutaneous lactated ringer solution. Erika set up his favourite pink blanket and I heated the bag of solution in a plastic juice jug, then when it was warm, reached under the bed and gently dragged him (still limp) outside. We gave him his water, finishing the bag, then sat down to watch a show, petting him. Eventually he tried to stand, so we carried him to his seat, and he napped a bit. At about 2pm, he tried to stand again, so again, we brought him to the litterbox, where he had a little pee. 

Amazingly - presumably strengthened a bit by having had fluids - he climbed out himself and went on a wobbly walk about the apartment, heading towards the dining room area. "Where are you going, buddy?" He seemed to be sniffing around. His rear haunches were raised - I gather this is a response to kidney pain - but he was able to slowly, carefully make it almost to the dining room, where he stopped and waited.

So I brought him back to his chair, getting the idea en route that maybe he had been going to look for a Temptation? He had been heading towards that area. 

I brought him the box of Temptations, giving it a rattle on the way, and he perked up and looked over, so I offered him two. He couldn't find them at first - he sniffed about with clear interest, looking for them, but though they were six inches from his face, he apparently couldn't see them. His vision has been quite poor for awhile, but - the vet explained - once the kidneys fail, other organs start shutting down; many websites that describe the final stage of renal failure in cats list "blindness" as a symptom. I adjusted the treats, brought them right up close to his face, and he ate two, chewing with difficulty but determination: "The Last Temptations of Tybalt Lax." It was the only food he had yesterday, and the only fluid that we didn't inject under his skin, but I am so glad he got to have his favourite thing one last time. 

Then he put his face to the back of the chair and closed his eyes and went back to sleep. We looked over to see if he was still breathing from time to time, while Erika finished some work and I did something-or-other, waiting for the hour to arrive to bring him to the vet. We didn't bother with the carrier - he was too weak to cause problems in the car, and sat passively, bundled in his pink blanket, looking mostly at Erika, as she drove, but also curious to see the outside world.

The vet reaffirmed that there really was no other option: "We could do tests, but there's no point. Once his kidneys fail, his other organs start failing, too." The vet put him on the table and went to get a sedative, prior to hooking him up to an IV and administering the final medicine. Erika and I were both crying and petting him. He gave a little meow of protest when the vet moved him and another when he gave him the shot, but mostly he went gently. We might have been able to keep him alive a bit longer, forcing food into him, but it would have been a cruel, slow, painful decline into the inevitable. 

It was better this way, but the apartment feels really empty without him. And how will I find my way into the kitchen in the morning without him leading me there?  

Goodbye, Tybalt. You were a class act.